The Moonlandings were faked and other nonsense

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Numb3rs and Psychics

Numb3rs is a TV program on CBS which I've come to enjoy as a breath of fresh air amongst all the TV shows that advocate pseudoscientific claptrap (like Medium, for example). The main character is a mathematician named Charlie Eppes whose brother is an FBI agent. Dr. Eppes uses science, math, and reason to help his brother solve crimes of all types. Certainly quite a refreshing change. Until last night. Last night's episode starred John Glover as a psychic trying to help the FBI solve a murder case. Understandably, Charlie logically attacks the nonsense the psychic spews despite the credulous FBI agents all being taken in by the charletan. When the psychic "fails" a card test in which he names the color of the card, but gets every card wrong (black instead of red) which is just as unlikely as getting every one right, Dr. Eppes correctly identifies the psychics trick - looking at the reflection of the card to ID its color. This show had the ability, and given its record of using science and reason, it had the obligation really, to show exactly how these psychics work, using cold and warm reading, throwing out dozens of leads and watching their victims responses to latch onto the occasional hit; relying on the victim to selectively remember the hits while ignoring all the misses. While Charlie actually does go into these techniques briefly, the program left the door open to the possibility that this particular psychic might actually have some powers. It was a missed opportunity to show psychics for the charlatans they are. Too bad.


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