Monday, June 18, 2012

Christine Eldridge: Beware psychics' assertions

On June 11, 2011, the Providence Journal ran a very credulous piece on a Psychic Fair in East Providence put on by the First Spiritualist Church of Rhode Island. In response, Christine Eldridge wrote the following letter to the editor:
The very credulous reporting of the local psychic fair, "Good Vibrations:Meeting of the minds at psychic fair" (June 11, news), is irresponsible, potentially dangerous and a disservice to your readers.

There is no scientific evidence of the existence of psychic ability. While it may seem as if the "reader" has uncanny knowledge, it is actually a technique called "cold reading''. Additionally, there is confirmation bias: People tend to remember the "hits" and forget the "misses," especially if they go into a reading wanting to believe.

Far from being lighthearted fun, as the mood of the article suggests, belief in psychics can be very harmful. Psychic scam artists deliberately take advantage of people mourning the loss of a loved one, offering false hope, often at great cost. People have suffered devastating financial losses, and even neglected seeking real medical treatment, resulting in grave illness or death, on the advice of psychics.

Please use critical thinking when reporting on extraordinary claims.

Christine Eldridge
East Providence 
The writer is vice president of Humanists of Rhode Island.
Among the replies to Christine's letter (which only appeared in the online version of the Providence Journal, as nearly as I can tell) was this one from Nathan Horodysky, Secretary of the First Spiritualist Church of Rhode Island:
Hi Christine,

Critical thinking is indeed important which is why before writing this article the reporter attended the event and wrote about the atmosphere he experienced. I would invite you to do the same. Since opening our Spiritualist Church a year ago we have had many people come through the doors and had their lives changed for the better. Did you know that everyone is actually psychic and can connect with the other side if they are open and unafraid? I would love to have you come and attend our church so that we can help you to do the same. I applaud that the Humanists support religious freedom, it is so important to allow everyone to find their own spiritual path. It is also important that in supporting the First Amendment that we do not belittle other people's beliefs. Therefore before attacking the Journal for posting an article I ask you to do your own research and please come down and check out our church. Introduce yourself and we will see that you get a chance to experience a reading for yourself. We welcome you and your beliefs with open arms.

Nathan Horodysky
Secretary, First Spiritualist Church of Rhode Island
I bolded two lines from Nathan's response because I thought they deserved special attention. Both of the lines selected make the kind of extraordinary claims Christine warned about in her letter. I would like to point out that Christine never belittled any person's beliefs. She merely pointed out the lack of evidence supporting psychic powers, and pointed out the many ways in which people have been injured because of their willingness to accept the claims of psychics.

Looking at the website of the First Spiritualist Church of Rhode Island was a little worrying. Christine, in her letter, wrote, "People have... neglected seeking real medical treatment, resulting in grave illness or death, on the advice of psychics." Looking at the site, I see advertised, for donations of $7 or $10, a twice monthly "Holistic Cancer Circle" and a monthly "Evening of Healing." I can only hope the church is not helping people neglect real treatment in favor of feelgood mumbo-jumbo.


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