Newsweek embarrasses itself

Newsweek embarrasses itself

Newsweek embarrasses itself

Bad Astronomy
The entire universe in blog form
June 26 2008 4:57 PM

Newsweek embarrasses itself

What the heck has happened to the media? Have they lost their minds?

Newsweek has an article online about a psychic who charges $10,000 per month to her clients. The article gushes all over her -- she must have needed a towel after reading it -- detailing her intuition, her successes, her clients.

Phil Plait Phil Plait

Phil Plait writes Slate’s Bad Astronomy blog and is an astronomer, public speaker, science evangelizer, and author of Death From the Skies!  

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But it forgets to mention one thing. A small thing, a minor detail, really: psychic powers don't exist.

It really is that simple. If you have psychic powers, you've had years to show them to Randi, who would happily give you a check for one million dollars if you can prove it.

Or you could win the lottery ten times in a row. Your choice.

The Newsweek article is an embarrassment. It actually says this:

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It's impossible to objectively judge psychic powers.

Wow. I mean, wow. Of course it's objectively possible to judge psychic powers. It's trivially easy to do so. We have a whole field of mathematics called "statistics", and it can be used to judge quite well if someone is able to do better than random chance in a fair test. Have the psychic pick cards, random numbers, the flip of a coin, throws of dice, guess what word I'm thinking of. Then test this ability, say, 100 times. Statistics will give you a very clear view whether it was chance or not. Did they guess heads on the coin toss 50% of the time after 100 tosses? Bzzzzt. Did they guess it correctly more than 5 standard deviations away from the mean? Then you have something. Do it again. And again.

The article in Newsweek mentions none of this, and goes out of its way to paint a frilly substanceless picture of psychic nonsense. Maybe the woman involved honestly believes she has a power; she makes $50k a month which is strong incentive for her to believe it (though she says she has "intuition", and the article never quotes her as saying she's psychic, though the author used the term many times). But if she's right, Randi'll give her a year's salary in a few days. Sounds worth it to me.

As for Newsweek: feh. I have little trust for the mainstream media as it is, but for Newsweek now I have actual contempt.

Feh.

Tip o' the turban to the several BABlogees who alerted me to this article.