Commentary - A Skeptic's opinion


This is my current commentary page. Previous weeks have been archived and are best accessed through the 'Commentary menu' or you can try searching the Site Map.

Content is made up of any news and/or items that grab my attention. It may be infrequent, but it generally contains examples of the assorted insanity and irrationality that takes place the UK.

Index for this page

19th April 2008
Negative Feedback

4th September 2007
Chris Robinson - living the dream

22nd June 2007
Religious persecution

4th June 2007
Calling all psychic detectives


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19th April 2008
I'm getting something about... negative feedback
It's been a while since I've updated this site and without boring readers with needless detail I now work a long way from home and to be honest I can think of better things to do with the little free time I have available than typing into a computer. However I recently received an email from 'Lin' who alerted me to the lucrative psychic industry that has evolved on eBay and I feel this is something that needs publicising.

Just search eBay for 'psychic readings' and see what I mean. What a great scam this is! As long as you can live with the guilt of knowing you're a heartless rip off merchant then it's virtually a licence to print money.

Now you don't get many people complain about psychics, not because they are all very satisfied customers, but because they often feel embarrassed when they see the reading for what it is. Another factor is perhaps apprehension about how sceptics will react when they hear your story. I would hope that no sceptic worthy of the name would be anything but supportive.

Anyway Lin has very kindly put together an account of her treatment which I hope will serve as a warning to others.

"I recently purchased an e-mail psychic reading from a medium on eBay and paid £9.99 for it. Due to the amount of positive feedback she had received I thought she might actually be genuine (although I now don't think there is such a thing as a "real psychic/medium").

After paying and sending her my full name, date of birth and a specific question (I asked who was with me in spirit) I received the reading approximately 48 hours later.

The reading was inaccurate to say the least. I didn't recognise a single name given to me. She told me my grandmother was with me, but failed to give me a name (I had 2 grandmothers after all). What really amused me was the fact that she told me my grandmother looked similar to me around the eyes...this medium has never seen me before. And the messages my grandmother supposedly gave me were vague and not particularly specific to me. She didn't even mention my little boy, who has special needs. Surely a loving grandmother would give him a mention

Anyway, she went on to say that the spirits suggested I have a singing skill. These spirits must like a joke, as I sound like a strangled cat.

Then apparently a gentleman had stepped forward (no name again) and said he was watching over a little girl, with whom I had a very strong link. Unfortunately I couldn't place this child, as I have a son, and alas so do most of my closest friends. My family all live abroad, so I couldn't even make this fit around any cousins, etc...My neighbour has a 3 year old girl, but I wouldn't say we were particularly close. So it didn't seem to apply.

Next I was given several names: Anne or Annie. Mary or Margaret. Andrew. None of them meant anything. And the circumstances surrounding these names, for example Mary/Margaret's husband worked at sea and had heart trouble, also left me with no idea.

Then a larger lady apparently came along (no name) and gave me warning about eczema trouble, amongst other things, as she had suffered from it I was told. This just made me feel itchy...

I was then given the name of Jim or James (Still no one I could relate to) and was informed that I would be self employed in the future and this would involve hair, beauty and make up. Absolutely not me...

The whole reading was like this all the way (I have picked the main parts) and was wrong. Whoever she was reading for, it wasn't me. The only thing she picked up on which was accurate was an overseas connection, but as my name is quite "foreign sounding", this wouldn't have been too difficult to guess.

I was very disappointed. When I informed her of this, she told me that I should be patient as sometimes spirits mentioned events that hadn't happened yet. I wasn't convinced by this and felt she had fobbed me off.

I contacted her again to ask for a refund, and although none of my e-mails to her were ever rude in any way, she became very insulting. These are some of the things she said to me: " truly are a vile're pure off psycho...your HRT dose needs're an are poison...looney...demented're 100% insane." I can honestly say, with hand on heart, that I certainly didn't deserve to be spoken to in this way. I was never abusive, just honest and fed up.

Although I tried my best to reason with her and let her understand how cross I was, the insults kept coming, and eventually I got so upset that I ended up apologizing to her for how awful this had become, even though she was the one being 'awful'. She responded to this in a very self-righteous manner, basically telling me how enlightened she truly was, and how much help I needed...Ridiculous.

