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Everbody’s an Expert

by Mark Edward, Aug 25 2009
Alex "Skeptiko" Tsakiris

Alex "Skeptiko" Tsakiris

On Tuesday night, August 18thI did a podcast for SKEPTIKO at www.skeptiko.com. I had been warned about dealing with the host, Alex Tsakiris by several people far more familiar with the blog-universe than me including friends at CFI West and Baxter at Warning: Radio, so I was on my guard. It was an eye-opening session.

From the get-go the host, Mr. Tsarkiris presented himself as contentious and smug, extolling his vast credits as a parapsychologist and attempting to downplay my role as a mere magician, mentalist and skeptic. He used the term several times about how he “bristled” at the idea of a magician or mentalist being involved with “scientific investigations” and couldn’t see why it was needed in the laboratory, a place where he assured me he was well acquainted.

I kept my cool for as long as possible, but I’m only human.

Condescension is something I will rarely sit still for. Add in a tone of grandiose self importance and you have an individual that would be hard to listen to in any situation, much less a website that calls itself “Skeptico,”  inviting the logical conclusion that those involved there are trained professionals seeking the skeptical point of view. Nothing could be further from the truth. 

Mr. Tsakiris baited me at every opportunity he could find. I was reminded of those abusive customers I once had to deal with on the 900 psychic lines. I’m not referring to the one-in- a -thousand skeptical people who might occasionally dial in, I’m talking about the believers whom I sometimes tried to beat some sense into during those years.  He wouldn’t listen to what I had to say and frequently interrupted. He went so far as to challenge my website for my “mind reading,” stage show, asking how I could be a mind reader and a skeptic at the same time! I then realized I was dealing with a person of limited resources, despite all the paranormal buzz words he spouted at regular intervals. After ten minutes of exacerbating an already sore subject of the reality of spirit communication, he went into a diatribe about how he and a female psychic I had never heard of and who had allegedly worked exclusively with Dr. Gary Swartz (!) now had conclusive evidence for what he called “anomalous material.” I asked for specifics, the term anomalous being as diffuse and ambiguous as the word cumulus in my mind. What exactly was he talking about? Big Foot? Loch Ness? Elvis sightings? Or just plain old mediumship?

He remained evasive. I asked him at least four or five times in a row how many years of actual research he had in the field of parapsychology. To this he repeatedly refused to answer. There was a mind numbing silence after each time I persisted in asking this question. When pressed after refusing to go on with any more of the interview until he answered, he finally admitted that he had about 22 hours of podcasts to show for his work!  I told him I had been investigating psychics and mediumship for over thirty years and for seventeen of those years, I have been on the Editorial Board of Skeptic magazine! I wasn’t trying to “trump” him as he said, just telling it like it is. He accused me of trying to “one up” him as well. Well, ..yes. If you call having some credibility and a track record to back up your claims, yes. One up would be the only direction for me to go in that situation.

As time wore on, Mr. Tsarkiris became more and more aggressive and even abusive towards me; putting ridiculous words in my mouth, trying to speak for me (as if I couldn’t do it myself) and generally running me down as if all his listeners tacitly agreed with his skewed versions of such phrases as “peer review”; referring the “The Journal of Psychical Research” as a “scientific authority,” the many “papers” Mr. Swartz had published on the subject of spirit intervention and the indisputable reality of such communications down through history. I merely replied that there is as of now, no proof of any of that. Anecdotes are not scientific evidence. I further told him that I was perfectly willing to look at any “indisputable” evidence for myself and that I would be more than happy if such proof was forthcoming. I even stated that if such proof turned out to be verifiable, I would be the first one to turn in my skeptic badge and spread the word. Nothing would make me happier. My life would be complete. I could die and go to… well, wherever it would be. Science would have been turned on its head. The complete fabric of reality would have been torn to shreds and like a leak in a diver’s helmet who is exploring the depths of some uncharted ocean, a whole new reality would come flooding into the minds of mankind that would forever change the way we think about life, death and the hereafter.  I wasn’t hearing anything that I hadn’t already read in hundreds of “true experience” books by Elliott O’ Donnell, Hans Holzer or Ed Warren.  

Mr Tsakiris then suggested a “challenge” whereby he and his female medium (with the help of Dr. Swartz of course) would set up a “scientific protocol” involving a list of names, A, B, C, etc. Their team would obtain a “spirit message” from some entity the identity of which would only be known to himself and Mr Swartz, and then I would be tasked along with the medium with matching up which message went with which discarnate spirit. I was assured that the final tally would be largely in the medium’s favor. Well duh. What could anyone expect? It would be their medium and their set-up. How ridiculous is that? Does it say “stupid” somewhere on my website bio? I restated that this sort of mind game is exactly why a magician or mentalist versed in the techniques of deception is needed in these completely unprofessional situations.

I then attempted to invoke Asimov’s “Unicorn Wings” theory, reminding Mr. Tsakiris that it would be necessary for me to be firmly convinced of the reality of life after death and spirits (the unicorn) before I could even begin to accept that their medium had anything even approaching any communication with them (whether or not they have wings), but this fell on deaf (and dumb) ears. He used the word “competition” several times and I told him that any competition between myself and any so-called medium he would be pitting me against would be anything but a scientific method. This was his idea of a scientific test!

I lost it about then.

Some may have heard how I react when I can no longer suffer a fool and already know how I respond in these situations. I’m basically a patient man, but even at the best of times I can get aggravated with groundless theories and weak verbal misdirection. I’m a magician and the old adage “don’t bullshit a bullshitter” definitely applies here. Tsakiris kept up his side of the bull with all the pseudo scientific woo fodder he could muster, but he ended up sounding extremely unprofessional.

