SGU Episode 23

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SGU Episode 23
21st December 2005
LogoSGU.png
SGU 22 SGU 24
Skeptical Rogues
S: Steven Novella
B: Bob Novella
E: Evan Bernstein
P: Perry DeAngelis
Guest
JM: Jan Helen McGee
Links
Download Podcast
Show Notes


Introduction[edit]

You're listening to the Skeptics' Guide to the Universe, your escape to reality.

S: Hello and welcome to the Skeptics' Guide to the Universe. Today is Wednesday, December twenty-first, 2005. This is your host, Steven Novella, President of the New England Skeptical Society. With me tonight are Evan Bernstein ...

B: Hello, everyone.

S: Perry DeAngelis ...

P: Good evening.

S: and Bob Novella.

B: Hello.

News Items[edit]

Kitzmiller v Dover Area School District Decision (0:23)[edit]

S: The news today, the big news this week is victory in Dover.

P: Yaaaayyyy!

B: Whoo-hooo!

S: Judge John Jones handed down a hundred and thirty-nine page [decision], and this is the case – the name of the case is Tammy Kitzmiller, et. al. vs. the Dover Area School District. This was regarding the teaching of intelligent design we've been talking about over the last few months. This is the eagerly-awaited decision. I don't think there was really much doubt, at least not in my mind, that the judge was going to decide against the school district, basically ruling that teaching of intelligent design in the public schools is unconstitutional. The real question was how broad or narrow his decision was going to be. I've perused at lot of the 139-page decision, and I've got to tell you this judge did not leave a stone unturned. This was, I think, the broadest decision we could have hoped for.

B: I wonder what kind of help he had. Going through a court case like that, I'm sure you end up well-versed in the topic, but I wonder what outside sources he approached in coming up with this. I mean, he didn't write this 139-page himself, did he? I'm sure he's got guys that ...

P: Everyone's got clerks.

B: ... sum up everything.

S: He as staff. He had six weeks of testimony.

B: Right.

S: He had a lot of precedence, a lot of cases that he was summarizing. He actually took the time to go through the history of creationism in this country and the history of the legal cases. A lot of it was material he would have had available to him. And then the rest is commenting specifically on testimony that was given before him.

P: Right. Which is what he should do. He should base his decision on the case presented to him.

S: A few things that struck me, reading through it – actually many things, but some things that I think are very significant. The judge, who again I think was trying to really establish an iron-clad decision here that cannot be circumvented. He commented specifically on the fact that ID (Intelligent Design) has historical connections to Creationism. And multiple times in the decision he wrote that a reasonable person assessing this, understanding the cultural and historical context – very, very specifically was putting intelligent design into its historical context – saying, again, tying it to its religious antecedents. There was some specific pieces of information he cited, for example, the Of Pandas and People [1] book that was specifically referred to in the Dover law, basically saying that you have to teach intelligent design in the public schools. There were multiple drafts of this book available, and one draft – earlier drafts used the word creationism, I think a hundred and fifty times. And the final draft was essentially was a search-and-replace – replaced the word creationism with the words intelligent design.

B: And not only that, the timing was significant. When it was changed.

S: And that occurred right after the legal case that basically said that creationism could not be taught in public schools. So, they said "OK, lets change the work 'creationism' for 'intelligent design' and try again."

B: And also, Steve, I'm not sure if you're aware the circumstances under which the book got into the school was very, very shady. It was kind of like laundered in a sense, in the description that I read, where somebody involved, he had somebody buy the book and give it to the schools or something. It was a little underhanded from what ...

S: It was very contrived.

B: ... I gathered Yeah.

S: So if you may recall, guys, when [SGU_Episode_15 Chris Mooney] was on the show, we were talking about this topic, because he had been covering from a journalistic point of view, covering the trial. He noted that one concern is that – where the creationists are going to go next? assuming they lose this fight, which they did. What's their next move?

B: I didn't think of that, yet.

S: His concern was that "what if they just try to mandate a criticism of evolution?" Teaching the gaps and the flaws in evolutionary theory.

B: Go right ahead.

S: But not promoting the teaching of intelligent design, or anything that could be overtly religious. The judge in this case, Judge Jones, actually already kind of addressed that issue, and he said that specifically mandating teaching about the gaps or flaws in evolution only serves a religious purpose. And, again, he made that historical connection to Creationism. It is a strategy employed by creationists, and that was enough to link it to Creationism. I was very heartened by that. He's basically saying that the creationists can't just keep morphing their strategy from A to B to C to D and think that they're starting with a clean slate each time. Basically, they're not fooling anyone. Whatever it morphs into next is still Creationism, because the law, the judge in this case, said it is perfectly legitimate legalistically to put whatever it morphs into into its historical context. So that's good. I mean it basically ...

E: Very astute.

S: However you try to play the game, we have your number, and it's not going to work.

B: Excellent! I've got a little clip here from his argument, from his paper. The part of it that I really focused on and I was really interested in is the fact that it's just so not science, it's pathetic.

S: Hm, hm.

B: How hard can it really be to say "Look, this is not science. Therefore, regardless of anything else, it doesn't belong in the classroom." And he's got three points here: ID violates the centuries-old ground rules of science by invoking and permitting supernatural causation.

S: Right.

B: That's a bigee. That's kind of important right there. The second one is the argument of irreducible complexity, central to intelligent design, employs the same flawed and illogical, contrived, dualism that doomed Creation science in the eighties.

S: Right.

B: This next one ties into what you recently said, Steve. "Intelligent design's negative attacks on evolution have been refuted by the scientific community." That's it. All this negative stuff you're saying about evolution: it's not one scientific theory against another. The scientific community unilaterally has said "Wrong! This stuff is just not true."

S: That's right, and I think in the part of his decision he specifically mentions the testimony regarding [Behe's] favorite example: the flagellum. He says it's irreducibly complex. And yet, scientists gave testimony that in the five years or six years since Behe first proposed that example, that more of the evolution of the flagellum, and I think also of the immune system, has been flushed out. His claim that's it's irreducibly complex has been proven false since he made those claims. New research has been done to show that.

