The Power Of Belief
(This is an unedited, uncorrected transcript.)

JOHN STOSSEL, ABCNEWS Good evening. Usually, before we’ll believe something, we want proof. Or as much proof as we can get. Before you buy a car, you try to check it out. Before I’ll try to skate across that frozen lake, I’m going to make sure the ice is solid.
    But when it comes to the supernatural, ESP, psychic powers, astrology and so forth, lots of people have a different standard. They believe because they want to believe. They care less about proof because believing makes them happy.
    (Children laughing)
    (VO) Now, if you’re only 4 years old, it’s OK to believe in things we know not to be true, like Santa Claus.

MATTHEW He lives in the sky.

JOHN STOSSEL (on camera) Who does?

CHILD Santa.

MATTHEW Santa Claus.

JOHN STOSSEL Tell me about the Easter Bunny. He’s real? What does he do?

1ST LITTLE BOY He gives you candy.

JOHN STOSSEL (VO) To learn more about what psychologists call “magical thinking,” Professor Robert Kavanaugh (ph) at Williams College in Massachusetts devised a test that involves an imaginary animal and a box. He repeated it for us on these 4 year olds to 6 year olds.

RESEARCH ASSISTANT Where do you want to fly to, Emma?

JOHN STOSSEL (VO) First, he divides the kids into pairs, and then his research assistant calls the kids’ attention to the large, empty box.

RESEARCH ASSISTANT Well, you guys have been so good.

EMMA What’s in the box?

JOHN STOSSEL (VO) As we watch from behind a two—way mirror, the children are shown that there is nothing in the box.


JOHN STOSSEL (VO) Then she tells them a story about a hungry fox who lives in the box.

RESEARCH ASSISTANT And his name is Freddy the Fox.

JOHN STOSSEL (VO) They’re told it’s just pretend.

RESEARCH ASSISTANT I think I hear him, and I think he’s going to come out of his house.

JOHN STOSSEL (VO) And she again tells them it was all make—believe.

RESEARCH ASSISTANT We’re just pretending, and there’s no fox in that box, OK? Isaac and Emma?

JOHN STOSSEL (VO) Then she tells them she has to leave them alone for a few minutes.

RESEARCH ASSISTANT I’ll be right back.

JOHN STOSSEL (VO) Now, I assumed the kids, having looked in the box, will know that there’s no fox in there. But they don’t. Some hear the fox.

2ND LITTLE BOY I heard something. He’s going to come out in three minutes.

JOHN STOSSEL (VO) They worry about it.

1ST LITTLE GIRL You go hide.

2ND LITTLE GIRL That was just the wind.

JOHN STOSSEL (VO) Some go to the box to listen but are afraid to open it.

3RD LITTLE BOY One more minute. Uh—oh.


JOHN STOSSEL (VO) Well, one pair does. Some kids accept that there’s no fox in there. But others aren’t sure.

3RD LITTLE BOY Seven minutes left.

JOHN STOSSEL (VO) This is what happens in test after test. Each time, some children begin to believe that the animal they helped create might be real.

RESEARCH ASSISTANT Hey, guys, thanks for waiting.

ISAAC We’re hiding from the fox.


JOHN STOSSEL (VO) Even when the researcher explains again that there was no fox in the box, some children believe it was there.

3RD LITTLE BOY I told Riley that the fox will come out.

JOHN STOSSEL (VO) Even Emma, who looked in when Isaac opened the box.

EMMA Isaac opened the box, and he saw the largest fox.


JOHN STOSSEL (VO) Sometimes when we form beliefs, those beliefs persist against logic or evidence to the contrary. When I talked to the kids later, many were still convinced that the fox was in there.
    (on camera) Are you sure?

CHILDREN No, no. Yes, yes.

1ST LITTLE BOY There is a fox. There is a fox. I know it. There is a fox. We saw one. We saw one.


JOHN STOSSEL (VO) Now, while magical thinking’s fine for kids, it’s another thing when adults do it.

1ST LITTLE BOY It’s disappeared.

JOHN STOSSEL (VO) We’re not talking mainstream religion here, but lots of people believe they can talk to the dead.


JOHN STOSSEL (VO) Or have their illnesses cured by the wave of a hand. Some believe a psychic or astrologer can predict their future.

ASTROLOGER A relationship is coming to a head.

JOHN STOSSEL (VO) Some hope to be taught to fly. This man claims to be at the first stage of levitation. Maharishi University says there’s historical proof that people used to be able to fly.

FILM NARRATOR Virtually conclusive historical evidence in a number of cases. In Europe, they’re called the saints, in India, the yogis.

JOHN STOSSEL (VO) And now, they say, for several thousand dollars, they’ll teach you. Sure looks like bouncing to me, but people pay. Stock analyst Walter Zimmerman says it’s brought him bliss.

WALTER ZIMMERMAN, YOGIC FLYING STUDENT My life pivoted around the first time I lifted off. It felt like I was like a popcorn. You just pop up in the air. And you realize, holy smokes, I just levitated.

JOHN STOSSEL (VO) And he’s working better.

WALTER ZIMMERMAN It enables me to do my job much, much better than I would otherwise be able to.

JOHN STOSSEL (VO) Other people are learning how to walk on hot coals, embers from a wood fire.

FIREWALKERS (singing) Release your mind.

JOHN STOSSEL (VO) The instructors say to walk on this, you must focus your mind.

