Tag Archives: Psychic powers

More on the UK’s ‘best-loved psychic’.

17 Aug

I’ve written previously about Sally Morgan, the UK’s self-proclaimed ‘best-loved’ psychic. A couple of recent articles make this an even better teaching opportunity that it was previously.

The first article is a review of one of Sally’s shows from June 2012, written by an ex-magician who points out some of the techniques she may have used. The article doesn’t provide anything hugely surprising, but it’s worth paying attention to the comments at the bottom of the article. Two commenters, both who claim to have attended the same show, defend Sally Morgan’s work and suggest that the report is not accurate. Whilst you might like to believe the original article, as a rational thinker you have to accept that article can’t be accepted at face value.

However, the second article makes things much more interesting. When the author and renowned skeptic Simon Singh originally wrote about Sally Morgan’s activities he asked anyone who had had a reading from her to contact him. He has now written about the response to this request, including audio recordings of one particular reading by Sally Morgan (There is a certain irony in the fact that the recording was made by Morgan herself). Having an audio recording allows for a point by point dissection of Morgan’s methods, which makes very interesting reading.

There are a couple of useful teaching points here. Firstly, it’s the quality of the evidence that separates the first article from the second. Whilst students might latch on to the first article, it’s a good way of demonstrating the questionable nature of testimonials. The quality of the evidence in the second article is what allows for the better critique of Morgan’s methods. The second teaching point is, I think, a more interesting one. I’d like to use this to get students to think about whether psychics do any harm, and whether we shouldn’t get involved if adults wish to spend their own money of psychic readings. In areas such as alternative medicine I think the question of potential harm is clearer, but here I suspect there is, at the very least, an argument to be had.


Strange developments in the psychic world

8 May

Sally Morgan is, at least according to her web-site, ‘Britain’s best-loved psychic’, who provided psychic reading to the late princess Diana.

As ‘Britain’s best-loved psychic’, she has peaked the interested on the ‘skeptical’ community, and there are a number of recent articles about her work which are worth discussing with students. At a performance in Dublin in Sept 2011 some members of Sally’s audience reported hearing a voice apparently feeding inform to her whilst on stage. Subsequently she was accused of wearing a concealed earpiece to allow her staff to communication information about members of the audience during the performance. Subsequently the illusionist Paul Zenon wrote about this incident in a story in the Daily Mail. Morgan is now suing both the Mail and Zenon for libel.

Following this incident Simon Singh examined the reviews of Sally Morgan’s shows blogs and found a fall in her ratings after the Dublin incident. Singh took care to point out that he was not suggesting that this was as a result of no longer being able to use an earpiece.

The story gets even more convoluted in Feb 2012, when Drew McAdam attended Sally Morgan’s Edinburgh show. McAdam reports planting a story that Morgan subsequently repeated during her show. Sally Morgan has, obviously, vigorously challenged McAdam’s claims.

This whole story makes for a great ‘knock-around’ teaching session. Students seem to love anything about ‘psychic-powers’, and the McAdam portion of the tale is a nice illustration of how some psychics might work. It’s worth getting students to think about how they might objectively test claims of psychic powers. For students interested in such work, the work of Chris French at Goldsmiths is worth following

In addition, it’s interesting that the Daily Mail come out on the right side of this story !

At interesting postscript to this story is that very little seems to change in relation to psychic powers. Below is a video of James Randi investiagting Uri Geller in the early 1970’s. Much of what Randi reports seems to be replicated in the above story

Psychic Powers, Replication and the collapse of psychology ???

27 Apr

As part of my teaching I focus on students gaining an understanding of how knowledge progresses by the employment of the scientific method. One of the tenets of this teaching is the idea that you would never accept a hypothesis after one positive result, but would seek to replicate the finding with different samples and different experimental methods. When students begin to read scholarly journals they may gains rather different impression of how knowledge progresses, as the world appears to consist of positive findings associated with new theories and hypotheses. This absence of replication would seem to be one of those unwritten rules of academia, but recent developments seem to suggest that it might be beginning to unravel.

In 2011 the APA’s Journal of Personality and Social Psychology published a paper by Daryl Bem suggesting the existence of precognitionhttp://www.dbem.ws/FeelingFuture.pdf As you might imagine, a paper in a leading peer-reviewed journal reporting experimental evidence of a psychic phenomena produced a good deal of interest.

Three British psychologists Stuart Ritchie, Richard Wiseman and Chris French set about trying to replicate Bem’s work, and unsurprisingly failed to reproduce his findings. This is where the story gets interesting, as they struggled to get their failed replication published. In particular it was rejected by the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, who had published Bem’s original work. Ritchie, Wiseman and French have written about the saga of trying to get their replication published in the May 2012 edition of The Psychologist.

All of the above makes for an interesting discussion with students, Psychic powers to engagement initially, the idea that we should be looking for replication and the evidence that we actually aren’t really interested in publishing it. However, another development makes it an even more interesting topic for discussion. A group of researchers started something they call The Reproducibility Project that is aiming to replicate all the work published in three leading journals Psychological Science, the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, and the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition during 2008. There is an interesting article about this project in The Chronicle of Higher Education.

It’s interesting to speculate about what might happen if they fail to replicate much of the work from three such prestigious journals

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