Commentary archive 3
28th September 2005
There's no business...
18th September 2005
Most Haunted - Asylumgate
8th September 2005
MHL - no escape from 'the Asylum'
4th September 2005
Most Haunted Live - failed asylum seekers
27th August 2005
Medicine that works and the alternative
23rd August 2005
Mia Dolan - The summing up
11th August 2005
'This Morning' II
3rd August 2005
ITV's 'This Morning' with Mia Dolan
28th September 2005
Acorah most of you will know from Most Haunted where he gets in touch with imaginary asylum inmates. Colin Fry is well known for his series, “Sixth Sense” and for holding trumpets. Tony Stockwell currently has a series “Psychic Detective” in which he revisits past crimes and doesn’t solve them. Lastly Simon Peters isn’t known for much at all except perhaps for one brief appearance on ‘Most Haunted Live’.
Abandoning for a moment any critique of their ability to contact he dead I feel entitled to pass judgement on the actual standard of their performance. For last place I’m not really sure whether to suggest Derek Acorah or Simon Peters, but after much thought I think Simon should get the wooden spoon. So in reverse order for sheer entertainment value I vote as follows;
4. Simon Peters
The gap between Fry and Stockwell is a lot slimmer than the one between Stockwell and Acorah.
As for their combined ability to contact the dead, they are about level with Spongebob Squarepants.
I’ve already given an analysis of Acorah but for completeness I’ll summarise his technique. He is fond of using the device of mincing the English language so that it’s hard to decide what on Earth he’s talking about never mind working out if it’s right or not. At his show in Croydon he tried too hard to look like he was being specific but then he knew journalist Charles Nevin was in the audience so perhaps he thought he should try harder. Acorah gave fairly long-winded descriptions of whatever spirits he was dreaming up to the point where no one had a clue who he was describing, which lead to wasting huge amounts of time trying to persuade people to recognise them. In turn this meant the ‘messages’ received were not only trivial (as expected) but utterly pointless. Obviously all the usual techniques of throwing out names and random questions were part and parcel of his repertoire but not only wasn’t he credible but he was boring with it.
Let’s move on the new kid on the block Simon Peters. This was a pretty small scale affair compared to the others. Instead of a large theatre this took place in a hotel function room. The audience numbered around 120 and, as ever, comprised of mainly women. I’d say the men represented about 10% maximum. Peters began, and ended, his show by saying he wasn’t sure if he was psychic or whether it was just his own imagination. I nearly offered my own opinion but suppressed it. By way of evidence he said he would give the person’s name the day of their funeral and even what the weather was like. A rash promise that as it turned out, he was unable to keep. He would trot out numbers such and 11 and 2. This he felt might refer to the row and seat number of the person chosen to receive his message. If this didn’t work he changed it to a date i.e. 11 th February. Inevitably some things turned out to be correct, other things people couldn’t remember and a lot of things were just plain wrong.
His best reading of the night turned out to be his first but when I spoke to the people afterwards they were far from being convinced. Despite being told at the beginning there was a risk that psychic energy might cause the lights to flicker nothing during the evening gave me any reason to think that spirits had made their way to a small hotel in Worksop only to impart a series of bafflingly trivial messages.
By contrast the tour of Colin Fry and Tony Stockwell was a glitzy affair at a packed Nottingham Concert Hall. This was true commercialism. Had you felt the need you could buy programmes at £8.50 a shot, inspirational CDs and even some sort of spiritual soap at a mere £10. I actually heard a man tell his friend, with suppressed excitement that they had crystals for sale. Wow!
As both ‘media’ made their way onto the stage I felt they would break into a song before starting with a string of quick fire gags. But no, just dead people and smattering of quips. Both Fry and Stockwell used very similar techniques. They started with a general description but didn’t push it too far. Things like, “I now have a gentleman coming forward who is showing me what I can only describe as a shovel. He must have worked in construction or something as I’m also seeing a pile of bricks. I feel he had a problem with his back as I’m feeling an ache in the small of my back. Does this have meaning for anyone”
Sometimes two or three might raise their hand but after a brief selection process we would get a string of the usual trivial comments. If any of these met with agreement then fine, but if not either another statement followed quickly without bothering to confirm if the previous one was right or there was a push to try and make the person remember. Despite being given names and detailed (if general) information, none of those from the afterlife managed to say, “I’d like to speak to that lady in row F third seat in. Her name is Wendy and you can tell her it’s her mother Margaret Fothergill here.” This would have been preferable to witnessing the fumbling attempts to fit information. I felt Fry and Stockwell stuck firmly to tried and tested cold reading techniques and this ultimately paid off. In contrast to Acorah they spoke in fairly plain English and made a real attempt to be entertaining. I’ll slap myself for saying it but I found Tony Stockwell quite amusing.
The one thing these evenings had in common was that they all felt like a girly night out. There wasn’t really anything actually outstanding about any of them and with the exception of Peters I suppose it was just a matter of seeing a celebrity live on stage. If it was anything else our local Spiritualist Church would have to move to much larger premises. I also got the feeling that this is all just a passing fad and that this particular gravy train like others before it will eventually lose appeal and people will move on to something else. But sadly I don’t think this will be anytime soon.
18th September 2005
Most Haunted - Asylumgate
When it comes to completely misrepresenting what is supposed to be a factual show and presumably excusing themselves by saying, “Hey that’s showbiz!” I can’t help but wonder what constrains the rest of our media. Can shows really get away with whatever they like If Antix can say they are coming from an asylum when in fact it was nothing more than a caring institution started by philanthropist Robert Barnes then what about Panorama or Horizon Can we believe anything
I want to say this one last time;
The show originally said it was coming from an asylum – it wasn’t. (Listen to Derek*)
Derek Acorah picked up on what were clearly supposed to be mental patients – he couldn’t have.
Dr David Bull (who visited the premises in daylight) said it was a “barbaric institution” – it was nothing of the kind. (Listen*)
Dr Ciaran O’Keeffe, Dr Matthew Smith must have known it wasn’t an asylum as should Richard Felix the show’s esteemed ‘historian’. So much for academic integrity. As far as I’m aware no one feels honour bound to resign from the show. Apparently they are all standing by Antix Productions and the fiction that was, “the asylum”.