FIREWALKERS (singing) See what you’ll find. Bring it on home.

JOHN STOSSEL (VO) Yet you don’t have to focus your mind because …


JOHN STOSSEL (VO) David Willey is a professor of physics at the University of Pittsburgh. He’s a firewalker. In fact, this day, he was setting up the world’s longest firewalk.


JOHN STOSSEL (VO) To walk on these coals, says Willey, you don’t have to be in a particular frame of mind. He’s heard all those myths.

DAVID WILLEY If you lose your concentration, you’re going to burn. That the body is putting out some kind of field around you.

JOHN STOSSEL (on camera) It’s all bunk?

DAVID WILLEY It’s protecting you.


DAVID WILLEY Bunk is a word you might use, yeah. Feet nice and flat and just a nice, brisk walk. Don’t run.

JOHN STOSSEL (VO) You just have to keep moving, he says. I could do it because wood is a good insulator. When you touch it, the heat doesn’t instantly go to your feet.
    (on camera) Why am I not going to get burned? I mean, that’s hot enough to roast the marshmallow.

DAVID WILLEY You’re not going to get burned because wood is a poor thermal conductor.

JOHN STOSSEL What’s the temperature now?

DAVID WILLEY About 1,000 Fahrenheit.

JOHN STOSSEL And I don’t have to believe anything or chant anything?

DAVID WILLEY You don’t. You don’t have to believe anything. You don’t have to chant anything. A nice, steady walk. You just walk across the fire.

JOHN STOSSEL (VO) If he can do it, maybe I can.
    (on camera) Wow. That’s hot. But I’m not burned.
    (Applause) I don’t think I’m burned. No, I’m not burned.
    (VO) Fifteen people firewalked that day, setting the 165—foot world distance record. Not one of them was burned. There’s nothing mystical about it.
    But the fact that so many people believe in the mystical, exasperates James Randi. Randi, once known as “The Amazing Randi,” used to work as a magician, fooling people for a living. But then, annoyed at how often people believed his tricks really were magic, he changed careers.
    (Telephone rings)

RECEPTIONIST James Randi Educational Foundation.

JOHN STOSSEL (VO) Today, Randi spends his time analyzing paranormal and supernatural claims.

JAMES RANDI, INVESTIGATOR OF UNUSUAL CLAIMS Come on. Don’t laugh. This is the man’s invention.

RANDI’S ASSISTANT I think I know what inspired this whole thing.

JAMES RANDI Yeah. It looks like a brandy snifter.

JOHN STOSSEL (VO) Randi contributes to magazines like Skeptic, which try to reveal the pseudoscience behind things like cults, New Age beliefs and people who claim they know there’s life after death. His offices are cluttered with thousands of discredited claims.

JAMES RANDI “I’m married to a man who’s dead. I married him after he died.” OK?

JOHN STOSSEL (VO) Years ago, Randi helped put a dent in the fabulous career of psychic Uri Geller. Geller was on magazine cover after cover and on TV with Johnny Carson, Barbara Walters, Tom Snyder.

MIKE DOUGLAS, TV HOST This guy is bending this key.

JOHN STOSSEL (VO) He supposedly used psychic powers to bend spoons. Here he is with Mike Douglas.

URI GELLER, PSYCHIC I want it to bend. I just say “bend.”

MIKE DOUGLAS You melted it. See?

JOHN STOSSEL (VO) Randi showed us how easily he could replicate this as just a magician’s trick.

JAMES RANDI Whoa, look at it now, son of a gun. That’s astonishing, isn’t it?

JOHN STOSSEL (on camera) So that’s magic?

JAMES RANDI It’s conjuring. These things are not difficult to do. You just have to do them when people aren’t looking. Oh, that’s astonishing, look at that? Wow.

JOHN STOSSEL (VO) And now, Randi and his foundation have put up $1 million as a prize&

JAMES RANDI Oh, this is the one in Finland.


to anyone who can prove they have paranormal abilities.

JAMES RANDI Ft. Lauderdale, hey!

JOHN STOSSEL (VO) All they have to do is pass a scientific test that will demonstrate their skill.

JAMES RANDI If they say they can defy gravity, step over to the window there and step out. And if you don’t fall, hey, you win. You win! It’s simple to devise a test.

JOHN STOSSEL (VO) One million dollars. It’s in the bank. We checked.

JAMES RANDI And it is available to any person who can provide evidence of any paranormal, occult or supernatural performance of any kind under proper observing conditions. All they have to do is do what they say they can do every day.

JOHN STOSSEL (on camera) Will they come forward? Will someone prove they really have extrasensory powers? We’ll keep looking, when we come back.

ANNOUNCER Strange rituals for healing the body, New Age treatments, age—old black magic. Can they do what traditional medicine can’t? “The Power Of Belief” put to the test, when John Stossel continues.

(Commercial Break)

JOHN STOSSEL When you’re sick, whom do you go to? Establishment scientists offer remedies, but often they are cold, impersonal ones. People in white coats with test tubes and computers want to do things to us that we often don’t understand. And they’re not always right. So increasingly, people turn to alternative therapies. (VO) To try to cure cancer, some people have ozone gas run through their hair. Some people with arthritis drag bees across their skin to get the bees to sting them, which is supposed to make their joints work better.

IRIDOLOGIST Open the eye one more time.

