The Twitter Report: Leave the Long Island Medium Alone!

Just before the new Cosmos premiere last week, I noticed that “#LongIslandMedium” was trending on Twitter, a reference to a woman named Theresa Caputo. She’s just the latest in a long line of talking-to-the-dead hucksters who exploit the grief of the bereaved, using the same unsubtle cold-reading act that never fails to dazzle the gullible. I decided the hashtag could use an antidote to credulity:

Well, that disturbed the hornet’s nest, as a horde of infuriated true believers leaped to their idol’s defense. Most of them were just run-of-the-mill ignorance and abuse, not worth bothering with:

You’d think that last guy could have guessed that that wouldn’t have been a winning argument with me, based on my Twitter handle. Then again, sharp-eyed observation probably isn’t the strong suit of people who fail to spot that so-called “psychics” are just feeding back the information that people give to them.

But a few responses tried to muster at least the hint of an argument:

I like the assertion that “a lot” of the ticket sales go to charity. Really fills you with confidence, doesn’t it? I should try that one sometime: “Give to my food bank! An unspecified portion of the money collected will go directly to feeding the hungry!”

There’s also the perennial favorite of “you skeptics are grumpy killjoys, but my life is happy because I believe in magic“:

Notice that last person’s concern: it’s hard to challenge things that other people claim to be true. Life is so much easier, apparently, when you credulously accept anything and everything that anyone tells you and never allow yourself to wonder whether or not you’re being taken advantage of. There’s also the one who told me to “keep my negativity to myself” – the clear implication being that she doesn’t want to hear anything that might cast doubt on something she believes.

Contrary to what these people seem to think, I don’t view skepticism as a burden, but as a favor to be offered freely. The universe is much grander and more interesting than the small, human-centered myths we cling to, the ones that myopically insist that we small creatures are at the center of all existence. When we dispel this fog of illusions, we can see much farther and more clearly. I think the discarding of false beliefs is ultimately a gain, not a loss or a “negative”, and it benefits people whether or not they realize that initially.

There were also those who insisted that it doesn’t matter whether the Long Island Medium is real or not, as long as she makes people happy:

Let me put it this way: Nobody goes to a medium just because it gives them comfort just to hear someone pretending to be one of their departed relatives. People go to mediums because they think they can get in touch with the afterlife and be assured that death isn’t the end and that the deceased are happy. Therefore, whether she can actually do what she says she can do matters a lot. If I go around telling people with cancer that I’m a doctor and I can offer them a painless miracle cure, I may make them feel temporarily better, but if what I’m saying is false, I’m setting them up for grave harm down the line.

And medium acts aren’t necessarily a harmless, comforting fantasy. There have been some “psychics” who took advantage of their clients’ trust and swindled them out of millions of dollars. The belief that psychic acts never cause harm rests on the assumption that, whether for real or not, their practitioners are all benevolent – but if the skeptical interpretation is true, the majority of them must be engaged in an act of cynical, conscious deceit.

About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, City of Light, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • cipher

    Must be hard to live your life tearing people down. Pretty sad

    I hear the same thing all the time from evangelicals and Orthodox Jews. If you challenge them, your life must be worthless.

    There’s also the one who told me to “keep my negativity to myself” – the clear implication being that she doesn’t want to hear anything that might cast doubt on something she believes.

    They never do. Denial appears to be the bedrock of the human condition.

    On the other hand, I looked at the Twitter feed for that last one. Her son has special needs and a brain tumor. Do we have the right to take away someone’s emotional crutch? (Of course, most people have an endless capacity for performing whatever mental gymnastics they have to in order to hold onto their beliefs, so I’m sure you didn’t do much damage.)

  • Tommykey69

    A bunch of my friends on FB absolutely adore Caputo. One even claims Caputo was able to communicate with his deceased father. It’s very hard for me to resist the temptation to criticize them, because of course if I did, then it would make me a jerk in their eyes. I did do a post on FB a few months ago rhetorically asking why psychic mediums never seem to be able to identify serial killers. After all, one would think the spirits of the murder victims would be constantly hovering around Caputo and her ilk trying to get them to call the police.

