Predictably vague

The shoreline of Lake Michigan did not collapse in an earthquake. The Great Lakes State did not team up with its northern neighbors to secede from the union. Marijuana did not replace petroleum as the nation’s chief source of energy, and a terrorist blast did not obliterate the Statute of Liberty’s arms.

The psychics were wrong.

The track records of most psychics, including those in Michigan, are difficult to prove because few of their predictions are clearly documented. The exceptions are tabloid psychics.

For more than two decades, science writer Gene Emery has been tracking the sometimes scary, sometimes silly predictions of newspaper psychics. As he looked back at their forecasts for the end of the ‘90s, he found a number of cases where real-life events unfolded contrary to what those psychics said. For example:

Wynonna Judd did not leave country music to become a wrestler.

Candice Bergen, Mary Tyler Moore and Margot Kidder did not replace the cast of "60 Minutes."

Roseanne Barr did not strip for a week of talk shows from a nudist colony.

Soviet cosmonauts did not discover an abandoned alien space station with the bodies of extraterrestrials aboard.

The first successful human brain transplant was not performed.

Public water supplies were not treated with chemicals to prevent AIDS.

American voters were not allowed to cast their ballots via Touch-Tone phones.

Elisabeth Dietz, who is described by the Sun newspaper as one of the "10 greatest psychics on earth," predicted that before the calendar flipped to 2000, we would see earthquake tremors "so strong they ring church bells in Boston and the shoreline of Lake Michigan collapses, bringing flood and destruction."

In the March 26, 1991 issue of the Weekly World News, psychic Sophia Sabak predicted "a new American Civil War erupts in 1999 when radical elements in Montana, Washington, North Dakota, Minnesota, Idaho, Wisconsin and Michigan attempt to secede from the union. The ensuing war will last less than a week, and this time with the South victorious."

Emery, a reporter at the Providence (R.I.) Journal, is a regular contributor to the Skeptical Inquirer, the bimonthly "magazine for science and reason" published by the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP). Before his death, astronomer Carl Sagan was one of CSICOP’s best-known members.

Despite the plainly ludicrous aspects of some failed predictions, Emery says tracking psychic hits and misses has a serious side.

"Every time the media hypes psychics, it encourages consumers to waste large amounts of money calling psychic hotlines. Most can ill afford it. It also encourages some police departments to listen to psychics who claim to be able to solve crimes," Emery says.

"Not only do ‘psychic detectives’ waste valuable police resources, the psychics sometimes implicate people who later turn out to be innocent."

Emery says people tend to overlook how ambivalent the forecasts can be. Tabloid psychic Sylvia Brown, for example, predicted for 1999 that "the Pope will become ill and could die."

"That means she can claim success if the Pope suffers anything from a head cold to a fatal heart attack," says Emery, pointing out Brown’s failed 1999 predictions of cures for breast cancer and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.

She was accurate, however, when she said "the world will not end anytime soon."

Emery marvels over not just what the psychics mis-predicted, but what they failed to foresee. None of the tabloid soothsayers mentioned last year’s earthquakes in Turkey and Taiwan, the nuclear accident in Japan or the death of John F. Kennedy Jr., his wife and sister-in-law.

Instead, Anthony Carr, whom the National Enquirer calls the "world’s most documented psychic," predicted Carolyn Bessette Kennedy would give birth to healthy twins.

And Sanjiv Mishra of India, described by the Sun as one of the 10 "greatest psychics on earth," forecast JFK Jr. would fly "on a space shuttle mission in August" with John Glenn as his co-pilot.

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