As for Antix, who by the way have also ignored my email, their position is clear. Despite having had ample time to read up on the history of Barnes Hospital they merely ran the following message along the bottom of the screen,
“The owners requested we call this location “The Asylum”. There are no historical records to indicate this hospital was ever used solely as an asylum.”
Hmm, is that a disclaimer If so the first thing I don’t understand is why the owners, who intend to develop the property and probably don’t want people thinking the undead are walking through their living rooms, asked for a convalescent hospital to be identified as, “The Asylum” a term unlikely to add value. I accept the word ‘asylum’ can have more than one meaning, it can mean a place of sanctuary for one thing and if we look at answers.com we also get;
“An institution for the care of people, especially those with physical or mental impairments, who require organized supervision or assistance.”
Why then didn’t the owners ask for it to be identified simply as, “The Hospital” or perhaps “The Sanctuary” And to suggest their motivation was because it was so haunted is palpable nonsense. The second part of their ‘disclaimer’ would be correct if they removed the word ‘solely’.
For your education and enjoyment I have provided for you below the authorised history of Barnes Hospital . This information was provided by Manchester Royal Infirmary and not a pretend medium talking to a non-existent spirit guide. Incidentally what is Derek’s excuse for not coming up with real information about these people when all he has to do is ask good old Sam
As you read the history remember Dr David Bull’s words,
“Tonight our team are investigating a true Victorian monument; it’s an asylum and it’s steeped in history, but it’s a place of madness and little hope. Thousands died while incarcerated in the asylum."
(Incarcerate: To put into jail. To shut in; confine.)
Alarmingly he also said,
"This is something I have a vested interest in, I'm a doctor I used to work in a hospital very like this."
All I can say is I'm glad I was never his patient!
Read the history. Personally I just can't help admiring Robert Barnes. The first paragraph of 'The man who built Barnes Hospital' reads...
"When in 1865 the board of Manchester Royal Infirmary wanted to provide a convalescent home where patients could recover health and strength, there was an anxious discussion about how the money should be raised. It was Mr Robert Barnes who told the board: "Don't sell your investments. I will pay for it."
Sounds like a man worthy of admiration.
The man who built Barnes page 1
Manchester Convalescent Home - Cheadle 1
Meanwhile you may like to visit Double Exposure as apart from the above historical information there is some very interesting comments from the current owners of Barnes.
Update on Acorah page: You might like to pay a visit to this as well!
* All clips are copyright to LivingTV and are shown only for the purposes of review and critique.
8th September 2005
MHL - no escape from 'the Asylum'
I notice Living TV’s website no longer has any reference to “The Asylum” not unless you count their appalling merchandise for the show which shows a sort of ghostly inmate in a straight jacket apparently screaming in torment, surely not an appropriate way to portray mental illness. The coffee mug is described thus;
“The Most Haunted Live Mug featuring 'The Asylum' September 2005 on one side and Living tv - Do you believe on the reverse. ORDER YOURS NOW !!”
“Living TV - Do you believe” An appropriate question with a rather obvious answer.
Before we have a look at the history of Barnes Hospital , let’s remind ourselves of the psychic insights provided by that most talented of mediums Derek Acorah. Here’s a few of his comments;
“There’s a feeling of torment here. I’m getting … not clarity of my mind; I get a childlike atmosphere as well but not children. You know when a person has the energy of an adult but being very childlike. There’s a hopelessness connected to it
To me mental, mental and almost physical cruelty combined. It’s like a treatment given out and they’re suffering from it. I feel this big, big property has housed people who had mental disorders and a lot of them … they did have these mental disorders, but a lot of them were treated so harshly at times in a vain attempt to heal and it went wrong. They felt like guinea pigs – they felt caged; they felt trapped. It was like a jail to them.
And then I have the feeling not so much of starvation but not feeding some of them, and they felt like caged rats. Terrible cruelty... terrible to the mind, to the physical, and there’s a couple of them roaming these corridors"
Pretty much a solid spiritual confirmation wouldn’t you say But as we now know it's all completely and utterly incorrect in just about everyway you could imagine. How did Derek manage to tune in to an entirely fictitious past I mean even if he had accidentally overheard the name of the place he couldn’t have done any prior research on the building (perish the thought) because if he had he would know it wasn’t ever an asylum. Personally I can’t think of any explanation that exonerates Derek. That’s not to say there isn’t one of course but it looks like the proverbial smoking gun (or floating trumpet) to me.
If you read the insert on the right you'll find no mention of Barnes ever treating mentally ill patients. So no matter how far back Derek was talking about he still can’t be correct. Of course if anyone has any evidence to the contrary then please let me know.
The show makes constant reference to the building as an asylum and was none too complementary about either the staff or its imaginary inmates. For example the programme is hosted by Dr David Bull, a qualified medical doctor who worked for the NHS for 3 years. He describes the convalescent home thus,
“Tonight we’re investigating a monument of madness; a vacant and dilapidated Victorians asylum, with an oppressive and disturbing atmosphere, and some believe it has the power to force you to lose your mind.”
Notice the weasel words, “and some believe…”
“…a horrendous derelict and ruined Victorian asylum. It’s a place where people believed to be insane were locked up and left.”
And later he says,
"Tonight our team are investigating a true Victorian monument; it’s an asylum and it’s steeped in history, but it’s a place of madness and little hope. Thousands died while incarcerated in the asylum."
Thousands died while incarcerated I’m assuming Bull is just reading his script. But I can’t help but wonder, did he know this was all make-believe
I have also been given access to some unseen footage in which some of the team including Richard Felix, in what I suppose is the mortuary refrigerator, encountered yet another flying light bulb which prompted Felix to try and make contact with a supposed dead inmate. Talking to thin air he says,
“Are you trapped here is that the problem Do you not realise you can actually go You’re… you were in an institution, you were imprisoned here for probably years in this asylum.”
Hopefully Richard can now rest easy knowing that no one was imprisoned there after all. What research did he actually do I wonder
We were told in the beginning that because it was so haunted they didn’t want it to be identified. I’m assuming this was just hype. Were the current owners of Barnes Hospital aware of the true nature of the programme Was it explained to them that the site would be misrepresented in this way We’ll see.
