Just the other day I found a show, that you might have heard of, called Britain’s Psychic Challenge. Basically they have a group of “psychics” who take on certain challenges to test their mental prowess. Now I know what your thinking, ‘oh dear here we go another psychic proponent show’. Well, yes and no. They had a team of three skeptics who watched over the proceedings who tweak challenges so that they are more scientific or so that the psychics find it harder to cold read. The question, ‘are they really “skeptics”?’ still stands but I am fairly convinced they were genuine as they didn’t say anything dubious throughout the show.
The tasks on the other hand were fairly basic for even the most amateur cold reader. The first “challenge” was set in an hotel that was once a nunnery, and at another time, an orphanage. The “psychics” were asked to walk around the house and tell the testers what they felt/detected. All of them felt the presence of a little girl, a nun and an old man. All of these were previously identified, to the viewer only, as ghosts that had been previously sighted in the building. At first this seems astounding but when you examine it closely it becomes obvious cold reading. Firstly, what are the first things you would think of, as a cold reader, when you step into an old building that has many rooms. Well, you would think of an orphanage or something similar, and usually orphanages were run by catholic nuns, and generally there would be an old man in there somewhere. Heck, you may as well cover all the bases of what the building could have been in the past, you’re sure to get a hit sooner or later. Apparently the girl ghost had been seen running around barefoot, and what do you know, one of the “psychics” identified a “curly haired little girl” who was running around barefoot. Again, an easy case of educated guess work, most little girls don’t wear shoes inside anyway so, at surface level, this sounds like an extraordinary hit. However, some of the other “psychics” were so far off the mark with any prediction that I almost felt embarrassed for them…almost.
In the next challenge the psychics were asked to identify the maker of a clay pot out of four people. Needless to say the results were dismal. Only two of the “psychics” guessed the right person and it was obvious when a few members of the group picked a particular gentleman, that they were cold reading the peoples clothing to guess the maker. After the psychics had had a go at it, they brought in “non-psychics” off the street to give it a shot. Four out of the four non-psychics guessed the right pot-maker. Embarrassing.
The following challenge was fairly straight forward. They had approximately fifteen women in a room and gave the psychics two handbags with about three items in each. They then asked the psychics to give the hand bags to their rightful owners. NONE of the psychics managed to give even ONE bag to the right owner. The group of random non-psychics however, managed two hits.
The final challenge was the most interesting but also the easiest to debunk. They sent the psychics to the oldest pub in Yorkshire. The building was built in the 1600′s so obviously it must have a rich history. From the beginning the viewer was informed that the cellar of the place doubled as a makeshift surgery and hospital for sick soldiers in a civil war at the time. When the psychics entered the cellar they began fishing for hits. One of them asked if it had anything to do with Guy Fawkes and when he was told no, he went to the next obvious option, a hospital or hideout, as if he was checking off a list. One of the psychics even went so far as to say the positions of the beds! “The beds were positioned along the sides of the walls” he said. Ok, lets think about this. Firstly, where else do you put beds in a tiny cellar/hospital. If the beds were in the middle of the room wouldn’t it be a tad hard to navigate between the patients? So this is just logic and not psy at all. Secondly, what was happening in England when this old building was built. Seeing as most of the buildings in Yorkshire with cellars are fairly old it would be obvious they existed through some sort of war. Which war exactly doesn’t matter because even if they just say “sick people in the past” it’s a hit! And what do people who are scared and injured do when they are in a war? They go underground! That being said, even with such an easily cold read location only two of the “psychics” managed to get a hit. They all failed to mention a specific time, the best they could do was say “old” or “way back in time”.
While some of the experiments were questionable, this show strongly grounds itself on the side of the skeptics and for this I am thankful. So many programs support psy and woo that it’s almost ridiculous. I have only seen one episode but I hope that the rest follow the trend. Who knows, maybe in the end they will admit they have no powers? Not likely.