National Geographic’s Pro-‘Psychic’ Nonsense


Mark Edward, who has probably done more to debunk fake “psychics” and reveal them as the frauds they are than anyone other than James Randi, writes about his experiences with a National Geographic show that insisted that he say that even fake psychics can be good for people. They actually sent him an email with this script:

“_________, _________ and I have been talking about your request to appear tough on psychics. Without a doubt people who charge money to talk to passed spirits are predatory. Everyone on this side of the camera is in complete agreement and we would never want you to say otherwise. We never claim that psychics are real and go so far as to call them con artist. We are crystal clear on this point. Psychics are fake. However, science clearly shows that people who visit “psychics” feel better. I think its fair to say that some healers, even if may be the minority, are honest, have good intentions and actually help people. As a science show it is our job to acknowledge this. _____________, ______and I talked about it and it makes perfect sense for Jake to say the line “AND ACCORDING TO ONE STUDY, 61% OF VISITORS TO PARANORMAL HEALERS REPORT IMPROVEMENT.” However, we feel for story and authenticity reasons we need our expert to acknowledge the positives as well. We need our expert to say something along the lines of “IT’S ALL ABOUT GIVING PEOPLE ENTERTAINMENT, ADVICE, AND MAKING THEM FEEL BETTER ABOUT THEIR TROUBLES. THAT’S RIGHT – IT CAN ACTUALLY HELP PEOPLE.” The line doesn’t need to be exactly that, but the spirit of the line is important to us. It is of the utmost importance to us that our experts express themselves honestly and knowledgeably. We don’t want you to lie. But we need to shoot the segment with the truth as we see it. Thanks for your time. Please let me know how you feel about this area of concern.”

Believe it or not, he had a problem with that. This just makes me feel all the better about leaving skid marks getting away from Science Blogs after NatGeo took over.

Comments

  1. Trebuchet says

    We appear here to be talking here about the NatGeo Cable TV channel, which is not actually operated by National Geographic. It’s actually owned by News Corp, aka Rupert Murdoch, which explains the “Border Wars” and “Alaska State Troopers” shows they run seemingly 24/7. That doesn’t mean National Geographic (to which I’ve subscribed for more than 50 years) is off the hook. They should be deeply ashamed for having sold out their name in this way. A.G. Bell must be turning in his grave.

  2. escuerd says

    Come on, it’s not like we’re telling you that you can’t also talk about all the harm these psychics do by spreading falsehoods. That’s what we have editors for.

  3. Reginald Selkirk says

    “IT’S ALL ABOUT GIVING PEOPLE ENTERTAINMENT, ADVICE, AND MAKING THEM FEEL BETTER ABOUT THEIR TROUBLES. THAT’S RIGHT – IT CAN ACTUALLY HELP PEOPLE.”

    That’s setting the bar very low for “actually helping people.”

  4. Reginald Selkirk says

    This reminds me of the National Geographic (the actual magazine) article in March 2012 on the Christian apostles. Their conclusion seems to have been: believers don’t care if its actually true, it makes them feel better. That’s an apt description of their journalistic technique as well. Not exactly hard-hitting.

  5. Chiroptera says

    “IT’S ALL ABOUT GIVING PEOPLE ENTERTAINMENT, ADVICE, AND MAKING THEM FEEL BETTER ABOUT THEIR TROUBLES. THAT’S RIGHT – IT CAN ACTUALLY HELP PEOPLE.”

    Wow. It’s almost as if they’re saying that psychics are the opiate of the people.

  6. eric says

    …we need our expert to acknowledge the positives as well. We need our expert to say something along the lines of “IT’S ALL ABOUT GIVING PEOPLE ENTERTAINMENT, ADVICE, AND MAKING THEM FEEL BETTER ABOUT THEIR TROUBLES. THAT’S RIGHT – IT CAN ACTUALLY HELP PEOPLE.” The line doesn’t need to be exactly that, but the spirit of the line is important to us. It is of the utmost importance to us that our experts express themselves honestly and knowledgeably…

    This goes into the “did they even bother to read what they wrote?” file. You must say X, and you must be honest. Mmmmhmmmm.

  7. Larry says

    But we need to shoot the segment with the truth as we see it.

    Reminds me of a line from the Seinfeld show. George Costanza was coaching Jerry on how to prepare for taking a lie detector test. He says “Remember, Jerry, its not a lie, if you believe it.”.

  8. says

    it’s not like we’re telling you that you can’t also talk about all the harm these psychics do by spreading falsehoods. That’s what we have editors for.

    Simple – convince the editors that the psychics are their competitors in the field of spreading falsehoods.

  9. says

    I watched, “Secrets of the Viking Sword” on Netflix, last evening. It was produced for NOVA by National Geographic. As soon as I heard the voice over (before I saw the information about National Geographic, I was thinking to myself, “WTF?”. It was the typical hyperbolic bullshit that I’ve come to associate with all of the NatGeo specials–which I take pains to avoid watching.

    This blurb:

    “The most fearsome Vikings were the few who wielded a light, razor sharp, virtually indestructible sword with its maker’s name.”

    was the way Netflix described the program. It’s gist was debunked within moments of the program’s beginning.

    NatGeo’s typical bombastic style is to use “teasers” about every 3-5 minutes of film/video. It’s annoying as hell and, quite often, turns out to be as genuine as the hype surrounding Al Capone’s vault.

  10. JustaTech says

    Democommie @11: I’m glad I’m not the only one who doesn’t like the NOVA – National Geographic team-ups. Whenever I hear that “Special presentation with National Geographic” I just sigh because the presentation is going to be so much more annoying. It’s like the difference between Ramesy’s Kitchen Nightmares on BBC and Kitchen Nightmares on Fox. OK, not quite that bad, but similar.

  11. Draken says

    On a sidenote, what happened to all the comments on Scienceblogs? They seem to have been selectively zapped or so.

  12. coffeehound says

    We’re not asking you to lie. We’d like you to adjust your perspective of the truth so it coincides with our false equivalence that entertainment is equally as valuable as being honest about the ‘service’ provided..
    Got it.

  13. kantalope says

    83% of heroin addicts report that they feel better after shooting heroin into their eyes. We would therefore expect you to acknowledge, that for a particular segment of society, heroin is an unmitigated positive.

    13% of respondents just said uhhhhhh.

  14. exdrone says

    This is sad to hear. NatGeo has produced some good skeptical shows in the past. I especially like the Is It Real? series. I guess they finally realized that pseudo-science pays better with the general viewing audience.

  15. Doubting Thomas says

    kantalope #15, my thoughts exactly. I’m sure there are some pushers who really believe they are providing a worthy service and making their vic… uh customers feel better.

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