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Connie’s Conundrums

by Mark Edward, Jul 13 2009
Connie Sonne

Connie Sonne

As the only person tagged to interview Danish psychic/dowser Connie Sonne at TAM7 yesterday, I was given an extraordinary chance to be a part or parapsychological history in the making. To those who may doubt our veracity, we have now gone a long way to showing clearly what we do as serious investigators. Those people who spout claims and contentions that have bogged down so many arguments with cries of bias or poor conditions have now been made aware that as scientific seekers, we do things right. Along with the JREF staff, Banachek, Randi and dozens of others who worked so hard to make everything as fair and transparent as humanly possible, we stand united as a force to be reckoned with.  Big media can take this demonstration of clear thinking as a warning: We are a growing movement. The train has already left the station and if Anderson Cooper or Fox Television execs don’t want to climb on board, they miss this train at their own peril.  We are becoming stronger.

With over 1,700 in attendance or listening in one way or another during the first live test of Connie Sonne, I was struck by not only the huge crowd, but also the solemnity and respectful atmosphere that presided. The pre-show Muzak was appropriately funereal. I have never been in a room full of that many people and seen such rapt attention. Even at a piano concert at the L.A. Philharmonic, you can usually count on a cough or a titter now and then. With this group, you could have literally heard a pin drop. It was an amazing testament to just how single-minded a conference room full of skeptical non-believers could be. I dare say that even a few of the thousand assembled might have been in some way mentally rooting for Connie to win or score some significant record for her trouble. She didn’t. Asked to dowse for cards 3 1 7, Connie Sonne dowsed 2 5 2.  None of the randomly chosen targets were hit and there was no wiggle room for discrepancies. It was a wash. Poor Connie. Nonetheless she held her head high and managed to wade through a barrage of not-so-subtle questioning during the after-test briefing. She still emerged to deal with my interview with nary a feather ruffled. I will forever remember the look on Phil Plait’s face as he sat right next to Connie as she made her rather strained but still confident statements to the press. It was the kind of look one cannot help but make when you are in close proximity to a bag of rotting fish. You are the greatest Phil.

Penn & Edward

Penn & Edward

During the test itself, I felt in the presence of some of the most powerful minds of my time arranged alongside me in our close to the stage “V.I.P.” seating set up. It’s moments like these that I know I’m doing something right. Luminaries included but were not limited to such experts as: founding member of C.S.I.C.O.P., Ray Hyman, Penn Jillette, Teller, Randi and JamyIan Swiss, …. the list goes on and on. Without wanting to name drop every person there, it was truly a historic event by any standard. The entire project can be seen in the live stream at  Go to the JREF website and read the protocols and procedure. I won’t go into all that either, because for my money, it was my twenty minutes spent alone with Connie that told the real tale of how psychics can slip through even the tightest controls, lose the momentary fight, but still mange to come out on top, even if for the most part it’s only in their own minds.

Hyman & Edward

Hyman & Edward

Connie lost the Million Dollar Challenge miserably, but her defence strategy was a refreshing blend of hubris and mild condescention mixed with pride. I was expecting the usual excuses of recent challenger babblers, but with Connie: she didn’t bother. She was confident and self-assured in the face of overwhelming criticism. One has to ask: why would she do this when even she herself admitted that right before she boarded the plane that was to take her to America to face JREF, she had “a premonition” that things were not going to work out?  She’s just plain crazy, right? I don’t think so. If she’s crazy, it’s like the proverbial fox.

In my taped interview, which will be published in an up-coming book  JREF press liason Bart Farkis is writing on the history of the Million Dollar Challenge, Connie showed a casual side that was as relaxed and easy-going as any person I had ever done a reading for. Perhaps it was her European continental attitude that struck me first. Her body language was languid and supple as she easily settled into her rap, cigarette cocked lounge-style in her hand. I opted  for a mirroring posture to attempt to get her to feel comfortable and thereby perhaps dig herself in even deeper. I felt that a “Good Cop” position as opposed to all the “Bad Cops” she had been dealing with all day long  might help loosen her tongue rather than taking a tougher line and chancing making her more defensive and possibly losing the chance to get a little closer to the “truth;’ whatever that may be in her case. I had previously used this ruse when I interviewed Rosemary Altea during the Penn & Teller show taping and it worked marvelously.