I did write to Living TV to ask them for an explanation but as yet I haven’t had a reply. To be honest I really don’t expect to get one but if they would like me to publish their explanation on this website I’d be more than happy to do so. Meanwhile their continued silence does them no credit at all.
But what of the cast as a whole Were they all in on this apparent deception Certainly those who actually visited the site must have been aware that they were not in an asylum and yet none of them have protested in any way. None have felt moved to resign from a show that a) insensitively portrays mental illness and b) is somewhat economical with the truth even to its own loyal followers. Those who consider themselves to have certain minimum standards of ethics need to look to their own conscience and decide if they really want to be part of this.
I have to say a big thank you to Emma Gee (Echolima) webmaster of Double Exposure who provided me with much useful information including the history of Barnes Hospital quoted above. She also saved me a great deal of time by transcribing the quotes used above. Double exposure also runs an excellent discussion forum.
4th September 2005
Most Haunted Live - failed asylum seekers
Just as a reminder, this was the introduction…
“Tonight Most Haunted Live ventures into one of Manchester ’s most feared and barbaric institutions – an abandoned asylum and hospital.
The site and its imposing Victorian buildings are said to be rampant with petrifying paranormal activity and many horrific entities are said to prowl here. We investigate the main hospital building, its deserted wards and the place most feared of all, the dreaded morgue.
Join us on this most gripping investigation tonight on Most Haunted Live.”
Okay you get the idea It was a “feared and barbaric institution”. But bear with me there’s more. You need to be very clear about this so please be patient.
Dr David Bull builds the tension,
“….But tonight as the new moon rises our investigation moves to a shocking location. It’s a huge, disused, abandoned site. It’s an unhappy place where the insane were incarcerated. Quite simply it’s a place for the lunatic.”
Bull begins by interviewing our intrepid investigators Yvette Fielding and Derek Acorah.
Yvette claims it’s the most terrifying location they’ve been to so far whilst Derek babbles on about “residuals coming through” and that he has a “feeling of blockage.” Perhaps he’s not getting enough fibre.
As Yvette briefs us in a pre-recorded piece we are told that, “This place is so haunted that the owners have asked us to refer to it only as… the Asylum!”
All in all then I think we are pretty clear about the sort of place we’re visiting and despite no advanced knowledge, star medium Derek Acorah soon picks up the scent.
He links up to one dead inmate who fears that two men are coming for him, “He’s got anger… it’s like he wants to kill them. He fears the wires. He fears electricity.” Sounds like a clear reference to Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT) if you ask me.
Later Derek finally twigs, “I feel aggressiveness that doesn’t come with hospitals generally. I feel people were suppressed, people were brought down when they got too angry. I feel it’s all to do with the mind…. mental, this is an asylum. THIS IS AN ASYLUM!"
Time for sceptics to admit defeat No. Because here’s the awful truth…
They were never actually in an asylum at all!
Think about that, it wasn’t an asylum. In fact the building is known as Barnes Hospital in Cheadle and was more of a convalescent home, mainly looking after stroke patients. You can see some photos of the interior here.
And remember this quote, “This place is so haunted that the owners have asked us to refer to it only as… the Asylum!” Well it seems that the Barnes Hospital site due for redevelopment, and how would you like buying a nice new flat on the site of one of “Manchester’s most feared and barbaric institutions” Particularly when the place is crawling with “horrific entities”. If I owned it I wouldn’t want it named either.
But this revelation has further implications. The whole team must have been fully aware about the true nature of the building and thus jointly guilty of misrepresenting the entire programme which was simply a start to finish, wall to wall scam.
And where does this leave Mr Acorah He doesn’t know anything about the place before going in remember. So why did he say it was an asylum One explanation I can put forward for your consideration is that Derek is as psychic as a grilled kipper.
I have always felt the programme was completely farcical but this is much more serious. Such blatant economy with the truth should be exposed. I’m really looking forward to hearing the explanations – once Derek has sorted out his blockage of course.
27th August 2005
Medicine that works and the alternative
As to the first report I have to marvel at just why it is that our heir to the throne thinks the promotion of alternative medicine is a worthwhile pursuit. I mean he could campaign for more investment and/or reform of the National Health Service. He might champion the cause of stem cell research but no, for some reason he feels that flakier is better. I can feel my knighthood slipping away but what f*ck does Prince Charles know about medicine It’s probably some constitutional thing that forces Charlie to worry about whether nanotechnology will turn us into grey goo rather than debate the merits of bombing innocent people and invading their country on an unlikely premise. But surely there are other things he could talk about. Architecture for example, why did he stop going on about that
It seems the Prince’s motivation is saving the country money and whilst the abolition of the civil list might save a few quid he claims that £480 million could be cut from the prescription drugs bill if 10% of GPs offered homeopathy rather than standard drugs. Personally I think he’s underestimating the amount that could be saved. For example if we switched diabetics to homeopathic treatment we could save a fortune. Of the course the savings would arise from the fact that all the patients would die and therefore not need further treatment. Now I think about it assuming homeopathy works on the basis of “like causes like” and mixtures are diluted into oblivion (strangely making them more potent) then shouldn’t we be able to cure diabetes by diluting sugar in water I can see a problem arising when the solution is added back to sugar pills but I’m sure homeopaths could work something out. But I digress.
As the BBC report, Homeopathy's benefit questioned points out this non-treatment is already available on the NHS. I find this staggering. How did this sorry state of affairs ever come about Why does this fallacy endure I’ve no idea but remember the James Randi Educational Foundation will cough up $1 million dollars to anyone who can prove homeopathy works. They really will. Honest.
I predict Randi won’t have to write out a cheque anytime soon. In fact Randi mentions this very subject in his Commentary this week as does my old mate at Number Eighty. Go visit.
Mia Dolan - The summing up
The need for precision is very important when testing psychics generally and with cold reading in particular. The more loose the conditions the more psychic they can appear. If you don’t record what was actually said and instead just rely on memory then you are going to make mistakes. Human memory is not only fallible but malleable and this is what allowed Mia Dolan to get away with such a poor performance.
