May 23, 2019

Are Any Psychics For Real?

“When you’re setting up fake Facebook pages, it’s the little details that can mess things up.

On a group computer call last winter, Susan Gerbic was going through her checklist of tips for her team’s latest sting operation — this one focused on infiltrating the audience of a psychic. It all started with maintaining their Facebook sock-puppets — those fake online profiles. “American spellings, everyone!” she commanded her half-dozen international colleagues through the Skype crackle.

Gerbic lives in Salinas, California, and while she is retired from the routine world of work, she has taken on a new job, as self-appointed guardian of Enlightenment Reason. She spends most of her days wrangling her far-flung group of Guerrilla Skeptics into a common cause, defending empirical truth online. This usually consists of editing and monitoring Wikipedia pages — a cat-herding task she says she’s uniquely qualified for. “I was a baby photographer,” she explained. “I ran a JCPenney portrait studio for 34 years.”

Collectively, the group, which has swelled to 144 members, has researched, written, or revised almost 900 Wikipedia pages. Sure, they take on the classics, like debunking “spontaneous human combustion,” but many of their other pages have real-world impact. For instance, they straightened out a lot of grim hooey about the phony teen-suicide “blue whale game” challenge, and they have provided facts about the Burzynski Clinic, a theoretical treatment for cancer operating out of Houston.”

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