Psychics as (Unethical) Financial Advisors

I know. Picking on psychics from a business ethics point of view is a bit like shooting fish in a barrel. The poor dears are hardly equipped to defend themselves. At least they can’t claim they didn’t see it coming.

I have a long-term interest in the ethics of selling goods and services that are on the borderline between fraud and entertainment. But today’s posting is inspired by this story from In Troubling Economic Times, Consumers Flock to Online Psychics

While it doesn’t take a psychic to see that tough times lay ahead for the economy, online practitioners of the divination arts say they’re seeing a marked sift in the questions posed by their clientele, with anxious consumers increasingly asking what’s in store for them financially in the months ahead. Believers who normally seek psychics for advice on a cheating spouse are now asking whether a pink slip is in their future, and internet psychics across the board saw a spike in traffic in the days following the initial market crash.

This is pretty troubling. These psychics and fortune-tellers — businesses — are taking money in return for…well, what? Certainly not reliable information or guidance. Entertainment? Maybe. I know lots of people find it fun to read their horoscopes, and some might take a visit to a fortune-teller as an opportunity for introspection, and that introspection might make the trip useful. But here’s the problem: people are relying on so-called psychics and fortune-tellers in a situation where good financial decision-making might be crucial. “Buyer beware?” Again, maybe. But sometimes fools need to be protected from themselves, and the fact that their customers are fools (or simply uneducated) doesn’t make these scam-artists any more ethical.

We should, of course, entertain the possibility that at least some of these psychics, fortune-tellers, etc., are delusional rather than unethical. They might actually believe their own nonsense. Fair point. Likewise, some scientists are delusional about the promise their discoveries hold to cure cancer, save the world, etc. But at least scientists — even delusional ones — generally (but admittedly not always) have the good sense to know that they’ve got to actually test their hypotheses, and look for good evidence that their products work, before selling them to an unwary public.

See also: Skeptic Revamps $1M Psychic Prize
This book link is too funny not to post: Psychic Counselor’s Handbook : Ethics, Tools, and Techniques, by Ralph D. Jordan
See also: So you want to be a Medium: A Down to Earth Guide, by Rose Vanden Eynden.

3 comments so far

  1. Caroline on

    And (it goes without saying but that never kept me from saying anything) scientists not only test, but test with recognized methods. A psychic could very well be lucky and think of that as good evidence, whereas scientists can claim the testing goes a bit farther than coincidences.

  2. […] little over a month ago, I took an easy jab at purveyors of the paranormal, and wrote about Psychics as (Unethical) Financial Advisors. I was reacting to reports that, in tough economic times, folks were turning more frequently to […]

  3. […] also: “Psychics as (Unethical) Financial Advisors” and “The Ethics of Unreliable Advice”, (both from the Business Ethics […]

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