Psychic and TVNZ join forces to profit from child’s disappearance

When Sensing Murder psychic Deb Webber announced on TV One’s Breakfast show that missing Auckland toddler Aisling Symes was in “a ditch, hole” it raised eyebrows all over the place (NZ Herald, 9 October).

Webber was appearing on the show to plug her upcoming nationwide tour – and also the latest series of Sensing Murder, screening on the same channel. Later that day TVNZ journalist Amy Kelley asked the police at a press conference how seriously they would take Webber’s “information”.

TVNZ then approached a friend of the Symes family and subsequently Webber had met them. The state broadcaster seemed to have far too cosy a relationship with the psychic.

TVNZ spokeswoman Andi Brotherston defended the channel’s role, saying, “You know what they are doing? They are being human. They have a family out there that are desperate to find their child.”

Interestingly, Webber’s Sensing Murder co-star Kelvin Cruickshank said at a public show in Hamilton (see p. 16) that his spirits had told him to keep clear of the case, because the family were devout Baptists who didn’t believe in spiritualism.

It is worth remembering that at the time Webber made these comments (less than 48 hours after Aisling’s disappearance) misadventure seemed the most likely explanation. It was only as time went on that the abduction scenario gained favour. When her body was eventually discovered in a concrete stormwater pipe the Waikato Times (13 October) reported Webber had been “proved correct”.

But “ditch” or “hole” covers almost all the likely options – including a shallow grave. Again, the standard psychic’s ploy of making a vague statement which is then misremembered as more accurate than it was, paid dividends.

Hunt on for ‘panther’

A few years back the annual NZ Skeptics conference heard about reports of big cats in the South Island high country. Now someone has built a trap for the mystery beast (Sunday Star-Times, 13 December).

High country farmer David Wightman says he’s never seen the “panther”, but others on his 9500ha Winterslow Station in North Canterbury have, on at least four occasions. “Too many people have seen it to doubt what it is – without actually capturing it and doing a DNA test on it, one can only assume it is a black leopard or black panther.”

Wightman said he planned to use a live goat to lure the panther into the trap. The panther would be unable to harm the goat because it would be in a separate enclosure, but its bleating should be enough to attract the cat. There was no evidence of a large predator attacking free-ranging stock, however.

We should apply the skeptical adage, when you hear hoofbeats in the night, think of horses, not of zebras. Big cats have been reported very widely, and sometimes are reported as brown or grey, suggesting that breeding populations of at least two species are involved. Black leopards (‘panthers’) are rare within their natural range compared to the more common spotted variety, yet no spotted leopards have been sighted roaming free in New Zealand.

Far more likely that the big cats are just that – big cats. Feral domestic cats can grow remarkably large – I once saw one in the Lewis Pass which must have been almost a metre nose to tail – and people are very poor at judging scale at long distances (hmm, maybe that cat wasn’t so big after all!).

Scientology ‘organised fraud’

The church of Scientology has been branded an “organised fraud” by a French court and fined 600,000 euros ($1.2m) for preying financially on vulnerable believers (NZ Herald, 28 October).

Judges in the Paris criminal court ordered the church to pay for adverts carrying its findings to be placed in newspapers around the world. It is believed to be the first time that Scientology has been declared fraudulent by a court in a large, democratic country, although individual scientologists, including its founder L Ron Hubbard, have previously been convicted of fraudulent activities. The Paris decision went further and declared the core claims of Scientology were “fallacious” and designed to “hook” members into paying large amounts of money.

Two French female plaintiffs alleged that, between 1997 and 1999, the Scientology movement persuaded them to pay the equivalent of 21,000 euros and 49,500 euros for treatments to improve their mental and physical health. The two main Scientology bodies in France were put on trial for “systematic use of personality tests of no scientific value… with the sole aim of selling services and products”.

Scientology spokeswoman Agnes Bron said the verdict was the result of an “inquisition of modern times” and that they would appeal.

Science writer wins ruling in libel battle

Brtiish science writer Simon Singh, who is being sued for libel by the British Chiropractic Association, is to fight on after a preliminary judgment against him was opened to appeal (The Guardian, 14 October).

Singh was sued after writing an article in the Guardian criticising the association for supporting members who claim that chiropractic treatments can treat children’s colic, sleeping and feeding problems, frequent ear infections, asthma and prolonged crying.

Singh described the treatments as “bogus” and criticised the BCA for “happily promoting” them.

In May, Mr Justice Eady in the high court ruled on the meaning of the words, saying they implied the BCA was being deliberately dishonest. Singh was initially refused leave to appeal, but Eady’s interpretation was deemed to be open to argument by Lord Justice Laws, who said Eady had risked swinging the balance of rights too far in favour of the right to reputation and against the right to free expression.

Many scientists and science writers have rallied to Singh’s support, claiming that the freedom of scientific opinion is at stake. “Simon Singh’s battle in this libel case is not only a glaring example of how the law and its interpretation are stifling free expression, it shows how urgent the case for reform has become,” said Jo Glanville, editor of Index on Censorship.

‘Tumour’ thrown at meeting

The hysteria over the Dept of Conservation’s use of brodifacoum to eradicate pests on Rangitoto and Motutapu, reported in last issue’s Newsfront, has continued (NZ Herald, 15 October).

A woman, Donna Bird, was ejected from a 14 October meeting on Auckland’s North Shore after hurling abuse and objects – one of which she claimed was a tumour that had been taken out of her – at DoC speaker Richard Griffiths. The department were “parasites” and “disease mongerers”, she said.

Others at the meeting accused DoC of spreading poison in the gulf, and of being blinded by science. Six dogs died and others became unwell after apparent exposure to tetrodotoxin, a natural marine toxin, on Auckland beaches. Marine organisms, including penguins and dolphins, had also been found dead in the area. Mr Griffiths told the meeting toxicology results ruled out brodifacoum as being responsible. “I’m not sure what else we can say.”

Thief warned of sex change curse

A thief in Auckland may get more than he or she bargained for with a terracotta flower pot taken from a Gulf Harbour home (Rodney Times, 3 December).

The owner says it contains his African witchdoctor grandma’s ashes and is now cursed. In a letter to the Rodney Times, At du Plooy says his grandmother was a sangoma or witchdoctor who died in Africa aged 93. Du Plooy claims to be a medium who keeps in contact with her spirit. While he should be able to trace the pot, through this link, it appears grandma is unfamiliar with the area concerned.

Instead, she has cursed a one kilometre area around the pot with sex-change ions – meaning men may gradually change to women and vice versa. Dumping the contents won’t break the spell, du Plooy says, only its return.

Not clairvoyant enough?

