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Anecdote is Evidence, Redux

Last year I did a short commentary when what can only be described as a ‘witch-hunt’ began against British ‘psychic’ Sally Morgan, after a couple of phone-in callers to a radio show suggested that they heard people feeding her information via a wireless earpiece at her show:

Last week, a number of skeptics on Twitter began discussing a radio call-in show in Ireland in which someone said they had witnessed fakery at a show given by British ‘psychic’ Sally Morgan (you can listen to audio at YouTube). It remained a relatively low-key news item however, until yesterday when Professor French published an article in the Guardian with the rather definitive title, “Psychic Sally Morgan hears voices from the other side (via a hidden earpiece)“…

…So you can be sure that other skeptics were quick to urge caution, right? Wrong, the ‘fact’ of Sally Morgan’s guilt went viral. Phil Plait (138,000 followers): “You’d think a real psychic would know if their methods were about to be exposed.” Derren Brown (855,000 followers): “Sally Morgan caught proper cheating. Connecting you with dead loved ones via earpiece.” Andy Nyman (20,000 followers): “Sally Morgan isn’t Psychic – she’s been caught using an earpiece. Another disgusting fake psychic” (followed by a later ‘correction’). The JREF (10,000 followers): “Psychic Sally Morgan hears voices from the other side (via a hidden earpiece)”.

As I said at the time, my criticism certainly wasn’t meant as support for the validity of ‘Psychic Sally’ – it was instead a reaction to how hearsay from just a couple of people could spark outright attack against an individual. Not to mention that such an irrational, reactionary attack was being led by self-labeled ‘rationalists’.

My reason for bringing up this issue is that last night Derren Brown played the same Dublin theatre where the incident originally happened, and he spoke to the staff there. This is what he subsequently tweeted:

Assured by the crew here that it was NOT Sally’s ppl cuing her. It WAS just lighting ops chatting with window open. (They were making fun: show was apparently not good). The ‘not good’ bit obviously subjective. Point was, no sneakery from the lighting op room. There you go.

I haven’t seen that retweeted by *any* of the high-profile skeptics who originally accused Sally Morgan of being fed information (let alone an outright “I shot my mouth off, my bad”). Poor form.

  1. Oh! So NOW Anecdotal Data Suddenly Seems to Count!
    Greg I’m no fan of Sally’s and when you compare her to the likes of John Edwards I find myself still waiting to be convinced she’s anymore ‘psychic’ than any other average member of the public (even Doris Stokes used to admit she’d take shots in the dark until her juices got going but then she’d suddenly come up with these wild assed ‘guesses’ out of nowhere about highly improbable things like lavendar bushes which’d make even hardened disbelievers like my brother’n’me sniggering our way through a documentary about her suddenly sit up and go “Woh! Where’d that come from!”).

    A relative of mine who used to be a hardened believer in this spiritualist stuff (in terms of its own beliefs about what’s supposedly going on) actually quite happily bought into this same meme applied to Derek Acorah (even though as I pointed out to her anyone of those people being paid peanuts to be ‘ears’ in the audience or ‘transcribers’ of hidden microphones could easily make a small fortune selling him out – especially if they became pissed off with him) so this whole new ‘world of politics’ approach to ‘science’ by not bothering to address issues but simply smearing opponents to destruction certainly seems to be getting a serious grip on things.

    But I can even remember a discussion about paperbacks on Read All About It hosted by Melvyn Bragg in the 70s suddenly turning quite vicious when one of the panel started hurling the same accusation about the likes of Peter Hurkos – so the only thing new about all this is it’s finally starting to be effective.

    Kudos to Derren Brown for his fairmindedness though because he’s mates with if not actually on the same side as many of these ‘sceptics’.

    This’s also a good example of how the anecdotal data rule only applies when it suits.

    Keep up the good fight Greg!

  2. Sally Morgans Irish fraud show?
    For openers I have no particular brief on this one for or against Sally.

    I posted references here on the DG to the Joe Duffy afternoon Radio Telifis Eireann ( RTE) live show and I had listened here in Ireland to the many arguments and viewpoints aired over airwaves for the few days that the issue remained topical here.

    My recollection ( to the best of my recall) is that several people claimed that they heard personal details that they had discussed regarding departed loved ones passed on over some sort of communication device. Some of those who phoned up were adamant on that point.

    I am not a skeptic in these matters, I believe medium communication is possible, I came from a childhood culture in the fifties where in the final hours prior to death one in ten or there about of my grandparents generation served as such a communications bridge or channel. The information sought about missing relatives in the US etc. invariably, later proved to be correct. ( Greg…. email me on this for your research ? )

    Whatever happened in Dublin and elsewhere in Ireland with Sally’s shows, it appears that more than a few people claimed to have overheard details from conversations transmitted and other than that I cannot say more.

    ( Incidently good ‘Scientific Evidence for Life after Death’ article in current April/May Nexus Mag, folks !)

    1. Let’s sic the skeptics on the
      Let’s sic the skeptics on the Long Island Medium and see how they fare. They won’t touch her with a 10 foot pole. She is too good.

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