JOHN STOSSEL (VO) Iridologists say they’ll tell you what’s wrong with your entire body by looking at your eye. This chart maps out how every part of the eye supposedly corresponds to a different part of the body.

IRIDOLOGIST You have a spasmic colon. Something called spasmic. (Applause)

JOHN STOSSEL (VO) Millions of people go to arenas to see faith healers like Benny Hin (ph).

BENNY HIN, FAITH HEALER I break your hold on the Devil in Jesus’ name. I break your hold on him. I break it!

JOHN STOSSEL (VO) This man says faith healing cured his cancer. He did also get conventional chemotherapy, but he says he got better because of this.

BENNY HIN No pain.


JOHN STOSSEL (VO) Some people get the same results going to voodoo priests. Elmer Glover’s a voodoo priest. So is Ava Kay Jones (ph). They have big followings in New Orleans. We paid them to get access to their ceremonies.
    (Chanting) Now, you may think of voodoo as tourist entertainment, but to many people here it’s serious business, used for healing and hurting people. It is a fact that voodoo priests have cursed people, who then promptly got sick and died. But scientists say it’s not the voodoo. It’s the power of suggestion. If you truly believe in the curse, your body may just shut down.
    (Rattling) But you have to believe. My depraved producers hired Glover to put a curse on me. Break a bone, they suggested. Glover had us send him a sample of my hair and fingernails and an article of clothing I’d worn for a while. Glover then carved my name in a candle which he brought to a New Orleans cemetery. Here, he mixed in my hair and nails. And then, to call up the spirits of the dead, he sprayed some rum around. Blew cigar smoke into a tree in the center of the graveyard, hung my clothing in the tree so the spirits could find me, did something with a rattle and, of course, lit the candle and invited the spirits to hurt me.

ELMER GLOVER, VOODOO PRIEST John Stossel. John Stossel. I ask the help and pray to the voodoo spirits. I call upon all beings of voodoo being to assist me.

JOHN STOSSEL (on camera) So far nothing’s happened. I’m still riding my bike to work. I haven’t broken any bones. Of course, it’s only been a few months. And as Glover warned …

ELMER GLOVER Be careful what you wish for because you might just get it.

JOHN STOSSEL (VO) Watching voodoo—here Priestess Jones says she’s pulling out someone’s negative energy and shaking it away—I’m struck by how similar it is to what’s being done right now in mainstream American hospitals. It’s called therapeutic touch, and it’s practiced in hundreds of medical centers, even during surgery. In Connecticut, nurse Ann Minor does therapeutic touch on Lisa Brackett to help treat her leukemia.

ANN MINOR, THERAPEUTIC TOUCH PRACTITIONER Tremendous heat coming from your heart center. Do you feel it?


JOHN STOSSEL (VO) The nurse supposedly feels without touching, three or four inches away, feels the defective energy pouring out.

ANN MINOR I can feel where the energy is balanced and where it’s not balanced. I can feel where it’s intense. I can feel where it’s depleted.

JOHN STOSSEL (VO) Then she says she channels the healing energy of the universe through her hands to you. There’s no scientific proof that this works, but the patient says that doesn’t matter.

LISA BRACKETT I don’t need explanations because I have faith in the process. That’s a really wonderful thing when you feel helpless, terrified. When you’re given a diagnosis, like I was.

JOHN STOSSEL (VO) It’s hard to argue with satisfied patients. But two years ago, a 9—year—old girl in Colorado thought that for her fourth grade science project, she’d put therapeutic touch to the test.

EMILY ROSA Today, I’m going to test you on how well you can feel the human energy field.

JOHN STOSSEL (VO) Emily Rosa’s test was simple. She asked practitioners of therapeutic touch to feel the energy from her hand. But first, she had them put their hands through a towel and a piece of cardboard so they couldn’t see where her hand was. She didn’t ask them to heal anything, she just asked the most basic question.

EMILY ROSA Tell me which of your hands you think my hand is over.


JOHN STOSSEL (VO) Again and again, touch therapists failed the test.


JOHN STOSSEL (VO) Amazingly, they kept volunteering to take the test. And even when they failed to do better at picking the correct hand than they would have done flipping a coin …



their faith in their skills was not dimmed. This woman guessed right only three times out of 10.

EMILY ROSA How do you think the test went?

4TH TOUCH THERAPIST I think it went very well.

EMILY ROSA OK. You got one right. Sorry.

JOHN STOSSEL (on camera) So were they embarrassed?

EMILY ROSA No. Not really. Some thought if you got four out of 10 right, they thought you’d pass. And obviously, they didn’t know their statistics.

JOHN STOSSEL We asked more than a dozen therapeutic touch specialists to come here and take your test, and not one would. Does that surprise you?


JOHN STOSSEL Why, is it …

EMILY ROSA Lots of people think that I’ve scared them really good.

JOHN STOSSEL (VO) Well, not that good. Though Emily’s test got publicity, it was published in the prestigious Journal of the American Medical Association, since then, therapeutic touch is practiced more than ever.

JAMES RANDI Eighty thousand practitioners, most of them registered nurses who say they can feel the human energy field by passing their hands over the body. Gee, I’ll give them $1 million if they can prove that in a simple test that will take less than 20 minutes. Do I hear anybody at the door, John? No. Where are they? They all make excuses. They all say, “Well, we don’t want to prove these things, you see. We already have established that they are so.” Well, then take my million dollars and make me look like a fool.