This week Dr David Lewis, having weighed all the ‘evidence’ said he remained “utterly unconvinced”. To dissuade him of his obstinacy Denise Van Outen suggested we look at the facts. What a good idea!
She claimed Mia made 39 predictions of which 25 were judged to be correct. I didn’t watch all the shows or record all the hits but I am somewhat sceptical of this score. In a test designed to increase viewing figures rather than provide the public with accurate information what got counted as a being a hit may be a very subjective matter.
Dr Lewis made the point that much of what Mia predicted was ambiguous. Richard jumps on this with an example of just how specific she was. He says, “She talks about a chap whose watch had stopped”
Did she When was that I wonder In her pre-written prediction two weeks earlier she told Wendy (who isn’t a chap by the way) “Wendy has a watch which regularly stops working on her and she has a lot of friends but she stands alone.” Multi-friended but standalone Wendy replied that her watch stopped only yesterday. Now maybe this is nitpicking but she said the watch, “regularly stops working on her” so, given the subjectivity of the judging, this would also be true if it just lost or gained a little time every week or even, like my wife’s watch, if the strap repeatedly failed. But the word ‘regularly’ was ignored and so with the necessary retro-fitting it became a prediction that her watch would stop - sometime. Watches do stop working but it’s hardly a significant event when it happens. The shear banality of such a statement was not considered and if you read my account in This Morning II you will have seen that Mia made no mention about Wendy getting back with her husband, an event of much greater significance.
But Richard said it was a ‘chap’. Perhaps he meant last week’s subject who was a man (at last a man) called Clint. What Mia actually said on that occasion was, “…I’m also getting to do with a watch, a watch and a father, not a watch that has stopped like last week. But you have a gift of a watch to do with your father”.
Clint replied, accompanied by audible gasps from our two presenters, that he had broken his watch at work two weeks earlier and had only just mentioned this to his father. Nothing about a “gift” and Mia specifically said it wasn’t about a stopped watch.
Next we see a video montage showing some of Mia’s ‘misses’ but Ms Van Outen goes on to tell us that a couple of them later turned out to be hits. For example Emily, having originally denied a career in music or the media, later realised she was studying law and was specialising in music and media. I find this a little hard to credit as a hit but it does illustrate the flexibility of Mia’s words. Presumably had Emily been studying criminal law Mia could have told her she had a career in armed robbery. Neither should we forget that this was a claim about the past leading up to the present. If Emily does pass her exams and then decides to specialise in ‘music/media’ law (not sure what that is exactly) then that will not be for some considerable amount of time. So not only is the experiment very accommodating about the meaning of what is being said but the supposed time frame is allowed to stretch way into the future.
We also hear that Clint, who denied he was going to an event at a church, has since changed his mind. For the record Mia said, “…I’m getting like a village church as if it’s going to be important in your life around now. You’ve got some event that’s going on to do with the church...” What could Mia mean A wedding, a Christening, a funeral or perhaps a stall at the church fete; in fact the connection is far more tenuous. It seems Clint later remembered going to the birthplace of the Bronte sisters – specifically to the church. Just when this happened we never learn but even if it was during the last few weeks it’s still not what Mia predicted. Even I made a rare visit to a church recently but I wouldn’t describe it as an ‘event’.
When asked to explain these miracles Dr Lewis points out that such statements could be correct in so many ways. How very true, but alas the point is lost on Mia, Richard and Denise.
Now Richard brings out his heavy artillery with another admission from Clint. “You told Clint that the battery in his car would fail. He said ‘no’ and later that day, or later that week, the battery on his car did fail. That’s pretty good David.”
Richard seems exasperated that Dr Lewis remains unmoved and continues, “I don’t know how specific she has to be to impress you. She told someone the battery in their car would go flat. David, being vague would be saying, ‘You’re going to go abroad in the next year’, that’s vague! Saying the battery on your car will go flat isn’t that vague.”
Now to be fair Mia did mention to Clint about a car battery but it was a little more ambiguous than Richard seems to recall. What he fails to consider is that there are degrees of vagueness. If you say to someone, “the battery on your car will go flat next week” I agree that’s quite precise but Mia’s exact words were, “I’m afraid I see you jump starting, you know the battery in a car. I can see you fiddling with the battery and I’m not sure if you’re actually fixing, like actually jump starting or doing something else but you will be having to do something with the battery on the car.”
When Mia said this it was actually supposed to have already happened but we’ve already established how loose the time scale is. I think in the interests of precision it should be pointed out that a) when this would happen was never made clear b) she never said whose car it would be c) she allowed herself even more latitude by saying, “or doing something else” and “having to do something with the battery” and d) we don’t know if Clint actually used jumps leads or just phoned the AA.
That said I’m still prepared to accept this as being a hit of sorts but these things cannot be looked at in isolation. Suppose this had not happened Well it would have suffered the same fate as Mia’s other failed predictions, e.g. she also told Clint he had a “weakness” in the right hand and wrist along with a “crunching in the knee”. None of this was true but if it had been I’m sure Richard Bacon would be claiming it couldn’t have been just guesswork. Why is it that when a guess turns out to be something near right the sceptic is expected to explain it but when it’s wrong it seems no explanation is required of the psychic Richard Bacon did later ask Mia about the misses and she responded that in time they would all come true. I imagine if five years from now Clint falls and hurts his wrist Mia will once again claim success. I predict Clint will get a toothache – so what
Next we see a clip of some of Mia’s more successful moments. They float somewhere between trivial and insignificant.
Emily is told, “Things are changing around you at the moment.” How true.
Another subject gets told about “leaky pipes” and a washer recently went on her tap.
“…pain in your foot”, the woman squashed her toe a few years ago and it still gives her pain.
Wendy has a “sensitive stomach” (she has IBS).
Wendy has a stiff jaw perhaps through clenching while she sleeps (she sometimes wakes up and her jaw aches).
Clint’s life is “going through the mill” but things are getting back together. “One thousand percent correct” concedes Clint.
