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Psychic Kids at Dragon*Con

Last year, Jen wrote about Psychic Kids, an execrable show that tells scared children (who may have undiagnosed medical issues) that they can fix their problems by harnessing their non-existent paranormal powers. We tried a letter-writing campaign to let A&E know how we felt, but apparently our objections weren’t valued more than the ratings, because the show is still on.

And now, one of the expert “psychics” on the show, Chris Fleming, is going to be on stage at Dragon*Con Sunday at 10am in the Sheraton’s Augusta room.

Considering that there will be a few hundred skeptics at Dragon*Con as well, it would be fantastic to make sure Fleming’s panel is well-attended and that the Q&A session has a skeptical slant to it. Please note that this would not be an official SkepTrack event or in any way endorsed by the people running the Skeptrack. Also note that we don’t want to be rude or cause any disturbance! In the past, we’ve had success with this set-up: show up, sit quietly, wait for Q&A, raise hand, politely ask question, converse with other attendees post-panel. Being polite and calm will give us a better opportunity to educate the audience and at least attempt to hold Fleming and others accountable for their actions. Here are a few questions I’d recommend be asked:

Is it responsible to tell children that visions come from psychic powers without educating the public that hallucinations can be be signs of serious illness?

Will Chris Fleming take Randi’s million dollar challenge to prove once and for all that paranormal powers exist?

For an idea of how these questions will be dodged, here’s an interview with Chip Coffey, in which this exchange occurs:

Q: Also lots of parents have commented on this show Psychic Kids. Lots of concerns with children and having mental disorders. Is this something that has been looked into for all children on the show?

I am not at liberty to discuss the mental health of children who have appeared on “Psychic Kids.” But I will say this: those who do not believe in psychic abilities or paranormal phenomena frequently claim and/or assume that individuals who have these experiences are either physically or psychologically impaired. Personally, I do not believe this to be true…at least not in every instance.

That’s a bullshit answer. No one is asking for the medical history of any single child on that show – the question is about whether or not this show is doing due diligence in terms of having children fully evaluated by physicians before filming their pain and using it to generate ad dollars.

The interview also includes this gem:

Q: Why not do the Randi challenge and be done with it?

Because I certainly do not feel the need to prove anything to Mr. Amazing Randi. Or anyone else, for that matter! My goal is to provide a service that my clients consider valuable and meaningful to them. I have conducted thousands of readings for clients and I am proud to say that there have only been a handful of individuals who have been dissatisfied with or disgruntled by the outcome.

Yeah, why bother proving to the entire world that paranormal abilities exist, thereby changing the entire course of human history, encouraging more research and education about psychics, solving more crimes, and donating a cool million dollars to the charity of your choice? What on earth would be the point of doing that?

For those unfamiliar with the show, there are clips on A&E’s site and on YouTube. Here’s one of the less depressing yet still telling clips, in which this exchange occurs between a child “psychic” and a woman:

CHILD: I’m getting that he collected something?
WOMAN: He was an avid bird watcher. He didn’t collect the birds but he kept lists of all the birds that he’s seen.
CHILD: Oh my gosh
WOMAN: It was a little overwhelming to hear all those things because I really wasn’t expecting it to be so specific…

You’re never too young to cold read, are you?

There’s also a Psychic Kids forum, where you can find posts like this, in which a mother says that her 5-year old sees “spirits,” has panic attacks, and won’t sleep in her room or go to the bathroom alone. Instead of going to a doctor, she wants advice from a psychic:

need some answers for my daughter please help!..
i have a daughter that wiill be turning five soon and since she was about a year and a hlaf old she has been seeing spiirits.And i think she can also read what others are thinkiing.Heres the problem for the past year on and off she hasbeen having panic attacks and just recently she will not tell not talk about it at all and will not sleep n her own room or even go to the bathroom by herslef durinf the day or night and if ii ask her what is wrong she said if she tells me they will get mad and hurt her and i always try to reasure her that noone will hurt her but if i put her into any of those sitautions were she would be by herself she screams and crys its very upsetting and everynight is another sleepless night if there is anhone out there that iis psychic and can help me and maybe tell me what i can do to help her or what she is seein g i would be so appreciated this past year has been really trying i dont want her to be afraid anhymore …

So. Yep. Who is going to Dragon*Con, and who wants to do a little skeptical outreach? Here’s the info once more:

Sunday, 10:00 am
Sheraton Augusta Room
Psychic Kids, with Chris Fleming

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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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17 Comments

  1. I’m grateful no one like this got a hold of me when I was younger. I have neurological conditions that give me similar hallucinations to the kids on the show. Without knowing what causes them they can seem paranormal, especially when they get really intense.

    I’m glad you guys are planning to attend the panel and ask some fair but tough questions. One of these years I’m going to be healthy enough to join in the fun. Until then thank you guys for keeping up the good work.

  2. If you’re planning to attend and be online from inside the room during the presentation, you might be wondering what the WiFi situation is at this hotel. If so, check out my digital guide to Dragon*Con which has the scoop.

    (The good news: the hotel this is in offers 2 hours of free WiFi in the lobby/meeting areas. Be sure to save your free 2 hours for when you need it).

