The Mentalist: review

By Phil Plait | September 24, 2008 11:06 am

Last night was the premier of the TV "The Mentalist", what promised to be a skeptical look at psychics and police work.

Quick summary: it rocked.

More thorough summary:

Simon Baker as The MentalistWell, it did rock. It’s a crime/detective drama, but also has lots of humor. Simon Baker, dreamy Aussie, plays Patrick Jane, a man who used to be a relatively famous stage psychic, and is now a police detective. He has an incredible gift of observation, able to watch people’s behaviors, notice small background items, note things that are said, and put them together rapidly to form a picture of what’s happening around him.

"The Mentalist" is a different kind of crime drama. Baker is very engaging (especially, evidently, for my wife), and he does have a quality about him that makes him fun to watch. His character invokes sympathy right away, even if he is a bit of a pain in the butt. He’s confident, even a little arrogant, but funny and endearing. It’s hard not to compare him to the titular character from "House", though he’s not as grumpy.

I love love love his character. He hates so-called "psychics" — hates them. In one scene, he comes right out and says there are no such things as psychics! When he did that, Mrs BA, The Little Astronomer, and I all threw our arms over our heads, fists pumping the air! W00t!

But to the meat of this: I think a real skeptic is behind this show, someone who knows about the frauds, fakes, and evil people who claim to speak to the dead. Here’s why:


In a series of flashbacks, we see Patrick Jane as he was five years before, a stage psychic who uses all the fraudulent tricks to make people think he can speak to the dead. On a TV show, he also brags that he’s helping the police find a serial killer nicknamed Red John (most psychics make claims like these, but you will never, ever find a case that was solved by a psychic, or even aided by one). Jane brags about his abilities, and insults the serial killer, calling him ugly and small.

The Mentalist, with an unhappy icon
Red John’s signature

When Jane comes home that night, there is a note on his bedroom door… from Red John. The killer wasn’t happy about being insulted in the media by Jane, and so has exacted his revenge. The note says that when Jane opens the door to the bedroom, he’ll find his wife and daughter, dead. In an unusual demonstration of restraint by a TV show, the scene ends showing him opening the door, and we don’t see the bodies. Just a lurid smiley face on the wall, drawn in blood, Red John’s signature.

Obviously, this is when Jane dropped the psychic act and became a vigilante against psychics. It’s also where he joins the police force.

During the show, Jane talks to a psychiatrist because he can’t sleep well at night. When asked why not, he makes up a story about a childhood tragedy. We, the viewers, know the real reason: guilt over the death of his family. His own hubris killed them.

Now let me make an aside. The real tragedy of these blood-sucking "psychics" who "talk to the dead" is that they interrupt the grieving process. If you lose someone you love, it’s awful, terrible, and the pain is tremendous. But, over time, you heal. It takes a long time, and of course you never totally get over it, but eventually you can heal, you can move on. "Psychics" stop this process cold.

By making people believe that their loved ones are still around, still issuing pablum-like things ("I’m happy", "I forgive you"), they don’t let the grieving people heal. They are picking at the wound, keeping it open. Sure, people may feel better in the short term, but the healing process is short-circuited, and that’s very unhealthy. And it’s another in a long list of reasons why people who claim to talk to the dead are so truly evil.

And that brings us to the last scene in "The Mentalist". At the end, after solving the case using his amazing observational skills, Jane goes home. We see it’s the same house he lived in when his wife and daughter were killed five years earlier… but it’s totally empty. All the furniture, all the furnishings are gone.

Jane slowly goes up the stairs and into the bedroom. Like the rest of the house, it’s stripped clean. The only thing in it is a bare mattress on the floor. Jane lies down on it, and the camera pans around, showing the bloody smiley face still on the wall.

I was astonished by this. The character of Patrick Jane feels tremendous guilt — as well he should — over the death of his family. Because of this, he punishes himself by staying in the same house, removing all the trappings of a happy life, and by leaving Red John’s mark on the wall.

But remember, he couldn’t tell the doctor why he wasn’t sleeping. He couldn’t admit to being partly responsible for his family’s death. He was a psychic, and he interrupted his own grieving process.

Beautiful. The writing here was intelligent, thoughtful, and because of this irony based on skeptical knowledge of "psychics", right on the mark.

And, in my opinion — as you might guess — nailed how truly loathsome "psychics" are.

This was one of the most skeptical shows I have ever seen on mainstream TV, and I hope they can keep this up. It showed so many tricks, so many insights into how to defraud people that I would LOVE it if more people watched and absorbed this knowledge. My only fear is that, under pressure from TV suits, they somehow let Jane get over his guilt and forgive the "psychics" — after all, his skepticism is in some ways due to his major character flaw, so it’s not a big jump for the writers to do that. So many shows cop out that way; make the skeptics look like jerks, and make the antiscience followers look sympathetic, when in fact that is far, far from the truth. So many "psychics" are the ones who use people, defraud people, and use their emotional vampirism to get rich, rich, rich.

So I can’t say enough good things about "The Mentalist". It was well acted, well written, and the staging and direction were very good. Overall it was engaging, funny, and drew me right in.

But I think the most important part is that it spoke from a true skeptical standpoint. Jane gave many of the arguments I hear from other skeptics about many antiscience topics, and they come from the star of a mainstream show. And to see a skeptic who is portrayed as sympathetic, attractive, and even likable was a breath of fresh air from a medium — heh, medium — that falls all over itself to give the phonies, the frauds, and the fakes far more than their fair share.

I hope "The Mentalist" has a long, skeptical, and critically acclaimed run.


Comments (110)

  1. Todd W.

    So, it’s a blend of Psych and Monk (in that the wife is dead and a source of major guilt). [duck] :)

    Unfortunately, I missed the show. It was on at the same time as House. Maybe I’ll be able to catch it online or on demand or something.

    On a side note, is it just me, or does Red John’s mark look a lot like that little character from the Zoloft commercials?

  2. Evan

    One of my favorite parts was the discussion he had with “Kingdom of God” chick at the dinner table. (I’ll eventually catch her name. ) It was a very good show and I’m glad I remembered to tune in.

  3. Ferin

    It was an interesting show, and I think it may be enough to get me to watch it for the season. I still get a bit of a twinge about it being kind of a psych rip off, but it’s nice to see they moved in a different direction, and I think the wriiting and acting are good enough to carry it for a while.

  4. Steve B.

    Much better than I expected! Until “The Skeptologists” gets picked up, I can see that this will be my favorite show! Thanks for letting us know about it, Phil – I had seen the commercials, but didn’t know when it would be on. It is set on my DVR to record all new episodes now!

  5. Tesarra

    Thanks for the review, BA. I’ll be adding this to my DVR list for sure. I hope CBS has full episodes so I can catch the pilot online and not have to wait for the first reruns.



  6. As long as it doesn’t go down the path ‘Bones’ has. I can’t stand to watch that show after the last season… It was a good skeptical show at one point.

  7. Ou Boet


    Just a comment re. the story Patrick concocted at the doctor’s office. I think he did that not only because he hates it (the real reason) but also because he was starting to realise that the doctor was Red John and he wanted to see his reaction.

    Truely brilliant writing, especailly loved the ending – pretty sad really though.


  8. Gryfin210

    @Evan, yeah that was my favorite part too. I liked how she was extremely friendly at first, earlier in the episode, but when she found out he did not believe in the afterlife, she turned on him, calling him, “a poor, sad man”, or something of that nature. Finally, a television character I can relate to. (Besides Dexter, I mean)

    I cracked up with the “he was going to ask you to his apartment bit”, which I think he knew was going create the awkward elevator ride later.

    Yeah, I enjoyed the show, but aside from the skepticism, I don’t know that this is necessarily better than any of the other crime/drama shows on television at the moment, at least entertainment wise. I’ll try to catch the rest of the season though.

  9. Cheyenne

    I’m sold after that review. Tivo set to record!

