Bad Astronomy

Psychic view

I don’t expect a lot out of the daytime TV show The View. After all, if one of your four hosts isn’t sure the Earth is round, and you don’t immediately replace her with someone who’s views are more up-to-date (like more recent than Eratosthenes), then maybe your standards are too lax.

So when my friend Al Janulaw sent me a note saying they had a psychic on the show, I wasn’t too shocked. When I watched a bit of the show, I was surprised that Joy Behar, one of the hosts, expressed not just skepticism, but actually employed targeted skepticism. She made fun of the fact that psychics will ask leading questions and use things that are almost certain to get a hit (“I sense you know someone who’s name starts with M“).

Still, the actual segment with the psychic, Laurie Levin, was amazingly credulous. I don’t know if Ms. Levin actually believes what she says or not, but here we have a woman claiming to be a psychic who a) told a man his murdered son chose his death to shock him into caring about someone, b) told this man he was in an unhappy marriage, and then c) married him.

Um. Again, I don’t know this woman, or the man, or their circumstances, but every skeptic alarm bell in my head is ringing pretty loudly.

I don’t think psychics are real, obviously. I am not saying psychic powers are impossible – though that’s the way to bet – but I am saying that every single time they’ve been tested under controlled circumstances, they come up short (and are indistinguishable from random guessing). And if they do exist, I know where there’s a million bucks left as-yet unclaimed.

If psychic powers are really true, I have severe doubts that the possessor will be using them to wow daytime TV talk show hosts. My real problem here is that as long as things like this are treated unskeptically and swallowed whole by TV shows, as well as in other media, then they will never go away, and the public remains that much more gullible.