B: And he knows that, come on!

S: He does.

B: You know he knows that.

S: Which pegs him as being disingenuous, and again the judge was very scathing about the ID proponents basically saying that they were not sincere in their position.

P: To say the least, that's what he said, yes.

B: Right. I've got some other interesting pullouts here that I've gleaned.

S: Well, before you move on, I want to just comment on some of things you just brought up, some of the points. For example, the supernatural aspect of intelligent design, and the judge spent a lot of time writing about that, and that's critical also, because as we said before, the intelligent design proponents are not simply presenting intelligent design as science. They are trying to redefine science to include supernatural explanations, and the judge spent a lot of time addressing that specific point. First of all, he pointed out that every single ID defendant in the case admitted that there is no intelligent design without a supernaturalism. Therefore, it does not meet the conventional definition of science. They admitted it! Then he explained very carefully why supernaturalism equals religion. And why it is not admissible in the halls of science. The two are incompatible. So he very specifically made that decision. Again, this is absolutely critical to this whole debate. Again, as we discussed before, you can't change the rules of science. They are the way they are by necessity.

B: That was the most egregious thing.

S: Yeah.

B: The fact that they were even attempting to redefine science. Steve, there's another thing. The judge asked a lot of the Board members, he asked them about intelligent design, and almost all of them didn't even really know any details, they couldn't even describe it to the judge, and he was so taken aback by that. The best that one member said to him was that its "things are designed intelligently." These are people ...

(laughter)

E: It's intelligent design

B: Talk about sheep! I mean, do this and say this. OK. My, God!. They didn't even bother, even months later, bother to study up on intelligent design so they can talk intelligently about it in court!

S: They didn't even do their homework before court.

E: They apparently totally underestimated the judge.

B: Or over estimated their counsel.

S: So I imagine there has been an interesting response from the ID proponents after such a scathing and devastating decision against them.

B: Yeah, I've been looking for some response. There's been some, and I assume in the future it will start coming out as to what they want to do. A couple of things I got here is: one of the guys at the Discovery Institute, John West, a senior fellow, says that "Judge Jones got on his soapbox to offer his own views of science, religion, and evolution. He makes it clear that he wants his place in history as the judge who issued a definitive decision about intelligent design. This is an activist judge who has delusions of grandeur." Now obviously, he didn't read the judge's paper. He made a point of saying "I am not an activist judge, and this is not an activist bench." Look at the past decisions he's made, and that's just not what he is.

S: He's a conservative judge who's actually a G. W. Bush appointee, by the way, who's religious. The judge is.

B: Really? I did not know that.

S: He says he's not an activist judge. The school board that tried to impose the religious views on a public school system, they were being activist, and they overstepped their bounds, and they did not serve the public well. He's absolutely right. Of course the Discovery Institute and the ID proponents are going to be crying like babies about this decision, but they have nothing to say. He's trying to redefine science. Hello! They're the ones who are trying to redefine science. He had centuries of precedence to establish the separation of supernaturalism from natural causes in science. Centuries of precedence, basically since the dawn of science. That is the division between science and religion.

B: Right.

S: So it just tells you how vacuous and just intellectually dishonest their position is.

B: It is. And here's another one. Richard Thompson, the lawyer for the Dover Area School, said that "this judge should not place himself in a position of determining which scientific theory is valid and which is not." That's the first part of his quote, which is so ridiculous because that statement assumes that you've got two scientific theories, when, sorry, one of them is not a scientific theory.

S: Right. The premise is wrong ...

B: Right. The premise is wrong.

S: ... and the conclusion is wrong. The other premise there is that judges don't decide the validity of science in the courtroom? Of course they do. They do that every day. They hear expert testimony, and they decide which scientific testimony is legitimate. The judge painstakingly went through all of the testimony on both sides, and showed on every single point the plaintiffs expert witnesses, the defenders of evolution and science, absolutely crushed the ID proponents, who just committed logical fallacy after logical fallacy.

E: Right.

S: The fact is, when you're in a court of law, when there are rules of evidence and logic, and you are dealing with people who are experts in logic – lawyers are, if nothing else, experts in logic. That is their skill. That is what they do. You can't get away with anything, and the judge saw through every single one of their misdirections, every single one of their illogical statements. And that's it. They were called on it. And this is what happened ...

B: Time and again ...

S: ... in every single creationism case that has gotten to the high courts, is that under the rules of evidence of a courtroom, the creationist argument falls like the tissue paper that it's made of.

B: Here's another one from Richard Thompson, the lawyer. He said "It should be left up to the debate that the scientific community was involved with." He's leaving it to the scientific community? Hello! I think they already made their decision. There is no debate within the scientific community.

S: Right. The scientific community is united in their position that ID is not science. They're also trying desperately to portray this as a debate between two different scientific ideas. Again, the premise is wrong. ID is not science. Again, and the judge very clearly explained exactly why that is. It fails the test for science in multiple ways. One, it allows supernatural explanations. Two, it's not testable, and he asked that question of Behe and the others who were ID experts in the case: "Tell me a way in which intelligent design can be subjected to a scientific test." Everything that they proposed, he said was actually just a really a test of evolution, not a test of ID. And again they were falling back on this false dualism, saying that if it's not evolution then ID, which is the false dichotomy logical fallacy, and therefore they were misinterpreting or misrepresenting scientific tests of evolution as if they were tests of intelligent design. In fact, there are no possible tests of intelligent design, because it's not a scientific theory. Interestingly, as we're wrapping up this topic, two days ago, so the day before the Dover decision, there was an article, an editorial published by one-time Presidential candidate and political commentator Pat Buchanan. Now, Buchanan has a reputation for being a bit of a political maverick, but here the name of his article was "Darwinism On Defense," and it's basically an attack of evolution.

P: Good timing with this article.

