Anti-Science

What I did on Saturday.

I got up with the sun and hopped a train heading south. In my bag: a microphone, digital recorder, camera, and a good book. About three hours later, I arrived in New Haven, Connecticut, where I was picked up by my pal Jay Novella, who many of you know from our podcast, The Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe. Maybe you’ve heard of it.

Jay and I then met up with Steve and Evan, and the four of us drove to a Holiday Inn in nearby North Haven. While that might sound like an uninspired skeptic-themed porn opener, that’s not actually why we were there. We were there to attend a psychic fair.

I had spent the previous two weeks searching for a good meet-up of people who believe weird things. Since I’m recording audio for my pilot show, I wanted to find something just right — something entertaining, that a general audience would understand but still find a bit out there. I was afraid I’d have to fly somewhere around the country to get what I needed, but happily I found this semi-regular event. Not only does it occur in Connecticut, but it happens to be right in the backyard of my podcasting pals. I asked if they would be interested in coming with me, and it was as though I’d just asked if they wanted a hundred dollar bill and a hot fudge sundae.

We had no idea what we were getting into as we strolled into the hotel — it could have been a hall with great throngs of believers, or two wannabe mind readers sitting in a room staring at each other. In reality, it was somewhere between. There were about ten “psychics” doing readings, a table run by a team of ghost hunters, and another long table full of crystals and charms and little magickal knick-knacks.

Readings with a psychic were $20 a pop. Each session lasted 15 minutes, at which point a man at the front of the room would ring a big bell and the readings were over. Then a new group of customers would be seated for their 15 minutes of psychic wonders. There was a small discount if you wanted to do multiple sessions, and you could even switch psychics if you wanted.

The psychics, to their credit, were cool with being recorded. Every time I sat down with one, I explained that I was working on a pilot show about the paranormal for public radio, and all agreed to go on record. The only time I ran into trouble was when asking other customers if I could tag along to hear their readings — despite the crowds of people who happily put their most private lives on display for John Edward, James Van Praagh, and Sylvia Browne, no one was jumping at the chance to be recorded. Not a huge deal, but it would’ve been nice to hear how the psychics did with someone who really bought into the whole thing.

Anyway, it was all a grand adventure that has been recorded for your amusement. Choice bits will be played on a future edition of The Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe, and a substantial story will be told on my upcoming pilot. So stay tuned!

Posted at: Skepchick, SGU Blog, and the Talent Quest blog.

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca leads a team of skeptical female activists at Skepchick.org. She travels around the world delivering entertaining talks on science, atheism, feminism, and skepticism. There is currently an asteroid orbiting the sun with her name on it. You can follow her every fascinating move on Twitter or on Google+.

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9 Comments

  1. Oooh… can't wait to hear this. I pretty much know the theory by which most psychic readers operate, but I'm really curious about a lot of the claims of "ghost hunters." Locally we have these folks:

    http://www.indianaghosts.org/

    And while, to their credit, they don't charge for their services, I'm kind of outraged that they are able to organize as a tax-exempt organization under state law.

  2. Having just finished reading Ian Rowland's excellent book on cold reading, I look forward to hearing the podcast.

    (And, sure, you'll go to the psychic's fair, but when I invite you to a renaissance faire…)

  3. Oh No! A fellow hoosier. I've heard of these cats (indianaghosts.org) before the local paper did a thing around halloween a couple years ago in the Living section or whatever. I don't think they really arent' prominent in any way but maybe with SciFi's Ghost Hunters they may be getting more attention. That's unfortunate.

    If you want information about the equipment ghost hunters use and why it may not work as advertised (hee hee) you should check out the folks over at http://www.skepticalanalysis.com

  4. sounds great for a pilot episode. I think most people have heard of a psychic fair, and I think most people have wondered what it would be like.

    Sounds like fun, and I'm glad the "psychics" were cool with it also.

  5. So, it's like speed dating, except the stuff you hear from the person across the table is meant to sound like what you want to hear, and they get 15 minutes instead of, … what? Five? (I don't really know from experience, I've only seen speed-dating on TV).

    That and you don't get to rate the date …

  6. You're probably right, but I had seen a newspaper article a while back, and then they (Indiana Ghost Trackers) were interviewed (completely uncritically) on our community radio station on Halloween. They do charge money for their "education courses." I've been meaning to call in an urgent poltergeist investigation, but am too busy with reality these days.

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