She insisted that she lost merely because, “…it wasn’t time yet for my powers to be revealed.” She carefully avoided (and at one time almost fell into the trap of saying during the press briefing) the standard mediumistic line, “…there was negative energy in the room,” probably wisely noting to herself before uttering such a cliche that such a statement in the TAM environment would be a gross understatement. Hers was a novel approach that I could definitely relate to. In fact given half the chance I may one day use it myself,  although such wordage would be allocated to performance only usage. Not only was the world (and Randi & Co. particularly) “not ready” for her earth shattering prophecies and powers, but it came out later in the interview that whatever dark and ominous declarations would be forthcoming from her in the future, all of it was somehow tied into the whole “2012” conspiracy. This is where she started to lose me. Too many of the old dodges turned into hybrid newage were popping up, with everything conveniently cloaked in contemporary woo-guise.  I liked Connie though. I have known many self -professed “psychics” and most have been totally unemployable, unperson-able and grotesque. I know I’m going out on a tenuous limb here by even slightly defending her stance, but at least she stuck to her guns and stayed focused only on her part in the fray. She continuously reminded me of up-coming world changes only she would be privy to and blamed no one for her failures of that afternoon. In her mind any failures or set-backs are only a part of a big picture puzzle that will one day coalesce. She gets a pass because she thinks in her mind that this failure was only a stepping stone that will lead her to where she is supposed to be down the line. Any tests using playing cards or dowsing are mere trifling and of no consequence when you are somehow involved with massive government cover-ups, world conquest or blessed with secret knowledge.

Like the sequence in “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” (2008) where in a brilliantly edited series of flashbacks, we are shown that all things are connected and that a series of seemingly unconnected events or chain reactions results in the main female lead Daisy getting hit by a taxi, all things end up being miraculously serendipitous. Connie reminded me several times that, “….All things are connected, you see.” Eh, yeah. Of course I had to agree to keep up with her histrionics. When talking with her, I felt that at any moment she might spiral off into Illuminati or Bilderburger-land.  She again wiselystayed comfortably vague when it came to exactly who, where and why we could expert to hear from her in the future. She chided over and over, “…this will happen,” referring to some eventual vindication of her nascent powers. Nice dodge somewhat akin to John Edward’s famous comment on my Penn & Teller Bullshit episode, “Talking to the Dead,” when John the douchenozzle boldly stated: “I can be wrong and still be right.” Not at TAM you can’t.

Mark Edward performing the "Triangle of Doom" at the Skepchicks TAM party

Mark Edward performing the "Triangle of Doom" at the Skepchicks TAM party

Connie was quite convincing in her diatribes that were obviously well rehearsed. Add in her overarching quest to find kidnapped media focus Madeleine McCann and insistence that she “…will find her,” and you have one seriously dedicated (or deluded) person. She told me she has spent over $30,00 so far on this hunt (which borders on stalking if you ask me) which she has borrowed from her mother to finance trips to Portugal, the UK , France and the USA. She also admonished me that she wasn’t doing any of this “for the money” but admittedshe would like to pay her mother back and be able to pay her rent and sustain her bodily self. Thirty grand from one million dollars leaves a sizable residual amount for a nest egg. Enough to re-paint the trailer home she apparently occupies in northern Denmark anyway. After telling me about this semi-conspiratorial McCann kidnapping and it’s deep meaning to be revealed, including a warning that Madeleine is one of the “Chosen Ones,” I was beginning to feel like I was in some sequel to “Children of Men”(2006; an award British sci-fi film where the birth of one single child in a dystopian world environment that has left all men sterile) and that there was no doubt Connie had copped much of her shtick from several popular contexts. Sorry for the film references here and there, but for me sometimes my excursions into woo-land take on surreal qualities that can only be compared to fictional cinematic quips that seem to fit. This also saves a lot of wordage and shows in a clearer fashion just how powerfully words and images can enter into the culture, strengthening and giving credence to often flawed philosophies and myths. 