Psychic scammer Maria Duval failed to foresee trouble over ‘her’ misleading advertisements. The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) is funded by the advertising and media industries, and has the stated purpose of ensuring that advertising is socially responsible and truthful. The ASA administers the Advertising Standards Complaints Board, which is the body that hears complaints about ads, and the Advertising Standards Complaints Appeal Board.

Self-styled clairvoyant Maria Duval’s magic seems to have deserted her. Her company has pulled all its New Zealand advertising, following a complaint the Consumers’ Institute of New Zealand made to the Advertising Standards Complaints Board (ASCB).

Who or what is Maria Duval?

Maria Duval is the frontname for a scam operating all over Europe, North America, Australia and New Zealand. It is listed as a scam on the Ministry of Consumer Affairs Scamwatch website and the Consumers’ Institute A-Z directory of scams.

We also published a news item on Maria Duval in February 2005, questioning why banks and credit card companies continue to profit from this scam.

The Ontario police, US Postal service, agencies in five Australian states, the New York Better Business Bureau and consumer agencies in Europe have all investigated or warned against the Maria Duval scam. We complained to the ASCB after Sunday News and the Timaru Herald published large advertisements promoting Maria Duval.

The ads promised to fulfil seven wishes for no charge – “Nothing to pay, everything is FREE!” it claimed. Among other things, you could expect to “win the lottery jackpot within a fortnight”, successfully bet on the horses, and “solve [your] financial problems once and for all”.

The underlying reason behind the ads was to build a list of potential victims, who would then be hounded to pay for dubious psychic services.

We have heard from several New Zealanders who have paid large sums to the Maria Duval scam, including some who have gone into debt.

The ASCB’s decision

The ASCB upheld our complaint. It stated that the “Complaints Board was unanimously of the view that the advertisement would create unrealistic expectations of life-changing benefits”, and therefore “there was no doubt it would be likely to mislead and abuse the trust of the consumer.”

Following our complaint, Swiss ad agency Infogest suspended all Maria Duval print ads in New Zealand.

Martin Craig is an investigative writer at the Consumers’ Institute of New Zealand.

How to complain to the ASA

  • Don’t complain very often. Every TV ad for alcohol generates a complaint from Kate Sheppard types who are opposed to the product rather than the ad. To the ASA’s credit, every one of these complaints is considered before rejection.
  • Be specific. The ASA has set criteria for complaints. Some of the complaints it gets are very vague – eg, two males kissing (in a safe sex ad) is disgusting and shouldn’t be allowed. Read the criteria, say which criteria you think the ad breaches, and say why it breaches them.
  • Be realistic. The ASA has no legal powers. It is a self-regulation tool used by the advertising industry. In fact, to have your complaint accepted you must waive your right to use legal channels. The ASA can have a specific ad pulled but it cannot order fines or damages. It can’t order retractions or apologies either.
  • The advertiser gets a right to respond. One of the reasons we made this complaint was to discover who the Maria Duval advertiser is. Even if the complaint had been rejected, this information would have been useful.


Psychic Scam Busted

Two fortune tellers apparently failed to foresee the end of their alleged scam in Christchurch (The Press, January 29).

The men were arrested and charged with fraud after they were accused by a Ferrymead person of conning them out of more than $1000. Police believe the men, who apparently touted their mystic trade in a door-to-door routine, may have claimed other victims.

Constable Al Lawn of Sumner police, who arrested the men, said the pair approached the victim earlier. It was alleged they predicted “catastrophic events” for the person and said they would return the next day to tell them how to avoid these events. When they returned to the address the police were called and the arrests made.

Lawn said the charges rested on what the intent of the men — one a 32-year-old Sikh wearing a turban, the other a 30-year-old Indian — was.

The victim was “embarrassed”, and Lawn hoped if there were other victims they would not be too embarrassed to lay a complaint.

The two men had arrived in Auckland the previous week and then travelled to Christchurch.

Lawn said the case was a strange one. “We’re definitely not in the business of going around monitoring clairvoyants.”

Christchurch barrister David Ruth said criminal charges over fortune telling were highly unusual as most people knew fortune telling was “all nonsense and a bit of a gag”.

Good Luck Charms Do Work – In Your Mind

A pioneering study into the effectiveness of “lucky” charms has found they do work — but only in the minds of the people who carry them (Dominion Post, January 6).

British scientists found that though carrying a charm had no effect on events based on chance, such as winning the lottery, those who believed in them felt more confident and optimistic.

In the study, 100 people around Britain were asked to take a supposedly lucky Victorian-era penny with them for a month, and keep a diary as to how their fortunes changed in areas such as finance and health.

Perhaps the most compelling statistic came at the end of the survey when participants were told they could give up the lucky coin — 70% said they would keep carrying it.

Bucket Remark Brings Apology

A massage therapist who told a client her “uterus could end up in a bucket” has been taken to task by Health Commissioner Ron Paterson. He found the therapist tried to financially exploit the patient by prescribing $800 worth of ginger treatments. The therapist has been ordered to give the client a written apology for breaching the patient code of rights (Nelson Mail, March 15).

Fortune Hunter Finds Hits and Misses

Dominion Post journalist Diana McCurdy had an interesting time sounding out the fortune tellers (January 10), and reported a range of responses. “Clair-audio” Tania Kettle (a little voice in her head tells her about the future) reckoned McCurdy’s relationship was going to break up: “There’s no chance with the one you are with at the moment. I believe he’s going back to someone he knows.” Kettle also believed McCurdy was in the wrong profession.

Not so, said medium and clairvoyant Maria Angelica. McCurdy and her partner were spiritually connected and would be fine. And McCurdy was definitely in the right profession; being a little bit psychic herself helped her track down stories.

Feeling warm and fuzzy despite herself, she ended with a visit to NZ Skeptic chair-entity Vicki Hyde, who offered “gentle sympathy”.

“We put our souls into the hands of these people because they are claiming to have some kind of special knowledge. You’re less vulnerable because you’re doing it on a professional basis, but you can still feel the tug of that authority.”

And what does the future hold for the world at large? Maria Angelica believed The Return of the King would win more Oscars than its predecessors — though probably not Best Picture. Tania Kettle saw more cases involving children coming before the courts. The distance between rich and poor in New Zealand would continue to increase. Because of this disparity, immigrants would get a hard time.

Numerologist Eleanor Lefever felt that since 2004 was a SIX year “there’s going to be some surprising things that will happen.”

Vicki Hyde saw the New Zealand cricket team improving markedly (this was before the highly successful series against South Africa), with a new player breathing life into it (Chris Martin, perhaps?). She also said George Bush would win the next US election. This is the woman who predicted the All Blacks wouldn’t make the 1999 World Cup final, remember.

Where Everyone Gets a Haunting

Staff at the Warehouse in Nelson have been getting more than they bargained for, with reports of ghostly goings-on prompting a belated blessing for the building (Nelson Mail, July 10, 2003).

