Skeptic receives death threat over piece critical of “psychic” Caputo

Skeptical researcher and writer, Dr. Karen Stollznow, received a death threat in a card that referenced a blog post about the Long Island Medium, Theresa Caputo.

She announced this via Facebook post.

The post critical of Caputo and her show on TLC network appeared on the Swift Blog of the James Randi Educational Foundation.

Caputo is celebrated for confronting and converting the skeptics. During a live interview for Long Island radio station KJOY, a line of eight “skeptics” are pitted against her. Visibly stressed at first she asks the group, “Who lost a sister?” A woman acknowledges this question, and the medium quickly finds her stride, achieving perceived “hits” with her staple “validations” about clothing and personal letters. Caputo had emotionally disarmed the woman who was taken in by what a real skeptic would readily recognize as a classic cold reading. Skilful editing seems to have ironed out any misses and genuine skeptics.

Dr. Karen Stollznow

The piece in question is mild compared to critiques of Caputo available all over the web and accuses her of nothing but what psychics and TV personalities do: act the part. The post has received about 90,000 views according to the site counter.

There is no suggestion that Caputo is at all involved in this threat. The card was not mailed to Dr. Stollznow’s home address but via an “in care of” address related to Bay Area Skeptics.

Death threats through the mail are a federal offense and Dr. Stollznow stated she is reporting this to authorities. Critical writers are no stranger to threats of all sorts – they sort of come with the territory. Threats of Libel, bodily and financial harm, defamation suits, contacting employers in attempts to terminate lawsuits, the desperate believers will go far to attempt to stop the discrediting of their devotion.

It takes courage to question and doubt the popular and powerful. But it’s absolutely necessary.

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  32 comments for “Skeptic receives death threat over piece critical of “psychic” Caputo

  1. October 21, 2012 at 7:20 PM

    Hey, that’s amazing! I’m a skeptic and I lost a sister – and I wasn’t even there! How did she know? Obviously this one is a real genuine psychic, not one of those cynical cold-reading scammers.

    Oh, wait…

  2. Bob
    October 21, 2012 at 10:37 PM

    I’m having a seethe.

  3. Kitty
    October 22, 2012 at 1:24 AM

    You know, being a skeptic is indeed dangerous at times. This woman, and her family, make a very good living indeed by preying on grief. Morally, it doesn’t get much lower. “Oh hi, yeah I can contact your dead child, and here is what I charge per minute….”

    Karen, thank you for helping expose this sorry excuse of a human being.

    The fact that she or a follower sent you this card, in a sad sad parody of some sort of Mafia threat or warning, shows the level of “spirituality” these creeps have.

  4. Peter Robinson
    October 22, 2012 at 3:02 AM

    Maybe time for a STOP THERESA CAPUTO website a la STOP SYLVIA BROWNE?

    If you haven’t seen it already check out piece on Skepticblog highlighting Caputo exploiting a young boy whose father died. Sick and despicable in the extreme!

    http://www.skepticblog.org/2012/10/16/had-enough-yet/

    [Edited. Do not use the “f” word and I don’t mean the swear one… ]

    The Discovery TV network which runs TLC claims to be the leading non fiction network, while they merrily host Caputo. Tell Discovery Network what you think of this:

    http://corporate.discovery.com/contact/viewer-relations/

    or write to the Mythbusters asking them to Mythbust so called ‘psychics’ or at least to tell their colleagues at Discovery what they think of Caputo at:

    adam@adamsavage.com
    jamie@m5industries.com

    • One Eyed Jack
      October 22, 2012 at 11:24 AM

      While Adam and Jamie may have personal positions different from the show, Mythbusters actively avoids confronting religious, paranormal, and psychic myths. The show may occasionally confront a few new age myths like energy pyramids, but they will never make a serious effort to bust more popular woo.

      While the official line is that such myths are difficult to test, I suspect it has more to do with the network’s fear of alienating viewers. In the end, it’s all about the benjamins.

      • Peter Robinson
        October 22, 2012 at 12:18 PM

        Sure you are right, but no harm in applying some pressure where possible.

    • October 22, 2012 at 12:53 PM

      Mythbusters won’t touch such things as mentioned. So to contact them is pointless.

      It does not hurt to tell TLC/Discovery that you find this show nauseating. But the post is not about that, actually. It’s about receiving threats for critical review.