JOHN STOSSEL (VO) Ann Minor says she isn’t interested in Randi’s challenge.

ANN MINOR Do I have all of the science behind it? No. But I know that each time I reach out to help somebody through the use of therapeutic touch that it will help them on some level. And that’s all I really need to know.

JOHN STOSSEL (VO) Scientists say it’s not that therapeutic touch or voodoo directly do anything physically to anyone. It’s just that if you believe in them, they sometimes can have an effect. The placebo effect, it’s called. If you think a therapy will work, that alone may make you feel better.

MICHAEL S. ARONOFF, MD, PROFESSOR OF PSYCHIATRY, NYU Group one will be getting a substance that is a stimulant.

JOHN STOSSEL (VO) At our request, psychiatrist Michael Aronoff told these students and teachers at Manhattan’s Kaplan Educational Services that, for a test, he would give some of them a stimulant and others a sleeping pill.

MICHAEL S. ARONOFF What we are interested in is the effect on your usual sleep pattern.

1ST FEMALE STUDENT And if we like it, can we get it anywhere? (Laughter)

JOHN STOSSEL (VO) What they didn’t know was that they were all given a placebo, an inert pill that doesn’t do anything. The result? Well, two students felt nothing.

1ST MALE STUDENT I had no effect from this at all. It didn’t change my sleep patterns. I thought it was a psychology experiment.

JOHN STOSSEL (VO) But three—fourths of the group felt a difference. Some, a big difference.

2ND MALE STUDENT I felt great in the morning, even though I had much less sleep than I normally did.

3RD MALE STUDENT I would love to take this drug every day of my life if I could. So if you know the name of it or where I can buy it, it would be beneficial.

2ND FEMALE STUDENT It was wonderful. It was. I got good sleep, sound sleep. Didn’t wake up. The phone could have been ringing off the hook, I wouldn’t have heard it. It was that deep a sleep.

JOHN STOSSEL (VO) Some reported side effects.

3RD FEMALE STUDENT Thirty minutes after I took the pill, I got a little dizzy.

JOHN STOSSEL (VO) Then, they learned the truth.

MICHAEL S. ARONOFF You all received the same substance. You all received a sugar pill. (Laughter)

4TH FEMALE STUDENT I’m not looking forward to being on national TV and saying that I took a sugar pill and, boy, it made me tired.

5TH FEMALE STUDENT I did feel tingling in my hands.
    (Laughter) I did.

6TH FEMALE STUDENT I just can’t believe that it - my mind got, like, it just did it. I don’t know. I’m - I don’t know.

JOHN STOSSEL (VO) So the placebo can be a powerful medical aid.

MICHAEL S. ARONOFF Sweet dreams.

JOHN STOSSEL (VO) But it has its limits.

JAMES RANDI If you start to believe in magical thinking, the next time you go to a doctor and the doctor doesn’t give you a satisfactory answer, you’d rather go to a—an alternative healer who’s going to give you some boiled bark or some stone to wear around your neck. It’s a dangerous thing to start on.

JOHN STOSSEL (VO) Still, natural treatments are more popular than ever. Americans spend billions on herbal concoctions, special meditation techniques, crystals and other remedies. The treatments often sound plausible, like ear candling.

EAR CANDLING PRACTITIONER Once it’s lit, it creates like a vacuum, and what it does is it pulls wax, bacteria and a lot of different things like that - it pulls it all out of the ear.

JAMES RANDI It’s exciting, and it’s natural. But tobacco and bird droppings are also natural. Does that give them any particular charm? Is—are they good for us because they’re natural?

MICHAEL SHERMER, PUBLISHER, SKEPTIC MAGAZINE We are wonderful at self—deceiving.

JOHN STOSSEL (VO) Michael Shermer, publisher of Skeptic magazine, is upset at how popular New Age therapies have become.

MICHAEL SHERMER There’s a good reason why we live in the age of science, why the lifespan of humans has doubled in the last 150 years. It’s entirely due to medical science, not medical pseudoscience.

JAMES RANDI We’re in a battle all the time to survive, to move ahead. And we’re going to lose that fight if we start trying to use magic and spells and incantations. We’ve got to depend upon reality.

JOHN STOSSEL (on camera) We’ll be right back with James Randi’s hoax that fooled everybody.

ANNOUNCER Their voices change. So does their body language. Millions believe they speak from another world. But are the faithful being fooled by the power of belief? More revelations, when John Stossel continues.

(Commercial Break)

JOHN STOSSEL Life is scary, unpredictable. Many of us would like to believe that someone, somewhere has the answers and will give them to us. Maybe JZ Knight (ph) can help.
    (VO) Knight charges people hundreds of dollars to hear her channel Ramtha.

JZ KNIGHT, CHANNELER Indeed! I am Ramtha, the enlightened one. And I am exceedingly pleased to be here.

JOHN STOSSEL (VO) Channeling means Ramtha, a 35,000—year—old warrior philosopher from the lost city of Atlantis, speaks through JZ Knight.

JZ KNIGHT That which is termed life, the only reality.

GROUP The only reality.

JZ KNIGHT Forever.

GROUP Forever.

JZ KNIGHT And ever.

GROUP And ever.

JZ KNIGHT And ever.

GROUP And ever.

JZ KNIGHT So be it!

GROUP So be it.

