Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Should psychics be prosecuted?

If psychics offer their services to the police in order to solve a mystery or a crime and it all goes horribly wrong, which party should be considered culpable?

From time to time we hear about cases where psychics seem to offer that vital clue that police needed in order to solve a difficult case.  Correlation does not always imply causation of course, but facts like this do not often convince a gullible public who are left thinking that 'there must be something in it'.

One recent case where a psychic's total failure has been revealed was that of the investigation of the disappearance of kidnap victim Amanda Berry about 10 years ago.  With the final escape of Amanda we now discover for certain that the psychic Sylvia Browne had (at least) made a mistake.  Her claim that Amanda was no longer in the land of the living has now been shown to be complete fabrication.  I seem to remember that there was a similar case in Bristol UK, just last year, resulting in a false accusation of an innocent man.

Now I wouldn't like to suggest that this particular failed psychic is necessarily using her fame to interfere malevolently with police investigation.  It is quite possible that she truly believes in her abilities (not that she is just using a high profile case like this as a publicity stunt to bring the punters in to see her stage performances.)  I have a friend who also believes that she has these abilities even though she is a scientist.  She realises that the evidence is not yet compelling enough to convince me. 

However, the simple belief in one's abilities is one matter, but when interfering in matters that are truly a matter of life and death, actions should surely carry a degree of responsibility.

No doubt Sylvia Browne's stage work carries the disclaimer "For entertainment purposes only" in small writing, for legal reasons.  So I wonder why her work with the police should not be treated in the same way - also for legal reasons.  Should a prosecution be initiated for supposed psychics who waste police time in this way?  I speak in general terms - not necessarily in this specific case, but surely YES.

On the other hand, are the police failing in their duty by even considering that a psychic might be able to help?  In my view, the answer is an emphatic YES.  Disciplinary action should be taken against the officers who have failed in their duty to the public by even entertaining the idea that this might be useful.  Naturally it might have been a media propaganda stunt on their behalf too, but this sort of thing is at best a smoke screen to placate the credible public.

It is time to stop tolerating interference with the due process of law.

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