  10. Dave M

    Phil, once again you’re giving this show huge credit for things Psych has been doing for 3 years now.

    Shawn said “there’s no such thing as psychics” before as well.

    It’s good to have another show on TV helping to spread critical thinking, but “the Mentalist” is following in the foot steps of “Psych”.

  11. Zach

    Yeah, even though Shaun is pretending to be psychic and the show doesn’t go into the harm “psychics” cause, the main character relentlessly mocks his sidekick Gus for the fact that he frequently subscribes to a supernatural explanation to events before the real, logical one, is revealed. Psych is a very skeptical show in that respect.

  12. The only difference between this and “Psych!” is that “Psych!” sucks and this doesn’t.

  13. madge

    Sounds good. Hope it gets picked up over here in UK. I will be watching out for it. Thanks for the “heads up”

  14. Good, but not great… the female characters toggle between shrill and coy, apparently. “She’s a hardass… but she has a soft spot for the male lead!” Oookay. The supporting guy cops don’t fare much better, of course. It’s a first episode, I’ll hope for character development over time.

    As long as we don’t start diving into Very Special Episode territory. I know it’ll happen. I just hope they stave it off for a while. CSI, even at its strongest, was at its worst when it tried to center episodes on the personal lives and foibles of the team members. Feh. (I speak in the past tense because I gave the show up a year ago.)

    I think they took a lot of shortcuts on the plot flow as well. I found myself going, “Wait, what, we’re here already?” I don’t know if that’s a stylistic move or first-episode clunkiness.

    Overall, though, I enjoyed it and will check it out again next week.

  15. KC

    Phil, you touched a nerve, to which I can only say “You are too kind.”

    Stopping the grieving process? Perhaps. But this one thing I do know: They prey on the distraught, the heartbroken, the emotionally wounded, those who are in such pain that they grasp any straw, pay any price. It is a heartless deed, cold and calculating in it’s very nature.

  16. Maybe Psychic

    > In one scene, he comes right out and says there are no such things as psychics! When he did that,
    > Mrs BA, The Little Astronomer, and I all threw our arms over our heads, fists pumping the air! W00t!

    Might one not expect a shred more … skepticism … about such a blanket assertion?

  17. PG

    I didn’t watch “The Mentalist”, but your descriptions keep reminding me about “Wire in the Blood”, from the BBC. Granted, this is about a criminal psychiatrist who has problems of his own, but it sounds like it has some similar points to it (some debunking as well). I’ll make sure I try to catch future episodes of “The Mentalist”!

  18. Deepsix

    I tried to watch this, I really did. But I couldn’t take more than 5 minutes at a time. It’s a drama, and I hate dramas with the heat of 1000 suns. It follows the exact outline for every single drama show: overacted, over the top, too serious, straight-faced, boring. After a few minutes, I told my wife I just couldn’t take it anymore and turned the channel. I kept going back, hoping it would get better, but no such luck.
    This may have been a great show if not for the context. I’m not knocking anyone who enjoyed the show, it just wasn’t for me.
    I’ve never seen (or heard of) “Psych” before. Perhaps I should check that out.

  19. Maybe psychic: nope. While I have to hold out some miniscule shred of possibility that psychic powers exist, they have been tested for decades, and when the tests are done correctly, they always show that psychic powers are not involved.

    If you think they do exist, and you have them, apply for Randi’s Million Dollar Challenge.

  20. Dave M, I’ve never seen “Psych”, so I have no idea what it has done. I don’t watch much TV, but this one caught me eye. I may watch Pysch eventually, but I don’t have much time to watch the tube.

  21. Wendy

    Robert Lancaster would love this show!!! (If you haven’t visited his websites yet, you’ve gotta check them out: and !)

    I’m afraid I missed it. :( But, those who like the show should write to the network and tell them so! Every piece of positive feedback is helpful.

  22. Hi there.

    I haven’t watched this yet, but I had the TiVo record it. I was wondering if this would be a drama version of Psych. It sounds like it is. Phil, Psych is a comedy that is on USA during the Summer and Winter. Psych received one of the first IIG Awards for presenting a skeptical viewpoint in entertainment television:


  23. Monsignor Henry Clay

    Looked/felt good. It’s well worth trying to catch, but I find it difficult to follow shows during the week. The more confrontational the show is, the better I’ll like it. That being said, it looks promising, very promising.

  24. mk

    Ou Boet:

    I didn’t think the doctor was red john…. just trying to fake it, throw people off. Remember he put the smiley face on the wrong side of the room. And Jane said the note left under the door wasn’t from the real Red John. Did I seriously miss something? (it’s possible! I was so thrilled a show like this made it to American TV i may just have been too euphoric to make proper judgement! Heh…) I think Red John is still out there. And that will be Jane’s raison d’etre as the show develops. Again, I could be wrong.

  25. Gary

    CBS show. Moonves and his meddlers will kill any truth in it. They have a track record. Weasels.

  26. Justin Olson

    You’ve got it right, mk… the psychiatrist was only imitating Red John’s MO. He wasn’t Red John. Interesting X-Files connection: This pilot was produced and directed by David Nutter, who directed some of the best X-Files episodes such as “Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose.” Interestingly enough, that episode what about a psychic serial killer! Good to see that Nutter has contributed to a skeptical show with a protagonist more like Scully.

    For anyone that missed this, the pilot will repeat Friday, September 26th at 8pm PST on CBS.

  27. zach

    To those that haven’t seen it, check out Psych’s first and second seasons first if possible. Season three has been a bit uneven so far (there in the middle of their midseason break right now. Like many cable shows, they start in the Summer and take a break during the fall).

  28. Gerry C

    a complete ripoff of the idea behind Psych. the mentalist is totally bogus.

  29. Elmar_M

    I will keep an eye on it. It looks promising from what I have seen and heard. Thanks for pointing it out Phil!

  30. Wow, my skeptical heart is in love. The show wasn’t flawless but it’s a very strong start. Anyone else but me kind of wish the little origami frog at the end was a pigasus instead?

  31. gopher65

    I really liked this first episode! As with all shows that are just starting, out the characters weren’t well defined, but that usually changes after a few episodes.

    It was a promising start though:). I’m looking forward to this show more than I have any since I first started watching Heroes.

  32. phunk

    I missed it too, but it is repeating on friday night.

  33. Kat

    The description of the main character’s home reminds me of “Profit” (which I loved, despite its unabashedly evil main character). I’ll have to check it out!

  34. Mrs. BA

    I know everyone’s expecting me to give “The Mentalist” rave reviews just because Simon Baker is the star, but that would display a lack of critical thinking and objectivity, so I’ll just say I enjoyed the show very much. I don’t watch any network television , because I find it all so formulaic, overacted, predictable and poorly plotted. This show did suffer from some of those same shortcomings, but overall I found it engaging, and of course I loved that the main character came right and said that any psychic is either self-delusional or a fraud.

    I thought Simon Baker’s acting was excellent, as always, although a couple of the lines he had to deliver were melodramatic or just plain cheesy. I found the 2 male investigators to be unfortunate stereotypes of arrogant, insensitive cops (like when the little guy told the dead woman’s husband that his younger brother admitted to “nailing her every chance he got”.) The female cops at least weren’t portrayed as many female cops are – either overly emotional or so tightly controlled that they’re incapable of sympathy or empathy.

    I’ll keep watching for a while to see where the writers take the show, but at the first sign that Jayne is backing down from his anti-psychic stance, I’m outta there.

  35. Radwaste

    For you guys mad about Psych – enough already. I mean, these so-called musicians today suck because they don’t do anything at all that hasn’t been done before.

  36. I enjoyed the episode for the most part, so thanks for bringing it to my attention!

    I’m surprised, though, that you “love love love his character”. True, he’s a genuine skeptic and all that.

    But he let the police rip apart the deceased’s family when he already had a good idea that they were going in the wrong direction. Not to mention that his recklessness in the opening sequence directly caused a murder.

    It seems to me that he’s still responsible for a lot of harm and misery.

