Cold Reading and The Wizard of Oz

March 31, 2010

I just pulled out Wizard of Oz from the vaults of the library and viewed it on my home projector. It really holds up after all this time, especially the switch from sepia tone to full color.

The movie, as many know, is based on the 1900 book by Frank L. Baum, but there are some significant differences. For instance, you may not know that the wizard in the book is meant to be her uncle, Henry Gale. This is far different than the movie version, which introduces the wizard’s  counterpart as a traveling con man named Professor Marvel.

Professor Marvel takes one look at Dorothy and performs a cold reading…


Well, well, well — house guests, huh? And who might you be? No, no — now don’t tell me. Let’s see — you’re — you’re travelling in disguise. No, that’s not right. I — you’re–  you’re going on a visit. No, I’m wrong.

That’s… You’re — running away.

How did you guess?

Professor Marvel never guesses — he knows!

Now, why are you running away?

Why –

No, no — now don’t tell me. They — they don’t understand you at home. They don’t
appreciate you. You want to see other lands — big cities — big mountains — big oceans –

Why, it’s just like you could read what was inside of me.

Dorothy forgets the misses and remembers the hit, a classic sign that she’s being duped by a cold reader. Professor Marvel sees how vulnerable she is, an easy mark, and he brings her into his trailer to con her some more with a “psychic reading”.

Dorothy is so desperate that she asks this huckster if she can join him. Here we see that this guy really does have a heart; he, like the wizard, ultimately just wants to help Dorothy get home. So, Professor Marvel peers into his little crystal ball, and convinces Dorothy to go home, that her Aunt is in danger. Of course, he also roots around her basket, looking for something that will help him seem clairvoyant. He finds a picture of her aunt and uncle and takes his best shot…


Yes, there’s — there’s a woman — she’s… she’s wearing a polka-dot dress… her face is careworn.

Yes…That’s Aunt Em.

Her — her name is Emily.

That’s right. What’s she doing?

You see how she did that? She just provides Professor Marvel important information that he uses to make himself seem psychic. Watch how she does it again…

Well, she’s – she’s going into a little bedroom

Has it poppies on the wall paper?

I said it had poppies on the wall paper! Eh — she’s — What’s this? Why, she’s –
she’s putting her hand on her heart — she’s — she’s dropping down on the….

When Dorothy goes to Oz, she finds a land of people who have faith in this mysterious wizard, but Dorothy only finds a simple ordinary man behind the curtain. People have tried to find meaning in everything from Toto to the Tinman, but the moral of the deceptive all-powerful wizard comes across as a hidden message of atheism and skepticism.

Do not arouse the wrath of the Great and Powerful Oz! I said — come back tomorrow!

It’s kind of hard to make my point when the movie is full of witches, flying monkeys, talking scarecrows, and cities made of emerald. But, we should remember that the entire premise of the movie is that her adventure was a fantastical dream. There’s no indication that her fantasy was real.

The lion, the scarecrow, and the tin man are given psychological placebos by the old wizard, and they happily gulp it up. Having a diploma doesn’t make you wise, having a medal doesn’t make you brave, having testimonials doesn’t mean you have a heart. These characters are learning that true virtue comes from within, even if the lesson is deceitful in nature. Dorothy herself learns that she never required divine intervention. Instead, she discovers that she’s had the power all along – she didn’t need a god or wizard to save her. And why didn’t Glinda just tell her in the first place? In the spirit of freethought…

Because she wouldn’t have believed me. She had to learn it for herself.

Jaycee Dugard & The Missing Child Psychic

September 1, 2009

I haven’t been paying too much attention to the news about kidnap victim Jaycee Dugard because I’ve been so busy lately, but I did allow myself an hour to take in her horror story. This might sound macabre, but I used Google Earth to zoom in on her backyard prison out of curiosity, and perhaps a need to put her kidnapping in reference. I sat there looking at this image of an encampment of blue tarp and it made me want to break through time and space and shout at her Antioch neighbors to save her.

There’s not a moral human alive who wouldn’t have tried to do their best to save her and the children she had while she was trapped in that backyard. That’s why it’s so infuriating to hear another “psychic” detective named Dayle Schear bragging about how she got it right so many years ago when she promised Jaycee’s mom that her daughter would return. I may not be Dionne Warwick, but it doesn’t take a psychic to figure out that “psychic” detectives are blatant liars manipulating people at their most vulnerable.

Not one non-fictional “psychic” detective has offered any clue that has saved a kidnapped child, led police to a murdered body, or solved a crime. At the rate they are going, if one happened to solve a crime, I would chalk it up to the law of averages or as a very good reason to add the “psychic” to the top of the list of suspects.

In any case, Skeptical Enquirer editor, Benjamin Radford, wrote an article for LiveScience about this topic that was featured on Yahoo News today. His best quote:

If Shear’s psychic powers told her that this poor girl was being kept in the most horrific conditions – being subjected to continual sexual and physical abuse for nearly two decades – then it’s puzzling that Jaycee was not found 18 years ago.

Well said, sir. Well said.

The Dangers of Blind Belief!

June 20, 2008


I’m sure that this will be an ongoing series as this blog continues.  There are always examples in the news of people blindly believing in their pet woo, whether that be The Secret, religious prayer, or fortune telling arcade machines that grant wishes.  I’m sad to bring you these latest examples of stupid people believing stupid things.

PRAYER – An Oregon teen died of a urinary tract infection because his parents declined medical treatment for religious reasons.  He’s a member of a church called Followers of Christ, who believe that God’s plan is for them to die a slow and agonizing death at a young age.  Instead of going to the hospital and solving the problem by simply inserting a catheter, Neil Beagley’s parents decided to hold a prayer meeting.  According to Oregon law, he’s old enough that his parents won’t be prosecuted.  His aunt and uncle aren’t so lucky.  They’ll be tried for manslaughter of Neil’s cousin Ava, who died of religious stupidity… I mean, a bronchial infection.

PSYCHICS – Colleen Leduc’s 11-year old autistic daughter Victoria was flagged for sexual abuse by the girl’s school.  And who was pointing the finger?  A teacher’s assistant whose psychic predicted that a girl in the teacher’s class who had a name that begins with “V” was being molested by a man between the ages of 23 and 26.  WHAT???  The beauty of the situation is that Colleen had proof that her daughter wasn’t molested as the psychic claimed.  Her daughter, who had been lost by the school on a few occasions, was equipped with a GPS tracking unit that records audio 24/7.  I don’t want to pull a Valerie Plame on Colleen Leduc, but I think I know which “company” she is working for (jk…I think).


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