Exposing PseudoAstronomy

September 1, 2017

Podcast Episode 163: Modern Eclipse Lunacy, Part 1


Solar Eclipses:
Even in the modern day,
Lunacy exists.

Back and pumping out a 42-minute episode on some of the crazy surrounding the recent lunar eclipse, crazy that you’re not going to hear from other sources. This past eclipse on August 21, 2017, was perhaps one of the most-hyped and most-viewed solar eclipses in human history. As with any such mass-sighted event, pseudoscience is bound to rear its ugly head. In this episode, I address doom and gloom, earthquake predictions, astrologic predictions, Planet X predictions, and other topics related to the eclipse.

There’s one additional segment, and that’s about where I’ve been (literally).

Solar Eclipse from August 21, 2017 (©Stuart Robbins)

Solar Eclipse from August 21, 2017 (©Stuart Robbins)

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December 29, 2012

2012 Psychic Predictions Roundup: Laypeople and Professionals Both Continue to Fail


Download the Predictions Roundup Document (PDF)

Introduction

Continuing a tradition that I started in 2010 and continued in 2011, I am posting a “psychic roundup” to celebrate the end of one Julian calendar year and bring in the next. In previous years, I have focused on Coast to Coast AM audience and professional predictions, and my conclusion has been, in one word: Bad. Average around 6% correct.

This year, I have branched out to other sources for three primary reasons. First, Coast has changed their format such that the audience predictions are more annoying and outlandish and it’s no longer one per person. Second, Coast is no longer doing a night or two of professional predictions where they bring in several guests per night to discuss the year ahead. It’s just a few people scattered over January. Third, last year, I was criticized for relying on Coast with people on some forums complaining that it wasn’t a good sample because no “reputable” person would go on the show anymore. I was also criticized for lumping different “kinds” of methods together, like astrologers with mediums.

So, I sniffed out seventeen other people who claim to make foresight-ful predictions who were not on Coast. I recorded their predictions, and I’ve scored them. I scored 549 predictions made by various people this year. If you want to just get right to ’em, then see the link above or below. If you want more of a summary and a “how,” keep reading.

Download the Predictions Roundup Document (PDF)

People

Beyond the laypeople in the Coast audience, this year, the pros featured: Joseph Jacobs, Glynis McCants, Mark Lerner, Maureen Hancock, Paul Gercio, and John Hogue. The other 17 pros I looked at were: Concetta Bertoldi, Da Juana Byrd, Linda & Terri Jamison, Joseph Tittel, LaMont Hamilton, Carmen Harra, Judy Hevenly, Roxanne Hulderman, Blair Robertson, Pattie Canova, Cal Orey, Sasha Graham, Elaine Clayton, Denise Guzzardo, and Terry Nazon.

Many of these people are highly respected in their fields and charge a lot of money for readings (if they do readings). Let’s see how they did …

Scoring

I continued my tradition from last year with being somewhat strict in either calling something a miss or saying it was too vague or obvious or not a prediction. In one case, I had to call the “psychic” ignorant based on my reading of their prediction (that Antarctica would be found to have land under it?).

With that in mind, I was also what some may consider generous, giving some high probability hits (like Newt Gingrich would win the South Carolina primaries).

All numerical scores are the number of hits divided by the number of hits plus the number of misses. That means that predictions that were too vague/etc. were NOT counted against them, nor for them. The uncertainty is the square-root of the number of hits divided by the sum of the number of hits plus misses.

How They Did

I separated the folks into three groups: Coast audience, Coast professionals, and other professionals. Here’s how they did:

  • C2C Audience: 6.6±2.1%
  • C2C Pros: 15.6±7.0%
  • Other Pros: 7.5±1.7%

How They Did, Removing U.S. Presidential Election Stuff

The USA had a presidential election this year. About 3.3% of the predictions had specifically to do with who would run and be elected. These were pretty high-probability for the actual results followed what analysts were predicting months in advance.