      • Peter Robinson
        October 22, 2012 at 3:04 PM

        I did contact Discovery as well, but it is not pointless putting pressure on people who might have some influence within the Discovery network, and perhaps embarrassing them that they share a network with such baloney.

        Of course, the post may be about a death threat. But the underlying issue is Caputo and her like who get the oxygen of publicity via a TV network.

        Having received threats on another matter myself, I entirely empathise with Dr Stollznow. One hopes it is an empty threat of course.

  5. Daleks
    October 22, 2012 at 5:47 AM

    Three hundred years ago, Voltaire said it best:
    “Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.”

    Seems it’s as true of so-called psychics as it is of religious nuts.

  6. John Davis
    October 22, 2012 at 12:02 PM

    I have seen three mediums in two different countries in the last year (this is my first experience dealing with mediums), and without knowing anything about me or asking me any questions – they were able to tell me details about deceased persons close to me.

    The information included last names of the people who were coming through – sayings these deceased people used while they were alive, accurate details about their mannerisms and body language (the way that granddad used to lean against walls and casually swing his keys in his hand), and details about important issues I had been contemplating in the recent months.

    I don’t know how these people could obtain this information on me and my deceased loves one when they know nothing about me and I have said nothing before the reading began. As well I refrained from vocalising any details or asking any questions to the medium. I asked for a cold reading, I did not ask any questions.

    Very very interesting – you should try it yourselves and see ‘what happens’ – you may be as surprised as I was!

    • Peter Robinson
      October 22, 2012 at 12:14 PM

      Dear John, It is impossible to comment in depth o your experiences with ‘mediums’ unless you have full recordings of the readings or transcripts of exactly what was said.

      However, a couple of thoughts. First, did you book ahead and provide any details such as name and address? It is incredible how much can be discovered about you and your family via the internet. Where did you find these ‘mediums’? Were they perhaps recommended to you by friends? Are you prepared to name them?

      The usual technique is simply cold reading where the medium throws out lots of guesses and works on getting a percentage of hits. It is entirely normal for the sitter to remember only the hits and not the usual far larger number of misses.

      It may be worth noting that so called ‘mediums’ rarely if ever agree to testing under reasonable controlled conditions. When they do and inevitably fail then they make excuses post-testing.

      However, if you are convinced these ‘mediums’ are the real deal then please do inform them of the JREF Million Dollar Challenge (see randi.org) and urge them to undertake proper testing.

      • Daleks
        October 22, 2012 at 3:52 PM

        Newspaper headline I’ve never seen: “Psychic Wins Lottery!”

      • John Davis
        October 23, 2012 at 12:15 PM

        A lot can be said about James Randi – see The Myth of James Randi’s Million Dollar Challenge:

        http://dailygrail.com/features/the-myth-of-james-randis-million-dollar-challenge

        It’s a good thing to be skeptical, I agree!

        Mediums and psychics should be investigated forensically – looking at the evidence and nothing else.

        There are a lot of factors which play into testing psychic phenomenon which have been discovered by researchers in the last 40 years, which must be discussed.

        For example, most people think that psychics and mediums should be able to know what symbol is on a card (The Zener Card Tests), or what numbers appear in tonight’s lottery draw – both analytical tasks.

        It’s been discovered by researcher Russell Targ that the mind is unable to receive analytical data, but can extremely easily receive non-analytical data (shapes, colors, smells, textures, motion, etc…) – See:

        Russell Targ: Miracles of Mind (excerpt) — A Thinking Allowed DVD w/ Jeffrey Mishlove
        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mHyVbYz16DM

        Any and all tests of psychic function should be geared toward non-analytical targets, otherwise they are bound to fail.

        The targets should ALWAYS be double blind – Zener Cards tests are inherently flawed because your brain knows that there are five symbols to choose from before going into the test – therefore psychic functioning cannot work for most.

        The dominate analytical mind takes over. The analytical mind will always guess and present it’s information first, over non-analytic data which is being received psychically.

        This is called analytic overlay, and it’s one of the biggest challenges to researchers and their subjects.

        These discoveries have lead the creation of a very simple, easy to test (you could do it today in less than a couple hours) protocol called Remote Viewing.