  • Bdole

    I get the same “grumpy, killjoy” reaction whenever I insist to inveterate gamblers that slot machine payouts are random. No, you don’t have a system, other than systemic confirmation bias.

  • Psycho Gecko

    Actually saw an episode of this show. It was horrible. She just bilks people out of hundreds of dollars per session, then has this show, and it’s such blatant cold reading.

    I mean, it really is that obvious how she does it. One of her sessions made it so abundantly obvious, too. She had this young couple come in, and they’d hoped to get in contact with the guy’s dead friend.

    She told them that he died feeling loved.

    It was revealed in a little aside interview segment by the couple themselves that their friend committed suicide.

    Pretty blatant case of not knowing what she’s talking about, but even they bought it hook, line, and sinker because they were coming to her in order to be lied to about all this.

  • Jason Wexler

    I don’t know who Caputo is but I once visited a medium and asked them to connect me with my father, and sure enough she was able to… of course my father is still alive.

  • L.Long

    Con artists are among my favorite people. They clearly and definitely show just how ignorant, unthinking, and gullible people in general really are. They have a moral code that is so low that they can con money from anyone. I am basically incapable of that low an activity, and so I respect their skills, and am sad that they use those skills for such low things. The people I don’t feel for are their targets. All the con cases I’ve seen show that the only reason they can succeed is through the greed, gullibility , or flat out stupidity of the targets.
    When My mom died of cancer and I was not there to say good by, I never considered a medium to do so.

    Oh, there is one group that I do feel sorry for and that is kids being brainwashed by the religious con men/women.

  • Michael

    Some claim to help police, but unsurprisingly these claims are unproven (and can be detrimental, such as people falsely accused of murder due to “psychic” insights).

  • Doomedd

    Theresa makes people feel
    better. Leave it at that

    She is a bleeping ghoul.

    When someone dies, all
    that remains are memories. When a medium impersonate the dead, he and
    the victim create a fictional character. This character adds and
    modify the memories about the deceased.

    Rely on a medium and
    you will effectively lose the memories of those who passed away. You
    will remember someone who never existed at all.

  • Tommykey69

    If the deceased really can communicate with the living, then it’s strangely convenient that they can apparently only do so with a few select people. I mean seriously, why do we need strangers to communicate with our deceasd friends and family members instead of being able to do it ourselves?

  • Plutosdad

    Vulnerable, depressed, uneducated, those are things to look down upon? Calling them stupid doesn’t change the education they grew up with (or without). The brainwashing religion does may even set up people to be taken advantage of by cons – after all if the church teaches the dead live on, can listen to us (as with Catholics) then when they become adults they of course still believe this.

    I think the world would be better if people were better educated and learned to be skeptical. But the world would be FAR FAR better if more people had empathy and compassion.

  • J-D

    If all the good people were clever
    And all clever people were good
    The world would be nicer than ever
    We thought that it possibly could

    But somehow, ’tis seldom or never
    The two hit it off as they should:
    The good are so harsh to the clever,
    The clever, so rude to the good.

    So friends, let it be our endeavour
    To make each by each understood,
    For few can be good like the clever,
    Or clever, so well as the good!

    Elizabeth Wordsworth, _Good And Clever_

  • L.Long

    I was an alter-boy, going to seminary catlicker. I went to school with many others and most still took that education and stayed brainwashed. So they are not uneducated, so I did consider them delusional, but stop using that word cuz they were to stupid to know that it was a bigger insult to be delusional rather then stupid.
    And most are not vulnerable-depressed-or uneducated, if you have the training to use the computer and the internet you are not uneducated and can learn most anything you wish, otherwise you are not just stupid, you are delusional which is the WILL FULL SUPPRESSION of INTELLIGENCE to maintain an irrational myth.
    So Yes, NO sympathy for the targets.

  • axelbeingcivil

    “Grave harm”? Was that a pun?