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Psychics Fail Once Again

Psychic Predictions

Gene Emery

December 31, 1994

If you thought 1994 has already featured some amazing events, wait until you see what’s in store for the final days of the year.

Hillary Clinton will plead guilty to shoplifting lipstick, an earthquake will turn Florida into an island, and Madonna will marry Boy George.

In addition, the U.S. Surgeon General will announce that TV watching makes men impotent, and Princess Diana will reveal that an appliance repairman and a postal worker fathered her two sons.

Who says? The world’s top psychics.

Those are just a few of the events that were supposed to come true before the end of 1994, according to the forecasts of the self-appointed psychics, whose predictions are published in supermarket tabloids like the National Enquirer, The Star, The Sun, and the Weekly World News.

Because none of the extraordinary predictions have come true yet, “we're either going to see a lot of amazing news over the next few days or it will become clear, once again, that the nation’s psychics aren’t as skilled at predicting the future as some people think,” according to Gene Emery, a science writer and frequent contributor to the Skeptical Inquirer, a magazine that takes a scientific look at claims of supernatural abilities and events and, beginning with the Jan./Feb. 1995 issue, will be published bimonthly in a larger, standard magazine format.

If the forecasts don’t come true, it won’t surprise Emery, who has been collecting predictions in the tabloids since the 1970s. “When it comes to forecasting unexpected events, psychics historically have had an abysmal track record,” said Emery.

According to these top prognosticators, 1994 was destined to be the year:

“As always,” said Emery, “the tabloid psychics missed all the truly unexpected news of 1994, such as the O.J. Simpson case, the Nancy Kerrigan-Tonya Harding affair, the baseball and hockey strikes, and the takeover of Congress by the Republican Party.

“Instead, we had psychics predicting that the Dow-Jones would rise to 5,000, that a national lottery would cut taxes in half, and that a teenager would build (and accidentally detonate) a nuclear bomb in Pageland, South Carolina.”

For 1995, the psychics have already predicted that O.J. Simpson will be acquitted, singer Whitney Houston and boxer Mike Tyson will marry, a plant that grows in northern Florida will cure AIDS, and volcanic eruptions in August will create a new land mass joining Cuba with America.

Will it happen? Emery advises: “Don't hold your breath.”

Psychology Behind Psychic Predictions

One group of scientists and scholars in Buffalo, New York, the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP), has been publishing the year-end tally of psychic predictions for the past several years in its quarterly journal (now bimonthly), the Skeptical Inquirer. According to CSICOP, psychics don’t appear to be improving upon their “hit rate” with the passage of time, and currently CSICOP has yet to find any convincing evidence that psychics possess extraordinary talent for seeing the future, finding missing people, or helping solve crimes.

When psychics are tested under conditions that eliminate luck or fraud, their powers evaporate.

Emery said some people argue that the forecasts in the supermarket tabloids are too outrageous to be taken seriously. “But extraordinary things do happen,” he said. “If I predicted a year ago that Michael Jackson would marry Lisa Marie Presley, that would seem pretty outlandish. Yet I would have been right.”

What did the tabloid psychics actually say about Jackson? “They predicted that he would marry Oprah Winfrey, become a traveling evangelist, or have a sex-change operation,” according to Emery.

The science writer said that scientists who have researched psychics and probed the psychology behind their predictions have discovered that prognosticators use a variety of techniques to make the public think they're giving accurate forecasts.

Jeane Dixon, for example, likes to be vague. One of her predictions for 1994 was that “Mike Tyson may soon marry behind prison bars and could become the father of a child in the near future” (emphasis added).

“Other times they predict things we'll probably never hear about,” said Emery. One of Monti’s predictions was that Sally Jessy Raphael and Rush Limbaugh “will become secret sweethearts.”

“If it’s a secret, the prediction becomes impossible to prove wrong,” he said.

In hopes of finding one psychic who can actually predict the future, Emery accepts written forecasts from psychics “as long as they involve unexpected events guaranteed to make headlines. Don't expect me to be impressed if you tell me there will be a scandal in Washington or an earthquake in California.”

Gene Emery

Gene Emery manages the Massachusetts bureau of the Providence Journal, reviews computer software and video games, and frequently writes about science, medicine and technology. He'll be accepting predictions through Jan. 15 from professional psychics, although they must be for unexpected events guaranteed to make the headlines in 2005.