No, John Oliver. Not All Psychics Are Frauds.

No, John Oliver. Not All Psychics Are Frauds. February 25, 2019

Dear John Oliver,

I’m Courtney. I’m a professional Tarot advisor with over twenty years’ experience. I see private clients and work for a phone psychic hotline. I published a Tarot deck and wrote a book on reading your own cards. First of all, I love your show. My husband and I watch it every week. Keep calling out truth to power, eliminating health care debt, and making fun of Gladiator. We need to laugh in these dark times.

This week, you ran segment a focused on “the widespread fraud” of the psychic industry, making it sound as though every psychic out there is greedily scheming to scam people out of their money by preying on their emotions. The problem is, you only focused sensational television personalities who also claim to be psychics. I don’t know these people’s work and I don’t know them personally, so I will not comment on whether those individuals were frauds.

But I will say that by making a huge generalization while focusing on a select few sensational personalities, you grossly mischaracterized a huge industry of honest people who simply want to help make others’ lives better.

As I mentioned, I’ve been reading Tarot for over twenty years. I have some clients who have been coming to me almost that long. I care about them, and their lives. They trust me with things they would never tell another soul.It’s that relationship that keeps them returning as much as my predictions. I take that seriously. Every other psychic I know takes that approach, too.

People need someone to listen to them.

Through the psychic hotline, I’ve spoken to people who are contemplating divorce, but are afraid to tell their families or friends out of judgment. I’ve had calls from people with family members in the throes of addiction. Some are dealing with complicated romantic feelings about a co-worker. Some are shy and anxious. Sometimes it’s a man who simply wants to practice talking to a woman. Pastors can’t always be trusted (or perhaps the person isn’t into organized religion) and therapy is expensive, but people might find $20 to speak to someone anonymous and caring, but who has no personal investment in your choices and therefore, no judgment. That’s a legitimate service, don’t you think?

Most psychics don’t use “cold readings.”

I know no psychics who stand in a room and start shouting out things they ‘feel’ about people there. First of all, yes! We’re humans and personal projections are possible. This is why I use cards–to separate myself and my assumptions from the question because I fucking care about people’s feelings. Second, no honest psychic would shout out personal things about someone for the whole room to hear, even if they were picking up on a legitimate message. These sessions are and should be private and confidential. An honest psychic doesn’t try to prove they are psychic. They simply want to help. That’s fair, right?

Most psychics would never do a “hot reading.”

You pointed out that Matt Lauer’s psychic could have researched him to find out that he shared a passion for fishing with his father. Maybe he did, maybe he didn’t. But no honest psychic would do that. I never google my clients before they call and I follow very few of them on social media for that reason. It’s not my intention to wow them with my uncanny abilities to know what they had for breakfast three days ago. I simply want to help them with whatever they’re trying to navigate in their lives. I’m also not trying to sell ratings on a television show…so maybe there’s something to that? Maybe it’s not that one maybe-psychic’s fault?

Most psychics don’t want to be on television, so no. We’re not in it for publicity.

Want to know why? Most of us hate playing “test the psychic.” We get that enough at parties.

We don’t target grieving people.

Honest psychics don’t do that. Honest people don’t do that. You want to know who does? Assholes do. Good god. Who in the hell would go to someone who is looking for their missing child and offer to find them with their crystals for $3,000? That’s not a psychic–that’s a thief. But you also get people hocking fraudulent insurance policies to hurricane and fire victims. Does that mean that every insurance salesman is a fraud? No. And not every psychic is looking for a vulnerable person to empty their wallet.

Most of us aren’t making six digits a year.

Most of us didn’t get into this because of money. I got started by reading just for fun. But the people I read for told friends (and they told two friends….and so on…, I’ve just dated myself) and these people kept coming back. The work got serious. But I’m not buying a beach house with my earnings. I don’t keep investments in the Cayman Islands. My earnings helped pay off our car this year (yay!!!!) and there was a time when my husband and I were down on our financial luck and my reading Tarot was our only income. It kept us from losing our apartment. I helped others and their small fees helped me.  Honest exchange amirite?

