Dr. Oz: Brain Scans Prove ‘Psychic’ is Genuine


Dr. Oz continues his descent into being a colossal fraud with a recent episode in which he brought on another quack doctor to do a brain scan on “psychic” con woman Teresa Caputo (the “Long Island Medium”) and “prove” that her “psychic” powers are real and true while she performs incredibly bad cold readings. Steven Novella describes the cold readings:

Theresa Caputo is just another fake psychic doing bad cold readings before audiences that have more of a desire to believe than apparent critical thinking skills. Her performance on Dr. Oz is fairly typical – she fishes with vague and high probability guesses, working multiple people at once, who then struggle to find some connection to what she is saying.

For example, she tells one mark who is trying to connect with her father, “Your father wants to talk about the coin collection?” This is a great vague statement. First, it is one of those statements that seems very specific, but in actuality is a high probability vague statement. Anything to do with coins can seem to be a hit, and in the fairly good chance that an older gentleman had a literal coin collection it will seem like a fantastic hit.

In this case, however, the target found a nice face-saving hit. Apparently another psychic told the same person that her father sends her “pennies from heaven.” There you go.

In another segment with Caputo she demonstrates almost a parody of terrible cold reading. She senses a father figure and a daughter figure. She says to an entire audience that someone lost a father and someone lost a daughter. She also goes out on a limb and says – something to do with the chest. Shockingly, someone from the audience steps forward. Caputo then makes two clear misses. She says that she senses the person was lost suddenly. The target clearly indicates this was not the case, at which time Caputo tries to recover by saying that – even when someone is ill, we did not expect to lose them at that exact moment. Right.

This is so absurd that it’s rather astonishing that anyone could fall for it. But then comes the quack to confirm it all with a test that shows nothing at all:

Dr. Daniel Amen

Dr. Amen as made millions of dollars proving SPECT scans for a long list of diagnoses. SPECT scans use a radioisotope to track blood flow in the brain, which can be used to infer brain activity. The problem with SPECT scan is that there is a tremendous amount of noise in brain activity so you need to be very careful about interpreting the results…

Amen has now started using SPECT and other imaging to study psychic phenomena. This is a common marriage – that between noisy and poorly validated testing and pseudoscientific phenomena…

They can’t do a SPECT scan on stage, so they use quantitative EEG instead. This also produces pretty color-added maps of the brain showing relative activity in the different areas of the brain. They show the EEG of Caputo at rest and then while she is doing a reading. Surprise, surprise – the two EEG scans are different. She has less frontal lobe activity and more temporal lobe activity during the reading.

Amen admits this could have multiple interpretations, including simple anxiety (Caputo already admitted to being anxious, and she seemed anxious about this test). I would not even use the test to conclude she was anxious. You can’t tell anything from those scans. It’s just noise. Yet Amen confidently concludes that temporal lobe activity is evidence of spirituality and psychic power. Amen, trying to sound sage, informs us that there is more that is real than scientists believe is real.

Deepak Chopra would be proud of such weapons-grade bullshittery.

Comments

  1. says

    Ever notice that when a psychic claims to be in contact with your dead loved ones, they’re always content and at peace? Just once, I want to see a psychic say something like, “Yes, I can sense your father. He’s screaming, “Ahhh!! The pain!!! The horrible pain!!! The fires of Hell are unbearable!! Ahhhh!!!!”

  2. says

    Oz is a charlatan.

    I have a pretty firm belief that anyone who advertises in the interstices of the intertoobz, promoting horseshit therapies and remedies is a fraud.

  3. jnorris says

    Why is it when the dearly departed love one can’t remember or say their family member’s name or their own name? I would believe if the “psychic” screamed out “This is Tony MacShane, I want to talk to my daughter Alice.”

  4. Abby Normal says

    So the little dog pulls back the curtain and he just changes his title from “wizard” to “doctor” and keeps going? Genius!

  5. Trebuchet says

    @6, Dingo: Assuming you’re being serious, he’s a real doctor — a surgeon — and “Oz” is his real name. His parents are immigrants from Turkey. Unfortunately that doesn’t save him from being a woo peddler. Just like so many of Oprah’s other proteges.

  6. says

    Person at rest vs. person actively doing something. Yeah I’d expect the brain scans to be different. Why anyone would conclude from this that psychic abilities are real is beyond me. It’s like thinking we’re actually in a real other universe when we’re dreaming because a dreaming brain shows activity rather than a subdued, dormant state.

  7. Larry says

    Of course, they made and showed EEG readings of several other random people at rest and active, and then they pointed out how the scans are totally not at all alike to those of Caputo. Right?

  8. Erk12 says

    jnorris@4 wrote:

    I would believe if the “psychic” screamed out “This is Tony MacShane, I want to talk to my daughter Alice.”

    Things like this happen; they get an accomplice to stand near the line-up before the show listening for who people want to talk to.

    I can’t believe this Amen guy got ethics approval to inject people with radioisotopes for his study. SPECT is reasonably low-risk for the benefit of diagnosing a serious illness (e.g. how far a cancer has spread), but since there’s no possible benefit, I can’t imagine how he got a committee to approve the study.

  9. says

    I’m a Long Islander, and some of my friends on FaceBook post about how they love Caputo’s television show or that they are going to one of her live performances. Because I’m wary about pissing in other people’s corn flakes, I figuratively bite my tongue and remain silent.

    The other day though, I did obliquely tweak them on Facebook by posting a rhetorical question asking why none of these celebrity mediums never seem to be able to identify serial killers. After all, we would expect that the spirits of the victims would be constantly hovering around these mediums shouting the name of the killer and where he lived.

  10. says

    To add to my previous comment, one of my friends on FB posted that he was going to her live show and expressed his hope that she would be able to communicate with his deceased father. I almost wish my hand could have come out of his computer monitor and slapped him in the face. “Snap out of it!”

  11. says

    Ever notice that when a psychic claims to be in contact with your dead loved ones, they’re always content and at peace? Just once, I want to see a psychic say something like, “Yes, I can sense your father. He’s screaming, “Ahhh!! The pain!!! The horrible pain!!! The fires of Hell are unbearable!! Ahhhh!!!!”

    I’m sure there’s some fundie medium who somehow manages to do it without getting burned at the stake for witchcraft. I suspect most people who receive that message respond with disbelief. I shed tears for the ones who would believe it.

  12. says

    Doing a quick Google search of Teresa Caputo fraud, one interesting thing I noticed is that several of the sites attacking her did so because they claim she is being deceived by Satan or is herself an agent of Satan.

  13. acroyear says

    She was on today’s Steve Harvey Show (don’t as – stuck with that channel at a restaurant’s bar tv), first I’d heard of her, not knowing this post was in my RSS feed waiting to be noticed a few minutes later. Saw right through it, absolute textbook cold-reading, nothing more, and the stupid gullible audience was just eating it up. Harvey’s own bullshit-o-meter (“I know when someone is lying to me”) obviously blew up, which cost me another irony meter, and dammit those things are expensive now.

  14. grumpyoldfart says

    No wonder the likes of Ken Ham and Ray Comfort emigrate to America – that’s where the money is.

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