Richard Saunders, superstar

By Phil Plait | July 2, 2008 2:24 pm

>skeptic Richard SaundersI’ve written about my friend and fellow skeptic Richard Saunders many times before. Most recently, I mentioned he has scored a gig on a TV program in Australia called The One, where they will try to choose "Australia’s Number 1 Psychic".

Of course, in my opinion, psychics are full of Number Two.

Check this out:

The program is a bit like American Idol and shows like that. Several self-proclaimed psychics will be given a series of tests, with one eliminated every week (sadly, eliminated from the show, not from bilking the public). There are two judges: one is, um, a witch, and the other is Richard.

Clearly, he has his work cut out for him.

I know Richard pretty well, and he is a gentleman, a kind man, a warm-hearted and generous man. I also have no doubt he will be the most hated guy in Oz after this! He’ll be the Simon Cowell of Down Under.

But my hope — and it’s a slender one, but it’s there — is that a lot of people in Australia will see this good-natured, good-looking, and well-spoken man and maybe, just maybe ,think about what he’s saying. Did the psychic in question really divine the location of the lost object? Or was it a lucky guess, a cold read of the victim, an exaggeration, or an outright cheat?

In the end, Richard won’t have to compromise his principles to choose a psychic; instead they’ll winnow the field down to the least bad three, and then a phone-in session will decide who is the best at either self-deception or fraud — I mean, who is the "best psychic".

A lot of people in Australia will probably have their beliefs confirmed by this show. But Richard is very charming. I think he’ll go a long way in convincing viewers that doubting the claims of "psychics" is a very good line to take.

Edited to add: I missed this, but Shane in the comments pointed out that on Richard’s and Stacey’s (the witch) pages on the show’s site, there is a poll asking if you are a believer or a skeptic. The poll is to the right of the article, at the bottom of the middle column of the blog. I would never ask my readers to crash a poll, of course, and even if you did it might not have much effect once the show becomes popular and a zillion people vote. But wouldn’t it be funny if the skeptics stayed way ahead of the believers?

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Comments (74)

  1. It should be easy to allow psychics to ply their trade. All the government needs to do is licence psychics.

    To get your psychic’s licence, you have to fill out a form and get your picture taken to register, then show up in person at a 5 minute interview, at which you will receive your licence card.

    However, because you’re psychic, they don’t tell you when or where the interview will be. If you’re late, or show up more than 30 minutes early, or at the wrong place, you don’t get a licence.

  2. Oh… and you only get one shot at it. If you are wrong (wrong place, wrong time), your application is kept on file as “rejected” and you can never again get a licence.

  3. Geran Smith

    While this has nothing to do with this post, I just bought your book, and it is entertaining me on my long flight from MA to CA.

  4. That should do the trick.

  5. Redplaidman

    Wouldn’t it be funny if just one person showed up for auditions?
    “Yeah, we all got together and read the tea leaves, gazed in the crystal ball, dealt the tarot cards, talked with the spirits and asked the magic eight ball. And I am the winner.”

  6. aleph1=c

    C’mon, guys. We all know psychics don’t have direct control over what information comes to them from beyond. It’s usually the less detailed stuff like “I’m sensing that the murder victim was a child or possibly an adult, whose name starts with a consonant or possibly a vowel.” And besides, it’s obvious that the more talented psychics (e.g., the ones that would know when and where to show up for the licensing interview) will already by fantastically rich from using their powers for personal gain (lottery, etc.) and would have no reason to go on TV or worry about licensing.

  7. Joanna

    I would never have watched this show, but now I want to, just to see what Richard Saunders says.

    It’ll be interesting to see how he expresses himself, being the only skeptic on this show.

  8. This makes me wonder why a skeptic would even get involved with this nonsense? After all, in a way, isn’t being involved in this project, supporting it?

  9. wegb

    Phil, I am a lifelong,aged sceptic as far as psychics are concerned but I suggest you “waste” 10 minutes of your life and check out a Scottish guy called Gordon Smith who also is known as,believe it or not,the “Psychic Barber.” The BBC has done a few documentaries on this guy;he charges no fees to individuals and having seen him on TV myself a couple of times I actually saw him ,in person, amongst an audience of some hundreds and I can find no explanation for what this guy appears able to do other than him having downright plants in the audience and I do not believe this to be the case. I suggest you get some of your sceptical amigos to check this guy out and I think they also will find cause to wonder! Buy the way,I have a strong disbelief in any afterlife, regards, wegb

  10. The problem I have with this show, and Richard’s willingness to be involved in it, is that it’s rooted in a false premise from the start: that psychics and psychic powers exist, and we’re just looking for “the one” who’s really got them and isn’t a fake.

