Skepticism

BBC3 Investigates Psychic Surgeon Gary Mannion

A skeptical look at 20-year old channeler and “healer,” Gary Mannion. They film at a Skeptics in the Pub meetup, reference the JREF forum (but with no link mentioned), and interview Richard Sutherland of BadSkeptics.com. The Bad Skeptics accuse Gary of giving out medical advice, but he says he isn’t because he isn’t forcing anyone to take his advice. Um, that’s not the definition of “giving out medical advice,” Gary.

Part 3 features a psychic stripper.

Also in Part 3 is seasoned pendulum reader Andreas, who engages in this conversation with filmmaker Emeka Onono:

“The pendulum knows everything.”

“Is my grandmother’s name Anna?”

“My pendulum says yes.”

“Well her name’s Mary.”

“Oh. Shit.”

Turns out Mary was just reincarnated, dummies!

Part 1

More after the jump!

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Part 5

Part 6

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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17 Comments

  1. So, the reporter ends saying “They left with something valuable: Hope”.

    I had no idea that hope cost 20£ a session. I mean, I’d bet we all consider hope valuable, I just don’t think we’d have agreed on a particular monetary value. I wonder if I can box up some of my spare hope for sale on eBay.

    I dislike this sort of soft skepticism where, despite the total failure to find substantiating evidence, one looks for an excuse to allow the charlatan to continue.

  2. I agree; the conclusion appears to be that ok, let’s have this alternative brand of ‘practitioners’ who will lie to the patients to make them feel better, while entirely failing to address the ethical implications.

    But otherwise better broadcasting than anywhere. Rebecca, when are you going to pitch “Sceptically [sic] aroused” to the BBC?

  3. At the end they showed evidence that faith, spiritual belief does help with healing. Is he a charlatan because he really believes he’s helping people? Are the people going to him gullible fools because they believe it and give him money when many do feel better?
    My issue is close-mindedness on both sides. It’s easy to look at that and label it a load of crap and they guy a lying snake oil salesman based on a preconceived judgement. While it’s highly unlikely he is doing what he claims, he believes it and the people who see him do and they get helped by it, even if it’s just in their head…that’s what they needed to overcome their issue.

    The mind is powerful for sure and can create anything we imagine…and that’s the most fascinating thing to me, the power of the mind. The new age community tend to take these things and attach a belief system to it when we really don’t know enough of what the brain is capable of.

    I’ve experienced some things in my life I can’t explain; perhaps it’s as simple as my brain creating an experience or perhaps it’s a brain response from something else, something we don’t quite understand yet. I would never tell anyone because I’d get laughed at or told I was making it up or whatever, that knee jerk response to anything that doesn’t fit within the confines of what we find acceptable.
    At the same time I don’t attach any belief or meaning to it as I’m aware that what I experienced might have been something easy to explain, like eating too much cheese or something ;-)

  4. @mink73:

    At the end they showed evidence that faith, spiritual belief does help with healing.

    They mentioned a single study suggesting that faithful people can cope with pain better with a symbol of their faith in view. For all we know the atheists could have done better if the image shown was a chocolate bar.

    He’s a charlatan because he gives out medical advice and treatments that are not grounded in evidence. He is claiming more knowledge than he has. That he has a “disclaimer” (which protects him, not his clients) changes nothing about that.

  5. Thank you for sharing this.

    I think someone should sit down with him to channel this spirit of (the strangely blond-haired) Abraham. Then, without telling Gary ahead of time, have the interviewer address Abraham in Hebrew. I find it odd that he not only speaks English, but speaks in an accent different altogether from Gary’s. Also interesting was the seance in which the spirits of the dead were allegedly moving a glass around a table using the hands of the participants. Because apparently they need to use human energy? Wouldn’t a good way to test this be to put a sleeping or unconcious person’s hand on a glass, call the spirit to give a sign, and see if it moves? (Did I hear about this somewhere else, and see the test fail? I feel like I must have.)

