Last week, the Humanist Association of Ottawa found out that there was an event in their community that they really needed to attend — “The Psychic Experience” with Matthew Stapley. Basically, Stapley was going to perform cold readings (a la John Edward).
So the Humanists decided to take action.
We were armed with pamphlets from Ottawa Skeptics entitled “How To Be A Psychic” (PDF here). Inside, it gives basic instructions on standard techniques such as cold-reading and the Barnum (also known as the Forer) Effect. These are methods a psychic can use to convince an audience that he knows things about them that, by rights, he couldn’t know — ergo, he must be getting that information by magical means! The idea behind the pamphlet is that it doesn’t directly label the psychic as a fraud — but does make people aware about the ways they might be getting manipulated, and perhaps leads them to question whether the claimed supernatural phenomenon might, in fact, have a completely prosaic explanation in applied psychology.
(That PDF is great, by the way.)
They stood near the venue, passed out the pamphlets… and Stapley’s people called the police on them.
You can read the whole account here.
Thankfully, no one was arrested/tased — It sounds like the Humanists were following all the proper protocols so they likely wouldn’t have been arrested, anyway. But you have to wonder what Stapley was so worried about. It’s not like the audience was running away after being given the pamphlets. If Stapley had real powers, you would think he’d welcome the opposition and convince them of his powers.
Unless he’s a fraud, in which case, the Humanists were giving away his trade secrets and they had to be stopped.
I’m going with that option.
Having just come back from The Amazing Meeting, I have to mention that Stapley could always submit himself to testing and win $1,000,000.
But he won’t. He doesn’t have the guts to do it. He’d rather just con gullible people.
(Thanks to Tony for the link!)