S: It was good timing, right, but interestingly Buchanan who is otherwise, even if you disagree with his politics, he is on the fringe on a lot of issues. Even if you disagree with him, he usually is pretty careful about how he formulates his arguments and tries to avoid overt factual misstatements. But now he's stepping into the arena of evolution-creation debate, and he dredges up arguments that have been destroyed thirty, forty years ago. He clearly knows nothing about this topic. Let me give you a couple of examples that I thought were so egregious, really do him a great disservice. He basically reiterates the old argument that survival of the fittest is a tautology, because those who survive are defined as those who are the fittest, and those are the fittest are defined as those who survive, which is absurd. Those who are fittest are the ones who can run the fastest, reproduce the best, who have those list of traits which enable them to survive and reproduce. That's what makes them the fittest, and that's what's enables them to survive. So it's not a tautology. That's really a silly argument that has been destroyed decades ago, and he's drudging it up as if it is some kind of a new concept.

B: And here's another one. He asks here or he states here "And there are gaps in human evolution. Where are the missing links between lower and higher forms?" Come on! Where's he getting his playbook? From thirty year-old creationist texts?

E: Hundred years.

S: He must be. There are no transitional forms? Please! How about there are transitional forms between whales and terrestrial mammals: ambulocetus. Where was he when that was discovered? How about: there are now dozens of feathered dinosaurs that are clearly occupying a morphological zone between dinosaurs and modern birds. He says "there's no missing link between apes and man." Come on, how about australopithecus? homo habilis? homo erectus?There's basically a nice sequence of transitional forms. Again, it's not strictly linear. Evolution tends to branch out; it's bushy as Steven J. Gould used to say.

B: Definitely not a (unintelligible)

S: Still, it represents an evolutionary of nice, intricate vast evolutionary connection between modern man, homo sapiens, and our ape relatives. It's there! I mean, go to a museum!

P: Steve, it's interesting that you point out at the beginning of this segment that Pat Buchanan normally, regardless of what you think of his politics, is normally a careful thinker and constructs his arguments with thought. But when you get into these subjects, he obviously invested. He's emotional about it.

S: Hm, hm.

P: And his – really his critical truths fall by the wayside. It's obvious by what he wrote.

S: Right. He basically did a hack job in that article, which is different than his usual writing.

P: Right. Because he let his emotions get away with him. He needs this to be true.

S: Well lets all savor this moment. This was a stunning, definitive victory ...

E: It's a Christmas miracle.

S: ... for evolution and for science and for our society. Really put the intelligent design on the ropes.

B: True, but I want to see this in the Supreme Court.

S: That would be nice, but this is still a federal district court.

B: It is. Great, but man, I want the highest court.

S: This is still precedence. It may not be definitive law nationally like a Supreme Court decision would, but it is still a very powerful precedence.

P: It is a very powerful precedent, and he went above and beyond.

S: He did.

P: He was merciless on the ID side.

B: It was a great way to end 2005, I think.

S: Kudos to Judge John Jones.

E: Well done, Judge.

P: Hear, hear.

Interview with Jan Helen McGee, Psychic Detective[edit]

Interview (20:12)[edit]

S: And so joining us now is Jan Helen McGee[2]. Jan Helen, as she tells us she likes to be called, was involved recently in a murder investigation. She is a physic detective who investigated the case of the murder of Mark Arnold. The murder occurred in 1993. She assisted Detective Paul Zechman in the case, and according to newspaper reports, etc., provided the probable location of the murderer, who was then found. The murderer was Robert Wise. So, Helen, Jan Helen, I'm sorry, welcome to the Skeptics' Guide to the Universe.

JM: Thank you.

S: Thank you for joining us and agreeing to be confronted by four skeptics.

JM: Ha, ha. You're pretty good with the Helen part, too, because Helen, my middle name, is the name that I've always used when I work on these cases. It's only recently that I've decided to talk about my involvement. It's always been a secret. The only police officer or detective that knew my real name was my direct link. The rest of the detectives that were working on the case only knew me as "Helen".

S: I see. Why don't you tell us about this case? Just start from the beginning and tell us how you got involved.

JM: Well I had worked very peripherally on a case prior to this with some detectives in my town, Lebanon, Pennsylvania, another murderer in Palmyra? This was the first big case I worked on. What happened was I had a dream. Frankly, my whole life I've had murder dreams. I didn't connect them with actual murders until it became quite clear in 1993. That night, before I started working on the case, I had a really scary dream, and I woke up my then husband and told him about the dream. Frankly, he woke up because I gasped from the fear that I had about the dream because I saw the actual murder. I told him the whole story of the dream and the murder, went back to sleep, and then in the morning I had this strong desire to go get a newspaper, which is something I never did – drive to go get a paper. So I did, and when I picked up the paper, there on the front page was a picture of the building, and it was just a one-room shack-type building, and it was exactly like in my dream. I brought it home, and everything in the article was exactly as I had described it in the dream, and my husband at the time just kept pushing me. He said "You just have to call the police". You can't, you don't have another choice." So I made a call to the local county detectives, and told him the things from the dream and then some other information. Then I went on my computer and typed up some added information, some thoughts that I had, and sent those to him.

S: Okay.

JM: After that, I went in to his office and talked to him. Then, we sort of both decided I would go to the site, to the murder site, and see if I had any more insights. So then one Saturday morning, I went in to – met them at the municipal building, and the chief county detective, Paul Zechman, took me in to a room that was just filled with detectives, maybe between five and eight of them, because what they were doing that day was they had decided to close down the site. The site had been open for several weeks, since this was a few weeks after the murder that this happened. And they were doing their very last collection. Somebody was coming down from Harrisburg to do some blood collection, and they were forensic people. This was like the last of the forensic, the last time to go on the site before they released it back to the owner. I got in there into that room, and there were all these detectives, and they were very, very unhappy because they had to work early, it was like 7:30 on a Saturday morning. They also weren't very happy to see me.

S: Do they get many murders in that town, or was this maybe a first for them?

