Monday, 30 March 2009

Desperately seeking psychic

A few days ago I made a rare venture into watching BBC3 to see a rather odd little documentary called Gary: Young, Psychic and Possessed. (At the time of writing it's still on iPlayer here.)

In it, the filmmaker, Emeka Onono tried to produce an open-minded study of the self-proclaimed psychic healer Gary Mannion. Watching, it was as fascinating for its revelations of the mind of the documentary maker as it was for the work of Mannion. Onono so wanted to believe.

This came through particularly strongly when looking at two studies of Mannion. Onono portrayed the work of the (admittedly sometimes rather puerile) website Bad Psychics, which has a great swathe of evidence against Mannion as a personal attack, rather than the useful dissection it is. But when he visited a 'research' establishment that allegedly has some positive results for Mannion, he didn't point out that the Scottish Society for Psychical Research isn't exactly a proper academic institution.

Similarly, when Mannion blatently made the claim to have successfully treated people with cancer in the introduction to one of his shows, Onono made no attempt to challenge Mannion about this disgusting and probably illegal act.

Despite giving Mannion every chance, it became clear through the programme that there was very little evidence for success, and every evidence of failure. But the really sad thing, was Onono's closing oration: 'On paper this was undeniably a victory for the sceptics. But I'd noticed Gary's patients often came to him when they felt conventional medicine had failed them. And they left with something valuable. Hope.'

No Emeka, they left having been conned. This wasn't a victory 'on paper' for the sceptics, it was an absolute trashing. Despite all his wannabelieve leanings, Onono had shown that Gary Mannion was a fraud. It's a sad reflection of our ability to mislead ourselves that he could end the programme with those words.
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