Psi’s Circus Sideshow?

At last count, how many alleged paranormal reality shows are on television? Do you remember all their names?  Do you recall what any of them are really supposed to be about?  Probably not, because they’re about absolutely nothing.

Does anyone really believe that these shows are unscripted?  They’re as well choreographed as any Broadway show in many respects.  After one hundred and twenty nine years of formal psychical research and forty three years of my own investigating close to five thousand field cases of poltergeists, hauntings, apparitions, doppelgangers, UFO abductions and the like, one clearly obvious pattern has emerged:  the chance of regularly or consistently running into real paranormal phenomena while investigating a case is the chance of winning the lottery ten times in a row at the hundred million dollar level.  More simply put, the odds are astronomical against you.

However, if you’re producing a paranormal reality show where something paranormal must occur during every episode, perhaps even several times per segment, you have a serious logistics problem on your hands, don’t you?  You cannot simply have talking heads on camera for forty minutes out of every hour, or you’re ratings will be as remote as your chances of encountering real paranormal phenomena are.

Therefore, if one wants their reality show to get ratings worthy of renewal, one must do one of three things;  a) fake paranormal events.  b) populate the show with such colorful or outlandish individuals that they’re weekly rantings serve the same purpose as observing real phenomena would or, c) dramatically exaggerate and embellish whatever really does occur to make it appear more important than it really is.

Long before the air was littered with such ridiculous shows, I was approached by the creator of one of the first (whose name will remain absent as I do not wish to promote this clown in any way).  Years ago, when we first met, I made it very clear to him what the true reality was regarding investigating such paranormal events was like.  His answer was simple and straightforward.

Each episode of his show would fake such occurrences, and on the very rare occasion when they actually encountered demonstrable paranormal events, they would make it appear as if it were a hoax.  Compelling reverse logic indeed, but not for me.

I made it clear to this producer (who already had a well established track record), that his thinking was certainly novel and provocative, but his show idea was nothing I could ever be associated with as it would be a blatant fraud.  I shook has hand and walked out.  About six weeks later, I once again met with this producer along with one of my colleagues at the time, and he again made his pitch.  But now, to the both of us.

We both shook our heads in unison to the negative as we were not even vaguely interested in his offer.  The seriously disturbing aspect of all these shows are that they’re doing a tremendous disservice and injustice to academic, scientific researchers within parapsychology by misinforming the public as to the real nature of these types of events, which in reality are not as frequent or intense as erroneously depicted in these juvenile, ludicrous shows.

If paranormal events were as consistently reliable as seen in these “unreality” shows, they wouldn’t be referred to as paranormal, as we’d already understand what they are, how they operate and why they occur.

Trust me on this, no one on earth really knows what’s going on with such other worldly events, which is why they’re referred to as phenomena.  The primary reason that these shows follow the the same intrinsic formula is that they are feeding a population that is totally ignorant as to what’s real in the paranormal world, let alone within science in general.

It’s very easy to fool and manipulate large audiences if they are unaware of the facts regarding a specific subject.  And when it comes to the paranormal, this applies to probably 99.99% of the population.

In the end, one must remember that all these shows are nothing more than mindless entertainment for people with way too much spare time on their hands and cannot differentiate between reality, fantasy and entertainment.

All too frequently, amateur paranormal investigators venture forth on their own attempting to emulate what they’ve seen on these shows.   The results of such copycat investigators is nothing more than sheer fantasy and misinterpreting very normal, everyday events as something paranormal.

An interesting closing note here is that several of us (parapsychologists) have been officially banned from ever appearing on one particular cable network for consistently refusing to lie to the public on their behalf.

With the exception of myself, the names of the three other gentlemen forbidden from appearing on this network will not be disclosed in order to protect their innocence and privacy.

So is this the fate of those few academicians in parapsychology who work with the media, but refuse to lie for their potential employers?

How utterly vile and disgusting I say.

In the end, the most seriously damaging effects of these numerous paranormal “unreality” shows are their severe contamination to the field of parapsychology and those of us who have been scientifically investigating paranormal phenomena for many decades.  These shows are causing people to actually believe in what they see and hear during such staged events. They therefore suspect that parapsychologists are the frauds and little more than very old dinosaurs who have not yet fossilized. 

However, the majority of the media is well aware that these shows are little more than clever, manipulative, choreographed productions by people making lots of money off gullible, naive and ignorant viewers.  And of course, many of the “actors” performing on these fraudulent “unreality” shows frequently appear on very well-known radio shows that play into the garbage these shows spew to increase their listener audiences. 

