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Skeptics Say “Boo” To “Psychic Medium”

by Steven Novella, Aug 09 2010

I love this story. Entertainer Joe Power, who bills himself as a “psychic medium” was booed and heckled onstage during The Assembly’s 30th Anniversary Gala. His lame attempts to defend himself also reveal much about the medium entertainer industry.

Skeptics often go after big targets, which is reasonable, but the people who have risen to the top of their field (whether they are faith healers, psychics, mediums, or whatever) tend to be the most polished and experienced. (They tend to be, there are always exceptions.) However, we also have to realize that there is a second and third tier of faith healers and psychics who are trying to break into the top, but haven’t. These second-rate entertainers make great targets for skeptics – because many of them are not very good at their craft. They are doing the same things the top-tier psychic entertainers are, but are more obvious and are more likely to say stupid and revealing things when confronted.

By analogy – if you want to reveal how a magic trick is done, show someone who is not polished attempting the trick. They are likely to give it away. Don’t show a world class magician who is expert at hiding the technique and knows how to work a crowd.

Fellow SGU host Evan Bernstein and I once investigated a channeler in Connecticut – a woman who claimed to channel the spirit of D’hartma, a 700 year old spirit from Nepal. She was terrible. She was doing all the things that JZ Knight was doing, but just not very well. She did not have her story entirely straight and her performance was transparent. (You can read the full story here.)

I think Joe Power falls into this same category – in my opinion he is a second rate fake psychic medium trying desperately to break into the first tier. His career is described as “flagging.” Darren Brown famously pwned Power on his show – all Power could do was whine lamely.  Power is trying to be a “I see dead people” medium, but is not very good at cold reading and doesn’t have the stage presence to pull it off.

At the Assembly Gala he had only 5 minutes to put on his show, and he failed utterly, eventually getting booed off stage. The best part, however, is his lame excuses in the BBC article. He is quoted as saying:

“So I was expecting the sceptics at the Assembly launch night but I didn’t think it would be as bad as it was because anything people do should be respected.

Really? Anything? I think pretending to be psychic so that you can exploit the grief of other people in order to make money off of them is not deserving of respect (just to pick one example). Being booed and heckled is the proper response, and if we lived in a rational world every fake psychic and medium would be booed out of every venue in which they tried to ply their trade. Some things should not be tolerated, and booing, in the right context, can be a legitimate form of public protest. (Of course, anything can be abused, and I would not use this tactic to silence debate or opinions with which you do not agree.)

Power then gives away the game when he says:

“My mistake was that I didn’t have the lights on so I couldn’t see the recipient in the audience. I need response and dialogue to keep the energy.”

In other words – I need response in dialogue in order to do a cold reading, because I am not very good at it. Saying “the energy” is nicely vague – what does that mean, exactly? How does response and dialogue help him talk to dead people? Aren’t the dead people the source of the information? Hmmm…if he were talking to dead people, he would not need response and dialogue with the living. If he is doing a lame cold reading, he is utterly dependent upon response and dialogue.

I suppose it’s possible (like all paranormal phenomena, apparently) that talking to the dead just happens to work in such a way that makes it indistinguishable from the magic trick method of pretending to talk to the dead (cold reading).

30 Responses to “Skeptics Say “Boo” To “Psychic Medium””

  1. This is something I often run into as a skeptic. It’s strange how many people think that frauds and scam artists should receive “respect.” Our society is often far more concerned with platitudes than with actually doing the right thing.

    • Max says:

      The frauds don’t deserve respect, but maybe their audience who paid to see them doesn’t deserve to have its experience ruined, and end up with a worse impression of skeptics.

      • MadScientist says:

        That depends – is the audience there for laughs or do they believe the shtick? Perhaps the believers deserve a rude awakening – it just might save them a fortune. Like the old saying goes, not everyone who craps on you is your enemy.

      • Frying Dutchmen says:

        Or it’s the Fringe festival and people are almost always going to get booed or heckled while performing.

