A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

2009-10-13

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).