Why are psychics ever surprised?

By Phil Plait | March 10, 2010 1:00 pm

Every time a psychic gets surprised by something, the world gets a little smarter. I hope.

If that’s true, then our collective IQ went up a solid 8 points when the Securities and Exchange Commission filed a suit against "America’s Prophet" Sean David Morton on claims he’s a big ol’ phony.

If only he had spelled it "profit" instead, then he wouldn’t have been falsely advertising. And given that he made a cool $6 million off of gullible dupes, that moniker would certainly fit better.

Now, of course this doesn’t mean all psychics are knowing frauds any more than a scientist who perpetrates knowing fraud indicts all other scientists.

However, science has given us spaceflight, agriculture, computers, medicine, telescopes, and a deeper and quantitative understanding of the Universe from the quantum level out to its observable edge.

Psychics have given us, well… y’know… um… oh! They make it easier for non-critical people to carry their now much-lighter wallets around.

Right. Well, to paraphrase Philip J. Fry: psychics 0, regular science a billion.

Tip o’ the crystal ball to Dale Martin.

MORE ABOUT: fraud, psychics, scams

Comments (39)

  1. Charlie Young

    I guess it’s too bad he didn’t see that one coming.

    Edit: I hadn’t read the tag line in the article, either.

  2. Charlie Young

    Looks like he won’t be making that next New Life Expo, either.

  3. Jon Blumenfeld

    Sadly, this had nothing to do with claims that he was psychic. He misrepresented his track record and misappropriated the money.

    Fact is, you can claim that your trade ideas come from anywhere, including the end of your psychic butt, and if investors want to give your their money, that’s okay with the SEC. More opportunity for the rest of us, I guess.

  4. There was a sketch on SCTV where Dave Thomas played Nostradamus. The gist of the sketch was that anytime anybody said or did anything, Nostradamus would say “I knew you were going to say that!” or “I knew you were going to do that!” or “I knew that was going to happen!” It was called “Mr. Know-It-All: The Life of Nostradamus”

  5. Matt

    My wife passed a psychic shop a year ago with laundry out back while it was raining… she kicked herself for not having a camera in the car.

  6. TheBlackCat

    This is just more proof the government is trying to suppress the profound knowleldge he has.

  7. drow


  8. jcm

    I suppose his crystal ball was broken and never saw it coming.

  9. Chris

    If he was so good he would have just played the lottery

  10. Magic Eight Ball Distributing

    Really? And they thought it was legit…

  11. cca

    I’ve always figured that if there were actual psychics, they weren’t making money off it. They were curled up in their basements in terror or in mental institutions.

  12. Neeneko


    Well, in a way it does have to do with him claiming to be psychic, or at minimal, how psychics sell their ability. He lied about how accurate he was, so he probably highlighted random correct picks and ignored the incorrect ones.. which is how psychics generally try to show they can do their thing.

  13. Nathan

    Actually, if our collective IQ went up 8 points, wouldn’t that mean that our collective IQ remained the same, since an IQ of 100 is defined as the average? :)

  14. As Jay Leno said, why do you never see the headline “psychic wins lottery”?

    Eisenhower was shocked when an aide mentioned that 50% of the U.S. population was below average in intelligence.

  15. rob

    i am shocked when i think about how stupid the average psychic is, and then realize, by definition, half are even more stupid.

  16. Isn’t this guy also a UFO nut as well?

  17. Lethal_Teapot

    How much are articles like these about airing a scientific opinion, and how much are they about stroking your own ego?

  18. Crux Australis

    Think of how stupid the average person is. Then realize that half of all people on Earth are stupider than that.

  19. Bruce the Canuck

    There’s a less insulting but more worrying way to view the “how smart we are” question: Look around at the world. That’s what humanity, doing its flat-out best, can just barely pull off. We’ve promoted ourselves to our collective level of incompetence.

  20. It was inevitable… but you do know what context sensitive advertising is choosing for this article, don’t you? :-)

    Here’s a URL for a jpeg of my screen shot: http://lh4.ggpht.com/_WtnYwFZtgHI/S5gruwUM19I/AAAAAAAAAjc/tq_hcHDypZU/s400/Psychics.JPG

  21. Charlie Young

    Wouldn’t the mean or average be just that, an average. The median number has 1/2 above and 1/2 below that number. You can have a high mean with many high scores and only a few low scores, but the median will show where the half way point is. And I’m not even very good a statistics.

  22. Michael Swanson

    @ Lethal Teapot

    “How much are articles like these about airing a scientific opinion, and how much are they about stroking your own ego?”

    It’s human nature to share a laugh about other peoples’ foibles with like-minded people. This is normal regardless of how smart or right or weird one’s own worldview may be. It’s not productive, but neither is it that harmful. And it’s enjoyable. This so-called psychic dufus had it coming, as did his foolish clientele.