Frauds exist in every industry, John. You know this.

From medicine to insurance (as I pointed out before). You might say that the aforementioned industries offer concrete products..but so do we. There are some moments when something can’t be reached by a religious doctrine or a therapeutic diagnosis. Souls are strange and complicated. Psychics get to the places where standard means of support simply can’t reach. We offer the time and space for our clients to get there.

I get it. It seems weird. But guess what? It’s been around since the dawn of time.

Astrologers, mediums, clairvoyants and the like have always been a part of human culture. It’s not going anywhere. This isn’t a new phenomenon. You mentioned four in ten people believe in psychics and that you think that’s outrageous. The only thing that’s outrageous to me is the number, which is probably more like 8 or 9 in 10 (and probably 10 in the end as most people who swear they don’t believe actually do but don’t want to admit it).

No, John Oliver. Not all psychics are frauds.

If anything, my psychic senses tell me there will be even more of us honest psychics in the future. We fill a need. This is a tumultuous time and people are scared. We help people navigate these things, give them hope, and help them find clarity.

That’s a good thing.


P.s., I still love your show and I’ll still watch it next week. Glad we had this talk!

About Courtney Weber
Courtney Weber is a Witch, author, Tarot adviser, and activist. She is the author of Brigid: History, Mystery, and Magick of the Celtic Goddess and Tarot for One: The Art of Reading for Yourself, and the forthcoming The Morrigan: Celtic Goddess of Magick and Might. She is a co-host of That Witch Life podcast. Courtney produced and designed Tarot of the Boroughs, a modern tarot deck set in New York City. She has been featured in the New York Times, Maxim, Playboy, Huffington Post, Vice, and the Thom Hartmann Show. Visit her online at You can read more about the author here.

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Adam

    Umm…you forgot the most important part. Namely, that not all psychics are frauds because there’s copious evidence that psionic abilities and phenomena are objectively real.

  • Monica T

    Oh I hope you send this to him. I was sad when I watched this one.

  • THANK YOU!!!!!

  • kyuss

    please provide some evidence for this outrageously stupid statement.

  • kyuss

    Frauds exist in every industry, John. You know this.

    Yes, but your entire industry is based on lies. since psychic powers don’t exist, you’re either hopelessly delusional or an active fraud. there are no other options.

  • Adam

    I posted this comment hoping that someone would ask that question (although as one might expect I was hoping for a bit less rudeness and a bit more civility. This being 2019 that’s a bridge too far I suppose). Anyhow, I’ll start off with a link you’ll like from a scientist at Cornell. Actually you’ll hate it because it may cause cognitive dissonance by challenging your chosen ontology with contrary facts and that’s never super-fun. You’re probably quite young, so I don’t expect that you’ve plumbed the Cold-War era parapsychological research. I suggest that you do, so I don’t have to leave an absurdly long linkspam here. Really, who has the time?

    Here’s a good short list of books by mainstream authors and scientists of repute. Enjoy!

    Mind At Large by the IEEE Symposium on the Nature of Extrasensory Perception
    Psychic Phenomena by Robert A. Bradley, MD
    The Unfathomed Mind, A Handbook Of Unusual Mental Phenomena by William R. Corliss (holds an MS in physics; he’s actually by far the best anomalist in my opinion).

  • kyuss
  • kyuss

    Informed critics of parapsychology were almost uniformly incredulous.
    Although Bem is a respected psychologist, they found so many flaws in
    the research
    protocols and methods that in their view the conclusions had no

  • James McClymont


    Unless you (“you” as in every supposed psychic/tarot reader/etc) can demonstrate that you have psychic/magical powers OR you clearly and succinctly tell all of your clients that you do NOT have any such powers and that all you are doing is making things up to try to make them feel better, then you ARE a fraud.