We also hear about Wendy’s ‘bird’. Dr Lewis mentions that Mia actually talked about a ‘picture’ or ‘statute’ of gold bird and yet claims a hit when the woman (Wendy) says she has a couple of orangey parrots (see here for the actual words)
Mia’s response further illustrates how easily her words can be moulded to fit the sitter’s response, “No the image was just of a bird and it wasn’t a flying around bird, it was a still bird and I was trying to describe what I was seeing or make sense of why I was seeing a golden bird.” So why didn’t she just say, “I see a golden bird that isn’t flying” Because its vagueness would be immediately apparent that’s why. I’m tempted to suggest that had Wendy recently watched Monty Python’s parrot sketch on UK Gold that would have been a hit too.
The final judgement as to whether Mia proved she was psychic is handed over for the public to decide by voting. Evidently she is because around 1,360 people said so.
Believe it or not but my motivation in writing about this test is not to single out Mia Dolan for criticism but to point out This Morning’s bias and lack of experimental rigor. Okay it’s only TV but that’s no excuse for having a protocol as tight as a Parisian prostitute’s knicker elastic. As the week’s went on Richard Bacon did express some scepticism but I can’t recall Denise Van Outen ever mentioning a single word of doubt or criticism. The test was completely meaningless and the whole thing has been no more than a free five week advertising campaign for Mia Dolan, one, I’m sure that will help further her chosen career immeasurably. In return perhaps “This Morning” temporarily increased their viewing figures, I trust they are pleased with the deal.
So what would convince me Well if Mia has psychic powers then she should apply for the $1 million dollars offered by The James Randi Educational Foundation. I for one would be more than happy to assist with the testing procedure. To this end I have done a little research and I find that Mia is already well aware of this offer.
On the JREF website under JREF Forums > JREF Topics > Million Dollar Challenge > Mia Dolan & Co (see here) I found this interesting posting by JREF’s Kramer.
Quoted from a now defunct forum Mia wrote as follows;
“ I have been reading all the posts about the Randi test, and I think it only fair to let you know what is going on. I have had many meetings about this and have been told not to talk about it but there is only so much abuse one can take. It seems that James Randi is a law unto himself, he puts up all these promises of a million but will not let anyone else be involved in the judging he is judge and jury, he has turned down people just because he did'nt belive there claim.”
This is just an extract (original spelling intact) which Kramer then goes onto thoroughly demolish and I highly recommend you read it in full. Needless to say Mia Dolan has never applied to take the challenge and based on her recent performance she would be very wise not to.
'This Morning' II
The perfectly ordinary member of the public helping this week was Wendy (will we be getting a token man sometime) who stated quite openly that she was a believer, a fact Mia knew prior to giving her reading. But first a bit of background.
The ‘tests’ are structured like this. Six weeks prior to the show Mia meets each of the subjects face to face - but doesn’t talk to them. During this silent meeting Mia writes predictions of what will happen to the subject prior to appearing on the show. Also Dr Lewis gets each subject to fill out a questionnaire to enable him to produce a psychological profile. I confess I didn’t bother analysing this part of the show last time because, in my opinion, it simply isn’t worth the trouble. However I’ve decided to make a few pertinent comments on this week’s predictive effort. The readings Mia gives ‘live’ during the show are meant to reflect the subject’s past and present. Just how far back this ‘past’ can go is not made clear. I find this concept rather confusing because if at the first meeting Mia makes predictions about the sitter’s immediate future (i.e. in the next six weeks leading up to the live show) and then later, in her studio reading, gives her past/present reading this could in fact apply to the same time period, i.e. the last six weeks.
Anyway the test is apparently judged by comparing Mia’s hits and misses with those of Dr Lewis. If Mia gets the higher score then she will be judged to have passed the test and proven her psychic abilities. A conclusion that is logically flawed as even if Dr Lewis bombs and scores zero (which he hasn’t) it has no relevance as to whether Mia is psychic or just guessing. Comparing a psychological profile with a set of predictions is surely like the traditional comparison of dissimilar fruit (usually apples and oranges). The tests are not blinded in any way.
On with the analysis. If you can bear with me I think this will be instructive in that it illustrates how the vagueness of a psychic reading, once it has gone through the filtering process of the human mind, can be reinterpreted as being remarkably precise. It is also worth noting that the reading does not rely on the use of questioning techniques.
“ …at the moment you’re on your own, you’re rebuilding your life. That’ll be a big change in your life. I see a ring coming off which means a change of relationship. I also see you’re going to be doing a lot of walking. I don’t know where you’re going but you’re doing a lot of walking. If you haven’t done it…
Taking Mia at her word Wendy is rebuilding her life “at the moment” and that this represents a ‘big’ change. She says she sees, “a ring coming off” and a, “change of relationship”. Notice she doesn’t actually say who the ring is coming off or who is undergoing the change of relationship. The obvious implication is that it applies directly to Wendy but it is sufficiently ambiguous for it to apply to another member of her immediate family or even a close friend. If you consider how generously Bacon and Van Outen score Mia’s abilities then you can appreciate how these alternative possibilities are likely to be deemed hits.
Mia also sees “a lot walking” but doesn’t provide any context. Perhaps Wendy is a postwoman, or has been delivering leaflets. Perhaps she goes hill walking or on protest marches, or just doing a lot of shopping, in fact the possibilities are almost endless. But the really interesting thing is she starts to say “If you haven’t done it…” and is poised to say 'then you will do' but realises that this is supposed to be about the past and/or present and thus has to change back to, “… you should have done the walking.”
“I’ve also got a picture of a bird like a gold bird and I don’t know where that comes in. A bizarre image, would it be a statue or a big picture.”
A bit vague but I guess a big picture or statute of a gold bird would fit. Nevertheless she doesn’t say who has this picture/statue or what its relevance might be. To me it just sounds like a statement that was thrown out in the hope that it might mean ‘something’. If her sister, cousin, daughter, husband or best friend have recently bought a stuffed owl or a picture of a canary I suspect this would be sufficient to impress our two hosts.