  37. Daniel
  38. I missed this show, but from what I read here, it sounds like a comment I made a few days ago about “Psych” in an unrelated thread also applies here:

    My only problem with it philosophically is the implicit assumption that in order to fake psychic powers, one must have Holmes-ian, near preternatural observational skills. In reality, all it actually requires is the willingness and ability to lie without remorse.

  39. James Troutman, I don’t love him like I’d want to meet someone like that in real life. I’m saying as a character I think he’s great. And his hands were tied about that family problem; the woman running the crew wouldn’t have believed him anyway. Jane was pretty sure who the murderer was, but not positive, which is why he did all the stuff he did late in the show (don’t want to write spoilers here).

  40. Vic

    Grey Duck – I’m so with you about CSI (all three of them) I pretty much stopped last season also due to all the “special episodes” about the characters personal lives. I don’t care – I just want the science and the detective work (I know – the science isn’t always accurate). And seriously, how many times can one of them be accused of murder, rape/murder etc? That’s getting old also!

    On the Mentalist – loved it. I’ve seen Psych and I think the tone of this one is so different that I can’t call it a rip-off. Psych is a comedy and is often quite silly, this was a drama.

  41. leeobee

    Not seen it, didn’t even read your review, but two words…. Jonathan Creek.

  42. This sounds pretty good, and I certainly hope that there’s no room in the future for wishy-washy “Main character opens his mind to psychics and the supernatural” nonsense.

    Given that, apparently, the main character is somewhat reminiscent of House, and the show airs at the same time as House, it may be appropriate to assume that they’re pulling for a similar audience. In which case I think it’s safe. I can’t count the number of times a promo for “next week’s House” has included some clever editing to make it look like House is having a brush with the supernatural and may change his tune this week!

    Except it never happens. Like the one where a patient claims to be able to talk to dead relatives, and the promo shows House asking about his dad and walking out in shocked surprise when the patient apparently gets it right. Which he did in the episode, except it was a complete fake-out. The patient was wrong and he pretended she was right just to feed into her confirmation bias and prove a point.

    No matter how cleverly they edit the promos, House is always the same skeptical, atheistic curmudgeon every week. And that’s what I love about him.

  43. evh

    I watched the first 1.5 episodes of Psych, bored me to tears. Maybe its gotten better.

    The Mentalist was uneven in pacing & acting, but overall, it kept me interested until the end.
    The plot (figuring out who the killer was) seemed obvious and a bit boring, so I didn’t care about that. However, the portrayal of the main character intrigued me. Best part of the show.
    I’ll tune in next week to see what happens.

    My favorite part: (Spoiler)
    The note from the killer hanging on the bedroom door.
    “If you were a real psychic, you wouldn’t have to open this door to find out what I did to your wife and child.”

  44. DLC

    I will say it again: “There’s no such thing as Psychics!”
    This statement will remain true until someone can provide evidence under controlled conditions that such powers or abilities work. To date, no person has been able to provide such evidence to the satisfaction of any competent investigator.

    I really avoided this show, thinking it was a rip-off on “Psych”, which I honestly wouldn’t watch if you paid me. I may have to give it a chance, having read Phil’s review.

  45. the Skeptic of Oz

    Well of course the protagonist is a Skeptic, he is played by an Aussie. We train ’em properly over here, you know.

    Great review Phil and I look forward to one of our networks picking up the show.

    Barry Williams
    Executive Officer, Australian Skeptics.

  46. MachineElf

    Phil wrote:

    “And it’s another in a long list of reasons why people who claim to talk to the dead are so truly evil.”

    Really? I know a few people who think they have some sort of rapport with the dead, and they are absolutely lovely people. Perhaps they are mistaken in their assumption, perhaps they are right – I can’t say at this point. But “so truly evil”? I can only describe that as either (a) a faulty generalisation, or (b) hyperbole. Or maybe I’m a real poor judge of character.

    Phil wrote: “The real tragedy of these blood-sucking “psychics” who “talk to the dead” is that they interrupt the grieving process. If you lose someone you love, it’s awful, terrible, and the pain is tremendous. But, over time, you heal. It takes a long time, and of course you never totally get over it, but eventually you can heal, you can move on. “Psychics” stop this process cold.”

    I may have said this before, but….citations? Speaking of:

    Phil wrote: “While I have to hold out some miniscule shred of possibility that psychic powers exist, they have been tested for decades, and when the tests are done correctly, they always show that psychic powers are not involved.”

    I asked this in a previous thread, but where do you get this information from? According to Schouten (1994), progress in finding a way to scientifically evaluate the alleged talents of mediums “has been slow compared to developments in other areas of parapsychological research”. Wiseman and O’Keeffe (2005) said in their evaluation that “researchers working in this area have yet to develop a relatively standard method of testing”. You could at least bring up the latter study as providing support for your claim, but that hardly constitutes decades of testing (and I would perhaps argue that they were done “correctly”).

    And what are your reasons for not considering the positive tests out there as being done “correctly” (e.g. Roy and Robertson, 2004).

    As I’ve mentioned before, the above is *not* arguing for the genuiness of mediums. The above is asking how Phil can make such definitive statements contra to that, when the record doesn’t appear to support his view. And also how he can evaluate a group of people as being “truly evil”…

  47. Celtic_Evolution

    @ MachineElf

    Concern noted.

  48. Actually, Phil – there is a skeptic involved in the show. Dr Richard Wiseman.

    One of the recent Skepticality interviews with Banachek asked if he was involved, but he said no. In fact, Dr Richard Wiseman is involved in a fashion – having created several special ‘promos’ for the show.

    You can see links to them here –

    If you’re familiar with the ‘Quirkology’ adverts on YouTube, they’ll seem quite familiar.

  49. Lambda Knight

    So, I’m surprised this is getting such glowing reviews from everyone here. Sure, it may be about a sceptic, but the first episode annoyed me with bad science.

    What bad science was in the pilot? Well, it was filled with bad psychology. Serial killers don’t act out of revenge like that. Serial killers behave in a very predictable manner and, unless killing the wife and children of psychics who insulted him was his thing, he wouldn’t have even bothered with his family. All in all, a real serial killer would have likely enjoyed the attention, not despised it. Like so many police procedurals, it seems to suffer from a pathological disregard for the field of criminal psychology.

    Also, Psych is a much better show with the exact same premise and much funnier.

  50. That whole “Kingdom of God” thing was very uncomfortable to watch, as I’ve had that same conversation in real life so many times, and just like in real life, everyone else wanted nothing to do with the conversation, and in the end everyone would just say something wishy-washy like “well you can never be sure” or “nobody has all the answers” or whatever.

  51. Patrick

    That smiley face looks like Strong Sad from the Homestarrunner Emails

  52. ND


    Here’s an example of a “psychic” causing more pain than helping:

  53. Bob Magness

    It is not a rip-off of Psyche. Monk is not a rip-off of Sherlock Homes. Scrubs in not a rip-off of ER. They may share some characteristics and may even pay homage to the other at times but they are their are shows that can stand or fall on their own merits. I used to think about writing a book with a similar premise to the one used in Psyche, but I don’t think they stole my idea. It is a fairly obvious one. The trick is developing a good show around it.

  54. Tesarra

    Update to my previous post. CBS does indeed provide full episodes, but they use Flash Player and their implementation is… unfortunate… at best. I’ll have to wait until I can DVR the pilot because the one on CBS’ website is unwatchable due to skipping and pausing to catch up with the data stream even on my broadband connection!

    With regard to Machine Elf’s diatribe: until someone claims the million dollar prize, the BA’s skepticism about mediumship and other “psychic” powers seems perfectly appropriate to me.


  55. MachineElf

    ND wrote:


    Here’s an example of a “psychic” causing more pain than helping:

    ND: I would think we share the desire to see Sylvia Browne pulled into any flaming pit of hell available. Extrapolating that desire into labeling all alleged ‘psychics’ as “truly evil”, would be, I think, rather shoddy logic though. That’s the sort of generalising behind racism and bigotry.

