Clairvoyants agree on missing man

Clairvoyants agree on missing man

By CORINNE AMBLER Police Reporter

Police will join friends of missing Wellington man Michael Kelly today in a search of an area where clairvoyants think he might be found.

Three clairvoyants independently said Mr Kelly was in the same area of greater Wellington, and friends had been searching there, close friend George Allan said.

Ms Allan said she had been dealing with a Wellington clairvoyant, one from Tauranga, and two women from the Spiritualist Church. A clairvoyant from Christchurch had also come to Wellington of her own accord, saying she had strong feelings about where Mr Kelly, 23, could be found.

At a meeting last night suggestions from the clairvoyants were considered and it was decided to check the nominated area today.

Ms Allan said the clairvoyants thought Mr Kelly had been robbed somewhere near Ecstasy Plus nightclub by two men. He had been dumped in bushes near Oriental Parade, where he lay for a few days before the men panicked and took him away.

Ms Allan was told a third man was possibly involved and one clairvoyant could give detailed descriptions of the three, who were rough-looking Maoris, aged about 26. She could describe their tattoos and would recognise them if she saw them.

The clairvoyants thought Mr Kelly was near farmland and saw trees, buildings and cattle grates. Ms Allan said the women felt the third man had not wanted to hurt Mr Kelly, but one of the men wanted him dead.

All three clairvoyants had independently given the same description of the men’s car and police were following that up. …
From the Dominion, 12 November 1992.

Natural ebullience may have led to Kelly’s death

By MATTHEW GRAINGER

Michael Kelly, whose body was found at the bottom of a light shaft in a Wellington inner-city building yesterday, may have contributed to his death by his ebullient nature. His friends had told police that he had sometimes climbed buildings – and on one occasion a crane – after drinking.

Mr Kelly, 23, who started a police hunt when he went missing four weeks ago, was found at the foot of a three-storey shaft in the Moore Wilson building in Tory St by a worker who opened an internal window on to the shaft. He had last been seen on October 18 outside Ecstasy Plus nightclub on the corner of Tory St and Courtenay Place.

Detective Inspector Lloyd Jones said police were searching for clues to reconstruct the events that led to Mr Kelly’s fall. Mr Jones said Mr Kelly’s death was seeming “less like foul play, misadventure is more apparent.”…
From the Dominion, 17 November 1992.

Both articles reprinted in NZ Skeptic 26.

Newsfront

Charter schools open door for creationism

Government plans to establish charter schools look like providing a way for creationists to get their teachings into New Zealand’s classrooms (Dominion Post, 19 August).

The Manukau Charitable Christian Trust is planning to team up with the Manukau Christian School to teach a “philosophy” titled ‘In God’s World’, to be marked against the Cambridge curriculum.

The philosophy encourages every subject to be taught so students “discover” how God made the world, and upholds and governs it.

Trust chairman Tony Bracefield said it planned to open a number of junior classes at churches, feeding up to senior classes on Manukau Christian School’s grounds. He said the school would use non-qualified teachers, and teach about 200 children in the long term.

Post Primary Teachers Association president Robin Duff said the types of people who appeared to be interested in charter schools would not have made it through teacher education.

” In the case of the trust, we’d be concerned if an organisation with a ‘statement of faith’ that denies evolution and claims creation according to the Bible is a historical event, were to receive state funding.”

He said the trust could be grouped with religious organisations like Destiny Church and the Maharishi Foundation, which had both expressed interest in charter schools, and which delivered education that denied scientific principles.

Associate Education Minister John Banks said he would not comment on the trust’s charter plans.

A day later, the NZ Herald (20 August) reported Banks had told Radio Rhema he has no doubts the first chapters of Genesis are true. “That’s what I believe, but I’m not going to impose my beliefs on other people, especially in this post-Christian society that we live in, especially in these lamentable times. There are reactionaries out there, humanists in particular, that overrun the bureaucracies in Wellington and state education.”

Racist creationists upset Kawerau

Meanwhile, many residents of Kawerau have been upset by a creationist pamphlet mail drop in the small Bay of Plenty town (NZ Herald, 22 September).

“Are you a racist? You are if you believe in evolution!” the pamphlet states. “Kids are taught in school that man evolved (changed) from a chimp. So I ask you who changed the most from a black chimp with black hair and brown eyes? A black man with black hair and brown eyes? Or a white man with blond hair and blue eyes?”

People who received the pamphlet should “rip it up and bin it,” said Vicki Hall, a spokeswoman for the Race Relations Commissioner. “The commission’s position is that the pamphlet is clearly offensive. However, there is no law that prevents someone from publishing it.”

While the pamphlet accuses those who “believe in evolution” of racism, it is based on the racist premise that black people look more like chimps than white people do. Yet two of the three chimp subspecies have fair skin, and Caucasians tend to be hairier than other peoples. The similarity between chimps and people of colour is all in the minds of the pamphlet’s producers, and the citizens of Kawerau were right to pick these mealy-mouthed hypocrites as racists.

Death’s link to vaccine ‘convoluted pseudoscience’

The likelihood of an Upper Hutt teenager having died as a result of the cervical cancer vaccine has been rejected as convoluted pseudoscience by Helen Petousi-Harris, of Auckland University’s Immunisation Advisory Centre (Dominion Post, 21 September).

Jasmine Renata, 18, died in her sleep in September 2009, six months after completing the programme for cervical cancer vaccine Gardasil.

She suffered from runny noses, headaches, warts, tiredness, a racing heart and other symptoms. During an inquest in August, her parents said they believed the vaccine was the cause of their daughter’s failing health and eventual death.

Canadian neuroscientist Christopher Shaw and US pathologist Sin Hang Lee told the inquest heavy aluminium staining in Ms Renata’s brain tissue could have acted as a “trojan horse”, bringing the human papillomavirus into her brain.

But Dr Petousis-Harris said on 20 September that the doctors’ arguments were convoluted and not based on scientific evidence. “I find that quite concerning, given the gravity of the issue here. Anyone who has had the vaccine may become worried, and anyone planning to have it may also become worried. But it’s based on no evidence at all, which is not good. You have got to make your decisions based on good science.”

It was important to discuss the weaknesses in the research so parents and possible vaccine recipients had all the information, she said.

There is further commentary on this case at Http://www.immune.org.nz/commentary-coronial-inquiry-expert-witness-testimony

Medium to ‘help heal’ Pike River pain

Australian medium Deb Webber, of Sensing Murder fame is once again in this country using a tragedy to promote her business (Greymouth Star, 16 August).

Webber, who caused anger in 2009 by raising the case of missing Auckland toddler Aisling Symes while plugging her shows on breakfast television (Aisling’s body was recovered from a stormwater pipe a few days later), has announced that this spring she will meet with family of Pike River disaster victims to help heal their pain with readings in a private session.

“I have been flooded with emails from family members so it will be nice to help them out,” Webber’s publicist said.

Given that Webber has no psychic ability (see NZ Skeptic 104), it’s uncertain exactly how she is going to be able to help at all.

Didgeridoo healing reaches NZ

Back in NZ Skeptic 102 Alison Campbell reported on how didgeridoos could be used to clear emotional and energetic stagnation, and help ” to quantum manifest healing and the co-creation of our universe.” Now this amazing medical breakthrough is available in New Zealand (Stuff, 6 September), thanks to yet more visitors from across the Tasman.

Australia-based psychic double act K and Dr Michael appeared in Auckland on 18 September. The US-born Dr Michael bills himself as a “vibrational healer with the didgeridoo” and a reiki master who “gives energy healing with past life and spirit healing messages”.

K on the other hand is “blessed with psychic abilities since childhood” and is said to be “one of Australia’s most sought after clairvoyants”. Must have been quite a night.

More Dunedin ghosts

Dunedin is emerging as the haunted capital of New Zealand. Following a series of ghostly events at Otago University’s Cumberland College ( NZ Skeptic 104) spirits are now reported to be occupying the nearby Globe Theatre ( Otago Daily Times, 2 July).