    • Michael Kingsford Gray says:

      These Criminal Frauds may well parasitise upon the uncritical respect that derives from the profound evolutionarily adaptive juvenile notion of ‘respect for those who appear to be an authority’.

  2. As part of our program of events on the International Fringe Festival Edinburgh Skeptics have put forward a challenge to Joe Power to demonstrate his psychic ability. We still haven’t heard anything back from Joe at this time, but look forward to his reply.

    You can find out more about all events hosted by Edinburgh Skeptics on the International Fringe Festival as well as reviews of other science and skepticism shows at http://skepticsonthefringe.wordpress.com/ .

  3. LovleAnjel says:

    We now have confirmation that spirit energy needs the lights on to work. What’s been going on in seances all these years?

    • tmac57 says:

      Well,obviously the spirits need the lights on,to boost their energy, to overcome the negative energy given off by the skeptics, that was interfering with his reception.Sheesh!You skeptical types are so clueless ;)

  4. Bob Mcbride says:

    A few years ago I watched a performance on tv of David Copperfield. He has never to my knowledge stated that his “powers” come from anything other than illusion, so this isn’t a skeptical inquiry in the sense that Dr. Novella spoke of in this post. However in trying to figure out how he pulled off his tricks some in my family were upset. They said that not knowing was part of the act and that my efforts were destroying their enjoyment of the show. To me knowing causes more enjoyment.

    • Sgerbic says:

      I agree with your family. I don’t want to know unless I figure it out myself. When I see a magician or mentalist I know that what they are doing is a trick, I want to be fooled and entertained. I don’t want it explained.

      Hanging with Mark Edward this last year or so has been an eye opener. I knew nothing about the magic world, and now…WOW…lets just say that he won’t show me anything, but if I see it enough even thick head me will figure it out.

      I still completely admire magic when it is done right. The skill these people have is incredible.

      • Bob Mcbride says:

        You figuring out how Mark Edward did his feats is the same thing that I tried to do with David Copperfield. Wasn’t planning to bust the illusion for anyone or ask for details of how to do the trick, just trying to figure it out for myself.

    • MadScientist says:

      Aww, Copperfield is a one-trick pony. The old “this is not done with camera tricks” trick which is done with camera tricks – zero skill involved, so I remain unimpressed.

  5. G Money says:

    Obviously turning on the lights drives away the energy vampires

  6. steelsheen11b says:

    “anything people do should be respected.”

    Really? so a pimp, a lawyer, a priest, a child pornographer, and politician are equal to scientists, soldiers, doctors and strippers? Nope not buying that one. every job is not created equal there are many that are better then others.

  7. Mark Edward says:

    If more people booed Sylvia Browne, John Edward and the rest of the “speak to the dead” crowd, we would all be a whole lot better off. There is no repect due to people who attempt to defraud those in our society without the willpower to resist them. It is up to us to DO SOMETHING. Frauds like this are very far from being “psychic entertainers,” even if they are on top of the slag heap in their own minds or in the trash bin of the media. Top “psychic entertainers” are people like Banachek, Bob Cassidy and Derren Brown. There’s no excues for not booing someone who is obviously a fake trying to pretend they are real. That is not entertianment or entertaining. This whole “worse impression of skeptics” thing that has been going around is just so much pussy-footing around. I’m sick of hearing it. Making nice to your neighbor next door who buys crystals is one thing. Cutting slack for jerks who hustle the bereaved for a buck is another. For thses criminals: Get active and shout, stamp your feet, heckle and make the world aware that there is another point of view they are going to have to deal with. Otherwise, don’t complain when you see another season of Lisa Williams, John Edward, Chip Coffey and on and on and on.

    • Max says:

      You think that rudely interrupting a performance that people paid – and maybe waited a long time – to see, makes a good impression? Is that what you learned from Karla McLaren?
      http://skepticblog.org/2010/02/20/culture-clashing/

      • tmac57 says:

        I think you would have a better case if these people were presenting themselves as performers.People who deliberately lie and defraud for a living should not be surprised when they start to get push back from the audience.