  56. MachineElf

    Tesarra wrote:

    “With regard to Machine Elf’s diatribe: until someone claims the million dollar prize, the BA’s skepticism about mediumship and other “psychic” powers seems perfectly appropriate to me.”

    Firstly, I would hope my post doesn’t fall under the modern definition of “diatribe” – I thought it was rather reasoned, if perhaps a little cynical at times. Perhaps you were describing it using the more archaic meaning of the word?

    Secondly, there are very good reasons why any ‘psychic medium’ – even if they had a genuine paranormal talent – would not submit to Randi’s MDC (virtually unattainable p-values required, publicity rights in Randi’s hands, and not least that there still remains no decent protocol for evaluating ‘dazzle shots’ and the like) . You are welcome to use the MDC for your own personal reasoning if it suits you, but that doesn’t make it a worthwhile scientific examination of this rather strange and controversial topic.

    But once again, this is all leading away from my original points. I am not arguing in favour of psychic abilities, I am simply pointing out that Phil seems to be generalising about ‘psychics’ (“truly evil”), and also basing his judgement about psychics on an imaginary history of psychical research (“they have been tested for decades, and when the tests are done correctly, they always show that psychic powers are not involved”).

  57. I recently overheard (I try not to watch) an episode of City Homicide, an Aussie cop show, in which the cops were skeptical of a “psychic” woman but the storyline seemed to be pushing this as “typical idiot cops don’t know nothin”. There seemed to be one or two cops open to the idea the “psychic” might be genuine. Sheesh. I don’t know how it all ended up but it sounded lousy.

    I hope we start to get some decent skeptical programming in OZ sometime soon. After the credulous harm done by “The One”, we need a bit of remedy over here.

  58. Andy

    Gee, I hope they broadcast that in Thailand too. Here there’s just too much fortunetelling, feng shui and such crap on the streets of Bangkok.

  59. Jeeze MachineElf, are you and Dr. JEdwards clones or something? Always demanding citations as if they don’t exist. You’ve also classically quote mined the papers you do mention as well.

    I’ve previously posted these in another thread and you’ve already made reference to one. There must be hundreds more. Dr Wiseman alone is responsible for dozens.

    1. O’Keeffe, C. & Wiseman, R. (2005). Testing alleged mediumship: Methods and results. The British Journal of Psychology, 96(2), 165-179.

    2. Wiseman, R. & Greening, E. (2002). The mind machine: A mass participation experiment into the possible existence of extrasensory perception. The British Journal of Psychology, 93, 487-499.

    3.Milton, J. & Wiseman, R. (1999). Does psi exist? Lack of replication of an anomalous process of information transfer. Psychological Bulletin, 125(4), 387-391.

    4. Wiseman, R., Smith, M., Milton, J. (1998). Can animals detect when their owners are returning home? An experimental test of the ‘psychic pet’ phenomenon. British Journal of Psychology, 89, 453-462. has already been mentioned and would be a good start for finding more information on the ambulance chasing blood sucking frauds.

  60. MachineElf said : Secondly, there are very good reasons why any ‘psychic medium’ – even if they had a genuine paranormal talent – would not submit to Randi’s MDC (virtually unattainable p-values required, publicity rights in Randi’s hands, and not least that there still remains no decent protocol for evaluating ‘dazzle shots’ and the like)

    Ok MachineElf, now you’re making stuff up. This is what happens. You say you have an ability. You agree to be tested. You agree to the protocol. You pass or you fail. Simple as that. P-values? Baffle us with statistics eh? Same with “dazzle shots” whatever they are? Presumably you mean one off flukes. Something like you fail 19 times in a row and then you get something spectacularly accurate once? Is that right? So how do you reckon that can be tested?

  61. MachineElf

    Shane wrote:

    “Jeeze MachineElf, are you and Dr. JEdwards clones or something?”

    Yes. The government could only find one person in the world who disagreed with Phil Plait (on one topic), so they cloned him, just so there were two. You know, so one of us could sleep.

    Unfortunately, the next step of the cloning process they used some dude who loved the TV show ‘Psych’, and now all hell has broken loose…

    Shane wrote: “You’ve also classically quote mined the papers you do mention as well.”

    Please expand on your accusation (remembering I am *not* arguing in favour of psychic abilities, simply that Phil is misrepresenting the research and the conclusions currently able to be drawn from it).

    Perhaps I’ll help with some extra quote mining from Wiseman & O’Keeffe:

    “Over the years, several researchers have attempted to devise procedures that
    eliminate the potential for such stratagems, and then used these to examine some of the
    best-known mediums of the day. The resulting studies have obtained mixed results, with
    some work finding evidence in favour of genuine paranormal abilities and other research
    supporting the null hypothesis”

    Shane wrote: “I’ve previously posted these in another thread and you’ve already made reference to one. There must be hundreds more. Dr Wiseman alone is responsible for dozens.”

    And, ironically enough, #1 on your list supports my point: that to this point, tests have been flawed. Those previous tests showed both positive and negative results. How then can Phil say all the “correct” tests over “decades” showed that psychic abilities do not exist? I’m hoping he’s not just being intellectually lazy and working backwards from ‘negative results’ to the ‘correct’.

    Also, just to point out, only the first citation is to do with psychics/mediums (as per Phil’s posts about the “truly evil”, though I realise it’s a vague term). The others are more psi related. I await the “hundreds more” with great anticipation.

    Shane wrote:

    “ has already been mentioned and would be a good start for finding more information on the ambulance chasing blood sucking frauds.”

    I’ve already posted that I am more than sympathetic on the Browne issue (along with others of her ilk). I have also pointed out that generalising from her is bad logic – there are many ‘psychics’ who are rather lovely people and not “truly evil” at all. It’s a little like saying all Christians are “truly evil” because a few of them do terrible nasty things. The whole group may be deluding themselves, but only a minority (in my experience) are despicable persons.

  62. MachineElf

    Shane wrote:

    “Ok MachineElf, now you’re making stuff up. This is what happens. You say you have an ability. You agree to be tested. You agree to the protocol. You pass or you fail. Simple as that.”

    Okay. I have this really awesome psychic talent (not really, I’m just talking hypothetically…but let this boring, rational brain dream for a minute will ya…). I mean, pretty damn cool. Maybe not good enough to get my own J.J. Abrams TV show, but still enough that I can beat odds of 50,000 to 1. I go to Randi and say, “Yo, big A, let’s rock!” but Randi says, “Sure, you just have to beat odds of 100,000 to 1” (his current rough benchmark, down from 1 million to 1). I go, “Aw, but this talent of mine is so cool”. Randi says “Yeah, but I have a million dollars to protect, and I don’t want you getting lucky.”

    Randi’s p-value is completely understandable in order to protect his million dollars. It is *not* a scientific test of psychic ability though. Heck of a publicity gimmick though, and it sure seems to work good with some folk, so kudos to the Big A.

    Shane wrote: “P-values? Baffle us with statistics eh?”

    I should hope note, this blog seems to host some very intelligent commenters. Not to mention that if I was going to claim that Randi’s MDC was an arbiter of truth, then I would investigate the p-value he requires…

    ” Same with “dazzle shots” whatever they are? Presumably you mean one off flukes. Something like you fail 19 times in a row and then you get something spectacularly accurate once? Is that right? So how do you reckon that can be tested?”

    I have no idea. That’s been one of my running questions – how do we account for highly specific information. Part of the reason I don’t think there have been any “correct” tests done on psychics thus far.

  63. ND

    The term “truly evil” is justifiable in for the class of “psychics” like Browne, where they commit fraud knowingly. That said even those that truly believe they are psychic could still cause harm unknowingly and unintentionally. This is still an import thing to take into account.

    And I’m glad that in the Mentalist pilot Jane makes that distinction when talking about “psychics”. People all too often believe something as truth given the strength of the conviction of others. This idea that no matter how strongly someone believes in something that they could still be deluding themselves gives an enlightening insight into human nature and fallibility. But then again the show is fiction so could make it easy to dismiss in the minds of viewers.