    Gary’s story reminds me so, so much of the story of Joseph Smith’s founding of the Mormon church. It’s incredibly and eerily similar: a very young man with a history of believing his own tall tales gets other people caught up in his fantasies, gets an enthusiastic response from the public, makes a bit of money, and continues to stretch his mythology even further, but without truly having a clear idea how deep into this he’s getting. (I really believe that’s Gary is somewhat naive: just look at the moment in part 5 when he finds out Pam’s gall stone was not healed; he’s blushing and flustered, and has no idea how to spin that in a way that sounds both convincing and flattering to himself). Joseph Smith also claimed to have spoken with dead prophets, and often performed faith healings. Now, nearly 200 years later, his church is globally influential, and unfortunately a source of pseudoscience, and more often than not a force of evil.

    For that reason (and the fact that he’s swindling people out of getting real health care), I hope Gary is stopped sooner rather than later. I really don’t want to see this sort of thing spreading around the world.

  6. I wonder if Gary has met Ramtha. Clearly the twit is a marginal con or seriously mentally ill. Sadder still that some people are willing to drink his cool-aid. And if he’s a conman its a great choice of cons because he’s not likely to get arrested for taking money from the gullible.

  7. @mink73: “It’s easy to look at that and label it a load of crap and they guy a lying snake oil salesman based on a preconceived judgement.”

    Not only is it easy, it’s also (more importantly) dead on accurate. And you don’t even have to rely on preconceived notions to do it. You can always fall back on the evidence and the facts.
    It’s not closed-minded to require proof for extraordinary claims. It’s closed-minded to dismiss evidence against what one has chosen to believe because it contradicts said beliefs.

    Getting “hope” has no positive value if said hope is false. Not to mention the danger of people forgoing real, efficacious treatment for real conditions because they’re getting snake-oil and false hope instead.

    Is it just me, or did “Abraham” sound a lot like someone doing a very poor Sean Connery-impersonation?

  8. I remember watching a promo video of Ramtha back in the day. The woman actually said she made it up at a party as a joke and then said she really was channeling him even at the party. Believers heard that Ramtha starting using this woman before the woman knew about it and the rest of us heard about someone making a joke at a party. You can fool yourself everytime.
    Hope allows you to stop looking for something that will actually work and settle for spending money on something that you hope will work.

  9. I like the BBC for being the most balanced and skeptical group when showing these things, but since the bar is set so low as far as TV is concerned, that isn’t really saying much.

    Believing you’re going to be helped gives you a greater chance of being helped? Give the man a cookie! Who knew?

    What would better serve our research and air time is figuring out a way to best apply the placeebo effect. It’s the medical wild card now. Practical applications that don’t include delusions peddled by charlatans (or self-deluded charlatans) is what we need, not yet another story about a psychic with a “it may or may not be” ending.

    btw: being a psychic stripper has got to be the easiest job in the universe..

    “Hey…. Guess what I’m thinking.”

    “Give me a hard one…. oops… never mind.”

  10. @Joshua – that’s a good point. “Magic” spells are bogus but “prayers” are real, “psychic” healers are frauds but “faith” healers are real.

    It’s interesting how people can be very good at picking out certain kinds of crackpottery, but completely miss the kinds that are closer to home.

    I noticed that the painting of “Abraham” bore more than a superficial similarity to the typical renderings of Jesus.

  11. @swordsbane – keep in mind that when you get REAL medical treatment you also get the benefits of the PLACEBO effect – because you think that it is going to help you. The fact that it also really does help you doesn’t detract from this psychogenic effect.

    It’s unethical to administer pure placebo to a patient who thinks he’s getting a real treatment.

  12. He STILL has an article on his site claiming he “now works
    with leading
    medical professionals
    such as
    midwife Dr
    Gowri Motha

    even though he has been warned by Trading Standards to stop. Dr Motha is a Consultant Obstetrician, rather then a “midwife”. He obviously did not write the article – lack of grammatical errors and spelling mistakes – but he is still making false claims.

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