JZ KNIGHT Drink up.

JOHN STOSSEL (VO) Through her, Ramtha predicts the future and gives vague advice.

JZ KNIGHT And for whatever you deem, that which I am, it is what you are that is important. Now, get it? (Applause)

JOHN STOSSEL (VO) Knight has had thousands of followers, including actress Shirley MacLaine. And Knight’s just one of many channelers around.

1ST CHANNELER God bless you, Dr Peeper!

2ND CHANNELER All right. How are you this day of your time as you create time to exist?

JOSE ALVAREZ, ARTIST I am a very old spirit.

JOHN STOSSEL (VO) This channeler brings us Carlos, a 2,000—year—old spirit from Venezuela.

JOSE ALVAREZ Next question.

JOHN STOSSEL (VO) Carlos is really Jose Alvarez, a Florida artist coached by James Randi on how to fake being a channeler so that this Australian TV station could show how easy it is to fool people, especially the gullible media.

1ST AUSTRALIAN REPORTER His name is Carlos, and you’ve probably seen him on a television or mentioned in the press.

JOHN STOSSEL (VO) Randi’s angry at how quick the media is to give attention and therefore credibility to all kinds of paranormal claims. ABCNEWS has done it.

DIANE SAWYER, ABCNEWS You’re convinced you’re getting mental images communicated from this dog to you?

JOHN STOSSEL (VO) We say we’re just covering phenomena that fascinate lots of people.

TOM BROKAW, NBC NEWS Are we alone?

JOHN STOSSEL (VO) That’s our job. And after all, these are mysteries that haven’t been disproven.

JAMES RANDI It’s politically correct to allow everybody to have their opinion aired whether it’s nonsensical, pseudoscientific, whether it’s crackpot or whatever.

JOHN STOSSEL (on camera) But that’s not fair. We don’t suspend our critical thinking. We check these people out before we put them on TV.

JAMES RANDI You’ll get more viewers and sponsors will like it better if it’s a positive point of view about mystical stuff. And this, this terrible man with the beard, this nasty little gentleman. What is he doing coming on saying these things aren’t so?

JOHN STOSSEL (VO) Ten years ago, Randi and Jose, who was then only 19, created Carlos.

JOSE ALVAREZ This is your reality.

JAMES RANDI Also, keep very wide …


JAMES RANDI Keep very wide because you’re going to be on a big stage.

JOHN STOSSEL (VO) They invented a press kit that portrayed Jose as a famous South American channeler who gives meaningless advice like, “All answers are right answers. It is so. Do you see?” The press kit included a videotape of faked stage show.

JOSE ALVAREZ Good evening. We cannot recognize time!

JOHN STOSSEL (VO) Amazingly, most of the Australian media fell for it.

2ND AUSTRALIAN REPORTER One man who’s been making a name for himself here in the United States is now doing the same in Australia.

JOHN STOSSEL (VO) One phone call would have exposed Carlos as a hoax, but the reporters didn’t call.

3RD AUSTRALIAN REPORTER His body is frequently taken over, he says, by a spirit called Carlos.

JOHN STOSSEL (VO) One station did check one of his gimmicks. Jose claims that before the spirit enters his body, his heart stops. So the station hired a nurse to check his pulse.

NURSE OK, it’s gone.

JOHN STOSSEL (VO) Of course, stopping your pulse was a trick Randi had taught Jose. You just tape a ball to your skin and squeeze it in your armpit. That stops the pulse in that arm. And then, he becomes Carlos.


JOHN STOSSEL (VO) Jose went on to give all kinds of interviews, with Randi backstage supplying the answers through a wireless microphone.

JOSE ALVAREZ First question!

QUESTIONER Can you give us any idea of what this event might be?

JAMES RANDI It will be astronomical in nature.

JOSE ALVAREZ It will be astronomical in nature! Next question.

JOHN STOSSEL (VO) Carlos’s Australian tour culminated with an appearance at Sydney’s famed Opera House. The crowd listened in awe as Carlos explained that their aches and pains could be cured by the authentic crystals he’d brought back from the lost city of Atlantis, not the fake ones some in the audience wore.

JOSE ALVAREZ If they were real crystals, she would not have this migraine. (Applause)

JOHN STOSSEL (VO) Later people offered to pay tens of thousands of dollars for crystals Randi and Jose had bought for a dollar or two.
    (on camera) He conned all these people?


JOHN STOSSEL And did you think people would be so gullible?

JAMES RANDI Oh, yes. Naturally. They were being told something that was nice. Something they would like to believe was true.

JOHN STOSSEL (VO) Channel 9 then told the truth about the hoax.

CHANNEL 9 REPORTER What is frightening is that it was so easy.

JOHN STOSSEL (on camera) And even after exposing it, many people still believe in channelers and in Carlos?

JAMES RANDI Oh, absolutely.

JOSE ALVAREZ At the end, there were people saying, “We know everything they’re saying about you. We don’t care. We believe in you.”

JAMES RANDI No amount of evidence, no matter how good it is or how much there is of it, is ever going to convince the true believer to the contrary.

ANNOUNCER Coming up—the truth about psychics. Can they really lead police to a missing person?

JAMES RANDI There’s a car. A light colored—I think a small car. And I smell—I smell rain or water flowing.

