5 January 2013

"Science & Skepticism 101" - TAM 2012 Workshop

JREF research fellow Kyle Hill teaches the ins and outs of modern scientific skepticism for both novices and veterans looking to brush up on the basics.

3 January 2013

CHRIS HARDWICK & BABA BOOEY at SDCC - StarTalk with Neil DeGrasse Tyson

StarTalk hosted by renowned astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson. Join Neil as he sits down with Gary "Baba Booey" Dell'Abate, The Nerdist himself Chris Hardwick, and astronomer Phil Plait during San Diego Comic-Con International 2012.

 Guests: Chris Hardwick, Gary Dell'Abate, Phil Plait

20 December 2012

Stephen Holbrook - ‘An Evening of Clairvoyance’

This is a summary of a performance by ‘one of Britain’s most gifted clairvoyants’ at North Tyneside on 30th May 2012.

It should be said that we planned to see his performance at Morpeth a few days earlier, but strangely he came on stage and spoke to the tiny handful of people there to tell them that ‘the energy wasn’t right’ and he didn’t think the spirits would come through. He gave everyone a refund. Strangely, we had let it slip that there were skeptics in the audience. Did that have anything to do with it? Did we create the ‘wrong’ energy? Who knows!

At  North Tyneside, the first 17 minutes of the show were taken up by Holbrook proclaiming his expertise and talent in communicating to the dead. He told the audience that it started when he was 15 and he was in a supermarket. On reaching into a freezer his hand touched another ladies by accident and he immediately heard a voice telling him to speak to the lady about a birthday. He did so and they both burst into tears. He went on to say that his doctor told him there was nothing he could do about these constant voices in his head and he decided to share his gift with the world. For a price, of course. He also enlightened the audience as to how this gift worked. He would get a message and if anyone could relate to it they had 10 seconds to put their hand up. He didn’t explain why the spirit couldn’t just say ‘I am Bert Smith and I want to speak to my wife, Hilda and tell her where the copy of the will is hidden’.  It was up to the audience to decide if some vague message fitted in with someone who had passed ‘into spirit’.

He touched on his spirit guide, Archie May, a hairdressing soldier in WW1 who had received a wound to his left arm. He then gave an excruciatingly embarrassing performance about how his hand was cold and blue and so on. It’s one of the oldest stage magicians tricks ever invented.  I really wanted to ask him to take his jacket off, but managed to resist the temptation.  The whole preamble was incredibly banal, not to mention distasteful and arrogant. The only bit that made sense was when he told everyone that the ‘big names’ were rubbish. That I agreed with. But never mind, the show started with an incredibly amateurish display of 5th rate cold reading. Or rather, started after he acknowledged several people who he recognised from previous performances and introduced Sally, who was going to draw pictures of the spirits. OK, here we go then.

H = Holbrook
AM = Audience member
M = My comments

His opening line was toecurlingly cringeworthy, but set the standard for what was to come.

H Somebody lost their mum last year to the spirit world. Who lost their mum. Please be quick.
A woman put her hand up

H Your mum liked the spirits. And you know what, sweetheart; she’s been back to your house to visit you. She knew there was something afterwards and if she knew it was so good she would have gone months before. She’s sending love to four of you.

H She had a swollen leg or a lump on her left leg.

AM It was her right

H But she’s alright now, she’s like Linford Christie

M He then went on to his standard routine about having a ring and in fact she says there are two and she wants them back. He comes out with this one every show. The reading continued:

H Have you got a locket, a loveheart necklace?


H (turning to the ‘artist’) who does this picture look like

AM Not like me mam

H (rather brusquely) remember what I said. Now who does it look like? Remember what I said.

AM (after 10 second pause) Could look like my aunty

H Keep looking at it, it’s someone who belongs to you. September, why is September significant to you

AM It’s my birthday in September

H That’s what the person on the screen is saying. They are here to say happy birthday.

H Have you got a son

AM Yes

H How old is he

AM 2

H You don’t know who Margaret is, do you? Who is Margaret?

