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Talking to the Dead:
James Van Praagh Tested

James Van Praagh and other practitioners of so-called “channeling”—communicating with deceased people—have consistently avoided James Randi’s Million Dollar Challenge test to prove their psychic abilities. In this video, Miklos Jako, a knowledgeable layman, tests Van Praagh’s ability simply by having a session with him and analyzing what went on. The results, though not strictly scientific, are pretty conclusive, as well as entertaining.

Miklos Jako is a retired teacher, who has investigated religion and related topics all his life. He is the author of Confronting Believers (Infinity Publishing). He graduated from Phillips Academy, Andover, MA, and Colby College, ME.

A Note from Michael Shermer

I don’t have any problems with Miklos’s video and his statement at the end. He’s not making any truth claims whatsoever. He just says that he’s sorta kinda a believer in some sort of higher power/being/force and that therefore he believes (but can’t prove in any way) in an afterlife. To this end he’s indistinguishable from Martin Gardner’s beliefs, and Martin is considered one of the greatest skeptics in history. We are only interested in challenging claims made that can be tested, or arguments people make claiming to support some belief with evidence and reason and logic. —Michael Shermer

46 Comments

  1. memo says:

    you are awesome sir [greetings from Honduras] grateful for people like you, keep up the good work!!!!!

  2. hmmmm_suspect says:

    Did Miklos Jako lie in trying to prove that James Van Praagh is a hoax?

    Miklos Jako tells us at 17:25 that his father died at 79.
    Then at 43: he tell us his dad died at 59.

    • Debsmusing says:

      He says his father died in ’79 not that he was 79 years old.

    • Rick says:

      @Greg Did you not listen to the entire video? In the end he says his father died in 1979 at the age of 59 and his mother died in 1998.

  3. hmmmm_suspect says:

    That should say 43:30 he tells us that his dad died at 59.

    He clearly lied here.

    I don’t believe in mediums and channeling, but sadly, this lie by Miklos Jako discredits him and this video completely.

    • wayne nicholson says:

      Yes, His father died in 1979 not at age 79. No discrepancy.

    • Ken says:

      Surely you’re joking! If you don’t jvp as a complete and total fraud, a despicable person and a vulture preying on peoples’ feelings of loss in this video, there is nothing more to say.

  4. hmmmm_suspect says:

    I think what I missed was that he was referring to the year he died not his age. It’s unclear in the video.

    • Gregory Lewis says:

      That was part of the discredit to Van Praagh, not Jako. Even though Mr. Jako didn’t state the differences in age between how old his mother was when she died, and how old his father was when he died, Van Praagh made an assumption and continued to elaborate based on his incorrect assumption. He never said, “I think” or “I assume”. He continued on as if the “spirit” of Jako’s deceased mother was telling him directly, when clearly he was wrong. Either spirits of the dead become stupid in the afterlife, forgetting math and the names of their best friends, but are very knowledgeable about things like “you must pass a building on the way to the cemetery”, or Van Praagh is just making shit up as he goes along.”

  5. Gregory Lewis says:

    Entertaining, and instructional. Once the cold reading, warm reading, and hot reading were pointed out, and additionally the time bending, they were suddenly obvious. I would also like to remark how much talking, but how little information the so-called medium provides. In a couple places Van Praagh does this act of talking with “the deceased” spirits, as if they were standing next to him, making requests. Yet, later, when Jako asks Van Praagh to talk directly to the spirits, he says that’s not how it works. Lots of phony baloney (the entertaining part, I suppose).

  6. JF Hanson says:

    Miklos, thanks for doing this and sharing it. I’ve never seen it demonstrated so well how full of doo-doo clairvoyants are!

  7. Erin says:

    You are underestimating your possible artistic talents. Great artists start somewhere. I have seen progressions of my husband’s grandfather’s work. It starts quite humbly enough but his paintings as an adult are amazing. :)

    Anyway, thank you for this.

  8. Richard says:

    VanPraagh is not at the top of his field. He is amongst the most highly publicised. You can’t judge all mediums by his pathetic work.

    • SkeleTony says:

      Then you can provide for us a better medium who somehow does not use cold, warm and hot reading techniques?

