The Taranaki Daily News published an article about Herman Petrick, who claims to be able to help people by removing harmful negative energy. The author of the article, Taryn Utiger, asked the NZ Skeptics to respond to five questions about Herman’s claims. Here are our responses in full:
- Is there any scientific proof that negative energy exists or does not exist?
There’s no evidence that the type of negative spiritual energy Herman talks about exists, and no scientific basis for the concept of these energies. Although it can never be positively proven that this kind of energy doesn’t exist, every attempt so far to prove that it does exist has failed and this lack of evidence suggests that it’s unlikely there is any such a thing as spiritual energy.
Herman’s website doesn’t appear to have any evidence to back up his claims, just many assertions about negative energy and how he can help you to clear this energy for a price.
- Why should people be careful when dealing with people who claim to have special powers or skills?
There are many potential risks when dealing with people who claim to have a connection to, or understanding of, other-worldly powers or energies.
The most immediate concern is that people are often asked to pay money to the practitioner, and it’s generally not a good idea to pay for any service that doesn’t have a good evidence base. In Herman’s case, he states that he’s charging between $50 and $250 for a service where he has no proof that it does anything at all.
Some supernatural practitioners have also been known to take large sums of money from vulnerable people – using tactics such as gaining their trust or telling the unwary person that their money needs “cleansing”. Although this is relatively rare, there are several cases in New Zealand of this happening, along with many more around the world – and the effects can be devastating.
Beyond monetary issues, belief in pseudoscientific ideas such as those of spirit energies, ghosts and other supernatural entities and powers can cause people to make bad life decisions. People have been known to refuse proper medical care, make harmful financial choices and act on bad work or relationship advice.
Often the people who are targeted by those claiming to be able to use special powers are the most vulnerable in society. In Herman’s case, it is worrying to see that a lot of the cases he purports to be able to treat may be attributable to mental health issues, and there are even claims on his website that he can treat “any mental illness” as these are supposedly signs of “negative attachments”.
- What would your advice be to anyone who considers using services like these?
If you’re considering employing the services of someone who claims to have supernatural abilities, ask for evidence that the claims they make about their abilities are true. Testimonials should not be considered as sufficient evidence, as clients are often mistaken about whether something works or not.
The level of evidence should be proportional to the strength of the claims being made. If someone is claiming something that sounds unlikely to be true or doesn’t line up with what science has taught us about the world we live in, make sure you set a very high bar for the quality of evidence you are willing to accept from them as proof of their claims.
If you want to check the internet for more information, be aware that all sorts of claims are made on websites of varying quality. Wikipedia is a good place to start, and the “See also” and “External links” sections usually contain links to more good quality information on a topic. If the claim is related to your health (including mental health), talk to your GP about what they think.
If you decide to take the plunge and visit someone claiming they can help you via supernatural means, take a friend along with you who you trust not to let you spend money on something that’s not worth it. Especially if the issue you are seeking help with is a very emotional one for you, it’s a good idea to have someone there that will help to ensure you don’t make any rash decisions.
- Why do you believe people claim to have these powers?
It’s hard to guess the motivations and beliefs of people who make these kinds of claims, but they seem to fall into two broad categories.
Firstly, there are the people who are, at some level, aware that they are not in possession of the powers they claim to have. These people may have ways of justifying what they do, such as that they are bringing solace to grieving people or that if they weren’t helping this person, someone less scrupulous would be doing it.
Secondly, others seem to have never taken the time to critically check out their claims. They truly believe that they have special abilities, and positive feedback from their clients helps to bolster this belief (of course, there are many reasons why a client may give positive feedback despite the service they’ve received not actually making a difference). Confirmation bias can help people to remember the positive seeming results they see when offering their services, but forget the times that their powers didn’t seem to work. Along with other biases that our brains use to make sense of the world, someone claiming supernatural powers can easily end up with the mistaken belief that their powers are real.
- Is there anything you would like to add?
If Herman is serious about his claims, the NZ Skeptics would be keen to help him to test his abilities under controlled conditions. It is important that he takes the time to back up the claims that he is making. The alternative, that he continues to charge people money for a service that he can’t prove is real, would be disappointing to say the least.