Three ministers blessed the building after two women reported seeing a girl who was believed to have been killed at nearby shunting yards in the early 1900s.

Staff, who knew the history of the girl’s death, had seen her very vividly, store manager Ross Barnett said — “even down to her pale blue dress.”

Archdeacon Harry Whakaruru, one of the ministers who blessed the site, said it appeared the “unusual happenings” had come about after the building was extended across a waterway. The tapu lifting was completely different from an exorcism, he said. It was an “acknowledgement of our old Maori customs that if you disturb our earth mother, you carry out a blessing in respect of the disturbance that has been made.”

Archdeacon Whakaruru said he was called on to bless unrest about once a week across the top of the South Island.

Mr Barnett said the first ghost sighting was well over two years ago. After more sightings recently, he decided to investigate whether the building was blessed when it was first built, and found that it had not been. “For me, it is something I always have done when I have opened up a new store.”

There had been no reports of ghost sightings since the blessing, he said.

Autism Doctor on Professional Misconduct Charge

The doctor who linked the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccination to autism is to be investigated for alleged professional misconduct (The Independent, February 23). Dr Andrew Wakefield’s research prompted one of Britain’s biggest health scares and a drop in the injection’s use throughout the Western world.

The Secretary of State for Health, Dr John Reid, called for the investigation after it emerged that the doctor had failed to declare a financial interest when he submitted his research for publication.

The director of the Auckland University-based Immunisation Advisory Centre, Dr Nikki Turner, said: “We’ve got overwhelming literature showing no link, but that hasn’t rapidly come through to reassure parents. How do you undo a myth; that’s the problem.”

Research published in the latest New Zealand Medical Journal shows that 21% of doctors and 41% of nurses are unsure whether the MMR vaccine is associated with autism or Crohn’s disease. Eleven per cent of the 188 health workers who took part thought that immunisations posed “unacceptable dangers”, although 72 per cent thought that they did not, and 17 per cent neither agreed nor disagreed.

Dr Richard Horton, editor of The Lancet medical journal, admitted that the research would never have been published had it been known that Dr Wakefield had also been working for lawyers preparing legal action by parents who believed that the jab had caused their children’s autism.

He said that the disclosure, admitted by Dr Wakefield, amounted to a “fatal conflict of interest” and that his key finding was “entirely flawed”.

The author’s research fund received £55,000 ($145,738) from the Legal Aid Board for studies on 10 children suspected of having been damaged by vaccines. Four of the children were also used in the highly controversial study that linked the MMR vaccination to autism, it was admitted.

Other allegations, that the research was biased and lacked proper ethical approval, have been rejected by the journal and the Royal Free Hospital in London, where the research was done. A hospital statement said Dr Wakefield, who left his post two years ago, should have declared the interest, but defended the other researchers involved.

Confessions of a Telephone Psychic

An anonymous contributor to the website,, shares her experiences as a professional tarot card reader.

I wanted to make a little extra money with a part-time job, preferably something I could do at home. While looking through the Help Wanted ads in the local paper, I ran across an ad for a psychic network and decided to give them a call.

I left my phone number and within a few hours a woman named Sally returned my call. I explained to her I had no psychic ability whatsoever. She said it did not matter. She told me this was very easy but I would need three things: a deck of Tarot cards, a book called “Tarot in 10 minutes” and a book on astrology. She asked me to call her back as soon as I had them. I was a bit nervous about the whole thing, but she comforted me, explaining that she had been doing this for quite a few years already and all it involved was talking to people.

I really had no idea what to expect, but I did get the two books and the cards the next day. While staring at the cards, I waited for some psychic feeling to come over me. But there was nothing, my mind was blank.

I waited two days before I called Sally back. I asked her how in the world I would be able to do this. She explained that I just had to look at the cards. She lived only a few blocks away from me, so she decided to come over, help me fill out the employment papers and show me her psychic routine.

We sat down in the kitchen and she spread out the paperwork on the table. Along with the contract there were papers that contained promotional text and disclaimers I had to memorise. I was going to have to say these things before and after every psychic call I took.

It was a lot to remember, but my mind was still on the fact that I had no clue how to read Tarot cards. I asked her if she could please give me a reading, but when she looked at the cards she said, “Oh no… these cards are terrible!”

I was a bit startled. Did Sally feel a bad aura around them? I was just about to ask when she said, “You bought the wrong cards! These are real Tarot cards. I guess it’s my fault. I forgot to mention that you should buy the beginners’ cards. Those are the ones I have. They have the meaning of each card printed right on them.”

Finally I began to understand how this all worked. Sally, the seasoned psychic professional, had no idea how to read Tarot cards either.

I asked her how, after such a long time of giving psychic readings she could not know what each card meant. She told me the cards are really just a crutch. The whole point is to make up stuff that sounds interesting so that people will stay on the phone for as long as possible. Some so-called psychics make up stuff about diseases to scare the callers. Others just shuffle a bunch of beginners’ Tarot cards and read the text. The trick is to get as much information out of the callers as possible and trying to figure out what they want to hear.

I was starting to get a bad feeling about all this, but I needed the money, and she made the whole thing sound fun, so I signed the contract and told her that I would get the beginners’ deck the following day.

Each card had several meanings written on them. All I had to do was grab a few cards, place them next to each other, and read a couple of words from each card to form sentences. It was like a preschool grammar game.

The dreaded day came when Sally called to give me my extension number. These psychic networks have a computerised system that forwards calls to the phones of their so-called psychic employees. A “psychic” has to call the automated network system and enter his or her extension number. When customers call the 900 number, their calls are automatically rerouted to the “psychics” who are currently logged into the system. Sally reminded me if one of my callers asked, I had to pretend to be located in a big psychic office somewhere down in Florida. I was not allowed to tell anyone that I was just sitting at home.

The whole thing was a big money machine. Whenever I called the phone system, I’d get a menu where I could log in, log out, or listen to a motivational message. There was nothing spiritual or psychic about this. He would just yell excitedly about how much money the system had earned the previous day, that we were all doing an excellent job, and that we should try even harder today to keep people on the phone even longer.

All “psychic” employees were paid on a sliding scale. The longer your average calls are, the more you get paid. The phone company had a rule that allowed paid 900 calls to last no longer than 59 minutes. After that time the call would automatically be disconnected. The psychic phone system had a little warning beep after 58 minutes so the psychic would have enough time to rattle down the disclaimer, and to convince the caller to call right back. Sally had told me that for legal reasons I had to finish every call with the words “This was for entertainment purposes only.” What a thing to say after someone had just spent 59 minutes on a 900 number which cost $4.99 per minute!


