A Collection of Strange Beliefs, Amusing Deceptions, and Dangerous Delusions

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Skeptimedia

Skeptimedia is a commentary on mass media treatment of issues concerning science, the paranormal, and the supernatural.

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Skeptimedia replaces  Mass Media Funk and Mass Media Bunk. Those blogs are now archived.

Abusing children to raise TV ratings

20 Sept 2009. Imagine the following "news" story on the website of one of your local television stations:

SACRAMENTO, CA - Are children better critical thinkers than adults? According to two people with American CriticalThinking Investigations (ACI) kids tend to be more open to non-paranormal occurrences.

Abby Thinkright and David Mindbender are real-life critical thinkers with ACI. They are holding a seminar this Saturday, Sept. 18 called "Children and Psychic Claims" with critical thinking expert Lloyd Aapperbacc.

ACI, which has been in Sacramento for about seven years, has eight senior investigators on staff. On almost any given weekend you'll find them debunking paranormal claims.

To see the entire Live_Online chat, just click here.

The Saturday seminar will be held at the Delta King in Old Sacramento from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. To learn more, please check ACI's Web site.

News10/KXTV

Imagine that the TV news website had a video you could watch after reading this story, a video of two real-life critical thinkers talking with a reporter about cold reading, subjective validation, confirmation bias, communal reinforcement, self-deception, apophenia, and a host of similar topics. Keep that thought because that's all it will ever be in the thoughtless world of local television news. Not only is it unlikely that your local TV reporters are capable of engaging in such a discussion, it is also unlikely that such a discussion would be popular and would boost ratings.

The actual story that I based my mock story on is about child psychics, the latest in exploitainment by televisionaries. I found it on the News10 website; News10 is a Sacramento affiliate of ABC. The lead-in teaser reads: Is Your Child Psychic? The piece begins with a loaded question: Are children more psychic than adults? The question assumes there are psychics, which begs the question. That should be the issue. Are these folkskids and adultswho claim to be psychic, really psychic? Or, can we explain their apparent psychic abilities without postulating paranormal forces?

The News10 reporters talked to two "ghostbusters," members of a local paranormal investigations group, about this hot topic. The piece is little more than an advertisement for a seminar the group put on. I didn't attend the seminar but apparently the purpose was to promote the idea of child psychics. I doubt that there was any discussion of child abuse by parents who instill such nonsense into their kids' heads.

In an ideal world, news reporters would cover this story as an example of delusion and exploitation of children. The reporters would be concerned for the welfare of the children who are encouraged to abandon reason and engage in magical thinking. Of course, if they did that, the reporters would have to investigate religions. Ratings would go down. The reporters would be fired. It's much safer to go with the flow, encourage whatever superstitions the general public finds attractive, and let others worry about the long-term social and personal consequences of abusing reason.

I've reported here in the past about a professor of psychology who is promoting child-psychic nonsense. And I've reported on TV personalities exploiting the child-psychic issue. So, I guess I shouldn't be upset that one of my local television stations is getting on the bandwagon. It's not like I've come to expect better.

On a somewhat related note, the obituary page of the Sacramento Bee recently featured stories about the deaths of an astrologer and a Nobel Prize winner in physics. Guess which one got top billing? Even worse was the fact that obit for the astrologer sang her praises and promised even better work from her successor. (I should note that the Bee's online articles are reversed: Aage Bohr got more play than Linda Black.)

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