So, to try to un-bias the predictions relative to previous years, I removed ALL predictions having to do with the either who would be the nominee on the Republican side or who would win the presidency. The results, and compared with previous years, are:

  • C2C Audience
    • 2012: 6.7±2.2% (4.7% too vague to score)
    • 2011: 5.8±2.3% (8.8% too vague to score)
    • 2010: 5.7±2.3%
  • C2C Pros
    • 2012: 13.8±6.9% (17.1% too vague to score)
    • 2011: 2.6±2.6% (39.0% too vague to score)
    • 2010: 11.5±4.3%
  • Other Professionals
    • 2012: 5.5±1.5% (27.1% too vague to score)

Several Conclusions from the Data

Note that these are discussed in more detail in the massive PDF file that lists all the predictions. For the shorter version …

First, I repeat this every year – and I predict that I’ll repeat it, in effect, next year – these “professionals” are NOT capable of telling the future any better than you or I, and some of them are in fact far worse.

Second, another thing I repeat every year and has held true this year, is that the pros are much vaguer than laypeople. On average, they’re a factor of around 3-5x vaguer in the sense that, percentage-wise, 3-5x more of their predictions are too vague to actually score. This means that they’re very easy to retrodict, after the event occurs, to claim accuracy. But, that “accuracy” is useless because it was not something that could be actionable when the “prediction” was made because it was so vague

Third, if the small numbers can be believed, the pros are better at setting aside their personal aspirations for politics — of the 12 predictions dropped because they were about the presidency, 1 hit and 2 misses were from the laypeople, while 7 hits and 3 misses were from pros. This indicates they got more right than the laypeople, which, while someone could point to that and say it proves they’re more psychic/intuitive/whatever, an objective person would look at that and point out that they were simply more likely to state what the polls and analysts were saying at the time.

Fourth, again if small numbers can be believed, when separating the pros into psychic-mediums, psychics, intuitives, and astrologers, the prediction rates were identical — except for the astrologers, who got 0. The only difference was that the psychics were much less vague, averaging around 19% unscorable versus about 35% unscorable for the others. I’ll have to watch that and see if it pans out in future years.

Scoring, Revisited

Before I wrap this up, I want to revisit the scoring and point out a major difference between the prognosticator and what I would consider an objective person looking to see if a “psychic” prediction is accurate or if it’s so vague that it can be retrodicted after the event to claim accuracy.

My example is Linda and Terri Jamison, the “Psychic Twins” who claim to be “psychic mediums.” They stated they see “one or two major schools being victimized by a young terrorist in the U.S.”

I consider that a miss. A terrorist is someone who commits their terrorism to create fear and panic, usually in the pursuit of political aims. By all accounts — except for the very conspiracy-minded, who unfortunately have been on C2C talking about this — Adam Lanza, the Sandy Hooke Elementary School shooter, was anti-social and disturbed. NOT a terrorist, not doing this for political gain, no cause in mind, and no greater demands for a group. To me, this is NOT a correct prediction for the twins. Sandy Hooke Elementary is – no offense – also not exactly what I would consider a “major school” (someone from Connecticut please correct me if I’m wrong).

However, I fully expect the twins to go out and claim that they predicted the Sandy Hooke shooting based on their above statement, just as they’ve been saying for over a decade they predicted the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks via the following exchange:

– Twin A: “We’re seeing a lot of natural disasters in terms of earthquakes and hurricanes, uh, blizzards and earthquakes coming up, especially in the next 10-12 years. A lot of activity like that because of global warming. We are seeing, uh, various terrorist attacks on Federal government, uh, excuse me — Federal buildings, um –”
– Twin 1: “– yeah, particularly, uh, South Carolina or Georgia.”
– Art Bell: “Really.”
– Twin 1: “Uh, by July 2002, and also uh, the New York Trade Center, the World Trade Center in 2002.”
– Art Bell: “Really.”
– Twin 1: “Uh, with something with a terrorist attack and, um, yeah, so that’s pretty much it.”

That is their claim for predicting the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. I consider it a miss. But that’s a future blog post.