Five members of paranormal investigation group The Other Side Paranormal visited the theatre to follow up earlier research into three spirits believed to be there. The spirits were said to be those of Robert Blackadder, who lived in the building in the 19th century before it became a theatre, a girl called Mary Elizabeth Richmond who lived in the building in the 1860s, and former theatre caretaker Frank Grayson, who died in the 1980s.

“I think it’s safe to say the caretaker Frank is still there. He is just there looking after the place, basically. We’ve found a few things on our video footage … a few light anomalies,” said investigator Kelly Cavanagh.

There was also an “incident” when a person felt someone sit down next to them, and a photo revealed “energy” beside them. Other information gathered from an electromagnetic field reader, temperature gauge, and voice recorder would be analysed over the next week, Ms Cavanagh said. “We’ve definitely got some results and we are quite happy with what we’ve found.”

Newsfront

How to raise a psychic child

All children are psychic, according to one of the stranger items to appear in the NZ Herald (30 May) for a while.

Sue Bishop is described by writer (I hesitate to say journalist) Nicky Park in the paper’s Life & Style section as “one of Australia’s top intuitives” – a phrase Bishop herself uses in her promotional material. She says children are tuned in to their abilities more than ever, but parents need to know how to nurture their kids’ skills without discouraging or being too pushy.

Bishop, who is currently promoting her recent book Psychic Kids, says we’re starting to see little kids who can see spirits, and actually validate who it is. “It’s different to a child saying, ‘I’ve got a monster on top of my bed’ [how, exactly?]. We know that’s imagination.”

The “level of awareness” kids have today is different to the kids of the 80s, she says, partly because the topic is less taboo now so children are free to explore their psychic abilities. Then there’s “soul evolution”.

“I believe that each evolution carnates to bring a new gift, a new awareness to help us grow and expand also to deal with the problems created from the former generation.”

But at the age of seven the soft part of the skull fully closes (this is in the NZ Herald, remember, so it must be true), and the age of reason begins.

“It’s when children go through this phase that they start to fear death and fear separation from a parent … they start to focus more on being logical and analytical. They start to doubt their intuition, they shut that part of themselves off.”

But don’t worry, the Herald has some useful tips to help you prevent your child from becoming logical and analytical. You must recognise you and your child have a sixth sense, and set safe boundaries for using these abilities. But don’t indulge them too much: “Some kids will go too far and let their imagination take over.”

‘Medicine man’ offside

A self-styled Woodville ‘medicine man’ has found himself offside – with the country’s other medicine men (Dominion Post, 18 June).
Karys Woodcock, a 65-year-old part-time actor raised in England, says he is entitled to be a shaman because his father had Crow Indian heritage. He is legally changing his name to Laughing Bear, and says he has attracted a strong following for his ‘medicine readings’ and other services. He charges for those services, but according to Joseph O’Connor, 81, genuine shamans don’t charge.

O’Connor says he is a third-generation psychic and shaman, while “Laughing Bear” is an actor living in a world of fantasy. “Renting out rooms to unregistered psychics must be stamped out. There are so many so-called psychics robbing the public. He is doing a great injustice to the unsung heroes and healers that have made this country.”

Woodcock charges $60 to $70 an hour for medicine card readings, as well as charging for teaching groups, and takes donations for ghost and spirit house cleansing. He admits there is a big argument about shamans receiving money. “People fall in love with understanding living holistically, but forget that in order for me to practise as a shaman, I have to get petrol, have a mortgage to pay.

“My tepee is bigger than what I used to have. I don’t really want to go and live in the bush. People give us a gift of dollars instead of a leg of elk or deerskin. If [the] creator wants you to do something, you have to be alive to do it.”

Animals vie for psychic fame

Remember Paul the psychic octopus? The late lamented mollusc who correctly picked the outcomes of all seven of Germany’s matches plus the final in the 2010 Football World Cup now has plenty of competition (Stuff, 8 June).

None have the form of the eight-legged marvel, however, says Joe Crilly, a spokesman for British bookmaker William Hill. “And with so many to follow, there are undoubtedly going to be a few who get it wrong.”

Citta, a 33-year-old female Indian elephant at Krakow Zoo, was given the gig for the 2012 Euro Cup after correctly picking Chelsea would win the Champions League final, heading off a donkey, a parrot, and another elephant. But her first two predictions of Polish victories – made by choosing a marked melon – have been astray, with both matches drawn.

Meanwhile a “psychic pig” in the Ukraine predicted four of six results in the first round correctly. Other contenders are a ferret called Fred, Kharuk the Russian reindeer, Sissi the German dachshund, Nicholas the English llama and Huat the Singaporean arowana – that’s a large freshwater fish. Information is limited on how well any of these are doing, which probably says something in itself.

Snake test of faith fatal

A West Virginia preacher who handled venomous snakes to prove his faith in God has died after being bitten (NZ Herald, 1 June).

Mark Wolford’s own father died of a snakebite in 1983 aged 39, and he himself had been bitten before and survived. On this occasion witnesses say a timber rattler bit the 44-year-old on the thigh during a Sunday service at Panther State Forest.

Ralph Hood, a religion professor at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, said his friend Wolford would want people to remember him as “a Christian who was living his beliefs and being obedient.”

“A common misunderstanding is that handlers believe they can’t get bit or it won’t kill them,” Hood added. “What they’ll tell you is, vNo one will get out of this alive.’ They’ll also tell you it’s not a question of how you live; it’s a question of how you die … This is how he would have wanted to die.”

Although most Appalachian states have outlawed snake handling, it remains legal but rare in West Virginia.

UFOs buzz Northland … or not

Ufocus NZ are claiming many sightings of UFOs in the Northland region in recent months, but none has been reported to the police, a police spokeswoman says (Northern Advocate, 23 May).

Suzanne Hansen, who is research network director for the UFO-watching group, said one man had reported seeing a UFO land in Northland in April, but she was not revealing where at this stage. “He’s a very credible source. He saw an object that had landed and said it was definitely not an aircraft or like anything else he had seen.”

After a story on the sightings appeared in the Northern Advocate on May 19 several more reports of recent UFO sightings from the region had come in, while others had contacted the group to report historical sightings in Northland.

NZ Skeptics spokeswoman Vicki Hyde said there were a huge number of possible explanations for UFO sightings – and none of them involved visits from extraterrestrials.

Ghost haunts university

Residents at Otago University’s Cumberland College have taken to sleeping with the lights on following a sighting of a ghost (Otago Daily Times, 22 May).

The ghost has been linked to the Grey Lady, who allegedly haunted a nurse at the college after the nurse, working at the now-closed Queen Mary maternity hospital nearby, took her baby for being an unfit mother.

College resident Mareck Church said the “ghost sighting” happened on the night of Saturday, 5 May, when two female health science students noticed a weird smell and a chill in the air as they walked down the hallway after coming back to the college from studying. Weird smells in a hall of residence? Cold in Dunedin? Definitely something odd here.

“One of the girls saw a black figure beside the fire hydrant, turned to the other girl to point it out and as they both turned round, they felt a cold whoosh of air pass them,” Mr Church said.

Some students, Mr Church included, then played pranks on other residents, including going around the corridors with pillowcases over their heads.

The situation had calmed down since staff arranged a blessing by a chaplain and a kaumatua on May 10. Good to see our universities are bastions of rationality.

Sensing Murder: overtaken by events

The discovery of a long-missing body offers a rare chance to put the psychic stars of Sensing Murder to the test.

On Saturday 19 May 2012 the remains of Auckland teenager Jane Furlong were found in sand dunes at Port Waikato’s Sunset Beach.

Jane was only 17 went she went missing while working as a prostitute on Karangahape Rd in central Auckland, on the night of 26 May 1993. While the discovery gives her friends and family a chance to say farewell, mystery still surrounds her disappearance, and her killer remains at large.

