Bickering skeptics, give me a break!

Is Sally Morgan a fraud? I don’t know. Neither do you. There seems to be an almost smug undercurrent on Twitter and Facebook at the moment, with people continually pointing out that none of us can prove that Sally Morgan is a fraud and until we can we shouldn’t suggest so.

Although it is true that calling her a fraud or charlatan is wrong (as we can’t prove that) it doesn’t really actually DO anything to keep telling people they can’t call her that. Over and over. Yes, it is wrong to call her a fraud unless evidence emerges that shows otherwise, after all, all we currently know is that she was accused by audience members of cheating and being fed information by a crew member and passing it off a psychic message.

Does she do that? I don’t know. Nobody apart from those involved in the Psychic Sally Morgan crew do.

That isn’t the most important thing we, as a skeptical community- no, as consumers and part of society, could be worrying about.

What we should be focusing on is the fact that this is just one more psychic scandal in a long list of psychic scandals. We should be doing something pro-active to highlight this issue. Yes, it is important to not make accusations that are baseless, but seriously, an echo chamber effect is forming on social media where skeptics are being skeptics of other skeptics. All the while, Sally Morgan is still on tour, is taking legal action regarding the accusations, and hundreds of people are still attending her shows while turning a blind eye to the accusations.

THIS is where skeptics who give a damn should be focusing. Doesn’t this blind faith in Morgans abilities despite the public doubt show that there is something wrong that needs to be addressed? Someone like Sally can make claims for which she provides no evidence – accusations are made in public by audience members that she is cheating – and rather that knocking peoples confidence in her abilities, they carry on going to her shows and instead of talking to people while this is still news we’re bickering online?

About Hayley Stevens 448 Articles
Hayley is a ghost geek and started to blog in 2007. She uses scientific scepticism to investigate weird stuff and writes about it here while also speaking publicly about how to hunt ghosts as a skeptic.

23 Comments on Bickering skeptics, give me a break!

  1. The fact of the matter is that we do not know for sure that she was being fed information by her staff. What we do know is that it is not possible for a person to communicate with another person that is dead. Whatever method psychics use be it cold or hot reading or simply using information that may have been obtained in another way she did not speak to a dead person, so in that respect all psychics are frauds in my book.

    • I used to think that all psychics were frauds. Problem is, fraud is deliberate deception. If someone has truly convinced themselves that they are capable of something impossible (eg communicating with the dead) and they then sell this as a service, it isn’t fraud. So to show that Sally Morgan (or anyone else) is committing fraud, you’d have to catch her saying something along the lines of “yes I know it’s all tricks, I’m just doing it for the money” but I can’t see that happening.

    • No. All you need is evidence she is using pre-obtained information. Once you have that evidence, her personal statement of belief in her own abilities carries no weight.

    • All we know is that thus far, science has shown that the departed can’t communicate with us. A while ago science believed that nothing can travel faster than light, now we find the tantalizing possibility that neutrinos can. Who knows what the future may bring, I don’t know, nor do you, but one of us is honest enough to admit that they don’t know all the answers 🙂

    • Scientists accepted that according to Einstein’s theory of relativity, most matter could not reach the speed of light, and that time and space are not fixed; in all manner of practical applications, such as in GPS systems, contacting distant space probes, telecommunications, this theory yields very exact results, so on a day to day basis, it would be accurate to say that engineers and scientists ‘believe’ that the light speed limit is absolute. I have often spoken to more than one physicist who have been very open to the possibility of newer theoretical models, i.e a theory beyond Einstein’s; but that would prove neither Einstein or even Newton ‘wrong’ (Newton’s mathematical models are still really useful in many engineering problems).

      I guess what I am trying to say is that ‘scientists’ (as a group you refer to – I would say that majority of physicists) do not believe it utterly impossible that something might travel faster than the speed of light, but since the theory of relativity has been so accurate over and over again, that is very unlikely. If you are referring to the OPERA experiment at CERN, I would say it is more likely that there was some surprising error in measurement rather than neutrinos travelling faster than the speed of light in one weird instance where in countless other observations, such as emerging from distant supernova and being observed by astronomers, they behaved as close to as the theory of relativity would predict as could be measured.

