The Great Australian Psychic Prediction Project

December 15, 2021

Categories: Skepticism , Tags: Psychics

The Australian Skeptics have spent the last few years working hard on an amazing project (opens new window), led by Richard Saunders, to find and analyse as many psychic predictions as they could find.

The group focused on Australian predictions, and looked as far back as the year 2000. They grabbed predictions from wherever they could find them, including not just magazines and newspapers but also YouTube videos, websites, TV and radio shows, etc. Richard ended up visiting several libraries and archives around Australia to find back catalogues of newspapers and magazines he could pore through.

The project was guided by a great rule from long-time skeptic Ray Hyman, called Hyman’s Maxim, which states:

"Don’t try to explain how something works until you find out that it works."

This is a great rule of thumb - that before you put effort into figuring out why something happens, it’s worth first double checking that it definitely happens. In the case of psychic abilities, there’s no point trying to work out whether psychics are connecting to a spiritual plane, communicating with the dead or utilising quantum theory until you’ve made absolutely sure that they can do what they claim to be able to do. And this is exactly what the project set out to do.

In all predictions from over 200 psychics were included, with a grand total of 3,800 predictions. The predictions covered a wide range of topics, although boringly many of them were about celebrities’ lives. One Australian psychic, Georgina Walker, made a whopping 277 predictions, of which 88% of them were on the topic of celebrities.

Each of these predictions was given one of five statuses after researching the claim, and with careful deliberation by a team of people. The statuses were:

  • Correct
  • Wrong
  • Too vague
  • Expected
  • Unknown

The vague predictions included things like "2005 is a 7 year, so there will be a need for people to get more in touch with their inner being." and "A major Hollywood couple, with connections to Europe, will go their separate ways."

The expected predictions were any predictions that have a high chance of being correct on any given year, including earthquakes in places like California and Japan, and picking a sports team in a league or cup (of maybe 20 or 30 teams) and saying they won’t win.

The unknowns were predictions where it proved impossible to find out whether they came true, such as a prediction that Nicole Kidman will "have some minor surgery".

There are some stand out predictions that were marked as correct, such as Kerry Kulkens’ "Major American cities targeted for terrorist attacks a lot of carnage is indicated" which was back in 2001, before September of that year, and some more obvious ones such as Keey Sees’ prediction in 2013 that Australia would win the Ashes.

So, how many were correct? Only 11%. Many more were in either the too vague or so obvious they were a no-brainer categories. None of the psychics stood out as having a much higher success rate than average, with some up to 33% (usually those who had only made 3 predictions, of which one was correct) and many scoring 0%.

The group found a few examples of psychics going back through their own predictions and claiming accuracy by only highlighting the ones that they could claim were hits, whereas this more thorough work showed their hit rate to be pretty poor.

So, what about these genuine "hits". Are they significant? Richard Saunders does a good job of explaining why they’re just what you’d expect from chance:

And for all the predictions that were made, there were many, many major world events where no psychic made a successful prediction. Donald Trump and the pandemic were both major events that psychics totally missed.

One little touch that I love in this project is that the group created a form of control. Back in 2016 they had a group of volunteers make their own predictions, based on educated guessing. Their accuracy? 27%! Better than the average psychic, and on par with the best of them.

The write-up of this project, published in the Australian Skeptics’ journal, talks about how if psychic powers were real, horse racing, casinos, lotteries and other forms of betting would all go bankrupt. And of course the financial industry would be run by psychics, and governments and large corporations would employ psychic departments to help them make sound decisions. But we see none of this happening. Why? Because psychics are frauds.