  64. MachineElf, look, psychics claim something extraordinary. Shouldn’t an extraordinary claim require extraordinary evidence? However, having said that the preliminary testing only requires a mere 100 to 1 shot. No one has got through preliminary testing yet. Again, the people who have been tested agree to the protocol and agree that the pass rate is within their capabilities. So why can’t they do what they say they can do?

  65. Celtic_Evolution

    @ MachineElf

    Okay. I have this really awesome psychic talent (not really, I’m just talking hypothetically…but let this boring, rational brain dream for a minute will ya…). I mean, pretty damn cool. Maybe not good enough to get my own J.J. Abrams TV show, but still enough that I can beat odds of 50,000 to 1. I go to Randi and say, “Yo, big A, let’s rock!” but Randi says, “Sure, you just have to beat odds of 100,000 to 1″ (his current rough benchmark, down from 1 million to 1). I go, “Aw, but this talent of mine is so cool”. Randi says “Yeah, but I have a million dollars to protect, and I don’t want you getting lucky.”

    Not that anyone here would be surprised, but you miss the point entirely with your own example. Assuming that in your example you aren’t intentionally augmenting your claims with heightened perceptive abilities, what you have described, if it can’t stand up to odds of 100,000 to 1, is not psychic ability. It’s dumb luck.

    The problem that you fail to grasp is that dumb luck combined with intentional deception can cause results, if tested enough times, that very well may cause one to see a relevant pattern.

    But like with any highly developed skill, the key to proving you have that skill is the ability to reproduce it, and reproduce it at a statistically constant rate under controlled conditions. This is where psychic abilities fail. This is where they have always failed.

    And the other factor you must consider here is that scientifically, there is no known physical mechanism that allows for the presentation of “psychic abilities”. So the the proof for them becomes much, much more difficult.

    So, what I don’t understand from you and from Dr JEdwards and others who so adamantly defend psychic abilities (I know, I know, you say you’re not doing that but based on the material you keep providing and the arguments you keep making, I’m going to take the logical course of assuming you’re not being totally honest in that assertion… sue me.), is why? Why would you spend so much energy lending credence to such an outrageous and scientifically unproven claim? Is it just because it would be “cool”? Honestly, I don’t get it. I mean, I know the reason why some people like John Edward do it: so they can deceive people and steal their money. But those who aren’t profiting form it, why lend it any credibility with so little hard, provable, scientific evidence?

    Let me give you an example, albeit a rather gross one. Hypothetically, I say I can blow my nose and can make the color of the snot any color I want. There is no known physical mechanism for how this can happen, and so the claim is met with severe skepticism. However, I have been able, on several occasions, to successfully predict green, yellow, and red snot. And once, I was able to produce blue snot! So, does my claim, in your eyes, get the same credence? Is my stated ability therefor proven? Or, since it would seem that since this ability defies any known physical (or biological in this case) laws, and since you suspect that I may have put something in my nose to help produce the blue snot while nobody was looking, you might require much more stringent proof of this claim before accepting it as fact?

    Why is it so easy to lend credence to wild claims of fantastic human abilities when we would never afford the same lenience to more mundane claims that may have an equally low probability of being true? Ask yourself that question, MachineElf.

  66. Tesarra

    I’d say you took the words right out of my mouth, Celtic, but the snot thing… beyond gross! 😉


  67. Celtic_Evolution

    Sorry… I wanted an example that would leave an impression. :)

  68. Tesarra

    Oh, and for the record from Merriam Webster’s online (

    Main Entry: di·a·tribe
    Pronunciation: dī-ə-trīb
    Function: noun
    Etymology: Latin diatriba, from Greek diatribē pastime, discourse, from diatribein to spend (time), wear away, from dia- + tribein to rub — more at throw
    Date: 1581
    1 archaic : a prolonged discourse
    2: a bitter and abusive speech or writing
    3: ironic or satirical criticism

    No, I did not mean to indicate usage number 1, MachineElf. 😉 I’d have to say the tone of your initial post under this article fits usages numbers 2 and 3.

    Given that the article we’re attaching our posts to is an opinion piece primarily concerned with relaying Dr. Plait’s review of a television program, it’s a completely reasonable expectation that he’d “let his hair down” and be more interested in entertaining than educating. The audience here can be reasonably expected to be fans of Dr. Plait’s opinions in general and his opinion of “psychic” phenomena in particular. Coming into Dr. Plait’s house, so to speak, and demanding that he present proof before stating his opinion is impolite at best.

    On a second note, you may not be aware that Dr. Plait is now the president of the Randi Foundation. As such, I would assume his input to the conduct of the Million Dollar Challenge is more than trivial. Perhaps if you asked politely, under a different article or topic, you might receive some specific reassurances about how the “p-values” are computed for a given set of circumstances and whether they are set at levels designed to protect the money at stake or simply to establish scientific credibility of the test.



  69. Celtic_Evolution

    I forgot to add one other important point in my response to MachineElf (although shane makes the same basic point).

    Okay. I have this really awesome psychic talent (not really, I’m just talking hypothetically…but let this boring, rational brain dream for a minute will ya…). I mean, pretty damn cool. Maybe not good enough to get my own J.J. Abrams TV show, but still enough that I can beat odds of 50,000 to 1.

    That would be a great analogy except for the very minor detail that no-one has come close to approaching those odds, either.

    So, just to close this whole p-value issue, MachineElf, why don’t you just tell us what statistical odds would be sufficient, in your mind, to scientifically and unequivocally prove the existence of psychic abilities? If you were running the JREF prize, and it was your duty to display concrete, indisputable evidence of these abilities… what odds would be sufficient to you?

  70. Cheyenne


    I just watched the repeat of the episode “Killer cable snaps” of Mythbusters tonight.

    That’s a “skeptic” show right (in the sense that they follow science)? The Mentalist is a skeptic show right?

    Watch “Killer Cable Snaps” and check out the red smiley face that is behind Adam’s head on the wall in that defunct factory after they whip the pig. It’s the same freaking one that’s on “The Mentalist!”. It’s in the shot after they work on the clay, and then cut to the cable snaps in the factory.

    So, do I have strong Mentalist abilities or what? Do I have the Kwan of sensible awareness and scientific deduction?

  71. Immie

    Looks like an almost perfect copy of the Profiler to me.
    Even the “impossible to catch” serial killer was called Jack.

  72. Gary Ansorge

    MAchineElf: Look up the Duke University Parapsychology work done in the 1950s and ’60s. They had an entire dept. dedicated to parapsychology research. Over a couple of decades they ran thousands of tests on telepathy, clairvoyance, precognition, etc and proved absolutely NOTHING!
    Yet there were some researchers that persisted in believing there was something to be tested. Why? Because we want to believe we can have power over nature that doesn’t require we understand anything. Just wish for it to happen and it does. This wishful thinking flies in the face of a persistent observation of nature that There Ain’t No Such Thing As A Free Lunch, aka, TANSTAAFL..

    I expect we will one day discover that the organic brain is an example of a quantum computer, capable of modeling the entire universe and as with all such devices, there are some that are so good at that modeling their insights appear magical.

    Loved that Show. Thanks for turning me on to it Phil. I watched it on my iMac and had no trouble at all. Of course, I do have a 6 meg DSL line,,,

    Psyche makes me laugh, which is, I am sure, their intent.

    Gary 7

  73. JSug

    Recorded it and watched it last night. I like it so far. The Jane character is sort of a cross between Gus Grissom (original CSI), Shawn Spencer (Psych), and Brenda-Lee Johnson (The Closer). He’s got the observational skills, but he’s also wicked smart, and good at tricking people into confessing.

