Last week police outside of Houston, Texas, surrounded a rural farmhouse with guns drawn. They were acting on a tip from a psychic who told them that the property was the scene of a grisly mass murder: dozens of dismembered bodies would be found there, she insisted-including those of children. It all turned out to be false, and the story made international news. The Committee for Skeptical Inquiry was on the story almost immediately, getting the skeptical perspective out. I wrote a piece that appeared on MSNBC and the Christian Science Monitor, and Senior Research Fellow Joe Nickell was quoted in the New York Times.
Within a day or two psychics were commenting about the skepticism and the whole fiasco-including a famous TV psychic named Carla Baron, who fumed on her blog.
She wrote that the woman “falsely reported a crime. She falsely claimed she had ‘psychic’ ability. THIS is precisely the irresponsible behavior I have pointed out previously in my official blog. Those who wish to ‘help’ – those that feel they have some sort of intuitive ability, those that are just simply lunatics looking for a little attention. This ‘psychic’ who called in the false tips to law enforcement is, in fact, not a psychic at all….. This behavior threatens to tear at the very fabric of any credibility displayed by AUTHENTIC psychics, mediums, and psychic profilers such as myself.”
Baron then railed against journalists (such as myself) who mentioned her name in recent news articles about the failure of psychic detectives. She asks, “Why is it that most MEDIA outlets (and many lesser media – i.e., blogs, discussion forums, individual websites) find it necessary to use my famous name to promote their articles, commentary, and news pieces?” The obvious answer is that if the subject of the news piece is psychic detectives who cannot solve cases and give false and useless information, then she is Exhibit A.
Baron, for those who don’t know, was part of the TruTV show Haunting Evidence, in which she and two other investigators tackled real-life unsolved murders. The show was cancelled after 22 episodes without any of the cases having been solved; two were later closed through police work. The Independent Investigations Group did an excellent analysis of Baron’s claims a few years ago and found a near-spotless track record of failure. Baron’s question would be like Tiger Woods wondering why he’s being mentioned in a news article on golfing.
Baron is concerned that all this negative publicity about psychic failures is leading to a modern witch hunt reminiscent of the Salem Witch Trials.
No, seriously: “My mind is beseiged at the moment with images of the Salem Witch Trials of 1692. From June through September of 1692, nineteen men and women, all having been convicted of witchcraft, were carted to Gallows Hill, a barren slope near Salem Village, for hanging…..Is history not only repeating itself, but mutating into ardent new ways of ’witch burning’?”
Baron is apparently fearful that she and other “real psychics” may be abducted by angry mobs, put on mock trials, and possibly hung or pressed to death in a public place. It’s not clear whether Baron is worried about “fake psychics,” like the woman who led police to the Texas house. Presumably the best proof of psychic powers (or witchcraft) would be a track record of amazing success and accurate information; I don’t think Baron has much to worry about.