    //”An honest psychic doesn’t try to prove they are psychic. They simply want to help. That’s fair, right?”\

    No. The only way for a “psychic” to be an honest one is if they DO demonstrate that they really ARE psychic. And, since none have ever done so, all are frauds.

  • knw

    This apparently heartfelt essay from an apparently kind person… proves absolutely nothing. The essay doesn’t even support its own headline. There is no *evidence* here of any kind. There is nothing to support the assumption that any psychic is, or isn’t, a fraud. “Psychic” means that one has supernatural powers of perception. For someone to claim to be a Psychic, one necessarily claims to have such powers. The author fails to prove or disprove that anyone has these powers — and doesn’t even mention the question!
    So, kind person or not, this essay is nonsense.

  • Grim Beard

    You claim to have psychic abilities that you do not have. That makes you a fraud. You also charge people for services that you cannot provide (and are not qualified to provide), based on abilities that you do not have. That makes you not just a fraud but a criminal fraud.

    If you are, as you claim to be, an honest person who just wants to help others through difficult times in their lives, then train as a counseling psychologist and do some genuine good with the real skills that you will develop. At the very least get some basic training with a volunteer service such as The Samaritans and give them some of your time. Do *not* continue to falsely claim to be psychic.

  • Adam

    Of course critics are going to be incredulous. That’s the definition of a critic. I linked you to the respected academics themselves and their work. You linked me to a site run by a coterie of professional debunkers highlighting only those studies that agree with their collective position. That article was written by the editor of skeptical inquirer himself.

  • “We’re not frauds” cries the professional fraud.

  • kyuss

    LOL. You sent me a link to the Cornell Chronicle, a HOUSE ORGAN that has a vested interest in promoting their own researchers. Projection much?

    also, if psychic powers have been a “fact” since “the Cold War”, how come no company has been able to promote and monetize them (surely such magic powers would be worth trillions of dollars)? Why has no government or terrorist organization been able to turn them into a weapon?

    also, why has Randi been able to debunk every psychic he has ever tested? surely, since these “magic powers” are a “fact”, someone would have stepped forward, humiliated the skeptics and claimed the million(?) dollars that James Randi was offering? not everyone who has these “magic powers” can be completely selfless and unmotivated by profit or greed can they? even if everyone who has these incredible powers was purely motivated by altruism, why aren’t there costumed crime fighters out there using their powers to save and protect the public?

  • kyuss

    You’re probably quite young…

    LOL, psychic fail. I bet I’m older than you are; although since you reference the Cold War like you lived through it, it’s possible that you’re an old geezer.

  • kyuss

    Two papers (Galak, LeBoeuf, Nelson, & Simmons, 2012; Ritchie,
    Wiseman, & French, 2012) have since been published reporting
    attempts to replicate these experiments. Together these two papers
    report the results of 10 separate experiments using Bem’s methods with a
    much larger combined sample. Only one of the ten experiments produced a
    significant result, although the authors (Galak, et al., 2012) report
    that when the results of their seven experiments were combined the
    overall effect size was close to zero. Additionally, Galak et al.
    performed meta-analysis of all known published and unpublished attempts (comprising over 4,000
    participants) to replicate Bem’s retroactive facilitation of recall
    studies. The overall average effect size was not significantly different
    from zero.

    Daryl Bem’s research has been completely debunked. I won’t bother with the other two books you cited since the free material you provided is of such poor and easily refuted quality.

  • kyuss

    I find it interesting that instead of dealing with the meat of my post (i.e. Bem’s methodology was garbage) you tone-troll and whinge about “professional debunkers”.

  • Sherlock Holmes

    Princeton Engineering Anomalies Research (PEAR)

  • Adam

    Wow, so let me get this straight dude. When you say that respected scientists have debunked psi, you take them as definitive authority, but when I link you to directly to Cornell University, you automatically claim some kind of conspiracy to protect their own researchers? I’m sure of course that if I were to suggest that governments like ours or the Russians cover up *public* knowledge of psionics to protect their own vested security interests, you’d roll your eyes. Projection much?