        The Remote Viewing protocol was developed by Russell Targ and Harold Puthoff at Stanford University’s Stanford Research Institute. Funded for 25 years by the US Army, and was closed in the mid 1990’s because the cold war ended, and America no longer had any enemies. See –

        Mind Reach:
        http://www.amazon.com/Mind-Reach-Scientists-Psychic-Abilities-Consciousness/dp/1571744142/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1351008762&sr=8-1&keywords=mind+reach

        I think the easiest way for everyone here to see how accessible psychic functioning is (to all human beings), is to do it themselves!

        • Chew
          October 23, 2012 at 4:09 PM

          “analytical”, “non-analytical”, ‘psychic powers don’t work that way’. It’s all lame excuses, ad hoc hypothesizing, and massaging the data to rationalize years and years of failure.

      • John Davis
        October 23, 2012 at 12:25 PM

        Peter Robinson:

        My experience with the three mediums I saw was varied.

        The first guy was probing me for info – do you know this person, does this make sense, etc.. I was aware of the cold reading tactics when i went in and kept my mouth shut and did not react to the best of my ability.

        The second lady gave readings to a group of 10 people – each of us got one. I didn’t utter a single word during this reading and was stunned at the information provided.

        The third lady was also in a group setting, about a dozen of us. She did not ask me any questions – I did not say anything to her – other than at the end – thanking her. It was brief reading, but started by saying the person who came through for me is talking about stone working. My friends Dad who recently passed away’s last name is Steiner – which is Slovakian for stone worker. There were no guesses with this reading, just a very evidential introduction, a brief description of the personality of the spirit by the medium, a quick message from the spirit to me, and that was it. Very quick and evidential!

        I highly recommend that anyone considering seeing a medium does so in a group setting, therefore giving the medium less of a chance to ‘get to know you’.

        • October 23, 2012 at 12:47 PM

          THIS POST IS NOT ABOUT THE REALITY OF PSYCHICS.

          Please keep to the topic at hand.

        • October 23, 2012 at 1:23 PM

          Personal anecdotes and experiences are worthless in this case to anyone but the person who experienced it.

      • Chew
        October 23, 2012 at 12:37 PM

        Randi showed people do not remember the misses.

      • Eggwart
        November 1, 2012 at 8:04 PM

        If she was really psychic, how come she’s not a billionaire, or a successful high stakes poker player? If psychic powers are real, why don’t gamblers use them to win? Or stockbrokers use them to pick stocks? Or forecast IED attacks and save the lives of our troops.

        How come nobody has ever used psychic powers for anything useful?

        • xxicenturyboy
          November 1, 2012 at 8:55 PM

          cuz it ain’t real? Just spitballing here.

    • October 22, 2012 at 12:50 PM

      My personal experience would have absolutely no bearing on whether psychic powers exist. The body of knowledge we do have, collectively, does not point to psychic powers as valid.

      • John Davis
        October 23, 2012 at 12:59 PM

        Could not disagree more – there is so much evidence for psychic functioning that it’s absurd that it hasn’t been proven yet.

        Many examples include:

        1. The US Army’s 25 year research into psychic functioning which lead to the creation of the Remote Viewing Protocol. See the book Mind Reach, and countless other books published on this RECENT development in psychic research (It’s only been available to the public since the late 1990’s).

        2. The Physical Mediumship of Robin Peter Foy – which was put under the microscope for 2 years by the SPR, which concluded that there was no trickery. See Tim Coleman’s The Afterlife Investigations on YouTube.com for the most concise explanation of Robin’s 5 year long Scole Experiment and the hundreds of phenomenon he produces which everyone could see, hear, feel.

        3. The Direct Voice Mediumship of Leslie Flint – tested in every possible way to discover trickery, none could ever be found. See leslieflint.com for over 30 years of mediumship session recordings. Once again – this could be heard from everyone in the room – as Direct Voice is a form of Physical Mediumship.

        4. The Global Consciousness Experiment still (Oct 2012) being conducted at Princeton University – which measures the output of hundreds of random number generators around the world when a big event happens (new years countdown, Olympic opening games ceremony, etc..), and has noted that the random number generators output the same sequences when the world’s attention is focused on one event, or at least there is a statistically significant increase in the number of ‘matches’.