    I met a lot of fine folks from Australia (including Richard) at TAM6, and while their opinion of him as a nice guy was uniformly strong, a lot of them expressed dissatisfaction with his work as a skeptic. The show, which is sending them the message he’s already probably compromised his principles too much, isn’t helping that.

  11. hambr

    Kind of seems like a bad idea. There is going to be a winner and a heck of a lot of people will believe that this person is the best psychic, not just the best fraud, but a real psychic. You know how people are, after they see this on TV they will take it as proof that psychics are real.
    “I sawed it ons the TVs, its gots to be real.” sigh. This show will be here in the U.S. before long. Maybe you could co-judge. He He, you would look good on screen standing next to a witch.

  12. Paul M.

    I was hoping it would finish with all of them being eliminated.

  13. Leo

    There’s a similar show here in the U.S., I think, called Phenomenon, but I don’t watch it. The judges are Criss Angel and Uri Gellar. There was an interesting controversy when Criss challenged Jim Callahan after Jim had just contacted a spirit. You can find out about it on YouTube.

    Is this Australian show similar to Phenomenon?

    @Martin Wagner
    “… is that it’s rooted in a false premise from the start: …”

    If you know the premise is false you must surely have the proof. Solve this for all the unenlightened and provide the proof.

  14. There is poll to crash (Pharyngula style) on the pages about either Stacey or Richard asking if you’re a believer or skeptic. Looks like you can vote multiple times. I think I might have crashed the poll by myself though…

    I wouldn’t have watched this type of show but seeing as Richard is in it I will give it a shot.

  15. Helioprogenus

    This show is going to be extremely lame. I can’t imagine a more futile attempt at reaching out to these idiotic astrology believers. Sure, maybe a few psychics may get discredited, but at what price? They’re just going to quote mine Richard Saunders so it sounds like he’s impressed by one of the psychics (as he said towards the end of the trailer “..I’m not sure how she found it”, or something of that nature). It’ll just confirm what these irrational idiots in the new age corner have always believed. I suppose if even a few people on the fence are dissuaded from believing in psychics it might have some beneficial effect. Yet, it wouldn’t be a TV show if it turns out that every single one of them is full of freshly produced horse manure. The producers will find a way to twist the truth around until at least one of those charlatans appears semi legitimate.

  16. I really enjoyed him on WKRP in Cincinnati.

  17. Miss Cellania, you got me on that one. Which KRP character do you think Richard looks like?

  18. Kimpatsu

    What’s wrong with crashing polls, Phil? PZ has us do it all the time.

  19. OG

    Not sure if it’s just here in Melbourne, but it has had almost no publicity (and when new shows come out, I generally hear people talking about the new shows… but this has had nothing)

    I hope that’s indicative of something….

  20. Coriolis

    Miss Cellania is making a joking reference to Richard /Sanders/, the actor who played Les Nessman, Phil. Interestingly, though, the pseudonym Ben Franklin used for some of his work– the ‘Poor Richard’ in Poor Richard’s Almanack– was a Richard Saunders. Witty quotes then and now, perhaps?

  21. IBY

    No need to cover your Feudian slip with “I mean, best psychic” :) We all know your position.

  22. IBY

    *Freudian, my bad.

  23. CR

    I rather liked Evolving Squid’s ideas about licesning. I’d love to see them implemented in that fashion!

  24. Richie

    Poll is 88% Skeptics, 12% Gullible.

    “I don’t know how she did it”. I’ll just run that through the anti-PR filter then…..

    And it comes out as “I don’t know how she [did it] – “Did it” translates to – “was so far off target”.

  25. Well, that’s embarrassing, considering how big a KRP fan I am. One of the truly best shows ever.

  26. Richard Saunders

    KRP… I remember that.

    To everyone.. chill. Wait until you see the show. You might be right, I have not seen it yet myself.

  27. Rachael Dunlop

    Regarding Martin Wagner’s comment

    I met a lot of fine folks from Australia (including Richard) at TAM6, and while their opinion of him as a nice guy was uniformly strong, a lot of them expressed dissatisfaction with his work as a skeptic.

