Life has not changed much in a thousand years. A millennium or two ago, charlatans and quacks posed as mediums, claiming the ability to foresee the future or speak with the dead, misleading their patrons and robbing them of their fortunes. Today is no different.
John Edward, today’s best-known practitioner of mediumship, falls heavily into the charlatan category according to the Skeptic article Deconstructing The Dead. Michael O’Neill, a New York City marketing manager, experienced firsthand several of the deceptive practices used by John Edward:
“I was on the John Edward show. He even had a multiple guess “hit” on me that was featured on the show. However, it was edited so that my answer to another question was edited in after one of his questions. In other words, his question and my answer were deliberately mismatched. Only a fraction of what went on in the studio was actually seen in the final 30-minute show. He was wrong about a lot and was very aggressive when somebody failed to acknowledge something he said.
Also, his “production assistants” were always around while we waited to get into the studio. They told us to keep very quiet, and they overheard a lot. I think that the whole place is bugged somehow. Also, once in the studio we had to wait around for almost two hours before the show began. Throughout that time everybody was talking about what dead relative of theirs might pop up. Remember that all this occurred under microphones and with cameras already set up.
My guess is that he was backstage listening and looking at us all and noting certain readings. When he finally appeared, he looked at the audience as if he were trying to spot people he recognized. He also had ringers in the audience. I can tell because about fifteen people arrived in a chartered van, and once inside they did not sit together.”
John practices a combination of “cold reading”, “warm reading”, and “hot reading”.
Cold reading is used when the “psychic” know nothing about the subject in advance, and responds directly to the answers provided by the subject. Facial expressions, body language, barely perceptible nods or other visual confirmations, verbal agreements, all are examples of what John looks for when he rapidly fires out dozens of scenarios, questions, dates, diseases, and names. He only needs a few positive strikes out of the myriad of negatives in order to establish a viable link to the subject.
Warm reading requires basic cultural knowledge and experience. As an example, since mourning people often wear jewelry associated with the deceased, it may seem mystical when John asks the subject if they are wearing a piece of jewelry connected with the departed. “Statistically speaking there are only half a dozen ways most of us die, so with just a little probing, and the verbal and nonverbal cues of his subject, [John] can appear to get far more hits than he is really getting”.
Hot reading involves prequalified knowledge about the subject, basically blatant cheating. It’s easy to do a “reading” on your cameraman when you have prior knowledge of his loss.
These psychic swindlers prey on the emotional grief of people. Instead of as famed and revered mediums, they should be viewed instead as simple entertainers, providing a misplaced form of solace to those individuals who are vulnerable enough to believe in their “mystical powers”, offering false comfort to those who haven’t had the opportunity to face their losses head on. “Pretending that the dead are gathering in a television studio in New York to talk twaddle with a former ballroom-dance instructor is an insult to the intelligence and humanity of the living.” So says Skeptic.
Author’s Note: Is it a coincidence that the very minute I finished writing this that Crossing Over started showing on the SciFi channel in the next room? Oooh! Chills!
Oh, and Sean?! John Edwards already knows about these undisputed truths, and doesn’t need to be notified by email, ok?! Thanks!