        There are countless more examples of solid, tested psychic/mediumistic abilities. If you spend a weekend digging you’ll find tons of evidence that support

        • October 23, 2012 at 1:21 PM

          Mr. Davis, the news story is about the death threat to a skeptic. The tangential topic that the comments have spun off on is the evidence for psychic powers. Although, I do appreciate that you have provided references for people to check, we are off focus.

          If anyone looks for evidence for what they want to be true, it can certainly be found. However, the collective evidence that exists in support of psi at this moment (and over the more than 100 years that people have been seriously looking for it) has not been convincing enough. The stronger we ratchet up the controls, the weaker the effect becomes. No mechanism has been proposed. Many claims of true psychics have not been put to the test. They refuse. Why shouldn’t they refuse? They have nothing to prove to the people who pay them and are already convinced.

          The evidence you list is weak and there are dozens, perhaps hundreds, of other places where they have been critiqued. This is not the place for debate about psychic evidence.

          And once again, I have to point out to the commentators that the goal of the comment area is primarily to provide supporting information for the story. NOT AN AREA FOR DEBATE about the reality of some paranormal topic. I know this is very hard for some people to grasp…

          I’m asking again, please keep to the narrow focus of the story.

          Further commentary on commentary will be deleted because THAT does not add to this story either. *sigh*

        • One Eyed Jack
          October 23, 2012 at 1:47 PM

          Don’t forget Uri Geller.

    • Am_sci
      October 22, 2012 at 9:40 PM

      Peter already touched on it. But, our tendency to remember “hits” over “misses” is extraordinary. No one is immune to this phenomenon. I suggest that during the next session you have with a psychic, you ask if you may tape record for personal use. After the session, listen to the tape and count the ratio of hits to misses. Also, pay attention to how the hits are phrased; “You play the bassoon.” Is not the same thing as, “do you play the bassoon?” Yet, people often remember questions as being affirmative statements. Be wary of misses being changed to hits based on your reaction, e.g. “Your very musical and should take up the bassoon.” If the psychic doesn’t let you tape record, ask why not.

      • vincent
        October 22, 2012 at 10:29 PM

        how did you know that I play the basoon?

    • One Eyed Jack
      October 23, 2012 at 11:01 AM

      To expand just a bit on what Peter was talking about, a common cold reading may go like this-

      Medium: “I’m seeing an image of someone who has passed on… Have you lost someone recently?”

      Subject: “My grandmother passed away this spring.”

      Medium: “Yes, that’s it. I can see your grandmother clearly. She’s smiling. She want you to know she loves you.”

      Subject: Tears up a bit and smiles.

      Medium: “Now she’s sending me the letter M. Perhaps a name. Perhaps a place. Does that mean anything to you?”

      Subject: “My son. My son’s name is Matthew.”

      Medium: “Yes, that’s it, Matthew. She’s talking about Matthew. She says not to worry. You worry too much about him. It will be OK. Everything will be OK.”

      Subject: Seems relieved, tears up a bit, and smiles.

      —-

      When asked to recount the event after the reading, the subject will often remember it not as a fishing expedition, but rather precise information from the medium. “He knew my grandmother had died. The he talked about Matthew. He knew about the trouble he had at school.”

      I’m not saying this was your experience. It’s just a generic example of a cold reading technique. There are more techniques. They generally rely on the subject supplying information (sometimes just through body language) when they don’t think they are. Afterwards, our memories will reconstruct the reading, forgetting misses and any vagueness. In retrospect, the subject usually remembers a much more precise and amazing “reading” than what actually happened.

      If you’ve never done so, read up on cold reading or catch a few videos on the topic.

    • George
      October 23, 2012 at 6:27 PM

      Dear John:
      Not to impugn your personal veracity, but you could be making this all up, or may have deluded yourself into believing that the psychic actually performed as you state. The reason I say that is that there is no evidence, but only your statement that it is so. Not good enough, John. Have you any concrete evidence to back up your assertions?

  7. xxicenturyboy
    October 22, 2012 at 8:50 PM

    This should be taken very seriously. Malala Yousufzai was shot, Sanal Edamaruku threatened by the Catholic Church, and Simon Singh sued for speaking the truth. Never say it can’t happen here. Don’t take your freedoms for granted. I hope they find the people who did this and bring them to justice. Luv MonsterTalk btw. Keep up the great work Karen and know we care.

  8. The Master
    October 23, 2012 at 9:08 AM

    Forget about Mediums, I want a LARGE!

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