JM: No, there's murder's in this town. I think it's a town of thirty thousand, so there's a murder every year. It doesn't have a high crime rate, but it doesn't have a real low crime rate. The city itself, even though I live in the county, the city itself has some trouble. So they weren't totally new to it. But I would say it's a pretty safe town, relatively safe, small town outside of Harrisburg. I was in that room, and Paul Zechman said "OK, Helen, tell everybody what you told me." And then he left me in that room. I just sat down and I proceeded to tell the other detectives what I felt I knew about the case. One of the things that I was obsessed with that really had no meaning on the case, necessarily, but seemed very, very important to me, and it was a pathway, I think, so I guess in retrospect it's a little bit important, because it led me down a path. But one thing I saw in this one-room building was that the victim had over twenty-five black, rotary phones.

S: Hm, hm.

JM: Those phones from the forties. And I just couldn't believe it, and I just kept talking about these phones. Finally I realized that only one of the phones was hooked up, and that he talked constantly, sat at his desk, and he talked constantly on the phone. And then I sort of got to the point where I felt that he was talking to his best friend on the phone. And then that's how I reached the conclusion that his best friend had killed him.

S: Hm, hm. What was the significant of the black rotary phone in the actual case?

JM: Well, there really wasn't any. After I told the detectives in the room the things I knew, then we all packed up went out to the site, and it was snowing. There was some snow on the ground, and everybody was sort of milling around, and I was just walking around. One of the other detectives insisted that I look inside this building, and I really didn't want to, because, as it just sounds so bizarre, but when I saw the murder, and this isn't just in my dream, because I remember very little of my dreams. But when I see these murders, I sometimes switch from the victim to the killer, and then sometimes I sort of float. When I saw this all happening, I was sort of – this just sounds so bizarre – I was sort of floating above the floor as I watched it, and it's very – it makes me feel physically ill when I go through these scenes and work on these cases. So I really didn't want to revisit that part. I felt I had told enough of it, but this one detective just insisted I look in there. Before I looked in, another thing that I knew about was that these two men had shared a meal together before the one killed the other. So when he opened the door and I looked inside the one-room building, I was quite shocked myself, because I didn't know that I was really – I didn't have a clue that I was good at this. I just was driven to share my information. And when I looked in there, there were over twenty-five – I've never seen so many black rotary phones. They were everywhere. They were on the chair. This was sort of a messy place. They were on the chair. They were on the counter. They were on the bookshelf. They were on every available surface – had a black rotary phone. And then to the left was the desk that I had envisioned and the phone that was actually working. And then it was really creepy for me, because I looked over to the stove – there was a stove in there – and on the stove was a big pan with congealed meat.

S: You mentioned that you don't remember what you dreamed but you re-live the murder in a vision. So this a waking vision that you get?

JM: Yes. The best way I can describe it to people, because a lot of people always want to know how do I see things. To me it's like a memory. Say for example you're in a grocery store, and you see someone, and they ring a bell. You say "I think I know that person, but I don't know how or who they are." Then you walk, maybe around to the next aisle, and all of a sudden, you start realizing that that person went to school with you. And then you go down another pathway of memory that says "Oh, that's right. It was middle school." And the next path might be "Oh, it was Mrs. Jackson's room." And then suddenly you realize that it was art class, you can see, even though it might be twenty, thirty years ago, the memory just comes at you like it was yesterday. You can smell the room. You can see who's sitting next to you. You can remember the nervous habits of Mrs. Jackson, and then just the whole room opens up.

S: Hm, hm.

JM: To me, it's just like a memory. I go back a pathway, sometimes. I mean, sometimes things come very clearly. This case, even though I was obsessed with the fact that after this man killed his friend, he went outside and smoked a cigarette, tried to figure out what he was going to do, and then decided to steal his friend's identity, because he wanted to be his friend. But then I remembered that I was standing – they were ready to close the site, and I was just standing there with Paul Zechman, and suddenly he said "Where did he go?" And that's when I told him he went to the beach. To me, it's not only my visions, if you want to call them, but also other's people's interpretations of what I say. Because I really think that in any kind of murder case, there are teams, and I feel like I was an important part of this team, ...

S: Hm, hm.

JM: ... but just a part of the team nonetheless. Just one puzzle piece. A puzzle can't be put together without lots of pieces, and I was one puzzle piece. If he hadn't asked me where he went, I might not even have mentioned that.

S: But until he asked that question, had you had any visions about where he went after the murder?

JM: No, because I was so upset that he killed his best friend, and then it's just not very pleasant, but I become the murderer.

S: Hm, hm.

JM: And I see their reasoning, and I find them very – I sort of get on their side, as awful as it sounds, and the killer wanted to be the victim. As messed up as that sounds ...

S: Hm, hm.

JM: ... he wanted to be his best friend. He adored his family. He was divorced, but his ex-wife, the victim's ex-wife was very, very solicitous towards him, took care of him, checked in on him, he had a lovely son. The killer wanted his son. He wanted his family. He wanted his life. He ended up stealing his car. I found out later he stole his car, his stole his wallet, he stole his whole identity. I was obsessed with them being best friends. I could hardly get past the fact that you would have a lovely meal with your best friend, and then he would just kill you. Without Paul's question, I don't know if I ever would have gone there.

S: Right. But when he asked the question, did you have a vision at that moment, or the information was with you already?

JM: It just came right out of my mouth.

S: Yeah.

JM: No, I hadn't even thought about it. It just came right out of my mouth. I said "He's at the beach." And then I just thought it was so bizarre, because there was snow all over the ground. Who would go to the beach in the snow? And then I could see that he had gone to the beach when he was a child, and this was a safe place for him. So I told Paul that I didn't think he was at the Jersey beach. Now here in this town, when people vacation, they always go to the New Jersey beach.

S: Hm, hm.

JM: So that would be the first thought. He's definitely not at the New Jersey beach, but I thought it was either Rehovoth Beach, Delaware or Ocean City, Maryland. And then I was suddenly – it was just like I realized he was definitely there.

S: At one of those two places.

