Misleading psychics
should be sued, say skeptics

By DAVID ECCLES

(Investigator 36, 1994 May)


DISGRUNTLED clients of psychics, astrologers or mystics should be able to sue if damaged by false or misleading information, says a leading SA sceptic.

SA Skeptics president and philosophy professor Peter Woolcock said that while many self-proclaimed psychics worked on a word-of-mouth personal basis, others advertised services and some made quite specific claims.

Mr Woolcock said a person advertising and making an income from alleged special powers should be liable to the same regulations governing other businesses.

He said if mystics earned a living making certain claims, such as health or financial benefits, they should be open to penalties if benefits were not realised.

"People should be able to sue for things not occurring," Mr Woolcock said.

He did not believe mystics of any persuasion should be otherwise regulated or licensed.

"I think the Skeptics in general wouldn't want to have the law interfering with this, due to freedom of speech and so on."

The SA Skeptics is part of a national group aimed at debunking what it views to be frauds and myths. It has carved its skeptical reputationby seeking out and challenging certain practices to be tested scientifically.

It has previously held its own firewalking and "spoonbending" exercises, to prove them either trickery or the result of concentration and research – not magic.

The SA Skeptics have an ongoing $20,000 challenge for any person claiming to have special powers to test and prove them to a satisfactory standard under scientific conditions.

Despite the Skeptics contacting about 50 SA psychics, no one has yet taken up the offer.

Eligible people could include tarot, palm and tea leaf readers, spoonbenders, crystal ball gazers, water diviners, mindreaders or the traditional medium seeking spirits at a seance.

Mr Woolcock said he only wanted psychics once and for all to prove scientific basis to claims, even though some he could dismiss as cranks.

"The Skeptics' given attitude to this is that whenever controlled scientific experiments have been made, the claims always fail," he said.

"Even if (psychics etc) are not deliberately fraudulent, they are mistaken in believing they have these powers, and they are therefore still misleading people."
 

(Reprinted with permission from The City Messenger [Adelaide] 1994 March 16)
 

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