Final Thoughts

That about wraps it up for this year. I’m not going to repeat my small tirade from last year against the amount of money people waste on these professionals. I’ll just ask that you look at the data: They don’t do any better than you.

I’ll also ask that if you found this at all useful or interesting, please help spread the word through Twitter, Facebook, e-mail, message boards, your favorite podcast (unless it’s mine, in which case I already know), etc. A lot of work went into it, and as far as I know, this is one of the most comprehensive looks at predictions for 2012 (and thanks again to Matt T. for help on scoring several items).

Also, if I got anything wrong, please let me know by posting in the comments or sending me an e-mail.

December 28, 2010

2010 Psychic Predictions Roundup: Audience and Professionals on Coast to Coast AM Majorly Fail


Introduction

Every year, the late-night number-one-rated four-hour radio show Coast to Coast AM spends December 30 and 31 taking “psychic predictions” from the audience, and January 1 with invited “psychics” for predictions for 2010. I had a lot of free time while taking pictures at the telescopes in early January so I listened diligently to all 12 hours and recorded every prediction.

Let’s see how they did, shall we?

Edited to Add: It’s come to my attention (Oct. 2011) that Cal Orey (see the “Professionals” section below) has this post listed on her homepage as me indicating that she was the highest hit-rate “psychic” on Coast to Coast for 2010 predictions. I’ll repeat here what I do below: She was highest because she got 1 right out of 3 that I considered specific enough to actually judge; the other 6 were too vague or obvious to refute or deny. One correct prediction about an earthquake in California is not something that I, personally, would be bragging about. But I’m happy to have her link to my blog.

Audience

Art Bell ran the audience nights and he was very specific: One prediction per customer per year, and no predictions about assassinations, politically-motivated, nor abstract religious ideas would be taken. This year, there were a total of 110 predictions that were recorded. I actually recorded all the ones that made it to air, so in the document I link to below, you will see some items crossed out. Those are ones that Art did not record. My own comments are included in [square brackets] and are things that were not said on the show.

Click here for the PDF with all the audience predictions.

I have now gone through and – with a little help on some items I didn’t know about, scored them. First off, there were 5 predictions that I considered too vague or not actually for 2010, so that gets us down to 105 predictions. Based on my information, 6 came true. That’s a hit rate of 5.7±2.3%. (Uncertainty is calculated by taking the square-root of the number of counts and dividing by the total — this is standard Poisson statistics.)

Here are some of my favorites:

14. Obama goes live on NBC saying that aliens do exist and there will be an alien with him who speaks to the whole world.

16. A lot of people who are handicapped will get out of their wheelchairs and will walk again. (Qualifier: “If they truly believe.”)

26. Re-discovery, by September, of the entrance to the hollow Earth at the North Pole.

52. God is actually a being of light and he is moving back towards us at the speed of light. The result is that he’ll send a laser pulse in that direction and tell us what a bad job everyone’s doing.

81. A celebrity will be exposed as a cannibal.

And my all-time favorite … one of the only hits: 102. There will be no really big changes, it’ll be “pretty much the same-old-same-old.” There’ll be some crises, medical advances, etc., but that’s what happens every year.

Professionals

As a skeptic, I will admit that I derive great joy in seeing professional purveyors of woo resoundingly fail. And the “professionals” that C2C invited on did just that, none with a hit rate above 33%, and that high one was by virtue of only making 3 specific enough predictions to score.

Click here for the PDF with all the “professional” predictions.

In scoring these, I think I was fairly generous, as you may note if you look at the document linked above.

Edited to Add: The percentage correct that I list below are based on (# correct) / ((# predictions) – (# too vague)). I add this because I noticed some confusion on how I gave Orey 33% instead of 11% (1/(9-6) vs. 1/9).

