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Wednesday, August 17, 2011

JREF vs. Psychics on Nightline

Tonight's primetime edition of ABC's "Nightline" wasn't everything I hoped it would be, but it certainly gave more airtime to skeptics than any other show I've ever seen about psychics and their paranormal con artist brethren.  There were a couple of reporters who seemed to fall for tricks like cold reading, but there were two full segments featuring Banachek, the magician who runs the Million Dollar Challenge for the James Randi Educational Foundation. 

Here's the first, in which he and fellow magician Jamy Ian Swiss (also a JREF board member) devised protocols to test three of the people who responded to an open call for psychics in the New York area a couple of months ago.  When I saw Jamy at The Amazing Meeting a few weeks ago, he told me about how much work went into making sure they got these tests right, and about how they paid off because of the perfect visual at the end -- the crumpled paper -- which the "Nightline" producers loved...

In the second segment, Banachek is asked about psychics who claim to have helped with criminal investigations, such as missing persons cases. He doesn't hold back, saying that they are "scum" (thanks, ABC, for leaving that line in!) for preying on people at their most emotionally vulnerable. There's also a quote from retired FBI agent Brad Garrett, who says, "As far as finding a victim, finding remains, finding evidence, or in any way helping to solve the case, it's never been my experience" that these so-called psychics are beneficial to law enforcement. The segment also sticks a pretty good knife into the evil Sylvia Browne...

You can watch the entire show, called "Beyond Belief," on the "Nightline" website. If you want to know more about any of this, click on the James Randi Educational Foundation website right now.