AM I’ve got a friend called Margaret

H No, she’s passed away


AM Could be an aunt or grandmother (referring to the picture)

H You don’t know this person here


H You don’t know who Jean is do you?

AM Me mam had a friend called Jean

H Did she

AM I can’t remember what she looked like, quite short

H Jean was your mum’s friend who she was close to. It’s funny; we’ve got M and J here. Come down and collect. August.  Is August significant?

AM Yes, she died in August

H Do me a favour. Did you ever have a Jack Russell terrier

AM Yes

H He’s here (gasps from audience)

M. Lots more questions followed, not a single statement was given. 
Absolutely typical 5th rate cold reading. He’s on to a winner, though. His audience don’t need convincing, they are already convinced. It matters not that he isn’t giving any information out, they are here to witness him passing messages of staggering banality from beyond the grave and it simply does not occur to them that he is just making it up. No one questions the obvious – if the spirit can tell him they are called Joan, why can’t the spirit add one more word and say Joan Smith? After all, they can talk about jewellery and lockets, but can’t say their second name? The suspension of disbelief is spectacular.
Anyway, on to another victim.

H Hello, can I speak to you

AM Yes

H All the time I’ve been speaking to Jean and everyone else, your mum has been waiting. She’s just sat here patiently waiting. She wanted to get in first, said she’s been here since two o’clock. Do you know what, she’s just sat there, wheezing. Let me tell you something, are you new to this


H You’ve been here before

AM Yes

H Tell her she likes her tattoo

AM Oh, that must be K****, my granddaughter, she’s just got one done.

M. Standard shotgun line. Everyone knows someone with a tattoo!

H Aww, bless her. Tell her she loves her tattoo

M. And so it went on. Absolutely dreadful stuff. Holbrook is a brusque and loud. His attempts at humour are childish and, although he got a few laughs and gasps, they were few and far between. His audience were willing to accept anything he said and there were several people obviously upset and tearful. No one asks the obvious questions, which seem to me to be what most people would instinctively want to know. 

Why are the messages totally inconsequential? I don’t want to know that someone had a Jack Russell Terrier; I want to know something more important than that. Why can’t I ask them a question? Why are you asking me things when, if it really is my mother’s spirit, she KNOWS my birthday is in September (or whenever).  Are you saying she is now so doddery and confused that she doesn’t know that September is my birthday, just that something  happens in that month? That’s not my mum, she loved me, and she never forgot my birthday. I wanted to remember her the way she was, not as some confused and senile person. Why do you get so many things wrong? I don’t know about any locket. Why would my mum mention something like that? Why doesn’t she tell me something important? Why, Mr Holbrook?

Most importantly, why do none of these audiences ask him ‘Why are you taking money off people under false pretences. Mr Holbrook?’

I struggle to think of anything more despicable, revolting and hideous than someone taking money from bereaved and vulnerable people. Forget the addicts and the groupies, I don’t care about them. They are welcome to it. Anyone stupid enough to believe this rubbish to the extent that they are followers and fans, so be it – it’s your money, throw it away however you want. It’s the people who go, having been taken in by his ridiculous advert, his sickly website or the credulous testimony of credulous people that I worry about. The ones who really think that they are going to be put in touch with their loved ones, who are distressed, vulnerable and grieving. Nothing in this world is so despicable than the utter scum who take money off them for false hope.

Written by BadPsychics Investigator and forum member "Northerner"

13 December 2012

Investigative Methods for the Skeptic

In this workshop from TAM 2012, a lineup of top paranormal investigators teach the best methods for examining extraordinary claims. Featuring JREF fellow Dr. Karen Stollznow, author Ben Radford, Bryan Bonner and Matthew Baxter of the Rocky Mountain Paranormal Research Society, Carrie Poppy and Ross Blocher of the "Oh No! Ross and Carrie" podcast, and Blake Smith of "MonsterTalk".

12 December 2012

Inside Out North East and Cumbria Investigate Psychic Stephen Holbrook

Chris Jackson reports on the man who says he can talk to the dead.

You can watch the video on BBC iPlayer at

Not sure how long it will be up for, so if anyone can copy the part of psychics and put it on youtube, please do and post a link in the comments section.