I had set up a desk in a quiet room. I had two dogs that barked a lot… It would have been hard to explain to a caller what my dogs were doing with me in an office in Florida. I had picked out a few beginners’ Tarot cards that sounded interesting, and bookmarked my astrology book so I wouldn’t have to search for the correct pages in the middle of a reading. I had the disclaimer and promotional texts stapled on the wall. And right there in front of me I had a bottle of antacid with a glass of water for my nervous stomach. I was ready for my first call.

The only problem was I was too nervous to log on. I sat there for at least three hours with the biggest knot in my stomach. I would have sat there all day, but my husband stopped home for lunch and asked me how I was doing.

I told him I couldn’t do this and he looked at me like I was crazy. “Just pick up the phone,” he said. “Just do the first call… I didn’t spend all that money on cards and books for nothing. At least give it a try!”

Finally I called and logged myself in. As soon as I hung up from the automated service, the phone rang.

First Call

I picked up and read my opening speech. Then I had to read the promotional text about the psychic newsletter and try to get the caller’s mailing address. We “psychics” would get bonus money for each mailing address we could get.

Most callers gave me their address. Later I found out the company would randomly stuff five Tarot cards into envelopes and mail them to these addresses. The cards were accompanied by a letter that said something like: “Important! We must speak to you about something big that is going to happen in your life very soon! Call our 900 number and let our trained psychic professionals tell you about the meaning of your five personal Tarot cards.”

The letter sounded important and very urgent. I had a few calls from people near to tears, thinking something terrible was about to happen to them. Even people who didn’t really believe that these five cards had any significance felt compelled to call. When I found out about this cheap trick, I stopped asking people for their addresses.

My first caller was a young guy. I asked if there was a specific topic he had questions about. He said “no.” My mind was blank.

I laid out my beginners’ cards while explaining to him what I was doing. Sally had told me that you have to keep talking at all times. Silence makes the caller realise how much money the call costs. I gave him a very brief and bad reading by looking at the cards and my astrology book. It was too general. I didn’t ask enough questions and basically all I did was read him his horoscope. The only good thing I can say is that the call lasted less than four minutes, so at least the poor guy didn’t waste too much money. After he hung up I logged myself out of the system. I just couldn’t stomach another call right then.

Second Call

Hours later I gave it another try. The phone rang and after my opening speech I again asked if there were any topics that she would like to start with. She was a very nice woman and she said, “yes. My love life.” For some reason I felt comfortable with her and I started off by asking her if she was married. She said “no,” so I replied “but there is someone special you’re thinking about.”

“Yes,” she giggled. I asked her to think of that person as I shuffled the cards. I told her to let everything leave her mind and just concentrate on that one special person. Then as I laid out the cards I started reading them. The longer the call lasted, the more comfortable I got. As we talked, I found myself moving away from the cards and talking to her like we were old friends. I also found myself telling her things that she sometimes was surprised to hear because they were true.

Logic, Not Psychic Powers

I guess to her it really seemed like I had some sort of psychic powers, but sometimes when you talk to someone you just know things without being told. The word is logic! Of course there was “someone in her life.” Otherwise she wouldn’t have called a psychic hotline to ask questions about her love life!

Anyway, that reading went very well and I lost track of time. We had a nice talk which lasted 59 minutes.

After a few calls I realized how harmful these psychic lines can be. Eighty per cent of the calls I received were not just people calling for fun. They were people with questions concerning their health and other serious problems. And these poor people relied on the advice of so-called psychics like me to make major decisions in their lives.

A few times I felt like I had helped, but I spent a lot of time wondering what happened after many of my calls. How did things turn out?


One day I had a call from a woman who was very afraid because she had just spoken 59 minutes with another psychic and been disconnected. He had told her she had a virus, and had asked her if she had been feeling under the weather, felt tired, and not 100 per cent okay.

Now come on, how often can you say you feel 100 per cent? So of course this so-called psychic had scared the living daylights out of her. I tried to calm her down and told her the truth: “Some psychics will say anything to keep you on the line. No one always feels in tip top shape. And if you really feel bad you should visit a doctor. Don’t let a phone call scare you into thinking that you have some terrible disease.”

The people working for these psychic hotlines are not psychics. They’re out to make money. It’s just a job to them. And having this job means you have to throw your conscience away. Anyone who has an ounce of decency in them would never be able to do this to people. You actually get paid to lie to people. And the more interesting the lies are the more money you make. These so-called psychics play with your fears and hopes. They feel if they say something to scare you, you will stay on the phone longer.

I’m not proud of having done this, and of course I quit after a short while. I’m sharing what I have learned to warn you. Don’t fall for this nonsense!


“Dr Jaz” Dies

Dr Neil McKenzie, better known to music lovers as Dr Jaz, died in May following a long battle against a brain tumour (Bay of Plenty Times, May 15 2003).

Neil McKenzie was also a long-time member of the NZ Skeptics, and wrote the “Skepsis” column on medical issues for this magazine from 1997 to 1999.

Born in Edinburgh, Scotland, he was raised in Surrey and attended medical school in Charing Cross hospital. He first came to New Zealand in 1974 and subsequently took up a post as a GP in Tokoroa. He settled in Tauranga in 1985.

Neil McKenzie first formed a skiffle band at age 16 in England and took up the banjo – an instrument which became his trademark. In 1980 his band, ‘Dr Jaz’ was born, and has been a regular feature of the local music scene here and overseas ever since.

Equally comfortable in the worlds of music and medicine, he will be greatly missed in both.

ACC Investigates Acupuncturists

ACC is investigating 20 acupuncture providers after discovering they were getting half its annual funding for the treatment (Nelson Mail, Dominion Post, May 21).

More than $2 million was going to only 20 of almost 200 registered acupuncturists, ACC Healthwise division general manager David Rankin said. Some were claiming for 12 hours a day for every day of the week.

Acupuncturists will now have to consult ACC clinical advisers after 10 treatments, rather than the previous 24, before further treatments will be authorised. ACC spends about $4.6 million a year on acupuncture treatments.

Register of Acupuncturists president Kevin Plaisted said the new limit was unlikely to stop further sessions going ahead.

“There is no reason why ACC will not approve further treatment … it’s certainly not designed to stop treatment at 10 but simply that we’re accountable for the treatment we’re providing,” he said.

Dr Rankin said injuries like sprains were treated with acupuncture but it required more sessions than other treatments.

Who Would Have Predicted This?

T Bromley, of Greymouth, takes the Press to task in a letter to the Editor (May 22) over the accuracy of the paper’s Christmas “clairvoyants” Maureen Rose and Rosina Bond.

Neither were able to predict the main stories early in the New Year, which included the Australian bushfires, Sydney’s train disaster, and even the space shuttle crash.

