Who’d Claim Psychic Powers in 2008?

I have written before about the new law, Consumer Protections from Unfair Trading Regulations 2007, here. I thought it may be of interest if I explain a little about the Act and how it really affects psychics, psychic surgeons (so called), mediums and other purveyors of woo-woo. It really is a great Act and the mainstream news has picked up on it (in this country at least) and it has the purveyors very very nervous.

Firstly, let’s step back a few months. Under the previous act, the Fraudulent Mediums Act 1951, there was little recourse for anyone who felt cheated by a medium. You see, all any medium has to do is stick “for entertainment purposes only” on their flyer in small print and you have no comeback. This is because the defence simply says that “it’s all a bit of fun and not meant to be taken seriously” and you have no case in law. In fact, a supposed psychic would have to do real harm for any case to be raised against them. You would have to prove, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that you were maliciously harmed for any case to get anywhere. Fine if you’re only out of pocket a few quid, less so if it harms your mental well-being. A pretty poor state of affairs, I’m sure you’ll agree.

This new Act has far more teeth. It treats the service a medium or psychic provides as exactly that: a service. So now, being in contact with your old Aunt Aggie is treated on the same level as having your windows double-glazed. That is, you are paying someone to give you a concrete service against an agreement and if you don’t receive the service satisfactorily and don’t get a refund, you can turn to the law and say “I paid for service X and didn’t get it and the provider of the service won’t give me satisfaction when I complained“. No legalese required, it’s very very black and white. The business section of The Times Online has an article on this written by the Director of Law for the Open University, Professor Gary Slapper. So now you can see why the sellers of woo-woo are a wee bit nervous.

So how are the mediums fighting back? If you said that they are proving their magical powers in a laboratory setting, you ‘d be very wrong. Very wrong indeed. The mediums and psychics are not trying to prove that they have these powers, instead they are treating this as an attack on their religion. In the UK, the Spiritualist Church is a recognised religion. The mediums and psychics are aiming to have their roles recognised as a part of this church. It’s not a huge religion, the UK has more than 170 different faiths or belief systems. In 2001, some 32,404 people listed Spiritualism as the religion on the census form. That makes Spiritualism the 11th largest religion or belief in the country. They are, though a very very small number; as a reference point there were 144, 453 Buddhists and they made up just 0.3% of the population. But, and this is a big ‘but’, does classifying oneself as a medium automatically make you a member of the Spiritualist Church? Not really, the Spiritualists National Union has joining requirements and it costs you £10 to join (and you agree to sign up to their 7 principles too). And they also have a register of approved Spiritualist healers. I would like to note that the SNU are a little more sensible than most “healers” and they insist that you should only use one of their number alongside your normal doctor. To quote their page:

You should continue to consult you doctor even if you are receiving Spiritual Healing. It may be necessary for you to take certain medication and follow the doctor’s advice for your particular condition. By receiving both medical and Spiritual Healing you will receive the best treatment from both sources. The aim of every SNU Healer is to work in co-operation with the medical profession and not to replace the doctor.

The SNU have asked the Office of Fair Trading to explain the Act in terms of their religion, but don’t yet seem to have an answer. They do appear, though, not to be overly bothered. Or at least are keeping it sensibly low-key while they await the response. They do recognise that by accepting money for their services they are covered by this Act. The have also backed the Act, which puts them firmly in the opposite camp to their fellow travellers. The Spiritualist Workers Association rightly fears the Act and has begun an education campaign to prevent their members from falling foul of it. I quote:

Graham Hewitt explained in great detail, the possible effects the changes in legislation could and would have. Disclaimers were also provided for spiritual workers to use. To try and summarise this in a few words is difficult but it would seem that if any money or gifts change hands the spiritual worker is involved in a contract. As with any contract you are promising something in exchange for money or gifts. Thus the spiritual worker should choose their words carefully. It would seem that saying that it is a scientific experiment in which the outcome cannot be satisfactorily predicted is one way to stay within the legislation. Another is to class it as entertainment. The biggest problem of the regulations is the word ‘vulnerable’. It is extremely difficult to define vulnerability let alone work out whether someone who comes to you for a ‘spiritualistic’ (the government’s term – not ours) service is vulnerable. It could probably be argued that quite a few people who seek healing or mediums are vulnerable. In short, it would seem the changes in legislation are a minefield, not least because of the litigation culture that is now sweeping the UK.

They seem to already be trying to create disclaimers. The SWA, at least as I read the above, says it is difficult for their members to recognise who is vulnerable and who isn’t. I would say that, speaking very broadly, anyone who goes to see a medium following a tragedy is vulnerable. However, I would agree that it is a little unfair to ask a layperson to make the decision as to who is and isn’t vulnerable, especially if they could be held up in a court of law. Which means, to me, that they should stop what they are doing if they can’t prove their powers.