ANNOUNCER John Stossel with more revelations when “The Power Of Belief”
    continues, after this from our ABC stations. (Station Break)
     ANNOUNCER “The Power Of (inaudible) Beliefs” with John Stossel continues.

JOHN STOSSEL Lots of people say they can predict the future—astrologers, psychics, tarot card readers. Yet their predictions, when tested, fail again and again. So why do so many of you give them money?

PSYCHIC HOTLINE OPERATOR Are you ready for a real psychic reading?

JOHN STOSSEL (VO) Lots of people call these psychic hotlines, just $4 a minute.

PSYCHIC HOTLINE OPERATOR That is registered with the US government and guaranteed authentic.

CARL SHILLING Phone bill’s $642.

JOHN STOSSEL (VO) Carl Shilling says his wife, Keresa, became obsessed with the hotlines.

CARL SHILLING Here’s one. One, two, three, four, five, six, seven times in the same day.

JOHN STOSSEL (VO) Keresa started calling after her sister in Virginia disappeared.

KERESA SHILLING The not knowing, it’ll kill you. All I want from these—from anybody, the police, anybody is to find my sister.

CLAIRVOYANT Keresa, I am a clairvoyant, which means I see information.

JOHN STOSSEL (VO) She taped some of the sessions.

PSYCHIC I don’t feel her alive.



CARL SHILLING At least $10, 000 has—has been given to these people.

JOHN STOSSEL (VO) But maybe the psychics were on to something because many said the same things.

KERESA SHILLING We’ve heard over and over, wooded area, near water.

MICHAEL SHERMER A wooded area, near water is what almost all psychics tell the police because when bodies are missing, that means they’ve been disposed of somewhere. And wooded areas are pretty typical. And near water? Find me a place that isn’t near water, river, a lake, the ocean, what? A faucet? You know, what counts as water?

JOHN STOSSEL (VO) Keresa’s desperation led her to psychic sleuth John Monti (ph). Monti claims he saved 9—year—old Katie Beers’ life because through him, Long Island police discovered the kidnapped girl in time.

JAMES RANDI What happens is the psychic walks into the police department and says, “That murder of the little child down the block here, I know something about that.”

POLICE OFFICER Well, what’s your name?

JOHN MONTI John Monti.

POLICE OFFICER Monti, OK. Hang on.

JOHN STOSSEL (VO) We have these pictures because Monti got a local TV news crew to follow him around.

JOHN MONTI She’s tied up. The police should have found either a shoe or a sneaker. I can’t tell which.

JOHN STOSSEL (VO) That was one of many tips he give police.

JOHN MONTI She was being pursued through here.

JOHN STOSSEL (VO) But the police say she wasn’t pursued through here and that Monti was of no use at all. But the Shillings didn’t know that, so they paid him $2,000 to travel to Virginia to locate Keresa’s sister. Monti took their money and led them here and here and here. But they found nothing.

GARY MATHESON (PH), POLICE CHIEF He’s no psychic. No more than I am.

JOHN STOSSEL (VO) In Texas, police chief Gary Matheson followed up on Monti’s leads after 20—year—old Kelli Cox disappeared. First, Monti took the police to the city dump.

GARY MATHESON This consists of about 250 acres here.

JOHN STOSSEL (VO) Then to the city power plant.

GARY MATHESON John seemed to think there was some significance to overhead, high—power transmission lines.

JOHN STOSSEL (VO) To this apartment building.

GARY MATHESON We don’t know anything more now than we did at the beginning. Has he been productive? Absolutely not.

JOHN STOSSEL (VO) Police waste hours following leads from psychics who say they sense things.

JAMES RANDI I’m getting red and there’s—there’s an M or a double letter connected with this. And there’s a car, a light—colored car. I think a small car. And I smell—I smell rain or water flowing. And it goes on and on and on like that.

KERESA SHILLING I have a lot of information. And to look back on it, where did it get me? I don’t have my sister.

CARL SHILLING False hope will kill people. False hope and false information. Not only did she lose something very important, I have. I’ve lost my wife.

JOHN STOSSEL (VO) The Shillings are now living apart. Monti wouldn’t talk to us about any of this. Of course, now and then, a few of the psychics’ vague predictions come true and the publicity over that keeps the suckers coming. Other so—called “seers” work the same way.

MICHAEL SHERMER They make lots and lots of statements, predictions, comments and so on, and you remember the hits and forget the misses. So they stand out as unusual when actually it’s not.

JOHN STOSSEL (VO) I asked astrologer Susan Miller to do my horoscope. Miller writes astrology columns for magazines and has a Web site that’s viewed 800,000 times a month. What she gave me was a chart 22—pages long.

SUSAN MILLER, ASTROLOGER You have Jupiter in your Seventh House. So you do very well with partners, people who collaborate with you to help you.

JOHN STOSSEL (VO) This is what’s called a cold reading, when you say so much, there’s bound to be something in here that will come true. And, of course, there’s plenty of flattery.

SUSAN MILLER You have Venus in the Tenth House, making you a very popular leader or personality. Do you want me to go on? (Laughter)

JOHN STOSSEL (on camera) Go ahead. (VO) In addition …

MICHAEL SHERMER They use warm reading techniques where they say things that are true for everyone.

SUSAN MILLER Those three planets in Pisces makes you very intuitive.