Any of Connie’s semi-altruistic sentiments rang hollow even as I kept striving to play the empathetic interviewer. Anyone who knows me knows that in most cases, I’m liable to give any credulous soul the benefit of the doubt unless they are clearlyun-hinged or beyond help. Connie skirted that borderline. Like I said, I liked Connie in some ways. Just like I may like any eccentric willing to stand up to society and be different and iconoclastic. I like the act that the homeless guy on the Metro train does when he takes out his glass eye and sings R& B too, but that doesn’t mean I would trust my future to him.  In the final analysis  and examination of hers claims of supernatural powers, Ms. Sonne fell far from the mark. Talk is cheap no matter whether it’s pitched here or in Denmark. I don’t think I’ll be watching for any pivotal news events delivered from the mouth of Connie Sonne. This whole merry dance should tell us all that even while bringing to the attention of the media her alleged “talents” in the manner of a full-fledged live televised test situation, we are also giving huge publicity to people who may not deserve one minute of our time. Don’t be surprised if you see Ms. Sonne appearing on Oprah or Larry King. She’s just the type the media will fall all over themselves to promote. We know better. We use science.

I predict Ms. Sonne will be seen more than a few times in the next few weeks and I also predict that the believers out there in woo-world will be calling into account the excuse that having a mentalist like Banachek handling the cards and envelopes will be touted as a bias, contamination by association and the probable cause for Connie’s failure, even if Connie herself  says to the contrary

As a friend said as we watched Connie leave the Four Point Casino Lobby (by herself mind you…),

“…There goes a woman who just lost a million dollar bet.”

How true.

30 Responses to “Connie’s Conundrums”

  1. freelancer says:

    I was watching via Ustream, and if I recall correctly, Jeff Wagg from the JREF had said there were around 1500-1700 people watching the challenge live over the internet.
    It was amazing how quiet the audience was. I only heard one person cough.

  2. MadScientist says:

    Thanks for the update Mark. I’d like to see a physic:
    1. attend TAM and enjoy it and
    2. be converted

    #2 would really be amazing; after all, how many people say “I’ve been wrong all these years”?

  3. Matt says:

    Sadly, Connie’s now taking the standard line of blaming the protocols and saying she was cheated.

    It’s a bit of shame.
    Like Mark, she had my respect up until that point.

  4. Edd says:

    Triangle of Doom?

  5. Rob says:

    All these fools say that the world is gonna end 12/21/12 — we need to schedule a huge party for 12/22/12. Sadly, though, I don’t think it will have impact on the charlatans when we are all still here for the party…

  6. Susan Gerbic says:

    I was in the audience at the challenge, it was quieter than church, I heard only one cough, it was amazing. They made us sign a protocol paper, no one was to move from their chair. I’m very proud of our community.

    Also I think this challenge proves that skeptics aren’t completely closed minded. Everyone I talked to afterward said that they were hanging on in suspense when the first card was opened. We wanted to believe that it was possible she had got it right. We knew she would not, but still we were not quite sure. And that is the conundrum of skepticism.

  7. The Blind Watchmaker says:

    I must add that Banachek gave her a ‘warm-up’ period where she successfully dowsed the playing cards with them face up and in sight. He even noted that it seemed to work pretty quickly. Apparently, the ‘negative energy’ did not seem to have any effect on the ‘power’ when she could see the cards. It was only when she could not see the cards under proper controls that the effect was reduced to random noise. This was a nice demonstration of such concepts as the ideomotor effect and confirmation bias.

    It was also a nice demonstration of professionalism on the challengers’, the challengee’s and the audience’s parts.