So why am I bringing all this up? Because we have a growing problem here. Mr. Tsakiris is just a symptom of a much larger problem. This guy and others like him on the Internet are even worse than the run-of-the-mill believers you see wandering in and out of psychic fairs. Mr. Tsakiris is not just a believer, he’s clearly a con artist out to sell himself as an “expert in the field.” He’s not an expert at all. I doubt if he’s really even a believer if you get right down to it. He is playing what he thinks is a shrewd game of playing both sides against the middle and creating a win/win situation for himself. There’s no science at Skeptiko. If you call any of the various magazines like “Fate,” “Beyond Investigation” or “TAPS Paramagazine” definitive scientific journals loaded with “peer reviews,” you’ve lost my vote as credible.

The PSIRO webpage header: Verrrrry Scientific...

The PSIRO webpage header: Verrrrry Scientific...

Slick entrepreneurs who happen to have a degree in graphic design or website construction can manage to put up very academic looking websites that have all the bells and whistles in all the right places and look amazingly professional. Take a look at another of these sites called The Paranormal Study and Investigative Research Organization at www.psiro.com. There they post a “Call for Papers,” promise members “Journals and Reports” and feature a “Research and Case Study”section. If I didn’t know better I’d sign up. However, as my good friend Batboy discovered about PSIRO: 

 “I used about an hour of my life to listen to a podcast they appeared on, they seem sincere but naïve. No one in this organization has a background in science or research. But yet they advertise that they are using the scientific method, in researching alleged evidence of the paranormal.”

 He also wrote :

 “That (PSIRO) website is populated by a group I like to call para-nerds, they like to use scientific terms which usually have no meaning connected to whatever claim of the paranormal they are trying to explain. When you corner a para-nerd instead of giving you the usual answer like a believer would for example “it was magic” their answer usually is “quantum physics” or ” this anomaly is beyond our current range of understanding” BULLSHIT!! Go back to the magic explanation!”

In truth many of these “organizations,” “foundations” or “institutes” may be run by some loser holed up in his basement surrounded by empty pizza boxes. Sorry if that’s harsh, but I’m taking it to the worst case scenario here, because what Batboy wrote about is exactly the kind of drivel I heard with my own ears the night I was on SKEPTIKO. I wasted well over an hour with Mr. Tsakiris. I heard an arrogant, self-assured woo peddler doing his damnedest to ridicule the very scientific methods he was purporting to know so much about and in the process, glossing over the most important issues that separate fantasy from fact.  It’s frightening that such people can ascend to such levels without any apparent qualifications whatsoever, but there you have it.

These para-nerds are “armchair investigators” in every sense of the word. Like the so-called “ghosthunters” we are seeing such a dirge of on television, in print and under every haunted rock we turn over, they fly in the face of reality; there’s no laboratory, no peer group, no professional papers or degrees involved with this type of “parapsychology.” It’s all a ruse to get money out of the gullible who aren’t savvy enough to read, think or ask the tough questions. I finally had enough and hung up after telling Mr. Tsakiris that he and his ilk are now on my personal FORCE ONE hit list and that he wasn’t playing with a full deck. 

 Now for the best part:

About five minutes after I hung up, Tsakiris called back and told me that the was sooooo sorry, but that due to some “human error,” the whole show hadn’t recorded properly and he didn’t have any of it!  Coincidence? I think NOT. I’m thinking the human error here was Mr. Tsakiris’ finger on the erase button. He offered to “re-do the show” if I wanted. Of course to do so would be futile unless I agreed to his line of bullshit. Only then would he get what he wanted in the first place and have something he might twist and later use against me and the greater skeptical movement.

Can you believe this guy? What are we to do with this new breed of “experts?” Or can we even begin to address this new media phenomena masquerading in our midst?

There is the possibility, however sleight, that I am wrong about Mr. Tsakiris. Maybe my own prejudices borne of my own past experiences have clouded my judgment. If such is the case, may I take this opportunity to sincerely apologize. If on the other hand Mr Tsakiris represents what I think he does, that is, a new wave of “paranormal investigators” who have neither the education nor common sense to see beyond the thinnest of conjectures about which they speak, we are in trouble. In the latter case we are not just dealing with willful ignorance of the facts, we have reached what Mr. Tsakiris refers to on his site as “science at the tipping point.”  With his acquiescence, he’s tipping away from reason, reality and science.

There’s just so much of this disingenuous fluff out there it makes my head spin. Of course, it’s a free country and everyone should be able to tune into whatever brand of “entertainment” they desire. I’m not advocating censorship and I’m certainly not the one to throw stones at anyone less skeptical for playing both sides of the street. I’ve been there and done that. It would be the height of hypocrisy for me to push my point too hard here. After all, I’m a mentalist and a performer and not a scientist.

My Seance Room at The Copley Plaza Hotel, Boston, Oct. 2008

My Seance Room at The Copley Plaza Hotel, Boston, Oct. 2008

The role I am often tasked to play is not dissimilar to the one Mr. Tsakiris is playing right now on his website. But I have the proscenium of the stage or the trappings of the Victorian Seance Room to tell the audience that I’m only playing a cardboard character. sm2That’s my disclaimer.

Perhaps I’m beginning to see the dark shadows of my own past taking on the shape of the future form of cyber con artistry? Again, what’s old is new. Don’t believe me ? Check out the June 23 edition of “Newsweek:”

“The $10,000-A -Month Psychic; When business people need a crystal ball, they turn to consultant Laura Day, the intuitionist.”

Yep. They sure do.  In the world of big business,

Psychic = Bad,

Intuitionist = Good

From the “Newsweek” article worth reading:

“The scale of Day’s success would have been hard to imagine in the 1990′s when the Psychic Friends Network and a campy Jamaican psychic called Miss Cleo clotted the airwaves with low-rent infomercials, giving the P word a bad public image. Some stigma still remains. ‘ The hedge funds would freak out’ if they knew he consulted a psychic, says the Hollywood executive.”