The Jane Furlong case was the subject of the sixth episode of the second season of the television programme Sensing Murder, which screened in New Zealand on 9 October 2007. On the programme, two ‘psychics’, Australian Deb Webber and New Zealander Kelvin Cruickshank, attempted to contact Jane’s spirit and uncover fresh evidence about the case. They made specific and falsifiable claims about where the body was hidden; the discovery of Jane’s remains provides a rare opportunity to assess the information this pair came up with.

The programme’s narrator, New Zealand-born Australian actress Rebecca Gibney, tells us Webber and Cruickshank were both filmed non-stop for a day, kept separate and under constant supervision. The only information they were provided with was a photo of Jane, which both claimed they didn’t look at until they had come up with (very accurate) physical descriptions, including age (though both picked her as 16), ethnicity, even hairstyle. Both picked that she worked as a prostitute and dressed accordingly, was academically bright but had trouble at school. Webber even got the name ‘Jayne’, after having the name handed to her on a piece of paper, face down – we are told that Jane changed the spelling in her teens. (One has to ask whether the name was written in Webber’s presence: stage mentalists are able to interpret writing or drawing by watching the movements of the top of the pen, a technique known as pencil reading.(

Cruickshank gets that she had two siblings, that there was a Judy in the family (her mother’s name was Judith), and that she had a 19-year-old boyfriend, correctly described by Webber as rough-looking with tattoos. Later, both lead the camera crew (independently on separate nights) to the precise point on Karangahape Rd where Jane plied her trade.

On the face of it, this is amazing. If we have been given a fair representation of events there would seem little doubt that these two have genuine psychic ability. But there are other possibilities. One is that Webber and Cruickshank have been provided with all the information from the start. Another is that Webber and Cruickshank are filmed for a combined total of perhaps 16 hours, of which less than 30 minutes ends up on the screen, so there is plenty of opportunity for selective editing. Both are skilled cold readers (I have attended one of Cruickshank’s mediumship shows and can attest to his ability) , and we are told by Gibney that “only correct statements are confirmed during the readings”. So they are given feedback on how they’re doing, and over the course of the day’s filming are able to home in on correct details.

But could they really be psychic? On the evidence from this early part of the show it’s a possibility but we can’t be sure, because all of this information could have been obtained by non-psychic means.

However Cruickshank and Webber go on to give details about where Jane’s body was hidden. In 2007 nobody knew where that was, but now we do. So let’s look at a transcription of the bits of the show relating to that and see how well they did. ‘KC’ is Kelvin Cruickshank, ‘RG’ is Rebecca Gibney, and ‘DW’ is Deb Webber. Quotes are complete; three dots denote a pause, not an ellipsis.

KC: Just wanted to say dump or dumped. How are you covered? She’s saying to me I’m so covered up it’s not funny. She says they did a jolly good job of covering me up. Lots of dirt, lots of puddles, lots of water, I can hear dripping, I can hear hammers, even jack hammers, the concrete … jrr jrr jrr jrr. You know the… the sound of building.

[DW gives unverified details about the murderer.]

KC: Church, cemetery, where you taking me girlfriend? I feel like she’s hidden. She said, I just asked her were you moved from where you were killed? She shook her head … So … So the possibility at the time of her passing there may have been a building in dis…mount, which means being broken down and replaced ’cause things have changed since that sort of scenario … the surroundings have all changed and so I can’t make out whether I’m in or out.

[DW and KC say Jane is still missing.]

RG: Both psychics have picked up that Jane’s body is missing. Deb is given a map of Auckland and asked to identify areas that are significant to the case.

DW: She’s saying to me you don’t get much work out of the city. Where are you working? Yeah work? That’s what I’m looking for.

RG: Deb is indicating the area where Jane worked.

DW: Do you go over a bridge or something to get to her? ‘Cause she keeps taking me something over a bridge. Something’s happening around in this area, I don’t know what it is though.

RG: Deb is pointing at the Auckland Domain, a large park area near the central city.

DW: Still again, it’s like part of her doesn’t want to be found.

KW: She’s not outside of the city, she’s inside the city, she’s making reference to a park… She’s giving me the images of the hospital and then the museum and then she brings me back over to the university. Little bit of a triangle.

RG: Kelvin is also given a map.

KC: There’s the university, Domain, the hospital, where’s that? Right here … so … if we put two and two together like, there’s the triangle of the university like that, it sort of looks like this [makes a triangle with hands over the map].

RG: Significantly at the center of Kelvin’s triangle lies the Auckland Domain. The same park area identified by Deb.

KW: Honestly, I’m going to say this to you again, ’cause she’s talking about it being right underneath the noses of where she was last seen, it’s not far from there. She keeps saying I was not removed from the city. So wherever that area is, we’d probably need to locate it. Have a scout around with it, try and work with her a little bit more.

[DW and KC on separate evenings go to Jane’s “patch” on Karangahape Rd.]

DW: I think this is where she was last seen. And she keeps showing me the image of the car, coming in. It’s taken off, it’s turning around, and headed back down out that way.

RG: Deb is pointing in the direction of the Auckland Domain.


[DW says Jane knew something was not right, KC continues to explore Karangahape Rd.]

RG: Meanwhile Deb asks Jane’s spirit to show her where she was killed. She directs the crew to drive over the Grafton Bridge.

DW: She was on this road. I keep asking her when did he get violent with you and she said he was creepy anyway, right from the beginning. But it’s when they got down the road a bit, that’s when he started.

RG: Kelvin has reached the old Symonds St cemetery.

KC: Why have you brought me here girl? Definitely been pulled here, I don’t know why. I’ve brought these with me just in case, try and link in with her [Holds up bracelets(?)].

DW: Left.

RG: Deb heads into the Auckland Domain, the area both she and Kelvin identified on the map as being significant to the case.

DW: Oh, this is a bit … She’s definitely been in here before. She’s been in here. No, I think a few times but she’s definitely been in here with him. It’s really weird, I don’t think she came out the other side of it.

RG: Just when it seems Deb is about to make a breakthrough, Jane closes down on her.

DW: Getting all that stuff I got at the beginning, about the anger and the bitterness. You know, no one really cares if she gets found or not, she feels. She’s not connecting with her body, she doesn’t care. Show me, go show me Jayne. It’s like, the only thing I keep getting is that she’s lost, so until her soul’s ready to acknowledge it, it’s lost. Shock does that to a soul. Well, I can certainly say this, it’s not a very pleasant place to be at night, in here. Too much goes on in here.

RG: At the cemetery Jane is shutting down on Kelvin too.

KC: I’m getting close to a lot of people man, but this one I’m struggling with. She’s very very hard to get that door open. She comes in, she gives me a little bit, and she disappears, she comes in and gives me a little bit more and disappears, and that’s been paramount as you’ve been watching it all night. Didn’t have much in life and everything I did have was taken from me. What does it matter where I am. What does anyone care?

Next, we are introduced to Duncan Holland of Corporate Risks, an investigation and security consultancy, who is described as a former detective leading a team of investigators. He is solid-looking, authoritative, and speaks of the police and “we” in close conjunction. Many viewers would probably get the impression he is a policeman. Below are excerpts of his concluding commentary. Ellipses in this transcript indicate segments not relevant to the body’s location, or where clips of DW and KC had been inserted for dramatic or illustrative purposes.

Both psychics identified the Auckland Domain as being significant. … To get to the Auckland Domain from K Road where Jane worked the car would have driven past the Symonds St cemetery and the Grafton Bridge. … Psychic Deb Webber led the crew to the Auckland Domain, the same area she and Kelvin identified on the map. … The Auckland Domain, which is less than five minutes drive from K Road has always been a popular spot for sex workers to take clients; it is also one of the most dangerous spots. Numerous rapes and attacks on prostitutes have taken place in the domain. The New Zealand Prostitutes collective warns sex workers not to travel too far out of the city with clients. …

It is quite likely Jane went with her killer to the Auckland Domain, she may have been murdered and possibly even buried there. …

If the psychics are correct and Jane’s body was well covered, it is quite feasible that her body could be hidden in the domain and remain undetected for 14 years. The Auckland Domain covers 75 ha of land, some of it rough and inaccessible terrain and bush. In 1995 the body of murdered vagrant Betty Marusich was found in dense bush in the Auckland Domain; no attempt was made to cover or bury her yet it still took two weeks for her body to be found.

