17 SEPTEMBER 2008 - The NZ Skeptics Bent Spoon for the most irresponsibly gullible statement in the media in the past year goes to Detective Senior Sergeant Ross Levy of the New Zealand Police Force for promoting psychics as "just another tool" in the investigative policing toolbox.
"Whats next?" asks Skeptics Chair-entity Vicki Hyde. "Witness testimony from dreams and pre-emptive arrests on the basis of clairvoyant claims? The New Zealand Police Force has had enough credibility problems in recent years without this sort of thing making them look really shonky."
Levy has helped the most recent public relations campaign for exploitainment show Sensing Murder, making appearances on television and radio to talk about his interest in seeing what the psychics "take" was on an unsolved missing persons case. Its the second time he has been involved in the programme and he told Radio New Zealands Kathryn Ryan that he didnt see any issue of police credibility in supporting such an approach
Levy stated that the aim was to "give the investigation as much exposure as possible in the hope of getting information in return". But Hyde says that this cheap exploitative alternative to "Crimewatch" was unlikely to help, adding that the Sensing Murder franchise has not been credited with providing any useful information anywhere in the world. The Whatstheharm.net website, which counts the costs of such claims, lists numerous cases where psychics erroneously told families their loved ones were dead when they werent and vice versa, causing anguish to the families, wasting police time and sometimes pointing the blame at innocent parties.
"Sensing Murder is simply a marketing vehicle for the psychics and a money-spinner for a television company keen to exploit vulnerable families in the name of shoddy entertainment," says Hyde. Deb Webber now boasts of a five-year waiting list for her consultations and performances. "But its even more disturbing to think that the very people we expect to protect us from fraud or false accusations are touting this industry. It doesnt give you any confidence in the police force if they think this is a reasonable approach to take in solving serious crimes."
Levy did admit that no new information had been provided by the psychics, all material having been previously uncovered by ordinary policing methods. Both Sensing Murder psychics had had previous contact with the family in the case, but Levy had a confident "gut feeling" that they had not elicited any information that way, having their "credibility and integrity to protect".
"I guess he didnt see the Australian current affairs sting, played here last year on Eating Media Lunch and available on YouTube, showing Deb Webber talking with three dead people who didnt actually exist. Surely that says something very negative about her credibility!. But it looks like even basic background checks werent done before the Detective Senior Sergeant allowed the Lower Hutt police station to be used as a TV set."
Kathryn Ryans interviews with Webber and Levy, as well as other items where she demonstrated critical thinking in covering science and pseudo-science topics, has seen her given a Bravo Award by the NZ Skeptics.
Raybon Kan, known for his lighter approach, also gained plaudits with his Sunday Star-Times column "I see dud people", wherein he stated" I don't want to get in the way of entertainers earning a crust, but it's scummy to pretend to communicate with the dead to take advantage of grieving relatives".
In another area of interest to the Skeptics, a third Bravo Award went to the Royal Society of New Zealand for their 2008 Big Science Adventure video competition focusing on the life and work of Charles Darwin. However, the Skeptics took the unusual step of issuing a brickbat for the same initiative.
"It was great to see such talented work celebrating Darwin and evolution in the run-up to next years worldwide celebration of the 200th anniversary of Darwins birth," says Hyde. "But many of our members were dismayed to see our pre-eminent science advisory institution commending one video which contained numerous errors of fact in promoting the unscientific ideas of intelligent design and creationism."
The awards will be given telepathically at the NZ Skeptics Conference being held in Hamilton from 26-28 September. The Bent Spoon is named for the well-known parlour trick of psychic showman Uri Geller.
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