  23. I knew you were going to post this. Something…. just told me… :)

  24. Timmy

    I like to say it this way

    why don’t you see headlines in papers saying “Physic Wins Lottery…AGAIN”

  25. Space Cadet

    They put on a psychic faire (sic) at the fairgrounds down in Santa Rosa once in a while. They put signs all over downtown. I’ve always wondered why they need the signs. I mean, wouldn’t they just know?

    (Old joke. Sorry)

  26. It is kind of like back when Jo-jo’s Psychic hotline went out of business, and yet they never saw it coming.

  27. Mike C.

    Shysters and other new age con artists do humanity a huge favor by thinning their clients’ wallets, since thinner wallets equal less lower back pain due to decreased pressure on the rump bone. I recall Woody Allen once labeling such treatments “walletectomies.”

    By the way, I’m surprised by Phillip Helbig’s comment about President Eisenhower being “shocked when an aide mentioned that 50% of the U.S. population was below average in intelligence,” since after all Ike did spend most of his life among military officers. But then again, I’m the son of a career NCO, and so have been indoctrinated since birth never to trust brass of any kind no matter how bright be their meddle.

  28. JMW

    Due to unforeseen circumstances, the psychic fair has been cancelled.

  29. Pi-needles

    Why are pyschics ever surprised?

    Because they’re not! 😉

  30. Philip from Australia

    I went to a psychic once. To have the experience. Was not impressed. She told me I should be married… DUR. BTW – still single.

    And she seemed more interested in getting me to have her become a psychic advisor.

    I wasn’t THAT silly.

    It was an experience. And glad I did it. Of course, now I know more about cold reading (and she was crap at that), and other mentalism effects. Come see me break a spoon some time. :)


    PS – said psychic was in San Francisco. Still a wonderfully pretty city.

  31. Aaron

    @Charlie Young (#22):

    For a large enough population, IQ follows a normal distribution. For for such a distribution, the mean, median, and mode are all the same.

    Be afraid . . . be very afraid . . .

  32. Neil Haggath

    Years ago, a young lady, with whom I worked, told us in the office that she had been to see a so-called “clairvoyant”. She had been taken in, and claimed that the “clairvoyant” had “known things about her” which she couldn’t possibly have known, and all the usual garbage.
    Someone asked her, “Did you have to make an appointment?” While the rest of us sniggered, realising what was coming, that went right over the girl’s head; she just said, “Yes,” and the wit replied, “Why? She should have known you were coming!”

    In Whitby, a seaside town in England, there’s an old shack, which has been derelict for years; a sign is still attached, showing that it used to belong to “Madame” somebody-or-other, a so-called “gypsy clairvoyant”. Below the sign, someone attached another saying, “Closed due to unforeseen circumstances”. It has remained there for years.
    An ancient joke, but very funny that someone did it for real.

  33. uudale


    “Sadly, this had nothing to do with claims that he was psychic. He misrepresented his track record and misappropriated the money.”

    Perhaps, but if I were a real psychic, I wouldn’t even have to take it that far.

    Predicting winning lottery numbers, the stock market and all that, you know…


  34. Chambered

    From http://psychictrainingcourse.com/psychic_tests/test-psychic-skills :

    (On why psychics don’t win the lottery)
    “What people don’t understand about psychic powers is that there is rarely a solid, 100% answer to any question. You get impressions, you feel certain about some things, but you can never be 100% certain about something until it happens.”

    So they’re just guessing?

  35. Gary Ansorge

    Ah, but “psychic power” is all about morals: it can never be used to make money by gambling, the stock market or any of those other “immoral” activities,,,however,,,it’s just fine for fleecing the sheep.

    Walletectomy! Hah! THAT should be over the door of every psychic. We lighten your wallet,,,so you don’t have to. See! Psychics are just helping us to carry the load. Snark!

    I just had a “psychic flash”.

    There will be a psychic “advisor” posting here soon,,,and they STILL won’t make any sense.

    The average IQ of medical doctors is 120. When I go to the doctor, I try very hard to find ones who are above that average.

    GAry 7

  36. The really amusing thing is as I read this article, there there’s an ad in the sidebar for “Live Psychic Readings: 3 Free Minutes”.

    How’d they know?!?

  37. Buzz Parsec

    A little OT, but did anyone notice the take-down of the (phony, of course) psychic crook on “Leverage” about 3 weeks ago?

    They did a very nice dissection of cold reading, though I think the psychic was a lot more competent at it than most are. I’ve seen lots of descriptions and accounts of cold reading over the years, but they were almost always just a few small examples from a large set (e.g. John Edward working an audience for several hours.) “Leverage” did a complete step by step breakdown of the psychic starting from some vague generalities and guessing with the odds, correcting his many mistakes based on feedback, and finally coming out with seemingly impossible knowledge of one of the character’s childhoods. First they showed it in real-time, and then went back over it step by step showing exactly how he had ferreted out the information. Well worth watching. (And Gina Bellman was in Steven Moffat’s “Coupling”, so we get our mandatory Dr. Who connection.)

  38. Mary

    # 9 Thanks, Johnnie for the link. It gave me a smile. For those who haven’t looked at it, it is worth the couple of seconds.


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