Scott Hardie | March 10, 2004
This discussion is critical of professional psychics. If you believe in their abilities and choose to read further, know that I asked this question as a skeptic.

What I want to know is, how do professional psychics and paranormalists like Sylvia Browne, John Edward, Uri Geller, James Van Praagh, and others continue to charge for their services without law enforcement shutting them down? There is no verifiable proof that the services they offer are legitimate. Sylvia Browne has been debunked by James Randi and other skeptics many times over the past twenty years, but she still charges hundreds of dollars an hour for a personal consultation.

I don't buy any of that "entertainment purposes only" crap, either. Nobody pays that kind of money to hear somebody make stuff up about their dead relatives, they pay it because they think the medium truly is in contact with the dead. Police crack down on fradulent services and practices all the time, but they still leave professional psychics and spirit mediums alone. Even when they had already booked Miss Cleo for improper credit practices, they didn't pursue her for providing a fraudulent service. What gives?

Anna Gregoline | March 10, 2004
Do you think because it is loosely tied to religion, and therefore something law enforcement would like to stay the heck away from?

Scott Hardie | March 10, 2004
Might be. Still smells fishy though. I can call myself a minister and collect hundred-dollar donations from my neighbors, but the cops would slap the handcuffs on me pretty fast. (I'm not talking about my ULC ordainment, of course.) Where's the line?

It may be related to lack of proof. Appeals to ignorance (arguing that something must be true because it has never been proven false, or vice versa) may have no place in logic, but they have a long history in the courtroom; it's the basis of "innocent until proven guilty." Are psychics not being arrested because they could not be proven to be frauds in a court of law? Frankly, I think they could be proven to be frauds fairly quickly in any courtroom, but I guess no police department wants to take the risk.

Anna Gregoline | March 10, 2004
How do you actually prove that their clients get nothing out of their services though? I'm sure they'd have tons of satisfied customers to bring in.

Scott Hardie | March 10, 2004
I suspect that it's a cycle: The psychics gain popular support because they are believed to be legitimate, and they are believed to be legitimate because they are not charged with fraud, and they are not charged with fraud because they have popular support. Hey, people used to buy snake oil from traveling salesmen until law enforcement put a stop to it, and now people realize that snake oil was a worthless hoax. So why is this foolishness allowed to persist in the present day?

Scott Hardie | March 10, 2004
A satisfied client and a ripped-off customer can be the same thing, if the person fell for the ruse. What can be proven, quickly and easily, is that a person has no psychic abilities.

Anna Gregoline | March 10, 2004
Hmm. I definitely don't know, Scott. I'm going to ask my legal friend.

Anna Gregoline | March 10, 2004
Jennifer in Law School Said:

Wow, I'm not sure. I think the entertainment purposes Scott mentioned may have something to do with it - I know on several of the advertisements, there is a disclaimer included about entertainment purposes or something to that effect. And the subject of the psychic's activity would not be the fraud. Legal consumer fraud is a pretty high hurdle to establish - the gov't has to show an intent to deceive and that actual deception occurred, plus patently unfair terms or grossly ambiguous terms. Additionally, there is a requirement that a reasonable person could have understood the terms of the offer going in had he read them - only constructive notice is required (so if a disclaimer was available and the individual ignored it, too bad). Basically, I think the gov't has better things to do than prosecute such schemes merely because not enough damages are shown and/or they cannot overcome the reasonable person standard.

I bugged her again about joining the site. We have so many legal discussions, it would be nice to have someone around who could find things out.

Anna Gregoline | March 10, 2004
She adds:

Something else I just thought of - depending on where the shadier individuals are incorporated or registered as businesses, the state laws control and certain states have extremely lax standards as far as the business in which a person can engage - and most of these psychic friends work on a local or regional basis, thus not subjecting themselves to federal standards.

The nation-wide book and professional services people (Sylvia Browne, John Edwards, etc.) that Scott mentioned are savvier businesspeople - I'm guessing they require that clients sign very detailed contracts with very clear terms specifically to avoid lawsuits.

Kris Weberg | March 11, 2004
Well, and there's the very simple fact that there's a massive pseudoscience industry that conducts dubious tests and writes thousands of pages a year "proving" the existence of psychic pehnomena and the like. Granted, they never use double-blind testing, fixed schedules, or control groups, btu they still manage to gain accredited posts at various universities and would (and do) appear in court to claim the validity of psychic powers and so on.


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