    I am intrigued Martin. I am from Australia and have witnessed the tireless hours Richard devotes to scepticism in this country, in his own time and at his own expense. I am flabbergasted to hear of this dissatisfaction to which you refer. I wonder if you can provide me with some clues as to why people feel this way? I’m shaking my head, since in my opinion Richard is one of the hardest working, dedicated and most experienced sceptics in Australia.

  28. madge

    I have to agree with Helioprogenus on this one. All this show will do is give these charlatans the oxygen of publicity (they shouldn’t even be given the oxygen of oxygen!) the believers will only see the hits and that will be the only thing that will get talked about thereby feeding the myth even more.

  29. Oh, great, now I’m having flash backs of Les Nessman announcing the invasion of godless communist tornadoes, and also of dozens of turkeys being thrown from a helicopter, bouncing on the ground! Thanks!

  30. quasidog

    I grew up in Australia also. I have mentioned it before but just to make it aware to others that don’t live here …. Australia already has a massive psychic and astrology fan base. This show is not going to add to anything, or fuel any fire. If anything, it will be a first by having an actual skeptic in amongst it and hopefully debunking a few things.

    I made a statement about how deep astrology affects our society on a previous blog and many USA based blogger’s corrected me, informing me it was not that big an issue in the States. Fair call. The thing is, in Australia, we don’t really have the religious nut problem like you guys do, so then next nuts in line are the astrologers and the like, so here the astrologers and psychics stand out to me as the BIG nuts. Every single day on the radio I hear some mention of astrology or numerology or something to do with psychics. A local station I listen to on the Gold Coast has a ‘ring in and get 10 random questions right ‘ and win some money. Nearly every single time there is at least one question regarding what sign you would be if you were born at such and such a date. Every book store I go to has this stuff plastered all over the place. Every time I meet a nice girl she asks me what my sign is. Some of my best mates get yearly charts made up. Women’s magazines have 10’s of pages at a time devoted to this stuff. Advertisments on TV for mobile phone love lines promote it. My local rag (Gold Coast Bulletin) will devote 4 or more pages to it every few months or will have some yearly pullout guide. It is EVERYWHERE here. If this show airs, it will not add much.

    So I really hope this show gets some air time and advertised, just so I can see for once, somebody actually disagreeing with someone about the subject. It is huge and is never contested here as far as I have seen. It might be my proximity to the major hippie towns (northern New South Wales, south east Queensland) but it is driving me crazy ;p In the place where I work there are about 20 men and some women of different ages. I know at least 4 of them, over the age of 40, that think astrology and psychic power is possibly real or works ;/. That’s is how hard it needs to be debunked here.

    Go Richard Saunders !

  31. Richard is a colleague of mine, and I actually urged him to participate in this show. Not only does this show raise the profile of the Australian Skeptics, and skepticism in general, but it is vital that a “TV skeptic” be representative of the movement, rather than some random actor or television darling who isn’t affiliated with our organization yet still ‘speaks on our behalf’ by default.

    Richard’s reputation isn’t tarnished by association with this show. Furthermore, he doesn’t endorse the psychic ‘winner’.

    We’re not going to be in denial of the existence of such a show; we don’t retain our ‘principles’ by ignoring an opportunity to have our say. Rather than having a “problem” with the show, Richard is actively involved, and has already influenced it in a positive manner by introducing scientific testing where far less rigorous tests had ‘proved’ the psychic’s ‘abilities’.

    What is a “false premise” to you is a belief to many people. Richard’s doing his bit to promote skepticism to these people. And he’s a nice guy…

  32. csrster

    Google Ads is filnding some fascinating added-content for your new blog location, Phil.

  33. Gosh. Skeptics who are actually nice.

    Who make an effort to meet half-way.

    Who don’t endorse the finalists unless they show their stuff, who took part in the standards set on the show and – apparently even got the host realising that there has to be more than magic tricks and guessing-games to be a psychic.

    Richard, you’re doomed.

    You have to be a rude, arrogant, ball-busting, narrow-minded, clique-endorsing, groupie-building, online flame-warrior, hard-core-atheist, foul-mouthed and trolling “git” before you’ll make it anywhere! Did you not learn ANYTHING from online feedback to the TANK Vodcast? Sheesh!!!