    I have to say, though, that I didn’t get the same sense of animosity towards other psychics that you did, Phil. I felt it was more of a mild distaste. When the woman at the dinner table brought it up, he talked about how they were either deluded or lying, but didn’t make a big deal out of it. One thing you didn’t mention, though, is that he made it pretty clear he’s an atheist. He said something to the effect that, after we die, that’s it, game over. I thought that was interesting. I hope it doesn’t have a negative impact on the show’s ratings. One of the things that I think killed “Studio 60” was that they were constantly bringing up religious issues and making fun of fundi Christians. I loved it, but my ultra-conservative mother-in-law was highly offended.

  74. ND

    Others besides Celtic_Evolution felt that MachineElf leans more towards the existence of psychics than he has led on. If I may take that a little further and entertain the following conspiracy theory for fun only.

    MachineElf would like to see the threshold of proof for the Million Dollar Challenge be lowered because he would like to take a stab at that million dollars himself. He has been pushing for an opening that psychics may be real despite the lack of any solid research in favor of it. He has describes a fantasy encounter with Randi in which he tries out for the million dollar challenge with his hypothetical psychic powers. And he’s questioning the scientific validity of the challenge’s threshold of proof such that a lucky dazzle-shot may win. And he’s doing on Dr. Plait’s blog, who happens to have taken the reigns from Randi. Coincedence? I think not!

    You know all this conspiracy weaving is actually fun.

  75. ND

    Isn’t the Mentalist closer to the show Profiler that was on network tv years ago?

    It was refreshing to hear a main character say that he used to be a psychic fraud. But the rest of the show appears too formulaic. Is Jane ever going to be wrong in his observations? Will his arrogance be thrown back at his face? His setup to catch the bad guy depended a lot on luck where the end could easily have turned out badly for him.

  76. Cathy

    There is definitely room for both “The Mentalist” and “Psych”; they’re very different, after all, although both promote rationality and skepticism.

    I agree with zach that newcomers to “Psych” should check out the first two seasons. First show (pilot) is imperative, as it shows how Shawn was forced (kinda) into pretending to be a psychic.

    Best things about “The Mentalist”:
    > I agree with Ou Boet that the Red John character, still not found, will be a continuing thread of motivation for the main character as the show goes on, rather like NBC’s “Life.” I like the idea of a continuing thread that is possibly mystery/puzzle oriented rather than, say, who-is-sleeping-with-who oriented.
    > I too liked the “no such thing as psychics”/atheist p.o.v. of the main character, and especially how that interacted with the Kingdom of God character. I thought it was funny that the latter quite wanted to believe Jane really was psychic, even in his assurance that he was not. Credulous in one way, credulous in another?

    Worst thing about “The Mentalist”:
    > For me, a bit bloody. I squinched my eyes shut a couple of times.

    Best things about “Psych”:
    > The name of the detective agency (Psych) informs people that it’s fake. Perfect!
    > Dule Hill
    > Funny, funny, funny

    Worst thing about “Psych”:
    > I get that some people think it’s just silly, not funny. Some people are aggravated by Shawn’s outlandish gestures and facial expressions as he channels info from “the other side” — or whatever he is pretending to do. Personally, I think it’s funny that he is still believed (by some) despite the outlandish behavior…

  77. Long time lurker, first time poster…love the book and the site, Phil!

    To Machine Elf:

    You are either a Psychic or you are not. Don’t equivocate with ‘p-values’ and specific odds. If there is one genuine psychic out there, then they would easily be able to prove it, beyond a shadow of a doubt.

    Asking leading questions, guesswork, cold reading and body language does not cut it. Prove yourself, if anyone is a psychic out there. And if you can do it, don’t do it for your own benefit, monetary or otherwise. The skeptics are waiting……

  78. Dark Jaguar

    As much as I like the premise of showing a reformed “psychic”, I gotta say it seems like they just replaced one form of woo with another.

    Namely, his ridiculous super-human psycho-analysis. His non-psychic readings were far far superior to any of our world’s so called psychic’s readings. I can’t see how he could get the level of information of “your favorite color is blue” just from reading slight movements of the eyes and hands. Yes there’s tells there but color me skeptical of the whole concept. It smacks of that whole “micro-emotions” nonsense from a few years ago. It’s not bad enough he’s got that super-human analytical ability which he seems to want to rub in the face of the actual investigators all the time (he said a CORPSE was gay, seriously, and where’s the “tell” on that exactly?).

    I think if they seriously toned down his perfect reading of non-existant “cues” in people and had mixed in good scientific investigation into what he does more (seriously, the whole time he felt like some outsider just sort of butting in on investigations), it would have worked a lot better. As it is, it felt just like a “psychic helps investigators” story only he’s supposed to not be psychic.

    Aside from that, the way he just doesn’t even seem to care about his part in convincing that woman, with no really good evidence except “a wife can tell when her husband is lying” that her husband killed their daughter, which resulted in her shooting her husband right in front of him, without him having any sort of emotional response (and in fact joking about it), sorta killed him as a likable character to me.

    That said, I railed on it pretty hard there but there were things I did like about it. I just magnified all the stuff I didn’t like about it to make a point.

  79. Dark Jaguar

    As an aside on the trend of a lot of crime investigation series as of late (most notably, CSI), I really hate the whole thing where all the investigators are portrayed as completely callous. I know that after time one becomes deadened to it, but when the investigators feel the need to constantly make jokes at the expense of the recently MURDERED, it shows a serious lack of any sort of consideration at all. They also show a total lack of anything like compassion in dealing with relatives. Very often on CSI they make jokes about the guy who was murdered IN FRONT of their loved ones.

    Maybe I’m naive, but it seems like that is reprehensible behavior, and no amount of framing it as “trying to lighten up the situation” really helps for most of these things. They just do a bad job of it and the entire team always ends up looking like jerks.

    Also, while I understand them getting upset with someone they know is lying to them or is actively hindering their investigation, the writers seem to feel the need to portray ANY inconvenience to the investigation at all as liscense to be a total arse. Even asking “why do you need my computer?” seems to be met with “look we can do this here or at the station, your call you jerk!”, as though someone trying to find out if it’s totally necesary for their expensive computer to be taken away for who knows how long is being evil.

    I sometimes get the impression that the writers of today’s cop shows forgot what basic courtesy is or lack any concept of politeness.

  80. Dark Jaguar

    Oh, one last note about this. For a large part of the episode, not once did he explain the chain of cues that led him to conclusions. He’d say all sorts of things about someone and not explain at all how he reached those conclusions. While he did explain his cues when confronting the surgeon, that was pretty much it.

    That’s the worst way to do mystery. If you’re going to be Sherlock Holmes, you have to actually explain things. There has to be an “elementary my dear Watson” speech about it all so that the viewer can actually have a chance of following along. Otherwise, it’s no different than a mystery novel that ends with “turns out the butler did it, and I know this because I’m aweseome, the end”.

  81. Dark Jaguar

    I’m on a role here. Sorry, but I thought I’d add one last thing in the form of a mystery show I really got into. This show invokes the super natural, but in a way that I can’t help but think is tongue in cheek. Check out Death Note. It’s a murder mystery where the murderer uses the Grim Reaper’s (well, A grim reaper’s) notepad to kill people by writing their names and causes of death in it. The things that get me about that series is that in spite of the cause being “super natural”, a genius detective using nothing but the scientific method and deduction is still managing to track the killer down, and the killer thus has to stay one step ahead. (The killer is the protagonist, he thinks he’s Justice itself as he only kills criminals.)

    The funny thing about the reapers is they don’t take credit for ALL human deaths. They fully acknowledge that human beings do a good enough job dying on their own without them. One of them casually notes that they really don’t see any reason for them to exist, and there’s apparently an issue in the realm of the death gods where everyone’s just wasting away playing gambling games and nothing more.

