John Edward: Psychic Medium or Cold Reading Fraud?
The title of this hub suggests that I am calling the validity of John Edward's mediumship into question. From a journalistic standpoint, indeed I am. I want to examine all available evidence and present an argument both for and against his psychic abilities, particularly his assertion that he communicates with the dead and has been doing so since a young age.
From a personal perspective, however, I will say that I do believe in him. I don't know whether or not he gives cold readings or has accomplices sitting in the audience or microphones hidden in the eaves outside where guests of the show wait on line. But I do know that he provides closure, that the people who have sat down with John Edward for a reading have come away feeling as though they connected with someone they had lost. His universal message is that another realm does exist, that although we cannot see those who have past we must never forget that they are still there, alive and well on the other side, and that they continue to watch over us. He reinforces this fact over and over again, and despite it's legitimacy it provides comfort if nothing else.
After giving private readings at home and at psychic fairs for a number of years, John Edward was eventually given his own show "Crossing Over" on the SciFi channel in July 2000. A hundred or so audience members gather in a studio with John Edward and wait as he receives images from the otherside. The audience is instructed NOT to give him any information or further details, just to either validate or invalidate the messages he is delivering to them. He emerges from backstage, gives a brief intro, then begins talking quickly and "feeling pulled" to a particular section of the audience, saying something like, "I'm getting an M name, like M, like Mary, Marie, Maria...?"
Skeptics unanimously agree that Edward uses a method called "cold reading" during his performances. Cold reading is a mentalist technique that dates back to the Spiritualist movement of the late-1800's. According to Wikipedia.org, cold reading is "a technique used to convince another person that the reader knows much more about a subject than he actually does. Even without prior knowledge of a person, a practiced cold reader can still quickly obtain a great deal of information about the subject by carefully analyzing the person's body language, clothing or fashion, hairstyle, gender, sexual orientation, religion, race or ethnicity, level of education, manner of speech, place of origin, etc." The definition goes on to say that cold readers use high probability guesses, picking up on clues from their subjects to see if their guess is going in the right direction. If it is, the medium will quickly reinforce this information. If it's a miss, the medium will quickly move on.
Mediums who allegedly use the cold reading technique usually assure compliance from their subjects ahead of time by saying something like, "Often the messages I receive will be unclear and fuzzy; I'll need you to help me decipher what it is they're really trying to say." The medium will begin by making a series of probing questions, the subject will reveal further information with his or her verbal or non-verbal replies, and the pattern repeats from there. One cold reading technique supposedly employed by John Edward is called "shotgunning". Basically, the medium quickly offers a huge amount of very general information all in one sentence to a large group of people (the audience), watches for reactions, then narrows the scope down to a smaller section until someone connects with the information. A shotgun opening could sound something like, "I'm getting an M name from a mother-figure, someone above you, this could be mother, aunt, grandmother, older cousin, step-mother even someone who raised you who acted as a mother-figure."
Critics point out that due to the show being edited for television, Edward appears to be more accurate than he actually is. Those who have attended a live taping estimate that he is only correct 10-20% of the time. While this may be true, and certainly John Edward seems to employ these methods of cold reading, some amazing "hits" have been documented. On the website Greatest Hits and Misses of Psychic John Edward, one example of a great hit involves a Disney ring.
John Edward: One last validation. She says to go into the bathroom, Okay and in the bathroom there is something in an unusual spot, forward left. So when you walk into the bathroom, right to the left there, there's something right there she wants me to acknowledge. It's like Mickey Mouse related. It's like Disney related.Sitter (Mother's older Daughter): - Oh My God!John Edward: What is this?Sitter (Mother's sister): That's where my ring is that she got me when she was in Disney World.
Skeptics also latch onto the idea that Edward never says anything negative. The messages from the deceased are always pleasant, letting their loved ones know that they're fine, that they're doing okay. And yet I can remember one instance where he connected with a woman's mother and reported that she was very cold, very negative, with a biting tongue and a nasty attitude. Skeptics are hard pressed to believe that everyone is happy and loving on the other side, but isn't that what Heaven is for? Critics also believe that Edward is immoral for targeting people when they are at their most vulnerable, mourning over the loss of a loved one.
Bottom line, whether his methods of communicating with the dead are valid or not, John Edward is friendlier, and more astute than his crude, harsh counterparts James Van Praagh and Sylvia Browne. The messages he delivers are positive and reassuring, providing comfort and solace in a time of extreme grief. His readings have helped thousands of people find peace in the midst of a tragedy, thereby enabling them to move on and live fuller, happier lives, secure with the knowledge that their loved ones are safe and sound in a place we cannot see, waiting to reconnect with us when the time is right.
- Demystifying John Edward
Offers sample psychic readings and evidence that the studio is rigged
- Hustling the Bereaved
Joe Nickell studies Edward for the show Dateline NBC
- Crossing Over
Deconstructing the set-up of the show
- James Randi
Paranormal debunker analyzes a two-hour taping of the show "Crossing Over"