Dr. Oz continues his descent into being a colossal fraud with a recent episode in which he brought on another quack doctor to do a brain scan on “psychic” con woman Teresa Caputo (the “Long Island Medium”) and “prove” that her “psychic” powers are real and true while she performs incredibly bad cold readings. Steven Novella describes the cold readings:
Theresa Caputo is just another fake psychic doing bad cold readings before audiences that have more of a desire to believe than apparent critical thinking skills. Her performance on Dr. Oz is fairly typical – she fishes with vague and high probability guesses, working multiple people at once, who then struggle to find some connection to what she is saying.
For example, she tells one mark who is trying to connect with her father, “Your father wants to talk about the coin collection?” This is a great vague statement. First, it is one of those statements that seems very specific, but in actuality is a high probability vague statement. Anything to do with coins can seem to be a hit, and in the fairly good chance that an older gentleman had a literal coin collection it will seem like a fantastic hit.
In this case, however, the target found a nice face-saving hit. Apparently another psychic told the same person that her father sends her “pennies from heaven.” There you go.
In another segment with Caputo she demonstrates almost a parody of terrible cold reading. She senses a father figure and a daughter figure. She says to an entire audience that someone lost a father and someone lost a daughter. She also goes out on a limb and says – something to do with the chest. Shockingly, someone from the audience steps forward. Caputo then makes two clear misses. She says that she senses the person was lost suddenly. The target clearly indicates this was not the case, at which time Caputo tries to recover by saying that – even when someone is ill, we did not expect to lose them at that exact moment. Right.
This is so absurd that it’s rather astonishing that anyone could fall for it. But then comes the quack to confirm it all with a test that shows nothing at all:
Dr. Daniel Amen
Dr. Amen as made millions of dollars proving SPECT scans for a long list of diagnoses. SPECT scans use a radioisotope to track blood flow in the brain, which can be used to infer brain activity. The problem with SPECT scan is that there is a tremendous amount of noise in brain activity so you need to be very careful about interpreting the results…
Amen has now started using SPECT and other imaging to study psychic phenomena. This is a common marriage – that between noisy and poorly validated testing and pseudoscientific phenomena…
They can’t do a SPECT scan on stage, so they use quantitative EEG instead. This also produces pretty color-added maps of the brain showing relative activity in the different areas of the brain. They show the EEG of Caputo at rest and then while she is doing a reading. Surprise, surprise – the two EEG scans are different. She has less frontal lobe activity and more temporal lobe activity during the reading.
Amen admits this could have multiple interpretations, including simple anxiety (Caputo already admitted to being anxious, and she seemed anxious about this test). I would not even use the test to conclude she was anxious. You can’t tell anything from those scans. It’s just noise. Yet Amen confidently concludes that temporal lobe activity is evidence of spirituality and psychic power. Amen, trying to sound sage, informs us that there is more that is real than scientists believe is real.
Deepak Chopra would be proud of such weapons-grade bullshittery.