28 March 2024

Exposing the "Seatbelt Psychic": The Unveiling of Thomas John in Operation Pizza Roll

Susan Gerbic, Thomas John, Mark Edward
Image: (Susan Gerbic, Thomas John, Mark Edward, - skepticalinquirer.org)

By Jon Donnis

Time to revisit "Operation Pizza Roll" 7 years after the event. 17 Minute documentary at the bottom of the article if you want to scroll down to watch.

In the world of psychic phenomena, Thomas John gained notoriety as the "Seatbelt Psychic" for his purported ability to communicate with the deceased and offer insights into the future. However, his rise to fame was met with skepticism from some corners, leading to an intricate investigation by skeptics Susan Gerbic and Mark Edward. Their meticulous efforts, dubbed "Operation Pizza Roll," ultimately uncovered evidence suggesting that Thomas John's abilities were not as supernatural as he claimed.

The Rise of Thomas John:
Thomas John, born Thomas John Flanagan, gained prominence in the psychic community for his alleged gift of mediumship. He claimed to have the ability to connect with spirits of the deceased and deliver messages from the afterlife to his clients. His charisma and purported accuracy in readings garnered him a substantial following, with appearances on television shows and high-profile events enhancing his reputation as a psychic medium.

Operation Pizza Roll:
Skeptical of Thomas John's claims, Susan Gerbic and Mark Edward initiated Operation Pizza Roll in an attempt to scrutinize the authenticity of his psychic abilities. The operation, named humorously after Gerbic's fondness for pizza rolls, aimed to conduct undercover investigations into various mediums and psychics to uncover any fraudulent practices.

"Gerbic and Edward attended John's show using aliases, and John "read" them as a married couple. During the entire reading, John failed to determine the actual identities of Gerbic and Edward, or that they were deceptive during his reading. All personal information he gave them matched what was on their falsified Facebook accounts, rather than being about their actual lives." - Wikipedia Thomas John

Unveiling the Deception:
Gerbic and Edward employed a multi-faceted approach to expose Thomas John's alleged fraudulence. They utilized a combination of online research, undercover investigations, and critical analysis of his performances to reveal inconsistencies and potential methods of deception.

Online Research: Gerbic and Edward delved into Thomas John's background, examining his public statements, media appearances, and testimonials from clients. They sought to identify patterns or discrepancies in his claims that could indicate deception or manipulation.

Undercover Investigations: As part of Operation Pizza Roll, Gerbic and Edward attended Thomas John's live performances and private readings incognito. They observed his techniques, interactions with clients, and the accuracy of his readings to assess the validity of his psychic abilities firsthand.

Critical Analysis: Gerbic and Edward applied their expertise in skepticism and deception detection to analyze Thomas John's methods. They scrutinized his use of cold reading techniques, vague statements, and psychological manipulation tactics to uncover potential strategies for simulating psychic phenomena.

Exposing the Truth:
Through their exhaustive investigation, Gerbic and Edward amassed compelling evidence suggesting that Thomas John's claims of psychic ability were fraudulent. They documented instances of cold reading, vague statements, and reliance on cues from clients to construct seemingly accurate readings. Additionally, they uncovered inconsistencies in Thomas John's public statements and testimonials, casting doubt on the authenticity of his purported abilities.

Impact and Legacy:
The revelation of Thomas John's alleged fraudulence in Operation Pizza Roll sparked widespread discussion and debate within the psychic community and among the general public. It served as a reminder of the importance of skepticism and critical thinking when evaluating extraordinary claims, particularly in the realm of psychic phenomena.

While Thomas John's reputation may have been tarnished by the exposure, Operation Pizza Roll highlighted the significance of rigorous investigation and scrutiny in uncovering deception and promoting a greater understanding of the limitations of purported psychic abilities.


Footnotes and Further Reading:
Gerbic, Susan, and Mark Edward. "Operation Pizza Roll: Exposing Thomas John, the Seatbelt Psychic." Skeptical Inquirer, vol. 42, no. 4, 2018, pp. 28-33. - https://skepticalinquirer.org/exclusive/operation-pizza-roll-thomas-john/

Hyman, Ray. "Cold Reading: How to Convince Strangers That You Know All About Them." The Skeptical Inquirer, vol. 26, no. 2, 2002, pp. 42-46.

Wilson, Ian. "The Psychology of Spiritualism: Science and Seances." The Skeptic, vol. 21, no. 3, 2018, pp. 22-27.