    Besides, a big reason why your heroes are rarely “humiliated” by loss as you say is because they never accept evidence as given. People like me can literally point to study after study and you people will just say “nuh uh, I need more evidence!” no matter how much evidence is given and then you claim a lack of evidence.

    For instance, when you ask about psychics using their abilities to help, I could point you to psychic investigators used by the police successfully, but you wouldn’t even look at the research even if I liked you to it. I’d just get another asinine, schoolyard-bully level insult because that’s all you’ve got in your arsenal.

    The fact is that the James Randi Educational Foundation won’t even investigate claims that he believes have already been debunked sufficiently by scientists (using his own subjective standards of course, not any statistical significances).You can easily tell why Randi is such an accomplished illusionist. His ability to misdirect and mislead are at the top of his craft! Here’s a link to an investigation done on his sketchy organization by some Swedish reporters. It’s in English.

    In the end, the simple truth is that professional skeptics move the goalpost like Tom Brady with a backhoe because they need to do so in order to “win”. Sad I think.

  • Adam

    Hahaha yeah I’m an old Gen-Xer all right, that’s why I know stuff. . Here’s some more good links for you if you actually care to step outside your comfort zone and entertain some anomalous facts. We both know why you “won’t bother” to look at any other studies that refute your point of view. Oh and these are from both the CIA and the NIH so if you don’t buy it from them, there’s nothing I can do for you.

    You know, I do have to say you’ve been one of the more entertaining trolls I’ve run across in Internet-land. So bravo in that regard at least. Nice doing business with you.

  • Adam

    Good link to balanced research, thanks pal.

  • kyuss

    wow – you’ve got a real vested interest in pretending psychic powerz are real. it’s pretty funny. i’ll destroy your links after i get home from work.

  • kyuss

    PEAR’s results have been criticized for deficient reproducibility.[16]
    In one instance two German organizations failed to reproduce PEAR’s
    results, while PEAR similarly failed to reproduce their own results.[13] An attempt by York University’s Stan Jeffers also failed to replicate PEAR’s results.[9]

    wikipedia is your friend. Also, nobody has ever been able to replicate Bem’s or PEAR’s work. It’s fraudulent.

  • Adam

    If you can’t trust the NIH or CIA as reputable sources, I don’t actually know what we have left to discuss. It doesn’t take a psychic to predict what you’ll do: you’ll give me some links back to skeptical sites as if their counterclaims falsify the evidence presented by the scientists on my “side” of the dispute. They don’t. That’s not how science works…but have fun! I’ll respond if I think there’s something worth responding to.

  • WildestSea

    Thanks for that link I knew James Randis challenge was dubious but that article really disected it and showed how brazenly dishonest it is! And yes most skeptics are hopeless, they’re like “I know all there is totknow about reality and I know the paranormal is all nonsense so there’s no reason for me to investigate it and educate myself”

  • Art Severius

    Priceless: A parapsychology fantasist claiming someone else doesn’t know “how science works.”

  • Art Severius

    Did you not foresee the backlash from your butthurt whining?

  • kyuss

    you obviously don’t know how science is done – you think Bem’s research is legit even though meta-analysis shows it to be bunkum and no one has ever been able to replicate his results.

    Also, you have failed to explain to me why one of the “true” psychics out there hasn’t stepped forward to unambiguously demonstrate their psychic powers. For years and years James randi had a million dollars for anyone to claim – all they had to do was produce psychic phenomena in a controlled environment. Ever single psychic failed. Why?

    Your argumentation and grasp of the scientific method are quite weak.

  • Adam

    Yeah it’s always fun to watch people make assumptions about cosmology based on incomplete cosmological knowledge and then refuse to accept the results of any efforts to gain said knowledge.

