Sunday, 5 May 2013

Psychic needs a chill pill. And actual abilities.

Chip Coffey, looking rather unhappy.
On Sunday, April 28, CFI Regina protested the dubious psychic Chip Coffey. Seven of us showed up to take a stand by handing out an informational pamphlet on cold reading and hopefully raise awareness of the ways psychics fool people.

Paul Dechene, a contractor for a local magazine called the Prairie Dog, also showed up. Check out his summary of the events on his website – they’re good stuff!

Our intent for the night was not necessarily to confront Chip or anyone in the audience, but rather to be respectful, courteous, and open minded. We didn’t even want to make claims about Chip himself, but rather about psychics generally, and allow the audience to draw their own conclusions in light of some basic cold reading principles.

On our courteousness, we achieved this in spades. Heck, we may have even been too polite, wishing people to enjoy the show (much as I would if they were going to see a movie), and even directed people to the show if they looked lost. Like I said, probably too nice, but what can I say, we’re thoroughly Canadian.

As can be expected, we were asked to leave and we obliged, eventually making our way to the outside sidewalk where we continued handing out pamphlets as peopled entered the building. And to Hotel Saskatchewan’s credit, they remained quite civil the entire time.

 This was the pamphlet we created specifically for Chip's show. It's quite rude, isn't it?

We eventually ran out of pamphlets (and people were definitely reading them: bonus!). So we started talking about heading to a local restaurant for some celebratory beverages when none other than the big man Chip Coffey stormed out to greet us himself. Now here was a pleasant surprise!

Unfortunately, he didn’t seem quite as pleased.

Right off the hop, he was pointing his finger like a gun, accusing us of – I literally could not make this up if I tried – being the skeptical equivalent of the Westboro Baptist Church. Because apparently Westboro is known for handing out informational pamphlets and telling people to enjoy their show.

One of the best quotes of the evening, in my opinion, is when Chip was positively frothing at the mouth, accusing us of threatening his financial livelihood. You know, with our ridiculous explanations of cold reading and charmingly agreeable dispositions.

Standing no more than a couple inches from one of our members, Chip accusingly asked her “What do you do for a living?” When she replied that she’s a student, he proclaimed “Aha! So your parents are covering you, are they?” Although cold reading would suggest, statistically speaking, this should have been a reliable conclusion – it missed the mark completely. She and others were shaking their heads while Chip talked over everyone and tried to move on from his obvious blunder.

I kept thinking to myself, if Chip really has any kind of psychic abilities at all, that was the time he should have gotten it right. Unfortunately for him, he showed his hand and it was clear what he really is: a cold reader, and not a particularly good one.

Here's our little CFI group! I'm the fella 
standing in the middle. Two of our
members are missing, as they attended 
the show.
But I digress, we made sure we, at least, were the adults in the room. Multiple times we pointed out that neither our pamphlet nor our tactics were aggressive. Indeed, they were neutral explanations of cold reading techniques and were not accusatory in any way.

I will say one additional thing, though, which is that he eventually invited two of our members to join his show free of charge. He even stayed with them afterwards to chat, taking them until around midnight.

During the show, and with the benefit of having time to cool down and collect his thoughts, he did apologize for his rude behaviour earlier. That is, after it became (painfully) obvious we were not actually the aggressors. How much of that was showmanship to save face, and how much was genuine? I suppose we’ll never know.

Having said that, during the actual cold reading portion of the show, Chip told one person that he expected a winning streak at gambling in their near future.

With that, the misfortune caused by people like Chip was made immediately clear, and the reason we gathered to offer an alternative perspective was thoroughly vindicated.

Psychics really do hurt people.

- Kalen Christensen
Branch Leader, CFI Regina, Hungry Atheist


Chip Coffey has been responding to Paul Dechene’s articles. I, in turn, have responded to him. Check out my comments here:

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