  3. This is despicable. I have had mental health issues all my life, and am only now (at 30) getting the treatment I need for OCD. My OCD manifests as the belief that I can keep the people I love safe if I run through rituals in my head, and conversely, I can hurt them if the thought of something bad happening to them even crosses my mind.

    I spent many years searching for a religion that would help me control this, because it feels so real to me and pretty much every major religion is happy to tell people that they have the ability to control the world with their minds, through prayer, spells, rituals, whatever.

    It took so many years for me to realise that this wasn’t a spiritual failing on my part, but an aspect of a disorder of the mind. I’ve actually just started a blog about how I had to force myself into atheism to save me from these parts of myself.

    To target this stuff at children, to tell them explicitly that they can do these things, is abusive and cruel.

  4. Wow. The whole Paranormal Track is just one big weekend of basic cable woo, isn’t it?

    I noticed a couple of other non-Skeptrack panels that might be of interest:

    Over on the Animation Track:
    “Scooby Doo and the Decline of Skepticism”
    – A look at Scooby Doo over time and its increasing unrealism.
    – Fri 5:30 pm; Dunwoody [HYT]

    And, disappointingly, as part of the Main Programming:
    “The Truth is Out There Film and Q&A”
    – Follow Dean Haglund as he travels the globe hoping to discover just what it means to search for the truth in a world where conspiracy, or conspiracy theories, are everywhere. Q&A after film.
    – Sun 7:00 pm; Intl S [HYT]

  5. Reality TV has become synonymous with child abuse. These poor children need help but they’re being exploited by their parents and TV.

    I saw ghosts, cried at night, and didn’t want to sleep in my room. It was called nightmares and an overactive imagination inspired by losing a grandparent. Thank goodness my Mother explained that to me and helped me rather than launching my psychic career.

  6. This was the first I’d heard of this show and I have been disturbed all day. I plan to be at Dragon Con but, sorry Rebecca, I don’t think I can pull off “polite and calm” while this man speaks! I second the Blarf.

  7. Sounds like you need a co-ordinate scheme, so one person asks the question: “Why not go for the Randi challenge?” get predictable bullshit answer, second persons follows up: “Why not give the money to charity, and silence the critics who accuse you of using cold reading?”

    It is difficult, you are going to get bullshit no matter what you ask, so you need to ask as narrow and simple questions as possible to minimise the weasel room. So maybe just something like “Why not give Randi’s money to charity?”.

  8. 2 Questions for Chris Fleming:
    In the process of selecting people to appear on the show,
    does Psychic Kids: Children of the Paranormal
    use some sort of questionnaire or screening tool?

    Follow up with:
    If used, does the questionnaire ask questions about mental health?

    Reasons to ask:
    Is the questionnaire/screening tool used the to screen in the ‘crazies,’ (this is not meant to be disrespectful or derogatory term) not to rule them out? Are these the people they pick? Does Psychic Kids have a pattern in which they chose the kids/parent(s) with the most severe symptomatology?

  9. Are the children tested for potential mental or physical problems prior to being on the show?

    It’s a straightforward question. No violation of privacy or reference to specific individuals so it should be easy to answer.

  10. Rebecca, I was really hoping you were going to attend my lecture at Dragon Con Sunday at 10am as all these questions and concerns were addressed within my presentation. It would have been nice to meet you personally.

    Thank you to all the skeptics who did show and took the time out of Dragon Con to attend. I know how distracting the event can be, Much appreciated. I hope all your questions and concerns were covered. I do plan to get back to a couple of you this week personally regarding some additional physics information and further questions you had. Thank you also, for those of you who stayed afterwards and shared in the conversations outside the lecture room. It was great to hear your thoughts, beliefs, and perspectives.
    Sincerely,
    Chris Fleming

  11. Alright. I REALLY don’t want hate comments posted for my opinion. So, please don’t freak out when I say this and jump on me.
    As I do ENTIRELY agree that this show is sick, and uses children, at the same time, there is a bit your missing. You are not in these people’s shoes. We have no clue about their situation. Their FULL situation. Accusing a child of being mentally ill is highly degrading. It makes me sick to my stomach to know that people [who most likely know very little about psychology] to immediately think someone has a disorder. I’m sure I seem VERY rude for saying this, but to see adults make such serious accusations on people they’ve never met before is… well, almost disgusting. From 1st to 4th grade, my school thought I was autistic because I refused to speak to the other students, I didn’t like loud noises, and I didn’t like certain colors. Yeah, there were explanations for that. I didn’t talk to the other kids because they were snotty nosed rugrats. I didn’t like loud noises because they were obnoxious. I didn’t like certain colors because they were ugly. Does that mean I’m autistic? No. So why did the school think I was autistic? They jumped to conclusions. And that is what you folks are doing.
    In all honesty, I do NOT mean any disrespect, but I know it’s coming off in a very rude manner. But think of it this way; you all are making accusations of people you’ve never met before. Accusations that could put them on medications, be bullied, or put into a psychiatric ward. Thats sick. I’m 13, and I know this.
    Please, take the time to look at the other side. Look at it without a biased opinion. Look at it from the kids’ perpective. Maybe you’ll understand why I find this slightly offensive.

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