Aisling Symes & Psychic Predictions

For the last week national news here in New Zealand has been dominated by the disappearance of two-year-old Aisling Symes. During that time, well-known Australian psychic Deb Webber appeared on television offering to help. The broadcaster, TVNZ, relayed the offer at a police press conference. TVNZ was then criticised in a Dominion Post opinion piece entitled Why psychics should butt out of Aisling Symes case. The opinion piece attracted well over 300 comments, including one from me in which I pointed out that Deb Webber has never provided any useful information in the many cases she has "assisted" with. Overall the comments were (as you'd expect) divided between strong supporters of psychics and strong skeptics.

Today the NZPA reports a scathing attack on Deb Webber by NZ Skeptics chair Vicki Hyde. In a reference to the TV psychic show that features Webber, Sensing Murder, Hyde said "It's not sensing murder, it's sensing opportunity, sensing exploitation and there's nothing worse than exploiting parents who are under such strain and stresses."

Webber had made this prediction: "...she's in a ditch, hole, in West Auckland". Aisling was found last night in a drain, which is not a ditch but does count as a hole. I predict more division over the "success" of this prediction. Followers will claim Webber got it right, skeptics will claim she got it wrong.

Things to consider when judging for yourself:

  • The ditch and drains around the property where Aisling went missing were always the most likely places for her to have gone. There were only ever two possibilities: abduction or the drains. Child abductions are very rare in New Zealand.
  • Webber covered herself by adding the word "hole". How many bodies in this type of case aren't found in some sort of hole? This prediction is very clever because it provides a specific answer (ditch) which has a good chance of being correct and providing the psychic with an impressive "hit", but it also provides a more general answer (hole) to use as a backup in case the preferred answer is a miss. Of course a hole could cover anything from a grave to a hole in a wall. This is a common trick - watch for it in future.
  • It was practically a foregone conclusion that she was somewhere in West Auckland.
  • Sensing Murder has been running for a number of years with several versions in different countries, and has yet to solve a single case.
  • Webber may or may not have had a genuine insight but the point is that she provided no useful information. The case was not helped at all by her contribution.

This appears to be another case of a forensic psychic making a reasonably safe guess and using a tragedy to gain publicity (in this case her current tour got a good plug).


Loch Ness Monster on Google Earth?

Credible sightings of Nessie have been scarce in recent years, and I'm not sure if this latest report really counts as credible either, but here it is anyway... If you go to Google Earth and enter the coordinates Latitude 57°12'52.13"N, Longitude 4°34'14.16"W, you'll find the image below. Is it the monster? Or a boat? Or something else altogether?


UFO Holidays in Darwin

Until today I didn't know that the Northern Territory of Australia lays claim to being a UFO hotspot. UFO spotter Alan Ferguson is spreading the word with a promotional website featuring the latest local UFO photos and videos. There are plenty of photos that seem to have face-value interest but I watched a bunch of videos without managing to spot a single UFO - all I could see was shaky shots of a cloud and a tree. And as for the commentary, let's just say I wasn't completely engaged.

I found Alan's website via a local news item so he's doing something right with his publicity. The website shows examples of local UFO signage and displays which seem to indicate some support for the UFO theme in his area. But I've never been there - can anyone tell me how serious or widespread the UFO theme is in the Northern Territory?


Million Dollar Challenge to Continue

The James Randi Educational Foundation today announced that the Million Dollar Challenge is not to be cancelled after all. The cancellation was announced last year with a wrap-up date of March 2010. Obviously they've had a change of heart which is great news - the challenge certainly provides a wealth of entertaining discussion material.

Since 1998 the Million Dollar Challenge has been available to anyone who can provide hard evidence of paranormal phenomena or abilities, under mutually-agreed controlled conditions. So far the challenge has not been met.


Family Sues Genie

A family in Saudi Arabia is taking a genie to court, accusing it of theft and harassment. The local Al Watan newspaper reports that the genie stands accused of making threats, throwing stones and stealing mobile phones.

In traditional Islamic lore genies are known as jinn or djinn. According to the Koran they were created before mortal humans. A jinn may be good or evil.

The most interesting aspect of this story is that the lawsuit is being taken seriously by the Saudi courts, highlighting the gulf between Middle Eastern and Western legal systems. A spokesperson for a local court is quoted as saying they are trying to verify the truthfulness of the claims "despite the difficulty of doing so".

Excellent understatement. I wish them luck.


New Articles - April 2009

Paranormal Notables - An introduction to fame and infamy in the paranormal world.

Magicians & Wizards - Practitioners of magic have been traced back as far as 2700 BCE. See also Famous Magicians & Wizards.

The Zodiac - Updated article with more info about zodiac signs and how signs are determined.


New Articles - March 2009

Close Encounters of the 2nd Kind: Evidence of extra-terrestrial activity left by physical traces of an object or craft.

Telekinesis: The act of moving objects using only the power of the mind.


Atlantis Found in Google Ocean?

The image below is of the ocean floor west of Africa, near the Canary Islands. It has caused something of a stir since it was reported by Britain's The Sun newspaper last week under the headline "Is This Atlantis?"

Image from Google Earth

Interestingly, the image is very close to the most popular proposed location of Atlantis, according to archaeologist Dr Charles Orser (New York State University).

Yesterday, however, Google posted a blog entry explaining that the lines in the image are called "ship tracks". They are a side-effect of the technology used by ships to map the ocean floor. It turns out the same tracks can be found all over Google Earth where ships have mapped the ocean floor.

While initially this looked like a promising sign for Atlantis enthusiasts, unfortunately it seems like there's nothing in it after all.


New Articles - January 2009

Bilocation: The ability to be in two places at the same time.

Levitation: The raising of a body into the air without physical support.

Near Death Experience: A phenomenon reported by some people who return to life after being declared clinically dead.