Skepticism

Psychic Fail: Jaycee Dugard

Friend of Skepchick Ben Radford just published a fantastic article for LiveScience showing yet another major failure of dirtbag psychics. Jaycee Dugard is the woman who was recently found after being abducted at the age of 11 and spending 18 years confined in the backyard hell of her rapist and abuser, Phillip Garrido, and his wife.

Jaycee saved herself after her captor inexplicably took her to a meeting with his parole officer. Ben points out that a “psychic” named Dayle Schear has come forward to claim this as a victory, because she once informed Jaycee’s parents that they would one day see her alive. Schear took the parents’ money and in exchange gave them meaningless drivel that did nothing to end or abate the following 18 years of misery that Jaycee would experience. Some psychic. As Ben says,

Yet the psychics conveniently ignore the fact that their information was either wrong or so general and vague that it was useless. [snip] What police and searchers need is not general, vague “I told you so” information after the missing person has been recovered through police work, but accurate, useful information that leads police to the victim.

No psychic has ever been able to prove that his or her abilities are anything more than magic tricks, and most often a particular trick called cold reading. But Ben makes a very good point: even if we assume they have powers, what’s the point? Their powers are worthless. They don’t prevent murders, they don’t prevent abuse, and they don’t even find the bodies when it’s too late to help.

All this is reminiscent of Sylvia Browne’s most prominent screw-up: telling Shawn Hornbeck’s weeping and desperate parents that their child was murdered, and his body tossed near “a rock” somewhere miles from their home. He was, of course, discovered living with his abductor just down the street. At least Sylvia had the good sense to not come forward and declare this proof of her “powers,” unlike the heartless troll who preyed upon Dugard’s parents.

EDIT: Hat tip to Steve and Ooxman, the latter of whom sent the link with this note:

When I saw this, it was on the front page of Yahoo. I was shocked and delighted. The day before, Yahoo was advocating I alternate
breathing through my left and right nostril to balance out my yin and
yang energy forces. Srsly.

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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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19 Comments

  1. I used to believe in the Nostradamus predictions and was sure that NYC would be destroyed by an atomic bomb in July of 1999. When that didn’t happen, I stopped believing it in. After September 11, 2001, I started hearing the exact same cryptic phrases being used to claim that Nostradamus had predicted that event. I remember thinking something similar to the point above:
    People made a prediction and it failed. Even if they really are supernatural, they’re obviously useless for making predictions in advance, so that’s that. What’s the point of seeing the future if it’s blurry to the point of inscrutability?

  2. One thing I’ve really learned from this whole Jaycee Dugard thing isn’t that psychics are money-grubbing bastards (don’t worry, I already knew this), but that Google Maps can creep the shit out of you. Not sure if any of you saw this, but do have a look:
    http://www.boingboing.net/2009/08/31/did-google-street-vi.html
    Garrido or not, watching that rusty old junker of a van, that just so happens to scream “Whoever drives me is in all likelihood a big dirty pedophile”, peel out of a driveway and slowly creep down the road as it follows the precious Google van, really takes Google Maps Street View to a whole new disturbing level.

  3. I am surprised that Garrido wasn’t busted a long time ago by building code enforcement. I’ll bet he doesn’t have any permits for all those structures where the girls were kept. All one of the neighbors needed to do was to call the local building department and Garrido would have been history.

    I really feel sorry for those girls. Maybe the therapist can somehow connect them with that girl from Austria and her children who were kept in the basement of her father’s house. Seems like that might help.

    Garrido should be dressed like a Taliban and UPS’ed to Dick Cheney’s house for a “debriefing”.

    As far as the topic at hand, I have a friend who believes in anything woo. The more woo, the more he believes. Anything rational is part of the conspiracy to keep us in the dark. I am going to suggest he start writing down all the crazy predictions that he believes in – i.e. Mayan calendar doom, Illuminati manipulation of currency values (economic armaggedon due to lack of gold standard), etc. Perhaps that will help him see the folly of such beliefs. OTOH, that doesn’t always guarantee success. Take for example the 7th day Adventists and the Branch Davidians:

    The group that became popularly known as the Branch Davidians are traceable back to a splinter sect that broke away from the Seventh-Day Adventist Church (SDA) in 1942. The SDA church is well known for their belief in the imminent return of Jesus Christ to earth, for their special vegetarian dietary restrictions and for their retention of Saturday as their Sabbath.

    The breakaway sect was founded by Victor Houteff, who had joined the SDA church in 1919. His beliefs deviated from main-line church doctrine. This became obvious when he wrote his book The Shepherd’s Rod in 1930. In it, he outlined errors that he had found within the denomination. The book caused a minor crisis with the SDA denomination; some of its congregations disfellowshipped members who followed the book. Houteff believed that Christ’s return would only occur when at least a small number of Christians had been sufficiently purified. He believed that he was a messenger sent by God to conduct this cleansing. He saw his task as a brief one, consisting of:

    revealing the secret information contained in the scroll described in the Biblical book of Revelation, Chapter 5. This scroll has written on both sides a description of the events to occur when Christ returns and the world as we know it ends. The scroll had been protected by seven seals.
    purifying a small group of Christians, and thereby trigger the second coming of Jesus Christ to Jerusalem, when the Downfall of Babylon (i.e. the end of the world) would occur and the Kingdom of David would be established.

