You have to give Sue Nicholson credit. The self-proclaimed “international psychic medium” may be greeted with legions of fans interested in getting “answers from the other side” when she kicks off her national tour at $58 a ticket this weekend.
But when she entered a lecture theatre at Victoria University last weekend to close day one of the New Zealand Skeptics’ Society annual conference, she was walking into the lion’s den – and she knew it.
Listen to Susan Nicholson’s talk at the 2013 NZ Skeptics Conference:
“I was told by many people not to come here. And I said ‘why not?”
“I believe in healthy discussion, and we all have our opinions and that’s great. I’m not here to prove anything. I’m not here to convince you. We all have our thoughts, we all have our ideas and that’s how the world goes around.”
And with that confident start, Nicholson delved back into her past, to growing up in England, her first vision of a dead person aged four, her sister’s near death experience which Sue sensed, the hide and seek games where she was able to “see” where everyone was hiding, a lonely childhood where the other children thought her a bit strange.
“I didn’t come out of this spiritual closet for some time,” said Nicholson, describing run-ins with family and the Church as people refused to accept her claims to possess psychic powers and turned away from her.
“My brother and sister don’t have anything to do with me, whatsoever.”
If Nicholson had carried on in this vein, explaining the downside of having amazing powers of observation, she may had won some sympathy – in the same way we show compassion for someone losing their mind to dementia.
But after about 15 minutes of talking Nicholson abruptly stopped and opened up for questions. Bad move. The gathered skeptics wanted technical details and were ready with questions that teased out the, to put it politely, pseudoscientific views Nicholson holds. It wasn’t long before the positive energy in the room, which Sue picked up before starting her talk, drained from Rutherford House entirely.
The following exchange characterises the discussion that followed:
Skeptic: You could humiliate us skeptics by accepting one of our challenges and demonstrating that actually you do have these powers. Would you agree to be tested?
Nicholson: How about showing me what you skeptics can do? Why can’t we have someone who is a skeptic go and do the test? I might do it I might not. The thing is, I don’t have to prove myself to anyone.
Nicholson, despite her second sight, didn’t seem to understand she was in a room full of people who view the world through a filter of scientific evidence. If you can’t show us the evidence to back up your claims you have lost the argument. The fact she has worked on 14 criminal cases as part of the Sensing Murder TV show and can’t prove a single case was solved thanks to her input, didn’t seem to need any explaining.
It got wackier as Nicholson went on, culminating in her urging us to visit Egypt (but not right now), so we could see for ourselves that human beings could not possibly have constructed the pyramids.
It was all fairly civil and entertaining, but also very sad. In the pub afterwards we discussed whether Nicholson actually believes what she is peddling. Most of the gathered skeptics thought that she was indeed genuine in her beliefs, delusional as they are.
Given her lack of interest in answering her critics I can only come to the same conclusion. This isn’t a psychic who has studied the skeptics’ arguments, looked for loopholes, rehearsed the canned responses when confronted with the overwhelming evidence against her.
At one stage a skeptic asked a very good question Nicholson also had no response to: “I am bi-polar. I hear voices. How am I any different to you?”
Nicholson doesn’t have any answers and doesn’t care. She has nothing to prove. Her success is measured in how many bookings she gets for house blessings, the number of email counseling sessions she has lined up and how many seats she sells on her national tour. It isn’t measured by how many cases she solves, the successful cold readings she does or the number of skeptics she humiliates.
If it was, this psychic would be out of business.