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.


  1. Nice piece.
    I am Jon Donni owner of BadPsychics.

    I think your analysis of the film was spot on, although I wouldn't say my site is sometimes puerile.

    We deal with a very serious and painful subject, and day after day of reporting on misery, fraud, death and so on is incredibly depressing.

    We have found that by putting some fun stuff on the site every now and then it keeps people coming back, cheers up people and generally makes the site a better place to be.

    We ar enot academics and we never claim our site to be scientific, we are just normal people trying to fight back.

    Anyway good work on the blog and hope to read more reports by you on such things


  2. Thanks, Jon. I think you do excellent work on your site and it's very entertaining. It's just the tone isn't quite the same as some of the other (unrelated) 'bad' sites like Bad Science and Bad Astronomy which is what I meant by the puerile remark - the tone can be a touch facetious sometimes, but please don't take it as knocking, that wasn't my intent.

  3. I have great concerns about psychics contacting vulnerable people. When my mum died I discovered she had been targeted by at least 10 different psychics promising all matter of great and wonderful things. She had parted with money -how much we don't know -but there were over 50 postal orders.
    My mum was very vulnerable. My brother had cancer and was dying. the strain and pressure resulted in her death a few months before my brother died.
    The letters continued to pour in.
    I contacted the Heaven and Earth show BBC 1, after I saw a similar story. I still feel I haven't done enough to right a wrong.

  4. Thanks for your comment. That is the problem - if it were truly harmless, then there wouldn't be a problem with this kind of thing, but unfortunately people do get hurt and also lose a lot of money on what is, in the end, fakery.