JM: Yeah. Now I said "Are they close?" And Paul said they were sort of close. Because when I do this work I become very right-brained, and I have to sort of float. It's like – I'm a musician, I'm a music teacher, and when I play music, and really want to interpret it properly, I have to get into my right-brained activity, and I have to act sort of floaty. And that's the same thing that I have to do here. Any left-brain activity sort of leads me. There's lot's of things I don't quite get when I'm working on cases.

S: I see, so you're not good with directions when you're in this state.

JM: No, I don't even like driving. I don't like being in charge of anything. I just like to sort of just let myself go, like you do when you're falling asleep. Sort of.

S: Now is this something you've always been able to do, say when you were a little girl?

JM: Sure. The first memory I have is I lived in a row house up until I was two, so this was before I was two years old. I remember waking up in my crib and standing up and feeling the urge to cry for my mother, but then I remember being able to see through the walls and see through the floor and see where she was in the house, so that I didn't have to cry because I knew that she was in the house with me and I didn't have to be afraid and that she would come. Then the next memory that I have is I must have been about kindergarten age, because I remember the sequence was that I asked my mother if I could go in the front yard alone. She'd let me in the back yard alone, but not in the front yard alone, because it was a busy street out front. And then I remember she finally decided that I was old enough. So maybe I was even six, but probably five, because I remember I walked to school alone in first grade when I was six, so I was probably kindergarten age. And she let me go in the front yard. And I used to go behind this big, big, fat tree that I could completely hide behind, and I would move around the tree and stare at the neighbors, and I remember that I could see through the tree and see through their walls and watch what they were doing. And we had ladies that were widows, and three of them were widows, and they really led a pretty boring life, so I didn't really like watching them.

S: Hm, hm.

JM: But right next door to us was a family that was totally out of control, and so mostly I would go in the front. In retrospect, it seems so odd, but I would stand there with my back to the tree, but I would look back through the tree and so that I could sort of lean against the tree, and my face didn't have to be against the tree and so I could look back through the tree and through the house, and the mother would always be screaming and she would throw herself on the stairs and cry and then the husband would come down the steps and he'd yell and then he'd slam the door and go out to his car and peel away down the alley.

S: Did you have any other paranormal experiences as a child or older? Have you ever seen a ghost, for example?

JM: (laughs) I don't really ... I ... I see dead people. I don't really like the term "ghost", because it has such a bad connotation. I don't see lots of dead people. I don't really like to see dead people or to talk to dead people or have them talk to me, but I do. But not very often. And I think I always have known when there were ghosts in houses. I could pass houses when I was in the car and see which ones – I remember seeing "Oh, that one has a ghost." and "That one's haunted." That's what I guess I could deem a friendly ghost, ...

S: Right.

JM: ... and that's an unsettled ghost. I always consider them unsettled when they're not very happy.

S: So do they ever talk to you?

JM: Dead people?

S: Yeah.

JM: Yes. But not in the way that live people talk to me. I get these messages, and they're just – it's information. The only way I can think to explain it is I really believe that it's the historical speaking in tongues ...

S: Hm, hm.

JM: ... when I give information, because my brain doesn't feel like it's giving the information. I feel like it's coming through my body, like my body is like a radio or a conduit for the information. So it's not like I actually hear someone's voice that has died. I just get the information and then it comes out of my mouth.

S: Okay.

JM: But I really don't like dealing with dead people. It's just something I can do like an artist.

S: Yeah. Is it frightening or just unpleasant?

JM: The murder cases are unpleasant, but I don't think it's any more unpleasant for me than it is for anybody else working on the case. Any of the police detectives or the forensic people or the coroner. I don't think it's any more unpleasant for me than it is for them. It's a very unpleasant job to have to do. Am I afraid? No, I'm never afraid. And I think that it makes me feel sick, but I don't think it makes feel any more sick than anybody else than an EMT or anybody that has to deal with things like that.

S: Hm, hm.

JM: It's upsetting, but no more for me. I'm really not afraid of anything. I used to be afraid of the dreams, but what's so wonderful is that since that 1993 dream, I don't have murder dreams any more.

S: Hm, hm. That was the last one.

JM: That was the last one, and I'd had them all my life, and so I think it's real important that I keep working on murder cases, because now my visions come during the day when I'm strong enough to deal with them, and I can have my nice peaceful sleep.

B: What do you dream about now? Do you remember your dreams now?

JM: Fun things. Vacations. Old boyfriends. Just normal things. Once in awhile I'll wake up with my jaw clenched and not quite know what it is. But it's usually just nothing, just nebulous dreams.

S: Hm, hm.

JM: Nothing that really means anything. Just worry dreams. I have a few of those dreams, like you are late for something. I constantly have this dream that I'm getting ready to go on vacation and I can't find the clothes to pack, and I'm going to miss the plane. Just those dreams.

S: Hm, hm. Typical anxiety dreams.

JM: Yeah. Anxiety dreams. Right. But I don't have those murder any more. I'm so thrilled.

S: So, again, we are talking to Jan Helen McGee. Evan, go ahead, you had a question for her?

E: Yeah. Jan Helen, you mentioned other or at least alluded that you've worked on some other murder cases. How many have you worked on?

JM: Well it's really hard to say, because until just recently I would just work on them and really not pay too much attention. I would say probably as much – I work on them until I run out of energy. So maybe three to six murder cases a year since '93.

E: Three to six.

JM: Yeah. Since 1993.

E: What sort of successes have you experienced with those cases?

JM: Frankly, I'm not sure, because what happens is I work on the case, and I tell all the information, and then I just walk out of the room and don't ever contact the police again, and I don't even care or find out. The only reason I found out about this case was because Paul Zechman was on a show called The FBI Files on the Palmyra murder from this murder I had worked on previously. And after he finished filming that for New Dominion Pictures, they asked him if he knew of any psychics, and he told them about me, but said that I'm very private, and that he would call me, and when he did, I said "Paul, of course not." I've kept this a secret. I don't want to talk to anybody, especially not television. And then there was silence and "Oh, you want me to do this, right?" And he said "I think you should," because he knew that what my goal, one of my goals is to teach law enforcement to use their psychic ability. How to – there's physical manifestations that we all have, that all psychics have, and I think that they can be pin-pointed, that they can pin-point psychics within law enforcement. So he said this will get you what you want.

