Richard Saunders, superstar

Richard Saunders, superstar

Richard Saunders, superstar

Bad Astronomy
The entire universe in blog form
July 2 2008 2:24 PM

Richard Saunders, superstar

>skeptic Richard SaundersI've written about my friend and fellow skeptic Richard Saunders many times before. Most recently, I mentioned he has scored a gig on a TV program in Australia called The One, where they will try to choose "Australia's Number 1 Psychic".

Of course, in my opinion, psychics are full of Number Two.

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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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The program is a bit like American Idol and shows like that. Several self-proclaimed psychics will be given a series of tests, with one eliminated every week (sadly, eliminated from the show, not from bilking the public). There are two judges: one is, um, a witch, and the other is Richard.

Clearly, he has his work cut out for him.

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I know Richard pretty well, and he is a gentleman, a kind man, a warm-hearted and generous man. I also have no doubt he will be the most hated guy in Oz after this! He'll be the Simon Cowell of Down Under.

But my hope -- and it's a slender one, but it's there -- is that a lot of people in Australia will see this good-natured, good-looking, and well-spoken man and maybe, just maybe ,think about what he's saying. Did the psychic in question really divine the location of the lost object? Or was it a lucky guess, a cold read of the victim, an exaggeration, or an outright cheat?

In the end, Richard won't have to compromise his principles to choose a psychic; instead they'll winnow the field down to the least bad three, and then a phone-in session will decide who is the best at either self-deception or fraud -- I mean, who is the "best psychic".

A lot of people in Australia will probably have their beliefs confirmed by this show. But Richard is very charming. I think he'll go a long way in convincing viewers that doubting the claims of "psychics" is a very good line to take.

Edited to add: I missed this, but Shane in the comments pointed out that on Richard's and Stacey's (the witch) pages on the show's site, there is a poll asking if you are a believer or a skeptic. The poll is to the right of the article, at the bottom of the middle column of the blog. I would never ask my readers to crash a poll, of course, and even if you did it might not have much effect once the show becomes popular and a zillion people vote. But wouldn't it be funny if the skeptics stayed way ahead of the believers?