Mia’s on a roll…
“Your colours, you’ve got loads of purples & silvers so even though you’re into it you’re more likely to be involved into the healing aspects. But I do see tarot cards. I believe you’ve already got tarot cards, they’re at home, people have been playing with them. But you’re not proficient yet, you’re not doing it as I would do it. Do you understand me so far”
I’m not sure how many purples and silvers there are but no matter. We already know that Wendy is a believer and that she has previously been to a psychic so most of this stands a pretty good chance of striking home. It’s obviously a shame Wendy hasn’t achieved Mia’s high level of proficiency. Still after a few more years of intense training, who knows.
Wendy agrees that she can understand Mia…
“I also believe that your confidence is rebuilding. Your life it seems was torn apart and you’re gradually bringing it back together again, and step by step you’re bringing yourself back up. It’s an immense journey you’ve been on, of some kind, but it’s an emotional journey, but it’s an emotional one. Your confidence was stripped from you by somebody else and now it’s coming back so well done. Very proud.”
Lives can be torn apart for many reasons and wisely Mia doesn’t try to guess the actual cause. How far back this refers to we are not told and just how far Wendy is in the process of rebuilding her shattered life is similarly left unrevealed. What about the journey Was it an actual physical journey that proved emotional (like a holiday romance) or just a mental event Either will fit nicely. Another undisclosed fact is just who this ‘somebody’ was who stripped Wendy of her confidence. It could be her husband, boyfriend, sibling, child, boss or, you never know, even a psychic.
It’s now judging time and Van Outen wants to know about the bird statute/picture.
DVO: “What’s the connection with the bird, first of all”
So no, “big picture” or, “statue” then And is “orangey” synonymous with gold What colour is an orange would you say You see this is where flexibility of interpretation really helps. From this point on no one mentions pictures or statues, they are simply forgotten.
Needless to say Richard Bacon is impressed and even Dr Lewis says it’s “very interesting”.
Van Outen continues her questioning: “Also the ring coming off. Does this sound right A break in a relationship”
Actually Mia said it was a “change” of relationship, not a “break”.
Wendy reveals the amazing truth: “When I had the first interview six weeks ago my husband and I were separated at the time. Happily we’re back together now.”
Just to clarify Bacon asks, “Mia was that what you were getting at”
Mia: “Yeah, that’s past, you told me to go past.”
Past up to the present was what was actually specified and if we check back Mia said, “at the moment you’re on your own…” I’d say that was wrong wouldn’t you And as already mentioned the ring coming off referred to a, “change of relationship” and I find it a little curious that Denise Van Outen altered this to the more accurate “break of relationship”. Did she perhaps know something of Wendy’s circumstances
Bacon sums up the performance so far by suggesting it is “irrefutable evidence”. Dr Lewis correctly points out that it isn’t irrefutable but he does concede that it’s “interesting” and to be honest a lot of readings, at first glance, can appear quite convincing and it isn’t until you examine what has been said in some detail that the reading begins to look far less “interesting”.
Dr Lewis asks Wendy if she was wearing her wedding ring at the earlier interview and she said that she had. No clues there then, but let’s remember Mia did not say who the owner of the ring actually was. Yes the implication was that it was Wendy’s but it is this very lack of precision that enables the cold reader to increase the odds of a hit. If her daughter was going through a divorce or breaking off an engagement then there is little doubt that this too would be credited as a hit.
Wendy was then asked about the walking and wouldn’t you know it but she’s just bought a stepping machine. This demonstrates quite nicely the above point and shows the extent of the wiggle room obtained by the careful use of language.
Richard Bacon points out this isn’t exactly walking (good point Richard - credit where credit’s due) but Mia refers back to the aching muscles comment to help it fit.
Then there’s the supremely vague 'rebuilding of confidence' line and Wendy acknowledges that Mia is correct having been, “through a very low patch”. Regarding the anonymous “somebody” who stands accused of stripping Wendy of her confidence no comment is made. Similarly we never find out about the tarot cards, her healing powers or the emotional journey. All in all I don’t think we need to re-write any science books just yet.
Finally we come to Mia’s predictions that were sealed in an envelope six weeks earlier. This was to contain things that would happen in the coming weeks leading up to today’s show. Reviewing what Wendy has said so far I would suggest the most noteworthy thing is that she and her husband have got back together. Perhaps this will be one of Mia’s predictions Care to place a bet
The predictions are revealed as follows (as read by Richard Bacon).
Wendy has strong psychic ability. She could do my (Mia’s) job.
Not much of a prediction in my view, unless Mia is claiming that these powers have manifested themselves in the last six weeks. Let’s also bear in mind that Mia is claiming that Wendy has psychic abilities which, as we know, are unproven anyway. Perhaps Wendy can be subjected to another rigorous “This Morning” test just like Mia.
If I might once again be permitted to quote from Before You See a Psychic,
“Another favourite is, "You're a very spiritual person yourself, quite psychic in many ways. You should try to develop your powers. You're certainly a very caring person. You could be a healer."
Modesty prevents me from making further comment.
Wendy must watch her diet, she has a sensitive stomach and a stiff jaw, perhaps clenching her jaw whilst asleep.
Again not much as predictions go but Wendy acknowledges she has irritable bowel syndrome (a bowel not being a stomach but hey it’s nearby) and wakes up with an aching jaw. It’s obviously been an eventful six weeks.
You’ve got legal problems, a lot of red tape. Thankfully Mia also predicts it will all be okay.
Vague talk of ‘legal problems’ could be anything from being arrested for bank robbery to getting a parking ticket. As it is Wendy is apparently having a problem with deeds on the house and is dealing with the local council. It’s not clear when this started or how large this has figured in the preceding six weeks.
Wendy will be writing about a subject she knows well and there is lots of talk about her going to America.
Wendy is impressed as she has previously been to America and is desperate to go back. The writing thing is simply forgotten and anyway Wendy has already been to the U.S. True she has aspirations to return but how exactly does this apply to a prediction I feel safe in assuming she hasn’t just been and she’s probably thought about returning from time to time ever since she got back, but I doubt that it has played a significant role in her life since her previous meeting with Mia.
But now we come to the final staggering prediction. Unfortunately nothing about her husband as we expected but….
Wendy has a watch which regularly stops working on her and she has a lot of friends but she stands alone.
Staggeringly Wendy reveals that her watch stopped only yesterday.
I know I suggested you switch off or switch over but if you want to, you can see Mia making further overwhelmingly trivial predictions next Monday (usually around 11:30 - 12 noon) on ITV.