E: Right.

JM: That's the only reason I know about this case.

E: Sure. I'm just curious if you're curious at all about what could be deemed your rate of success as far as your psychics visions go and to how they actually turn out. Would you venture a guess maybe in a percentage of how often they are accurate?

JM: I'd say a hundred. That doesn't mean that I solve every single case.

E: No.

JM: One time I worked on a robbery. I seldom work on robberies, but I remember early on, it was probably 1994 I worked on a robbery, and I called a cold call to a cop.

E: Hm, hm.

JM: And he just flat out told me this was ridiculous. And I told him I don't know how it can harm you to write down what I say so I can get this out of my brain. So he did, and a year later he called me back, apologetic, and telling me every single thing I said was true, and he's so sorry, and he doesn't know why he acted like such a jerk. Other police, there's been cases that I've worked on that I know aren't solved, but part of it I think is that they didn't follow my advice. Paul Zechman trusted me and he did what I told him to do, and so if I give my information and the police do not do what I suggest, then it's not going to get solved. So as far as I'm concerned, I think my information is a hundred per cent. It's one of the few times in life I'm right.

S: Can you turn your attention to a case and come up with information, or can you choose the cases, in other words, or do they choose you?

JM: A little bit of both. Most of the time, I'll pick up the newspaper or I'll see something on the television, and then I'll say "Oh, now. No, no. That's not the way it went." Or I'll know something, and then I'll just call. Sometimes, I've been called by police all over the state, and even out of state, for help, and then I can just work on that case. Occasionally, I don't know anything at all, but mostly I have something to go on.

S: What do you think of other psychic detectives?

JM: I think most psychics are scam psychics.

S: Most of them are not genuine.

B: How do they work? How does their scams work?

JM: You know, I think it's just like any other scam. Are you men scientists?

S: Some of us.

(laughter)

E: Some by trade. Other by interest.

JM: Yeah. By trade or interest. Right. So you have scientific thinking. So you know scam scientists.

S: Hm, hm.

JM: They're scams in every walk of life, and they all work the same. They're very smart in that area, and they use tricks, and they BS.

B: It's intentional. Sometimes it can be intentional, other times it can be more of a self-delusion, thinking they might think that they're not – they might not be intentionally scamming, but sometimes they do. You come across all different types.

JM: Exactly, but I don't think it's any different from any other scam, whether it's a scam lawyer, or ...

S: Right.

JM: ... somebody says they're an FBI man, and they're scamming some girl. No matter what it is, he uses the exact same trick.

S: So how can we tell the difference between the scam psychic detectives and the genuine psychic detectives?

JM: Well, I'm coming out with a book that's called Psychic Surge: Don't Get Scammed. Frankly, the book is over a hundred pages of all the different ways you have to go about to not get scammed. I think that it's just the same as a doctor. You need to find references. In my case, no police detective has ever worked with me without calling my references.

S: Hm, hm.

JM: And I have a profiler, which – a profiler – there's only two profilers in the state of Pennsylvania that I know of. And one of them vouches for me. And then, Paul Zechman always vouches for me. But have a whole long list now, but before I alway used the two of them. One thing is to find references. I think that you have to your instinct and your intellect if you are using a psychic because if you're like I was at the Hershey Hotel and sat down next to a psychic and she told me – everything she told me was wrong, and it was clearly wrong. So I knew right away that she wasn't accurate. If she said six things, none of which are accurate, then I can see right there. I think you just can't let yourself get hoodwinked.

S: Well, we certainly agree with that.

E: Right.

JM: Yeah. It's just like any other scam person. You take their information, you check out their credentials, and use everything you can ...

S: What would a credential be? In this field, there aren't really any credentials, because there is no gold standard. That begs the question that of course we're interested in as scientists and skeptics is how do we know if this phenomenon is even genuine at all from a scientific point of view, not necessarily from a personal point of view, but in the abstract.

JM: Well I think most psychics are scam psychics, and as far as proof, do you love someone? Do you love someone?

S: Of course I do.

JM: But can you prove it?

S: Well, that is not a scientific claim. If you make a claim about the facts of nature, that requires science. Making a claim about a subjective feeling is just completely different, so you really can't compare the two.

JM: Well, this is a subjective feeling. If that's what you want to be ...

S: But you have tangible – but you are claiming tangible results, though, right?

JM: But there are tangible results to love.

S: The two types of claims are not comparable in terms of that analogy that you're trying to draw. Either a phenomenon is real or it isn't real. And if it's real, then there needs to be manifestations that can be objectively determined. Are you making the argument that there's no way science can ever validate your abilities?

JM: Yes.

S: And why is that? Why would it be impossible to validate your abilities if they're real?

JM: I think you could validate my results, like you validate the results of love.

E: Right.

JM: Love makes you feel wonderful, love makes you kinder, more caring, and so you can go to Paul Zechman, a man who is the chief county detective in this town, a man who stakes his reputation on his good work, a man that you will see on the television show is a conservative, careful, slow-moving man, and he will tell you that I found his – I enabled him to find his murderer.

S: And we of course we accept that fact that he probably believes that, and again you knew coming in that we were skeptics and that ...

JM: Oh, I don't mind.

S: What our interpretation of all of this is a little bit different. We don't necessarily question people's motives or beliefs, because we can't read people's minds, so we don't know what people really think or believe. Our interest is on the tangible, verifiable results. We do know and just from experience with many, many different paranormal phenomenon that the capacity for people to be fooled by themselves, by events, is enormous, and the purpose of science is to essentially control for the really vast human tendency to deceive ourselves. Let me ask you a question. If we wanted to subject to some very basic common-sense controls to see if we could validate the results of your investigations, would you be willing to do that?

JM: If I felt that – I would be willing to do anything that was moving forward for good.

S: Hm, hm.

