*edit* My initial concerns over Sally Morgan not being given the chance to ‘design’ the test she was being asked to undertake have been addressed by Professor Chris French who has pointed out that although media coverage of the challenge didn’t lay emphasis on it, the test is adaptable with her input.
I apologise for being incorrect at the time of blogging. I still do no believe that such a challenge and the publicity that surrounds it is the best way to enable educational outreach, but I am glad that Chris could answer my other concerns. Sally Morgan is currently getting a lot of attention, and I cannot help but feel it is the wrong sort of attention – the sort of attention that is giving people the wrong message about skepticism. The Merseyside Skeptics, Simon Singh, Chris French and the JREF have all issued Sally Morgan with a challenge that will take place on October 31st, Halloween, in Liverpool which is where Sally will be for one of her shows.
The challenge was issued to Sally at a time when there have been mentions of legal action being taken by people acting on behalf of her – when she is the least likely to respond to any criticism, and soldier on with her claims and shows.
In all reality it is at a time like this, when doubt has been cast on her abilities and honesty (something I hold no facts on, just personal opinion) that people wanting to promote critical thinking should be engaging with those attending the psychic stage shows. A look around online will show that some Sally Morgan fans are starting to doubt her abilities – there has been discussion on various Sally Morgan facebook groups that her shows have lots of empty seats, and people who are attending the shows are suddenly aware of the lack of hits Sally is making, with some fans describing her performances as poor or disappointing.
It is these people that skeptics can reach by engaging with them, which is what I created Project Barnum for – to help people not only find the information they’re looking for (about cold reading etc.) but also to provide resources for people to use to engage with others.
Unfortunately, Project Barnum isn’t headline grabbing stuff because it takes time and effort and isn’t overly showy. It’s just information waiting to be passed on – but let’s not forget it is information that makes the differences.
A publicity stunt in which a challenge is issued only reaches those who already have their minds made up one way or another – those who do not believe Sally Morgan is psychic will be in support of the challenge and use it as an “I told you so” tool, much like all of the other psychic challenges that have been issued in the past, especially where the psychics have failed. Those who believe in psychic ability will see it as another way “closed minded skeptics” are attacking psychics.
Sally will not be attending the challenge – we know that already – so it serves no real useful purpose other than to demonstrate, once again, that a psychic such as Morgan isn’t willing to talk to skeptics. We know that already, as she has often stated that she doesn’t have to prove anything to anyone who doubts her.
Not only this, but why would Sally Morgan take part in a challenge devised by people who haven’t spoken to her about her abilities and have only built up a picture of what she claims to be able to do from her website and television shows?
I know from experience that there is a lot more to the story when it comes to people who think they are psychic. It isn’t just a case of being able to talk to the dead, or being able to locate missing people, or being able to get messages from objects by holding them. Without actually talking to somebody about their claimed abilities, you can’t claim to know how to go about testing their abilities.
Patricia Putt, for example, was tested by the JREF (and failed) but detailed to Righteous Indignation in an interview how she had agreed to the test conditions in advance with those who were testing her. I think that by creating a test or challenge before even speaking to Morgan was the biggest mistake those involved in the Halloween challenge could have made, because it gave Morgan the perfect reason to not agree to the test.
Does Sally Morgan claim to be able to predict the names of seven out of ten deceased people by looking at their photos? I know she does some photo readings during her shows, but as someone who has watched her televisions shows as they’ve aired I don’t even know how many photos she reads from in one go. Do you?
Do not get me wrong – it is good and important to direct as much attention to potential psychic cheats as is possible, but at the same time we have to remember that it isn’t just the potential cheats who are gaining attention, it is also those generating that critical attention – and if not done correctly, then we all look like idiots and reinforce the stereotypes that surround skeptics.
I have a full list of numerous big name psychics, where they’ll be touring and when. I would implore any skeptical groups or organisations to get in touch because by talking to just a few people attending a psychic show about how they can work out for themselves if they’re being misled or not, you can make a difference.
I personally don’t care if Sally Morgan does or does not agree to be tested, what I care about is the person paying to go to a show without knowing how to spot a cheat. I honestly believe this is where the biggest difference can be made.
By arming people with information we’re not forcing our beliefs or opinions on others, but simply enabling them to think for themselves and if that’s the least we can do, then that’s marvelous.