JOHN STOSSEL (VO) Who doesn’t want to think that they’re intuitive? There are certain things you can say about people that most of us think are true just about us. Like, “you have an above average sense of humor.” Or “you’re not living up to your full potential.”
    (on camera) This is silly. What you’re saying about me, you could say about anybody. I’m an independent thinker, intuitive, thorough.

SUSAN MILLER But to the Nth degree.

JOHN STOSSEL Lots of people believe this about themselves.

SUSAN MILLER Yes, but I would give perhaps other people different adjectives to describe them.

JOHN STOSSEL (VO) To show how people fall for this, some years ago for Good Morning America, I had an astrologer do a chart on a mass murderer, Ed Kemper (ph).
    (on camera) Let me pass these out.
    (VO) Then I gave it to these students telling them it was their horoscope.
    (on camera) Charlotte Hunter.
    (VO) Would the mass murderer’s horoscope capture their personality? You bet.

1ST WOMAN I love me.

JOHN STOSSEL (on camera) Why are you laughing? Is it accurate?


2ND WOMAN I don’t know if I was a believer on a nonbeliever. I was kind of like in the middle. But this is very—most of it is me.

JOHN STOSSEL How many feel that this came pretty close to capturing you? OK. I hate to tell you this, but you all got the same horoscope.
    (VO) And I told them whose horoscope it really was.
    (on camera) He’s a mass murderer.

3RD WOMAN I’m glad I didn’t tell anybody about this.

JOHN STOSSEL Your mate has a right to disagree with you. Be prepared to make some—I mean, you could say this about anybody.

SUSAN MILLER Yes, well. It’s a gentle way of saying, you’re going to have some disagreements with your mate this month and be prepared.

JOHN STOSSEL Well, who isn’t?

SUSAN MILLER You don’t just say anything that pops into your head. You have to do the math. You have to do the math.

JOHN STOSSEL If you can predict this, why aren’t you rich? Why aren’t all astrologers rich?

SUSAN MILLER Because I’m a Pisces, and I don’t care about money. I give it all away.

JOHN STOSSEL (VO) And, of course, sometimes seers pick up cues from you. A witch at an occult store gave me a tarot card reading.

WITCH I see a lot of stress. Your back hurts you.

JOHN STOSSEL (VO) Just watching my body language might have told her that.

WITCH I see problems with your back.

JOHN STOSSEL (VO) Such predictions can be harmful because just as there’s a placebo affect, there’s also something called a nocebo. The voodoo priest says you’ll get sick, and you do. That’s the nocebo affect. Tell me I’ll get back pain …

JAMES RANDI You’ll notice every pain that you do have. Every morning you get up and you roll out of bed, if you get a twinge of any kind you’ll say, “Hey, there it is.” You start to feel bad immediately.

JOHN STOSSEL (VO) Some say that’s what Gulf War Syndrome’s about. Thousands of veterans now claim that serving in the Gulf made them sick.

1ST GULF WAR VETERAN Chronic headache, fatigue, joint pain.

2ND GULF WAR VETERAN Chronic fatigue, a suppressed immune system.

JOHN STOSSEL (VO) The veterans have real symptoms, but major studies have found no germ or pattern of chemicals that could explain how the war caused those symptoms. If they were caused by chemicals, you’d expect the soldiers closest to the action to be sickest. But that’s not the case.

PETER JENNINGS, ABCNEWS Tens of thousands of Americans may have been exposed to Iraqi chemical weapons.

JOHN STOSSEL (VO) All that publicity about poison gas, environmental toxins, about other soldiers getting sick—that plus the stress of military service can make people sick.
    (on camera) From believing it, some people really get sick?

JAMES RANDI Whether something’s really there or not may be irrelevant. It may just be the belief system at work.

JOHN STOSSEL We’ll be right back.

ANNOUNCER Watch these pilots, they may be a key to one of the world’s greatest unsolved mysteries. What happens to us when we die? “The Power Of Belief” with John Stossel continues after this.

(Commercial Break)

JOHN STOSSEL When our life ends, is that it? After death, nothing? It’s a frightening thought, and perhaps that’s why most people say they believe that when they die, their soul or spirit will live on in some form. It explains why this book is a best seller.
    (VO) Seattle pediatrician Melvin Morse wrote “Closer To The Light.”
    Morse works with very sick children, and he says his 10—year study of kids’ near—death experiences provides proof that something survives bodily death.

DR MELVIN MORSE, PEDIATRICIAN When you look at these children, when we resuscitate them, we do horrible things to them. Sticking them full of needles. Putting needles into their bones, putting things in their tubes. And yet, when you talk to children who have been through such a thing, they say, “I was floating on the ceiling. God was keeping me safe when all that was happening.”

JOHN STOSSEL (VO) His conclusion?

DR MELVIN MORSE I think it is quite possible that when we die, we see God.

JOHN STOSSEL (VO) The children give details similar to those cited by adults who’ve had near—death experiences. They talk about being in a tunnel, of hearing voices, of seeing a very bright light that made them feel safe.

DR MELVIN MORSE We don’t want to fall. Watch out for that bump there.

JOHN STOSSEL (VO) Morse introduced us to 3—year—old Logan Grant (ph)&

LOGAN GRANT Here it is!

JOHN STOSSEL (VO) &who, after nearly drowning in this pool, says he saw a friendly light.

LOGAN GRANT It looked like a happy face.

DR MELVIN MORSE Where did you see the happy face?

LOGAN GRANT Up in the sky.