    I’ll watch your show, but only in the hope that in the episode you roll your eyes at some point and betray that gentle, considerate, kind, zen-origami-folding veneer that you think we’re so FOOLED by. Ha!

    I’ll even Live Blog the entire series every Tuesday on my own Podblack site for the edification of the crowd who can’t watch it from overseas. Beware – blogging depiction of Richard Saunders may not accurately reflect the firey-flames of ANGER and RAGE and PENGUIN that simmer inside his baby-blue-eyes exterior!!

  34. Rachel Dunlop: I’m only repeating some opinions I heard, that’s all. Perhaps those people just don’t have the experience you do seeing as much of the work Richard puts in.

    I personally enjoyed Richard’s dowsing demonstration at TAM, and thought it was a good sort of thing to take to schools to get children exposed to skepticism. I will be only too delighted if Karen Stollznow is right and all my ambivalence about the show is demolished once I actually see it. (I hope we Yanks will be able to stream episodes online from an official site or something.)

  35. Torbjörn Larsson, OM

    Number Two

    Obscure cultural reference alert! Googling number two, one finds that it is, eh, the number “2”.

    Crap! So, care to take a whack at explaining it?

  36. Hainish

    In that poll, if you were a true believer in skepticism, which side would you have to chose?

  37. Mark

    @Larsson:

    “to go Number One”: excretion of liquid bodily waste.
    “to go Number Two”: the same, only for the more solid stuff

  38. GrimaH

    “true believer in skepticism”

    Is that a paradox? I can’t tell.

  39. Ronn! Blankenship

    # Richard Saunders Says:
    July 2nd, 2008 at 10:49 pm

    “KRP… I remember that.”

    And it was the first thing I thought of when I saw the headline . . .

    “To everyone.. chill. Wait until you see the show. You might be right, I have not seen it yet myself.”

    But how many of the psychics have seen it already? How many of them saw it before it even started production?

  40. Ronn! Blankenship

    Torbjörn Larsson, OM Says:
    July 3rd, 2008 at 3:54 am

    “Number Two

    Obscure cultural reference alert! Googling number two, one finds that it is, eh, the number “2″.

    Crap!”

    You got it!

  41. Ronn! Blankenship

    # Mark Says:
    July 3rd, 2008 at 4:25 am

    @Larsson:

    “to go Number One”: excretion of liquid bodily waste.
    “to go Number Two”: the same, only for the more solid stuff

    Leading to the timeless advice:

    “While looking out for number 1, be careful not to step in number 2 . . . ”

    (What?! There’s no references to the planet between Saturn and Neptune . . . )

  42. Mrs. BA

    I think Richard’s participation in The One is going to be tremendously positive for the skeptical movement in Australia. First of all, Richard is smart and debonair and POLITE. To those of you who think a skeptic has to be loud and obnoxious and in-your-face to have an impact, I would remind you of the old adage “You catch more flies with honey than vinegar.”

    The blowhards and the downright rude and insulting skeptics may get attention, and they may make other skeptics feel righteous and superior, but they’re not changing anyone’s mind. Believers are not any more receptive to being ridiculed and bellowed at than a skeptic would be when confronted with the same behavior. We are all human, and we all want to at least be treated civilly.

    This is Richard’s forte. He is a placid gentleman who never insults or reviles his opponents. (He’s also dashing and adorable – which never hurts!) This is precisely why he may be able to get some of the audience to really think about what he’s trying to demonstrate – that “psychics” cannot stand up to actual scientific testing.

    Getting the public to think critically is a process, and it starts with planting just a few seeds of doubt and skepticism and hoping they germinate in someone’s mind. You can’t pound the seeds in with a hammer – they need to be placed gently and then encouraged to grow. To continue this analogy to a nauseating conclusion, Richard is the kind of spokesperson who will help the garden of critical thinking flourish. (OK, now I feel sick too).

    So good on ya Richard. I’m confident that you’ll prove all the naysayers wrong and show skeptics the right way to win friends and influence people.

  43. Leigh

    My best wishes to Richard Saunders, I hope he slashes and burns a few of these fakes. However, I always like to keep in mind that commercial TV’s sole purpose is to sell product and the final power lies with the sponsers and their producers. A good editor can create their own version of events. Only the finished product can be judged, and even then, we do not know what was left on the cyber cutting room floor. Only Richard will know, and he may be prevented by his contract from speaking out after the fact.