  • Adam

    *sigh* Obviously people have demonstrated their abilities. Just not to your arbitrary levels of satisfaction. That was the point of the abstract links. You’re not accepting the (copious) evidence as being valid *as* evidence for…whatever reason. I have more studies in queue, but I think we’re at brick-wall level here. Oh well. This was fun. Hit me up again when I post about UFOs 🙂

  • jwissick

    You are a fraud. Period.

  • So, you’re arguing that we should respect well-intentioned but delusional people who think they’re psychic? The archetypes of the Tarot are actually useful from a psychological perspective, I’ll grant you that, but there’s no evidence for surviving death or mind/body dualism. I understand why reality isn’t enough for some people. I used to be a new ager, into all manner of pseudoscience. I had a best friend who was a channeler, and I would have sworn at the time he was psychic. He actually suffered from a form of PTSD called hypervigilance, from an abusive childhood where his life depended on reading his Borderline mother’s ever changing mood. The same was true for my former hero, the author Jane Roberts, a traumatic life and a creative mind led to some convincing delusions. I wish someone would do a study on people who claim psychic powers, and the possible connection to childhood trauma. I now find reality far more wondrous (if less comforting) than my years of magical thinking.

  • I used to be like you. Scared to death of having my magic snowman melted by the mean old skeptics. But there is no good evidence for your magical thinking. You’ll do anything to keep your fear of death and nonexistence at bay. #beentheredonethat

  • Sol Seeker

    I think part of the issue is that people have limited ideas and perceptions about what a psychic actually is and what their abilities entail and that there are many different ways those abilities can manifest (not unlike the mainstream perceptions of “magic”, or “magick”, if you prefer). As usual, people are looking for a “one size fits all” solution to something that is quite multi-faceted.

  • Shawn Herles

    You mean a bunch of fundamentalist philosophical materialists sharing the gospel of atheism? Not really surprising. But “backlash” is a little dubious. Whining might be better. Fundies always whine when anybody steps out of the bounds of their dogma.

  • Shawn Herles

    Many atheists don’t know how science works. That there is evidence (evidence is suggestive, not proof) that psychic abilities are real is true, based on multiple studies by various organizations, some of which Adam has posted. That other scientists have disputed this is also true. Thus there is debate, and the need for further research, and no evidential smoking gun either way. So, the person who truly knows how science works would say that they don’t know for sure one way or another, but are keeping an open mind. But all the atheists here are not saying that, they are claiming they know for a certainty that psychic abilities don’t exist.

    So atheists, at least of the militant, fundamentalist variety, clearly don’t know how science works. What we do see in the responses to this article is not a defence of science, but a defence of closed minded, dogmatic thinking, by some guys who are obviously working out some childhood issues and terrified of having their dogma questioned.

  • Falkenna

    kyuss, as an open-minded reader of the best research I can find and its critics – over the course of half a century – I have not been 100% convinced, and yet react to the mention of James Randi with a similar level of smirk and dismissal as the mention of Uri Geller. It doesn’t matter which side of the fence a fraud and charlatan is on, he’s still a fraud and a charlatan. It would up your credibility to leave him out of your discussions.

  • kyuss

    If you can’t trust the NIH or CIA as reputable sources, I don’t actually know what we have left to discuss.

    The actual studies themselves are left to discuss. The sentence of yours that I quoted is an appeal to authority, which is a logical fallacy. it doesn’t matter one whit what group or organization funded the research, the importance is in the methodology of the study. Since you can’t seem to grasp this basic fact, I will again advance the argument that you don’t know jack shit about rationality, logic or argumentation.

    so let’s start with this

    This appears to be a really bad meta-analysis of some newspaper reports. A quote from the “paper” itself: “Telephone contact was made with officers at 11 police agencies which had reportedly used psychics with some success. The newspaper articles referenced cases throughout the United States and concentrated and concentrated on the work of four psychics.” You actually think I should take a “study” of self reported data with a sample size of 11 as evidence that psychic powerz are real?

    I’m finished with this nonsense.

  • kyuss

    It would up your credibility to leave him out of your discussions.