JOHN STOSSEL (VO) Dr Morse believes these children saw God.

DR MELVIN MORSE Near—death research is telling us that the dying process is serene, involves seeing God.


JOHN STOSSEL (VO) Of course, that’s not exactly what the children say.

DR MELVIN MORSE Most of the kids don’t say “I saw God.” However, when you see the look in their eyes, when you see the awe that they describe the experience. I mean, clearly this is a extraordinary and it’s spiritual.

JOHN STOSSEL (VO) What else would explain why so many report similar experiences? Well, what might explain it is hallucinations. Many fighter pilots see some of the same things seen by Dr Morse’s children. When they put their aircraft through tight, high—speed maneuvers, their blood sometimes can’t get to their brain, and they pass out.

1ST TRAINER Fifty—seven seconds.

2ND TRAINER Thank you.

JOHN STOSSEL Dr James Whinnery, an aero—medical scientist for the Naval Warfare Center, studies pilots in this centrifuge.

1ST TRAINER Final countdown. Three, two, one.

DR JAMES WHINNERY, AERO—MEDICAL SCIENTIST What happens is you take somebody up to G about six seconds, they lose consciousness. And one of the things we see when blood flow begins to return to the brain, is we see these convulsive—type movements. Then we feel like the dream period occurs.

1ST PILOT Well, I just kind of went off in dreamland.

JOHN STOSSEL (VO) And when they regain consciousness, many pilots report a happy feeling.

2ND PILOT I don’t know where I am.

JOHN STOSSEL (VO) The feeling’s similar to what’s reported by Dr Morse’s children.

DR JAMES WHINNERY We see a lot of euphoria.

1ST PILOT I’m sorry.

DR JAMES WHINNERY A feeling of being very, very safe and warm. Not wanting to be awakened from the loss of consciousness. We have a large number of pilots who say, “Why did you wake me up? I was having such a nice dream, and everything was so very pleasant.”

1ST PILOT Now I know why you want to go back through this.

JOHN STOSSEL (VO) Many pilots also see that white light. But Dr Whinnery has a nonspiritual explanation for that.

DR JAMES WHINNERY It’s probably the brain trying to make sense of the very last thing that it sees and the first thing it sees when you come back to consciousness.

JOHN STOSSEL (VO) Some pilots have out—of—body experiences, too, similar to what kids have reported.

DR JAMES WHINNERY The brain, as it wakes up says, number one, I can’t make my arms move - I can’t make the body’s arms move. I can’t feel anything. I can’t see anything. What’s the brain to do? It says, “I’ve lost my body.”
    And so, maybe the loss of body experience is probably what we’re seeing.

JOHN STOSSEL (VO) Whinnery and Morse look at similar near—death experiences and conclude different things.

DR MELVIN MORSE It’s clear that when we die, we’re conscious, aware and awake and experiencing one of the most amazing spiritual experiences of our lives—actually feeling that we’re in the presence of what people loosely call God.

JOHN STOSSEL (on camera) I’d like to believe that. What a comfort that would be. But I’m a skeptical reporter. We’re not supposed to look for comfort. We’re supposed to look for proof. Some thoughts on skepticism and happiness when we return.

(Commercial Break)

JOHN STOSSEL One thing that surprised us interviewing believers for this program is that some seem to be living in a different world. Often they were unphased by what science has to say about their claims. I was impossibly rude to the astrologer. But I’m suggesting your work is silliness.
    (VO) She just smiles and says things like …

SUSAN MILLER I know. I’m really sorry you feel that way. But I—my heart understands your feelings.

JOHN STOSSEL (VO) The witches and the practitioners of therapeutic touch were similarly sweet. In Florida, I spoke to spiritual mediums. One of whom said right then I was being comforted by an elderly lady.

STEVE ADKINS, SPIRITUALIST This was a family member of yours that you would have known. I feel a grandmother with this …

JOHN STOSSEL (VO) Now this is nonsense because I never knew either of my grandmothers. But I must say, imagining that she was there next to me felt good.
    (on camera) I’d like think that a grandmother is with me, touching my arm. It makes me feel warm and happy, cozy. But if I read Skeptic, it’s—it’s tiny print that I have to struggle through, it’s not—it doesn’t make me feel good. I like her world more than yours.

MICHAEL SHERMER You would rather live with a lie and a fantasy just to make yourself feel good?

JOHN STOSSEL What’s the harm in that?

MICHAEL SHERMER There’s harm in not being in touch with what we really know to be true.

JOHN STOSSEL A concept the 11—year—old who debunked therapeutic touch has gotten quite clearly.
    (on camera) Do you want to be thought of as a skeptic?

EMILY ROSA Yeah. It will help you in the real world.

JOHN STOSSEL Yes, it will. And the real world’s all we’ve got.
    Believers in the supernatural claim to have special wisdom about the world. But real wisdom means knowing truth from falsehood, knowing the difference between evidence and wishful thinking. Yes, the real world is mysterious and sometimes frightening. But would the supernatural make it better?
    The real world has beauty, poetry, love and the joy of honest discovery. Isn’t that enough?
    That’s our program for tonight. Stay tuned for Nightline after your local news.
    I’m John Stossel. Good night.

As ABCNEWS’ John Stossel discovers, the silliest of superstitions and strongest of faiths can have a huge impact on our minds, bodies, and wallets.

Click here to return to the introductory page.