  44. dannyness

    Nice pic of him. Though I miss the rainbow suspenders.

  45. Richard Saunders

    # Ronn! Blankenship Says:
    July 3rd, 2008 at 7:06 am

    “But how many of the psychics have seen it already? How many of them saw it before it even started production?”

    Not sure what you mean here. As far as I know, none of the cast or contestants have seen the edit of the show. It goes to air in a few days.

  46. Rachael Dunlop

    He means they should have seen it through their psychic powers, in other words they know who wins. Mortals like you and I have to wait ’til it airs.

  47. laine shearer

    I find I just can’t “chill”. While Richard seems a very nice guy to those who know him, my impression of The Australian Skeptics is one of stagnation. What I mean by that is, as an organisation there is just is no visible profile. I took a look at their website and there is no provision to make comments- their is no interaction with this organisation at all. Clicking on Media Releases and one finds nothing since November 20th 2006!! Clicking on Skeptical News and there is nothing!!

    A while back I decided to drop in to skeptics in the pub (Sydney) in the hope of meeting a vibrant, enthusiastic crowd. I was treated to a spoon bending demo (not the best I’ve seen) chatted with some nice people, inquired about what they were doing in sketisism and was met with blank stares! Thinking this was just a slow night I returned for a few more visits but sadly there was just more spoon bending!

    Richard Saunders may very well be a very nice man I wish him well with “The One” but I feel this is more to do with personal promotion than with giving oxygen to the Australian skeptical community.

  48. Nemo

    What annoys me is the picture accompanying the poll: the “skeptic” is scowling, the “believer” smiling. There’s bias right there.

  49. Amanda

    I’m sorry you feel that way about Skeptics in the Pub, Laine. I think the fact it continues to grow, to the extent we have about outgrown that space, is evidence plenty of people find something worthwhile. If you come expecting a worthy lecture series or something, sure, it’s not that. It’s unashamedly a social occasion, meant to be fun although everytime I go the bulk of chatting is skeptic-oriented. I missed this week’s but there would have been about half a dozen people there who were actualy at TAM6 in Vegas — how much more involved in skepticism do you want?

    I’ve been going since the very first one with a couple of people, the fact it has built up to spilling out of the room is entirely because Richard started it, and kept it going. I agree with some of your more general comments about the AS organisation but really you can’t have it both ways: bag the org for stagnating and then bag the one bloke who does more than anyone from his own initiative.

    If SITP is not what you want, have you created your own group more reflecting your interests?

    Your final sentence about personal promotion has no basis in fact, the Australian Skeptics name and website is all over the promotions and he is described as VP of the AS on the show.

  50. Ronn! Blankenship

    # Richard Saunders Says:
    July 3rd, 2008 at 3:30 pm

    # Ronn! Blankenship Says:
    July 3rd, 2008 at 7:06 am

    “But how many of the psychics have seen it already? How many of them saw it before it even started production?”

    Not sure what you mean here. As far as I know, none of the cast or contestants have seen the edit of the show. It goes to air in a few days.

    – – –

    If they are ***truly psychic***, wouldn’t they have already “seen” the whole show before you even started shooting? 😉

    (Sorry, my humor seems to have only two levels: Uranus-type references such as Phil asked us in another entry to avoid or so subtle no one gets it, with nothing in between. I guess that was an example of number 2 . . . )

  51. Richard Saunders

    Ronn! Blankenship Says:
    July 4th, 2008 at 7:08 am

    # Richard Saunders Says:
    July 3rd, 2008 at 3:30 pm

    # Ronn! Blankenship Says:
    July 3rd, 2008 at 7:06 am … and so on.

    D’oh… sorry. For some reason I though everyone on the planet had no magical powers….

  52. quasidog

    @ Podblack

    I totally agree with your point, if somewhat sarcastic in its delivery. ;p

    I am also tired of aggressive, angry skepticism. That sort is just bullying someone into agreeing with a point. It proves little and raises doubt. Skeptics that employ this sort of tactic seem to be more interested in proving themselves to be right, or entertaining people that already agree with them, rather than proving the actual point in question to be correct, by using a clear, comprehensive and analytical approach to an argument, coupled with a dose of patience. Even if their point is right, the method used has far less credibility than a polite and more thorough approach to reasoning on a topic. Not all skeptics do this and many are completely reasonable and non threatening in their approach, but it is good for me to see that one of the more well known skeptics in Australia is a gentleman about it all. It makes me proud that Richard Saunders is representing my country as a decent skeptic. Dr Karl Kruszelnicki is another one I really like to listen to here in Oz. He is pretty well known as a really nice guy too.

