Sep 122017
 
A psychic tells a TV show where to find the remains of a young mother who went missing four years ago; they go to where her psychic visions claimed the victim was and found bones. The police were called and the psychic claimed victory... until the bones were identified by scientists as non-human. If I had time/energy I'd contact the "psychic" and ask for an explanation, why she cruelly raised the hopes of the missing woman's family members to gain publicity for herself.   21762783_10211814487851906_3917403024710939909_o     You can find more on me and my work with a search for "Benjamin Radford" (not "Ben Radford") on Vimeo, and please check out my podcast Squaring the Strange! 
Oct 142016
 
Tonight I will be giving a presentation to the Albuquerque Science Fiction Society titled “Contacting the Dead: Séances From the Victorian Era To Modern Times.” It is the same talk I gave to wide acclaim at this year’s packed Bubonicon conference: "Though TV shows like Ghost Hunters have raised the profile of ghost hunting, there’s nothing new about seeking out spirits of the dead. For millennia people have tried to communicate with the deceased, using everything from chalkboards to Ouija boards to EVP (electronic voice phenomena). Focusing on the 1800s through today—including early mediums, the Spiritualist movement, and files from England’s Society for Psychical Research—writer and investigator Ben Radford discusses the theories and techniques behind attempts to speak to the dead. Fans of SF, fantasy, horror, and occult history will enjoy this informative and entertaining historical look at a century and a half of attempts to contact the afterlife." The event will be held at 7:30 at the St. Andrew Presbyterian Church, 5301 Ponderosa Ave NE in Albuquerque, off of San Mateo. There’s a $2 fee for non-members. If you’re in the area, come on out for this fun and informative talk!
Nov 022015
 
In my over 15 years of investigations I've covered many dozens of claims of psychics and psychic detectives. Of those, about a half-dozen stand out as being particularly interesting or intriguing--not just yet another psychic making dubious claims, but some novel twist that at least suggests a closer look is needed to understand what's going on. You can read about one of those cases HERE in my blog.
Oct 212015
 
