January 27, 2007

No News is Typical

Here's a definition of a logical fallacy:

"No True Scotsman": When someone is described as not being a "real" member of a social grouping by someone in that grouping because of a perceived weakness. In the example from Anthony Flew's book "Thinking About Thinking":
Argument: "No Scotsman puts sugar on his porridge."
Reply: "But my uncle Angus likes sugar with his porridge."
Rebuttal: "Ah yes, but no true Scotsman puts sugar on his porridge."
What brings this to mind is the latest defence of proclaimed psychic Sylvia Browne, this time by another proclaimed psychic Rosemary Altea on Larry King Live (transcript in the second half). Sylvia had predicted the discovery of the body of a family's kidnapped child in 2003. Said child (Shawn Hornbeck) recently showed up, and very much alive. But this is after they had spent a tremendous amount of time and money searching areas that matched the descriptions that were doled out by her.

So how does someone explain this mistaken declaration away? Well, according to Sylvia herself,

"I cannot possibly be 100% correct in each and every one of my predictions".

As for Rosemary, she gets a dig in at Browne's expense by declaring her No True Psychic:

"Most of us in fact have some psychic ability, we have some instinct, some understanding of a connection beyond this world. But so many people now are so irresponsible with this gift. [...] Basically what I'm saying is people do make mistakes."

Good enough cover? She's either just occasionally wrong (quoth Sylvia) or she's inept (Rosemary says). That's got the bases covered, right? Not in this case, I think.

There are reasons why I don't think a shug of the shoulders and "oops!" is acceptable or excusable: First off, Browne continually claims she is given knowledge that non-psychics do not have. She says this ability comes from God or from spirit guides (almost invariably related to the questioner) so unless God is frequently wrong, or people get weird senses of humour when they die...

She also doles out medical advice, describing prescriptions and amounts; so I hope she thinks she's right those times! Plus, she regualrly petitions God to assign angels to her customers, and God does. These are not the acts of someone who lacks confidence in their abilities.

But then, as Ms. Altea notes:

"[...]we all know also that there are in every profession, there are people who state that they are much more qualified than in fact they are. We get a quack doctor. That doesn't mean that the whole medical profession should be condemned for one quack doctor."

Of course, she doesn't bother to mention that there are a plethora of ways to verify whether a doctor is legitimate or not. Plus, if they get it wrong, they can be punished for it. As anyone who's tried to sue a psychic has found out, the onus is entirely on them to prove the psychic misled them. Frankly, the odds aren't good, because you have to convince people you are both 1) stupid enough to go to a psychic for advice; and 2) smart enough to realise you've been duped.

Secondly, this happens over and over again: when a psychic is "right", it's in the most trivial of ways, such as hair colour of the kidnapper, or a body being dumped "beside a road"; and when they're wrong, well, engineering terminology puts it best. So no, I don't think "Oh, your kid's alive? Oops" is a reasonable response.

Occasionally I hear the argument of "What's the harm?" If someone wants to piss their money away to make themselves feel less guilty, what's wrong with that? Well, let me put it this way: if you have no problem with psychics duping people out of their cash (not even going to bother with the whole "health advice" idiocy), then you clearly have no concerns about this man, either. After all, the people Salim Damji defrauded didn't do any research into his claims, and it made them feel better to think they were getting something for their cash. His (and others like him) mistake was that he could be found out - if he stuck to the metaphysical, there'd have been no problems with lawsuits at all.

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posted by Thursday at 4:57 pm

2 Comments:

Blogger Alida139 said...

It is one thing to say it is ok for people to waste THEIR money on the readings of mediums etc. But for what ever reason, police authorities feel the need to check out some of her leads / claims at great public expense. Wasting police man hours and money seems to be robbing my pocket.
I am not faulting the police - they have an obligation to follow any lead... I guess I wonder how they determine which leads have some credibility and which have none. They do admit they have crank callers. If I claimed to have witnessed a crime committed by a 3 foot green frog, I doubt they would send anyone to investigate. So why, especially given the records of most mediums, do police not put them in the crank pole? It is a puzzlement.

9:40 am  
Blogger Thursday said...

Alida139 -

I agree and disagree with you on this. I agree that the police should be ignoring psychics (at best) or actively charging them with mischief. I do know that people who call in fake reports and tips (in a scattershot way, hoping to get some reward money) can get charged, so why not these clowns?

I disagree with the thought that it's okay for people to spend their money on psychics, then on private investigators and the like to follow those leads the psychics give them. More to the point, it's wrong to take money from these people.

In hiring a psychic, they not only lend credence to that person while losing their money, they are giving the con artist the ambiguously legal defence of "Well, they asked! And here's the recipt to prove it!"

4:41 pm  

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