Or at least that’s what I would have wanted to write, had I done so a few months ago. Lately, though, thanks in part to the Denver Post, I’m starting to wonder if they’re really on our side after all. Please don’t take my word for it, though; check it out for yourself: the article that has me second-guessing myself—and, more importantly, the Post—was published on February 1, 2010, and I’ve linked to it here. If memory serves, the headline was “Malicious, Conniving Fraud Exploits the Vulnerable.”
(Please take your time reading; we’ll enjoy some pleasantly upbeat intermission music2—click below if you want to join in—and we’ll be here waiting for you when you get back.)
Let me be clear on this: I’m not going to tell you there’s no such thing as psychic abilities, and I’m definitely not going to tell you that they do exist, either. To make either statement would require a lot more proof than I have on hand. I am prepared to say, though, that I’m pretty sure that no self-proclaimed psychic has ever given a scrap of indisputable evidence to back it up—not one—and countless numbers of them3 have been exposed (some by good folks such as Harry Houdini and James Randi, others by their own incompetence or arrogance, or regrettable twinges of honesty and conscience)4 as swindlers and con artists.
Which is what, by all appearances, we have here with Rebecca Rosen. My problem is not that the Post decided to cover this story; my problem is with the wide-eyed credulity with which the reporter treated what, to me, appears to be an obvious fraud. Keep in mind, I’m no James Randi—I’m not a professional (or even amateur) debunker—but nothing in that article gave me reason to believe that Rosen is even remotely supernatural. Some examples:
Vicky and Charles Dinges believe they have somebody up there with lots to say. Their son, Jason, died in 2007 of hantavirus. He was 20 years old, an aerospace-engineering student at the University of Colorado, Vicky Dinges said.
. . . A friend suggested that she contact Rosen. About eight months later, the parents went to see Rosen at a public appearance.
If—as the article and Rosen’s own website both state—Rosen has a three-year waiting period for appointments, it’s safe to assume that Vicky and Charles Dinges contacted Rosen (and would have given her, among other things, their names) long before meeting her at the public appearance. Now, even the least clever of us can find out a lot about somebody in eight months, especially if you start with (1) their names and (2) the assumption that, if you claim you can speak to the dead, most people who contact you will have lost somebody close to them. If right now you’re saying “well, duh, it doesn’t take a mind reader to figure that one out,” that’s exactly my point.
One acting on that assumption could, for example, take almost six seconds to type “Vicky Dinges” into a search engine and come up with this article. That’s just what I did, and I’m not even psychic.
Minutes into the event, Rosen was standing in front of the couple, saying she was getting a message. . . . “She looked at me and said: ‘This was your son. He died close to your birthday, and he is sorry about it being so close to your birthday,’ ” Dinges said. Jason died two days after her birthday, Dinges said.
You can find the date of Jason Dinges’ death in the article linked above. And if I’m not mistaken, birth dates and dates of death have been parts of public record in this country for several years now. Is it easier to look something like this up in easily accessible public records, or get the answers from beyond the grave?5
“Then she said, ‘Who is Chris?’” Dinges said. . . . Chris is the couple's older son; Jason had plenty to say to Chris as well, Dinges said.
The trick of knowing Jason Dinges had a brother is significantly less mind-blowing if you remember what you just read mere seconds ago and conclude that his birth, just like his brother’s and mother’s, is part of the public record—for con artists and regular folks alike, far more easily accessible than the netherworld.
Rosen said she initially had to be convinced too. During a bout of depression in college—where she was majoring in advertising—Rosen recalled praying for help. One night, as she was writing in her journal, a spirit she believes was her grandmother took over the writing. Her grandmother comforted Rosen, helped pull her out of her depression and even told her whom she would marry. The hint, Rosen said, was, “Ryan will give you a rose.” Grandma was two letters off—she married Brian Rosen.
Even without addressing the fact that Rosen majored in advertising—where one’s job is, in short, to convince people to believe things that aren’t necessarily true, and then spend money on it6—it strikes me as more than a little telling that the foundation of Rosen’s psychic abilities is an utterly unverifiable story, with no apparent witnesses, from years and years ago. I’m not going to say this is absolutely impossible, mind you, but it’s considerably less believable than several other options that spring quickly to mind:
- “I think I’m telling the truth, because I am insane, but it’s that kind of benevolent insanity found only in movies like The Fisher King or K-Pax that allows me to help gullible and grief-stricken people . . . and, incidentally, get them to pay me $500 an hour for it.”
- “I made it all up to make myself feel important, and to make a shitload of money.”
- “I’m lying, but I've found that desecrating the memories of dead people I've never met is a good way of making their vulnerable, mourning loved ones feel vaguely better at least long enough to finish writing me a check.”
- “I remember it vividly. I was standing on the edge of my toilet hanging a clock, the porcelain was wet, I slipped, hit my head on the sink, and when I came to I had a revelation! A vision! A picture in my head! A picture of this! This is what makes time travel possible: the flux capacitor!”
While it troubles me that con artists and fakers continue to separate credulous people from their money with ease, more disappointing to me is that the Denver Post not only lets it happen but even publicizes it, essentially providing a free thousand-word advertisement for someone who, to the best of my ability to tell, has no supernatural ability whatsoever. Rebecca Rosen makes $500 an hour (an astounding figure that I may have mentioned once or twice already) by supposedly speaking to the dead. And rather than realizing and pointing out that thousands if not hundreds of thousands of con artists who have preyed on vulnerable people since time immemorial have claimed to do just that very thing, the Post decided to hop right up onto Rosen’s wagon and start selling snake oil right beside her. But don’t just take my word for it. Her own grandmother told me just the other day that Rebecca Rosen is full of shit.8
Prove me wrong.9
1. I’m not sure if anybody actually says that, but I think we should start. You go first!
2. Courtesy of Monty Python and the Holy Grail, used without permission.
3. By “countless” I mean that somebody may have bothered to count them, but I sure haven’t, and I doubt I ever will. If you can find evidence that contradicts the statement, though, I’d be happy to learn about it.
4. In the mid-1800s, sisters Margaret and Kate Fox claimed that spirits communicated with them through strange “rapping” sounds, and made a living off of this for several years. Later in life, Margaret confessed—and showed—that the rapping was simply the sound her feet (and possibly knee) joints made when she popped them, and she combined this sound with the power of suggestion and shrewd but very natural observation of her marks to fool a lot of people. And people didn’t believe her when she claimed to not be a medium.
5. If you’re actually debating the answer to this, please slap yourself really fucking hard right now.
6. I really do need a Swiffer! Pepsi really is the choice of a new generation! Bud Light tastes slightly better than cold urine! You speak to dead people! Do you take cash?
7. Yeah, yeah, I know. “There goes Some Guy again, doing his Carl Sagan bullshit.”
8. For purposes of avoiding a libel suit, I’d like to state for the record that I did not write, think, or publish any of the above article, and I have no idea who did. But Rebecca Rosen’s grandmother really did tell me that her granddaughter was full of shit.
9. My sincere apologies to the Dinges family not only for dredging up their loss, but for trying to use them as an illustration of the unbelievability of something they apparently genuinely believe. In my defense, I'm not charging them an obscene amount of money to dredge up their loss.