Magic Update (Cold Reading Workshop +)

by Ray Hyman


I recently returned from the TAM convention in Las Vegas. A total of 1600 enthusiastic skeptics attended. I conducted a workshop on cold reading for 150 students who were eager to learn how to give psychic readings.

By the end of the workshop just about everyone had succeeded in giving a reading. I paired every participant with a partner. I tried to make sure that each pair consisted of individuals who had not previously met one another. I then guided them through what I call a systematic scan.

After a few minutes of scanning their partners, I then had each participant give a reading to his or her partner. After each person had received his or her reading, I had him or her rate the reading for accuracy. Over 50% rated their reading as 86% or better in accuracy.


Conversations with Magicians and Mindreaders

During the conference I had interesting conversations with some other magicians who were present such as Jamey Ian Swiss, Banachek, and, of course, Randi. Mark Edward, who began life as a magician and then became known as a medium and psychic reader, was somewhat controversial.

Partly because of his girlfriend, Susan Gerbic, who is a dedicated and active skeptic (she attends my Skeptic Toolboxes), Mark now works with skeptic groups to expose the excesses of mediums and psychics such as John Edward, Sylvia Browne and others.

You can see Mark in action in this promotional video:

Mark’s book, Psychic Blues: Confessions of a Conflicted Medium, vividly describes his various ventures working as a psychic on the psychic phone line; working as a radio psychic; doing psychic parties for celebrities and movie actors; running the séances at the Magic Castle, and other of his ventures.

He does not openly claim to be psychic.

However, he also does not openly deny he has any powers. He allows the client’s to decide for themselves. This raises the touchy issue of disclaimers.

During the several years when I was an active member of the Psychic Entertainers Association, the mentalists never stopped debating among themselves about whether a mentalist should use a disclaimer—and if so, what kind of disclaimer. Some argued that for a mentalist to openly state that he or she was a trickster rather than true psychic was an act of professional suicide. Others felt morally bound to inform their clients that they were not really psychic.

Mark views his psychic shows and readings as “performance art.” He does not claim paranormal powers. But he does not deny that he has them.

He simply informs his clients that he is a performance artist. This is not good enough for purists such as Jamey Swiss. Jamey strongly believes that an ethical performer has a duty to make sure his or her clients realize that what they are witnessing are effects due to normal causes.

As a result, Jamey refuses to have anything to do with Mark. This is the context for the following video that Mark had Susan Gerbig make of me and him discussing the issue of disclaimers at the TAM.

Unfortunately, the video was taken in the midst of the bustling activities at the convention. So I hope you can hear us above the background noise


Jerry Andrus’ Wikipedia Page

Finally, Susan is working at making Jerry Andrus’ Wikipedia page a fitting memorial to this genius. She is also using the page as a gateway to other skeptical sources on Wikipedia.

For this purpose, she asked me for some commentary and stories about Jerry. Some of you may be interested in my stories about Jerry:

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