Once these unreality shows fade from cable networks and our memories, the paranormal as a genre may disappear from television and feature films for several generations, as young, new producers will view it all as little more than clever hoaxes to attract sponsors for those people who believe that there’s a demon in every closet and under every bedpost.  Far too many people, and are far too many shows will have cried wolf way too long for any real, scientific evidence to be believed and taken seriously again.   If I didn’t know any better, I’d almost suspect that there’s a real disinformational program at work here to totally discredit the paranormal in general.  Who knows, maybe there is?

By Dr. Barry Taff

Dr. Barry Taff, who holds a doctorate in psychophysiology with a minor in biomedical engineering, worked as a research associate at UCLAs former parapsychology laboratory from 1969 through 1978. During his 41-year career, Dr. Taff has investigated more than 4,000 cases of ghosts, hauntings, poltergeists, and he has conducted extensive studies in telepathy and precognition which led to the development of the original protocols and methodologies for what was later coined remote-viewing. He is the author of Aliens Above, Ghosts Below.

8 replies on “Psi’s Circus Sideshow?”

As one who has also been called upon to consult for any number of paranormal/UFO “documentaries,” what you describe is not uncommon. Equally baffling to me is the producers who are utterly ignorant of the true nature of these events–ie. their often random nature, and expect the researchers to provide weekly cases at predictable intervals. They often ask you to describe, in advance, what sorts of paranormal phenomena you anticipate, its frequency, intensity and any “exciting” collateral evidence it may produce. Most disturbing to me is their greediness for such ratings-boosters and paranormal smoking guns, without any regard for either the time and energy and often expense endured by the researchers, nor the potential downsides of the experiencers themselves coming forward and spilling their innermost details of said events, thereby subjecting themselves to certain ridicule. The producers seem to operate under the delusion that everyone wants to be on tv so badly, that there is a virtual line of wanna be paranormal victims beating itself to their door. Yes, they want both the groundbreaking evidence and paranormal victims… and are almost always willing to pay next to nothing for the privilege of exploiting the dedicated researchers and the experiencers for their own profit. Ocassionally some earnest producers will want to actually produce a quality program that attempts to display the truth, but this is a rarity and often as not is overshadowed by a naysaying network, who may insist on inserting a “skeptic”, ie. one with no actual knowledge of the subject matter or field experience, in order to convey the appearance of “balance.” I marvel as to why parascience is subject to the such caveats, where as shows delving, say, into theoretical physics or ancient history require no such counterpoints. Can you imagine every program describing Darwinian theory to require a biblical scholar to weigh in for good measure?

Thus the media, originally vowing to champion alternative theories, thus quite often serves to undermine the very revelations it claims to provide access to.

Jolene: Your response to my blog is superb and definitively demonstrates to the public the incredibly uncreative aspects regarding paranormal reality shows and the lengths they go to in their feeble attempt to re-write history and science in order to make their shows more entertaining. If more individuals like yourself were to come forward and convey the real truth underlying these absurd shows, they would either disappear from television or be revamped to better reflect what’s really going on out there paranormally. Every point you make here is accurate in the extreme and needs to be addressed if the paranormal is to ever be correctly represented on television again. The more audiences know, they better judge they will be as to the credibility of such forms of mindless entertainment. Who knows, if more intelligent and articulate people like yourself get their points across, future paranormal reality shows might actually help discover something really important and relevant other then lowering the IQ’s of their viewers. Keep up the good work Jolene, parapsychology needs many more women exactly like you.

As always, a very insightful and responsible perspective on the credibility of the “paranormal media” collective. Your points are well taken regarding the presentation of so-called “evidence”. These outlets profer alleged examples of paranormal phenomena that range from misinterpreted data to outright chicanery and deception. Instead of paranormal proof, their modus operandi taints the entire field with a lack of integrity or any sense of discernment. As a result any earnest work gets lost in a cloud of misinformation. The unfortunate truth is that with all of these shows filming in paranormal hot spots, authentic phenomena may be occurring, but the associated data is getting lost in the noise of this programming.

Another point of contention is the self-claimed titles of the personalities that populate these shows. Just how does one get to call himself/herself a paranormal expert? A professional ghost hunter?? Certainly there must be a very rigorous standard set in order to proclaim such expertise. Evidently to become a member of such an elite club in the ranks of paranormal television, one must possess a tacky “ghost huntin'” t-shirt and a minimal operating knowledge of an EMF detector. (Uh, I don’t know about no milligauss, but the needle just went into the red…we got a ghost!) Truth be told, the most compelling story of all this para-media is the list of names of researchers who are NOT appearing on these shows. As is the case with any government press release, don’t listen to what they are saying, listen to what they are not saying to discover the truth.