Uh huh. Another example claiming a more “scientific method” to promote the new ” intuitionist”  branding. Watch out for the new breed of  “executive psychics” who promise to purposely veer away from old school archetypes like Edgar Cayce  or Jean Dixon and focus instead on the reputations of more “scientifically accepted” modern icons like Buckminster Fuller, John Lilly and Carlos Castaneda.  Laura Day has already raked in 10 million in the last 15 years according to the above article.  The cocksure approach of this new exploitative angle is bad enough. What bugs me even more is the puffed-up attitude and complete lack of civility that characterizes this new “paranormal investigative” era we find ourselves in.

Harry Price: The Real Deal circa 1922

Harry Price: The Real Deal circa 1922

Harry Price would be really pissed off.

Everybody is an expert.

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Everbody's an Expert, 4.8 out of 5 based on 16 ratings

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72 Responses to “Everbody’s an Expert”

  1. Rev Matt says:

    I don’t think you are wrong about Alex. When I first started listening to podcasts I sought out all the skeptical/scientific ones I could find and his was one of them. I listened to a few episodes and quickly determined that whatever words you may choose to describe him, skeptical is not one. As he is actively hostile to science and skepticism, he’s simply not worth paying attention to.

    • Michael Kingsford Gray says:

      You took the exact words from my mouth!
      “Actively hostile to science” is a perfect phrase to describe this enemy of reality.

  2. Max says:

    I listened to some of Alex’s interviews with skeptics. It feels a little like beating your head against a wall. I didn’t hear anyone explicitly mention Occam’s razor.
    On the one hand, Alex says skeptics shouldn’t shy away from debunking bunk, on the other hand he accuses skeptics of being too dismissive of legitimate paranormal research. What does he consider legitimate? He keeps pointing out Ph.D. degrees, professorships, publications in peer-reviewed paranormal journals, everything other than whether the research follows the scientific method.

  3. Max says:

    Mark, did you record the conversation?

  4. Noadi says:

    I enjoy some podcasts from credulous folks, the Paranormal Podcast is a good example of a guy who doesn’t come across as hostile to science or skepticism he just totally doesn’t get it. Skeptiko though I tried listening to one episode and had to stop.

  5. Patrick says:

    Because I’m an intellectural masochist, I subscribe to Skeptiko and regularly listen. Six months ago or so, Tsakiris started an “open source science” project to study look at the alleged validity of mediumship by measuring the accuracy of “mediums” against “skeptics” on matching up a short audio introduction to a description of the speaker’s quarry.

    The protocol used at first was far from ideal, but showed some positive results that the mediums may indeed showing an unusual ability.

    And then Tsakiris did right: he asked for feedback from the skeptical commuity on how to tighten the controls, how to minimize any source of bias or data leakage that could be used for cold reading. I was actually pretty encouraged that this was turning into a promising study. He did three or four iterations, tightening the protocol each time… By the last iteration, the protocals were getting pretty good, and he’d responded positively to some of the feedback he’d received.

    And then… He closed the project. He never said why, but I imagine its because as the protocol got tighter and tighter, the “promising signs” got smaller and smaller.

    What utter hypocrisy. These were HIS OWN PROTOCOLS that were failing to show the results he wanted. This, to me, proved he has no true curiosity about whether or what the phenomenon going on was, but just wants to produce a study showing positive results.

    Ugh…

  6. Patrick says:

    Also, “intellectural masochist?” nice typo, genius.

  7. MadScientist says:

    Are you sure he’s a paranormalist and not a preacher? I just can’t tell the difference. He doesn’t tell people to send him $100 as a ‘seed’ to buy god’s love and have prayers answered, does he?

    Unfortunately that style of bullshit isn’t new – just look at all the self-proclaimed ‘doctors’ out there. Cons are always trying to present themselves as someone respectable – that’s just part of the con game – dress well, wear blingbling, speak with a funny fake accent, rattle off names of famous people you’ve seen on TV as if you’ve met them, call yourself ‘doctor’ and poo-poo those ‘other poor misguided doctors’. The really horrible thing of course is that plenty of people fall for the bullshit.

  8. kabol says:

    you quoted batboy as saying: No one in this organization has a background in science or research. But yet they advertise that they are using the scientific method, in researching alleged evidence of the paranormal…they like to use scientific terms which usually have no meaning connected to whatever claim of the paranormal they are trying to explain. When you corner a para-nerd instead of giving you the usual answer like a believer would for example “it was magic” their answer usually is “quantum physics” or ” this anomaly is beyond our current range of understanding”…

    yesterday i ran across a book from a woman named Marie D Jones – the book is called “Modern Science and the Paranormal”. it is listed as “juvenile nonfiction”. as i started reading thru what is featured on books.google.com, i was kind of impressed — she seemed to be paraphrasing brian greene’s elegant universe a good bit, but i thought she wrote well and i was thinking “wow, what a great way to separate quantum physics from paranormal posing and posturing.

    but then i googled the author. woo-city. she’s a metaphycical minister, whatever that is. i had only cursorily glanced thru the pages of her book that were listed on google, so i have no idea what she ends up concluding or promoting in this book, but my guess is it doesn’t bode well for science.

    why is it that paranormal peeps get published and promoted so easily?! i know, i know — woo sells.

    • kabol says:

      i said that i have no idea what marie jones ends up concluding or promoting in her book, but my guess was it doesn’t bode well for science.

      while i screwed up with my initial impression thinking she was going to separate woo from quantum physics for younger readers, i think i made up for it with my end guess:

      http://mariedjones.com/index.php?page=the-author

      oh look! she has all of those handy-dandy entertainment industry connections that the woo folks crave and strive to get.