JM: I absolutely refuse to try to pick numbers or to try to make guesses, because my gift is not here to tell anybody something they already know.

S: Right.

JM: My gift is to find out what people don't know.

S: Well let me give you an example. Because this is ...

JM: Okay, and then I will tell you the way I think you should test me.

S: Sure. Absolutely. When you get involved with a new case, really the only thing that we would need to do would be to record all of the information that you produced about the case before the investigation reaches it conclusion. And then in some sort of objective way compare what you predicted to what was actually discovered. That's all. It's very straight-forward.

JM: Sure, you can do national cases as far as I'm concerned. Every time there's a national case, you can call me and I can tell you if I know something and where we go, or you can just pick a case. You can find a case where you live. You don't have to tell me hardly anything. You can find an unsolved murder case and we can see if we can go down that avenue.

S: That's great! I think that would be very instructive, and if your goal is to promote the use psychic detectives and to teach people how to use them correctly, this is the way to do it, in my opinion, because you could silence us, you could silence all the skeptics with verifiable data. That's really all we are asking for. In fact, we screen applicants for the Randi's Million Dollar Psychic Challenge. And we could do this as a screening test.

JM: Right. Because I really don't like the way he does things, because I just don't see how that's to humankind's good.

S: Well, donate the money to charity. Do whatever you want with it. The point is it's a very public undeniable test.

JM: Yeah. I don't have a problem with the money. I just don't want to do a test that is just not for the public good, because when I do any kind of work in this way, it takes a huge amount of energy.

S: Yeah, I understand.

JM: And when I work on a murder case I often physically get ill.

S: Right.

JM: So, if I'm going to do this and takes this energy to try – because I really don't have any interest in proving it to anyone.

S: I understand.

JM: It's just is. But I would be glad to work on more murder cases.

S: That's great, but all we would ask is that you do what you're doing anyway. Do the cases that you're going to do anyway.

JM: Right.

S: But we'll just verify them in a way that doesn't leave any room for guesswork. That we know that we can measure it in a scientific way the accuracy of the predictions that you make.

JM: Sure.

S: We will allow you to set the parameters anyway you want to, as long as it allows for some objective observation and conclusions at the end.

P: Jan Helen, you said you were going to give us a suggestion about how to test you. Out of curiosity, how would you test yourself?

JM: Exactly like you said. I would like to work on murder cases, and you go ahead and find out how much of my information is accurate.

P: Okay, that's great! So we're in basic agreement. That's good.

S: That's great. So we definitely would like to do that, because that I think it wasn't our purpose to debate with you here tonight. We really wanted to hear your experience and your side of the story.

JM: Another thing that I can do is that if you physically put ten people in front of me I can probably tell what's physically wrong with all ten of them.

S: You make like medical diagnoses?

E: That's very testable.

JM: I'm not a medicine person, but I can see what's wrong with them. What part of their body is weak ...

E: Right.

JM: ... has a weakness.

JM: So you could ask all ten people what was wrong with them in advance, and you could see that.

S: Give me an example of the kind of statement that you would make. You said what part of the body.

JM: It usually just comes out with "Your right hip hurts."

S: Okay, something like that "Your right hip hurts."

JM: Hm, hm.

S: Do you mention specific diseases like "You have diabetes"? That sort of thing.

JM: No.

S: No.

JM: No, I'm not that accurate, because I'm not a medical person.

S: Yeah. It's just more basic symptoms.

JM: No I can usually just see that bone, muscle, or blood, and if it's – I can also see if it's inherited or if it was an injury.

S: Hm, hm.

B: Steve, that's a lot more easy to test than going through an entire murder case and investigation and following it to its conclusion and then doing a comparison. I not saying we can't do that.

S: Well, that would be another – an easier test.

E: Two different tests.

S: But I think we should do both. They're different kinds of tests.

JM: Right. Right. And you know frankly, I just think I get a lot more power on the murder stuff, but I just know that's one other thing that I'm good at.

E: Jan Helen, do you have to be in the room to see what's wrong with them, or do you it from afar, or you have to be in close proximity?

JM: With the health problems, I usually like to be in a room with the person.

E: In a room.

JM: With the murder cases, I ... Murder cases I often start on the phone. But then when it starts to get upsetting, I usually like to be with a police officer, so I'm just wondering how that's going to go, but if we get to that point, there's no reason why you couldn't – if there was a case, there's no reason why I couldn't also talk to the police officer and possibly they would let you be there, or have me continue with them. If it gets to that point, we'd want to continue and at least pass off my information to a detective.

P: Is there an average amount of time, Jan Helen, that it takes to work on a murder case? Is it a number of hours, days?

JM: Usually, I have three different meetings. The first meeting I make the cold call. Then I type things into my computer and send them. Then the next thing is usually the police have me come in, and I go through more information I might have. The detective might have maybe three questions. I usually tell them not to talk at all. I don't like them to talk about anything.

S: Hm, hm.

JM: And, occasionally I have a question, like why couldn't the victim get out of the bed, and I remember that they said because the victim was in a wheel chair, so he couldn't run away from the problem. Then after that, then usually I go to the site, the murder site. So, that's about it, four ...

P: I see. I see.

JM: Four different times. And it can be maybe two to four hours when I meet them. Maybe two hours at the meeting, and a couple hours to go to the murder site and maybe drive by some other area where maybe something to do with the crime that the police officer wants to show me. The initial meeting on the phone, that's just pretty brief, and then I send out my information that I type up, and that's usually – I usually write one to two full pages. And then, when I call again then we schedule a meeting. Because usually as a result of what I've written, I have so much accuracy that then they schedule a meeting with me. Stuff that nobody could know.

P: Do you ever encounter police who are hostile to working with you?

JM: Of course!

P: Don't want to hear what you have to say, hang up, et cetera.

JM: Almost all of them. Almost all of them don't want to hear what I have to say. Because there's a lot of scam psychics call them, and a lot of them have never worked with anybody like me before. But I have a Master of Arts degree, and I'm a music teacher, and I have a reputation to uphold, and I have really good references. So, pretty much a good detective, though, is always going to listen to anything someone tells them. They might not go on for the six to eight, maybe six to eight hours it takes to talk to me, but they're sure going to take the information. Briefly, at least.

