Who'd Claim Psychic Powers in 2008?
I have written before about the new law, Consumer Protections from Unfair Trading Regulations 2007, here. I thought it may be of interest if I explain a little about the Act and how it really affects psychics, psychic surgeons (so called), mediums and other purveyors of woo-woo. It really is a great Act and the mainstream news has picked up on it (in this country at least) and it has the purveyors very very nervous.
Firstly, let’s step back a few months. Under the previous act, the Fraudulent Mediums Act 1951, there was little recourse for anyone who felt cheated by a medium. You see, all any medium has to do is stick “for entertainment purposes only” on their flyer in small print and you have no comeback. This is because the defence simply says that “it’s all a bit of fun and not meant to be taken seriously” and you have no case in law. In fact, a supposed psychic would have to do real harm for any case to be raised against them. You would have to prove, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that you were maliciously harmed for any case to get anywhere. Fine if you’re only out of pocket a few quid, less so if it harms your mental well-being. A pretty poor state of affairs, I’m sure you’ll agree.
This new Act has far more teeth. It treats the service a medium or psychic provides as exactly that: a service. So now, being in contact with your old Aunt Aggie is treated on the same level as having your windows double-glazed. That is, you are paying someone to give you a concrete service against an agreement and if you don’t receive the service satisfactorily and don’t get a refund, you can turn to the law and say “I paid for service X and didn’t get it and the provider of the service won’t give me satisfaction when I complained“. No legalese required, it’s very very black and white. The business section of The Times Online has an article on this written by the Director of Law for the Open University, Professor Gary Slapper. So now you can see why the sellers of woo-woo are a wee bit nervous.
So how are the mediums fighting back? If you said that they are proving their magical powers in a laboratory setting, you ‘d be very wrong. Very wrong indeed. The mediums and psychics are not trying to prove that they have these powers, instead they are treating this as an attack on their religion. In the UK, the Spiritualist Church is a recognised religion. The mediums and psychics are aiming to have their roles recognised as a part of this church. It’s not a huge religion, the UK has more than 170 different faiths or belief systems. In 2001, some 32,404 people listed Spiritualism as the religion on the census form. That makes Spiritualism the 11th largest religion or belief in the country. They are, though a very very small number; as a reference point there were 144, 453 Buddhists and they made up just 0.3% of the population. But, and this is a big ‘but’, does classifying oneself as a medium automatically make you a member of the Spiritualist Church? Not really, the Spiritualists National Union has joining requirements and it costs you Â£10 to join (and you agree to sign up to their 7 principles too). And they also have a register of approved Spiritualist healers. I would like to note that the SNU are a little more sensible than most “healers” and they insist that you should only use one of their number alongside your normal doctor. To quote their page:
You should continue to consult you doctor even if you are receiving Spiritual Healing. It may be necessary for you to take certain medication and follow the doctor’s advice for your particular condition. By receiving both medical and Spiritual Healing you will receive the best treatment from both sources. The aim of every SNU Healer is to work in co-operation with the medical profession and not to replace the doctor.
The SNU have asked the Office of Fair Trading to explain the Act in terms of their religion, but don’t yet seem to have an answer. They do appear, though, not to be overly bothered. Or at least are keeping it sensibly low-key while they await the response. They do recognise that by accepting money for their services they are covered by this Act. The have also backed the Act, which puts them firmly in the opposite camp to their fellow travellers. The Spiritualist Workers Association rightly fears the Act and has begun an education campaign to prevent their members from falling foul of it. I quote:
Graham Hewitt explained in great detail, the possible effects the changes in legislation could and would have. Disclaimers were also provided for spiritual workers to use. To try and summarise this in a few words is difficult but it would seem that if any money or gifts change hands the spiritual worker is involved in a contract. As with any contract you are promising something in exchange for money or gifts. Thus the spiritual worker should choose their words carefully. It would seem that saying that it is a scientific experiment in which the outcome cannot be satisfactorily predicted is one way to stay within the legislation. Another is to class it as entertainment. The biggest problem of the regulations is the word â€˜vulnerableâ€™. It is extremely difficult to define vulnerability let alone work out whether someone who comes to you for a â€˜spiritualisticâ€™ (the governmentâ€™s term â€“ not ours) service is vulnerable. It could probably be argued that quite a few people who seek healing or mediums are vulnerable. In short, it would seem the changes in legislation are a minefield, not least because of the litigation culture that is now sweeping the UK.
They seem to already be trying to create disclaimers. The SWA, at least as I read the above, says it is difficult for their members to recognise who is vulnerable and who isn’t. I would say that, speaking very broadly, anyone who goes to see a medium following a tragedy is vulnerable. However, I would agree that it is a little unfair to ask a layperson to make the decision as to who is and isn’t vulnerable, especially if they could be held up in a court of law. Which means, to me, that they should stop what they are doing if they can’t prove their powers.
The Act does give the medium a way out though – all they have to do is to make it clear to their customer that this is only a scientific experiment and that there has been no testing of it’s efficacy and they are covered. Effectively, they have to give the paying client the information they need to make an informed decision on whether to go ahead or not. No more saying that they can definitely talk to people dead for over a hundred years (and who would have lived on different continents). No more “native American guides” who seem to speak in the local dialect and with modern slang phrases. Just admit that your powers are not proven and give the person the option to go ahead or not.
So you can see why these people are a little worried.
To read more on the methods these people use – and any half competent magician will be able to replicate their methods – I would direct you to the following sites:
- The James Randi Educational Foundation
- James Randi Foundation on Youtube
- Bad Psychics UK
- Bad Psychics Australia
- The Skeptic’s Dictionary
- And many others – check out my Links page and follow the links on the sites listed
In closing, these people do fleece the unwary.Â For almost as long as people have claimed to speak to the dead, there have been right minded individuals who require proof of this talent and who have held them up to these standards of proof.Â To date, no one has provided scientific proof of speaking to the deceased in laboratory conditions.