To summarize, here are the scores for each person:

  • Christian von Lahr: 3 out of 15 with 1 too vague for 21%.
  • Paul Guercio: 0 out of 6 with 2 too vague for 0%.
  • Glynis McCants: 0 out of 9 with 8 too vague for 0%.
  • Tana Hoy: 1 out of 16 with 5 too vague for 9%.
  • Cal Orey: 1 out of 9 with 6 too vague for 33%.
  • Terry and Linda Jamison: 1 out of 17 with 5 too vague for 8%.
  • Mark Lerner: 0 out of 5 with 4 too vague for 0%.
  • Jeffrey Wands: 1 out of 16 with 1 too vague for 7%.

The combined generous hit rate was 11.5±4.3%. This is statistically identical to the audience’s hit rate. The one who got the most right was Christian von Lahr with 3, though due to small numbers because of incredible vagueness or obviousness, Cal Orey came out on top percentage-wise.

A trend you will note if you look at the document linked above is that the pros were all, in general, fairly vague in their predictions (fully 1/3 of them were unusable). Or, they were incredibly obvious to the point that they couldn’t be used to score any “psychic-ness.” For example, Cal Orey “predicted” that Italy will have “another quake.” Well, considering that there are tens of thousands of earthquakes of magnitudes >4.0 every year across the planet, this is like saying, “During 2010, the sun will appear in the sky,” or “a politician will tell a lie or half-truth.” Duh.

Some of my favorites were:

von Lahr: Something really big with one of Obama’s daughters involving the letters “P,” “I,” “N,” and “K.” Note that the letters may have spiritual meaning instead or be turned, like the “P” into a “b,” “d,” “6,” or “9.” It could also look like a bed or a wheelbarrow [so, basically you can retrodict anything to this]. The letters are also in the word, “kidnap.”

Orey: If San Francisco gets another quake in 2010, Arnold won’t be very happy.

Lerner: There won’t be a catastrophe.

The one that ticked me off the most was, by far, Tana Hoy, who, if you were/are able to listen, almost seemed scared that we all knew he was just making things up. He started off the interview by calling the host, Ian Punnett, “Ryan,” and then stated obvious things that had already been announced.

The pair that I thought were most full of themselves were the “psychic twins,” Terry and Linda Jamison. They started the interview by claiming that everything they predicted for 2009 had come true, and when they were on later in 2010, they claimed that everything they had predicted in January would still come true. I couldn’t find a C2C interview they did for 2009, but I found one for 2000.

On November 2, 1999, they claimed AIDS would be cured by 2002, “breast cancer drug break-through by 2003,” “a cancer cure, especially for breast cancer by 2007,” 60% of cancer cured by 2008, a cloning of body parts “in the not too distant future … in diagnostic chambers,” and people with cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy, MS, and spinal cord injuries will be walking “within the decade.” Yeah …. didn’t quite happen. And by my tally, they only had one hit for 2010, and it was incredibly vague but I gave it to them. They had some monstrous fails, such as shiitake mushrooms as a prevention for breast cancer and hurricanes devastating Florida. They even failed on some actual statistically likely hits, like a major storm hitting the gulf.

Final Thoughts

As we go into 2011, many, many people will look to alleged psychics, astrologers, mediums, etc. for forecasts about the year ahead. When I first started my blog in late 2008, I averaged about 10-25 hits/day. Then I did a parody of my own psychic and astrologic predictions for 2009, and my hit rate spiked by a factor of 5.

And yet, when we actually write down what these people say and we look at the misses along with the hits, we find that these people are basically full of you-know-what. They aren’t any more “psychic” than the average person making wishful forecasts.

The main difference between these professionals and the lay person is their vagueness. The C2C audience members were willing to make generally very specific predictions such as “Lake Tahoe is actually a volcano,” versus the professionals who know that being specific is to their detriment so will usually try to be more vague, such as “no major tsunami for quite awhile.”

Please let me know if you enjoyed this post – either by commenting and/or taking a moment to rank it with a star count just under the tags for the post. It took a lot of time to write these down and score them and I want to know if it’s worth doing for 2011.

Also, if I have made any mistakes in my scoring, please let me know and I will correct it ASAP.

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