  9. Dave R says:

    First of all, great article Mark! I also liked Patrick’s comment. The thing that jumped out at me was, how does a “contest” between a “real” psychic and an admitted fake psychic prove anything? If Jamy Ian Swiss and Banachek both faced off in a mentalism contest, and one of them was clearly better, would that prove that one of them was actually a real psychic? Maybe I’m missing something here, but I don’t see that it proves anything one way or the other. How about a contest between Uri Geller and just about any number competent mentalist? Although he has tons of charisma, Geller’s not a very good technician, and could easily be beaten in a contest. Would that convince people that psychic powers *aren’t* real? Somehow I don’t think so. The way to prove psychic phenomena isn’t to hold a contest between two people to see who does better — all you need is for the psychic to demonstrate they can actually do what they are claiming they can. They just need to produce one piece of specific information that they couldn’t have obtained any other way, and I’m sold!

  10. Bill says:

    Mark – when you get the chance, ask Steve Novella and the SGU crew about Alex. They had a choice set of encounters with him a couple of years ago.

  11. Patrick UK says:

    You are spot on with Alex. Heard him interviewed on the SGU ages back and he never portrayed himself as one who actually cared about the scientific principle. He has a message that he wants to push for his own ends and nothing, not even evidence, is going to dissuade him.

  12. Fortunately, Skeptico had joined the ranks of several podcasts I unsubscribed to a little while ago. Skeptico hurt my ears.

  13. Tom Rhoads says:

    I found skeptico on iTunes and tried about 4 or 5 shows before I finally gave up. Every show was the same with lots of double-talk about psychics and how the scientific community was ignoring the “proof” of psychic abilities. It just shows that you have to be careful about these con-men. Naming his show skeptico may pull in some skeptical listeners, but he won’t fool anyone.

  14. Susan Gerbic says:

    I had never heard of this man in our skeptic universe, and I think I have heard of everyone that is legit. So I looked him up on iTunes and was amazed to find comment after comment from skeptics all negative and talking about what a jerk and woo promoter he is. Does this guy read his own reviews? Maybe he likes it this way, he is getting a whole blog from Mark devoted to him? Publicity of any kind is always good.

  15. Niall says:

    Firstly the guy sounds like a complete moron, I would be tempted to listen to some Skeptico, but after all the comments about how awful it is I think I’ll pass.

  16. Mark Edward says:

    Please pass on Skeptiko. I have only devoted an entire blog on this guy to give everyone a heads up to what they need to report on here at Skepticblog about other so-called “skeptical” podcasts or con artists remodeling their sales pitch to reflect some non-skeptical stance. This damages all of us in the process. I have also mentioned http://www.thedotpproject.com and thier “new” approach to woo. Same thing. No sooner had I reached home last night: I opened my mailbox and inside was the usual bunch of junk mail and supermarket ads. There, glaring at me in bold face was the headline, IS IT MAGIC OR IS IT SCIENCE? This ad touts the a fat cell “search and destroy” mechanism that like all the rest, is guaranteed. I have alway enjoyed phrase “works like magic.” To me, it immediately suggests a trick. whether or not this new diet pill Navixar really works like magic is not importantIt’s the wordage used. Reading the fine print on the ad, underneath a picture of a microscope, there is this:

    “It’s tempting to say something clever like Navixae locks out fat and throws away the key. Interestingly enough, that is an accurate way to put it without going into a long and boring scientific explanation.”

    Right. Long and boring explanations about something you put in your body are just a waste of time. We have a problem here. Both mind and body are systematically being worn down by pure laziness.

  17. kabol says:

    some people are typing skeptico.

    skeptiko = bad.

    skeptico = good.

    i’m sure it was just a typo, but just for the benefit of anyone who didn’t know.

  18. Eternally Listening says:

    Too funny! I recently listened to the podcasts from the SGU about this guy, not to mention a few of his own. I couldn’t get over how this guy just never got what was right in front of his face. He kept accusing Wiseman of trying to sabotage Radin’s reputations by calling his methods into question. No matter how many times he was told that the questioning of methods was not only not a problem, but integral to science, he would not back down. He basically said that they were all lying to him. What a putz!

  19. Mark Edward says:

    Pleas check out my latest podcast with the Rocky Mountain Paranormal guys, Bryan and Baxter at http://www.warningradio.info/Warning/Home.html
    It’s chock full of angst.

  20. MrEvidential says:

    Mr. Edward,

    Tsakiris is not a parapsychologist and has no scientific credentials. He has never called himself a parapsychologist in any of his previous shows. You must have misunderstood him.

  21. Mark Edward says:

    There was no misunderstanding. Mr. Tsakiris portrayed himself as a expert in the field. Read his bio. Listen to him. The use of the label “parapsychologist” being bandied about without any credentials reminds me of a quote I remember from my years as a magician in the “brotherhood:”

    I forget who said it, but it went something like this.

    “Being in a magic club has about as much to do with magic as being in a country club has to do with the country.”

  22. MrEvidential says:

    And also,

    You appear to be ridiculously uninformed about the topic. The journal you were referring to is NOT called the “Journal of Psychical Research,” it is The Journal of the Society for Psychical Research. Anybody who claims to have done research into alleged mediumship claims should have known this! There have been numerous experiments with mental mediums, which have been published in the JSPR (or the proceedings) over a period of 120 years. Certainly you realize that, as a skeptic, you have to actively seek out and evaluate the evidence which *parapsychologists* deem the best. Also, Gary Schwartz has recently published experiments which are very rigorously controlled:

    Beischel, J., & Schwartz, G. E. (2007). Anomalous information reception by research mediums demonstrated using a novel triple-blind protocol. Explore: The Journal of Science & Healing, 3, 23–27.