Needless to say I never received a refund."

Hardly the sort of treatment you would expect from someone supposedly more spiritually enlightened than those of us more tightly bound the the Earth plane.

Gratifyingly this week the BBC ran a story about proposed new regulations aimed at controlling this sort of behaviour. Of course being subjected to legal redress is not something psychics are looking forward to. To quote from the BBC piece,

"The Spiritual Workers' Association says making mediums subject to the consumer-protection regulations does not recognise spiritualism is a religion."

I don't think anyone is particularly interested in taking their local Spiritualist Church to court however slimeball's who simply respond to client's compliants with abuse might need to tread a little more carefully.

Read the full article here.


4th September 2007
Chris Robinson - living the dream
On Monday 3rd September a new series of Channel Fives Extraordinary People began. Among the extraordinary people scheduled to appear will be two people who claim to be extraordinary but, in my opinion at least, arent actually extraordinary at all. Why Well because their only claim to fame is that they are psychic and even were I to accept that psychic powers were genuine this still wouldnt make them extraordinary because psychics are about as rare as rabbits.

One of them is Derek Ogilvie aka The Baby Whisperer. He took Randis $1M Challenge and we are all waiting with bated breath to see if he succeeded. I have a feeling Randi will be commenting once the programme has aired but meanwhile he is keeping his word and maintaining a dignified silence. Of course a quick visit to the JREF website reveals that the $1 million is still up for grabs but hey, perhaps thats another million.

But while we eagerly await Ogilvies baby whispering we have the excitement of seeing another psychic, Chris Robinson, The Dream Detective. I may well comment on the programme after Ive seen it (Monday 10th September) but as I have some experience of testing Chris myself I decided to do a write up describing the test, along with my observations, before the broadcast so as to provide viewers with some interesting background.

Now of course at this stage I have no idea how the programme will deal with the subject but I doubt their intention is to show him in a bad light. My guess is there will be a lot of bending in a rearward direction in order to give us with an, is he or isnt he ending.

Chris Robinson first came to my attention back in late 1995. He had been reported in Psychic News as making a successful prediction on live television. This led me to draw the obvious conclusion - my scientific world view was well out of date. Just to verify I called the programme and spoke to the researcher who confirmed that the report was indeed accurate.

Chris followed this success by doing a similar test on the James Whale Television Show. The result was a little disappointing. Someone on the show (not Whale) put an object in a box. Chriss task was to determine its contents ahead of time by interpreting his dreams. If I recall his narrative correctly, he mentioned something about maps (among a number of other things including batteries and I think giant boobs). When the box was opened it contained a toy car. James Whale interpreted this as a failure but, although it didnt contain any batteries, the box was padded with paper so as not to give away the actual contents when handled. However Chris Robinson said this explained why he saw maps, which as we know are made of. paper! I prepared to make a bonfire of Randi's books.

I got a sort of Gelleresque feeling about the whole thing so armed with nothing more than the Psychic News article and Directory Enquiries (they were free then) I got hold of Chriss number and called him to see if he would let me test him. I confess I was somewhat amazed when he readily agreed. However there was a price to pay which was to listen to long conversations about his theories and how he had been uncannily accurate in the past. He had, I was told, helped Scotland Yard and accurately predict IRA terrorist attacks.

Chris has also appeared on ITVs Strange But True presented by Michael Aspel. This told of the day he predicted an plane accident at an air show. I also found out that he had been tested by both Professor (then Dr) Richard Wiseman and Dr Susan Blackmore. Chris seemed to think he had done rather well at these tests but if you read the report Professor Wiseman did for the Society for Psychical Research it will tell a rather different story. To be brief he and two other psychics failed completely; in fact students acting as controls did better.

Anyway the test we agreed on was as follows. I would place three different objects into three different boxes and each box would be marked A, B or C. During the intervening three weeks Chris would note his dreams and through these attempt to identify the contents of each box. I would then visit him at his house where we would see if his predictions matched reality. In essence this was similar to the test reported in Psychic News and the one he did with James Whale only there would be three boxes this time and not one. I did emphasise that if Box B contained a banana and he thought Box A contained an apple this would not constitute a hit. No problem.

Taking Richard Wisemans example I too asked a number of students to try and guess the contents of each box and two came pretty close with Box B in fact a good deal closer than Chris.