    Being polite will make more truly thoughtful people pay attention, but being rude just attracts fools that want to see a showdown. The latter people mostly walk away and forget what the topic was about. The former mostly walk away and actually think about it.

    Most people don’t like smart arse’s anyway.

  53. quasidog

    @ Mrs. BA … totally agree ;p

  54. Ronn! Blankenship

    Richard Saunders Says:
    July 4th, 2008 at 8:17 am

    […]

    D’oh… sorry.

    Now you see why I am constantly quoting what Lt. Saavik said to Admiral Kirk in ST II:

    “Humor . . . it is a difficult concept.”

    (Usually when my “humor” falls flat like this time . . . )

    😀

  55. Ronn! Blankenship

    quasidog Says:
    July 4th, 2008 at 4:01 pm

    Most people don’t like smart arse’s anyway.

    That would explain why I don’t have any friends . . . :(

  56. Hi Laine,

    As you say, that’s an impression, and it’s not one that all Aussie (or international) Skeptics would share; especially if you’d been to a dinner meeting of the East Bay Skeptics (in the hugely populated San Francisco bay area)…

    The Australian Skeptics is a non-prophet/profit organization with a one-man band skeptical staff (of one). Having said that, we have a magazine (the second oldest and third largest in the world), we hold annual conferences, frequent nationwide public meetings, we have affiliated blogs and groups (such as Skeptics in the Pub); we support various awards, research and education (with our hunble funds), and conduct other activities such as investigations, group tours of various places, etc. I agree that the website could incorporate more, such as a forum for visitor interaction, facilities for posting upcoming events, more articles and resources, etc. These are things that our volunteers work on in their ‘spare’ time.

    I can’t comment on your experiences at the pub meetings. I don’t know who you spoke with, and what they said (or didn’t say) and what they knew. However, I do know that the Australian Skeptics have a cohension that isn’t enjoyed in the States (or England, or Canada, etc.), and arrange a plethora of ongoing activities. In contrast, many Americans look forward to Randi’s The Amaz!ng Meeting as an isolated (expensive) annual event that thrusts them straight back into everyday non-skeptical life with a dearth of skeptical activities the rest of each year. The US groups are fragmented – they have bigger budgets but no more activities than we do (and are rarely as supportive and generous as we are for awards and research), and most events or resources are operated by splinter groups or interested individuals.

    Most of all, ask not what the Australian Skeptics can do for you, but what you can do for the Australian Skeptics. We’re a small group (by US standards – which has been my experience for the last 4+ years), yet we’re an active, friendly, funny and passionate bunch, and if you have ideas and concerns, we’d like to hear them. Check out the site again, visit the branches pages, and get in touch with someone local, or me, and feel welcome to become involved.

  57. laine shearer

    http://www.news.com.au/entertainment/story/0,26278,23970915-5016681,00.html

    This is a link to the new low this show has sunk. Peter Falconio and his girlfriend Joanne Lees two British backpackers were traveling through the Northern Territory when Bradley John Murdoch stopped their car. Murdoch murdered Falconio and took Lees hostage. Lees later on escaped and flagged down a semi-trailer and the police were notified. Falconio’s body has never been found.

    This very sad story has now (if this media release is correct) become entertainment for “The One”. Anyone associated with this disgusting show should be ashamed to be connected in any way.

  58. Laine – all the more reason to have a voice of reason.

  59. quasidog

    @laine shearer

    After reading the media release, and given the show is about debunking psychics I can’t see the problem. Psychics claim to be able to find missing people, both dead or alive, all the time. If they can, then it would be really good to actually find the body. If they can’t it adds weight to the fact they are all full of it.

    As far as the actual story itself, it was all over the English news, and tabloids for weeks anyway. It has always been big news in Australia too. Sure it’s sad. Life is often sad, but how is it exploiting anything by looking? If they claim they can find the body then that would be great! To me it is not about entertainment, but rather, finding out the truth of things. I do not find that disgusting at all. I am really looking forward to it. If it in fact turns out to be exploitative and junky cheap entertainment tv, I will stop watching. I will reserve judgment until then.