    • aaron says:

      The Journal of Science & Healing… one of many sites publisded by Elsevier which mainly hosts commericial woo enterprises using this ‘journal’ as a catch all for evidence for its own brand of pseudoscience

      http://www.elsevier.com/wps/find/elsevierwebsites.cws_home/elsevierwebsites

    • Susan Gerbic says:

      Okay, I spent a good hour reading this study, thank you MrE for citing it. Some of the things that occurred to me while reading it…

      This idea of “other fit” or “fit with interpretation” that seems to be a general catch-all.

      Skeptics and none-believers were not allowed to participate as sitters, not sure why that would have any relevance.

      Then there is the bigger problem of how this was supposed to work…let me just quickly explain how this experiment was done. They call it being triple-blinded…

      16 sitters are selected (believers or semi-believers all undergrad students) half have had a parent die, the other half had a close friend die. The dead (called discarnates)were grouped together by gender.

      The “medium” was at home on the phone.

      The place-holding sitter is selected to just sit in the lab.

      Everyone has no idea who anyone is or anything about the dead person who is trying to be reached. The people in charge are also blinded.

      The medium calls the lab, is given the first name only of two dead people (one is a parent of the sitter the other a friend of the sitter) Remember the sitter is at home doing whatever (they could be cleaning the house or asleep that is not clear) The medium is “talking” to a place-holding sitter at the lab (the place-holder knows nothing about the dead persons except the first names). The medium gives a reading about both dead people.

      The reading is transcribed and importing telling info is gleaned out (info that would give away age, location ect) then both readings are given to the sitter. The sitter selects either reading A or reading B as being closest to their dead person.

      The conclusion is that more sitters selected the correct dead person’s reading than chance.

      ————-

      Here’s what I’m really having problems with, maybe you can help me here…

      The medium is “reading” a name given to them that is the true name of someone dead, Mary or Alice. The sitter to which the dead person is connected is not on the other end of the phone, they are off somewhere else bathing their dog or something. So explain how the medium is reading someone like that? I just don’t get it.

      Again, this study means nothing unless it can be replicated by other experimenters. I would also like to see how the transcripts were gleaned for info. It almost sounds like the sitter had a 50% chance to select their reading? Arn’t those pretty good odds?

      Anyway, I think I will look at what others are saying about this study when I get a chance. I’m curious. These were just things that caught my attention while reading it. Oh yeah, I’m not sure these comments are fitting “Moreover, given the controversial nature of mediumship and the survival of consciousness hypothesis as well as the unexplored biases of most traditional scientists regarding concepts that do not adhere to conventional theories, it is understandable why such studies are rarely reported in conventional journals.”

      • kabol says:

        16 sitters are selected (believers or semi-believers all undergrad students) half have had a parent die, the other half had a close friend die. The dead (called discarnates)were grouped together by gender.

        talk about stacking the “medium”s odds.

        how were these people chosen and exactly who had access to their information?

      • Susan Gerbic says:

        They are all undergrad students, don’t know how they were found and little is said about who controls the info.

      • Susan Gerbic says:

        found a great site tonight that gives a skeptics side of the experiment. http://skepdic.com/essays/novelway.html

    • Eternally Listening says:

      How exactly does leaving a word out of the name of a journal equal “Ridiculously Uninformed?” Also, when you say, “Anybody who claims to have done research…” you make it sound like this means that Mark is lying when he said, “I told him I had been investigating psychics and mediumship for over thirty years and for seventeen of those years, I have been on the Editorial Board of Skeptic magazine.” Is that what you are implying here?

  23. MrEvidential says:

    Mark,

    Did he *explicitly* say he was a parapsychologist?

    • kabol says:

      Alex Tsakiris is one of a group at http://www.Skeptiko.com./blog replicating the research of Dr. Rupert Sheldrake. This research examines the telepathic link between dog and their owners.

      maybe he’s a doggiepsychologist. or doggiepsychic.

      • MrEvidential says:

        Actually, the scientists are doing the work. He is just trying to convince them to do it.

  24. kabol says:

    mental mediums

    now THAT’s redundant. oxymoronic?

  25. kabol says:

    university of arizona is one of only two public universities in the US which still bothers to provide a parapsychology department.

    unfamiliar with gary schwartz, i did what every slap happy knee jerk no tee shirt skeptic does and quickly read the wiki. now, obv i am unable to vouch for the wiki’s veracity – but if any of this IS true.

    zoinks.

    Schwartz’s major research focus has been in the field of parapsychology. The stated goal of The VERITAS Research Program is to test the hypothesis, not a scientific theory, that the consciousness (or personality or identity) of a person survives physical death. Using scientific methodology and protocols to measure the results, individuals called mediums have been tested to discover if they can communicate with the deceased. Other experiments were informal, unplanned and even spontaneous and conducted in resorts and restaurants. [3] According to Dr. Schwartz when a scientist sees a medium doing extraordinary things not only in a laboratory but in the everyday setting of a restaurant, it’s hard to deny something very real is happening.[4][5] Subject mediums have included at least twenty mediums including John Edward[3] [4], Allison DuBois[5], Catherine Yunt and Laurie Campbell.[6][7] About three quarters of them were females.[8][9] Dr. Schwartz was “brought up to speed” concerning the history of medium research in the 20th century by Suzy Smith. Suzy Smith was the author of 30 books in the field of parapsychology, mediumship and survival of consciousness after death [10] and, according to Schwartz, a well-trained medium. The death of his friend Suzy Smith convinced him that he should no longer be an observer of mediums but instead a “research sitter.” Dr. Schwartz concludes that James Randi foolishly assumes all mediums are cheats. Schwartz agrees that some mediums cheat. But that does not mean all mediums are frauds. Schwartz believes many mediums are devoted to the truth.[11]

    • kabol says:

      Schwartz believes the future of advanced science is in the hands of a transforming subset of paranormal children; the children of mediums and possibly the Indigo children and it is important that the Medium (tv series) is appearing at this moment of history, the first decade of the twenty first century.

      the future of advanced science is in the hands of well-educated children who are adept at thinking critically.

