A Little Sting in Your Coffey?
|October 2, 2014||Posted by Jim Preston under Skeptical Activism|
If you find yourself wondering what the heck this has to do with a skeptic success, you can skip down to the end, but if you don’t already know what this is about it might be more fun to read it through from here.
I sat in the back of a medium-sized hotel conference room. Along with about 120 other people, I was there to see Chip Coffey, a psychic and medium. The first hour of the evening would be for audience members to ask Chip any questions they might have. One of the questioners was a man in a bright green shirt, who’s name was Wade, who said that he has never been able to wear a watch, they always stop when they’re on his wrist. And recently he was at the airport and when he got near the metal detector it just stopped working. A friend of his told me that he has an evil spirit following him or in him. Chip’s response was that his dad couldn’t wear a watch either. He’d had a watch on in the hospital when he died and the moment he died the watch stopped. And that he had a friend who, when she walked into a room, often the TV would turn on or turn off. It was something about her electromagnetic field that would disrupt the television signal. Eventually getting back to the questioner, Chip made vague references to an aura or something, he can’t explain it but something’s happening.
The second hour of the evening was for Chip to do readings on people in the audience, and contact their dead loved ones. After reading a few people, Chip said he was going to do a “hop, skip, and a jump” indicating an area of the audience near the front. In his preface to this part, he had told us that a “hop, skip, and a jump” was when he got into contact with multiple spirits for multiple audience members at the same time. He said there was an older woman bringing through a child. After asking several puzzled audience members about a woman bringing through a child, maybe guiding a child who was reluctant to come through, Wade volunteered that he was there about his mother. Chip asked how long ago she passed and what her name was, then said that she was “Auntie Mame”, Rosalind Russell (“not Lucille Ball, we should forget that she made that movie”); she encourages everybody to reach their full potential; she would be the ringleader that said, “Come on people let’s go do this”; amazing woman. Chip said he heard music around her, and asked Wade if she was always singing or humming, and Wade nodded enthusiastically. Chip asked Wade if he was in the arts, and when the answer was “no”, immediately responded, “Should you be?” Wade’s response was, “I don’t know, you tell me.” Chip said that he (Wade) knew a lot about musical theater and the arts, to which Wade agreed. Chip said that Wades’ mother was telling him to “sing out, Louise!” (A line from the musical Gypsy); she wants Wade to stop making excuses; she adores him; she calls him “My love”. Is that how she would refer to you? Wade agreed, said she called everyone “Love”.
Chip moved on, addressing the woman sitting next to Wade, he asked her her name. The woman said her name was Suzanna. And the child’s name is? Matthew, Suzanna said, he died twenty years ago. Chip said it was quick; Suzanna agreed. Chip said he’s supposed to tell her that it didn’t hurt. Suzanna sobbed. There’s a thing with his feet, Chip said, his feet always moving. Suzanna said that he was always running into the street, that’s how he died, it was hard to contain him, he was always a busy little boy. Out of nowhere Chip said that Suzanna had restless leg syndrome, to which she hesitantly agreed. “I’m psychic and shit”, Chip said, to which the audience laughed. Getting serious again, Chip told her that she had a little shrine. Suzanna agreed, she had pictures. Chip told her that she was worried that he wouldn’t be there when she got there, but that it was ok, Matthew had a plan. Suzanna was relieved but also somewhat surprised; he was only three when he died. Chip responded, “But how old was his soul?”
“Who’s gonna help?” Chip asked a couple of times until Suzanna indicated the woman next to her. “9/11”, Chip said, to which the woman agreed. Did it hurt? Chip asked, then answered himself immediately, yeah it hurt a bit but screw this I’m outa here. What’s the person’s name? he asked the woman pointedly, is it a man? The woman (Jan) said it was her sister, Linda. Chip slid easily to saying that she was brought through with a man, Aaron. Chip segued right into a story of going to the site of the Twin Towers a few months after 9/11 with a woman who had lost her husband in the collapse. While they were there, a man came through and told them “we’re good”. It was, of course, Aaron. And Aaron had brought Jan’s sister through. After a pause, Chip said that he heard her with music, rockin’ with music. Jan replied that she liked oldies. The Beatles, Chip said. We liked The Beatles, Jan said. Listen to The Beatles, Chip told her. “Lady Madonna”, just rock out to “Lady Madonna”. Say “This one’s for you, Linda”. I’m getting “I love you”, Chip added. I’m getting a lot of “I love you”s.
Then Chip asked that the microphone be passed to a woman sitting behind Jan.
So what does this have to do with skeptic success? Neither Wade nor Jan nor Suzanna were who they said they were. Wade and Suzanna were not their real names (Jan’s real name is Jan) Wade is really Sheldon, Suzanna is really Susan. None of their loved ones were actually dead. Sheldon’s mother is alive and well. Jan’s sister was not at the Twin Towers on 9/11. Susan’s son (whose name isn’t really Matthew), alive and in his twenties, was sitting next to me in the back of the room the whole time. It was all a sting, organized by Susan, who is Susan Gerbic of The Guerilla Skeptics on Wikipedia. Chip Coffey the psychic very seriously told these three people about, and gave them messages from, dead people who weren’t dead, and expanded on backgrounds that were entirely fictional.
A believer in psychic powers could easily see the above (or read about it) and be amazed. How could Chip know that Wade’s mother was like Auntie Mame and called him “My Love”? How could he know that Suzanna had a dead child who died running into the street? How could he know that Jan was there for someone who died on 9/11 and loved The Beatles?
The skeptical view is somewhat different. Even without knowing that the dead loved ones were fictitious, What Chip said could be explained as someone simply good at reading people, who is adept at following up when he gets agreement and deft at sidestepping when he doesn’t. Wade, as I said, was wearing a bright green shirt and while he did not act in a particularly stereotypically gay way, it didn’t take astute powers of observation to conclude, after interacting with him for a short time, that he likely was gay. Especially for someone like Chip who is himself gay. From there, saying that his mother was an “Auntie Mame” type isn’t much of a stretch. I deliberately left out an important detail about Suzanna: She had with her two 5×7 photos of a three-year old boy (pictures of her real son at that age), which she made sure that Chip could see throughout the evening. So it would not be hard to guess that she was there about a child. And what three-year old does NOT have feet always moving? Chip offered “9/11” with no prompting. But another part of the story I didn’t tell was that the three of them made a point of talking, not quietly, with the people around them before the show started, about their “dead” loved ones, how they died, etc. Chip or one of this assistants could have easily overheard that. As for the music, who doesn’t have music in their lives somewhere? Jan was a close-to-middle-aged woman dressed in a somewhat eclectic fashion. And she volunteered “oldies” after the music prompt. The Beatles would almost certainly among the listening choices of that person.
Also, notice what Chip got wrong. For Jan, he asked if it was a man when in fact it was her sister. For Suzanna, although she agreed with the restless leg syndrome, Susan does not have it. And for Wade, he was not in the arts (neither is Sheldon), but it would seem likely, given what anyone could see about him.
As a good skeptic, I cannot rule out the possibility that Chip Coffey is psychic. But the evidence that I saw that evening indicates pretty strongly otherwise. He did not call out the three frauds, he gave every indication that he was in contact with their dead loved ones who were not dead.
I would call “Operation Bumblebee” (code name for this sting) a resounding success.