    Why? Because you don’t like him? Why should I give you, some rando internet chick, more credibility than Randi? Provide some evidence that he’s got the same amount of credibility as Uri Geller or else you’re simply making an appeal to authority – the authority of some random internet “skeptic” who’s real name I don’t even know. You’ve gotta give me more than “Randi’s not credible because I say so”. I thought you knew how skepticism and evidence worked?

  • kyuss

    why would Randi waste his time with every delusional idiot who thinks they have magic powerz? Randi tested hundreds, probably over a thousand, people who claimed to have magic powerz and none of them came even remotely close to claiming the reward.

    You idiots are really no different then young earth creationists; completely unable to proffer any evidence, you try and fight your battles with shitty rhetoric and terrible “scientific” studies.

    I’d be much more impressed if someone could use their magic powerz to somehow affect me in real life. I won’t be holding my breath.

  • Falkenna

    No, because he is known far and wide as a rabid dog who would fake any information to maintain his view of the universe, no matter what kind of evidence ever surfaced. But if you only want to preach to your choir and rubbish other people, then it doesn’t matter whether you have any credibility, does it?

  • kyuss

    he is known far and wide as a rabid dog who would fake any information

    bullshit. links or you’re lying.

  • Falkenna

    There was life before the internet, kyuss. I haven’t bothered with James Randi for the last 30 years and shouldn’t have started now. I haven’t even bothered with the links someone else has already given you dissecting his methods, and presumably neither have you.
    One thing I have often thought, which may be food for thought for some of the others here, but I doubt for you, is that by their nature, especially if you look at some of the anecdotal incidents which are anomalous to the person who experienced them, psychic events are by their nature not generally repeatable. It’s a bit like asking the man who lifts a car to save the driver’s life to do so in a laboratory. Thus we may never be able to settle this.

    Please note, this is not a “convenient” suggestion – I would much rather it could be proven – but I am inclined to be open to the thousands and thousands of witnesses, rather than basing my opinion *solely* on the idea that we know everything about how the universe works and, a priori, there is nothing left to discover. (Biophotons are an interesting new line of research, by the way.)

  • kyuss

    it would have been a lot easier to type “because i say so”. I’m done with you. You’re so open minded, that your brain fell out long ago. Psychic powerz aren’t real. “magick” isn’t real. grow up.

  • Falkenna

    As I said, I do follow (to some degree; I have a life) good solid research and critiques. Just not James Randi. Or anybody else whose agenda is so obviously clouding their brain that nothing is to be gained from them. Like you,

  • Adam

    Ah I see. When you refuse to even read things by certain authors out of hand because you don’t see them as having any authority in the field, it’s justified, whereas when I defend the legitimacy of my sources, it’s a fallacious appeal. Fascinating. Bye then.

  • Dream0fSkye

    That is a positive claim. So the burden of proof is on you to prove that psychic powers don’t exist. Have fun.

  • Dream0fSkye

    Right? Its like no matter what belief or non-belief, they all act the same way with the same damn tribalism.

  • Kitti McConnell

    The evidence she would have is private information that belongs to her clients.

  • Kitti McConnell

    Scientific testing of psychics would not be like testing chemistry or physics. If spirits are real, then they are acting according to their own will, and they have an agenda. They would not respond consistently, the way that an element or force of nature will. A spirit would respond if they found it necessary. I doubt any spirit finds it necessary to have its existence proven.

  • kyuss

    and you know this, how? it doesn’t really matter why you’re making this unevidenced assertion because it’s bullshit. if “spirits” are real and capable of interacting with the material world, they would have to do so in a detectable manner. and why shouldn’t “spirits” who are capable of interacting with the material world follow the laws of physics?

  • knw

    Kitti, while I entirely respect the right to privacy of her clients, this has zero impact on her ability to write a factual essay with anonymous evidence. She just didn’t try to write a factual essay (because, of course, it’s impossible to support her claims with any facts).