Skeptophilia (skep-to-fil-i-a) (n.) - the love of logical thought, skepticism, and thinking critically. Being an exploration of the applications of skeptical thinking to the world at large, with periodic excursions into linguistics, music, politics, cryptozoology, and why people keep seeing the face of Jesus on grilled cheese sandwiches.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Finals week for Psychic Sally

Yesterday, you may recall, I posted about alleged psychic James van Praagh receiving a visit from some zombies representing the James Randi Educational Foundation, challenging him to prove that he can do what he claims -- namely, speak to the dead.  And I ended with a fervent wish that the same sort of thing happen to other self-styled mediums, including "Psychic Sally" Morgan.

In a lovely example of synchronicity, I discovered this morning that Psychic Sally is also receiving an unwelcome visit -- from the Merseyside Sceptics' Society.

Psychic Sally has had her share of problems lately.  A month ago, she was accused of receiving information about her subjects in a public "reading" in Dublin through an earpiece, after some of her staff were overheard making suspicious comments in a back room.  Morgan has denied any wrongdoing, stating that they were just off-duty technicians having a chat, and that statement was supported by the theater in which the event was held -- just showing, in my opinion, that both of them know what side their bread is buttered on.

Be that as it may, Morgan filed a defamation suit against the reporters who made the claim, and now is trying to rehabilitate her image.  She has a significant stake in doing so; not only does she perform to sold-out shows, she gives psychic readings over the phone (hundreds of dollars per session; and she has a waiting list almost a year long), and is currently filming the third season of her show Psychic Sally on the Road.  The monetary incentive is, by itself, enormous.

As is just the face-saving aspect.  This woman has spent her entire life building up an image as a psychic; she claims to have seen her first ghost when she was four.  If the allegations of fakery become much louder, she has a lot to lose.

Enter the Merseyside Sceptics' Society.

Just as in the case with van Praagh, the whole idea here is for alleged mediums to put their money where their mouth is.  You say you're a psychic, that you can communicate with the dead?  Okay, let's take that as a working hypothesis.

Now prove it.

The MSS has set up a test for Psychic Sally, to be run on Halloween night -- a time when you'd think the dead would be especially eager to communicate.  All she has to do is to show up at a venue in Liverpool, where she'll be handed ten photographs of deceased women, and a list of ten names -- and she has to match the photographs to the names.  Seven right, and the skeptics who organized it, who include such prominent voices as Chris French and Simon Singh, will give Psychic Sally their stamp of approval.

You'd think this would be child's play for her.  It's what she does all the time -- take photographs from audience members, and "establish contact" with the person in the photograph, and then deliver messages to their loved ones.  If she can really do that, just putting faces to names should be a walk in the park, right?

Interestingly, Psychic Sally hasn't responded to the MSS's challenge.  (Note my shocked expression.)

"If Sally really is able to demonstrate in a very simple test that her skills are in fact psychically derived, as opposed to produced via the various magic tricks and techniques we know fraudulent mediums could use to appear to have psychic powers, then we'll be first in the queue to celebrate her talents," said Michael Marshall, vice president of the MSS.  "But until she can show her readings are genuine, we don't think it's right that vulnerable people are led to believe she's really talking to the dead."

It may not be right, but it is lucrative.  And my guess is that Psychic Sally won't want to risk any further damage to her reputation by taking, and then failing, the challenge.  I'm thinking she's going to skip her exam on Monday night -- which by itself should be damning.

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