  8. Mark Edward says:

    AND THIS JUST IN: Just as I predicted, the JREF Forum is now reporting that Dear Connie is now crying foul and accusing Banachek of being a “card handler” and that she has been cheated! As with all of us who feel we have now been taken in by the false graciousness of her exit Sunday night, this was to be expected and she has now lost whatever slight bit of sympathy anyone might have held for her and her deluded mind. I saw close-up what she is calling “evideneces” that she will put up on her non-exsitant website (she says in September) but as someone eles has commented, that gives her plenty of time to edit the tapes for her own nefarious purposes. So also beware of my other prediction: I’m confident we haven’t heard the last from this harpie. She’s sly as a weasel and twice as hungry to boot. Watch the media on this one. Now, do I get a prize for accuracy?

  9. Paul T. says:

    Since I took the MDC Guru Workshop, I had the good fortune and privilege to be permitted on the third row. I think I was between behind Rebecca Watson, and very close to you Mark. I too was extremely impressed that everyone took their part of the protocol seriously. That is to remain seated and not move a muscle. And I have to say sitting there in that silence I felt a sense of unity with my fellow skeptics that I’ve never experienced before. Perhaps it was my skeptical religious experience.

    During the challenge I kept milling over in my mind the excuses Connie would come up with, then my thoughts turned to Banachek.
    I wondered if she realized that he was a master magician and if she did not once she found out she would cry foul. I need to qualify this by saying I would never think for a 10th of a second that Banachek would alter the test. But having him as the tester only gives her ammunition for later. It would appear this is the case, however it should be noted that she did sign an agreement to all conditions. That includes Banachek as the tester, to be in a room filled with skeptics. And to having James Randi in the front row.

    I’m disappointed that her word appears to be no good.

  10. I think she knows she’s no ‘psychic’, knew all along she’d fail the challenge, and planned from the beginning to milk it for all the publicity it’s worth. Already she’s no longer an unknown in the US. As a con artist, she also knows her potential marks will forgive any so-called failure before a skeptic challenge.

    It is only by the skeptical measure that she failed. By her own measure, the JREF challenge was a huge success and the publicity fires are beginning to flare up for her. Look for her on Larry King and Oprah sometime soon.

    • Susan Gerbic says:

      I agree that she is probably milking this, but I do think she is mental, not a con-artist.


  11. Brian M says:

    She didn’t really lose a million dollar bet since she didn’t have to sacrifice a million of her own dollars. She merely failed to claim the million dollars.

    The excuses are always the best part of the million dollar challenges. They always have something new to offer.

  12. Can someone provide a link to the actual demonstration itself — if that is indeed available. The link provided for the “entire project” at includes several different loosely identified videos and, with my medium speed Internet connection, it takes a lonnnnng time to see what any of them are about.

  13. If I were a psychic taking the JREF challenge, there is absolutely no way I’d agree to have a skeptical magician with professional sleight-of-hand skills handle cards, envelopes, etc.

  14. Kitty says:

    Next year, just to save the time of looking for someone and you know getting them out to Vegas and perhaps paying for a room (I don’t know if anyone helped pay her way)…I now offer to be tested. I can swear that I am a good a dowser as Connie! I can also speak to the dead as well as Sylvia Browne, and as a pet psychic…well I’m as good as the best!

    I’ll be coming anyway, let’s just save time right now.

  15. SionH says:

    I too was in the audience and can confirm that Banachek was extremely gentle and polite to CS and frequently asked her if she was ok with this or that step in the procedure. He even apologised to her for the rigmarole of opening all the sealed envelopes after she had failed the test (to prove that the correct cards were in them). The audience were very respectful throughout the whole event and for her to cry foul at this stage, though entirely expected, is laughable.