Kelvin presented another interesting scenario. … During our investigations we were approached by an anonymous source who told us that Jane’s body had been buried in concrete. Police confirmed they had investigated this theory but were unable to find any evidence. New Zealand police deal in factual evidence but are open to all sources of information. The psychics have revealed potential lines of inquiry which we believe warrant further investigation in the hunt for Jane Furlong’s body and her killer.

So there you have it. Both Webber and Cruickshank identify the same general area as the location of Jane’s remains, but then Jane inconveniently (or perhaps not) shuts down on them. Note that Cruickshank actually gives two alternatives: the Symonds St cemetery and a construction site, location unspecified. Interestingly Holland says there had been a tip-off that Jane had been buried in concrete.

Cruickshank and Webber also had plenty to say about the killer, though as the crime remains unsolved it’s impossible to assess this material. Much of it was contradictory, though the show glosses over this – Cruickshank indicated a motorcycle gang and “payback” being involved (Jane was due to testify in an assault case involving a gang), while Webber gave details about a balding businessman with an accent.

Was there collusion between Webber and Cruickshank for them both to pick locations that were so close together? Not necessarily. Both had somehow deduced she was a Karangahape Rd prostitute (most likely by cold reading their interviewers; we can now be fairly sure neither has any psychic ability), and the likeliest place for the body to be hidden would be the closest piece of rough ground – the Grafton Gully/Auckland Domain area.

In any case, Jane’s remains were more than 80 km away, at Port Waikato. The pattern is clear: Webber and Cruickshank can come up with amazingly accurate information if that information is already known and if they are provided with feedback, although we have no way of knowing how many of their misses were edited from the many hours of filmed footage. But when new information that was not previously available comes to light, their pronouncements can be seen for the fantasies they are.

Newsfront

Top scientist turns to alternative medicine

Prominent physicist and science commentator Sir Paul Callaghan is resorting to vitamin C megadoses and Chinese medicine to treat his terminal cancer (Dominion Post, 22 September).
Diagnosed in 2008 with aggressive bowel cancer, he has been advised by his oncologist to take a break from chemotherapy to establish the full extent of the cancer’s spread. He is using the time to trial “unproven but interesting” therapies, including traditional Chinese medicine, intravenous vitamin C and “Uncle CC’s famous vegetable juice”.

“Let me be clear. I do not deviate one step from my trust in evidence-based medicine,” Sir Paul said in his blog. However, if there was a potentially effective but unproven drug, “Why would I not try it?” he reasoned. “Am I mad? Probably.”

Victoria University’s Professor Shaun Holt said he could understand terminal cancer patients clutching at straws, but there was no evidence to support vitamin C treatment. It could be harmful, causing kidney problems and interfering with effective treatments such as radiation therapy.

He was concerned Sir Paul’s use of the treatment would further increase the already high number of cancer and leukaemia patients asking for the injections.

GG swears by homeopathy

Another high-profile New Zealander expressing interest in alternative therapies recently was new Governor-General Sir Jerry Mateparae The 56-year-old revealed in an interview (Dominion Post, 2 September( he and his wife Janine, Lady Mateparae shared an interest in homeopathy.
He said he had not taken a sick day since 1998. “We’ve practised a certain way of looking after ourselves which has been very good for me.”

Perhaps he feels it’s part of the job, given his position as the Queen’s representative in New Zealand, and the royal family’s well-known interest in the field.

Blogger John Pagani commented: “Placebos get you quite a long way, but only so far. After that you need actual medicine. If a soldier gets shot up on a battlefield in, say, Afghanistan, he doesn’t want Sir Jerry rubbing arnica cream on the sore bit.”

Divine solution to liquefaction

A Sefton water diviner believes he has the solution to Canterbury’s liquefaction problems (Central South Island Farmer, 7 September).

Dave Penney says he can identify underground water flows by running a crystal over a Google map, followed by on-site investigation. While the article quoted one happy customer, Waimakariri utilities manager Gary Boot was unconvinced by Penney’s proposal that “confluences” of underground flows could be located and drilled, to reduce pressure and stabilise the land. Areas with the worst liquefaction had widespread and very consistent groundwater, Mr Boot said.

“Finding the groundwater is not the challenge. The challenge is how best to treat the land in an affordable manner.”

iPhone trumps psychic

Chilean authorities have used a psychic to help find 17 missing bodies after the crash of a plane near Robinson Crusoe Island killed all 21 people on board (NZ Herald, 6 September).
“Not only are we using all of our technological capabilities, but also all the human and superhuman abilities that may exist,” said Defence Minister Andres Allemand.

He did, however, seek to lower expectations of recovering all the bodies.

The plane’s fuselage was located a few days later, in part using information from a passenger’s iPhone, which transmitted its location shortly before the crash (AVweb, 9 September). Now if only psychics were as smart as iPhones.

Spontaneous Human Combustion in Ireland?

An Irish coroner has ruled a pensioner found dead at home was a case of spontaneous human combustion (NZ Herald, 25 September).

Unsurprisingly, given the history of this phenomenon, 76-year-old Michael Faherty’s charred remains were found on the floor near an open fireplace. Forensic experts concluded the fire was not the cause of the blaze, and that there were no accelerants at the scene. The only damage to the room was a scorched ceiling and floor adjacent to the body.

The case sounds like a classic of its type: an elderly diabetic with presumably limited mobility is found next to an open fire, with his body consumed but his head left unburned. In 1998 scientists on the British TV programme QED (available from the NZ Skeptics video library( showed how this happens, using a pig carcass wrapped in fabric to simulate the victim. An ember spat from the fire catches in clothing and starts to burn; the fire is then fed by fat from the victim (who has already died of a heart attack, or is about to due to the stress of finding himself alight) as it melts and ‘wicks’ into the clothing. The head, lacking a decent supply of fat, remains unscathed, and any sign of heart disease or other pathology is burned away. QED, indeed.

Medium caught cheating

Sally Morgan, who styles herself “Britain’s best-loved psychic” has been caught receiving outside information during one of her shows (The Guardian, 20 September).

Chris French, editor of UK magazine The Skeptic, relates how an audience member named Sue reported on an Irish radio station how she had been impressed by Morgan’s accuracy during the first half of her performance.

“But then something odd happened. Sue was sitting in the back row on the fourth level of the theatre and there was a small room behind her (‘like a projection room’) with a window open. Sue and her companions became aware of a man’s voice and ‘everything that the man was saying, the psychic was saying it 10 seconds later.'”

Other callers to the radio show confirmed Sue’s account.

Sue said she believed the man was feeding information to Morgan via a microphone. The voice would say something like “David, pain in the back, passed quickly”, and a few seconds later Morgan would have the spirit of a David on stage with just those attributes. When a member of staff realised several people were aware of the voice the window was gently closed.

Sue speculated that information had been gathered in the foyer prior to the show by an accomplice engaging audience members in conversation, a technique French says ‘psychics’ use widely, as their marks naturally discuss among themselves who they are hoping to hear from.

The theatre’s general manager claimed the voice came from two theatre staff members. Sally Morgan Enterprises also denied that the medium was being fed information during the show.

French compared the incident to James Randi’s use of a radio scanner to pick up messages sent to faith healer Peter Popoff’s earpiece in 1986, the subject of an entertaining YouTube video clip. Although his exposure led to him declaring bankruptcy the following year, Popoff is back; his ‘ministry’ received US$23 million in 2005. History suggests, says French, that most of Morgan’s followers will continue to adore her and pay the high prices demanded to see her in action, despite this incident.

Ring again

Just one more small piece on Ken Ring then no more, I swear. Despite promises to get out of the earthquake prediction business, he was in Upper Hutt recently declaring Wellington could expect a magnitude 7 quake some time between 2013 and 2016 (Upper Hutt Leader, 5 October).