If you've read this far have a look at freethunk which I admit I discovered during a regular visit to Number 80.
ITV's 'This Morning' with Mia Dolan
According to her own website Mia Dolan is, “one of the most sought-after psychics in the UK” Really Well we had better get her on tele then!
Over the years I’ve watched some pretty dire television but I think I’d be hard pressed to find anything to compete with the incredible bias shown of ITV’s 'This Morning'. The usual hosts Fern Britton and Philip Schofield are taking a break and stewardship of the programme has been handed over to Richard Bacon and Denise Van Outen.
It seems for the last couple of weeks they have been testing Mia Dolan who, to use her own words, is “taking part in an experiment to prove that I am psychic.”
Having watched the programme and seen Mia demonstrating her abilities my own assessment, based on the show, is that if she’s psychic then the Pope’s Jewish. However the hosts Richard and Denise seem to have an entirely different perspective. Both were mightily impressed with Mia’s perceptive insights.
On the show Richard Bacon said they were, “… putting Mia’s psychic powers to the test.” Already I’m going to allow myself to make a small pedantic point because this sentence seems to illustrate the true intention behind the ‘test’; surely its purpose is to establish if she has psychic powers whereas Bacon’s phrase seems to assume they already exist and that they are merely trying to find out how good they are.
The viewer is first treated to a recap where we see Mia’s “extraordinary power” from the previous two weeks. Mia is in the studio along with Bacon, Van Outen and the token sceptic psychologist Dr David Lewis.
A woman (Emily) is shown on a screen and Mia is giving her a reading.
Mia Dolan: “…aura colours are so sensitive, light blues, we’ve got green, we’ve got pinks…”
Hang on a minute! Why does no one ask how come she can see this woman’s ‘aura’ via a television screen This is surely a revelation worth exploring. It’s hard enough to swallow that she can see this non-existent aura in real life but via a camera Please!
But let’s let Mia continue….
“… and this means that in her childhood she had to feel she would always do that bit more, you know, she will always do 110%. She always feels she’s got to prove more than other people…. So emotionally you’re going to be feeling a little bit weird at the moment. Things are changing at the moment.”
Van Outen kindly elaborates: “So possibly quite sensitive.”
Richard Bacon: “So what do you make of that”
Emily: “Yeah, that’s very true.”
What exactly is true and why, we are not told but to summarise, Emily has been told that she feels the need to prove herself and she’s feeling a little bit weird at the moment. Golly what insight.
Still more recapping…
Mia: “To do with your education, your career it’s going to be a mixture between either media type like work…. Media, go in front of people. I’m also getting a lot of music in the background as if music’s a big part of your life.”
Notice the usual ambiguity. What does “media type” work and “go in front of people” mean Bear in mind that this woman is very attractive (I have my wife’s permission to say so) and she’s on television. So if she reads the local news, it’s a hit. If she is in amateur dramatics, it’s a hit. If she’s a bingo caller, it’s a hit. If she plays the cello in a local string quartet that’s probably a hit too. But here’s Emily’s response.
Emily: “I’m not involved with either music or media although I used to play the piano.”
A new clip, this time to a woman called Wendy.
Mia: “I see loads of moving boxes, moving stuff around like it’s all a bit chaotic. So have you been clearing something out this weekend"
Possible things that might fit;
I’m sure you can think of many more. But here comes the wonderful reply...
Already I like Wendy.
Mia continues: “I’m seeing glasses going on so should imagine they’re for reading glasses, because she hasn’t got them on now. She’s not wearing them all the time. But I’m definitely getting glasses put on.”
Definitely eh There still a certain amount of equivocation in the phrase, “I’m seeing glasses going on…” but no matter.
Van Outen helps increase the chances of a hit with, “Do you wear glasses or contact lenses” Who mentioned contact lenses
However good old Wendy replies, “No I’ve got excellent eyesight.”
Undaunted Mia produces still more, “Should have been to the dentist in the last few weeks. I’m afraid the back of the mouth , right at the back on the right hand side. If you’ve not had a filling done recently that’s coming up.”
Wendy: “Well I’m aware that I do need one filling but it’s not on the left hand side.”
Mia: “I said the right.”
Wendy: “Sorry it’s not the right hand side it’s on the left hand side.”
DVO: “So does any of this sound right to you Wendy"
Wendy: “I believe I probably opened my mouth a little too wide and she saw a hole.”
Now Wendy has been straightforward with her replies and acknowledged that the tooth comment was nearly right and Mia has done pretty poorly by any standards. Firstly Mia was wrong about the “moving boxes” then, despite being definite, she was wrong about the glasses. Finally she mentions a back tooth (how many front teeth are ever filled) but gets the wrong side (no mention was made whether this was a top or bottom tooth). And what’s Denise Van Outen’s response
DVO: “Cynical, cynical, cynical Wendy, ‘oo cynical.”
So if Mia’s right it proves she’s psychic and if she’s wrong it proves the sitter is cynical.
Back to the present we are live in the studio ready for today’s test
RB: “I think, to be honest, I think Wendy was being a bit unfair there.”
DVO: “I think she was being very unfair.”
Wendy gets promotion from “cynic” to “unfair”. For what it’s worth Richard and Denise I think, “to be honest”, you’re talking out of your arses. Wendy replied honestly and was perfectly clear. Mia just screwed up.
RB. (To psychologist Dr David Lewis): “David here, who is our cynic. I mean she predicted the hole filling. How about that then”
No she didn’t, she guessed and then it was only partly correct. All her other statements were just plain wrong but, as becomes apparent, Bacon delights in misquoting.
DL: “No I think if you throw enough rocks at the barn you’ll hit the barn eventually.”
RB: “Oh come on that’s unfair.”
David Lewis has now been labelled with the familiar Bacon/Van Outen terms for those daring to cast doubt on the wondrous Mia, “cynic” and “unfair”. But as ever Bacon is wrong and Dr Lewis is being entirely accurate, which on this programme makes him somewhat unique.
DL: “Let me be absolutely clear, I would love Mia to prove her psychic powers. I would love it because if would be a fantastic advance for science. I don’t think she will and I can think of a lot of reasons why she’s not going to, but let’s see.”
