This is not our columnist, Benjamin Radford. But Radford does see the future: He predicts that predictions for 2009 won't be any more accurate than they were in 2008.
Jaycee Dugard, the woman who was abducted at the age of 11 in 1991, was recently discovered living in a virtual prison in the back yard of a couple's come in Antioch, Calif., as has been widely reported. She had been there for 18 years, confined and horrifically abused, even giving birth to her rapist's children. They were kept prisoner and isolated, never having attended school or seen a doctor.
Amazingly, a Reno psychic is now claiming the case proves the accuracy of her abilities.
Dayle Schear, who was paid by Jaycee's parents to help locate their daughter, says she told Jaycee's mother not to give up searching for her daughter: "I looked her in the eyes and I said… eventually she'll walk through the door, you're going to see her again."
Schear also claims that she correctly described the general area where Jaycee was being held. The psychic's "information" is typical of what happens when missing persons are eventually found, dead or alive. Psychics come forward years later after the person was found to make retroactive claims about how they "knew" certain pieces of information.
Yet the psychics conveniently ignore the fact that their information was either wrong or so general and vague that it was useless. If Shear's psychic powers told her that this poor girl was being kept in the most horrific conditions — being subjected to continual sexual and physical abuse for nearly two decades — then it's puzzling that Jaycee was not found 18 years ago.
What police and searchers need is not general, vague "I told you so" information after the missing person has been recovered through police work, but accurate, useful information that leads police to the victim.
One common trick psychics use to make themselves appear accurate is to give very vague information open to later interpretation (most missing persons are likely to be found "near water," even if it's a lake, puddle, river, drain, etc.). When bodies are found it is always through accident or police work. Despite repeated claims to the contrary, there is not a single documented case of a missing person being found or recovered due solely to psychic information. In February 2004, Court TV launched a series about psychic detectives investigating cold cases "Haunting Evidence." The show was cancelled after three seasons, without having solved a single case.
The fact of the matter is that right now — as you are reading these words — it is virtually certain that somewhere in the world, one or more children are being held in exactly the same unimaginable conditions as Jaycee. Some may die in captivity and be disposed of like trash; others will eventually be freed after untold physical and psychological damage.
Yet there are thousands of self-proclaimed psychics and psychic detectives in the world who claim to be able to find missing persons. Some are rich and famous, such as Sylvia Browne, Allison DuBois (inspiration for the NBC show "Medium"), Noreen Renier, and Carla Baron; others are known only locally. If they have the powers they claim, perhaps they should take a break from their TV appearances and lucrative lecture circuits to actually help find these and other desperate missing persons.
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Benjamin Radford is managing editor of the Skeptical Inquirer science magazine. His books, films, and other projects can be found on his website. His Bad Science column appears regularly on LiveScience.