Rosina Bond’s prediction for the war in Iraq read, “While Iraq has become the US’s New Russia it’s predicted the two countries will not go to war in 2003 … When conflict comes to a head it will be late September-early October, Bush will be stopped in his tracks.”

No mention either of the power crisis, nor (and this, says T Bromley, is the grand-daddy of them all) the Sars virus. Like shooting fish in a barrel, really.

Watch Out for Those Ladders

Joanne Black’s Blackchat column (Dominion Post, April 28) had a novel perspective on the Sars epidemic. Pointing out that 110 people dying of the disease in China in one month was equivalent to four New Zealanders dying in a year, she took a look at the statistics to see what types of things kill four, and only four, New Zealanders in a year.

In 1998, the “latest” year for which mortality figures are available, three people died from cystitis, from varicose veins in the legs and from male breast cancer. Eight died from falling in holes, two from acute tonsillitis, four from curvature of the spine, three from genital prolapse, five from falling off ladders or scaffolding, and 14 from being hit by rolling stock (which Black thinks is to do with trains rather than sheep tumbling down hillsides).

Investigating Sars has taught her plenty, she says. She wouldn’t hesitate to travel to China, but from now on, she’ll certainly be more vigilant when crossing railway lines, take more care on ladders, and particularly watch out for those lethal holes in the ground.

Psychics “See” Missing Woman

Psychics have told police they know what happened to missing Hauraki Plains woman Sara Niethe (Dominion Post, June 16).

Several psychics have called police since investigators announced a $20,000 reward for information which would help them find the woman they now believe may have been a victim of foul play.

“They have had visions of where Sara is and where her car is. If they are specific enough we will check them out,” a spokesman said. Most, however, have not been specific.

Ms Niethe vanished on March 30 after drinking in Kaihere with a friend. Wide police searches of the plains, rivers and an irrigation ditch found no sign of her or her light blue-green late 1980s Honda Civic. Her family say it is out of character for her to leave her children, and her bank accounts have not been touched.

We Suspected As Much

The incidence of cancerous tumours in the brain, neck and head has not risen since the arrival of mobile phones, according to the Wellington School of Medicine (Dominion Post, June 16).

Researchers collected data on men and women aged 20 to 69 from the cancer registry between 1987 and 1998, as well as data on cellphone use. Professor Alistair Woodward said the findings, published in the New Zealand Medical Journal, should provide users with some reassurance. He said the study’s weakness was that it looked at the overall population rather than particularly at those who used mobile phones, meaning it was not known whether those developing tumours were using cellphones or not. But the research still showed there was not a strong link between cellphone use and cancer. The findings backed up a similar study in Denmark.

A study of tumour rates among cellphone users compared to non-users would be completed next year.

And on a Similar Note… British researchers have cast further doubt on fears of a link between overhead power lines and childhood leukaemia (Dominion Post, June 16). A study published in the British Journal of Cancer found no evidence to support such concerns from laboratory experiments. Researchers used blood cells from a donor to test the effect of mag-netic fields on the normal repair process and found cells exposed to strong magnetic fields repaired themselves naturally.

Funds Raised for Alternative Treatment

A former Hawkes Bay goal-kicker and member of the Blues Super 12 rugby team will use more than $100,000 raised at charity functions to fight his motor neurone disease with alternative medicine (Dominion Post, June 2).

Jarrod Cunningham, who was diagnosed with the disease last year, said $45,000 was raised at a Hawkes Bay auction on May 31, and up to $70,000 at a rugby game the following day, featuring All Blacks Norm Hewitt and Bull Allen. This would go toward research and education on the natural supplements which had “cured” him.

Cunningham, 34, said he was on the road to a full recovery from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a form of motor neurone disease, after taking a course of 20 capsules of astragalus, from the root of the astragalus plant, over five days, and says it has put him into full remission.

After his Christchurch-based Chinese “healer” told him that chicken parasites caused the symptoms of his disease, he has vowed to use money raised to prove this and help others with the disease seek herbal remedies to treat it.

The money raised at the weekend would be fed into a trust to be administered by the healer Cunningham has been working with.

Before taking the herb he was unable to get out of the bath without help. Three weeks after the dose he was able to do so on his own. “If that’s not remission of symptoms I don’t know what is,” he said.

Cunningham was also prescribed a dose of cayenne pepper to help unblock his lymph nodes, which he says worked. He based this on his armpits smelling like curry.

He no longer visits his doctor in Britain where he has been based, saying the doctor was closed-minded and negative. However when his muscles grow back in three to six months, as he predicts, he will tell his neurologist how he did it.


Biokinetic Horror Show

A Hamilton doctor is facing two charges of professional misconduct and one of disgraceful conduct after one of his patients was left looking “like something out of a horror movie”. The Marlborough Express (August 21) reports Yvonne Short had gone to Dr Richard Gorringe in 1998 looking for a cure for her skin problems.

She told a disciplinary tribunal in Hamilton Dr Gorringe promised to cure her within 12 weeks, but she ended up worse off.
“My hands were also swollen and painful… I would wake up in the morning and there would be skin on the bed and on the floor,” she said.
In her opening address, director of proceedings Morag McDowell told the tribunal Dr Gorringe’s alternative practice was not an issue. Instead, the prosecution was concerned with his diagnostic technique.

The next day (NZ Herald, September 22) Dr Gorringe demontrated this technique, known as Peak Muscle Resistance Testing. Using a fake patient, he showed how the patient placed his or her hand or arm on a square aluminium plate, which was part of a wired circuit.

In the other hand, the patient holds an aluminium rod, and touches dozens of small vials filled with various body tissues, chemicals, toxins and pathogens. If the patient’s arm flexes when they touch a certain toxin or body tissue vial, that shows what is wrong and where the problem lies.

Using this technique, Dr Gorringe diagnosed Yvonne Short as suffering from paraquat poisoning.

Expert witness Dr Richard Doehring told the tribunal the technique was not reliable, adding that muscle testing was without objective validation and confirms what the practitioner expects it to confirm.

He criticised as unethical Dr Gorringe’s practice of selling remedies from his own clinic and described his alternative practice as “cruelly exploitative, if not outright fraudulent.”

Hotline to Heaven

Bolivian visionary, evangelist and stigmatist Katya Rivas flew into Wellington briefly, and relayed a message from Jesus especially for the people of New Zealand. Since being visited by the Blessed Mother in 1993, Katya has reported numerous miracles. She has even converted sceptics to Catholicism – Aussie investigative journalist Mike Willessee interviewed her in 1999 for a Fox TV documentary and the former sceptic converted. It was he who invited her to Sydney, to help launch a new video he made on the miracle of the Eucharist. Contact magazine (September 5) had this as its lead article, spurring an unprecedented five copies submitted to Newsfront from members. Christ’s message, by the way: “We are already in a new country, a country which is ready to receive my mercy through love. Trust, it is important that you speak to the people and save souls that are precious to me. Happy are those who are docile to my voice and invitations.”

