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Psychic Predictions (and Rationalizations) Fail Again

Ben Radford

Volume 15.2, June 2005

One of the frustrating things about dealing with alleged psychics is the lack of opportunity to pin them down to explain their failures. Many of them avoid replying to skeptics and of course play down or hide their mistake from clients and radio show audiences.

As reported in the December 2000 Skeptical Briefs, on New Year’s Eve 1999, a Buffalo, New York, television station interviewed a local psychic for her 2000 predictions. Reporter Pete Gallivan, of WGRZ Channel 2, interviewed Buffalo psychic Lady Marlene on her psychic predictions for the coming year.

She had five major predictions, quoted below. As she read off her list, New-Agey music resembling plaintive whale calls played in the background.

  1. “More spirituality: More children and adults attending these local churches. More positive and in keeping higher power [sic] to get through trials and tribulations.”

    This prediction is so hard to quantify as to be meaningless; an increase in spirituality from what to what? A simple increase in church attendance-even if verified-would not necessarily reflect an increase in spirituality.

  2. “A new Buffalo business: A Filipino company is investing, sponsoring a factory gourmet [sic]-it’s going to be a garment business to help Buffalo.”

    We were unable to find any business, Filipino-owned or otherwise, that fit her prediction.

  3. “Sports boom town: Buffalo is going to be the most talked about sports town for football and hockey to baseball and soccer. Championship wins for the Bills and Sabres.”

    Though “sports boom town” is in some ways a subjective term, it’s hard to imagine how 2000 could be seen in a very positive light. Far from championship wins, both major teams (the Buffalo Bills football team and the Buffalo Sabres hockey team) were eliminated at the second-round playoffs.

  4. “More alternative medicine: Prescription drugs will soon be almost off the market. Alternative medicine and holistic healing such as herbs and reiki and power of prayer in healing [will replace conventional medicine].”

    Prescription drugs are selling better than ever, and show no indication of being taken off the market. Alternative medicine hasn't advanced much recently, and in fact has taken a beating in recent years, with reports of dangerous interactions and side effects.

  5. “Donald Trump’s Buffalo Waterfront casino: Donald Trump will invest in a casino by August called Donald’s Buffalo Waterfront casino.”

    Never happened.

I had a chance to ask Lady Marlene about her failed predictions on October 28, 2004. A local radio morning show had her on as a guest, and I listened as I boiled water for coffee and munched mini-wheats. As callers asked questions about their lives and futures, I dug out the above article and dialed the radio station. I was on hold for 23 minutes, delaying a shave and much-needed bath, but I finally got my chance to speak live and on the air with the psychic. I did something rarely heard on the air: I challenged her.

Benjamin Radford: “A few years ago, on New Year’s Eve 1999, she made five predictions for Y2K on Channel 2, and every single one of them was wrong. I was wondering if you could explain that.”

Lady Marlene: “Oh, my, was that a bad year for me? I can’t believe that. What were the ones that were wrong? The Superbowl?”

BR: “Well, you claimed that Donald Trump’s Waterfront Casino would open...”

LM: “Well, it didn’t happen because of [Buffalo mayor Anthony] Masiello.”

Rob Lederman (morning show co-host): “There you go, you let him have it!”

BR: “So it’s Masiello’s fault that you were wrong?”

LM: “It’s not Masiello’s fault I was wrong, it’s Masiello that’s holding back our casino.”

BR: “Okay. The other thing, you said that there would be championship wins for the [Buffalo] Bills and the Sabres. . . .”

LM: “Well, in the meantime-First of all, I feel very bad about the Sabres and the Bills [at the time one of the worst records in the NFL], I mean come on, let’s give it to them this year. . . . No one wants to listen, but I’m telling you, [Bills running back] Travis Henry is going to run it all the way like O.J. did many years ago.”

Snortin’ Norton (morning show co-host): “Travis Henry is not playing now, Marlene, just to let you know...” (Henry was out with a foot sprain, and had been replaced, possibly for good.)

LM: “Let me tell you something-he’s not going to be sitting on that bench forever, is he?”

Rob Lederman (cutting in): “Hey Marlene, I’m on your side.”

Chris Klein (morning show co-host): “-And the Sabres won a championship in their division, see?”

LM: “Right, right. People misconstrue what I say . . . I didn’t say that the Bills would make it, but I said they would win the game...”

BR: “Well, you did say the Bills would get a championship. You also said that prescription drugs would be off the market-”

LM (interrupting): “And they are! And they just called Vioxx back. Do you call that a drug? Do you call Prozac, do you call lithium...I don’t care for them and yes we're going holistic and Western medical fields are out and Eastern is in and Dr. Deepak Chopra is the best doctor yet.”

BR: “But prescription drugs aren’t off the market. You can go and get them.”

LM: “Yes they are! Yes. They are going right off and if you look at Vioxx, aren’t they calling them back?”

BR: “Well, right, but drugs have been recalled for decades...”

LM: “Listen to me! If anyone’s on antidepressants and I don’t care because this is a sore subject with me and I had to be on them...”

Rob Lederman (wrapping up): “What do you see in this guy’s future? Obviously this guy is a skeptic...”

LM: “He is a skeptic, but he’s still a nice guy-”

Rob Lederman: “Who says he’s not? But what do you see in his future?

LM: “I can see that he’s too disagreeable and I wouldn’t like his future!”

So there you go. Her prediction about the casino was somehow invalidated because of the mayor’s actions (which she apparently didn’t foresee); she completely avoided the failed 2000 Bills championship by discussing the current lineup and events; and she made the obviously false assertion that prescription drugs are no longer on the market. (She conveniently neglected to mention that while of course a few drugs have been removed because of safety, some alternative and herbal remedies-such as ephedra-have also been removed for the same reason.) I didn’t have time to list the remaining two predictions that Lady Marlene was wrong about, but at least the radio show listeners got to hear a different side of the story. And often that’s all a skeptic can ask for.

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Benjamin Radford is a scientific paranormal investigator, a research fellow at the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, deputy editor of the Skeptical Inquirer, and author or co-author of six books and over a thousand articles on skepticism, critical thinking, and science literacy. His newest book is The Martians Have Landed: A History of Media Panics and Hoaxes. Radford is also a columnist for Discovery News and LiveScience.com.