    • Mark Edward says:

      Personally, I try to do all my testing in restaurants and resorts. It’s much more fun than in a lab and the buffalo wings are usually better.

    • Susan Gerbic says:

      From what I know this wiki sounds pretty accurate.

      Funny I have heard too many stories from Randi & Teller to not think about how easy it is to cheat in a restaurant.

  26. gr8googlymoogly says:

    kabol, regarding Gary Scwartz:

    “Schwartz believes the future of advanced science is in the hands of a transforming subset of paranormal children; the children of mediums and possibly the Indigo children…”.

    ‘Indigo childreb’? Isn’t our friend Jenny McCarthy’s son an Indigo Child?

    Also, “and it is important that the Medium (tv series) is appearing at this moment of history, the first decade of the twenty first century”

    I agree, it is important. The first decade of the 21st century is the best time in the past 50 years to make money off of a fictional topic like a ‘psychic detective’.

  27. Venom says:

    MrEvidential,

    The question is not about the fact that Alex Tsakiris said he was a parapsychologist or not. The question is about the fact that Alex Tsakiris thinks that he’s an expert in this field. He wants to interview skeptics, but in fact it’s only because he knows (in his own weird worldview) that they’re wrong – and that he’s more clever than they are – and that he wants to show the world that they’re wrong.

    Well, in fact, that has nothing to do with good journalism, or even good science.

    Mark Edward is right when he points out that Alex Tsakiris is NOT at all an expert. He’s an entrepreneur who does a podcast during his free time. How many papers did he published in the field so far? None. The only thing he did was to put only two YouTube videos up on his Channel about his doggy experiment.

    Alex Tsakiris acts like he’s an expert, when he should act as a science journalist.

    With Skepticality,

  28. Venom,

    Alex Tskaris like many others sees the proponents of psi phenomena and life after death as having the facts more on their side then the skeptics. Mark you can downplay all the evidence in support of the survival hypothesis as mere anecdotes and remain in complete ignorance. But the fact is their has been many well conducted experiments on mental mediums etc. Go ahead read the research. Mark so you insist that it be all of your protocols, none of Dr. Schwartz’s ones?.

    • kabol says:

      ok ok so mental mediums is redundant, not oxymoronic.
      i had a brain fart.

      Mark so you insist that it be all of your protocols, none of Dr. Schwartz’s ones

      will it include doggie dishes and doggie “sitters”?

      i mean, dogs are people too. don’t they need “sitters” for their triple blinded experiment?

      • Mark Edward says:

        Leo: I have been researching the exact protocols and experiments yo are so quick to call “facts” for far longer than Alex or probably yourself.

        What exactly are your qualifications to judge my “ignorance?”

        Unbelievable.

        Go ahead and call thirty five years “complete ignornance.”

        Now that’s real venom.
        Bite Me.

      • Venom,

        The reason why i am saying that your ignorant is because you don’t seem to know the history of past experiments on mediums. Such as the cross correspondences. Also the experiments that were done by Schwartz obviously didn’t prove that their is an afterlife. But they give evidence for that theory. I could be wrong, i guess i would have to see how the experiments were done first hand to know for sure one way or the other.

  29. Paul T. says:

    Leo, can psi phenomena and life after death stand up to even the simplest of scientific protocols such as the null hypothesis? NO! And I have read the research including Dr.Zchwartz’s.

    Mark, you did good my friend it’s a shame no one will ever hear it, I would love to go on SKEPTIKO sometime. I’ve got chunks of guys like old Alex in my stool. Was that too rough?

  30. Fred says:

    Alex is so full of it. The formula is the same everyime:

    (1) Read paranormal research.
    (2) Note Skeptics have concluded the research to be drastically inadequate and the researcher is most likely a true believer rather than a scientist.
    (3) Default to attacking skeptics and endorsing EVERYTHING that I come across that skeptics have dismissed.
    (4) Invite skeptics on to attack them. Spew logical fallacies and ignore reasons skeptics give for why the research in question is inadequate.
    (5) Invite Sheldrake, Radin and co. to wax lyrical about ho dogmatic and close minded skeptics are.

    Can he really be seriously trying to gain a molecule of credibility by doing this???

    Let’s face it, the guy is getting kookier by the episode and as the SGU pointed out some time ago… Alex is jaded now and is on the warpath.

  31. Andy says:

    *****Okay, very important point here*****

    This episode should be used and learnt from by anyone doing any sort of public interview with these guys. ALWAYS tape it yourself as a backup.

    Not only will it protect against the other guy “accidentally” erasing it as in this case, but it will also protect you against malicious editing that allows them to look like they came of better than they actually did.

    You should state it up front and insist that the interview won’t go ahead unless you’re able to record it as well.

  32. Andy says:

    P.S.
    Can you imagine his face Mark, if you’d turned round and said “Oh, don’t worry, I’ve got my own copy!”

    LOL

  33. Kitty says:

    Bravo for taking on this bully, who sees dollar signs instead of science.

    HOnestly, Mark, with YOU, I almost (and I mean “almost”) feel sorry for the guy.

  34. Gonzo Skeptic says:

    On the plus side, I’d be willing to wadger that a vast majority of Alex’s listeners are skeptics that have chanced apon the show (like myself) and use it as a kind of mental excersize, keeping our skeptical minds on their toes. I remember reading the comments on iTunes and I recall most people upset that they could not vote lower than one star.

  35. Chris Kavanagh says:

    You probably had a lucky escape Mark. If the recording had survived it would have been played heavily edited with Alex adding in more of his ‘thoughts’ and ‘arguments’ after the fact. Then you would have faced the joys of Alex accusing you of dodging him for not coming back on the show to have the exact same discussion again. Finally, your name and the discussion would be added to the list of skeptics Alex rants about and claims victory over every few episodes.

