Skeptophilia (skep-to-fil-i-a) (n.) - the love of logical thought, skepticism, and thinking critically. Being an exploration of the applications of skeptical thinking to the world at large, with periodic excursions into linguistics, music, politics, cryptozoology, and why people keep seeing the face of Jesus on grilled cheese sandwiches.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Guest post from skeptic Tyler Tork: The Psychic's Psychic

Hi Skeptophiles,

I'm back from Malaysia, and tomorrow will be back in the saddle again, fueled in my vocation of neatly poniarding woo-woos by such powerfully magical substances as Malaysian Death Curry and Durian, The Fruit From Hell.  To gear you back up, today I present a guest post from my friend and fellow skeptic Tyler Tork.  You should all check out his website (link posted at the end), and I hope you enjoy his post as much as I did!

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The Psychics' Psychic

 - by guest blogger Tyler Tork

"SuperPsychic Wendy!"[1] is on your side, O Consumer of Psychic Services. She wants to prevent bogus psychics from cheating you, so she's written a book, The Naked Quack! [2]. It explains how people get fooled by charlatans. Why waste your money on a fake medium when you can instead pay $400/hr for the real thing – her?

She also wants to license psychics, a proposal that many of the readers of this blog can probably get behind. I, for one, would be glad to issue a professional psychic license to anyone who can prove their powers in a controlled test (and who swears to use them for good). The many genuine psychics in this country, concerned about fakers who give their profession a bad name, surely must regard Wendy! as a heroine.

The James Randi Foundation could create a testing regimen for licensing. I'm sure a psychic as gifted as Wendy! must know about the million dollars they offer anyone who can demonstrate paranormal abilities, so I'm not sure why she hasn't applied. Odd. It's not about the money, of course; she could give that to a charity. It's about credibility.

Lacking such a test, we must evaluate psychics as best we can by other means. Fortunately, a rare few are bold enough to go on record with predictions for the coming year. As we know, the reading public always clip or bookmark such articles, and at the end of the year they go back to check whether the predictions were accurate. So this is a gutsy thing for a psychic to do.

Never let it be said that Wendy! is timid. Witness her predictions for 2011. Now we can see how good she really is.

Alas, as I peruse the article, I see that out of seven predictions, none of them are entirely correct. Now, nobody claims that precognition is an exact science, so perhaps it's unfair to take a paragraph of  prediction and count it wrong if not every statement is 100% accurate. So I broke the predictions into independent statements to see to what extent they might be at least a near miss. Here they are (paraphrased to avoid any copyright concerns):
  •     Tom Cruise breaks his arm doing a stunt. Wrong.
  •     There are a lot of photos of Tom and Katie arguing. Hard to evaluate since "a lot" is vague, but since I searched a bit and couldn't find a single such photo from 2011, I'm saying wrong on this one.
  •     Tom and Katie are rumored to divorce. A search turned up nothing. There are always rumors of all kinds about celebrity couples, so I wouldn't be surprised if somebody said this. But did she mean one rumor, or a lot? I rule this one too vague to evaluate.
  •     Tom and Katie run an ad to show that their marriage isn't in trouble. Wrong.
  •     The stock market makes major swings at the start of the year. Wrong, basically flat.
  •     The U.S. sends troops to Nicaragua. Wrong. (Huh?)
  •     The stock market rises by April. Wrong; market flat thru April.
  •     The stock market drops by early summer because of "some news". Wrong. Nothing notable before July.
  •     Obama's increasing unpopularity makes markets nervous (unclear whether this is the news referred to above, but it precedes a prediction about August so I assume it means sometime during the summer, anyway).Wrong. Obama's ratings are flat, actually reaching a year high by July.
  •     The stock market has another "shaky" period in late August. "Another" implies there's a non-shaky time preceding it, which was not the case. Wrong.
  •     The stock market stabilizes by the end of the year. Wrong.
  •     Arnold Schwarzenegger runs for President. Since he's ineligible, no surprise: wrong.
  •     Arnold's daughter, Christina, goes into acting. Wrong.
  •     Michael Douglas (already known to have cancer at the time) gets stronger as he battles cancer.  Wrong. He gets weaker, losing 32 pounds that he didn't need to shed. Unless she means strength of character, in which case see below.
  •     Douglas wins an Oscar. Wrong.
  •     Douglas does TV commercials against smoking. Wrong. In fact, he's sighted smoking, which seems to show that his cancer hasn't taught him much (see above).
  •     Major floods in the Midwest in March or April. For a change, this one is close enough to count as correct. The floods were a little later than predicted, but I don't want to be too much of a hard-ass. Of course, NOAA, presumably without psychic assistance, was already predicting heavy snowfall, so spring flooding might not be much of a stretch.
  •     Texas will have major floods in March or April. Wrong.
  •     [The floods will cause] serious crop damage "everywhere". I assume everywhere means everywhere there was flooding. Since floods always cause crop damage, I don't consider this a separate prediction.
  •     Accusations of tax evasion, and a scandal involving an anonymous informant, will make Sarah Palin drop out of the Presidential race. It came as a surprise to nobody that Sarah Palin dropped out, since she's a lunatic whom only a handful of people would consider voting for. However, it had nothing to do with taxes or mysterious scandals, so, wrong.
  •     Justin Timberlake and Jessica Biel get engaged. This one is correct. Wendy! successfully predicted the engagement of a couple who'd been dating for years and had talked about getting engaged on national TV.
  •     Justin and Jessica have a baby girl. Wrong.
  •     Justin writes and produces an autobiographical film. Wrong. I feel like I'm shooting fish in a barrel here. I don't want to be mean, but really?
  •     Jessica is nominated for a 2012 Oscar.  Wrong.

Tallying that up, there were 22 predictions specific enough to evaluate, of which 2 were correct. That's an accuracy rate of 9%, and the ones that were correct weren't the ones I would've given long odds. If Arnold Schwarzenegger were somehow on the ballot, or if we'd invaded Nicaragua, I'd be a little more impressed. As it is, I don't know about you, but I like my psychics to be correct at least 15% of the time, to justify charging $400/hr ($600 if you just count face time).
Tyler Tork, occasional contributor of derisive comments here, writes speculative fiction and answers reader questions online. Every question deserves a silly answer. www.tylertork.com/qna


[1] The exclamation point is apparently part of her name.
[2] Some might suspect that she only knows one punctuation symbol, but she deserves some credit for correct use of apostrophe when she bills herself as "The Psychics' Psychic."

34 comments:

  1. Wow...

    It's a good thing we put a big piece of plywood behind the dartboard before we handed her the darts.

    Sheesh.

    "The psychics' psychic?"
    Ha. Self-proclaimed. "The narcissists' narcissist." ...is more like it.

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