When I arrived at Chriss house a reporter from Psychic News, Jonathan Stillwell, was already there and I discovered he had brought along his own little test box as well.

I took along a video camera to record the whole thing which I guessed would take about 15 minutes at most. I guessed wrong. Before coming to a final statement about the content of each box Chris went through page after page of dream notes which included many of his past successes as well as the ones relevant to my test. The whole thing took hours.

Eventually we got down to the nitty-gritty. The results were as follows (if you believe in psychic powers look away now);

Box A: Chris said;
Holiday theme,
Postcard or letter

Actual item
A replica Gun (semi automatic no bullets)

Box B: Chris said;
Calculations or distance measuring,
Infra red,
Most of all measuring

Actual item
A pair of binoculars
(its worth noting that two of the students guessed spectacles)

Box C: Chris said
Recording medium,
Tracks & windows,
Floppy disk.

Actual item
A stethoscope

This was of course a complete failure, which to his credit Chris fully admitted. In fact he went so far as to tell Jonathan Stillwell he should write up the result even though it was plainly a negative (naturally Psychic News didnt bother).

Chris then gave his impressions as to what was in Jonathans box. After a mercifully short summary he decided on a pump of some kind. It was actually a fan (the sort fluttered by Victorian ladies). Again Chris admitted failure, however he did phone me a couple of weeks later to tell me he realised he was actually nearer than we first thought. He pointed out that behind the fan in a car engine is nothing other than the water pump! Ta daaa! See, much closer than it first appeared.

Looking back at the notes I made at the time I recorded the following observations;

  1. He seems to exaggerate the accuracy of his past successes. When I could check the evidence it didn't back him up.
  2. His dream notes cover a huge amount of different subjects. A real scattergun approach.
  3. After any failure he tends to display a certain amount of reinterpretation.

Since then Chris and his predictive dreaming have occasionally resurfaced and in one comparatively recent case he appeared on Richard and Judy (probably about two years ago). This time I would be the first to admit he was uncannily accurate. The test meant that he had to predict a specific location and his notes, which remained in the studio, werent opened until he was actually driven to the site. If memory serves he was pretty much spot on as he drew a ship, a bridge and a hospital he was on the Thames next to Guys Hospital. Both Richard and Judy were mightily impressed as Im sure were their viewers. I wrote to them at the time to point out some of the shortcomings of their test protocol. Two years later Im still waiting for a response. Another week and Im giving up.

So how might this feat be duplicated using a non-psychic method I would suggest that part of the answer lies in the sloppy way television tends to conduct such tests.

If you have ever appeared on a show like this I can assure you, you spend literally hours kicking your heels punctuated by the occasional appearance of a researcher. Perhaps something could be overheard

But lets assume that they are not so careless. Is there any other way you could gather information Well there is one way that might be possible.

Within a television studio people often contact each other using headsets attached to two-way radios. You can tune into these using a radio scanner. All I would have to do is scan for a signal and hope the floor manager mentions something about ordering a taxi or some other useful snippet of information. Allowing me to hold on to my prediction until the last possible moment would conveniently let me make a few last minute additions.

Im not saying that this method would guarantee results (or that Chris resorted to such chicanery) but what I am saying is that I doubt the television studio thought of it and took steps to guard against it - and if they are going to test people properly then they should. If the method failed I would simply resort to having a number of vague buildings drawn and then try to make them fit. A little generous interpretation by Richard & Judy would possibly dig me out of an otherwise embarrassing hole. If I didnt do that well I could tell them about the time I predicted the Twin Towers.

Chris failed my test, James Whales test, Sue Blackmores test, Richard Wisemans test but curiously when tested by Professor Gary Schwartz he passed with flying colours. Now theres a surprise!

I have high hopes that next week's programme will include some genuine testing. In which case my dreams tell me failure looms once again.

See also:

Dr Susan Blackmore for an account of her test with Chris.

Chris's less than flattering comments about Richard Wiseman.
Note he doesn't appear to have heard of thermal conductivity. Who's going to tell him


22nd June 2007
Religious persecution
Religion seems to be making its way into the news lately and I feel moved to comment.