Of course, predicting earthquakes in Wellington is a bit like predicting drought in the Sahara, and a four-year timeframe is a bit vague, to say the least. He says Wellington gets magnitude 7 quakes every 11 to 13 years (really?) and this period is when the next one is due.

I guess any half-way decent shake in the next eight years or so will be put down as a hit, and if nothing comes along before the end of 2016, who’s going to remember what he said in the Upper Hutt Library in October 2011? How can he lose?

Fraud or Well-Meaning: it´s all the same to me

The paranormal field contains both con artists and the well-intentioned. It’s often impossible to tell one from the other, but in the end it makes little difference. This article is based on a presentation to the University of the Third Age.

People want reassurance about the future. We seek some kind of certainty, whether in the form of three-year political plans, saving for retirement, or looking for comfort in the various forms of crystal ball that try to make guesswork and psychological manipulation look like the truth.

We try to maintain a balance between wide-eyed credulity and close-minded cynicism as we´re bombarded with claim and counter-claim, miracles, astounding revelations, scientific discoveries, technological advancement, belief, faith and fact. We look for explanations.

One of the things that makes us vulnerable to con artists and well-intentioned loonies alike is our tendency to want to believe that someone is being straight with us. If they say they can predict earthquakes, then that’s what they are doing; if they say they can talk to the dead, then they really must be able to talk to the dead.

It’s not considered polite to express any form of scepticism or disbelief. And even those whose job is to do so, such as the members of the Fourth Estate, are often caught out by this. Something has to be really kooky sounding for our warning bells to go off, and there are people more than willing to dress up their favourite scam with all the trimmings of sophistry and science to get us to put hand to wallet, or simply just to believe in them and what they are telling us.

That said, it’s my belief that the vast majority of people in the very dodgy paranormal and pseudoscience businesses are not being deliberately fraudulent. Wilfully ignorant perhaps: unquestioning believers in their own egos and super-powers certainly.

I don’t know if forecaster Ken Ring is a fraud or really believes that he can predict the weather and earthquakes; whether he’s motivated by a desire to sell as many books as possible or simply wants to help the public. I can say the same about Paddy Freaney who said he saw a moa up in the Craigieburn mdash; it may have been a genuine sighting, or a mistake, or simply a clever marketing ploy to get more business for his nearby Bealey Hotel. And Deb Webber of Sensing Murder fame mdash; was it a desire to help desperate parents that saw her claim to psychically connect with missing Auckland toddler Aisling Symes or was it part of her pre-scheduled television appearance to hawk discounted entry tickets to her New Zealand tour?

You be the judge. But if it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, quacks like a duck… there may be something fowl there.

Sometimes the signs are just too too obvious. And it really helps to be aware of them. Think of a little applied scepticism as consumer protection for the mind.

How good is the information being provided? If the photos are blurry, reserve judgement as to whether you are seeing Bigfoot or a man in a gorilla suit. If the clinical trial has a sample size of 12, all carefully selected by the man looking to connect autism and vaccinations to sue Big Pharma, then it’s not Big Pharma you should be wary of. If the medium claims to be speaking to or about your dearly departed, listen closely to really see if they are telling you anything beyond the obvious.

On Sensing Murder Kelvin Cruickshank once pronounced this as an amazing revelation regarding the funeral of six-year-old murder victim Alicia O’Reilly:

“It sounds a little weird, but she must have been buried in a white coffin.”

But there’s nothing weird about a little girl being buried in a white coffin mdash; it’s a fairly common practice for children’s funerals. Not to mention the fact that the coffin was clearly seen in the widespread television coverage of the funeral. I think he phrased it that way to make it sound more amazing, as if he really was getting knowledge from the beyond, and few of us would stop and say “hang on a minute…”

We all have a lot in common, and the psychic industry exploits that to make the banal sound amazing. There’s a reason why mediums come up with the same names over and over again.

Mediums never come up with names like Piripi Te Aorangi or Sione, but concentrate on relatively common men’s names. A widow-heavy clientele makes that a necessary line but, more subtly, men often have traditional family names. So, instead of names like Dwayne or Dylan, mediums will ask about John or Michael, Charles or Richard, William or David.

It would be surprising if you couldn’t think of someone with the name John in your extended family. Mediums boost the odds by accepting middle names, nicknames, friends and colleagues, and they don’t even have to be dead to count as a hit. That can be explained away by saying the spirit world is watching over the living person. Mediums will commonly fire out a dozen names per reading, so it would be very surprising if they missed getting at least one apparent hit.

Some psychics hedge their bets even further by simply providing an initial. Few get quite as ludicrous as one desperate medium who, on not being able to get his subject to recall any special name beginning with “M”, finally blurted out, “Ah, it&39;s M for Mother&33;”

And we actually help them, with our willingness to suspend disbelief and to provide information, often without realising it. Cunning mediums, particularly those on the professional circuit, know how to exploit this fact, weaving our words into their patter and feeding it back to us as if it was something they knew all along.

TV3 flew me up to a book launch for medium Jeanette Wilson&59; the reporter was very excited that this woman was the real deal because she could provide actual names. We went to the launch and later this investigative journalist gushed about how Wilson had told one audience member that his father was called Frank. Fortunately, we&39;d caught that exchange on tape, so I got her to play it back. It went like this:
JW: Does the name Frank have any meaning for you?
Subject: My father was Frank.
JW: Yes, that&39;s right. I understand.

You don&39;t have to be foolish to be fooled. Those going to psychics or mediums are often desperate to believe, which makes them easy to exploit, but even those whose job depends on careful listening and recall can be easily misdirected.

I&39;ve done this sort of thing myself, when asked to impersonate a psychic and demonstrate the tricks and techniques used by the trade.

So you should listen for obvious cueing and changes of tack, or those spurious affirmations when an error is noted which flips it around to sound as if they knew all along.

Another example from Kelvin Cruickshank, this time looking at Alicia&39;s drawings. He spotted a depiction of her pet, something black and four-legged – her dog, he announced. Off-camera someone said “a cat”. The film crew knew there was a cat in the O’Reilly household, as it had been part of the mother’s story. “Oh cat is it?” said Cruickshank. “Oh it is too.”

What is psychic about that?

It can be really handy if you can identify a clear factual statement that can be checked out. This is harder than it sounds, as unequivocal statements are not part of the psychic stock in trade. It can also be difficult to check facts without having personal contacts or knowledge to draw upon. That said, there was something in the Sensing Murder programme about Alicia O&39;Reilly that could be checked.

Cruickshank made much of Alicia talking about children&39;s television show What Now?, and how that must have been a Saturday morning treat for her, adding that this clearly indicated her murder took place in the 1980s. This was made more dramatic by a voiceover noting that Alicia had been murdered in 1980. However, according to TVNZ, What Now? didn´t go on air until nine months after Alicia’s murder…

Con artists and True Believers alike will provide some kind of ad hoc explanation to either deny or explain away such errors. I often ask people, “how many times would it take for you to get things wrong before you would consider that maybe you aren&39;t doing what you think you are?” People with a vested interest in their own powers will very, very rarely face up to that.

Best yet, look for solid predictions, record them before the event and see how they stack up afterwards.

The most entertaining and regular examples of these are the tabloid predictions made at the beginning of every year. There are two things these regular features have in common:
1. a large proportion of predictions are wrong, even when plausible instead of downright silly;
2. they consistently miss the truly surprising, truly huge news events of the year.

Skeptics around the world track these and see how the “psychics to the stars” do, people who are touted as the best in the business. Back in 2004 the more plausible predictions involved the deaths of Osama bin Laden, Saddam Hussein and Fidel Castro. All wrong. As were the really off-the-wall predictions of the discovery of live dinosaurs, and US General Colin Powell switching political parties to trounce George Bush and become a Democrat president.

What did the psychics miss that year? Just the massive Boxing Day tsunami that saw 214,000 people die across 11 countries. Surely it shouldn´t have been too difficult for just one of them to feel that sort of death and destruction reverberate through the cosmic ether?

