The Psychic Skeptic

I’ve been extraordinarily busy of late with a fun yet time-consuming new job, so I heartily apologize for the lack of posting. To make up for it, please enjoy this awesome investigative article by a very clever and dedicated skepchick. The company referenced is lobbying to have the article removed, so Karen, the author, is encouraging us to spread it around the World Wide Intertubes. I was going to post it in full but realized that would completely take over the front page, so here’s an exerpt and a link. Enjoy!

The Psychic Skeptic
by Karen Stollznow

A psychic can claim to be ‘skeptical’, but can a skeptic be psychic?

Is psychic ability in the eye of the beholder?

These questions arose when I stumbled across a job opportunity for psychics, advertised at Job sharing, casual work and second, even third jobs are necessary evils in today’s world. Some replenish stock in supermarkets at night, others telemarket or work behind a bar. Only the very few can earn a few extra dollars as a psychic. That would require a specific skill, wouldn’t it? But what kind of skill? Real psychic ability or cold/warm/hot reading skills and a glib manner?

The job advertisement was a call from an “ethical psychic network in the US, as seen on TV”, seeking psychics and tarot readers (“pros only”) to work from home for chat room, telephone and email readings. Absolutely Psychic is operated by ACM Entertainment, a company whose very name suggests the solemnity with which we should view the entire industry.

The company recruits “psychic associates” online, advertising in chat rooms, on mailing lists and job boards, seeking staff from as far away as New Zealand and the UK. Interested parties were urged to submit an application via an online form. Professing no psychic or indeed any paranormal abilities whatsoever, I wondered how far I could infiltrate until I would be revealed to be a skeptic posing as a psychic.

The telephone psychic industry emerged in Australia during the early 1990’s with the advent of ‘0055 numbers’. This incited a trend generating thousands of hotlines. Simon Turnbull’s Australian Psychic Association estimates that there are some 3000 services currently in existence. Psychic hotlines have evolved into a multi-million dollar industry. From its inception, the industry was completely unregulated (see Operation Termite, The Skeptic, Vol. 4, No. 4). Today, nothing has changed. Anyone can establish a telephone psychic business or indeed any psychic venture… but can anyone be a ‘psychic’?

Absolutely Psychic’s standards are extremely high, if they do say so themselves. “Our clients immediately notice that all readers are carefully handpicked. We are very ‘picky’, and we’re proud of it! Unfortunately, 94.3% of most applications are turned away. Ask around, we’re not kidding!” Surely I had no chance of infiltrating the ranks. Why, even if I did purport to have psychic abilities, they only accept 5.7% of applicants! As they repeatedly claimed, “We staff ONLY THE BEST PSYCHICS.”

The criteria became even more stringent. “We are only interested in readers with actual reading experience. Actual reading experience is defined as professionals that have experience giving readings to clients either via a Professional Psychic Network or private practice. Professional reading experience is NOT defined as experience giving a once in a blue moon free reading to a friend or family member. Professional experience is not defined as having a deck of tarot cards laying around somewhere. Though interests do lead to growth, please, only contact us when you have attained growth.” There are a number of talented cold readers around, but with no magic skills or reading experience, professional nor amateur; I am no Ian Rowland or Derren Brown. I would be relying upon a credible demeanour, but surely a ‘professional’ would know the difference?

The application would be a rigorous four-stage selection process of testing. Besides psychic ability, the only other requirement was a typing speed of 30 wpm. Firstly, the online application form would sort the wheat from the chaff. Then would follow an email reading test. Then a fifteen minute online chat room reading test. Finally, success at all of the previous levels would lead to a gruelling ten minute telephone test. The assessment procedure would be a psychic survival of the fittest.

read more…

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca is a writer, speaker, YouTube personality, and unrepentant science nerd. In addition to founding and continuing to run Skepchick, she hosts Quiz-o-Tron, a monthly science-themed quiz show and podcast that pits comedians against nerds. There is an asteroid named in her honor. Twitter @rebeccawatson Mastodon Instagram @actuallyrebeccawatson TikTok @actuallyrebeccawatson YouTube @rebeccawatson BlueSky

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  1. Absolutely fascinating. My compliments to Karen for showing how the supposed "gifted" people who run these scams are just as capable of being decieved as those they fleece!

    No wonder they want her article swept out of sight. She jumped through their nice, big hoops and then showed their "rigorous" selection process for the joke that it is.

    Admittedly there isn't much in her article that will shake committed believers in psychic powers. But there is so little being done to expose these frauds that every little bit helps. And sometimes those little bits can snowball.

  2. And to think I waste my time bartending for a second job… maybe I should go ahead and start doing some psychic consultations!!

  3. Wow, what an interesting read! I don't think I would have had the courage to go through all these tests myself. I would have been discovered right from the beginning so congratulations to Karen for going all the way to the end of this!!

  4. WAH! I’m pretty sure that’s the same company I almost worked for in the early 90’s. My girlfriend and I were on the verge of homelessness even though I had a full time job and she had a part time one (L.A. during the recession was not a happy place). We were so desperate that we answered an ad for phone psychics and went to the ‘interview and training seminar’.

    Everyone who showed up was hired on the spot. The interview consisted of being able to follow the directions to the house and successfully ringing the doorbell.

    The training was about two hours. We had to read some handouts in which we were told this was an entertainment enterprise and they were making no claims about our psychic ability. However we had to sign a document in which WE claimed to have psychic abilities, in order to absolve them of any liability. They had a lot of pointers on how to cold read and tell people what they wanted to hear, but the main focus was on techniques to keep people on the phone as long as possible.

    By the time we got home we both agreed we’d rather be homeless than actually go through with it, so in spite of the fact that we’d been hired we both failed to actually log in to the system and do any work.

    My girlfriend got a job working as a phone sex operator the next day, which actually had a more stringent interview and training process though the training did also emphasize telling people what they wanted to hear and keeping them on the phone as long as possible. She felt it was a much more honest and respectable job and did it for about a year or so.

  5. Robert is the real genuine first skeptic following in the advice of Carl Sagan…disprove, disagree..without disrespect unless it is earned…I am glad to see another place online…

    With her 70th birthday today, the Claws has made septegenarian…on top of being psychic…

    thank you for your voice…

    much props..

    Bob Dylan

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