skeptical - update
- Some good news, the parents of Emily Rosa (the girl who got national press coverage for
debunking TT) have helped get a crackpot practitioner behind bars for 16 years. This
was from an incident where a young girl died during a rebirthing treatment.
In other news, Once again, I highly recommend any connoisseur of kooks to check out
Dennis Lee during his 50 state tour this year. The only thing more astounding than this
guys claims is that the audience will be full of people who buy it. The tour schedule is at:
I'm looking for a volunteer in each state to alert the press as to a great investigative story.
here's an announcement - a camp for psychic kids:
Tom Napier came up with a good quote, "skepticism is to the mind what Consumers
Reports is for consumers".
Here's a responsible web page, the Philly Ghost Hunters Society has a list of
ways that people can misinterpret photographic artifacts as ghosts:
A psychology honors student is conducting research of people's
belief in extraordinary things. He asks people to fill out a 15 minute
The following is a repost:
Edgar Cayce, a forerunner of the
New Age, is the subject of a new
biography, Edgar Cayce: An
American Prophet, by Sidney
An American Prophet
By John Allen Paulos
Special to ABCNEWS.com
May 1 James van Praagh, John Edward and Sylvia
Browne are only the most well-known of the large
current crop of on-air psychics and mediums. They
deliver their flapdoodle on TV with seeming
sincerity and often claim to speak with the dead.
Nail in Head, Stick in Testicle Into a Trance Stock Market, Oil Wells
One of the dead they may now more easily commune with is their spiritual
ancestor, Edgar Cayce, the subject of a huge new biography, Edgar Cayce: An
American Prophet, by Sidney K. Kirkpatrick (Riverhead Books).
Cayce is considered by many to be the forerunner of the New Age movement
for his alleged medical clairvoyance, scientific insights, and much else. If one
100th of the claims implicit in his biography were warranted, this book review
would not be appearing here, but rather would be trumpeted on all the network news shows
and emblazoned on the front page of every newspaper in the country. Still, he was an
Nail in Head, Stick in Testicle
Born on a Kentucky farm in 1877, Edgar Cayce was very religious, sensitive, and given to
frolicking with imaginary playmates and angels.
Thought to be rather peculiar even at a young age, Cayce suffered a number of strange
childhood mishaps a nail penetrating his head, a baseball thrown into his spine, and a stick
piercing his testicle.
Despite these unusual misfortunes, the outline of his early life is simple. He grows up, becomes
a photographer, marries his hometown sweetheart, moves from one small Southern city to
another, starts a family, and struggles financially. Gradually, however, he becomes convinced of
his mystical gifts and medical intuitions.
The author was given unlimited access to Cayce's files and the results are unfortunate. Perhaps
to generate credibility, the book relentlessly recites detail after superficial detail: apartments lived
in, houses bought and sold, jobs taken, businesses invested in, financial arrangements and
partners, city streets and scenes.
There are descriptions of acquaintances of all sorts including quite tenuous connections to
Edison, Woodrow Wilson, Tesla, Lindbergh, Houdini, Hemingway, Earhart and, most of all,
readings of medical cases.
Into a Trance
The readings were analyses of people who went to Cayce (or whose stories were told to him)
for medical advice. He would famously drop into a trance with the help of various facilitators and
while in this state would channel whatever the "Source" said about the person's medical
condition, usually concluding with a prescription for therapy, often unconventional. Many of the
readings sound very much like the nebulous prescriptions of present-day mediums.
The book's completely uncritical reporting is disappointing and most exasperating. Kirkpatrick
seems to reject nothing, never demurs at anything, establishes no critical distance, and provides
little feel for what made Cayce tick. The good news is that eventually this approach becomes
amusing, and the reader eagerly anticipates the next outlandish achievement and its straight
Kirkpatrick's idea of proof is to cite scads of testimonials, including many from doctors and
celebrities. Testimonials, however, are notoriously unreliable, and there are no discussions of
statistics or methodological issues.
Apparently, no statistics on the percentage of cases cured exist, and the reader must decide
whether the "cures" recorded were due to Cayce's miraculous psychic insight or to a
combination of the placebo effect, natural recoveries, patient selection, good common sense,
dumb luck, cold reading techniques, and vague changes counted as successes.
Not surprisingly, excuses for the failure of readings abound in the book. Indeed, Cayce couldn't
save his own son or various other members of his family.
Stock Market, Oil Wells
As he grew older, Cayce did not limit himself to medical readings. He consulted the Source
extensively on behalf of credulous business partners interested in Texas oil wells, the stock
market, horse races, and even Hollywood screenplays. All of his get-rich-quick schemes failed,
and he retreated once again to medical readings and less falsifiable prophecies.
Still, he never met a pseudoscience he didn't like and was an ardent believer in astrology,
reincarnation, perpetual motion machines, the fabled city of Atlantis, and prophetic dreams.
Moreover, his beliefs, visions, and readings were bizarrely interconnected.
The reason, for example, for the technological advances of the present age is that many people
living today are reincarnations of the technologically savvy denizens of Atlantis.
Kirkpatrick tells us that Cayce had the astonishing ability to lay his head on a book and thereby
absorb its contents without formally reading it. As I slogged through this ungainly, preposterous,
and absurdly detailed book, I found myself longing for the same facility.
The book does have one use, however. You can throw it at your TV when psychics start
relaying silly messages from viewers' dead relatives.
Professor of mathematics at Temple University, John Allen Paulos is the author of several
best-selling books, including Innumeracy and A Mathematician Reads the Newspaper. His
Whos Counting? column on ABCNEWS.com appears on the first day of every month.