However, of greater concern are those predictions which have a real personal impact on us and affect our behaviour and the behaviour of those around us.

Every year we get the prediction of San Francisco falling into the sea. It&39;s not there yet. But every year it comes back, along with other end-of-the-world scenarios, cometary impacts, giant bat attacks, the rising of Atlantis. They are invariably wrong.

I&39;ve lived through too many end-of-the-world predictions from Y2K to the Rapture to worry too much about them any more. What I do worry about is the very real psychological harm that inevitably accompanies such predictions, particularly when they are reported by an uncritical, uninformed media. Facts may whisper, but fear screams.

I worry about groups like the ominously named Ukrainian White Brotherhood who caused riots and bloodshed in their shaky nation in preparation for their earthquake apocalypse predicted in 2001.

I was worried about having a Minister of Civil Defence who believed that the end times were coming so there was no point preparing for natural disasters and emergencies when God had ordained it and the Bible had confirmed it. Yes, that was a New Zealand Cabinet Minister.

I felt sorry for the believers who sold their businesses and their homes in New Zealand and abroad, to meet the end of the world predicted by a Korean fraudster. I guess one thing to be said for him, at least he didn&39;t tell his followers to bring their world to a real end by mass suicide. It&39;s been known to happen.

I worry about the Cantabrians who ended up with unnecessary psychological stress heaped on an already deservedly anxious frame of mind because they believed in Ken Ring&39;s pronouncements regarding a massive earthquake happening on March 20 roundabout lunchtime. Some 50,000 people believed enough to flee the city that weekend and, despite the huge aftershock&39;s non-arrival, many still choose to believe in a former maths teacher-cum-magician than in real geologists.

Of course, it can be hard to be a judge when you are liable to only get part of the story. Particularly if the person at the centre of it controls the information.

Psychics will often talk about assisting police with missing persons&39; cases. What they don&39;t tell you is that there has been not one substantive case where psychically derived information has been of any significant use. That their &39;assistance&39; often comes down to making a phone call, or that they talked to a search and rescue person about their dream.

Deb Webber claimed to have seen Aisling Symes in a ditch. As one policeman put it, ” If she&39;s said there&39;s a body in a ditch in West Auckland, there are plenty of ditches and we can&39;t do much with that information.” And if police had actually limited their search only to ditches, as defined by almost every normal person and dictionary, then Aisling&39;s body would never have been found. That&39;s how truly useless her comment was. Yet there are people prepared to go on her three-year waiting list to pay her $250 for a half-hour reading. And who are willing to ignore the loud quacking that resulted when she was shown on camera talking to three non-existent dead people when an Australian television crew put her to the test.

People in this industry often claim to be doing it to give families closure, that they are just trying to help. They ignore or dismiss the harm and pain that they often cause. whatstheharm. net lists hundreds and hundreds of cases where families, parents, spouses, friends have all suffered unnecessarily through psychics and mediums exploiting their awful situations for money, marketing exposure and outright ego-boosting.

It&39;s rare for such families to speak out against this. Sometimes they have family members who want to believe. Sometimes they are desperate for any kind of help or assistance. Sometimes they think the extra publicity might turn up real information. Sometimes they have paid over so much money they don&39;t dare believe that it might all be for naught. Sometimes they are just too polite to call a duck a duck.

Here&39;s a heartfelt comment from one chap who had worked knowingly fraudulently as a fake medium, and who came to realise the damage that he had been doing:
“While aware of the fact that I was deceiving [my clients] I did not see or understand the seriousness of trifling with such sacred sentimentality and the baneful result which inevitably followed. To me it was a lark. I was a mystifier and as such my ambition was being gratified and my love for a mild sensation satisfied. After delving deep I realized the seriousness of it all… [W]hen I personally became afflicted with similar grief I was chagrined that I should ever have been guilty of such frivolity and for the first time realized that it bordered on crime.[

That was a very chastened and very honest Harry Houdini.

And, sadly, our ill-trained, inexperienced and under-resourced news media often doesn&39;t help us to assess the claims that are out there. Ken Ring was described in a number of publications as a lunar scientist, which sounds reasonably scientificky and gave him a spurious credibility. What you weren&39;t told was that he believes dolphins are beaming sonar signals to the Moon, and supports the idea that Indo/Egypto/European cultures were present in New Zealand thousands of years ago. Surely that says something about his credibility…
We get psychics who confidently state that missing people will be found near trees or water. Frankly it would be difficult to get away from one or the other in New Zealand. So that&39;s not much help either. And for all those pseudo-documentaries masquerading as reality TV, there have been no cases solved by mediums or their psychic brethren except in their own publicity material.
I have often been asked why the New Zealand Skeptics gives such people the oxygen of publicity. Why do we try to take a public stand against both the well-meaning if misguided individual and the charlatans and fraudsters alike? Why do we bother to point out when claimed scientific evidence is not actually scientific; why do we go behind the scenes to reveal the dodgy dealings of the professional medium; why do we try to make people aware of their own fallibility and vulnerabilities?

To paraphrase a famous quote that we all should bear in mind: For a dangerous idiocy to succeed requires only that good people say nothing.

Even Psychics Can Only Be Medium

Englishwoman Doris Stokes was a medium – by which I don’t mean her dress size was between small and large. She claimed she spoke to people “on the other side,” to use the euphemistic jargon of the darkened drawing room. She was a sort of cosmic Telecom operator, only I suspect her charges were a good deal higher than 99c a minute plus GST.

I use the past tense because Doris herself has moved on into the spirit world with which she had so long claimed to communicate. Nothing has been heard from her since she died, which I think is pretty contemptuous of her fellow media (the plural of medium(.

Doris became world famous and made a lot of money travelling around linking people up with restless ghosts, using what often sounded like an old country-town party-line system. You could never be quite sure who would answer the call or whether some celestial storm had brought the line down.

Doris Stokes was a professional name. She was born Marilyn Dashing in London but her first manager pointed out that if she wanted to make money bringing messages back from the other side to suckers on Earth, most of the clients would be ordinary and wouldn’t trust anyone who looked and sounded smart or had intellectual pretensions. So Doris changed her name, burned her grammar school diploma, threw away her tight skirts and blouses and bought half a dozen cardies and several strings of paste pearls.
… I remember some years ago when Doris was in New Zealand promoting a book, a radio interviewer asked her if anyone on the other side had described in detail for her what heaven was really like. Doris shocked me to the very soul by verbally painting a setting and ambience almost exactly identical to an inner suburb of Christchurch on a fine Sunday morning. I was gripped by a deep spiritual crisis, wondering if trying to be a good bloke was worth it after all.
Originally published in NZ Skeptic 19, March 1991.

Newsfront

Quake wakes up spooks

A Christchurch para-normal investigator says Canterbury’s September 4 earthquake has more than doubled the number of reported supernatural events in the province (The Press, 8 November).

Anton Heyrick says his team, Christchurch Paranormal Investigators, had received an “interesting influx” of phone calls and emails. “People are calling us, saying that they had always felt like there was something in the house, but since the earthquake it had become more intense,” he said. He attributed this to the “sheer strength and power” of the earthquake.

Heyrick said it was well known among investigators that renovations tended to wake up dormant spirits in old buildings.

“With the earthquake, it literally smashed walls apart, and knocked down floors and ceilings, so you can imagine the effect that would have had.”

The team, which did not charge for its services, had conducted two full investigations, and was planning to do more.

NZ Skeptics chairman Gold (whose own residence was damaged in the quake) said the reports may have been due to “people’s minds playing tricks on them in the post-quake environment”.

“You may not feel an aftershock, but it will still make things rattle. People’s minds fill in the blanks, and they tend to fill in the blanks with fairytales, unfortunately.”

UFO files released

The NZ Defence Force did a huge favour for newspaper editors all over the country by releasing 2000 pages of formerly secret reports on UFOs just in time for the silly season.