  9. Robert says:

    A very nice piece of work Miklos. You mention the insignificant information that the dead communicate through Van Praagh but I think that’s a bit of an understatement. Not only is there nothing significant communicated, it appears that the entire reading is meant to justify that Van Praagh is actually talking to the dead. It appears to me that instead of a string of ambiguous generalities, Van Praagh could have provided one significant piece of information from the other side that could be distinguished from all the generalities – He doesn’t or he can’t. I think your video should seen by anyone who thinks there is even a small amount of validity to Van Praagh. Nice work.

  10. Tonya says:

    I loved this research video! Many years ago I had a client (when I was actively researching paranormal claims) the homeowner called the Van Praag TV show (Beyond) My husband (at the time) was gullible and gave him a lot of personal information about me. I was in the other room and I heard it all. He then approached me telling me that because I was a skeptic, he had a message for me. He then told me everything my now ex husband told him and claimed it as a psychic reading. I was a “ghost hunter” so he clearly assumed I believed in everything the spewed out. Not the case at all.

    My clients home had some strange occurrences but they created a lot of it on their own and just a few things to this day I am not able to explain away with logic. As they were filming the Beyond TV show I was asked to make a statement about the case and the ghosts associated with it. I would NOT declare a ghost to be haunting my clients therefore my statements did not make the cut. Before leaving the house I went to retrieve my purse from the make-up room. (Childs bedroom) I caught James and his then assistant (Bodine) red-handed with the phone book. (This was before smart phones!) They were searching through the local cemeteries. I asked “Why are you looking up cemeteries?” they both quickly changed the subject and started drilling me for information as to why I was qualified to work on the case.

    Later that night I posted what I witnessed on several message boards and community areas online. My phone rang and it was Van Praag demanding that I remove all of my statements as it was a legal issues due to the TV show production. I reminded him that I did not sign a waiver of any kind. (OOps on their part!)
    He then demanded and became irate about my posts. I hung up on him.

    I spoke with my clients and she did tell me about what they concluded.
    Here is what Van Praag declared to be the culprit of the haunting.

    “3 miles down the road there is a cemetery. Because of the happiness within the home one particular ghost decided to stay with them. The ghost did not have visitors nor did anyone visit his grave. He knew that my client was “in touch with the afterlife” and latched on to her and her family” the TV show ended where Van Praag, Bodine and my client visiting the forgotten grave and placing flowers. Van Praag (Not my client) declare the “haunting” to be concluded and stated my client agreed to visit the grave once a month to keep the “ghost” out and at peace. This was total BS. My client was not impressed and she will admit that she was sucked into the production schedule. My interview was not used in the show. As for “ghosts” at their house? I’m not sure what was going on. I did witness some unexplainable things while researching but nothing insinuating an orphaned male ghost was there looking for attention.

    I can’t stand Van Praag. He manipulated my client and thousands of others for personal gain. Yes, I believe in “ghosts” but not on a level as most people would assume. I am a skeptic but I have my own moments in time where I can honestly say that I have no idea how to explain it. Logic does not apply. These are just a few from 14 years of researching. So, don’t assume me to be a typical ghost hunter. :)

  11. Miklos Jako says:

    Hmmmm_suspect

    My earlier reference was to the YEAR he died, the latter one to his age. My father died in 1979, at age 59. An understandable mistake because of the way I phrased it: “My father was ’79, my mother ’98.” James and I were talking about the number of years between their passing, so I automatically referred to the YEARS they died, not their age. But, regardless and irregardless, why should this discredit me “completely”? I’m not on trial here; Van Praagh is. So if he makes flat out wrong statements, doesn’t that disprove him, PER SE?

    Atheists

    I didn’t mean to proselytize at the end of the video. I know many of you feel that anything that smacks of religion smacks of woo-woo. But I felt that many religious people would appreciate some comment on an afterlife. Basically, that even though dead people cannot talk BACK to us, for a theist, it’s still a theoretical possibility that we can talk to them, assuming God and an afterlife, which, of course, is another debate.

  12. gary causer says:

    Very well done.

    I remember watching a TV show, I think it was 60 minutes, when they exposed a very famous televangelist listening to his wife by radio as she read notes to him about the people who came to the show.

    He’s still making plenty of money. These criminals will always find enough suckers to live off of…..

  13. Greg says:

    These crooks and the religious crooks should all be arrested and prosecuted for fraud.

  14. Andrew says:

    Hope this is available on Youtube. We, (Skeptic.com readers) all know this crook is exactly that (and excellently exposed in this vid), but many of the “mainstream” still give credence to this James Van Prick and his ilk!