Good science requires good data, and to get valid results scientists must consider all of the evidence. If a researcher chooses to exclude some of the information available in an experiment, for example, he or she should offer a rationale for doing so. When researchers only present to the public or peers data that supports their conclusions, that’s called bad science (at best) or outright fraud (at worst). Agenda-driven pseudoscience, by contrast, often involves cherry-picking and careful selection of evidence. This happens, for example, when a psychic offers a client a list of a dozen impressive predictions but carefully omits hundreds of spectacular failures. Any psychic who makes enough predictions (especially ones of a general nature) will be correct some of the time by simple random chance. What’s needed when examining the evidence for psychic powers is the entire data set—all the predictions made, whether they turned out to be right, wrong, somewhere in the middle, or inconclusive—and establishing a success ratio. If the selection criteria are valid and the rate is significantly above random chance then it may indeed be evidence for psychic powers. I was reminded of this recently when I saw a new book by Skeptiko podcast host Alex Tsakiris with the bold and red-flag-raising title Why Science Is Wrong...About Almost Everything. In it he devotes a whole chapter to a case I researched as part of a challenge to explain the best case he could find for psychic detectives, one he’d seen on TV. I expected Alex to continue to be wrong about the case, but I didn’t expect him to tout it as a victory in his book. The case involved a psychic named Nancy Weber and her claims that she helped catch a serial killer named James Koedatich by giving police officers Jim Moore and Bill Hughes biographical details about the killer long before he was caught—details which Weber claims, and Tsakiris believes, turned out to be amazingly accurate. Koedatich killed a woman named Aimee Hoffman (at which time Weber entered the case) and later another woman. Tsakiris writes that “the investigation was quite extensive. It spanned months of work and included multiple transcribed interviews with all the key players. The conclusion was self-evident—the police detectives repeatedly corroborated psychic detective Nancy Weber’s amazing account.... Amazingly, Radford still denies this fact” (p. 90). It’s easy to mislead people through selective quotation and cherry picking evidence; even the most reasonable and sensible person can seem like an unreasonable fool if you simply omit contrary information and present one side of the story. A Bit of Skepticism When the project began I was somewhat surprised that Tsakiris assumed that “reality” TV shows such as Psychic Detectives were factually accurate (despite ads touting the show as “Not just based on a true story. It is a true story”). Having written several books about the mass media, having debunked many “based on a true story” claims made in sensational TV shows and films, and having participated on dozens of television shows, I began the case with a healthy skepticism about the truth of “reality” TV shows. Television show writers, producers, and editors routinely twist and manufacture “facts” to make a more sensational story; the goal is entertainment, not truth. I had assumed that Tsakiris was media savvy enough to realize that not everything on TV is true, but I later realized that I was mistaken. No one, including Tsakiris, Weber, Moore, or Hughes, offered any evidence whatsoever supporting their claims. The police officers’ notes are long gone and there are no other records of what Nancy Weber claims she told police. Not a single piece of paper was offered by Tsakiris or anyone else as evidence in this case. This “amazing” case rests entirely on the contradictory memories of three people from a third of a century ago, yet Tsakiris boldly offers it as an example of Why Science Is Wrong. The case is far too complex to discuss in any detail here, and my in-depth research can be found in my book Scientific Paranormal Investigation: How to Solve Unexplained Mysteries and in Skeptical Inquirer. However I can summarize my findings and I encourage interested readers to seek the original sources to decide for themselves where the truth lies. In contrast to Tsakiris’s claim that “the police detectives repeatedly corroborated psychic detective Nancy Weber’s amazing account,” a close review of their statements reveals that they contradicted virtually every specific claim Weber made about what she told them regarding Koedatich. I consulted transcripts from both the Psychic Investigators TV show and the Skeptiko podcasts, and interviewed all the principals at least once. As I reviewed the information from Sgt. Bill Hughes and Capt. Jim Moore, it became clear that their accounts differ dramatically from those of the psychic. For example: 1) Weber claims she specified that Koedatich, Aimee Hoffman’s killer, had served prison time in Florida: “He came up from Florida where he had been imprisoned for murder.” Moore agreed with Weber; Sgt. Hughes originally disputed this claim, and later changed his mind.   2) Weber claims that she specified of the killer that “his last name… begins with a K.” Both Moore and Hughes dispute her claim.   