Though some have tried to talk the reports up, it’s clear there’s very little in them. Says the Southland Times in an editorial (29 December), “the case most likely to attract attention – and we say this with all due respect to the Christchurch man who submitted 300 pages outlining two decades of contact with aliens – are the Kaikoura lights of 1978”.

The Kaikoura Star (29 December) noted that the air force report at the time concluded almost all the sightings could be accounted for by natural phenomena, but also recounted other UFO incidents in the area. On 13 July 1959, for example, Blenheim farmer Eileen Moreland was getting the cows in when she noticed a green light above her in the clouds. Soon an oval- shaped UFO with two green beams of light and “fiery orange jets” settled above her, enveloping her in a “peculiar green glow”. She claims to have seen two men inside the craft, dressed in “silvery, shiny suits from the waist upwards” and with headgear “like divers’ helmets which glittered very brightly”. In a separate Kaikoura Star item the same day, local butcher Alan Hickey relates how he often travelled the coast road in 1978, and noted the bright squid boat lights on the horizon. “It made me laugh (when it was reported). I thought, ah, it’s those squid boats.”

Psychic ‘predicts’ Lotto win

A psychic’s prediction that “something great” was going to happen in November has supposedly been “proved accurate” after a Napier family’s big Lotto win (Otago Daily Times, 17 November).

“We had no idea that it would be a $2 million Lotto win,” said a family member. No, and neither did the psychic.

Hunt on for yeti remains

An Air New Zealand pilot and mountaineer is leading a different kind of yeti hunt (Sunday News, 5 December).

Mike Allsop hopes to track down a “skull” and skeletal hand, said to be from a yeti, stolen from the Pangboche monastery in the 1990s. Weta Workshop has produced replicas of the missing items which he plans to hand-deliver to the monastery in April to help searchers find the originals.

“I am hoping that the person who has them wants to give them back … I will go anywhere in the world in person, free of charge, no questions asked and I will also buy them a beer.”

The article says the material came to international prominence when Texan oil magnate Tom Slick (a case of nominative determinism?) photographed them in 1957. Two years later one of his team returned to the monastery and reportedly stole bone fragments from the hand. These were allegedly smuggled back to the US by “a Hollywood star” – named as James Stewart by Wikipedia. The remaining items were stolen in 1999.

Left unsaid is that the “skull” – more commonly referred to as a scalp – was allowed out of Nepal in 1957 and examined at the British Museum, where it was determined to be moulded from the shoulder skin of a serow, a species of Himalayan goat-antelope. Photos of the hand look equally dubious – it seems to have kneecap-like bones at the knuckles, and to lack any wristbones.

Acupuncture good for lazy eyes?

A trial of acupuncture to treat lazy eye has offered cautious support to the traditional Chinese medical practice (Reuters, 18 December).

Dr Robert Ritch of the New York Eye and Ear Infirmary and Chinese colleagues studied 18 Chinese children with lazy eye, also known as amblyopia, aged between seven and 12. They randomly assigned about half of them to wear a patch over their good eye for two hours every day, and the rest to attend five acupuncture sessions weekly; both treatments continued for up to 25 weeks. All children were also given new glasses and asked to perform an hour of daily near-vision activities.

At the end of the 25 weeks at least seven out of 10 children in each group had their lazy eye’s sight improve by at least two lines on an eye chart. Forty-two percent of children receiving acupuncture overcame the condition compared to 17 percent of those who wore eye patches.

The University of Rochester’s Dr Matthew Gearinger, however, cautions that the number of children studied was small. And “it is a lot to ask parents to drive to a local acupuncturist five days a week, rather than just using drops or a patch at home.”

Michigan internist Dr Peter Lipson noted that everyone knew who got what treatment, and that without an untreated group the study couldn’t rule out the possibility that not doing anything, or simply using corrective glasses and performing daily exercises, would work just as well.

“This is not, in my opinion, evidence toward acupuncture being as good as standard care, only that in this particular study children did about the same if they received standard care or non-standard care. It says nothing at all about acupuncture.”

Exorcists wanted

Roman Catholic bishops have held a special training workshop in Baltimore to help alleviate a serious shortage of exorcists (Reuters, 14 November).

The church currently has only five or six American exorcists on its books, but signed up 56 bishops and 66 priests for the two-day event. “There’s this small group of priests who say they get requests from all over the continental US,” said Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Springfield, Illinois. “Actually, each diocese should have its own [exorcist].”

He did not say why there was increased demand for exorcisms, which he noted were rarely performed.

Possible signs of demonic possession referred to in the article include scratching, cutting, or biting of the skin; profound displays of strength; and a strong or violent reaction to holy water. Nothing about projectile vomiting or heads turning 360 degrees.

Another Kentucky creationist theme park

Just when you thought Kentucky couldn’t make itself more of a laughing stock comes word that plans are afoot to build (or rebuild, according to Ken Ham of the nearby Creation Museum) a full-sized replica of Noah’s Ark in the state (Dominion Post, 11 December).

The ark is to be the centrepiece of a $150 million park, to be known as Ark Encounter. Due to open in 2014, it will also feature live stage shows, a petting zoo and a Tower of Babel.

Despite claims the park will further tarnish the state’s reputation, Governor Steve Beshear has promised $40 million in tax breaks for the project. “Bringing new jobs to Kentucky is my top priority,” he said.

An Evening with Sue Nicholson

Yet another Sensing Murder veteran struts her stuff.

AS a professed skeptic I have been unconvinced by psychics who claim they can communicate with dead people. However, those who do believe such a connection is possible invariably point out that as I have never been to a psychic session, I am not in a position to criticise. To counter that, I decided to attend an evening with the well-known psychic Sue Nicholson, who was appearing at the Glen Eden Playhouse Theatre. The price for that experience was $50 per ticket.

On her website Sue describes herself as a “gifted psychic medium”, an ability she claims to have had from early childhood. One-day psychic development workshops were available from Sue, coinciding with her current nationwide tour, $235 each, but that did include lunch. A maximum of 30 persons per session. If you want a personal reading from her, there is a three-year waiting list. There are three different CDs at $30 each, and her book A Call From The Other Side is available at $35. She can also be booked for house blessings, and claims “she successfully cleared negative energy from a large corporation in Wellington following the suicide of an employee on the premises”.

The Evening

My companion and I thought it best to take a seat near the back so we could better observe the night’s proceedings. However, as almost every seat downstairs was taken, we made our way to the upper level. By the time the show began, there were only four empty seats in the whole theatre.

Shortly after 7.30pm Sue Nicholson was introduced by her business agent, and entered the stage wearing a brightly coloured flowing outfit.

She quickly told us she could feel plenty of energy, and that there was “spirit” waiting to get through already. In fact, so much spirit about and so little time, that she would not be able to address everyone’s needs. Sue explained she is gifted with the ability to see, hear, and feel spirit, unlike many who may have only one of those gifts. She then told us about some of her earlier shows; someone’s pet pig turned up from the other side one night – animals also make it to the other side she said. Is it just people’s pets that made it there, or is it every animal that once lived? She further advised there was no Hell, and everyone, good or bad, was in the same place on the other side. A disappointment, no doubt, to those who hope that the likes of Hitler and Pol Pot are on slow roast somewhere.

She then explained that the five empty seats placed on the stage were for spirit, so we needn’t worry, she was not going to ask members of the audience to come up on stage. She had been fortunate in the past to have a spirit usherette turn up to help keep the more unruly in line she told us.
Next up was a short prayer to help us on our journey. We were asked to meditate, and Sue would transport us, and our angels, through a doorway with our name on it (or our birth name if we were adopted), which we were told we would see ahead of us, and once we had gone through to the other side, we would see the most beautiful garden we had ever seen. From there she told us to move on to the beautiful beach and park bench with our name on it that we would see in the distance. There we would spend time with our angels and deceased relatives. Some of us may be given something to take back, she advised.
After a few minutes chatting with all of them, she told us to go over to a waterfall to our right, the most beautiful waterfall we had ever seen, and to step into it, so that the waters would go through our bodies and relieve us of any aches and pains we had. Miraculously, we would notice our clothes were dry as we stepped out. Sadly, Sue said, we now had to make our way back through the doorway. She apologised for the brevity of the visit, but knew people were anxious for her to begin contact with spirit. We could spend longer on the other side – 25 minutes in fact – by using her CD (available in the foyer during the break).

