Do you believe in ghosts? If so, stop reading, because for every e-mail psychic promising to IM your long-lost loved ones, there is a skeptic whose website debunks all things paranormal. Among the best-known doubting Thomases: James Randi (a.k.a. The ”Amazing” Randi), a former magician offering a $1 million reward to anyone who can prove their supernatural powers (randi.org). Although his correspondence is often filled with intellectual bullying, Randi does possess the unusual ability to turn a mystic’s bag of tricks inside out. And the phenomenal success of Crossing Over With John Edward, the Sci Fi Channel seance that’s recently been reincarnated as a nationwide syndicated series, gives inquiring websites like his a new currency. So we scoured the Web and gathered the most convincing theories that explain how Edward may be duping the living instead of channeling the dead:
BY THE POWER OF SUGGESTION Chuck the crystal ball and pick up a psychology textbook if you want to get into the mind of the modern psychic. The art of cold reading—which skeptics claim explains Edward’s ability to uncover personal details about dead people sight unseen—has been examined by the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (csicop.org). One reading by Edward performed on Larry King Live is dissected on the CSICOP site by research fellow Joe Nickell, and shows how Edward poses questions—”I’m getting an older male who’s also there on the other side”—in a way that solicits the correct answer. (Which means it could be a brother, uncle, father, grandfather—take your pick.)
BY SAYING WHAT THEY WANT TO HEAR This is the golden rule of cold reading, according to the Australian Skeptics website (skeptics.com.au). It turns out that the Larry King caller in the previous example wanted to communicate with her mother, and Edward’s ”older male” reading refocuses to fit her maternal wishes (he later shifted the discussion back to this ”male”). And have you noticed that Edward’s sessions, while not all successful in making contact, usually end in happy encounters? Family dynamics, it seems, are a lot less contentious in the afterlife.
BY GOING FISHING Cold readers often focus their ”after-death communications” by rapid-firing through a number of different possibilities, according to the Skeptics Dictionary (skepdic.com/coldread. html). On Crossing Over, for example, Edward never comes right out and says someone suffered from lung cancer. He seems to fish for the answer by asking, did they die from lung or breast cancer? Leukemia or AIDS? And audience members are always (and unwittingly) helping him find the right answer.
BY USING PATENTED PHRASES Nobody dies on Crossing Over; they’ve ”passed.” Like any great mystic, Edward has his own lingo—one of 13 common traits outlined by the Australian Skeptics (skeptics.com. au/journal/coldread.htm). Relatives are always ”coming through” to ”acknowledge” something and ”connect.” And Edward never asks if he’s correct, just ”Do you understand this?” For a better understanding, read some of the interview transcripts on JohnEdwardFriends.org.
Not all scientists dismiss Edward’s supernatural abilities. A study by Dr. Gary Schwartz, a Harvard-trained psychologist and founder of the Human Energy Systems Laboratory (livingenergyuniverse.com), found that mediums attempting to communicate with the dead were accurate more often than control subjects. And Edward is sure enough of his own abilities to brush off his detractors. Confidence, by the way, is one of the true hallmarks of a successful psychic.