Three weeks ago we heard Cardinal Keith O'Briens remarks on abortion. Speaking in St Mary's Cathedral, Edinburgh about what he perceived as the crime of abortion he (confusingly) said it was an unspeakable crime. I take issue with the word crime but if a new debate is needed there is no place in it for Catholic dogma. So what might the Catholic Church suggest we do to cut down on the number of unwanted pregnancies

More sex education
Probably not, unless it consists of simply, dont do it that is until youre married then you can indulge as much as you like with of course one proviso, see contraception next.

Encourage more contraception
Good grief no. God ordered us to go forth and multiply and if there is one thing the Catholic God gets really annoyed about its contraception. The tragic effect of this archaic policy is that it sentences vast numbers of people to die from AIDS, which they presumably regard as preferable to the interception of a sperm on its journey to find an egg.

Paedophilia aside, priests dont actually indulge in sex so my response is simply this if you dont play the game dont make the bloody rules.

The BBC website quotes the Cardinal as saying, "I can't change the teachings of Jesus Christ. I can't change the 10 Commandments. That's what I'm ordained to teach and to preach: 'Thou shalt not kill."

Did JC actually say anything about abortion In fact I dont recall he said Thou shalt not kill

Of course the God who put together the 10 commandments (aka Yahweh) wasn't known for his compassion. Here are a couple of Biblical quotes from Deuteronomy that throw divine edicts about not killing into some confusion;

If they refuse to make peace and they engage you in battle, lay siege to that city. When the LORD your God delivers it into your hand, put to the sword all the men in it. As for the women, the children, the livestock and everything else in the city, you may take these as plunder for yourselves.


Heres some helpful advice this time on family values.
If a man has a stubborn and rebellious son who does not obey his father and mother and will not listen to them when they discipline him, his father and mother shall take hold of him and bring him to the elders at the gate of his town. They shall say to the elders, "This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious. He will not obey us. He is a profligate and a drunkard." Then all the men of his town shall stone him to death. You must purge the evil from among you. All Israel will hear of it and be afraid.

What happened to Thou shalt not kill As lessons in morality go Id say this was on a par with Attila the Hun.

Another religious morality lesson
Pakistani Cabinet Minister Mohammed Ejaz ul-Haq getting all upset over Salman Rushdies recently announced Knighthood and has been quoted as saying, "If someone exploded a bomb on his body, he would be right to do so unless the British government apologizes and withdraws the 'sir' title."

Hmmm, and what is Mr E jaz ul-Haqs position Religious affairs minister. (See Dark Knight at The View from Number 80).

Already there seems to be a concerted attempt to make sure Moslems are suitably outraged and sadly I feel this story has not yet run its course. At the moment it seems confined to the inevitable flag and effigy burning. But how long will it be before someone is killed as a result of this latest religious inspired frenzy

Why is it that certain Moslems have to respond to any perceived slight with a rent a mob mentality Do they always have to be outraged Cant they be just slightly annoyed or a bit miffed

As someone who is not religious is it too much to ask to be left free from pious meddling Why is it that both Christians and Moslems insist that the rest of us should be bound by their irrational demands Its not enough that just Catholics deny themselves abortions or that only Moslems refuse to draw pictures of Mohammed (Have you seen Jesus and Mo)

Today also sees the case of the Chastity Ring. Teenager Lydia Playfoot is taking her school to the High Court because they didn't want her to wear her Silver Ring Thing at school. She says it's a symbol of her faith, the school says it is an item of jewellery. As I write I don't know the outcome but I suspect she will lose. Just to split hairs for a moment, it's not so much a symbol of faith but a symbol of not wanting to have sex before marriage because of her faith. To me it's just pandering to God's genital obsession.

To be honest I don't see it's much of a problem and I would have thought the school would have been better to have ignored it. Personally I would prefer something with the clarity of the French model which bans all religious symbols in schools but the chances of that happening here are as likely as Salman Rushdie going window shopping in Tehran.

As making demands of others is de rigeur heres my list;

I dont want people knocking on my door trying to tell me Jesus died for my sins. No he didn't, how could he I wasn't even born. Im happy to risk eternal damnation so leave me alone.

I dont want my children preached to in school. I dont want them to be lied to about the origin of Humankind or persuaded that religion equates to morality. I dont want them worshipping a non-existent god.