P: Right.

JM: But then once I tell them things that nobody knows ...

S: Right.

JM: ... then they all go further with me.

S: Jan Helen, it was a pleasure to have you on the Skeptic's Guide. Thank you for sharing all of that with us. I look forward to working with you in the future. It sounds like we have an agreement that you will do a investigative murder case under our observation, so we can basically tally your accuracy. We'll be in touch off the air with the details, but that is excellent. I'm looking forward to doing that.

JM: Try to pick the victim being a male instead female.

S: Victim a male. Any details you want we will do. We always try to design these ...

JM: I can do either.

S: ... to accomodate the claimant as much as possible.

JM: Disregard that. I'll do anybody.

P: Okay.

JM: It's all right.

S: But we want you to feel as comfortable as possible. Whatever details will make you ...

JM: When I like when they're bad guys.

S: Bad guys.

JM: But you don't have to find bad guys killing bad guys. Whatever you want to do. I'll do any cases, because it's real important to me to help society as much as I possibly can.

P: Excellent.

S: Great! Well thanks again.

JM: Sure, thank you.

B: Thank you.

E: Thank you.

JM: Bye.

Discussion (1:01:30)[edit]

S: So, that was our first interview with a non-skeptic. It was quite interesting. What did you guys think of Jan Helen?

P: I thought she was very lively. I thought she was very interesting, and of course the thing I take away from this is her agreement to be tested ...

S: Absolutely.

P: ... by the New England Skeptical Society.

S: That's going to be the only way to get anything meaningful out of this in scientifically. I mean, her claims are so glowing. She thinks she has a hundred percent accuracy?

E: Hundred percent accuracy. That's what she said.

B: Yeah. When you start saying your predictions, if they didn't come true they will in the future in some indefinite time, then you could easily believe that, "hey, I'm hundred percent". I never make a mistake if you leave it wide open to the future.

S: Right.

E: But, Bob, remember she said in the interview when she deals with these murder cases, she's looking only into the past. So, it has happened. She claimed a hundred percent accuracy to that, with no pleading to any future predictions.

S: You guys are both referring to comments she made to us ...

B: Right.

S: ... while we were'nt recording. But when she makes predictions, sometimes they are predictions of the future, and that's why they may not be true at that moment, but when she does do her murder cases, she's always looking into the past. But we'll propose to her two tests, actually. The simple one will be for her to – she can basically detect medical symptoms or ailments. She did it for us over the phone, in fact. That will be very easy to test. And then, the next time we have a viable murder case that's regionally convenient, geographically convenient, then we need to get her to list all of her predictions ahead of time before the details of the case are known, and then we'll compare that list to whatever details eventually come to light, point by point. She won't get to pick and choose or morph them to fit what ultimately happens or just remember the hits and forget the misses. It will be instructive. As usual, the most instructive thing will be how she responds after the test is completed. But we will see. We did get her to agree to a test. So, stay tuned for her episode.

P: Not only did she agree, she seemed eager.

S: She seemed eager. My impression is that she really believes in her abilities. I got a little bit of a sense of a fantasy-prone personality from some of the history that she gave. So I think she's probably sincere. I think just ...

B: Yeah, (unintelligible) .

S: It sounds like she does a little bit of a cold reading when she sits down with the detectives to glean some of the details of the case. She works with detectives who believe in her ability, so that makes cold reading real easy, when you're dealing with a subject who is predisposed to believing in your abilities. But, again, sitting here all we can do is speculate. We need to gather some first-hand information, and we'll do that. We tried to bait her with the million dollars, and she didn't seem too eager about that. That's actually a little bit of a red flag. I would think that if someone genuinely believed in their own powers, especially if they think they are a hundred percent, that they would be most eager to snatch up that million dollars.

P: I have never heard anybody with a paranormal claim of any kind say anything good about Randi's challenge.

S: Right.

P: Never! "He doesn't do it right. He sets it up so you can't win". They hate it. They hate him, and they hate it.

E: What they don't realize ...

S: Because what he does is scientifically accurate.

P: Right.

B: It makes them look so bad. Think about it. That's such a huge thing that he's willing to give anyone a million dollars.

E: Right. Folks, just so you know, what he wants you to do, in your application for the million-dollar challenge is state what you can do and with what percent – what degree of success. And that's basically all the information he's looking for. And most of the applicants can not answer those questions.

S: Right.

E: And they cannot put into a cohesive statement.

S: Right. But we'll do that. I've made up several protocols now to screen applicants for that. It's a negotiation. It's a discussion back and forth to get them to coalesce their claims into something tangible and to come up with a way to score it and a threshold for what we would consider to be success. One guy – it was interesting – one guy wasn't sure why we weren't going to use a P-value of .05, which basically means a one-in-twenty chance of having a positive result by random chance alone. Well, you know, Randi can't give a million dollars to every twentieth person that he tests ...

B: Right.

S: ... the psychic challenge. But anyway, so we'll do that. And if she wants to, we could screen her for the Randi Challenge, and if she passes, we'll be happy to pass her along to Randi. But no one apparently has ever gotten through the screening phase of the challenge. So again, we'll definitely follow up on this in the future. We're also having discussions with the detective on this particular case. He may or may not come on the show on a future episode, but we'll at least talk to him about the case and see if we can get some further details. He was not available for tonight.

S: Well guys, it was another fun episode. Thanks again for joining me.

E: Thank you, Steve.

B: Our pleasure as usual.

S: Until next week this is your Skeptics' Guide to the Universe.

S: The Skeptics' Guide to the Universe is a production of the New England Skeptical Society. For information about this and other episodes, visit our website at www.theness.com. 'Theorem' is produced by Kineto and is used with permission.


References[edit]

  1. Of Pandas and People
  2. [Follow up forum comments on Jan Helen McGee]
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