Letters to the editor resulted, essentially saying “Stigmata, potata!” – one pointed out that CSICOP’S Joe Nickell looked into the alleged stigmatisation and found they could not be authenticated. The show was so bad it even won Farce of the Week (see Another said “A lot of Mike Willessee’s very sane friends and colleagues are deeply concerned about his health…”

Something to cry over

While on such things, the NZ Herald (September 23) reports the weeping virgin of Rockingham appears to have joined the long list of fakes that have plagued Christendom since splinters of the “true cross” carved out a market in the Middle Ages. (I wish I’d written that introduction -ed.) After examination, a secret cavity was found in the fibreglass statue which has enthralled thousands of the faithful at the industrial suburb south of Perth since rose-scented “tears” appeared in March. Following a pattern on the internet describing how to “amaze your friends and bring peasants to your door” the unknown creator reportedly put an oil-filled cavity in its head. It was then sold as a souvenir in Thailand eight years ago. Such are miracles.

Bad Vibes, Man

A Whakatane woman fears plans to build a periodic detention centre next to her shop will wreak havoc on her business, the Dominion Post (26 July) reports. “I sell crystals, can you imagine the negative energy that will come from over there,” said Gerry Tobin, who plies her trade next to the proposed Commerce St site. On the other hand, we wonder whether the positive vibrations from her wares will have a beneficial effect on the prisoners?

It’s your hair they’re after

Consumer Affairs Ministry senior adviser Pamela Rogers is one person keeping tabs on scams (Dominion Post, September 11 – yes, there were other news items that day). She says the “ickiest” one she’s seen was from clairvoyant Liv Hansen who would map out your financial future in return for $30 and a clipping of your hair.

Similar scams included Master Charli Chan’s amazing golden dragon egg and Maria Duval’s cardboard talisman, priced between $50 and $80.

Variations on the Nigerian scam include pleas from Zimbabwean “Edward Mulete” to help disperse his murdered farmer father’s $46 million estate, and a man claiming to be the late King of Nepal’s lawyer looking to offload $67 million squirreled away by the king’s son and killer, Prince Dipendra.

The ministry has also seen a recent upsurge in “El Gordo” lottery scams, in which people are sent a letter or e-mail saying they had won money in a lottery, but needed to send a cheque or provide credit card details to pay $50 to claim their prize. Ms Rogers said people still sent money despite knowing they had not entered such lotteries.

Sceptic sees stars

Independent film-maker Bart Sibril surprised Buzz Aldrin, one of the first astronauts to walk on the moon – and saw stars for his efforts. The man-described as a “sceptic”-maintains the moon landings were faked in the Nevada desert. He was with a Japanese film team and ambushed the astronaut outside a Beverly Hills hotel, reports The Press (September 21). “I walked up to him on the sidewalk and put a Bible up to him and asked him to swear on the Bible that he actually walked on the moon,” said Sibril, who has confronted Aldrin twice before. “He refused to do it, so I told him he was a thief to take money for giving an interview on something he didn’t do. That’s when he hit me …”

Looking For Love

Keiko, the whale from Free Willy, has told an “animal interpreter” that he is lonely and looking for love. He also has an itchy back. Astrid Moe, who claims to have had a “lengthy telepathic dialogue” with Keiko, says the whale is looking for his other half and that he feels stuck between two worlds, reports the Star-Times (September 15). “He told me that his back was very itchy and that was when I saw an emitting device near his dorsal fin. That’s probably what he was talking about.” Rocket science.


If I Could Talk to the Dead Animals

Pet psychic Carol Schultz of Chicago has been gaining a lot of international attention, with identical reports featured in June editions of the Cairns Post and Evening Post. Journalist Marilynn Marchione seems to have written the piece with eyebrows permanently raised, as Schultz talks of her ability to speak with dogs, cats and horses, even if they’re dead. She even reads cats’ paws! Yes, it’s true! The article goes on to tell of a dog trapped in a cat’s body – it didn’t help that he was named Duke. Schultz also helps people get in touch with their departed loved ones – one woman who had had two dogs die recently wanted to know why they needed to leave her.

Consultations cost $35 for an email consultation, $50 by phone, or $75 plus travel for a personal visit. That’s US dollars.

Evening Post, 16 June, Cairns Post, 5 June

Seagull healed

Not to be outdone by the Americans, New Zealand also has its resident pet psychics. Paul and Victoria Woodward of Upper Moutere charge only $15 a session to lay hands on an animal and unblock its energy channels, which is a lot more reasonable. Victoria Woodward says animals seem to know the healing could help them.

“I’ve even treated a seagull, I didn’t touch him, but he got close enough for the treatment to work and simply flew off when he’d had enough.” How she knew the bird was ill (or male), or had been healed, she didn’t say.

Nelson Mail, 8 May

Open wide, please

The British Dental Journal reports that an acupuncture needle, inserted into an anti-gagging point on the ear is just the thing to overcome fear-induced nausea during a visit to the dentist. Some patients are so apprehensive, according to Dr Janice Fiske of the Guy’s, King’s and St Thomas’ Dental Institute, they develop a gagging reflex, which causes their jaws to clench. The needles were tried on 10 subjects, and it worked every time. Without the needles, six could only bear to open their mouths after sedation. Now if they could just come up with something to deal with a fear of needles…

Evening Post, 14 June

Aromatherapy all in the mind

The placebo effect (see Editorial) was in the news again with a report on a team of German and Austrian scientists, who found that oils used in aromatherapy improve mental ability – but only if you believe they do. The team, led by Josef Ilmberger of the Ludwig-Maximilians University, Munich, sprinkled water onto surgical masks worn by volunteers, then tested their reaction times. Essential oils used to promote alertness, such as peppermint, jasmine and ylang-ylang, were then sprayed on the masks of some of the volunteers, while others had water, and reaction times were again tested. No difference was found in reactions in subjects treated with oil or water, suggesting the oils do not have a direct influence on the brain when inhaled. However, when asked to rate how stimulating, strong or pleasant they found each liquid, those subjects who gave high ratings showed small improvements in their reaction times. Ilmberger concluded the effects of essential oils on basic forms of attentional behaviour were mainly psychological.

Dominion, Evening Post, 20 April

Exorcism goes awry

One of the grislier news items of recent times concerned the death of 37-year-old Joanna Lee in December. Pastor Luke Lee was committed to trial for Ms Lee’s manslaughter in June after allegedly strangling her during an exorcism. Neighbours heard screams and chanting prayers from the Auckland house, but didn’t think anything of it, as such noises were common. Six days after the exorcism, police found Ms Lee’s fly-blown body, still lying in bed while members of Pastor Lee’s Lord of All church prayed over her, occasionally wiping her body with alcohol to keep the smell at bay. Lee told police she had been sick and was sleeping.