Inside the Secret Sting Operations to Expose Celebrity Psychics.

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Design och användarupplevelse: En viktig del av webbutvecklingen är att skapa en attraktiv och användarvänlig design. Detta innefattar att välja rätt färgschema, typsnitt och layout som passar din målgrupp och varumärkesidentitet. På polarcomfort.se kan du också hitta vinbord för att komplettera din inomhusmiljö och skapa en enhetlig estetik.

Utveckling och kodning: När designen är fastställd går utvecklingen av webbplatsen igång. Detta innefattar att skriva koden som driver webbplatsen och implementera de önskade funktionerna och funktionaliteterna. En välstrukturerad och lättläst kod är avgörande för att säkerställa att webbplatsen är stabil och presterar bra på olika enheter och webbläsare.

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7 March 2024

Exposing the Truth: A Skeptical Biography of Spiritualist Medium Helen Duncan

Image: (Wikipedia)

By Jon Donnis

Helen Duncan, a controversial figure in the world of spiritualism, gained notoriety for her claims of communicating with the dead during séances. Born in 1897 in Scotland, Duncan rose to prominence in the mid-20th century as a purported medium, attracting believers and skeptics alike with her supposed ability to summon spirits from the beyond.

Duncan's séances often involved theatrical performances, complete with eerie voices, floating objects, and other supernatural phenomena. Her ability to provide personal information about deceased loved ones convinced many of her authenticity, leading to a devoted following among those seeking solace and closure.

However, skepticism surrounding Duncan's activities soon emerged. Critics accused her of employing simple tricks and deception to dupe her gullible audience. Despite numerous attempts to debunk her claims, Duncan continued to hold séances, exploiting the grief of vulnerable individuals for personal gain.

The turning point came in 1944 when Duncan was arrested during a séance in Portsmouth, England. Authorities charged her with violating the archaic Witchcraft Act of 1735, which prohibited fraudulent spiritual practices. During the trial, evidence surfaced suggesting that Duncan's séances were nothing more than elaborate hoaxes designed to exploit the bereaved.

Image: (The Mirror Archive)

In a damning blow to her credibility, Duncan was exposed as a fraud when investigators discovered that she used a hidden cheesecloth to produce ectoplasm, a substance supposedly emanating from spirits. The revelation shattered the illusion of her supernatural abilities, leading to her conviction and imprisonment.

Despite her conviction, Duncan's supporters rallied behind her, launching a campaign to overturn the verdict and clear her name. They argued that she was unfairly persecuted for her beliefs and that the evidence against her was circumstantial. However, their efforts ultimately proved futile, and Duncan remained a convicted fraudster until her death in 1956.

In the annals of spiritualism, Helen Duncan remains a cautionary tale of the dangers of blind faith and the exploitation of the vulnerable. Her fall from grace serves as a reminder to approach claims of the supernatural with skepticism and scrutiny, lest we fall prey to charlatans seeking to profit from our deepest fears and desires.

Image: (Mary Evans Picture Library)

27 February 2024

Unveiling the Mysteries: The Skeptical Biography of Sylvia Browne

By Jon Donnis

Sylvia Browne, a name often synonymous with the realm of psychic phenomena, gained both fame and notoriety throughout her lifetime. Born Sylvia Celeste Shoemaker on October 19, 1936, in Kansas City, Missouri, she rose to prominence as a self-proclaimed psychic medium, author, and television personality. However, behind the veil of mystique and purported psychic abilities lies a controversial figure whose career was marked by skepticism, criticism, and numerous instances of being exposed for her fraudulent practices.

Browne's journey into the world of psychic phenomena began in her early childhood, allegedly experiencing visions and prophetic dreams. She claimed to have inherited her psychic gifts from her maternal grandmother, who she asserted was also gifted with psychic abilities. Despite lacking any formal education or training in psychology or parapsychology, Browne embarked on a career as a professional psychic in her late twenties.

Throughout her career, Browne amassed a significant following, bolstered by appearances on popular television shows such as "The Montel Williams Show" and "Larry King Live." Her seemingly accurate predictions and purported ability to communicate with the deceased endeared her to many believers, who sought her guidance and insight into the mysteries of life and death.