The Act does give the medium a way out though – all they have to do is to make it clear to their customer that this is only a scientific experiment and that there has been no testing of it’s efficacy and they are covered. Effectively, they have to give the paying client the information they need to make an informed decision on whether to go ahead or not. No more saying that they can definitely talk to people dead for over a hundred years (and who would have lived on different continents). No more “native American guides” who seem to speak in the local dialect and with modern slang phrases. Just admit that your powers are not proven and give the person the option to go ahead or not.

So you can see why these people are a little worried.

To read more on the methods these people use – and any half competent magician will be able to replicate their methods – I would direct you to the following sites:

In closing, these people do fleece the unwary.  For almost as long as people have claimed to speak to the dead, there have been right minded individuals who require proof of this talent and who have held them up to these standards of proof.  To date, no one has provided scientific proof of speaking to the deceased in laboratory conditions.

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  1. Tara NigmaNo Gravatar says:

    There are many honest psychics. Most people are so caught in their own habit energy that they are blind to what might seem intuitive to someone else. People that believe in psychics. I don’t mean to say anything to invalidate your post. Mostly I agree. But consider for a moment the QiGong, Kriya Yoga, and Vipassana Mediation. There is more to see than what we have learned to look for.

    Take care my friend. And yes, I am biased as I run a Psychic Blog Site called Psychic Chat Online.

    P.S. I love that you’re using that Edit Comment plugin :D

  2. RayNo Gravatar says:

    This is a common response. From a sceptical point of view, rather than saying “honest psychic” one would say “person who doesn’t realise they have no powers”. The invitation to all psychics – honest or otherwise – is the same as it’s ever been: prove it under scientific conditions. If the power is genuine it will be observable under experimental conditions and will be repeatable.

    Whatever you powers, if you can’t provide the service as advertised, you will pay the penalty set by the law.

  3. Tara NigmaNo Gravatar says:

    I would argue that your response is the common one.

    Prove how you feel. Prove whether what you observe is a particle or a wave. Prove there is no God and then compare the softness of your skin to one who lives selflessly in service of other.

    Whatever your practice, if you can’t give back what you take, your karma will suffer.

    Tara Nigmas last blog post..Free Paranormal Chat Rooms and a Lively Community, Check out Anybodythere.net

  4. RayNo Gravatar says:

    It should be the common one. If I claim to be able to repair a computer, I should be able to demonstrate repeatedly that I have this skill. Further, if I take money from a person on the understanding that I am able to speak to someone who is dead, I should be able to repeatedly prove this. It’s neither hard nor unfair.

    If you have the skill and can prove it, you can continue to trade on the talent, if you can’t you should stop.

    and on the basis of giving back what you take, how about all those so-called psychics who take money and hope from people and give them back empty promises and vagueries?

    I have no personal bone to pick with anyone who calls themselves psychic, I just ask that they be put to the same tests as doctors or psychologists.

  5. Tara NigmaNo Gravatar says:

    I live in Canada and from here it’s quite easy to see how popular it is to demonize the United States.

    What about all the left wing religious nut balls, the H2 driving gun toting folk eating only what comes prepackaged and loaded with preservatives, pesticides and a price that is cheap quick and easy…

    Are there still not 300 million beautiful people just below the 49th, are they still not our brothers and sisters, our next of kin, can we only see the glass as half empty.

    Start searching the net for yoga and psychics and you will find loads of information on scam artists and westerners wearing lululemon, but little about the beautiful people who are happiest helping other people or the practitioners who bring thousands to their feet when they leave the ashram just for a hug http://www.amma.org/tours/amma-tours/n_america.html

    Tara Nigmas last blog post..Tarot Card Reading Instructions

  6. RayNo Gravatar says:

    It is extraordinarily easy to demonise the US – mainly because the nutters are louder than the vast majority of people (who are very normal and decent people). The point of this UK law is that if you receive money for a service, you have to prove that you have provided a service.

    If you were a UK practitioner of, say, massage/relaxation therapy and I paid money to receive relaxation therapy and I leave relaxed there is no problem. If, however, you simply walk around waving your arms and I walk out not feeling relaxed, there is now a case in law. Equally, if you sell me double glazing and don’t provide it, there is also a case in law.

    All this does is to treat every provider of a service equally and all have to be able to show that they have provided the service as advertised – whatever it may be. The aim s not to demonise anyone or catch anyone out. It simply provides recourse under law for people who feel cheated. People who may have visited the lady in my examples above.

  7. I think this debate is extremely interesting. Why would the mediums be so reluctant to be able to prove themselves unless of course they themselves doubted their own ability to achieve results?

    I would like to think the majority of mediums genuinely believe in their hearts that they are channeling or predicting or whatever they do, even though, as a skeptic, I believe they are misguided.

