As its name suggests, BadPsychics is largely dedicated to exposing ‘psychics’ and ‘mediums’ as nothing more than frauds and conmen (or conwomen); or at the very least as individuals who are deluded into thinking they might have paranormal abilities. The website also hosts a collection of forums on which members debate (or perhaps debunk) the latest psychic to grace our television screens.
The email was to inform me that someone had posted to one of the forums asking if Dr Matthew Smith had gone gaga as they had read that I had been quoted as describing a particular medium as ‘one of the most impressive mediums I have seen’.
You might wonder why anyone would care if I had gone gaga. Well it all stemmed from the fact that the good folks at BadPsychics knew me as a voice for the ‘sceptical community’ through my involvement on a TV show called Most Haunted. My role, as a psychologist and parapsychologist, was to put forward alternative explanations for apparently paranormal occurrences that took place during an investigation of an allegedly haunted location. As far as this programme was concerned, I was the ‘voice of reason’ who did not believe in ghosts and was there to ensure that the rational explanation for any apparently ghostly phenomena was heard.
So to be quoted as describing a medium as one of the most impressive I’d seen clearly raised a few eyebrows. But being sceptical doesn’t, or at least shouldn’t, rule out being open to apparently paranormal phenomena. It is more to do with having a questioning approach to unusual and extraordinary claims.
Mediums claim to communicate with spirits of the dead. By anyone’s account, this is quite a remarkable claim and so it is reasonable to be sceptical. But I am also intrigued. Many mediums give messages that are rather vague and likely to apply to quite a few people, and so they do not provide compelling evidence that they really are receiving messages from the dead.
However, on the several occasions I’ve seen this particular medium perform, he has given messages that seem to contain both accurate and specific details such as names (first and last), dates, even addresses. He has even been known to provide such information under conditions that seem to rule out some of the more obvious non-paranormal explanations like cold-reading. So, yes, I am happy to be quoted as regarding this medium as one of the most impressive mediums I have seen.
The question I am now asking myself is, how does he do it? Is he really communicating with spirits of the dead? Is he drawing upon some other as yet unexplained power of the mind like telepathy? Or is there some other non-paranormal explanation for his apparent abilities?
These are the really interesting questions to ask. And sceptics should ask questions – they should seek to find answers – not make assumptions.
This article was originally published in Paranormal Magazine in October 2009. It is reprinted here with permission.