Psychic Regulators, Mount Up!

An interesting development in the UK with the British government announcing that ‘spiritual services’ will now be included in consumer protection laws, a move which has led to concerns from those who earn their money from such pursuits. Whereas with the previous legislation the onus was on prosecutors to prove fraudulent behaviour, under consumer protection laws psychics and the like may be required to show their abilities are genuine:

The Government says the regulations target “misleading or aggressive” activities and “will not affect the supply of spiritualistic services in themselves”.

But many mystics fear they could be sued by customers unhappy with the service they have received, or be forced to prove in court they really have otherworldly powers. Some envision having to make customers sign a waiver before a seance or a sitting. Even more gallingly, they fear they might have to advertise that their services are for entertainment purposes only.

Skeptic Ben Goldacre has additional comment in his most recent Bad Science column, and makes some good points (although I disagree with his summation of psychics in general). Most importantly, how such a law is going to be policed, considering that there currently is no set test for mediumship:

With my tiny brain, I can’t see how anyone is going to rationally police this kind of thing, given that the whole industry is, by definition, based on nonsense, and it’s plainly undesirable to ban things simply because they’re stupid…

…If we’re going to be paternalistic about the credulous, you might hope we start with Carol Vorderman’s high interest “loan consolidation” adverts before we get to Cilla Black’s £1.50 a minute Psychic Hotline service. Although I bet they make a great pair.

The latter point is a good one as well. And if ‘psychic’ statements are to be considered under consumer protection, what about similar statements (about the future, wellbeing etc) by religious authorities?

All the same, regulation of some description may be just what the doctor ordered – and some psychics agree. It’s quite obvious that there are large numbers of outright frauds involved (while skeptics might say “all” rather than “large numbers”, I’ve seen enough in my time to still find some merit in the field). To be really optimistic, perhaps it could even result in more attention being paid to some sort of scientific testing or certification – though in reality I doubt that this new legislation will be policed with much force…rather simply used as necessary for egregious infringements.

Will be interesting to watch in any case. Certainly, it may focus some attention on some very grey areas as to what should constitute ‘genuine’ psychic ability…