I dont want any of my taxes spent on religious schools. Let them be entirely financed through private funds. They are divisive and bad for society - of which by the way I too am a member.

I dont want people castigated because of their sexual orientation. Homosexuals might only be treated as second class citizens by churches in this country but in others (usually Islamic) they are executed. If anyones god is so small minded as to worry about what men do with their willies they are surely worthy not of praise but of contempt. There are after all bigger issues to consider. Why should I not be deeply offended and outraged by a book that orders the execution of homosexuals

If a man has sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They are to be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads. Leviticus 20:13

I dont want any Bishops, let alone 26, (The Lords Spiritual) sitting in the House of Lords. Their only qualification is that they are experts in a very ancient fiction. Why should they continue to be so privileged

I want the right to offend religion if I like, after all it doesn't mind offending me. Dont believers get enough satisfaction from knowing Ill be in eternal torment Is their god so impotent that they have to jump in and do his work for him I want to read books, see shows or cartoons without threats of violence towards me or anyone else.

Yes I would like to see a fair settlement for both Palestine and Israel.

And just so we can be clear I dont want to see Moslems killing other Moslems in Iraq, Palestine or anywhere else. So much for the Umma.

I do not think that wishing to be free from religious dogma and meddling makes me or anyone else a militant atheist, I just dont believe in your god and dont feel the need to be bound by your rules. I want to live my own life without religious interference.


If haven't bought it yet do get God is not Great by Christopher Hitchens.
Have a look at Wafa Sultan on

4th June 2007
Calling all psychic detectives....

I dont think I can let this pass any longer without comment. The tragic disappearance of Madeleine McCann on 3rd May 2007 has been almost constant headline news in the UK, and yet a month later she is still missing. Like everyone else, if I could help then I wouldnt hesitate; not for a second. The despicable excuse for a human being who abducted her is walking free and that grates with everyone's sense of justice. But of course theres no way I could help, at least not in any meaningful way, so frustrating as it might be, Im not phoning the police with my half-baked theories because to do so would be pointless. Sadly the same restraint isnt being shown by the virtual army of psychics who feel compelled to send in their feeble unsubstantiated ideas that have been dreamt up within the dark recesses of their brains.

Never mind if it wastes time and resources because whatever the outcome theres a chance they can claim they, helped police on this high profile case. I suppose given the number that are calling in it would be surprising if one of them wasnt right about some minor aspect of the case. Which of course is not the same as saying they were any bloody use.

On the other hand its precisely this sort of real world testing that ultimately exposes the whole sorry illusion of psychic detection. I have a theory and its this;

There is no such thing as psychic ability and those that claim they can solve this case are either deluded or outright fakes.

The alternative theory, presumably held firmly by all those who consider it worthwhile bothering the police, is that the information they can provide can materially affect the outcome of the increasingly desperate search for Madeleine.

So heres an offer that will help everyone make up their mind which theory best explains the facts. Email me with your information and Ill post it on this website. Ill create a special page where each piece of information will be numbered and recorded. Everyone will need to be fully identifiable but I promise not to publish anyones email address or other contact details without permission. The only information published will be as follows;

  • Psychics name.
  • A reference number.
  • The date I received the information.
  • A full copy of your email.

If and when the case is finally solved people can judge for themselves the accuracy and usefulness of what was provided. Is that fair

One thing that needs to be confronted at the outset is that I anticipate this may generate comments from outraged mediums (and their supporters) that I am somehow using this terrible tragedy to garner publicity. My response (in advance) is that it might stop every psychic and his/her brother from pestering the police by giving them an alternative outlet and secondly raise awareness of how good or useless psychic detectives really are. Perhaps I should add that if someone turns out to be extremely accurate then it is they who will be feted by the media and not the close-minded skeptic who was foolish enough to stick his silly neck out. T'was ever thus.

So I'm ready and waiting to hear from any and all psychics. Needless to say anyone sending in abusive or tasteless emails will not be considered although their email may well be publicised.

Send your information to:

Update: 21/09/2007. The current total is: 1

As promised a page has been created and can be found here.

Print Calling all psychic detectives (pdf)

Official website:
Reuters: TIMELINE - The disappearance of Madeleine McCann




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