    So like I say… a lucky escape.

  36. Mark… you’re playing very fast-and-loose with the truth.

    Of course there’s any easy way to resolve this… you claim to have a recording of our conversation… SO PUBLISH IT!

    If you do not (i.e. if you were lying about having a copy of the recording) come back on Skeptiko.

  37. dimwits says:

    Is this true? Is there a recording?

    • Max says:

      Alex says Mark emailed him that “My side of the recording came out just fine. Let me know if you want me to send you a copy.”

      Well, I’d like to hear it.
      I can’t find Mark’s interviews on The Paranormal View or Warning Radio either. Must be due to bad ju-ju.

  38. GNT46 says:

    Hey Mark. Alex says you emailed him and said you have a copy of the interview. Did you lie? If you have a copy of the interview why aren’t you willing to publish it?

  39. Mark says:

    I feel compelled to add my two cents here. Listen to Skeptiko podcast number 82 for Tsakiris’s position on this whole issue. It sounds to me like Mark Edward made a total ass of himself in the recording. If you’re telling the truth, Tsakiris, do not let something like this happen again. We need to take every opportunity to embarass the skeptics when they present themselves.

  40. Gonzo Skeptic says:

    I just listened to the podcast, and for someone who is always criticizing people for being dismissive, he is pretty dismissive of what mark had to say. I don’t think that any of the skeptics that have been on the show have been embarassed.

    Alex has a way of saying “I agree with you completely, but everything you say is wrong” it’s mentally exausting trying to keep up with what he’s trying to say.

    Yuch!

  41. Mark Edward says:

    As a final note to all this. Please go to http://www.skeptiko.com and read Tsarkiris’ post, “Mark Edward – The Lost Interview.” It tells the tale. As I said in the beginning of this blog, Ohhh yes, I lost it with this guy. Dealing with someone who twists the story like he does would infuriate even the most sedated skeptic. Nobody is playing any “faster or looser” with the truth than Mr. Tsarkiris. If you are searching for any truth, you are better served by reading up on the scientific data complied through the last twenty or so years staring with Targ and Puhoff (who were no angels themselves…)and running through the latest Million Dollar Challenge protocol. Paraphrasing old material from the American Society of Psychical Research mags and Gary Schwartz is not recognized as “peer group” material from where I come from. Maybe it’s fun to read for a lark, but is isn’t taken seriously by mainstream academics who are actually working in the field and applying solid protocol. If you don’t believe me, ask Wiseman, Hyman or Shermer. If it was taken as serious, we would be in trouble big time. I don’t have to tell any skeptic worth his salt that Mr. Schwartz has had his “papers” handed back to him on several occasions. Watch him try to convince the interviewer about the latest “medium” he was hyping back when we made the episode of “Exploring the Unknown” I did with Michael Shermer on psychic fraud. It’s hilarious. I’m done with Mr. Tsakiris and his fake “Skeptiko” folly.

  42. Brian Hart says:

    Mark:

    I listen to Skeptiko these days only when Alex has someone with some skeptical credibility, like Ben Radford, Lynne Kelly, Phil Plait or you, Mark. I mostly listen to Alex make a complete ass of himself when dealing with this rational crowd. That way, I figure, I can learn from his mistakes and see exactly where he goes wrong in these interviews.

    It seems like he has already made up his mind about the paranormal, and gets angry when anyone doesn’t see it the same way he does. It’s so simple to say, “I’m skeptical of the skeptics”. He seems want to put himself up on an unreachable and unimpeachable pedastal, and indeed, Tsakiris cannot be reached with any reasonable argument.

    If I had any say in the matter, I would tell all reasonable skeptics to avoid this show at all costs. Then Mr. Tsakiris could just go on and on talking to his ever diminishing audience until at last all he hears is the one voice he thinks is important, his own.

  43. Jeshua says:

    Mark,
    You have convinced me that i need to throw away all those empty pizza boxes right away!

  44. Kevin says:

    Are we as Skeptics accountable for the science behind our rebuttals?

    I’m a little troubled after reading this thread and doing some homework. I followed Mark’s link above and went to Mr. Tskaris’s blog. I found a link to his old website and listened to his past shows. I was expecting to hear a raving lunatic based on the posts on this blog. However, as much as I would like to go with the flow, I can’t completely on this one. Now I admit, none of us other than Mark were a part of his conversation with Mr. Tskaris, so it is possible that he was a mad raving lunatic during that conversation. :) Anyway, the following is what I observed from Mr. Tskaris’s investigative approach:

    1. He interviews Guest-A(insert name), who has published experiments in what would be considered the “Paranormal” field. He asks them about their research, protocols, controls and their findings.
    2. He invites a Skeptic to come on his show and refute the information he obtained during the interview with Guest-A. He notes any refuting statements, counter theories and objections.
    3. He does a follow-up interview with Guest-A, to present the arguments put forth by the interviewed Skeptic. He notes Guest-A’s responses and in some cases reaches back out to the Skeptic for further rebuttal.

    If handled properly by both sides, this approach seems like it has the potential to create an interesting point by point scientific debate. Unfortunately, in most cases it failed to get to that point. I would like to be able to say that the Skeptics put a good effort forward in the interviews I heard, but I can’t. I have always considered myself to be in the Skeptic camp, but I was embarrassed at the lack of effort put into the rebuttals/refuting positions offered. In most cases the Skeptics did not have a good grasp on the study and were unable to accurately discuss the protocols and controls that were used. Now before you flame away at me, consider this. In Mr. Tskaris’s approach above, a Skeptic is contacted and INVITED to provide a Skeptical position with regard to a specific experiment/study. The Skeptic has two choices at this point:

    1. Decline
    2. Agree

    If the Skeptic AGREES, wouldn’t you think he/she would want to become very familiar with the exact study in question, so they can provide an accurate and informative response? That does not mean Skeptics have to entertain every wacky claim that comes their way. However, in this case the Skeptics agreed to participate with the subject matter known ahead of time. If we’re going to represent the Skeptical position, don’t we have to hold ourselves to the same scientific methods that we expect of others? Especially if we choose to participate in a given debate.