  60. AndyD

    I shared the concerns of those who felt Richard might be a bit mild for something like this (Note that I knew nothing of him prior to this so my opinion was based on last night’s show) but after reading this blog, my opinion has shifted. I think the movement needs moderates and fundamentalists – just as religion has both, just as the psychic industry has both (I’d call Sylvia Browne a psychic fundy).

    Some people may well be swayed by honey but others need to be hit with a baseball bat (that’s why some adverts are nice and others pierce your eardurms). Faced with the absolute belief of the “psychic” and the half-hearted disbelief of the skeptic, many people will lean toward the con-merchant. However, give them a pharyngula-style carpeting of the woo-meister and you’ve won them over. Some people have to be TOLD, they just don’t have the capacity to analyse, consider, reason and then form an opinion. They need the security of knowing that someone (“important”) believes what they’re choosing to believe.

    If Richard’s the meek and mild face of skepticism then that’s fine (it seems odd to write about him passively when he actually reads and posts here). At the end of the day, his effectiveness will be decided by the producers. If they want to promote psychics, as last night’s show suggests they do, then no amount of ranting would make any difference anyway – and not being there at all would surely not prove useful unless there was a way to mass-publicise the reasons for not participating.

    As for Aussie Skeptics, I agree that a comment section on the website would be a great start but I guess such things require monitoring and maintenance. I also feel “more” needs to be done to get skepticism out there but when I ask myself what exactly should be done, I have no answer (I could start by asking if there’s a chapter down near Albany, WA) so I’m in no position to complain. I will say, as I’ve said elsewhere, that the word “skeptic” seems a massive stumbling block for anyone who doesn’t already know what it means to be one. These days it means “cynic” in the suburbs – and that’s a whole different meaning to what the skeptics would/should want it to mean.

    Richard: Will you be allowed to comment on the show once it’s finished airing? Are you limited in any way in what you can say about it? Can you find a way to get a decent skeptic/science show on the telly?

    Now everyone, please go visit that poll at au.tv.yahoo.com/b/the-one/ – the deluded have been let loose and, by the numbers on there, Australia is looking like somewhere I don’t want to live any more. Vote once, vote twice, keep voting. Please! Don’t make me beg, it aint pretty.

  61. Luke

    To quasidog:

    “The show is about debunking psychics”

    Not sure what show you were reading about, but “The One” is the search to find Australia’s BEST psychic!! That says that psychics exist before it even starts!! What an absolute joke. I watched the first episode, and it was the most boring hour of complete rubbish I’ve ever seen. Richard came across as weak and unsure of himself, and in places he agreed that the psychics had lots of hits without giving a rational explanation. If you all viewed this as an opportunity to further the skeptical position, then it was a complete waste.

  62. quasidog

    @ Luke

    It is to my dismay that I will have to agree. Hype kills, and I was led to believe that this show would be debunking psychics. It is not what I thought it was going to be at all. What a shame. There was so much potential there. :( I had all my hopes up too :(

    *trudges off to work to endure more astrology crap on the radio and in the newspaper*

  63. Marcus

    I agree with Luke and also quasidog’s concession.

    The name of the show in full as in the program guide is
    ‘The One: Australia’s Most Gifted Psychic’ so it has nothing to do with debunking.
    Having watched the show, seven so called psychics were introduced each with their own video piece. Each had an on camera testimonial by a person who had been seeing the psychic for some time and praised the help the the individual had received.

    As one of the contestants from show has since stated,

    ( Ms Wilson said she had even surprised herself during Tuesday night’s show.

    “I never realised that I would be able to even get close to finding a lost child in the bush and now I know I can do it.”

    Ms Wilson said she was also grateful for public support, with viewers flooding Channel Seven websites with messages of support and requests for readings.

    “It makes me feel really good,” she said. )

    What more can I say.
    What else could any skeptic have expected from a show with that name. So all the cries of selective editing are not heard in the community. So don’t tell me it was better to have representation in the show than not. It just shows a lack of critical thinking.

    The show was totally boring. No cliffhanger for next week, probably more of the same. There is no prize at the end, but one is not needed. The psychics booking are looking good if we believe Charmaine Wilson.