3) Weber claims that she specified that the killer’s “last name… ends in an ‘ish’[or –ich].” Neither Hughes nor Moore confirm that Weber gave them this information.   4) Weber claims that she specified that Hoffman’s killer was of Polish descent, and that “his last name is Polish.” Both Moore and Hughes dispute her claim.   5) Weber claims that she specified that “the man who did this, his first name is James.” Moore agrees with Weber, but Sgt. Hughes stated, “She didn’t have complete names for us… I do not remember the first name at all.”   As mightily as Tsakiris strains to revise the police officers’ testimony to his liking, even Nancy Weber herself acknowledged that Moore and Hughes did not corroborate key points of her story. The psychic’s explanation is that the officers—whose memory Tsakiris repeatedly defends, since his entire case rests on it—simply didn’t remember what she told them: “Yes, [Sgt. Hughes] does not recall it but... it does not mean I did not say it.” Sgt. Hughes admitted that “No information she gave led to his arrest...the case was solved by good police work.” I was also surprised that Tsakiris—despite his touted investigative thoroughness researching this case—repeatedly (and somewhat disrespectfully) managed to misspell both of the names of Koedatich’s victims. Who’s telling the truth, me or Alex? This isn’t a matter of subjective interpretation; the transcripts are available for anyone to review, and I have posted excerpts of the audio online so people can hear for themselves what the police said: http://benjaminradford.com/investigations/psychic-detective-interviews/. In his chapter on the case Tsakiris chooses to not only hide that fact that the police contradicted most of Weber’s statements, but he also did not reveal to his readers that in my research I found Koedatich in the phone book using only information that Weber claimed to have given Moore and Hughes at the time. If Tsakiris is correct and Weber is telling the truth, it is baffling that despite the police having so many specific, accurate, identifying details about Koedatich—including his first name, the first and last parts of his last name, his ethnicity, criminal record (including where he served time and for what crime) and his hometown—they were somehow unable to find and arrest him before he killed again. If I could do it with the information Weber claims she gave the police, why couldn’t Moore and Hughes? Neither Weber nor Tsakiris have offered an explanation for the apparent incompetence of their star witnesses. Tsakiris also neglects to tell his readers that I discovered Nancy Weber falsely claimed to have psychically known unpublished details about Aimee Hoffman’s murder when in fact those details had been reported on the front page of the local newspaper and in the New York Times the day after Hoffman’s body was found. This is irrefutable evidence that Weber either lied about or badly misremembered key details of the case. Tsakiris and Weber have been unable or unwilling to explain this serious lapse in her credibility. The Brave Mavericky of Alex Tsakiris Several prominent Forteans have commented on the book. Jerome Clark has a long and distinguished history of interesting research into the paranormal—his early apparent endorsement of the Cottingley Fairies hoax photograph notwithstanding—and I’ve quoted from his three-volume series Strange and Unusual Happenings several times. Biologist Rupert Sheldrake, well known for his claims about psi phenomena, including psychic dogs, contributed to the book. In his foreword to the book Rupert Sheldrake noted that “When Alex started his enquiries, he expected that the leaders of organized skepticism would have strong and persuasive arguments, but he soon found they did not... a strong ideological commitment forces them to deny all evidence that does not fit into their worldview.” Out of the thirteen chapters in the book, Sheldrake then singled out my case as an example of Tsakiris’s keen investigative skills: “I particularly enjoy the way Alex followed his enquiries wherever they led, including working with skeptic Ben Radford on an enquiry into information from psychics that helped solve crimes. When Ben questioned some of the evidence, Alex called the detectives who had been handling the cases, so that he and Ben could together clear the point up by speaking to them directly” (p. xi). Sheldrake goes on to marvel at Tsakiris’s “investigative skills, and his bravery and commitment to truth.” Jerome Clark reviewed the book in Fortean Times magazine. Of Tsakiris’s podcast—which Clark misspells as “Skeptico”— he states that “the skeptics who appear on his show are wont to complain of being ‘sandbagged’. Translated, that means they found themselves up against an interviewer who had done his homework.” Clark notes that among the big-name skeptics whose sloppy scholarship and ideological blinkers have been exposed by the wily Tsakiris is “the prominent debunker who goes to comic lengths to salvage a ‘skeptical’ claim in the face of assertions from informants (in this case law-enforcement officers) whose patience he tries as he seeks to revise their testimony to his liking.” With mixture of bemusement and mild surprise I realized that he was referring to me. I take no particular pleasure when friends—or even those I disagree with—fall for hoaxes or repeat