    In fact, the reason the killer gets the Death Note to begin with is because one of the death gods became so bored he decided to intentionally drop an extra note he has into the world of the living just out of boredom. Apparently there are a number of very VERY specific rules about how the death note works. This amuses me greatly for two reasons. The first is most shows about super natural stuff never once explain in scrutenizing detail exactly HOW their stuff works. It’s just plain magic. Here’s an exception, where they actually try to think of every single way to abuse the note that I would normally think of myself. For example, just writing a name causes a heart attack 40 seconds after the name is written. Writing a cause within exactly 40 seconds will use that cause but only if it is physically possible to happen, otherwise it defaults to heart attack. The person writing the name has to be thinking of the specific person in mind for it to work, which prevents issues with different people with the same name. If two people write the same name in two different death notes, the one who wrote the name first will be the one to take effect, even if it causes them to die at a later date than the second. If the names are written within .06 seconds of each other, then it is treated as simultaneous and neither takes effect. Seriously, it’s like a legal document, and these rules are used to great story telling effect.

    The second thing which I think is even better is that the rules are only because the death gods had to experiment with the books. They didn’t “just know” how they worked. In fact, many of the rules clarify that more study needs to be done, like exactly how much and which details of a person’s face a death god has to see to instantly know their name (at least the major details like eyes and nose). Further, some rules may actually be inaccurate. While one rule said there is no way to tell the difference, no matter the scientific test, between a human with and without the eyes of the reaper, at a certain point the main character actually does use logical deduction to find out for himself that someone does in fact have them (which is basically what science is). The detective on the case also is able to conclude this, though he doesn’t know anything about eyes of the dead he’s still able to conclude someone is apparently able to kill just by seeing someone’s face.

    The one note I’d add is that in spite of all the science they do, at one point the detective says that “there is no way we can study that” when he finally does get the death note, in a very “beyond the power of science” way, even though the entire series that’s exactly what he’s been doing. I guess he could mean that a chemical test wouldn’t show anything, but again that’s kinda against the flow of the rest of the series, which I loved.

    So yeah, I suggest you check it out. Overall it does a very good job showing that super natural things are not beyond the reach of science if they have an effect on the world.

  82. Tesarra

    Actually, DarkJaguar, you’ve apparantly never been “cold read”. I have, and it’s very, very spooky when done by a competent person who knows their psychology. And, yes, the “psychic” who read me did pick up on things like my favorite color and odd details of my upbringing.

    I recommend watching “Mind Control with Derren Brown” and “Criss Angel’s Mind Freak” to see some of these concepts in action, in situ, sometimes with large groups of people. Derren Brown’s show is superior in that he makes it clear he’s not using any “psychic” powers in his demonstrations, plus he also sometimes shows outtakes of folks who weren’t taken in by his manipulations.



  83. Dark Jaguar

    Well if that’s the case, again it would really help if they tried to enlighten us, the audience, as to what he picked up on that would tell him all that.

    I can imagine someone knowing I got into an accident at a young age if, say, I was limping or had an old scar or something. My favorite color would be an easy tell if I bought a lot of things in that color (actually, I’ve “lost” my favorite color (used to be green, then red, then white), and never took the time to decide on a new one).

    As it stands, in spite of what you say it all comes off as unbelievable to me, at least without some sort of explanation or something there.

    Oh, and I’ve never once had a psychic reading done (I don’t have the money to waste on something like that even if only to experience it for fun and I wouldn’t want to fund it anyway). I have seen a lot of videos and I was pretty well unimpressed. I’d like to see the videos you’re talking about though if they are online somewhere.

  84. Excellent review! I saw an ad for this show and sort of shrugged my shoulders. Might actually tune in, now. Phil Plait, defender of critical thinking. Rock on.

  85. Tesarra

    Here’s a link to a Derren Brown video that applies somewhat to the “cold reading” techniques. And, no, it’s not “psychic” reading, strictly speaking but he makes terrific use of the practical psychology techniques that the “psychics” use while claiming falsely to have “special” powers.

    There are lots of others on You Tube. Just search Derren Brown and enjoy!


  86. Thanks for this post. I’m always looking for quality TV to watch, but I don’t have the time to wade through the sludge. I’m downloading the first episode right now.

  87. WB

    I enjoyed the show and am adding it to my DVR schedule. Simon Baker is hawt. I did think the male sidekicks were too blunt in front of the family. But it does happen. One of my friends is a police oficer and was assigned to CSI for a couple of years until his recent promotion to Lieutenant. His job was to secure the crime scene, keep the public and news crews away from the police tape, etc. He and one of the other officers got in a bit of trouble for being filmed by the TV news crews laughing over a joke at the expense of the deceased.

    Yes, you do have to suspend disbelief for this show to accept the concept that somebody could be so perceptive and so good at cold reading as to get and understand all of the cues that Jane does. The real-life fake psychics aren’t 1/10 as good as Jane. He must have been astounding on stage. But that bit of buy-in is fine by me. Did I mention that Simon Baker is hawt?

  88. Becky

    Loved the show!!! I was looking forward to it because I love Simon Baker from is Guardian days. I loved how the humor was added in and I think Simon can totally pull it off. He plays confident, slightly arrogant characters and the added humor only makes it better. Again, I loved the show and I hope it is successful so we can keep watching.

  89. Dan DeLeon

    Bah. All one had to do was look at the list of guest stars to discover who the killer was. Željko Ivanek is always the guilty party.

  90. andyo

    It was pretty funny. Pretty much the same reason I watch that funny douchebag House religiously (yeah). This guy, though could have done much more with the “Kingdom of god” deluded girl, I guess he’s just more polite than good ol’ Greg.

    My favorite scene:

    (Jane performing a “magic” trick)

    GodGirl: “How’d you do that?!”

    Patrick Jane: “Telekinesis.”

    Other cop (unimpressed): “He blew on it.”

    P. J.: “That’s another way to do it.”

    I think that, besides being hilarious, wasn’t this a nod to Randi and that hack Hydrick? Didn’t Hydrick had something similar to say (only not joking) when Randi did the same thing as he did on a TV show?

  91. Wendy

    I caught this last night!! I’m pleased to announce it’s my new favourite show. LOL!

  92. Rick

    >>>>>”I was astonished by this. The character of Patrick Jane feels tremendous guilt — as well he should — over the death of his family. Because of this, he punishes himself by staying in the same house, removing all the trappings of a happy life, and by leaving Red John’s mark on the wall.”<<<<<<<<<<

    How do we know Patrick isn't Red John a' la Dexter?

  93. Among the largest web skeptics — and to my knowledge the only person who has both lost and won lawsuits against a psychic detective — the show has my interest. Tonight I’ve posted some feedback I’ve just received about fund investors who apparently lost millions after following “business psychics” who promoted themselves as global fund investment psychic forecasters. That posting is at and for a complete critical overview of the leading FBI crime psychic, Noreen Renier — regularly seen on cable’s Psychic Detectives and Psychic Investigators and dozens of talk shows including Larry King — see
    All the postings are commercial free and might give some writers some additional creative ammunition. Meanwhile I’ll start tuning in.

  94. Phil,

    I’ve been off of the intertubes for a bit, but in catching up with BAD ASTRONOMY I was pleased to find your recc0omendation for “The Mentalist”. Thanks!!

    BTW, check out the pilot episode at 8:24. one of my airplanes (ok, SkyWest’s) makes a cameo at the Palm Springs airport. Very cool. (Yes I am, among other things, an airplane geek.)

    Gonna watch the rest of the show.


  95. Katherine

    I loved the pilot of The Mentalist! It feels very much like a cross between Psych and House, and it doesn’t hurt that Robin Tunney (the actress who plays Teresa) played Rebecca Adler, the schoolteacher who was House’s patient in the pilot episode.

    I’ll definitely keep watching this series. :)

  96. Jose

    Well I finally saw it. It’s good enough, for me to give it a few more chances, but there was one thing that really bothered me. As Dark Jaguar mentions, he was just too good of a psychic/detective. There were some things he knew with either no explanation or a poor explanation. Basically, we’re just told that he knew something because he’s really good at reading clues. The fun part of Sherlock Holmes (or even Psych) is that we’re taken along for the ride. They show us every step they took to arrive at a conclusion. I feel like not doing this is cheating.