Well said, and let me add that Dr Lewis remained a perfect gentlemen throughout which, considering the provocation, was no mean feat.
The next subject is another woman, Gerry from Redhill in Surrey, (why are they all women) who will be given this week’s reading from Mia.
Mia begins by once again performing the miracle of reading an aura from a TV screen. She notices various colours, pinks, little bits of grey, silver, and blue. Here’s Mia’s translation of what this means;
Grey: “…is actually depression but apparently the depression is moving away now. You’ve had a down time.”
You’ll notice that vagueness of the time frame here but there’s also ambiguity with the term ‘depression’. Is this clinical depression or just feeling a bit depressed like I was watching this programme
Pink: “…is just anxiety. There’s lots of things going on. It could simply be because you’re on tele this morning.”
Vague once again, especially, “lots of things going on”. It could be she’s on television or in fact anything in the world. Is this what we can expect from, “one of the most sought-after psychics in the UK”
Blue: “The main colour is blue. And blue is the people person. It’s a dark blue and this means that you’ll be involved in helping people. Your life will be a mission to do with people. You’re very warm, you’re everyone’s agony aunt.”
If you didn’t see the programme (lucky you) you won’t know what Gerry looks like but she is clearly a very cheerful woman with a bright smile. I’d put her age (apologies Gerry if this is wrong) at around mid forties. She was very warm and charming so this isn’t exactly very revealing information.
Silver: “…and the little bits of silver, even though you’re actually cynical (she mentioned she was “open-minded but sceptical” earlier) or shall we say on the fence here. The silver means you have great intuition and gut instinct so even though you maybe not believe in psychics, you often say, ‘Yeah I had a feeling about that’ or ‘I don’t trust that person very much’ or ‘I trust this person’ and you’ll take your first impressions and go with it. But it’s much better the terminology we use when we say gut instinct that’s acceptable. If we say psychic perception that’s not. So I think the language you use makes you feel more comfortable with it. But you do have great intuition.”
Modesty forbids but to quote from my own Before You See a Psychic,
“Another favourite is, 'You're a very spiritual person yourself, quite psychic in many ways. You should try to develop your powers. You're certainly a very caring person.'"
Isn’t that more or less what she just said Apart from being pretty obvious and not very enlightening anyway, when stripped to its bare bones it’s little more than a blatant attempt at flattery.
Bacon steps in to see if the testing procedure has revealed Gerry to be a cynic.
RB (to Gerry): “Have you had a bit of depression that’s now passed”
Gerry: “No I’m not a depressed person. I’ve got a sunny personality. I wouldn’t… I mean almost everybody goes through some periods of their life, but if you’re talking way back… then.. then obviously a downtime but I’ve never suffered from depression really.”
Van Outen sees a chink of light and descends further into farce, “So going back a few years ago you had a time when you felt quite low is that right”
So let’s just see where we are now. We want to know if Gerry has ever felt a “quite low” at anytime in her entire life. It beggars belief.
Gerry: “Well I had a tragic incident but I’m talking many years ago.”
Mia: “I said the grey was on the edges and it’s a very heavy situation, that’s very depressing, that’s gone away. And you’re normal, you’re very people person. You’re very bubbly.”
Not exactly what she said which, to save you going back to look, was, “…actually depression but apparently the depression is moving away now. You’ve had a down time.”
No “heavy situations” and certainly not “very depressing”.
Bacon sees his chance to totally misrepresent what has happened by saying, “Look at that… look unbelievable…unbelievable.”
Actually I take that back. I agree, it really is unbelievable.
David Lewis: “Most people go through bad periods of their life we all… it’s a human condition. We all have bad periods.”
Bacon swats away any attempts to be rational with a dismissive and very impolite, “Now shut that… Gerry did anything else tally (anything else) Mia talked about anxiety, did she get anything right there”
Gerry: “No, never.”
RB: “Not a single thing”
Gerry: “No I don’t ever remember feeling anxiety no."
Mia: “So you’re not very good with people. You don’t help people with their problems” Do I sense annoyance
Gerry: “Um, yes I try to, don’t we all”
There’s that small light at the end of a very black tunnel again. Van Outen to the rescue, “So would you say you are a bit of an agony aunt A shoulder to cry on for friends”
RB: “Right, that sounds to me like Mia got something right there Gerry.”
Mia: “You’re not feeling anxious about appearing this morning on tele”
Even Richard Bacon can’t quite swallow this one and points out it wouldn’t be a very good prediction. Careful Richard or Denise will start calling you a cynic.
Gerry then jokes that she was anxious about getting there because she was stuck on the M25.
Once again displaying his finely honed skills of misinterpretation Bacon proudly exclaims, “That’s what she was on about, she was predicting a traffic condition.”
DVO (To David Lewis): “David what do you make of that then”
A pile of crap Sorry David over to you.
DL: “I don’t know what to make of it. It would apply to 90% of the human race.”
An excellent answer that concisely points out the ambiguity and the sheer emptiness of Mia Dolan’s pathetic attempts at cold reading – although David Lewis puts it much more charmingly than I.
This is quickly dismissed by Bacon who continues his obscurantism by reinterpreting Mia’s waffle into a prediction about a traffic jam on the M25. The good doctor’s remarks are brushed aside with a feeble joke.
Finally Richard Bacon yet again ignores the evidence of his own eyes and ears in order to portray Mia’s pitiful performance as something vaguely significant. Dr Lewis’s professional opinion is left to whither on the vine whilst Mia’s constant failed attempts to guess something, anything, correctly are elevated in Bacon’s estimate to 50%. Bacon unbelievably says, “Gerry, I think, let’s be honest here she got about 50/50 right so far this morning.”
Gerry responds with a beautiful piece of ambiguity of her own by saying, “That sounds fair doesn’t it.” It might sound it but it isn’t.
There is still more to this but I think the point has been adequately made and I can’t bear to sit through yet more of it.
This programme was an insult to Dr Lewis, to science generally and to its viewers in particular. It seems ITV assume that all they are interested in is mindless pap like this.
All I can suggest is that you switch off or switch over.