demonstrable misinformation. I make an effort not to endorse dubious or false claims; before I reference something in an article or book I make an effort to verify its accuracy. That’s one reason why, for example, I rarely share news stories on social media unless I either have researched it myself or have taken at least some due diligence steps to affirm to my satisfaction that the claims or information contained therein are accurate. I feel badly for Sheldrake and Clark because sooner or later at least some of the people who read their comments will—out of curiosity or a desire to seek out original sources and not merely accept Tsakiris’s selective portrayal of the research—find my published work on this case and see that this pair have been misled into endorsing a one-sided and intellectually dishonest take on that investigation by a person they exalted as fair-minded and committed to truth. Why Science Is Wrong?I was more bemused than annoyed by Tsakiris’s chapter (and Sheldrake and Clark’s explicit endorsements of it) because for those who wish to do a bit of research and consult easily-available resources to verify the facts, the harm is to their reputations, not mine. Sheldrake and Clark will be the ones who, years from now, may be asked in an interview, book signing, talk, or other public event how they could have endorsed such a manifestly biased book chapter. Had they not done any research? How do they explain Tsakiris’s decision to omit the voluminous examples in which the detectives refuted Weber’s claims, and even that the psychic had been caught claiming information she read in a newspaper as having come through psychic abilities? I haven’t spoken with either Rupert Sheldrake or Jerome Clark about the matter but given that we’ve been on more or less opposite sides of the fence on many Fortean subjects for going on two decades, it seems certain that they have long ago painted me as a stubborn, closed-minded skeptic who refuses to look at evidence, and when Tsakiris offered an example supporting that assumption they were quite happy to assume it was true and highlight it as a clear example of my position. Because of cognitive biases including anchoring bias and confirmation bias, when people give us information that fits our preconceived notions and worldview, we often accept it uncritically. Those who tell us things that challenge our assumptions tend to be subjected to extra scrutiny or dismissed outright. As Sheldrake himself states on page 87 of the book, “I think there’s a tendency for people to see what they want to believe, to believe what they want to believe, to only notice evidence that fits their dogmatic point of view or their belief system. He himself is a perfect example of that.” (Here Sheldrake mistakenly refers to psychologist Richard Wiseman instead of Alex Tsakiris.) There’s irony in the daisy chain echo chamber of misinformation: this case began when Alex Tsakiris assumed, with little or no research or verification, that the Psychic Detectives TV show he saw was an accurate account of Nancy Weber’s psychic claims. Six years later Sheldrake and Clark assumed, with little or no research or verification, that Alex Tsakiris’s book chapter on the case (essentially little more than interview transcriptions) was an accurate account of Weber’s claims and the resulting investigation. The accusations against me by these three of sloppy scholarship and investigative ineptitude resulting from an ideological blindness to contrary evidence is especially rich. The conspiracy-minded among Skeptiko’s listeners may wonder if Tsakiris is not actually an undercover hardcore skeptic seeking to discredit people like Sheldrake and Clark by publishing false information to see which prominent critics endorse it without having done any research, and then exposing the deception and embarrassing them into admitting they were gullible and should have checked their facts. This double-agent scenario occurred to me, but Occam’s Razor suggests it’s unlikely. It seems more likely that Tsakiris genuinely does not understand why his “best case” for psychic detectives is a spectacular failure by any reasonable standard of evidence. Perhaps he should revisit his online boards where even many of his supporters voiced their concerns over his total reliance on the accuracy of decades-old contradictory memories. Tsakiris casts himself as a maverick groundbreaker daring to ask tough questions of pompous skeptics and puncturing the pretensions of science. He is instead following a well-trod path using a tried and true formula: Speak quickly, act confidently, attack critics, and refuse to acknowledge even obvious errors in your evidence and arguments. That’s not how science works, but it will help you fool some of the people some of the time. Science may indeed be wrong some of the time—its self-correcting mechanism is perhaps its greatest strength—but it’s Alex Tsakiris who is wrong in this case. His “best case” for psychic detectives is in fact astonishingly weak and if that is one of his marquee examples of how Science Is Wrong, then science is in far better shape than anyone dared imagine. This piece is adapted from an earlier article on the CSI website. You can find more on me and my work with a search for "Benjamin Radford" (not "Ben Radford") on Vimeo.
Dec 212014
 
