For the New York Times, Michael Wilson interviews long-time New York City detective Michael McFadden on the subject of psychics, people who visit psychics, and the reasons they visit them. Writes Mr. Wilson,
In fairness to honest psychics, [Detective McFadden] did not suggest that every psychic has criminal intent. But he knows more about the ones who do.
He said fraud schemes like the one Ms. Delmaro is accused of running were not uncommon, and probably more widespread than anyone knew — although they typically involved smaller amounts. Victims feel duped and ashamed and don’t always come forward.
There are three types of people who approach a psychic, Detective McFadden said.
“You’re curious, you’ve never done it,” he said. Or a group of friends go together, for fun. “It’s a goof,” he said.
“And then you have people who are in crisis,” he said. “They’re very vulnerable.” A disreputable psychic latches onto this customer, promising aid and urging a follow-up visit.
An earlier article discussed the particular case of a Manhattan man who visited Ms. Delmaro, whom he says defrauded him eventually of more than $700,000 after promising him that the woman he loved would return his affection. She died sometime during the period that Ms. Delmaro was providing psychic services. The man finally sought the assistance of a private detective, then went to police, after he lost his job and his money. Police arrested Ms. Delmaro, and she is now awaiting trial on grand larceny charges. She denies the accusations.
Cyril Thomas, Andre Didierjean, Francois Maquestiaux, all of the University of Franche-Comte, and Pascal Gygax, of the University of Fribourg, have published Does Magic Offer a Cryptozoology Ground For Psychology? Interesting, particularly for its discussion of the creation of false memories (pp. 20-21). Via a Tony Barnhart retweet (TonyBarnhart@MagicTony).
Tung Yin, Professor of Law at Lewis & Clark Law School, discusses whether behavioral detection screening as the TSA practices it detects security threats. Here's the link to his post for Jurist, enticingly and alliteratively titled Security Screening: Science or Sorcery?
An article by David Robson of the BBC discusses the research of magician Jay Olson, who studies the psychological tricks of his profession, and explains how advertisers, politicians, and yes, magicians, among others, are master manipulators. More here.
Tom Bartlett blogs for the Chronicle of Higher Education on criticisms lobbed at a popular psychology book, Barbara Fredrickson's Positivity, which asserts that a "magic ratio" of positive to negative statements made to you is likely to explain how you feel about yourself. It has received a lot of positive reinforcement itself, through good reviews; its basis is a paper that appeared in a peer-reviewed journal. The criticisms started after a graduate student at the University of East London read the original paper and thought the mathematical ratio that Dr. Fredrickson relied on looked wonky. Bolstered by assistance from Alan Sokol (he of the "Social Research" hoax), Mr. Brown pursued the matter. The result: a paper published in the journal American Psychologist, with a response from Dr. Fredrickson. More here from the Chronicle.
So, does all this mean other people's verbal pats on the back can't make you happy? Bummer.
The literature on neuroimaging and its use in the courtroom is expanding furiously. Many legal scholars are weighing in on its uses, particularly on its possible use as a "magic cure" as a lie detector. Here's what Jennifer Bard, of Texas Tech University School of Law, thinks of neuroimaging scans and their use as evidence.
Any law student who has taken Evidence has read about, or better experienced, an experiment in which a man bursts into a crowded classroom, runs through shouting and then leaves. When questioned directly after the event there is strong disagreement among the witnesses as to what the man was saying, what he was wearing and whether or not he had a gun. Based on the work of psychologist Elizabeth Loftus, now on the faculty of the University of California at Irvine Law School, this experience, more than any dry article about cognitive science, demonstrates the inherent unreliability of human memory and the conviction of eye-witnesses about what they have seen. Lawyers involved in the Innocence Project which is seeking to challenge wrongful convictions based on eye-witness testimony by examining conflicting DNA evidence have further brought these findings to public attention. As they explain, 'Research shows that the human mind is not like a tape recorder; we neither record events exactly as we see them, nor recall them like a tape that has been rewound.' Yet despite what has become common knowledge about the malleability of human memory, the idea that it’s possible to access the brain directly to find out whether a witness is telling the truth is being put forward by companies which seek to profit from research that suggests that new imaging technology can detect when a human is telling a lie. These companies are advertising this technology as a tool for law enforcement and promoting its use in U.S. trials as a way of helping juries to assess the credibility of witnesses.
This article explores these claims that neuroimaging scans can be used to detect lies, which far exceed those made by responsible scientists, and also puts them in the context of a series of U.S. Supreme Court cases which have dramatically changed how scientific (forensic) evidence can be presented to the jury in criminal trials. See Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc., 509 U.S. 579, 113 S.Ct. 2786, 125 L. Ed. 2d 469 (1993) (establishing new criteria for admission of scientific evidence); Crawford v. Washington, 541 U.S. 36 (2006) (requiring that defendants directly face accusors). It also addresses the significant criticisms being brought against what has often been incautious adoption of unreliable techniques. 'Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States: A Path Forward' (National Research Council 2009).
In this article I argue that promises of lie detection are not only based on false premises, but they are harmful to the integrity of the legal system because they seek to substitute a technology, which is not just undeveloped and inadequately tested but inherently flawed, for the judgment of the fact-finder, judge or jury, in a criminal trial. I conclude that even if there was neuroimaging technology which could provide direct access to human thought, the result would share the inaccuracies and subjectivity that we already know is an inherent feature of human memory. Moreover, because this technology promises to do something that jurors know they cannot - determine when a person is lying - there is a substantial risk that it will prejudice defendants because jurors will substitute the results of the technology for their own collective judgment.
Download the full text of the paper from SSRN at the link.