  97. eric

    Dismal, hopeless crap. Mindless and braindead. Not the psychic part, just the writing, which was abysmal and stupid beyond belief. When the fat chef dragged in the body at the end it looked like a SNL sketch, only lamer.

    Absolute trash, and Baker has no character. He is simply a smiling idiot. Hopeless.

  98. Gary

    I had hopes it would be like MEDIUM. Not even close, boring and slow to follow. Hopefully this show will be removed and this time slot will not be wasted any longer.

  99. Has The Mentalist jumped the shark?
    ‘Patrick Jane ends up finishing the episode called ‘Seeing Red‘ with a bit of a quandary for me – because it seemed to imply that he got a valid ‘psychic message’ from the character Kristina Frye, who featured in that episode as a professional medium.’

  100. I have watched every episode out so far and i love it! I do not regret watching that show at all!!!!!

  101. mari

    I liked the Mentalist at first when he was easier to take seriously. I liked him even more when they showed how affected he was by his wifes death, but lately he is just irritating. He always has that stupid”I am so smart and everyone else just wishes they were half as smart as me” smile, and it just makes me itch! Ok, Ok, of course he is always right! Its a tv show and the writers control the outcome. I also feel a bit peeved at his constant debunking. Im a skeptic myself, for the most part, but this borders on rudeness.

  102. Maria

    I liked the Mentalist at first, but the more I watch the less I like. Patrick is a bully. He gets what he wants not by clever manipulation, but by being crass and disrespectful to people he decides deserve it. He feels like the world owes him. Its a sin to lie to him, its a sin to joke with him. But he can say the cruelest things possible to anyone. Obviously if you pester people they will get defensive. That isn’t clever. Its illegal. Cops can’t just dance through any persons life because they feel its deserved. Nor can cop consultants, or whatever that little whinny bully happens to be. I wouldn’t mind someone putting him in his place. I wouldn’t mind seeing him get his face punched either. For the sake of my blood pressure I want nothing more to do with this disgusting show.

  103. paratracker

    I take issue with the author’s (and supportive knee-jerk skeptics’) claim that psychics have never solved a case How about Edgar Cayce? He solved thousands of documented medical cases without any medical training. How about Sue Nicholson. Nancy Weber, Alex Tsakiris, Phil Jordan, Etta Smith, Annette Martin, Pascarella Downey, Laurie McQuary, Noreen Renier, … all work with police to solve current and cold cases (successfully). If you don’t have the facts or refuse to consider them, the rest of the planet would all be better off if you just kept your mouth shut. We certainly need skeptics. In fact, I’m as skeptical as anyone, but I apply skepticism with objectivity. I am capable of recognizing the truth even if it’s at odds with my preconceptions. To do anything else is no more informed than atheists who are convinced that God doesn’t exist. Atheists and the religious faithful are really two sides of the same coin. Both have faith that their beliefs are true. Give me an agnostic any day – they’re the only people standing on defensible philosophical ground.

  104. Ironically, my own life patterns itself a bit after the mentalist.

    I got lucky in that I took a sailing trip around the world back during my preteens with my family. While I was in India, I got trained in some systems which supposedly enhanced psychic ability. Due to a few hits and the forer effect, I completely believed I was psychic, so when I returned to Canada, I actually opened, and got paid for, a psychic consultation business during my late teens. That lasted for 4 years. It wasn’t until about 5 years ago that I actually found the James Randi website, found out what cold reading was, and then tested myself. Luckily for me, I had kept transcripts of most of my readings from the 4 years previous.

    I proceeded to go back over my transcripts and determine what my actual accuracy rate was based on immediate feedback during the readings, and after removing areas where I had repeated stuff already told to me, vagueries, etc, I discovered I only had a 40% accuracy rating. When I actually tested myself using random number generator based ESP tests, my results, while statistically significant, were only a percent above chance, at around 21 or 22%. Looking at these data sets, I determined I was most likely using cold reading, and promptly became a skeptic.

    I then expanded my specialty in mentalism over the last 5 years, while also training in other areas of magic, and managed to take advantage of a syndrome I have to give my mentalism training a little extra edge. (I have Asperger’s Syndrome, which like most autism spectrum disorders, gives me a form of heightened sensory perception, namely slightly heightened senses of smell hearing and touch, and also hyper attention to detail.)

    For that same period, I have worked as a debunker of various psychics and a skeptical paranormal investigator. In the last 2 years, I have opened what I call a consulting detective service, primarily using my mentalism and magic training to catch various forms of theft and fraud. All my cases of course have been volunteer, and only one or two of them are actually posted on my youtube site.

    Anyway, as a former ignorant person who genuinely believed in psychic abilities, I’m just saying, keep up the good work, and if you know of anyone who needs a consulting detective, a magician/mentalist, or a skeptic debunker, send them my way. lol

  105. Carol

    1) I work across the street from the Los Angeles Public Library and have read scads of books written over the past 40 years by scientists who have done tests regarding psychic abilities. It exists, people! Just because the casual “expert” or dedicated skeptic disbelieves, do some “serious” research and discover the facts. The more current the research, the more sophisticated the verification and now possible explanations are being offered. The right side of the brain is where these abilities originate and that part of the brain sees things “wholistically” and not in detail. Reminds me of idiot savants who simply “don’t know how they do it.”

    2) Although not a psychic, I’ve had a number of precognitive experiences. One of them likely saved me from grave injury or worse. This was a premonition with a 30-second window to act! I was a passenger in a car on a freeway in the rain where we were stopped. Another car severely rammed us from behind. My seat broke loose and after the accident it was about 3″ higher than the driver’s seat. The seat belt was bolted to the floor entirely *separate* from the car seat. If I had had it on, I would likely have been squished. However, just before we were hit, I had become very warm – although it was a cold rainy day. It became hotter so fast that I realized something was truly weird and that I was supposed to take my coat off. But I liked the safety of my seat belt. Suddenly I felt like I was almost on fire and so maybe “somebody up there” wanted me to die and if they were that superior I’d obey– but I’d do my best to survive. So I braced my legs and as fast as I could, unhooked my seat belt and began removing my coat. Before I could get it entirely off, we were struck from behind by a girl student who was driving on bald tires.

    3) Regarding “The Mentalist” I’m wondering if I’m watching the same show as everybody else. It seems obvious to me that both Kristina and Jane are psychic. Jane was emotionally damaged as a child by his con artist father. In the first episode with Kristina, she called him a “damaged” psychic. And he said regarding the car in the reservoir, “She’s either implicated or she’s a real psychic.” Well, she wasn’t implicated. There are oodles of little tidbits and clues for me that point out that the writers are hinting he’s psychic and Kristina is authentic. The camera focuses in and dwells on Jane touching people. Some bloggers explain that he always has a legitimate reason when doing any touching. My answer is, “He has an overabundance of legitimate reasons.” Anyway, he may “hate” psychics but he truly falls apart around Kristina (the supposed psychic fraud) and all his supposed cool and superiority evaporates. For the vast majority that would argue with me, I simply say, “wait and see.”

    Furthermore there’s some literary clues regarding William Blake’s work (Tyger, Tyger, Burning Bright). I really think this show has got 2 levels and is far more sophisticated than most viewers realize. I’m loving it.

    Anyway, it was fun having my say. Thank you!

  106. To: All The Skeptics, The Mentalist Researcher

    A majority of the seemingly magic or psychic things that Patrick Jane does are based off of actual psychological studies.
    His methods of remembering many things, the way that he guesses what people are thinking, and most importantly, in the pilot episode, his ability to “psychically” know her favorite color, are all legitimate concepts.

    He doesn’t learn everything about a person by simply reading their body language, there are other aspects involved.

    Here are some published works, enjoyable to read as well, that go over real psychological studies that Patrick Jane uses in his show.

    How he remembers things:

    The way he knows what people are thinking:

    How he knows what their favorite color is:



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