The Brazilian airline TAM recently changed the flight number of one of its planes based on a prediction by a self-proclaimed psychic that the flight was doomed. Why? You can read more HERE. 
Nov 122014
 
"Real" psychic Sharina Star helpfully explains how to spot all those dangerous, scamming "fake psychics." From the article: "'Beware of someone who is out there that you've never heard of and they make all of these ridiculous claims,' Star advises." Now searching for a new Irony Meter, as mine seems to have exploded into powdery fragments across my desk. You can read it HERE. 
Oct 052014
 
My recent guest appearance on The Edge of the Unknown Radio Show is now up, wherein I discuss skepticism, investigations, and some mysteries covered in my new book. Check it out HERE!
Mar 252014
 
A woman in Germany claims she was hypnotized outside of a supermarket, put into a trance, and later woke up at home having been robbed. There’s a certain creepy Gothic allure to the idea that a mesmerizing stranger can ask you to stare deeply into his eyes, or ask you to follow a pocketwatch swaying seductively to and fro and listen to him count backwards into a hypnotic trance. But is it real? You can read my article HERE.
Mar 172014
 
I recently got the following email with the subject line, "Question of Astral Projection of Non-Believer." Due to my workload and the volume of e-mails I get I often can't address everyone who contacts me, but when possible I try to give a personal response, especially if I might help the person or spread some critical thinking. Often the queries I get provide insight into the psychology of eyewitness experiences of the paranormal. You can read it HERE.
Dec 222013
 
Last month I appeared on the Edge of the Unknown Radio on the All 1 Broadcast Network, and talked about a wide variety of weird and non-weird things. It was a fun show, and you can listen to it HERE.   
Oct 072013
 
Olivia Newton-John recently asked a priest to perform an exorcism on her home in Jupiter, Fla., in hopes of selling it. Following the suicide of a contractor in the home last month, the actress and singer is concerned about the social and spiritual stigma now associated with the residence, and the ceremony was an attempt to assure potential buyers that the place is not cursed or haunted. My recent Discovery News article on home exorcisms and other realty-related magic rituals... You can read it HERE.
Jul 082013
 
If you haven't seen the new issue of Skeptical Inquirer magazine, you're missing out! I have a feature article on plagiarism I found in a book about vampires from a famous publisher, and a column about whether accurate psychic information could have stopped the Boston bombings. You can find it on newsstands now, or subscribe at www.csicop.org.
Apr 082013
 
There are several claimed types of psychic powers, including precognition (knowing future events before they happen); pyrokinesis (creating fire with the mind, popularized in Stephen King's novel and film "Firestarter"); and telepathy (describing things at a remote location). Among the most dramatic of these is telekinesis (also called psychokinesis, or PK), the ability to move objects through mind power. Though many Americans believe in psychic ability (about 15 percent of us, according to a 2005 Baylor Religion Survey), scientific evidence for its existence remains elusive.

I recently wrote about this for LiveScience.com; you can read the story HERE.

Dec 282012
 
Here's an interesting piece about failed psychic predictions from our friends at Relatively Interesting. Not only is it an excellent overview, but I'm also quoted (see below); you can read the story HERE. Benjamin Radford, a regular contributor to many science based blogs, has this to say about psychics and their so-called predictions:
People should also ask themselves some simple questions when they hear psychics’ claims. If psychics can really find missing people, why aren’t they in Iraq, rescuing kidnapped hostages?  Why haven’t psychics caught serial killers before they kill again?  Why do different psychics give contradictory information?  Why do we need Amber Alerts to find kidnapped children?  And where are Osama bin Laden, Natalee Holloway, Lisa Stebic, Madeleine McCann, and the thousands of other people whom searchers are desperate to find?  On these questions, psychics are as silent as the missing persons they fail to find.    
Dec 082012
 
You may remember I originally wrote about this: The owners of a Texas ranch raided by police in 2011 based on false information from a psychic are now suing, along with police and several news organizations.The case began June 6, when a psychic using the name 'Angel' called police and described a horrific scene of mass murder: dozens of dismembered bodies near a ranch house about an hour outside of Houston, Texas. Now the psychic has been found and is being sued; read the story HERE.
Nov 052012
 
Harsha Maddula, a Northwestern University pre-medical student from Long Island, N.Y., went missing Sept. 22, last seen leaving an off-campus party in Illinois. Police and volunteer searchers were unable to find him, but Maddula's family said reassuring words from psychics had raised their spirits....You can read the story HERE.
Oct 032012
 
