At last, a really good reason to bash the ABC!

By skepticlawyer

As those of you familiar with my writing history would know, I’ve had a fair bit to do with the Australian Skeptics. And, as someone with a strong but amateur interest in science, I’m reasonably cheesed off that the ABC is pulling this stunt:

FANS of ABC television’s science program Catalyst may be in for a
surprise when they tune in tomorrow night. Not only is the program off
the air until February 11, its timeslot is being minded by psychics.
Yes, there are 15 weeks of Psychic Investigators ahead.

Here’s a sample of what to expect: “At any given time there are well
over 20,000 women missing in the US. Margie Calciano was just another
statistic. And for 20 years she didn’t even have a name. Were it not
for the collaboration of Detective Robert Wanner and professional
psychic (emphasis added) Dr Lauren Thibodeau, the chances are Margie
would have faded into history as an unidentified victim.” That’s
straight from the ABC website. Worse, it’s listed as a documentary.

Unfortunately for the ABC’s Ian Taylor, head of programming Marena
Manzoufas is “away from the office until Christmas”. As her
second-in-command, Taylor got stuck with queries about the
science-to-psychic decision.

“With all our timeslots, when the (ratings) survey period is over and
we enter into the summer schedule, everything goes out the window,” he
says with good humour. “(Psychic Investigators) may not be
scientific,” Taylor says, acknowledging the obvious, “but I do think
it will be of interest to many of the people who are used to watching
at that time.”

He may think so, but I don’t. My psychic powers tell me the
switchboard will light up with complaints from Catalyst viewers such
as Barry Williams, chief executive of Australian Skeptics.

For once, the MSM came to the party and covered our irritation at a quality science show being ditched for the sort of stuff that normally wins the Bent Spoon Award. Hop onto that link and all will be revealed – about the Bent Spoon, Psychic Investigators and sundry other skeptical goodies.

I don’t like ABC bias. I also dislike the ABC’s tendency to view science in such, ahem, wide terms. I thought science was about evidence, and that any speculation had to serve the evidence. I’m also aware – because of my day job – where unprovable speculation can lead. Lindy Chamberlain, anyone?

UPDATE: The full text of the article in The Australian I quoted is here. Information about the Skeptics’ annual ‘Bent Spoon’ Award is here.

UPDATE II: A fellow skeptic who sent a letter of complaint received this response from the ABC:

Dear Mr *******

Thank you for your email regarding ‘Psychic Investigators’.

The ABC regrets that you are unhappy about the decision to broadcast
this series. Psychic Investigators is a series in which police involved
in investigating crimes, in the absence of evidence indicating the guilt
of a particular perpetrator, have called upon the services of psychics
as a possible way of achieving a breakthrough in a case. These are
actual documented police investigations and the police involved are
interviewed in the series, along with the psychic employed. Many of the
police involved state that they were initially sceptical that a psychic
would be of any help and that they were astounded by the information
they learned. The cases covered in the series took place in the UK and
North America and cover a range of crimes.

Catalyst recesses every year over the summer. Thursday nights at 8.00pm
is not a dedicated science timeslot, in fact last year over the summer
the ABC showed Creature Comforts and Nigel’s Place in France in this

As the national broadcaster, the ABC has an obligation to appeal to a
diverse range of tastes. Nonetheless, your comments about this series
are noted and have been conveyed to ABC Television.

Thank you for taking the time to contact the ABC.

Yours sincerely

Cathy Brown
ABC Audience and Consumer Affairs


  1. Posted November 30, 2006 at 8:47 pm | Permalink

    As I said on another thread, if Foxtel stops trying to sell me some dumb ‘package’, and lets me buy the channels I want (for which I’m willing to pay extra), then I’ll sign up, but not until. Home Shopping Network does not interest me in the slightest, and I refuse to receive it in order to watch the cricket and sf.

  2. FDB
    Posted November 30, 2006 at 10:02 pm | Permalink

    Now SL.

    What is your explanation of the post title. See #45.

    Is this an admission that only accusations of poor quality programming are legitimate criticisms of the ABC?

    If so, why “at last”? Why have you been hanging out for an excuse to ‘bash’ them?

  3. Posted November 30, 2006 at 10:13 pm | Permalink

    I think the ABC is biased, FDB, but I don’t particularly care. My personal experiences with the media have made me almost completely cynical about everything they report (ABC and commercial both).

    Lack of accuracy – and in my experience, the ABC was just as bad as the commercials in this respect, along with lack of accountability – means I think all media is crap. I’ve blogged on the accountability issues elsewhere – I think there should be some comeback on the press in a legal sense when they fuck up so badly people are damaged – either in a civil or criminal sense. Otherwise, I don’t care. The media are stuffed, and the sooner their advertising revenue goes down the toilet because they can’t make the online thing work for them, the better.

    That said, as an amateur science buff, I really dislike deliberate horseshit. The stuff the media did about me amounted to the media class believing its own bullshit. Psychic Investigators involves a highly deliberate untruth. There is a difference.

  4. FDB
    Posted November 30, 2006 at 10:21 pm | Permalink

    Okay, so why the post?

    You’ve got DAILY ammunition against the commercial outlets on all the above criteria.

    Don’t be evasive. This was a deliberate crusade on the basis of your pre-exisisting ideological opposition to the ABC, in celebration of finally having a genuine complaint that none of the ABC’s defenders would go in to bat for.

    In other words, a cheap shot.

  5. FDB
    Posted November 30, 2006 at 10:23 pm | Permalink

    For a self-professed enthusiast for the nobility of the hunt, you seem very keen on shooting fish in a barrel.

  6. Posted November 30, 2006 at 10:24 pm | Permalink

    Yes, but I don’t pay for them in my taxes, FDB.

  7. FDB
    Posted November 30, 2006 at 10:29 pm | Permalink

    No, you pay for them by:

    a) wasting 1/6 of your viewing time looking at ads

    and b) having your information distorted according to commercial interests (see a)

  8. Posted November 30, 2006 at 10:48 pm | Permalink

    That’s what tivos are for… and mute buttons between overs and during drinks, FDB 🙂

  9. Posted November 30, 2006 at 10:49 pm | Permalink


    You are not obliged to pay for commercial television. ie you can just not watch it and not waste anytime watching adds. While I’ll be appalled when channel 10 runs psychic investigators, I don’t have to pay for it. I do with the ABC, and I threfore expect them not to be pushing bullshit.

    Overall I’m quite happy paying for the ABC in my taxes. I think they produce a number of shows that are beneficial and wouldn’t otherwise be support. They are producing public goods increasing knowledge of science etc with catalyst. They are taking away these goods by running quackery.

  10. Posted December 1, 2006 at 12:33 am | Permalink

    For some reason I found this whole episode really annoying. Even worse, the show was lame as well. Sensing Murder was better, which isn’t saying much.

  11. terjepetersen
    Posted December 1, 2006 at 1:07 am | Permalink

    I had a bad nightmare, when I was a kid, of a scary car crash. I woke up my mum and dad and told them about it. The next morning as mum drove us to school we had a head on collision.

    My sister got up one morning and insisted (to my mum) that she was going to break her leg that day. Latter while riding her horse a friends horse kicked her in the leg and snapped the bone.

    True stories. Proving of course that I am from a family of psychics.

    I predict that the ABC will not be privatised before the next election.


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