    For example: If I accepted an invitation to present the Skeptical position on a particular study that Dean Radin did. I would expect myself to be able to provide analysis in a scientific manner like this . . .

    “I do not agree with Dr. Radin’s findings. In his experiment XX, he does not have proper controls in place to prevent the possibility of YY.” And of course, I would need to be familiar enough with his research to know that he did not have such controls in place and be able to back that up.

    Another example of the how a debate should go:

    “I carefully reviewed the protocols used by Dr. Radin and find flaws in the following areas: x, y, z . . . ” And of course, I should be able to point out scientifically where the protocols are flawed and be able to back that up.

    Based on the shows that I listened to, It would have been better for the Skeptics to decline the interviews than to put forth such a lazy effort at offering a true Skeptical position. We can do better than this!

    Regards,

    Kevin

  45. SteveW says:

    I’ve listened to most episodes of Skeptiko and it’s true that Alex has a running theme that skeptics don’t read the literature that he finds most impressive. He is particularly impressed by Sheldrake, Radin and Gary Schwarz. He seems to take the view that these people have done groundbreaking work demonstrating the existence of psi with well-designed experiments. He criticises Skeptics for being unfamiliar with this research and most of his guests have to admit that they don’t know much about it. This enables him to suggest that the skeptical position is based on ignorance. If you look into the work of these three researchers there are some serious problems of methodology and replication but he’s never had a guest that raised these issues with him.

  46. Kevin says:

    Hi Steve,

    I’m not sure about Alex’s running theme about Skeptics and don’t really care about his opinion. I formed my own conclusion based on listening to the past podcasts and reading the transcripts.

    You wrote: “If you look into the work of these three researchers there are some serious problems of methodology and replication but he’s never had a guest that raised these issues with him.”

    Are you sure you clicked on the “Past Shows” link and listened to his past podcasts. I ask you this, because the majority of his past shows were devoted to interviewing Skeptics about the very researchers you cited. Like I said in my post above, they were invited ahead of time to offer the Skeptical position regarding the research in question. This included Sheldrake’s and Radin’s work. (I don’t recall hearing a broacast devoted to Schwartz.) Some of the guests did offer rebuttals, but it was clear from those rebuttals that they were unfamiliar with the work and not prepared to represent the Skeptical camp. That doesn’t mean the Skeptics were wrong, it just means they were not prepared and that seems like a lost opportunity to me.

    Do you have a link that you could share with me that scientifically breaks down the “problems of methodology and replication” that you spoke of. I would like to investigate the research further.

    Regards,

    Kevn

  47. As a skeptic and avid reader of this site, I am a little taken aback by the lack of research and instilled bias that was claimed about an organization that uses the term Paranormal in their name. PSIRO is run by a skeptic and challenges those in the paranormal to provide irrefutable evidence to support their claims. Batboy apparently is not a credible source of information since the guy chose not to actually seek any answers, but rather chose to forward his opinion over to the author as fact. Has either one of you done any prior research or fact checking, you would have actually understood this.

    The skeptical community runs on ego and this sense of being far more intelligent than those that choose to believe in paranormal woo, yet when you fail to even check your facts and publish information, it tarnishes your credibility when that information turns out to be completely false.

    Batboy posted on a forum that is open to the general public and not indicative of the members of the actual organization itself. Many people actually agreed with him and his viewpoints, all of which can be read on the forums at http://www.psiro.com/forums. Perhaps next time before just believing something because it is what you want to hear, check the information and facts yourself.

  48. Rafe says:

    How did Suzy Smith become a “well-trained” medium? What does “well-trained” mean, in the medium community?

  49. Rafe says:

    As for Dr. Schwartz’s novel triple-blinded study, I’m surprised that nobody here brought up the small number of subjects. Sixteen is a pretty small group for a meaningful study.

  50. Voight says:

    First of all sorry for the bad English, it’s not my first language.

    Ok, I’ve listened to all of the Skeptiko shows (argh…) and I’ve learned that the host Alex Tsakiris has very poor critical thinking skills. And I agree with Mark Edward about how he comes across as a podcast personality.

    I also agree on the point raised here on the comments section that the invited skeptics have not done a good enough job of a “point by point” analysis of the studies that Alex puts forth in the podcasts, mainly studies coming from Schwartz and the various NDE stuff. Could it be that he has not informed the guests beforehand on what specific studies he wants to discuss? If this is the case, Alex if you’re still reading, I suggest that you do that in the future for a more constructive discussion.

    Anyways, Mark, you wrote:

    “As a final note to all this. Please go to http://www.skeptiko.com and read Tsarkiris’ post, “Mark Edward – The Lost Interview.” It tells the tale. As I said in the beginning of this blog, Ohhh yes, I lost it with this guy. Dealing with someone who twists the story like he does would infuriate even the most sedated skeptic. Nobody is playing any “faster or looser” with the truth than Mr. Tsarkiris.”

    Are you implying that you are too embarrassed to post the uncensored interview? That would of course be understandable, many of us lose our tempers especially when dealing with a host like that, and say all kinds of suprising things…but nevertheless, I’m sure many skeptical readers and listeners would really like to hear it, no matter what. Could you please clarify further your reasons of not publishing the audio of the interview?

    Thanks, and all the best,

    Voight (from the skeptical parts of Finland)