“We are innocent. God knows. If we pray, Joanna will come back. God knows,” Lee said.

Church members said in written statements that Lee regularly performed exorcisms on them, one noting that for a small man he used a lot of force. Most of his 30-strong congregation was gathered from Queen St on Friday nights, though many who did join quickly became disturbed by Lee’s aggressive behaviour and left again. Joanna Lee, who had arrived from Korea six weeks previously, was described by church members as “a very smiley person”.

Dominion, 12 June

“Yeti” hair passes genetic test

British scientists on the trail of the yeti have found some of the best evidence yet of the existence of the mythical Himalayan creature – a sample of hair that has proved impossible to identify.

The hair was gathered from a tree in eastern Bhutan, and matches no known animal, raising the strong possibility that it was from an unknown species. An “official yeti hunter” led the expedition, working on the documentary series To the Ends of the Earth, to an area where he was convinced an animal was at large, and collected the hair from a hollow in a cedar tree.

Bryan Sykes, professor of human genetics at the Oxford Institute of Molecular Medicine said the hair wasn’t human or bear, or anything else they’d been able to identify.

“It’s a mystery and I never thought this would end in a mystery. We have never encountered DNA that we couldn’t recognise before.”

Of course, it may not have come from a large hairy primate. Wonder if they compared it with Fiordland moose hair?

Dominion, 3 April

The Joys of Cold Reading – You Win Some and Lose Some

When Brian Edwards interviewed Uri Geller some years ago, Dr David Marks of Otago University used the printed transcript to demonstrate that Brian had been the victim of highly skilled “cold reading”, rather than the witness to remarkable extra-sensory powers as he appeared to believe at the time.

Brian has obviously learned the lesson. When Ms Rosemary Altea, the famous seer and spiritual healer, tried her techniques on a recent Top of the Morning show, he simply refused to be drawn and our world-famous connection to the spiritual world was left floundering.

Ms Altea claims to see dead relatives standing beside the living who then reveal remarkable truths and pass on meaningful communications. In this case, Dr Edwards’ father was standing by and telling her some remarkable truths about Brian’s current life so that she could pass them on — even though he would presumably know them already. (As it turns out, no one can be certain that Brian’s father is dead. One wonders how Ms Altea will explain her visions should he turn up alive and well.)

The revelations from the other world began with suggestions of “moving” or “relocating”. Given that most people in New Zealand move house once every four years this was a reasonable shot. When Brian said he hadn’t moved, the “moving” visions were replaced with messages regarding sloping land with some steps to a garden. Which is also a fair stab in the semi-dark, given that it is common knowledge that Brian lives in the country on a 13 acre lot — and in Auckland it would be near impossible to find 13 acres of flat land. When this also appeared to be a dead end Brian appeared to put her out of her misery by telling her that they were building a water garden at the bottom of a slope in their property. “Fish?” she “saw” — “No fish”, said Brian.

Maybe Brian’s father was moving from cell to cell — the connection seemed less than satisfactory.

Later in the interview Ms Altea claimed that she could always establish her veracity by giving people some information she could not possibly know without information from the other side — like the fact that the Edwards were building a water-garden. “No — I told you that” said Brian, closing the trap.

She moved on, while Brian continued to keep his lip quite firmly buttoned — except to set further traps. She rambled on about his father, passing on the normal platitudinous messages — such as the fact that he had receding hair — until Brian pointed out that he never knew his father and knew little about him except that he had spent six months in prison for bigamy. Brian wanted to know where his father had been for the last 57 years, but Ms Altea refused to discuss this, except to say that there was something unpleasant involved. (Death maybe?)

This session was not going too well. Finally Ms Altea explained, with a measure of exasperation “Of course I don’t have to prove anything. I know that what I experience is true, and I just tell people what I see.” Well, so do five year olds making up their own fantasies. But they don’t go on the Oprah show, write books, tour the world and make large sums of money. Maybe there is a case for different standards of evidence.

During her introduction to us all, Ms Altea had promised to conclude the interview with a final “pearl of wisdom” but, knowing that she had picked up so little, she suddenly prepared to leave. The cruel Brian reminded her that she had promised him some special and truly meaningful message from his long lost father. “He loves you!” came the stunning revelation as she escaped from the studio. Given that his father didn’t want him, and had pressured his mother to have him placed in an orphanage, this (as Brian put it to me, when I checked facts with him), seems to run against the evidence.

This interview revealed how cold-reading really works by demonstrating how dreadfully it fails if the subject simply refuses to respond with the normal enthusiastic response to any hint of a “hit”. At the end of the session, listeners must have been wondering how this “famous spiritualist” had become so famous, and how she had ever managed to get on to the Oprah Winfrey show. On the other hand it may have confirmed what many of us believe it takes to get on to the Opray Winfrey show…

One thing — we can be sure that this particular interview will never appear in Rosemary Altea’s CV.

The Clairvoyant – The police don’t want to know

Back in March, when the police seemed to be making no progress in hunting down South Auckland’s serial rapist, a community newspaper ran a story effectively chiding the police in general and Detective Inspector John Manning in particular for taking no notice of the advice being given him by one of Auckland’s leading clairvoyants, Ms Margaret Birkin, who has her own programme on Radio Pacific.

Ms Birkin had received a letter from an “amateur” who claimed to know the name and address and other information which would identify the rapist and put the matter to rest. Inspector Manning said they knew the name and received scores of letters from clairvoyants claiming to be able to identify the criminal.

Ms Birkin complained in the story that despite the letter and two visits to the police station by Mrs Birkin’s husband they had still not responded. “They don’t want to know and people’s lives are at stake” she protested. “I know a lot about the rapist, but I would know a lot more if I could hold a piece of clothing.” The police insisted they had better things to do with their time.

Not to be deterred the reporter then printed six responses to a street “survey of locals” pointing out that “Clairvoyants are used frequently in the United States of America and Australia.” Five out of the six seemed to think it was a good idea. Two believed it depended on the quality of the clairvoyant. One claimed to “be a sort of clairvoyant” herself (just what sort she didn’t say). One said he didn’t believe in it but thought that in desperate times the police should try anything. Our single sceptical hero was Mr Len Hewgill of Manurewa who alone didn’t think it would help. “I like to be able to see things and touch things,” says Len, narrowly escaping a sexual harassment charge.

Skeptics may have noticed that when the police finally apprehended the serial rapist there was silence from the clairvoyant community. Certainly none rushed forward claiming “I was right, I told you so.” Your Editor was prepared to concede that this might have reflected uncharacteristic modesty on the part of the psychics and so he telephoned Detective Inspector Manning to see if any of them had been right all along.