    Excellent work Miklos, thanks for taking the time to expose this mo fo!

  15. Dr Phil Joffe says:

    What a pathetic fraud! This ‘medium’ is so below par that his performance is a disgrace to all good frauds!
    He provides absolutely no useful information from the dead. If they had the ability to reach us, surely, tell us something intelligent, something useful, or stay silent and dead, as any half-way sentient person would expect!
    How sad that charlatans exploit the grief of the gullible.

  16. Dr Phil Joffe says:

    What a pathetic fraud! This ‘medium’ is so below par that his performance is a disgrace to all good frauds!
    He provides absolutely no useful information from the dead. If they had the ability to reach us, surely, tell us something intelligent, something useful, or stay silent and dead, as any half-way sentient person would expect!
    How sad that charlatans exploit the grief of the gullible

  17. MaryKate says:

    Worthy venture though I felt like I was being played a bit by Miklos when he gets all choked up about the nobility of a father who never embarrassed him. Overall an interesting exercise in emotional manipulation. It is odd that dead people are so coy, oblique and reticent.

  18. z says:

    Cut Mr. James Van Praagh some slack
    I thought he looked familiar, then I realized he once worked at that company in the movie “Office Space”
    He was called Milton
    I believe Milton can talk to the dead, and Miklos Jako was being snarky, treating Milton as he was treated at that infamous company in the movie
    Shame, shame, shame on you Mr. Jako

    • SkeleTony says:

      I believe you have my stapler…

    • Jim Tester says:

      The actor who played “Milton” was Steven Root.

      • z says:

        Oh :)
        Still I was expecting James Van Praagh to go off on staplers once I realized why he looked and acted so familiar in one of my favorite movies
        Watch the movie to see what I mean

  19. janinemcgrew says:

    Too sad!!!

    Never believed in any of it.

    However after my husband died I have had some “Unreal” experiences that also were witnessed by other people.
    Unexplainable.

    So mabey there is ‘Afterlife of some Kind??!!!

    • SkeleTony says:

      That YOU believe that YOU cannot explain these alleged things does not = “unexplainable”. For starters ‘believers’ and non-skeptics in general are very apt to create ‘strange things’ when they experience a tragic loss, such as the death of a spouse or parent, without realizing they are doing it. I had a friend once who was mourning the loss of one of her best friends and she got a phone call. She answered “Hello?” several times but got no answer and the caller hung up within about 10 seconds.
      She recalls this as a ‘mysterious, unexplainable event’ that she feels was her deceased friend trying to get a hold of her.

      • janinemcgrew says:

        Sorry, Not just Me!
        Things were seen at the same time by other, Very Skeptic people.
        Sometimes there are just Not easy answers.

        And to be Rigid in Unbelief is just as bad as being gullible!

        A lot More to this Universe!

      • F. Fairfield says:

        I used to get a lot of these calls years ago; never realized they were from dead people. They stopped when certain teenagers went back to school.

  20. John says:

    In discussing Christopher Hitchens, Martin Amis said the more rational position is that of agnostic in light of how little we know about the universe. I love Hitchens, but I have to side with Martin on this one. But when it comes talking to the dead, raising of the dead, seeing the dead, or parting the Red Sea, the evidence is atomically thin to nonexistent.

    • SkeleTony says:

      That is rooted in a misunderstanding of what “agnosticism” is. It is a common and erroneous belief that agnosticism is some position that is somehow between theism and atheism. As if theism and atheism are two extremes, and by ‘extreme’ what is generally meant is ‘closed minded’ or fueled by emotion, rather than reason, with ‘agnosticism’ somehow a rational middle ground.

      Agnosticism pertains to KNOWLEDGE, not belief. ALL agnostics are either theist (rare but a few do exist) or atheist (all who are not theistic) and agnosticism comes in two flavors of ‘strong'(or ‘positive’) and ‘weak’ (or ‘negative’). Weak agnostics simply themselves lack any direct knowledge of God but do not deny that such knowledge is possible for someone to have. Strong agnostics conclude that knowledge of a transcendent being cannot be had by non-transcendent beings (re: mortals like us).

      Hitchens was an atheist.

