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The "bingo card" handed out by Granite State Skeptics before the John Edwards show on Wednesday night, filled with terms and scenarios that regularly come up in psychic "readings".
Thursday, June 23, 2011

Skeptics: Psychic’s show no salve for grief

MANCHESTER – Christa Grant was at the Palace Theater on Tuesday night hoping to talk to her late husband, who died unexpectedly a year ago.

Travis Roy and his band of disbelievers were there hoping to convince her to save her money.

John Edward – the psychic who claims to communicate with the dead, not the beleaguered former senator with similar name – filled the 840-seat Palace Theater on Tuesday at $125 a pop, with the message he could “bring comfort and hope” to people by reuniting them with their dearly departed.

Roy and other members of the Granite State Skeptics group said this is, at best, hogwash. At worst, they say, Edward and his clairvoyant ilk are bilking mourners out of their money and causing emotional damage by preventing people from properly dealing with their grief.

“I think he’s taking advantage of people,” Roy said. “We’re talking about someone who’s charging $120 a ticket, and the idea is to get them hooked. We don’t think that’s emotionally healthy or appropriate.”

Roy and about 10 other volunteers flanked the theater’s entryway before Edward’s 7 p.m. show, handing out small blank envelopes with tiny pencils and “psychic bingo” cards inside. The cards had a five-by-five grid of vague “hot words” and scenarios that often come up in cold reading, a term used to describe how it’s possible to elicit information from people without their knowing it.

Roy, who told the Palace Theater that the skeptics group would be outside before the show, said he hoped people would mark each square as they heard Edward mention that term, and think critically about the predictability of the act and what it said about his message.

Hopefully, he said, this would get them interested in the pamphlets about cold reading, confirmation bias and other psychological phenomena that Roy said psychics use to impress their audiences.

“What we’re trying to do is to get people to think about what psychics are saying and to understand the concepts of cold reading,” Roy said, “and to think rationally about what they’re doing.”

Things such as a daily horoscope in the newspaper are harmless, Roy said, but when people start spending hundreds or thousands of dollars, or relying on psychics instead of dealing with their grief, they can get hurt, just as when they rely on bogus alternative medicine and ignore needed treatment. That’s why the group looks at a lot of what it does as consumer protection.

The 2-year-old Granite State Skeptics has explored reported hauntings and alternative medical practices, as well as wristbands that claim to give a bevy of benefits, including power and balance boosts. The group has more than 100 fans on Facebook and 15-30 active members who attend bimonthly meetings at Wings Your Way restaurant on Elm Street in Manchester, Roy said.

On Tuesday, the skeptics were quietly handing believers the blank envelopes and making it clear they weren’t affiliated with the show. Even so, a few customers didn’t appreciate them. One woman stormed back out of the theater and thrust a handful of the envelopes into a volunteer’s hands. Others just wished the skeptics would leave them to their own devices.

Grant said she has been to a John Edward show before and liked his message about grief and loss as much as any conversations with the dead.

“I liked his message, when he talked about death and grieving,” she said. “It was uplifting, and the help he can provide for someone who’s stuck in grieving. I’m not going to write a check based on what some medium says. It’s just the experience itself and his message.”

“Everyone has the right to believe what you want to believe,” said Grant’s sister, Lisa Ciarcia, of Punta Gorda, Fla.“I think you have a personal experience, it changes you forever. I also think a healthy dose of skepticism is great.”

Deering resident Lauren Lucius was at the theater for her first show. She said she absolutely believes Edward and others can communicate with the beyond.

“I don’t know,” she said. “If they’re skeptics, they should just keep it to themselves and not try to pass it on to people who are going in to hopefully enjoy the show.”

Joseph G. Cote can be reached at 594-6415 or jcote@nashuatelegraph.com. Also, check out Cote (@Telegraph_JCote) on Twitter.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This article originally misspelled John Edward’s last name as “Edwards”. It has been corrected.