  16. Alex says:

    I’m not trying to say that we need to start listening to everyone who says they saw aliens, but I think the skeptic community, at least as far as this article displays of it, needs to reconsider its attitude to such “tests”. A true scientist should be aware of how little s/he knows about existence and its bounds. This test does not prove anything except that this person could not guess the cards using her technique in that environment. Like all other scientific tests, for something to be debunked, we can’t have one example of it being wrong and say that it’s wrong period. Actually it is laughable that a group of die-hard science followers are responding to this scenario with a sort of “ha you’re wrong I knew it!” attitude. This proves so little. Again, I’m not saying she’s right; in fact, I’d say that yes, most “psychics” are just preying off the naivety of the general populace, but that being said, if people want to look at this from a real scientific view, then people shouldn’t be dismissing connie sonne so soon, let alone the whole psychic practice.

    I like to say, there isn’t such a thing as “Magic”, but there is such a thing as undiscovered science. So writing off something as bogus simply because it hasn’t been proven right yet is unscientific and unproductive for humanity in general. (Of course if something is proven wrong then that’s that. I’m looking at you big foot.)

    • Susan Gerbic says:

      I can’t agree. Not at all. Yes the scientific community should keep the door open to the possibility of paranormal activity. But there is so much more amazing science yet to be done out there that wasting time on claims like these just because they say so isn’t a productive use of time.

      I think examining these claims is a interesting endeavor into how people fool themselves and each other. As a psychological experiment I think this is entirely worthwhile. This is why I’m a part of the skeptic community, and not the science community.

      Connie agreed to this test, she was allowed to “tune in” right before the test. She believed enough that she put out the money to go be tested. Good for her! The scientific community is not responsible for testing every claim of psychic power that is proposed. Connie did not test herself before TAM7 and would have saved a lot of money setting up these strict controls in Denmark.

      Once (or if) something is found that could point to paranormal activity then science will be able to test it. Remember science is a action word. It is a method. So far all we have are a bunch of stories and not very good ones at all. Except for those rainy dark nights around the fire….

      I don’t think the skeptic community had a “we knew you couldn’t do it” attitude. In that dead quiet room, many of us were hoping she would get them all right. We want to believe. Just Connie and the rest of the psychics haven’t show us anything to get excited about yet.


      • Just so, Susan, plus Alex toys with strawman argumentation when he accuses skeptics of considering all psychics bogus on the basis of one test of one psychic.

        For over a century now of the era of modern science psychics and other paranormal claimants have stepped up, been tested, and failed again and again and again, without a white crow in sight.

        Among UFO believers, there is the practice of the ever-changing set of “best evidence”, wherein UFO advocates present their best evidenced cases, cahallenging science to debunk them. When they do debunk one, the UFO advocates merely replace it with another and renew the challenge: “Well, OK, but what about THIS case, Mr. Skeptic?”

        Alex risks falling into this trap of belief where a quasi ‘openmindedness’ that thinly masks belief is supported not by any positive evidence of existence, but by the scientific community’s having not debunked every single case made by every single claimant. Well, that’s not possible and in no way supports a given paranormal claim. The burden of proof, of course, rests with the claimant.

  17. tmac57 says:

    Alex-“I like to say, there isn’t such a thing as “Magic”, but there is such a thing as undiscovered science. So writing off something as bogus simply because it hasn’t been proven right yet is unscientific and unproductive for humanity in general.”
    What you seem to be missing here is the idea of prior plausibility. Most scientific ‘discoveries’ do not occur in a vacuum of prior accumulated knowledge which in a kind of stepping stone fashion leads to a building of comprehensive theory. Psychics have not put forth any testable theory of mechanism of HOW their ‘powers’ work, much less that they DO work. Therefore, in the absence of a plausible mechanism for ‘psychic’ powers, skeptics are rightfully anticipating yet another failure. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.

  18. Derek says:

    There’s a fantastic debunking of three mediums recently on the BBC (linked via boing boing)

    • Susan Gerbic says:

      Thank you Derek for that link. Finally watched the video at breakfast this morning over a bowl of Lucky Charms. Seems the mediums didn’t have their Lucky Charms that morning. Great exposure, we need far more of that.