He laughed.

Police Use of Psychics

A detective with long experience in tracing missing persons gave the 1993 Skeptics Conference the word on how useful psychics are in police work.

During the last 25 years a number of police investigations have gained prominence in the news media due to the disappearance (sometimes permanently) of a victim. In the 1970s there were names like Jennifer Beard (West Coast), Mona Blades (Taupo), Gail McFadyen (Wellington); in the ’80s Yvonne Bennett (Auckland), Kirsa Jensen and Teresa Cormack (Napier), Maxine Walker (Auckland); in the ’90s the Swedish tourists (Coromandel), Dahlberg (Nelson), Cruickshanks (Lake Wakatipu), and Mavis Harris (Dunedin).

Many of these cases have become well known, and in some of them the bodies remain to this day unrecovered. The well-known “psychic,” Doris Stokes, claims in one of her books to have assisted the police to recover the body of Mona Blades, though the police themselves have no knowledge of this. Since the detective inspector who handled this particular investigation died some years ago,we can speculate that the psychic may have passed the information as to the whereabouts of the body on to him direct — in some other world!

In a number of these cases when the media have built up psychic speculation on the whereabouts of the missing persons, this has attracted the attention and proper scorn of the Skeptics Society.

My own personal involvement in such cases included Gail McFadyen who, despite psychic suggestion, was located (after a week) by routine police searching, and with the disappearance of Kirsa Jensen at Napier in September 1983. Having been the officer in charge of that investigation, I was in a position to review all of the information that came forward during the course of the inquiry. Thousands of people were seen by the police, many of them providing useful information that assisted the investigation. To this day the remains of Kirsa Jensen have never been found.

Unhelpful Information

On reviewing the investigation about six months after the disappearance, the police found that several hundred offers of assistance and advice had been made by people who were not actually witnesses to any incidents at all, and thus their information became part of a “miscellaneous file”. As it transpired, two-thirds of this information came from psychics, clairvoyants and dreamers and did not advance the investigation one bit. Most of the information was not specific as to any area where a body might be located, but some was quite graphic in detail and disturbing by its very nature.

In more recent times, the disappearance of Amber-Lee Cruickshanks, a 2-year-old child, near Lake Wakatipu, brought a further flood of assistance from those inclined to the paranormal. An officer working on the investigation commented that he had received “letters from clairvoyants, card readers, star watchers, prayer groups, crystal readers, palm readers, spiritualists, people who have visions, premonitions and total lunatics”. None of them assisted the search.

The media compounded the situation with a television programme actually taking a psychic to the scene of the disappearance. It should be noted though, that in this particular case the victim’s mother seemed to place some reliance on the use of this type of person, she having consulted psychics in the past.

Once again, the case was not advanced at all by the intervention of such people, and indeed rarely was any specific information provided. This is not uncommon, and I would guess that in 95% of the situations, only vague suggestions or descriptions are provided as to the whereabouts of the missing person, such as remarking that they will be found near water or trees. Indeed I would go further and predict myself that around 90% of people who go missing in New Zealand will be found near trees or water — and I have no special powers!

If people with some psychic ability really were helpful, then they would be of great assistance to the police. We could employ them on an “as required” basis and use them to supplement our dog section, search and rescue squad, and other investigators. Thus assisted, the police could go straight to the victim or missing person without the extensive and expensive investigations and searches that now take place.

The reality is, however, that psychics provide no assistance whatsoever and to the best of my knowledge, never have. I have canvassed all of the police districts in New Zealand and no one has been able to provide details which confirm accurate predictions. Occasionally instances have seemed to come close, but on detailed examination have proved negative — that is, the body was found by some normal means and the location may have accidentally coincided with some “psychic suggestion”.

With the thousands of opportunities that offer themselves and the numerous pieces of information provided by psychics, sooner or later there has got to be a discovery that could be attributed to psychic intervention. I suggest this will be nothing more than coincidence.

Why Listen to Them?

Do the police attach any significance to psychics’ submissions, or appear to be doing so?

I believe that New Zealand is unique in the world because nearly every homicide case is solved, and almost all missing people are found. This is due in large part to public support. We cannot invite such support on one hand and then on the other dismiss it.

It is possible, too, that a genuine witness, after pondering for some time on what they have seen, may become concerned as to whether they have actually seen an event or just dreamt it. As well, a witness may elect, for whatever reason, to pass genuine information through a third party or medium (in whatever sense of the word), or finally the person passing on some dream or psychic inspiration to the police may in fact be the offender and be seeking a way to pass that on to the authorities in some roundabout way.

It is possible that some police officers, with no previous experience of dealing with psychics, could be inclined to accept them at first sight. Serious involvement with such people soon changes this belief. It is necessary, though, that the police listen to all of the suggestions that are made and act as they consider appropriate on the information they receive.

So much for the New Zealand experience. One reads of psychics being used overseas to assist the police, but any article that I have read suggests such assistance is as useless there as it is here.

A few years ago the Los Angeles Police Department conducted an experiment using 12 psychics, two-thirds of whom were “professional” (ie, earned their living by this means), to determine whether they could solve crimes. Four real crimes were examined, two that had been solved and two that remained unsolved. Some 20 to 30 key indicators were developed for each incident and the psychics were asked to examine an exhibit and speculate on the crime itself. At best they were able to guess correctly five or six of the indicators, and some got none at all right. The only degree of accuracy they achieved was in guessing the sex of the victim (or where it was known, the suspect) — they were correct on half of the occasions!
“Evaluation of the Use of Psychics in the Investigation of Major Crimes,” Reiser, Ludwig, Saxe and Wagner, Journal of Police Science and Administration, March 1979.)

A second experiment was later conducted using psychics and as well control groups of students and detectives. At the conclusion of the research, the researchers stated that “the data provided no support for the theory that psychics could produce investigatively useful information. In addition, the data failed to show that psychics could produce any information relating to the cases beyond a chance level of expectancy”.
“Comparison of Psychics, Detectives and Students in the Investigation of Major Crimes,” by Clyver and Reiser.

It is my view that psychics, dreamers, clairvoyants and the like have not provided any material assistance whatsoever to the police in New Zealand, and that accords with overseas research. Suggestions are certainly received, but they are rarely specific and often they raise false hopes in the minds of victims’ families.

The results of psychic intervention never stand up to test. There may occasionally be situations when it appears that some such suggestion has been useful, but that is not surprising in light of the volume of suggestions put forward for there must eventually be some coincidence.

Psychics and clairvoyants would be better off concentrating on Lotto numbers and race horse winners so that the profits thereby gained could be used to develop their science further and thus convince my colleagues and me of their ability.