  64. Canny Ken

    Well I taped the show the other night and just sat through watching it, forcing myself to suffer through so i was at least informed… missed the very end, I assume because of the networks annoying habit of going overtime in the psychological arms race between advertisers and video recorders…but that is another story…

    My apologies to Richard because I therefore missed his comments at the end, but I found the whole “find the boy in the bush test” somewhat lame. Am tempted to use it as an exercise in poor experimental design in a research methods class. Let me express my thoughts and I would be glad if Richard or anyone feels that I missed something:

    1. Location of the boy. Was this chosen randomly? If some person simply picked what they thought was a good hiding spot, then the “psychics” could just be intuiting the same thought process. That is what they are good at of course. The spot should have been chosen on the map completely at random (as should the starting point), and indeed better to have been randomly placed differently for each “psychic”. The “test” designers, like all humans are likely to be very bad at “trying” to be random.

    2. How would non-psychic humans perform? How well would a bunch of human searchers. who do not claim to be clair-whatever, perform in the same task. It was interesting that many of them (the contestants) actually confidently followed similar (wrong) paths at first, turned around at similar points, ended up seeking out “high ground”. Would random people pursue similar search strategies. What was inherently attractive about the left-hand path to many of the searchers? Would random people rationalise their choices in completely different but retrospectively plausible ways? (It would be important here to use random people, not, say, SES volunteers, who would be likely to use sensible heuristics for where a missing boy would ACTUALLY be , not where one would randomly be placed in an experiment, and would therefore probably perform worse than chance.)

    3. How would a “random-walk” simulation perform? From the starting point (which was not that far from the ending point), would a computer simulation, perhaps with some very basic heuristics added, perform as well?

    I was interested in quasidog’s comment/analysis of the prevalence of this stuff in Australia and tend to agree. Sigh.

  65. Well, the ads have started for this week’s show and nothing’s improved. Again the promotion is pro-psychic “He’s obviously feeling a force” (or words to that effect). No hint of skepticism.

    It’s intriguing that format and promotion of this show is so different to other, similar, talent quest shows. There’s no hard-as-nails judges tearing strips off the contestants when they don’t perform well so there’s no promotion of these “controversial” moments in the ads.

    I can’t believe TV stations thinks it’s okay to tear-up the hopes of young kids who want to entertain people or community choirs who want to entertain people but tread carefully when dealing with people who sell fraud for a living. I can only assume (and the show suggests it is so) that the producers are such strong believers that they fear what might happen if they upset a psychic.

    Read more by clicking my name above.

  66. Marcus

    I have also found this website for posting you thoughts on this show. It has had over 1300 hits.

    http://www.throng.com.au/news/the-one-the-search-for-australias-most-gifted-psychic#comment-50089

  67. Jack

    Where are Australian Skeptics, the organization I mean, speaking out about this show.
    There seems to be a deadly silence.
    Why aren’t they debunking the show.
    That’s the trouble with sleeping with the enemy.
    It’s interesting how support for the show has dropped to zero at skeptical posts since the first episode went to air and is flourishing at psychic sites.

  68. Australian skeptics in general ARE indeed breaking down the show and commenting.

    You can find links here:

    http://www.podblack.com
    http://www.flopearedmule.net
    and
    http://thinkingisreal.blogspot.com

    Tune in every Tuesday to see not only rants, but raves and even some comedy in Podblack… 😉

  69. JACK – you might like to read what Karen Stollznow said above:

    “The Australian Skeptics is a non-prophet/profit organization with a one-man band skeptical staff (of one). Having said that, we have a magazine (the second oldest and third largest in the world), we hold annual conferences, frequent nationwide public meetings, we have affiliated blogs and groups (such as Skeptics in the Pub); we support various awards, research and education (with our hunble funds), and conduct other activities such as investigations, group tours of various places, etc. I agree that the website could incorporate more, such as a forum for visitor interaction, facilities for posting upcoming events, more articles and resources, etc. These are things that our volunteers work on in their ’spare’ time.”

  70. I’d like to see a forum on the Oz Skeptics site. Currently it seems that the only way fringe skeptics (those who are not already active members of Oz Skeptics) can exchange ideas with each other is by commenting each others blogs. But a forum will only succeed if there’s a body of people ready and willing to post on it.

    Maybe an interim measure would be a sort of mini-skeptics’ circle where skeptical Oz blogs are listed, maybe with some info on current articles as submitted by bloggers?

  71. Torbjörn Larsson, OM

    Life intervened, but finally returning to old threads FWIW:

    @ Ronn! Blankenship:

    Thanks! So BA is kid friendly.

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