      In reference to your point on the dead communicating with the living, you are correcting in asserting that there is no scientific evidence that once people have died, they can communicate with living people from some unspecified state. You are also correct in implying that there is a very, very small possibility that perhaps neutrinos been measured travelling faster than light, and that this would imply the requirement of a new paradigm in physics should the results be reasonably replicated. But in the case of the neutrinos, evidence has been presented, and the case is being debated rigorously.

      In the case of the dead communicating with the living, no credible evidence has been presented. You might ask do I know this for certain, and I would have to admit that I cannot say 100% that I am absolutely certain that there is no life after death, and I have on occasion often wondered seriously about this. But as a rational person, I have to decide how to live my life day to day on the evidence given, and try and figure out what is most likely the truth. So you can be open-minded about different possibilities while still using critical thinking to make an evaluation. Despite all the books, films and events, no-one has yet provided any actual evidence that mediums can communicate with the dead in a verifiable way, and I then choose to believe that it is unlikely for such claims to be true.

  2. Does it really matter if a “psychic” actual believes that they can communicate with the dead?

    If a psychic is open- or closed-eyed the result is still the same: they are making money from exploiting the grief from their sitter.

    It’s an interesting moral question.

    • yes it does matter. If they’re making claims while not believing they can really talk to the dead then they’re a fraud.
      If they’re making claims while actually believing they’re talking to the dead, they’re not a fraud.

      It is that simple. Really, it is.

  3. Just seen this interesting page on the BBC website “Brain ‘rejects negative thoughts”

    Could this be one of the reasons that it is very difficult to dissuade people from their views whether that be belief in psychics talking to ‘dead people’ or their insistence in irrational religious beliefs?

  4. What I can’t get my head around is what method of “communicating” with the dead is the non-fraudulent psychic using? If they are not cold reading or hot reading or pre-obtaining information (all of which in my book constitute fraud) then they are either actually hallucinating and receiving audible messages from somewhere (in this case there is no reason for the information to be in any way accurate) or they actually receive information from the dead person, which we know can not happen. You can not have it both ways.

    • Tom you’re not thinking about the bigger picture here.
      It’s possible to not realise you are cold reading, and because people make barnum statements fit them, you genuinely believe that you have an ability.

  5. It’s very easy for any skeptic/cynic to prove if any psychic is doing a Popoff, take a scanner to a show; a ticket is about a Saturday night’s beer money to some people and I am sure some skeptic/cynic somewhere would loan the equipment if they REALLY want to catch a psychic in the act!.

    The problem skeptics/cynics face regarding psychics/mediums is the belief of their followers, millions of people have died throughout the centuries because of belief, if people are, at times, willing to die for a belief how do skeptics/cynics think that they can change a believers mind with a few witticisms, cutting remarks or just treating believers as dumb asses and gullible fools?

    Every time something like this happens it just polarizes the debate further, with both ‘sides’ distrusting the other even more. The attitude of the many skeptics is that science hasn’t proved any paranormal claim, ergo all claims are not real, so it then must follow that the claimant is a charlatan, a fraudster. There seems to be no acceptance that there may, just may, be something in it, or that the psychic themselves maybe genuinely delusional and actually believe they can receive messages from the departed. I do not know the truth of any of this psychic stuff but am open minded enough that you can see day-light through my ears. I am not gullible enough to believe that someone is a cheat just because someone else says so, many skeptics seem to be of this cut unfortunately. I need evidence not opinion and many skeptics could start looking to themselves and perhaps start calling themselves cynics.

    • “The attitude of the many skeptics is that science hasn’t proved any paranormal claim, ergo all claims are not real, so it then must follow that the claimant is a charlatan, a fraudster.”

      Not at all. True, as of this moment the evidence in favour of psychic ability is so low that our only conclusion that we can draw based on this is that such phenomena doesn’t exist- however, your comment is a non sequitor.