Spirits aren’t maimed, they only look that way

By now the spirits were jostling to get through, so Sue’s first guest was a Tommy, or maybe Thomas – seems he wasn’t sure of his own name – who had crutches. Sue explained that people presented themselves as they were on this side – that is maimed, unwell etc, but that was just so we could identify them. There were no immediate takers for Tommy, but one woman did finally put her hand up, she said she had a grandfather, Thomas, but he didn’t use crutches. This anomaly did not deter Sue, who informed the woman, granddad Thomas had been waiting a long time to come through and so was a bit grumpy having had to push past the other spirits to be first, but he did love her, and was watching over her.

Following this Sue gave us some general descriptions of other spirits trying to get through, no names this time, just a woman or man with chest pains, breathing problems, or other vague symptoms. Once someone recognised the description and put their hand up, Sue would tell them what the spirit had to say. One spirit identified by an audience participant was a cousin, and another apparently the deceased friend of the participant’s living daughter.

At one point while Sue was conveying a message to one woman, she seemed to sense another spirit coming through and asked the woman who Margaret or Maggie was. The woman replied “Margaret is my sister” and pointed to the woman sitting next to her. After a brief chat with the spirit, it seemed there was a message for Margaret. Sue advised Margaret her angels were looking out for her, and she could expect things to improve in coming months, good news.

Sue explained that our guardian angels, whilst they look out for us, don’t actively interfere with our lives in any way. What their purpose is exactly, I am still not sure.

Sue saw a car roll over many times with four people in it. As there was no response, she clarified – not all may have died, but at least one person in the car did pass over. A hand went up. “Who died?” Sue asks. “A friend,” was the reply. “Ah, a friend,” Sue said, “Yes, that’s what they are saying to me, a friend, a friend, yes, yes, do you understand that?” Apparently they did. The friend was later revealed by the woman to have actually been her partner. The spirit then had a message for her, he said he loved her, but he understood it was time for her to move on with her life, and was happy for her to find a new partner, if she so desired.

Next she asked us about the gifts we had received during our earlier journey to the other side, and offered to interpret these for us. One person reported receiving a gold ring; Sue said she could see it above them, that it was a symbol of everlasting love. She could also see a number above them, 5, a lucky number, Sue said. Someone got a locket, another, the word love, another a gold heart and the word love.

It was time for a break, and Sue mentioned there was a new series of Sensing Murder to be screened later in the year. There was an audible “Oooh” from many in the audience.

After a chance to view the merchandise, Sue was back on stage with a pen and paper and a list of spirits who had come to her during the break, which she proceeded to work her way through. First up was someone in a navy uniform: no immediate takers, but someone did have a cousin in the navy – that must be it, because they got a message from them.
Sue then described someone with cuts to their wrists. One woman raised her hand, she had a son who overdosed and died. “Did he have cuts?” Sue asked. “No,” was the reply. No one else put their hand up, so Sue talked to the spirit again. It seemed he had wanted to cut himself, but didn’t do it – it was her son after all. He said he felt alienated and that no one understood him. “Do you understand that?” Sue asked, apparently she did.
Two people claimed one spirit, but it was the person to the right that Sue directed her information to. However it didn’t seem to be going too well. The person to the left vigorously waved their hand, it seems the information was for them instead, Sue apologised to the first person and moved to the second. An easy mistake for the spirit to make I guess.

A ghostly budgie

Others followed, and then it was back to more interpretations of our meditative gifts received on the other side. More hearts, love, flowers. Occasionally Sue saw something additional – she saw a bird arrive over one woman; it turned out she had a pet budgie as a child, so it must have been that the woman said. Another woman said her guardian angel had turned to stone on the other side. No need to worry, stone is solid and unmoving, Sue advised – it was just the angel showing her the solidity of their commitment to her.

Another spirit was identified by a gentleman in the second row as a departed relative. Sue conveyed a few messages and then remarked, “You’re thinking of going into business on your own, aren’t you?” “No, done that, and never again!” was the man’s immediate reply. Sue conversed for a moment with the spirit, yes, seems they were warning him not to go into business on his own. “Do you understand that?” Sue asked. I am sure he did.

Then it was back to Sue’s list. Another name this time, and jokingly I leant over to my companion and asked, is that your father? (still very much alive). Sue must have noticed my movement as she announced it was for the woman with glasses and looked directly towards my companion. Fortunately, a few seats away there was another woman, also with glasses, who was certain this spirit was for her. Sue’s agent, who’s job it was to take the microphone around, pointed out that this woman had already had a turn, but with my companion now trying to hide under the seat, Sue was sure it was for this woman. “Are you trying to do a family tree?” Sue asked this woman. “Yes, but I am having difficulty,” was the reply. Sue advised the spirit was telling her it was because there are several skeletons in the closet, and she should look further afield. “But they all come from Ireland,” the woman replied. No matter, you need to look in England Sue advised. I hope it helped.

Last on the list was another name that had come through – there were only three names put forward by spirit during the night. “Could be a first, or a last name, Preston.” I thought, this could be interesting, that’s not a common name. No takers. Silence. Then a woman in the third row puts her hand up. “My surname is Prescott,” she said. “No, Preston it is,” Sue repeats. More silence. Sue then conversed with the spirit. “Preston? Preston? no, no, it is Prescott, yes Prescott it is,” Sue announced, and then proceeded to convey a message to the Prescott in the audience.

The show was then concluded by Sue’s agent. It was 10.30pm. We made our way back to the foyer, and as we did I overheard one person remark, “That’s a dollar a minute”, presumably a reference to Sue’s 30-minute meditation CD.

Upon reaching the foyer we were nearly run down when a group of people clutching books saw Sue and followed her into the adjoining room for them to be signed.

Putting it all together

In summary, I noticed that when Sue got it wrong, she moved on quickly, that information she elicited from the person often became the information that the spirit then supplied back, often followed by the question “Do you understand that?”. Typically, a name or a general description of an illness would change into something else when there was no apparent connection to a member of the audience. A vague description such as “chest pains” could be interpreted as anything from heart disease to lung cancer, leaving the field wide open for a connection. If someone identified a condition as relating to that of their dearly departed, Sue still asked them what they had died of. Once the spirit had been identified by someone from this vague description, nothing else was actually revealed to further confirm the correctness of this identification.

In one instance the spirit, confirmed by a woman in the audience to be that of her deceased mother, was identified from Sue’s description of someone with a problem in the throat area. The woman revealed her mother had died from a brain tumor, but, she clarified, her mother did have difficulty swallowing in the latter part of her illness. Sue told the woman her mother had 18 variously sized brain tumors. There was no way to verify this, and interestingly the woman did not confirm it, but one has to wonder, why was the spirit not at first able to give Sue the basic information of a brain tumor, but later, after she was given this information, was then able to give a precise number to the tumors?

When anyone told Sue what gift they received during their journey to the other side, she was always able see it above them – she never told them what it was prior to her being told by the participant. Interestingly the messages Sue conveyed and the interpretation of gifts from the spirit world were generally the same – your friend/relative/partner says they love you/forgive you/never got around to telling you they love you, but they do, and it is okay to move on with your life now. There were no specific revelations from any of them, just general ‘feel good’ comments. Commendably, she put in a word of caution for anyone contemplating suicide – you should not hasten death, but wait until your time comes.

Was I convinced? Not at all, but I could see that most attending were, and with Sue not able to get to everyone, that many would be back another time.

At least I can point out the inconsistencies and errors that I observed to believers now that I had answered their criticism and attended a session.

Hopefully this may be sufficient to persuade some believers to think more critically about their experience in the future. I certainly hope so.