  21. Ben says:

    Great take-down of a fraud. I only wish it would have been Teresa Caputo (The Long Island Medium)! My wife is obsessed with her no matter how I try to show her big a phony she is!

  22. sittingbytheriver says:

    NIce job. You did a great job lying about the drunk driving accident. i couldn’t tell you were lying at all! you brought emotion into it, and you obviously feel things very deeply. I agree with you—-it is unconscionable that these charlatans prey upon those who mourn their loved ones. Nice video, hopefully will educate some who have been victimized by this sort of thing.

  23. Dick Schott says:

    As Mike Shermer once observed with irony:

    “The problem is not really talking to the dead; the problem is getting them to answer!”

  24. Kristin says:

    Wonderful! About time, too. Isn’t it strange how people will demand hard evidence for everything from weather forecast to the current situation on the stock market, but when it comes to “the supernatural” they swallow just about anything? Personally, I have experienced things that I cannot explain, but that doesn’t mean it’s inexplicable. It just means that I, with my limited knowledge, don’t know how to.

  25. Peter the pagan says:

    At about 55 mins this video goes away from skepticism.
    Debunking one type of woo and ending with the woo of “. . . other dimension” is surely counter productive.
    Hardly worthy of being hosted here at skeptic.com.

    At what point in our evolutionary path was this spiritual dimension added?
    Was it also added to our hominid cousins?
    Is the physicist’s standard model of everyday matter wrong?
    Is there more than gravity, electro-mag, strong & weak nuclear forces?

    You really ought to take up James Randi’s million dollar challenge Mr Jako, and perhaps have Mr van Praagh there too!

    And if there is an afterlife, is it populated by those with dementia?
    My visits to nursing homes makes me think that such an afterlife is like the Christian Hell, not for me, pleeeeeeeese!

  26. Ricardo says:

    Excellent work deconstructing a fraud.

    Thank you, Sir!

    Ricardo

  27. Miklos Jako says:

    Hello Peter the Pagan,

    I appreciate your comments, but I don’t think it necessarily devalues the previous 55 minutes of the video. I’m just giving my opinion as a theist, that while communication FROM the dead is not possible, communication TO them is not ruled out, IF one is a theist and IF one believes in an afterlife, which a lot of people do. I was thinking of them when I did that last section. In hindsight, I probably should have just left that section out.

    The existence of God and an afterlife was not the central topic of the video, but I felt it was an important side note. I was thinking of several specific people I know who do believe in an afterlife, and who cherish their conviction that deceased loved ones continue to exist in an afterlife. I felt I should make some comment as to the limitations of this test of Van Praagh.

    You asked, “At what point in our evolutionary path was this spiritual dimension added?”

    I don’t know. Maybe somewhere around when animals become smart enough to make moral decisions. There’s no such thing as a moral crocodile vs an immoral crocodile, but I think a moral gorilla vs an immoral gorilla starts to make sense. And in my opinion, for humans, there is a very significant difference between Charlie Manson, and you and me. And I term that difference a difference in a spiritual dimension. As fuzzy as that word “spiritual” may seem to scientifically-minded people, I think it’s very significant and real. It’s just that it is not scientifically verifiable in any way.

    You asked, “Was it also added to our hominid cousins?”
    Yeah, like I said, I see chimps and apes as smart enough to make some moral decisions. You know the experiments. Monkeys show signs of it, foregoing food rather than giving their companions an electric shock.

    You asked, “Is the physicist’s standard model of everyday matter wrong?”
    NO. I fully accept what science has to say about PHYSICAL reality.

    You asked, “Is there more than gravity, electro-mag, strong & weak nuclear forces?”
    YES. There’s a parent’s love for his or her children. There’s a man who decides to be honest instead of dishonest. There’s a man who gives up drinking. There’s a piece of music that moves us deeply. There’s all kinds of reality, for which a scientific examination and the physical forces you cite, don’t really shed much light. That, to me, is the “spiritual” realm, the world of deep emotions.

    You said, “You really ought to take up James Randi’s million dollar challenge Mr Jako, and perhaps have Mr van Praagh there too!”
    Well, no. That wouldn’t make any sense. I know there is no way to prove an afterlife. God and an afterlife is theoretical speculation. I find all of Randi’s, and Shermer’s, work eminently valid! I thoroughly do NOT believe in the paranormal! But… I do believe in a general concept of God, an ultimate intelligence behind the universe – non-intervening, unverifiable – as more likely than the universe just being here by chance and having created itself.

