'Psychic' Sally Morgan sends the lawyers in over suggestions she might not really be talking to the dead

The Telegraph, UK/October 31, 2011

You know who I don't like? Spiritualists. Mediums, that lot. The ones who tell grieving mothers that they're talking to their dead son: "Yes, I'm getting him now, he says he misses you but he's happy." Because, let us be honest, we can be pretty sure that they're not speaking to anyone's dead son, or granny, or pet dog. The kindest spin you can put on it is that they're confused. Another possibility is that they're cynically taking advantage of other people's pain and vulnerability. There are several words for people like that, none of which is permitted by the Telegraph's style guide.

Or at least that's my take on it. I'm pleased to say that other people are more charitable. In this case, Michael Marshall of the Merseyside Skeptics Society, plus Dr Simon Singh and Prof Chris French. They've offered one necromancer a chance to prove that she is what she says she is.

You may remember that Sally Morgan, Ghost-Botherer to the Stars, got in a spot of bother the other week when it was alleged that the messages she was receiving were coming not from The Other Side, but from backstage, and being relayed via an earpiece: "David, pain in the back, passed quickly", that sort of thing. Now, as anyone who's ever watched a Derren Brown show knows, it's perfectly possible to do very convincing spirit-summoning without any prior knowledge of the subjects, using cold reading, so it's somewhat irrelevant whether Morgan used extra help.

Anyway, Singh, Marshall and French have designed a test, using Morgan's own preferred methods of working with photos, which could show under controlled conditions that she really can converse with the unquiet dead. You can read a full breakdown of her methods here at the Mersey Skeptics website, but basically, if she correctly linked seven out of 10 pictures of dead women over 50 with their names, that would have been a result. It's a thoroughly fair system: rather tilted towards Morgan, in fact, since there's a small but non-zero possibility that she could get it right entirely by chance.

Anyway, it will surprise no-one that this entirely reasonable if slightly tongue-in-cheek Hallowe'en offer has been utterly rejected. Better, Morgan's lawyer has sent Dr Singh a letter complaining that his client is being "defamed" by being asked to show that she actually can do the things she claims to do. It's a funny thing about people who claim to have powers beyond the ken of science (see also alternative medics): as soon as they're asked to prove it, they start getting lawyered up. Suddenly her confidence in her ability to see dead people seems shaken.

Sally didn't turn up, as anticipated, but the skeptics are planning to make the Hallowe'en psychic challenge a yearly event. Good luck to them: we live in a world where Russell Grant is rapidly becoming a national treasure. This is someone who says he can see the future. It is utterly amazing that people believe this stuff.

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