However, Browne's rise to prominence was accompanied by a barrage of skepticism and criticism from skeptics, scientists, and rationalists who questioned the validity of her claims. One of the most prominent skeptics of Browne's purported abilities was James Randi, a renowned magician and skeptic who offered a cash prize of $1 million to anyone who could demonstrate genuine psychic powers under controlled scientific conditions. Despite Browne's initial interest in Randi's challenge, she ultimately failed to participate in the tests, citing various reasons, including health concerns and the negative energy surrounding the challenge.

Moreover, Browne's credibility took a significant hit when several of her high-profile predictions turned out to be false or inaccurate. One of the most notable examples occurred in 2002 when Browne appeared on "The Montel Williams Show" and informed the parents of missing teenager Shawn Hornbeck that their son was dead and his body could be found near two large jagged rocks. 

The following is the transcript of the exchange between Craig Akers (Shawn's stepfather) and Pam Akers (Shawn's mother) and Sylvia Browne:

CRAIG AKERS: Can you tell how far from the area he was taken?

SYLVIA BROWNE: Maybe about 20 miles.

CRAIG: And he's still within a 20-mile radius even now?

BROWNE: He's still within a 20-mile radius of -- let's say, here's where you are, 20-mile radius, but it's really southwest of where you are.

CRAIG: Southwest.

BROWNE: So whatever is southwest, because it looks like this is -- here we go again with the wooded, with the -- you know, the wooded areas. So southwest of you.

PAM AKERS: Is there any landmarks around?

BROWNE: Yeah. Strange enough, there are two jagged boulders, which look really misplaced. Because everything is trees, and then all of a sudden, you've got these stupid boulders sitting there.

MONTEL WILLIAMS: And he could be found near there?

BROWNE: He's near the boulders.

PAM: Is he still with us?


CRAIG: Do you see the bicycle anywhere?

BROWNE: I think the -- see, here's what's strange. I think the--the--the bicycle is in another state in a dump.

However, Shawn Hornbeck was found alive more than four years later, and Browne's prediction was proven unequivocally false.

For more watch The Survival Story of Shawn Hornbeck and Ben Ownby. By Savannah Brymer.

Another instance that tarnished Browne's reputation occurred in 2004 when she incorrectly predicted the outcome of the presidential election, forecasting that John Kerry would win against incumbent President George W. Bush. Browne's erroneous prediction further fueled skepticism about her purported psychic abilities and raised questions about the reliability of her insights.

Furthermore, Browne faced allegations of exploitation and unethical behavior, particularly concerning her lucrative business ventures, including psychic readings, books, seminars, and merchandise. Critics accused Browne of preying on vulnerable individuals seeking solace and guidance, often charging exorbitant fees for her services and offering vague or generic predictions.

In addition to her failed predictions and allegations of exploitation, Browne's credibility suffered further blows when several of her past clients and associates came forward with allegations of deception and fraud. In 1992, she was sued by a former client who alleged that Browne had falsely claimed to communicate with her dead father and charged exorbitant fees for her services. Although Browne denied the allegations and the case was eventually settled out of court, it underscored concerns about the ethical practices within the psychic industry.

Despite facing numerous controversies and being exposed on multiple occasions, Browne remained defiant in defending her purported psychic abilities. She dismissed skeptics' criticisms as baseless and attributed her inaccuracies to the inherent uncertainties of psychic phenomena. Browne maintained a loyal following of believers who continued to seek her guidance and validation, seemingly unaffected by the mounting evidence against her.

However, Sylvia Browne's legacy remains deeply polarizing, with supporters hailing her as a gifted psychic and spiritual healer, while skeptics regard her as a charlatan and opportunist. Her career serves as a cautionary tale about the dangers of uncritical belief and the exploitation of vulnerable individuals in the pursuit of profit and fame. Ultimately, Sylvia Browne's life and career are shrouded in controversy and skepticism, leaving behind a complex and contentious legacy that continues to divide opinions long after her passing in 2013.

13 February 2024

Life Uncovered featuring self proclaimed psychic Chris Riley - Ben Zand investigates. FULL EPISODE

Ben Zand, known for his investigative approach and keen skepticism, takes on the enigmatic "psychic to the stars," Chris Riley. With a massive waiting list and a reputation for providing thousands of readings annually, Riley offers guidance on various facets of his clients' lives, including health, relationships, and glimpses into their past and future. Zand, renowned for his critical eye and journalistic integrity, sets out to test the claims of this social media sensation, delving into the intricacies of psychic phenomena and separating fact from fiction.