    You asked, “And if there is an afterlife, is it populated by those with dementia?
    My visits to nursing homes makes me think that such an afterlife is like the Christian Hell, not for me, pleeeeeeeese!”
    I don’t know. I just know that to conceive of any afterlife to be of the same nature as this life, with the same restrictions, is not a reasonable concept of an afterlife.

    I think we’re on the same side for the most part. I do consider myself a crusader against traditional religion, and against New Age nonsense like Van Praagh channeling, but, I feel I have the right to remain a theist… and to express my opinion. I’m planning on posting my discussion with atheist Dan Barker on the existence of God in a few weeks on YouTube, if you’re interested in this key question of “spiritual” vs physical. We actually talked a lot about it.

    Put it this way: What’s better? An exposure of a medium fraud, with a philosophical side note you don’t agree with. Or, no such exposure at all? I had a feeling a few people were going to be rubbed the wrong way. But, man, cut me some slack. I was just giving my opinion there. That wasn’t the main point of the video, or the main intent.

    Does being a theist necessary disqualify me as a skeptic? Keep in mind that I am NOT a traditional theist. I do not believe in prayer, miracles, or sacred scripture. I am far, far less concerned that people agree with my opinions about a general God, than that they see the falsity of traditional religious belief systems, and New Age belief systems.

    Miklos Jako

  28. Peter the pagan says:

    Mr Jako, first, thanks for responding and expanding on your beliefs.

    My reaction to your video was that this site was not appropriate for hosting it & therefore seemingly endorsing woo even if demolishing another woo.

    The site http://www.skeptic.com has a heading:
    “Examining extraoridnary claims & promoting science”

    It is a well known goto site for a healthy dose of skepticism.
    In the same way there is provisionsal trust in academic publishing there is trust that this site does not (usually) promote woo.

    In addition, the video is hosted in the “Reading Room” that has this aim:
    “. . . is a comprehensive, free resource of articles relating to science and skepticism.”

    I don’t think it helps the cause of skepticism to promote unfounded claims or websites that require some effort from the reader to filter out the pseudoscience.

    You can see something similar has happened this year over at TED.

    From TED blog, posted by TED staff, March 18, 2013:

    Graham Hancock and Rupert Sheldrake, a fresh take
    http://blog.ted.com/2013/03/18/graham-hancock-and-rupert-sheldrake-a-fresh-take/

    “. . . our decision to move two TEDx talks off the TEDx YouTube channel and over here onto the main TED Blog.
    . . .
    TED’s mission is not ‘any old idea’ but ‘ideas worth spreading.’ ”

    And then following protests about the woo topics for TEDx West Hollywood to be held in April 2013 they revoked the organisers TEDx licence.
    They issued this letter to explain:

    A letter to the TEDx community on TEDx and science
    http://blog.tedx.com/post/37405280671/a-letter-to-the-tedx-community-on-tedx-and-bad-science

  29. Miklos Jako says:

    Peter the pagan. Point taken. I read the letter to the TEDx community, and agree with all of it. I do, however, think that expressing a personal philosophical opinion on the existence of God is not quite the same thing as claiming some pseudoscientific theory that might be harmful to people. Regardless, let me make this simple disclaimer: My opinion about the existence of God and the possibility of an afterlife, is just that – an opinion. And it does not represent the Skeptic Society’s position. And please ignore it. That was not the main point of the video.

  30. Patricia says:

    Loved it.
    Thank you for your excellent work exposing a major fraud, Mr, Jako!

    I’m not religious myself, but I think it is absurd of Peter the Pagan to argue your religious hopes/views are an issue.

    Makes me sad to see another fundamentalist atheist insisting only his view can be acceptable.

  31. Akis says:

    To Mr Jako:
    I enjoyed most of it,good work,almost professional.Your closing statements though threw me off balance.Was it a tactical move in the cotext of your video or you simply set things straight?OK with me either way.
    To Patricia:
    Patricia, I think you miss the point.Jako saw fit to publicise his religious believes along with the rest of the evidence.An intimate conviction cannot (by definition) be argued and as such better be kept to one’s self.Or at least out of this site.

  32. Dawit Tesfazghi Ghebrmedhin says:

    Shalom,
    The mystery of the beginning of all things is insoluble by Us.

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