Psychic Predictions, Past and Future
The Alibi's resident skeptic places a few bets
It’s that time of year again: thick morning frost on the windshield, flickering luminarias along adobe walls and psychic predictions for the upcoming year.
I thought I’d try my hand at some predictions for 2010, but first take a look back at last year’s Alibi predictions for 2009 [ Feature, “Portents and Prognostications,” Jan. 8-14] to see how they fared. Most of the predictions played it safe by being too vague or general to determine whether they came true. For example, one psychic said that in 2009, “relationships will become more harmonious” and to expect “a lot of good summer movie releases.” Many of them weren’t even predictions; some were just random opinions on the world like, “this time we live in seems to be empty when it comes to original thinking and imagination,” and “someone should invent an interactive game like Guitar Hero to teach real guitar.”
All this is fine, but these are hardly provable or useful predictions. In science we call these sorts of statements “unfalsifiable”—that is, unable to be proven true or false, such as the claim that Obama is doing a good job as president. I personally think he is, but it’s really a matter of opinion, not fact.
More interesting are the big stories of 2009 that all the psychics somehow missed. It’s strange that none of them predicted the murder of the world’s biggest pop star, Michael Jackson, whose June drug overdose death was ruled a homicide. None of the psychics apparently foresaw the Tiger Woods scandal, either, or the attempted overhaul of the American health care system, or America’s largest automaker going bankrupt. (They shouldn’t feel bad; in 2000 all of the Alibi’s psychics failed to predict perhaps the most significant event of the century, the Sept. 11 attacks.)
Psychic Ana deserves credit for making specific testable predictions, regardless of her accuracy.
There was one psychic that did provide a body of testable predictions for 2009. She is Psychic Ana, the tarot reader whose venerable mini-billboard has greeted northbound motorists on I-25 across from Downtown for years. Let’s take a look at her 2009 predictions.
• Ana stated that “Mayor Martin Chavez will continue to be successful and receive an award for his exemplary work as mayor.” In fact, Chavez was defeated in his re-election bid by Richard Berry, and he did not receive any significant awards in 2009 for his work as mayor.
• “The Iraq War will slow down and many of our soldiers will be able to come home by the end of the year.” This somewhat obvious prediction came true, depending on how you interpret “slow down” and “many” soldiers. About 4,000 troops came home by the end of 2009, though that number is a drop in the bucket compared to the 120,000 troops who remain in Iraq.
• As for the economy, Ana stated that “the economy will be greater than people are expecting.” This is difficult or impossible to verify, but most opinion polls suggest that the economic recovery is not going better than most people had expected.
• On the climate front, “we will see more hurricanes, tornadoes and natural disasters, even in regions where it is unheard of, like parts of New York and around the East Coast area.” Not according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association, which notes that there were actually fewer hurricanes and tornadoes in 2009, due largely to changes in the atmosphere caused by global warming. According to the U.S. Storm Prediction Center, there were about 100 fewer tornado-related deaths this year than in 2008.
More interesting are the big stories of 2009 that all the psychics somehow missed.
• In the world of science and technology, Psychic Ana predicted that “there will be some blunders scientists are working on that will be exposed in 2009.” It’s not clear what scientific “blunders” she is referring to that were exposed in 2009. (The recent "climategate" scandal does not involve any accusations of mistakes or blunders but instead intentional fraud.) Then there’s her claim that “there will be great technological advances in workplaces that will help us see 32-hour work weeks for people, four-day work weeks.” As far as I know, there were no major technological advances that ushered in 32-hour, four-day work weeks. Quite the opposite: Studies show that Americans are working longer hours than ever—especially in this bad economy.
• As for the world of celebrity and entertainment, Psychic Ana stated that in 2009, “Paris Hilton will find love and become engaged. Even if she marries, she will be divorced within six months.” Actually, Hilton did not become engaged in 2009, nor was she married (nor divorced, for that matter). Also, “Angelina Jolie will become pregnant and lose the baby.” Wrong again; Jolie was not pregnant in 2009, nor did she lose her baby. “George Clooney will owe the IRS millions. George Lopez will end up in the hospital.” There’s no information that George Clooney owes millions of dollars to the IRS (though given how much he earns, it wouldn’t be surprising); nor is there any record of George Lopez having any significant hospitalization in 2009.
It seems that Psychic Ana was wrong on nearly every single specific prediction she made for 2009. Most psychics appear successful because few people bother to take the time to actually go back and re-examine predictions to see how valid they were. If psychics have the powers they claim, and they’re confident enough in their abilities to charge money for their services, they should be happy to go on the record and have their predictions put to the test. Psychic Ana deserves credit for making specific testable predictions, regardless of her accuracy.