  8. RayNo Gravatar says:

    It would be really nice if every medium absolutely believed in their powers. Unfortunately, there are an awful lot of frauds who know that they are being frauds. The truly fraudulent see their livelihoods disappearing and the ones who are merely deluded but well meaning see this as a personal attack.

    My view is that if you really have the powers you claim to have, you would have no trouble providing proof if challenged. If you are knowingly defrauding the vulnerable, you’ll get what’s coming to you!

    Rays last blog post..I’m A Year Older Now

  9. It amazes me how delusional people can be. How can so many not understand the difference between the imaginary and the real? Reality is that which is testable. Your degree of confidence in any claim is commensurate with the evidence for that claim. It’s just basic rationality.

    Tiger Lily@Healthy Diet To Lose Weight Fasts last blog post..Foods That Help You Lose Weight

  10. I don’t believe you can tell the future, but reading minds and then translating that into guesses about the fututre, sure. It’s all electrical impulses, some people better suited at picking them up.

  11. RayNo Gravatar says:

    But here’s the thing. This talent/knack/skill that these people allegedly possess and use to 100% effectiveness every day of their lives fails miserably as soon as you try to observe it under any type of laboratory conditions. At the very best, they hit the same sort of accuracy that you would get with sheer guesswork, at worst they seem to defy statistical probability and get poorer results.

    Whatever the method, it should work under any conditions – including laboratory conditions and when you’re being given “bad vibes”. Otherwise it’s either a con or a delusion.

  12. Bit biased here as I too have a psychic related site but my view surrounding the topic is accept that it can not be scientifically proven so move on, what are the implications of this “service”.
    If for some people it acts as comforting couselling session than it has value. Much like placebos, they don’t have to actually work, to work. As long as the psychic has a genuine motivation to help people, that’s good enough for me.

    Jak @test psychic skillss last blog post..Books To Test Your Psychic Skills

  13. RayNo Gravatar says:

    Bit biased here as I too have a psychic related site but my view surrounding the topic is accept that it can not be scientifically proven so move on, what are the implications of this “service”.

    So you are essentially saying that you are endorsing offering a service where the recipient can’t actually prove that they received the service? If your car was in the mechanic’s and you spent up to $1000 on getting something fixed, but youcouldn’t prove it had been fixed or even that the mechnic knew what they were doing, would you just “move on”? Of course not.

    If psychic ability is real, it should be performab;e and testable under any circumstances. So far, no psychic has been able to do this.

    If for some people it acts as comforting couselling session than it has value. Much like placebos, they don’t have to actually work, to work. As long as the psychic has a genuine motivation to help people, that’s good enough for me.

    Two things here, firstly, how do you know what the psychic’s intentions are? Everyone can say that they are doing this for the right reasons, but we have no way of knowing whether that is true or not. Additionally, true bereavement counsellors recognise several stages of grief which lead the person finally to accept that their loved on eis truly gone. Psychics arrest and retard the stages by telling you that your loved one isn’t gone and in fact hovers over your shoulder giving advice and guidance. Not a big deal, except once the person realises that their loved one is really gone they go through the stages again – this time on their own because everyone else has moved on.

    If there are “true” and “genuine” psychics they should claim the JREF prize – if they can prove their talent they will not only win $1,000,000 but also change the face of science and religion forever. And what higher goal than that, eh?

  14. Psychics base their judgment on spiritual vibration or thoughts but sometimes they are just being scientific and logical.

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  15. RayNo Gravatar says:

    No they aren’t being scientific or logical. This is why each psychic will give an entirely different reading to another.

  16. persol 2747No Gravatar says:

    I personally don’t beleive in that stuff. Sorry.

  17. Since I dont beleive in that, I would need evidence to really get to that point.

  18. Paul@Pet DogNo Gravatar says:

    I don’t believe in psychics, but don’t think it should be regulated since it’s a religious issue.

  19. i thought they’ve already covered themselves by claiming it only “entertainment”

    • RayNo Gravatar says:

      They have, but it’s given a “knowing wink”: along the lines of “we know it’s real, but this keeps the government happy”. Basically, they’re taking money from grieving and vulnerable people and giving them nothing. Imagine paying £3000 for a coffin for a lost loved one and being told that it’s a magic invisible coffin – would that be fine if you had a rider saying “you may not be able to feel the coffin”?

  20. Geek ChickNo Gravatar says:

    Really interesting debate. I land on the side of skepticism.

  21. I had no idea that there was actually any laws passed regarding this issue. I always thought that, that disclaimer was just to discourage people from *trying* to sue them, I had no idea it was required.

    I used to watch Sylvia Browne on the Montel Williams Show and really liked her, but always kind of figured the others were kind of guessing their way through.