    He founded the Mt. Carmel Center near Waco TX with 11 followers in 1935. He called the group “The Shepherd’s Rod” after his book title. They attempted to recruit membership from within the SDA church with only modest success. In 1942, he broke completely away from the SDA because the latter refused to grant conscientious objector status to its members during World War II. He selected the name Davidian Seventh-Day Adventists for his organization. After the war, he started to recruit members internationally.

    After Houteff’s death in 1955, control of the Davidians passed to his wife Florence. She moved the community to a new location farther from Waco. She prophesied that the 1260 days mentioned in Revelation 11:3 would end and the Kingdom of David would be established on 1959-APR-22. Many hundreds of followers sold their possessions and moved to Mt. Carmel in anticipation of the “end time”. They were bitterly disappointed when April 23 dawned and it was business as usual around the world. The group almost did not survive the failure of the prophecy; only a few dozen members remained. Many had left to form the Davidian Seventh-Day Adventist Association which remains active to this day. Florence Houteff left in 1962.

    Benjamin Roden assumed control of the group, and renamed it the General Association of Davidian Seventh-Day Adventists. He proclaimed himself to be King David’s successor. After his death in 1978, his wife, Lois Roden took control. She had been receiving visions that God is both male and female, that the third person of the trinity (the Holy Spirit) was female, and that Christ would take the form of a woman at his/her second coming! A power struggle developed between Lois and her son George.

    Vernon Howell (1959-1993) joined the group as a handyman in 1981. In 1984, he married the daughter of a prominent member of the community, Rachel Jones, then aged 14. A series of power struggles resulted. George Roden had Howell thrown off the property. Roden later dug up a 25 year old corpse, placed it in the chapel and declared that the person who returned the corpse to life would be the next leader. Howell and followers sneaked into the compound to photograph the casket. They were detected and a gun battle between Vernon and George Roden resulted; George was wounded, and later imprisoned for violating a restraining order and for contempt of court. The latter charge was caused by a series of legal actions that he filed which were filled with profanity and threats against the judges. When Roden was imprisoned in 1987, Howell and his followers took over control. They found an illegal drug laboratory on the premises which made met amphetamine; they also found a large quantity of pornography. Both were removed. Howell was later tried for attempted murder, but the jury could not reach a verdict.

    You can’t make this shit up.

    /BCT

  4. @Billy Clyde Tuggle:

    I am surprised that Garrido wasn’t busted a long time ago by building code enforcement. I’ll bet he doesn’t have any permits for all those structures where the girls were kept.

    From what I understand, it wasn’t unusual for backyards to be full of stuff, including tents and whatnot. I’m sure no one enforced or cared about any kind of codes.

  5. @Billy Clyde Tuggle: @marilove: As I recall, a neighbor called both the police and the building department, but both entities stopped at the front door rather than to venture into the back yard. Having spent a lot of time dealing with building codes and such, I’m not sure having a tent or lean-to in your back yard is a cit-able offense. I suppose if there were obnoxious odors emanating from there, it would be different.

    Also, connecting the SDA with the Branch Wakkos is kind of like saying that all Catholics like jello molds because Lutherans are just an offbeat sect of the Catholic Church.

  6. Brilliant work on Ben’s behalf! Which is more than we can say for Schear…

    It’s particularly cool to see this syndicated, instead of the usual believers’ twaddle that’s paraded on Yahoo’s homepage.

    This is what we’re all about!

  7. @Old Geezer/Marilove:

    Yes, it depends on the character of the local jurisdiction. That is all over the map, but I think most building departments will get their nickers in a twist if they think unnapproved/non-compliant structures are being used as permanent housing. IOW, have all the sheds you want in your back yard as long as people aren’t living in them.

    /BCT

  8. @ Old Geezer:

    Also, connecting the SDA with the Branch Wakkos is kind of like saying that all Catholics like jello molds because Lutherans are just an offbeat sect of the Catholic Church.

    Perhaps I am a little thickheaded, but I don’t understand the jello mold connection. Or was my logic so bad that you needed to use an analogy where there was no connection to demonstrate the disconnected character of my logic?

    In truth, I just wanted to post that SDA/Branch Davidian historical excerpt because the image of two splinter sects gun fighting over a 25 year corpse that one of the splinters thought they could resurrect was so hilarious and surreal that I wanted to share it with others. Mea culpa.

    /BCT

  9. @Billy Clyde Tuggle: I agree with the hilarity. I just think that running the history back to the group they whacko’d away from is unnecessary. And yes I do see the origin as being part of the history. The jello mold reference is most likely more familiar to folks who live in the upper Mid-West. You can’t eat dinner at a Lutheran gathering without running into dueling jello salads. But this propensity does not run all the way back up to the church from which the Lutherans sprang. My reference was to the point that a disconnect should be recognized when the splinter group is as far disconnected as the SDA and the Branch Davidians are. It wasn’t meant to be the start of another thread. Sorry.

  10. @ marilove:

    Too bad Garrido didn’t live in LA County. The LA County code enforcement people have been harassing the truckers up in the high desert about parking their big rigs on unicorporated land up there arguing that this constitutes commercial use of a residential property. I mean god forbid if you own a house on 5 acres and want to park a semi on it or have one of those shipping containers sitting in your back yard for storage. It might disturb the ambience of the manufactured homes and the tumbleweed.

    Anyway, I should just shut up. I think have totally killed what should have been a decent thread with all my off topic ramblings about code enforcement.

    Maybe if I insult someone it will get things going again :-)

    /BCT

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