Albuquerque author and investigator Benjamin Radford (me) will be presenting a free talk on The Mysterious Crystal Skulls. Crystal skulls are among the strangest and most mysterious artifacts in the world. They have been seen in the world’s finest museums, inspired Indiana Jones, and, according to legend, have even been used to see the future—or kill with terrible supernatural power. What do we make of these objects, whose origins are shrouded in the mists of mystery? Come hear the bizarre true story of this strange modern mystery! The talk begins at 7 PM. The event is sponsored by New Mexicans for Science and Reason and is FREE and open to the public. New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science 1801 Mountain Road NW, 87104. For more information click HERE.     
Jul 232012
 
Last week a federal judge in Alexandria, Louisiana, overturned a law banning fortunetelling on the basis that it is free speech protected by the First Amendment. U.S. District Judge Dee Drell struck down an ordinance outlawing fortunetelling, astrology, palm reading, tarot, and other forms of divination on the grounds that the practices are fraudulent and inherently deceptive. This curious case raises issues about the boundary between freedom of speech and fraudulent (or at least unproven) claims; you can read more HERE.
May 202012
 
I will be in New York City giving a talk on Monday May 21, at 7 PM on psychic detectives: Psychic detectives seem to be everywhere: on TV, in the news, on cable shows. TV hosts such as Larry King and Montel Williams regularly promote psychic detectives, and many of them claim to find missing persons and solve cases for police and the FBI. It all sounds impressive, but how good is the scientific evidence for their claims? Drawing on a decade of personal investigations and case studies, I will reveal a side to psychic detectives that you won't see on Medium or Larry King Live. I will join a discussion with Massimo Pigliucci on the validity of psychic investigations and then take questions from the audience. The event will be followed by a reception with wine and light fare. For more information is available HERE.
May 162012
 
This weekend I will be in New Jersey speaking to members of the Association for Pet Loss and Bereavement at their annual conference, talking about pet psychics and trying to protect people grieving over the loss of a pet from being scammed and exploited.
Apr 232012
 
I'll be giving a talk in Manhattan in a few weeks on one of my favorite topics: psychics! Psychic detectives seem to be everywhere: on TV, in the news, on cable shows. TV hosts such as Larry King and Montel Williams regularly promote psychic detectives, and many of them claim to find missing persons and solve cases for police and the FBI. It all sounds impressive, but how good is the scientific evidence for their claims? Drawing on a decade of personal investigations and case studies, Benjamin Radford (me) will reveal a side to psychic detectives that you won't see on Medium or Larry King Live. Radford will join a discussion with Massimo Pigliucci on the validity of psychic investigations and then take questions from the audience. The event will be followed by a reception with wine and light fare. You can find more details HERE.
Apr 072012
 

I will be speaking at the  Minnesota State University-Mankato, on the evening of April 12. More details to come!

The Psychic and the Serial Killer:

Examining the Best Case for Psychic Detectives

When a serial killer struck in 1982 New Jersey, a psychic detective consulted with local police on the case. The psychic information turned out to be all true; two police officers support the psychic's claims. This case was featured on a Biography Channel TV show and presented as the "best case proof" of psychic powers. Join investigator Benjamin Radford (me!) as he unravels this fascinating mystery!

Mar 272012
 
There's been something wacky with the weather this winter, and many forecasters never saw it coming. Among them was The Old Farmer's Almanac, the quirky, centuries-old mix of historical data, prognostications and folk wisdom. Millions of people consult the almanac, which uses a secret formula to come up with its annual, yearlong weather forecasts, even though meteorologists say it has a dubious track record. What does it have to do with prophecy and skepticism? Read it and find out HERE!
Mar 242012
 
A study published last year in a scientific journal claimed to have found strong evidence for the existence of psychic powers such as ESP. The paper, written by Cornell professor Daryl J. Bem, was published in The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology and quickly made headlines around the world for its implication: that psychic powers had been scientifically proven.   I wrote a piece about this last week for Discovery News; you can read it HERE.