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Sunday, September 27, 2015

Polly wants a psychic reading?

Yep, I fell off the wagon again. I know it's been a bit since the last post, and I'm going to promise no more promises about keep a regular publishing schedule. My life is currently too chaotic for such promises, and I really hate breaking my word. So, I will put out new material as often as I can.

Today, I'm wanting to discuss a really niche area of pseudoscience that manages to combine a lot of New Age ideas with the medium and spiritualism. And they use the same tactics that most psychics and mediums use combined with the love most people have for their pets. Yep, that's right.

Animal Communicators

Animal communicators are a special breed of Woo peddlers. These are people that claim they are able to talk to animals, sort of like Dr. Doolittle. They "help" find missing animals, "treat" illnesses, offer counseling and speak to the dead, much like psychics and mediums. I'm going to speak in generalities, and not get too in depth. Every communicator is different, and they all have their own twists on what they do.

Tactics:
Animal communicators tend to use a lot of the same tactics as the psychic crowd, such as cold reading, hot reading, blatant information gathering, and so on. Quite a few also advertise themselves as animal psychics. Most of the time, these people will visit the owner in the owners house. They can normally gain a lot of information just by being there. The sort of person that would utilize an animal communicator is the same type that will have many pictures of their pets on the wall, on tables, etc. Just by looking at the pictures, the A.C. gain get a rough idea of how long they've had the animal, activities they do with it, and places that the animal has been. They will begin to make a series of broad statements about the animal, in the hopes of narrowing down the field until they can piece together a story. These are decent multipurpose methods that work in a variety of circumstances. Combine the "reading" with the fact that people are more apt to remember the hits and forget the misses, and you have a fairly convincing psychic event.

Personal note: I am currently writing another entry on psychics, so a lot of the tricks of the trade will be discussed more thoroughly in that post.

Lost Animals:
Often, Animal Communicators will be hired to help find a lost animal. People that are desperate to find a lost pet are often frustrated that the police or animal welfare don't seem to be doing much for their case. Unfortunately, these groups are often under staffed and have so many more critical calls that lost animals are often disregarded. So, they turn to anyone they think can help. In comes the Animal Communicator. Much like psychics that claim they help the police to find lost and missing people, the A.C. will make some broad statements that could apply to a lot of animals. However, they do have an advantage in this line of work, especially if they are actually familiar with animal behavior. Unlike most people, animals are creatures of instinct and habit. Some of the most common reasons an animal runs off is due to a female in heat nearby, a smaller animal running by, an unfamiliar animal in the area, a change in the owners habits, or even moving to a new location. Also, many animals are scared by loud noises, so the Fourth of July, New Years Eve, or any other holiday involving fireworks can spook them. So can a particularly loud thunderstorm. The A.C. will then extrapolate possible locations the animal might have gone, and make relatively vague references to them. If the customers are able to find the animal, then it's a win. If they can't, it's still a win for the A.C. because they can simply say the animal has moved on, found a new family, or has left their area of influence.

Dead Animals:
Much like psychics that deal with humans only, some of the A.C.s are basically emotional vampires. A person that has lost a beloved pet will go to a pet psychic for closure. They will often go to the owners house. Like I said earlier, the type of person that would seek out this type of service will often have a lot of pictures of them and their pet. The A.C. can use the images, and any other information they can glean from the owner to weave into a very pleasing narrative about heaven, a rainbow bridge, and any other platitudes that will make the customer happy. Once again, they operate much like other psychics, except they are talking to Fluffy instead of Aunt Frannie.

Sick Animals or Poor Behavior:
Often, when animals are ill, they will have behavior changes. If an A.C. is consulted, they will often come to the home and perform a reading on the animal, or they'll offer to do one over the phone. Or you can bring them a picture or something that belongs to the animal. They often start with something along the lines of "Spot is unhappy" Then, using many of the different cold reading tricks, they will then proceed to diagnose the animal. They may say that something doesn't feel right, or that the animal is acting out because of something the owner has or hasn't done. They may prescribe taking the animal to a vet, or an alt med practitioner. They may also suggest changing the furniture around, taking the animal for walks, changing the diet, or other common fixes for behavior problems. Once again, if it works, then it's a win. If it doesn't, then the communicator will invent another problem. Or say that they have fixed the problem, just on a spiritual level, or some other unfalsifiable claim. They also take advantage of the Clever Hans Effect and a form of the Placebo Effect. The Clever Hans Effect is where the animal is reacting to cues that the owner is unaware they are making. I have written more on this in my Homeopathy and the Hound post. The form of the Placebo Effect is where the owners either believe that the animal is feeling or acting better, or they feel better for trying to help. Either way, they are neglecting the fact that illness and behaviors wax and wane. So, after a visit from one of these animal psychics, the problem may naturally improve, at least for a while.

Other Aspects:
There are a lot of similarities between the various animal communicators and psychics. During the course of the reading, many of them will describe what the animals "voice" sounds like, i.e. gruff, high pitched, elegant, deep, and so on. They may also describe the animal as having an accent. They also charge quite a bit for their services. I have seen prices ranging from $100-$1200 for a single appointment. They also very rarely say anything negative. There is never "Tiger says it's hot and he's being bitten by dogs" or "Rex is acting up because he really doesn't like you" or a discussion of the owners personal habits.They are always able to spin a relatively happy tale for the customer. There really isn't a lot of difference between animal communicators and other psychics. The only major difference is that the subject of the reading can't say whether they are correct or not.

There is absolutely no evidence that there is any form of psychic abilities, so it is very doubtful that these people are capable of performing the feats that they are claiming. There may be people that think they can hear animals speaking to them and choose to try and help the animals. They more than likely have a psychological issue, rather than a psychic ability. Most people that claim they can speak to animals are just exploiting a very unique market to make some money. I personally feel that anyone that claims to be able to communicate with your animals, living or dead, is just a fraud out to make a buck.

Until next time, Be Good, Be Skeptical, and Be sure to remember the milk.

The Skeptical Okie

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