      No one is suggesting that if the CLAIMS are untrue therefore the claiment is a fraudster. I’m of the opinion that most people who claim to have a psychic gift genuinely believe it. You’ll find that a pretty common position amongst skeptics. Sure, some might argue that as far as they are concerned all or most psychics are charlatans, but neither I, nor the poeple I work with in avrying capacities, believe that.

      I don’t think Aunt daisy can really predict the future from reading my tea leaves, but it doesn’t follow that I automatically assume she’s lying.

  6. I am sorry Hayley it is not possible that a person could not realise that they are cold reading. If they were communicating with the dead the messages would be clear and unambiguous. By throwing out names to an audience in order that someone may make a connection with one of them, followed by a series of guesses, most is which will miss the target is clearly not communication with the dead. The psychic is perfectly well aware that they are not communication with the dead, otherwise they would not have to throw out so many names or make so many innacurate guesses. They are simply exploiting the gullability of a certain section of the public that will believe anything they hear from one of these performers.

    • It’s not as ‘black or white’ as you think it is, and to think it’s that simple is actually very cynical of you.

      Here’s Orson Wells talking about a similar effect that happens to those whose intention is to mislead. It also happens the other way around. You make enough well intentioned vague statements, they’re accepted as hits and suddenly you think there’s something to it.

  7. I wasn’t aware that I was probably cold reading. I got into the whole thing by going for free spiritual healing, then being invited to a service & then an evening event, which I thought would be about history etc. but was medium training. Now I do have mental health problems & I used drugs when I was younger, plus I have mild synaesthesia so I was quite used to seeing, hearing and sensing things that aren’t there and having freaky experiences (I’m not implying that any other people who are medium/psychic have mental health problems etc. but just why I was accepting of weird stuff and how I experienced things). The hook that got me in was getting an apparent message from my nan, who was the only person who was caring when I was younger, so I bought into the idea of spiritualism as a way of connecting to a sense of love and connection. It doesn’t bear scrutiny from where I am now, but having the feelings and that need ‘proved’ to me that the medium connected to my nan. Pure emotional reasoning.

    I have a very clear visual memory (and working in the arts, envisioning things is part of what I do). So being given objects and seeing in my mind’s eye for instance an aeroplane and an Egyptian mask and then the person who’s ring it was said that they were going on holiday to Egypt. Then a specific car and a horse, again told I had that right and I was describing someone’s possessions or being told that I’d correctly identified an internal physical ailment or described a dead relative – all this would be received with vigorous head nodding and positive feedback. Lots of positive feedback, so I thought I must be doing something, and doing it right. There’s a general inclination to ‘be positive’ as warm, happy and light feelings are supposed to have a vibration that allows spirits to communicate, so believers would accept everything and just see mistakes as some kind of glitch that you ignore. Glitches had all sorts of explanations of us not being able to communicate quite right, and discounted.

    So I ended up being baffled that I was so amazingly spot on all the time, but when anyone did a reading for me, they’d get a bit right but lots wrong. My family are scattered over the world and generally not talking to each other, so I didn’t have a large cast of characters to draw from. Three guys in my school died on motorbikes, but I wasn’t close to any of them. I would keep getting wrong readings about them. And when a visiting medium singled me out as having someone who died in a motorbike accident wanting to speak to me and came out with stuff that was wrong, it seemed as though a resident person had spoken to them, due to how they acted on the platform. It was agreed that somehow I was difficult to read for. And when you trained, then it was the members of the church who ran the meetings and you all practised on each other. So any information you shared would be known by everyone and circulated, which would increase the likelihood of getting correct hits in services and meetings. So the whole system of positive bias would continually reinforce the perception and agreed shared meaning of what was happening.

    I thought some people I met were players, going after power in a usual group dynamic way and one person I thought was an outright liar. A few people with mental health problems attended and some drifted through. Most people seemed to be nice, regular people who genuinely believe. They wanted to believe that they’re connected by love to people who had died and so accepted everything that went along with it. The constant positive reinforcement and emotional and social needs being met by belonging to a group and framing experiences in the accepted ways, I believe, is more than enough for people to genuinely interpret their experiences as spiritual.

