In the current issue (Spring 2011) of the newsletter of the Center for Skeptical Inquiry (CSI), Skeptical Briefs, skeptical investigator Benjamin Radford reviews the results of fake psychic predictions he made at the beginning of 2010 to rate them for accuracy. These predictions, made without any claim to psychic power, were intended to show that so-called psychics offer no special insight into the future since their success rate is often much lower than Radford’s own un-supernatural guesses. Unfortunately, Radford engages in some of the same post-hoc justification to twist his own guesses into “hits.”
I am obviously not intended to bash Radford, but in the interest of truth, it’s important to set the facts straight and point out two places where Radford, either through carelessness or wishful thinking, has twisted the truth to fit his predictions.
Radford’s first prediction for which he claimed an accurate hit was that a “senior official in the Obama administration will come under fire for sexist or racist comments but will remain in office.” Radford claimed a hit because “Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid came under fire for racist statements he made.” This is not “RIGHT” as Radford claims since, as a member of Congress, Harry Reid is not a member of the Obama administration, which refers only to the executive branch. Subtly conflating the executive branch with the government as a whole is the kind of twist of truth fake psychics use to claim fake hits.
Radford claims in predication number 10 that “a group or cluster of suicides […] in the American Midwest will leave about a dozen people dead…” He claims a partial hit because “three Pennsylvania teenagers” had a group suicide, noting that the predicted number of victims but not the attempt itself was incorrect. Here Radford is again misstating his accuracy. Pennsylvania is not in the Midwest. Pennsylvania is considered a northeastern state, or a mid-Atlantic state, but not a Midwestern state.
I don’t believe for a minute that Benjamin Radford purposely twisted these predictions. They seem to be the result of simple mistakes or carelessness. Nevertheless, Radford unconsciously reproduced the same faulty logic and twisted truths that professional “psychics” routinely use to make their wild guesses seem far more accurate than objective evaluation would indicate.
4/16/2011 05:16:24 pm
You're quite right about some of the weaselly predictions, those were indeed intentional. I wrote them as an instructional aid, for when I'm giving a public talk so I can show people why so many predictions come true: ("Hey, this seems superficially impressive.... but let's take a closer look at how I did it...")-- and how using retrofitting and weasel words can create impressive accuracy with some mental gymnastics. Then I show a set of predictions by a "real" psychic, and they see the same techniques there.
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