Self-proclaimed “police psychics” can’t find bodies, but they’ve found the spotlight


For Immediate Release: July 1, 2005
Contact: Jefferson Seaver, Communications
press@centerforinquiry.org - (207) 358-9785

AMHERST, N.Y. (July 1, 2005)—“Police psychics,” seers who claim to help law-enforcement agencies locate missing people and solve crimes, are enjoying a surge of popularity in television shows, books, and magazines. In fact, crime-solving psychics may be one of the hottest paranormal topics in America today. Yet for all their “predictions” and self-promotion, psychics are little use when it comes to real-life crimes.

The Court TV network has been airing the series

Psychic Detective

s since February of 2004, and NBC has recently started carrying the show as well. Lifetime’s television drama,

Missing

(formerly titled

1-800-Missing

), is in its third season. NBC has announced plans to air a second season of

Medium

, a weekly drama inspired by “real-life” psychic Allison DuBois. Noreen Renier and Allison DuBois have both released books within the past year. And

Ghost Whisperer

, a new drama created and co-executive produced by “famed psychic James Van Praagh,” starts this fall on CBS.

But the reality is far less enchanting.

“Despite repeated claims to the contrary, there is not a single documented case of a missing person being found or recovered due solely to psychic information,” says Benjamin Radford, Managing Editor of

Skeptical Inquirer

magazine. “When bodies are found, it is always through accident or police work.” Radford explains that in “high-profile missing-person cases,” such as those involving Chandra Levy, Laci Peterson, and Elizabeth Smart, dozens, even hundreds, of ‘psychics’ contact law enforcement with tips, “Yet when police follow up on the information, the vast majority of it—or all of it—turns out to be wrong.”

Other recent cases in which psychics have

failed

to help locate missing persons include:

  • Alabama teenager Natalee Holloway, who disappeared in the early hours of May 30, while on vacation in Aruba. As of this writing, Natalee is still missing.
  • Brennan Hawkins, an eleven-year-old from Bountiful, Utah, who disappeared while hiking in the Uinta Mountains on June 18. Brennan was found four days later, not by psychics but by searchers.
  • Daniel Agosto, six; Jesstin Pagan, five; and Anibal Cruz, eleven, who disappeared on the afternoon of June 22, while playing outside their home in Camden, N.J. The three were found dead two days later, in the trunk of a car near where they had been playing.

"The most tragic part of this story is that three childrens' lives could have been saved," Radford says. "There are dozens of so-called psychic detectives who claim that they can locate missing people. Where were they when the parents and police were desperate for accurate information? If they can do what they claim, why aren't these psychic detectives actually out there saving people's lives instead of appearing on talk shows and promoting their books?"

Joe Nickell, Senior Research Fellow for the Committee for the Scientific Examination of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP), discusses police psychics in his article, “The Case of the ‘Psychic Detectives,’” published in the July/August 2005 issue of

Skeptical Inquirer

magazine. He takes an investigative look at five well-known psychics: Allison Dubois, Noreen Renier, Carla Baron, Carol Pate, and Etta Louise Smith. He found that while their techniques (and their own claims about their abilities) varied, none of them could be proven to have any paranormal ability. In fact, much of their “success” can be attributed to

retrofitting

, a tendency to favorably reinterpret predictions after the fact. (For example, the prediction “the body is near water” could be retrofitted into success with a swimming pool, a sewer culvert, a pond, or an ocean.)

“(P)sychics do not solve crimes or locate missing persons—unless they employ the same non-mystical techniques as real detectives: obtaining and assessing factual information, receiving tips, and so on, even sometimes getting lucky,” Nickell concludes. “In addition to the technique of ‘retrofitting,’ psychics may shrewdly study local newspaper files and area maps, glean information from family members or others associated with a tragedy, and even impersonate police and reportedly attempt to bribe detectives.”

Nickell is critical of law enforcement officials who consult psychics: “It is bad enough that [psychics] are often able to fool members of the media; detectives, if they do not know better, as most do, should learn better,” he writes. “They should, well,

investigate

their alleged psychic counterparts.”


Skeptical Inquirer

is the official journal of the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP), a nonprofit scientific and educational organization founded in 1976 by Paul Kurtz, Isaac Asimov, Carl Sagan and other prominent academics, scientists and writers. CSICOP encourages the critical investigation of paranormal and fringe-science claims from a responsible, scientific point of view. Learn more about CSICOP and

S.I.

at

www.csicop.org

.

# # #

The Center for Inquiry (CFI) is a nonprofit educational, advocacy, and research organization headquartered in Amherst, New York, with executive offices in Washington, D.C. It is also home to the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason & Science, the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, and the Council for Secular Humanism. The Center for Inquiry strives to foster a secular society based on reason, science, freedom of inquiry, and humanist values. Visit CFI on the web at centerforinquiry.org.