  8. “…I had a lovely chat with your John in the foyer before the show, which was really nice. I cant wait to come and see you again and fingers crossed next time I might be lucky enough to have a message, xx”

    Comment from Sallys message board .

    Possible circumstantial indication of opportunity for Hot reading along with Sallys comments re the Guardian story claiming that a theory was…
    “that staff from the theatre was going around the audience digging for information. To think that everyone at the theatre’s I perform in is involved in a big conspiracy is ludicrous.” Is she being disengenuous ? building a straw man argument re sceptical queries of the source of her insights ?

    • Yes, this might be a bit of a strawman argument. She wouldn’t need to have people collecting info from the audience – many people will have paid to have private one-to-one’s with her, some fans will always turn up to her show when she’s in the area and some will travel where ever she goes. I know Colin Fry has a ‘pay a bit extra’ and you can chat and have drinks before the show, so there are lots of opportunities to cold read and to start a dialogue where people will pour their heart out about their loved ones. You’d only have to do a couple of readings with people whom you know well to impress an audience.

  9. I’ve just visited ‘Psychic’ Sally’s page ( and read the following:-

    “……As hard as it may seem I know how frustrated people get when they know that a message was meant for them but they were too shy or scared to claim it. Just last night at my show in the Churchill Theatre in Bromley I had a message from a boy aged 20 in spirit, his name was Darren and I could see that sadly he took his own life. There was a connection to a red car, I could see him looking at the bonnet of a red car and it was as though he touched the car before he jumped. At my signing a gentleman came up to me and claimed the message, he said that everything I had said on stage was true. It means so much to know that the message was not wasted but it is impossible for me to reconnect the message when there are a queue of people waiting to talk to me. …”

    Well as hard as it may seem, Sally Morgan, if I were performing your act in a theatre in Bromley I would put “suicide Bromley” into Google to see what came up. And guess what does come up not far from the list? A very useful link to one Darren Sutherland, a boxer, who committed suicide in September 2009. It doesn’t take much imagination to believe someone, family or friend, would be in the audience hoping for a “contact”.

    “…..I also notice on the same Google page …..Sonya Wandon, from Orpington, had recently been discharged from a psychiatric unit, but on February 21 she rang for an ambulance to take her to The Princess Royal University Hospital in Farnborough. The 35-year-old was in a cubicle waiting for the psychiatric assessment team to arrive when she took her own life…..” I would like to know if a message was given out such as “anyone know a Sonya who is now in spirit?”

    I also found potentially useful information by pasting “suicide Watford”, “suicide Poole” and “suicide Wimbledon” into Google locations where Sally Morgan has recently performed . Search engines are a boon to ‘Psychic’ performers; I could almost do Sally’s act for her if she would like another holiday!

    Sorry Sally Morgan I don’t believe you’re anything special ….. but of course you already know that! 😉

  10. While reading Michael Shermer’s The Believing Brain, he pointed out some work done by Sue Blackmore on the difference in the perception of patterns between skeptics & people who believed in parapsychology which he also overlapped with people who are brilliant but believe some kooky things and people with mental health problems. Skeptics don’t see patterns in images of meaningless noise. Some of us unfortunately see patterns everywhere (which is why I mentioned my mental health and working in the arts, creating something out of nothing being part of that job). It also cast light, for me, on something I’ve experienced in mental health. Sometimes clients, particularly with BPD and schizophrenia can have an uncanny knack of ‘mind reading’ therapists (it is discussed but I don’t know if it’s researched) essentially cold reading to an amazing degree. I had wondered why people could have that knack and yet be unable to function or perceive areas of shared reality socially. Patternicity explains that too, with reasons in neurophysiology, mainly you see patterns everywhere and occasionally you’d be right in a spectacular way.

    While I still think that interest, kindness and respect are the best way to move forward with a dialogue with people who believe para-psychological things, I get now that some skeptics will literally not be able to conceive how the world appears to people who see patterns everywhere. And that they could only imagine cold reading being done with conscious intent – that’s what they would have to do to be able to do it. I can’t conceive of a world with my pattern making equipment switched off. I really wish I could.

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