      • Mark Edward says:

        I agree with tmac57. Karla was a one-off situation that I would have had to see for myself before taking any rude actions. But if she was at a public “performance” and started slinging around tha “talk to the dea” crap,I would have jumped up on her case too. I would rather have that than any “good impression” these people leave behind. The Fringe Festival takes place in Edinburgh amid fun and frivolity. It’s a college town full of hard drinking Scots. Joe Power (if that really is his name) should have known better and stayed in a spiritualist church where such antics and fraudulant activities are condoned. He got what he deserved and so did the people who paid to see him. It was money well spent.

    • Robster says:

      This ‘respect’ thing. I think it’s a wash from the ‘respect’ religions and their followers demand. Sure, we should respect a persons right to believe what they wish, but I’m unable to respect what they believe, or in the case of these mediums, what they flog.

  8. Tigana says:

    The Edinburgh Skeptics have invited Joe Powers to take part with a challenge to prove his psychic abilities as part of their month long “Skeptics on the Fringe” show (6pm every night, Banshee Labrynth Nidry Street)at http://www.skepticsonthefringe.co.uk/ and http://skepticsonthefringe.wordpress.com with different lectures every night.

    Somehow I don’t think he will turn up. More cheering is the news that Gordon Rutter went to see the Joe Powers (on his press pass, so he didn’t give him any money) said there were around 20 people in a room for 200. A couple of my friends were in the audience at Joe Powers meltdown, they said it was a gift to Adam Hills, the compere, who kept poking his head round the curtain to ask “is anyone out there? Can you hear me?”. Cue rounds of laughter.

    For the best information about the saga of Joe Powers, check out the Merseyside Skeptics blog where they have been holding him to account for some time, and presumably been adding to his visible paranoia. http://www.merseysideskeptics.org.uk/category/psychics/joe-power/

  9. “he is a second rate fake psychic medium” – You mean, there’s more than one kind?

  10. Kenneth Polit says:

    My roommate’s uncle passed away recently. We couldn’t make it to the viewing but attended the funeral service the next day. Some of the family members were talking about two women that called themselves the “angel ladies”. These women were at the funeral parlor telling anyone who would listen that they spoke to the deceased and were cold reading the mourners. These women were not family or friends, they were trolling the funeral looking for marks that they could rip off later. I can’t even find the words to describe how despicable that is. Unfortunately, they were not at the service or I would have ripped them apart. These people are disgusting. Exploiting the grief of others is just so immoral.

    • That is truly awful. It’s a low I never thought humanly possible. These “grief vampires” really need some reality driven through them with extreme prejudice.

    • Mike C. says:

      That has to be one of the sickest things I’ve ever heard. A couple of years ago, my wife and her sister attended the viewing of a woman who had been a well known fixture in the Baltimore club scene, and were shocked by the amount of shysters posing as “counselors” were brazenly lurking around the place drumming up business. The fact that the deceased had been a local celebrity also meant there were hundreds of attendees who were essentially nothing less than ghouls who believed they had a perfect right to be there to share what they considered to be “the spotlight.” Shameful.

  11. Mike C. says:

    Do you happen to know if Joe Power does children’s parties? I know several skeptickids who’d love his act.

  12. GoneWithTheWind says:

    He should have seen this coming and then he would have been better prepared to respond. ;>)

  13. Cold reading has always shocked everyone. And what’s not to be amazed about? Even if the person cannot actually read your brain as he could read words in a novel, there’s still something indisputably impressive about a person who can read you immediately.

  14. Cherie says:

    I agree with this article, I AM amedium but I do not charge and I only give “readings” to whom I’m directed to. Sometimes I don’t want to but the spirits are telling me to haha. Anywho your right there are to many people claiming to be mediums that are just in it for the money or have lost there abilities due to greed. Real mediums aren’t all bad, I was trying to see if I could learn more from other mediums an was disappointed to find that they were frauds…