As a victim of a well publicized haunting, I have had a front row seat to the “circus” of the paranormal tv circuit and have been a guest on numerous tv shows, talking about my experience. I can’t agree more to the comments made about how the media and the reality shows have turned a serious subject, that is real, into a joke. For the media, it’s all about entertainment, not finding answers. Those generic shows that set up a camera to capture a “ghost”, and claim to be a “scientific research team” that is “investigating the paranormal”, are not. They are merely TV people trying to make money off a tv show. That’s their job. Real paranormal people don’t have tv shows, they do their research and study it – hoping to find answers to questions that have been perplexing us throughout time. Most people are ignorant on this subject, after all, it’s about the unknown. I’d venture to say, that more people then not, have had their own paranormal experience, although, many won’t admit it, they have. Their experience peeks their interest on the subject and they want to know more about it. Since there is still very little we actually know about paranormal activity, finding accurate information is not easy – because it’s just not out there or accessible. But tv is out there and it is accessible so people watch ghost hunting shows and believe they are legitimate. They watch shows,because they want to learn more about the unknown, and they think they are. But what they don’t realize is, the shows target audience is aimed at gullible suckers who are being used to boost ratings – the networks are laughing all the way to the bank, because people are so gullible and they are capitalizing off their ignorance. That sucks.

Your comment here is excellent Jackie. Your reasoning and logic are right on point and well articulated. Barry, Jeff and I all know the hell you went through regarding your extraordinary experiences and the extreme problems you had to cope with for several years during this lengthy case. You were and are a very strong lady who deserves much credit for how superbly you and your family dealt with these life-changing encounters. In the end, you demonstrated the grounding and stability necessary to adapt to such incredibly difficult experiences, when many others could not. Because of all this, we’ve come to have great respect and admiration for your tolerance and strength of will to effectively deal with the media frenzy that surrounded you and the case in general. You are one hell of a lady and I sincerely applaud you for being such a wonderful person with nothing but the best intentions for all concerned, like you family and friends.

I would agree with virtually all the points in Barry’s article. While it is certainly possible that the vast unwashed paranormal programs may affect peoples’ opinions of the scientific research, the far greater issue is potential impact on the funding of such research. One would like to believe the funding groups are intelligent enough to understand the difference, and thus far this appears to be the case. However my take on the future impact is a bit different and perhaps a bit more optimistic.

In my opinion, we are seeing a dramatic shift both in science and popular opinion when it comes to things non-material. It appears to me that the current generation is more accepting of concepts like consciousness and information rather than material-based realities. Part of this may come from their intensive exposure to information technology concepts and solutions.

Theoretical physics has been aware that there is more to reality than particles of matter and energy for decades. Quantum physics experiments now show that a materialistic view of reality cannot be completely correct nor can it fully explain anomalies such as psi. So materialist skeptics in fact are arguing from ignorance. This has been the case for decades in theoretical science.

These facts will, I believe, converge as the public becomes more aware of them and the current thinking will produce a paradigm shift not only in science but also in the general worldview worldwide. People will come to see what some of us in psi research have known or at least suspected for some time: that psi research leads the way, rather than following. If you want to see the future of science, familiarize yourself with the real scientific psi research. And by all means, either ignore the “paranormal” shows or at least understand them for what they truly are.


Firstly, the ridiculousness of being banned from a TV network due to an adherence to the truth typifies what in my opinion is the general state of “journalism” in this country today. The degeneration of TV, newspapers and radio is at the root of this particular issue. What is real is no longer what “matters”. What will sell has taken precedent over correctly informing the populous, which is what these various media outlets were originally designed to do.

Once again it comes as no surprise that you wouldn’t be allowed to expound upon your firsthand knowledge. Why would these producers, executives etc. want you to, when they can concoct a story that will appeal to as you say “99.9%” of the population rather than the true story which might only appeal to perhaps 30%?

The real tragedy occurs behind the scenes, when an actual scientist (read highly educated individual) brings on experiment, theory or experience regarding the paranormal to the public. What occurs is ridicule, disdain, a loss of credibility, and a charge of the loss of sanity and a general “sweeping under the rug” of these highly educated forthright individuals. Their words are only given its true voice within a relatively small sub-section of the population that is open to hearing new ideas actually sits down an listens.

This (often not always) undeserved criticism is due, in part, to these paranormal reality shows. More to the point, the knowledge reservoir of these true psychic experiences must be sought out rather than being easily acquired.

The metaphoric minefield that must be sifted through in order to gain actual knowledge rather than fantasy and fairy tales is too much for the average American to have the desire to wade through.

Now having stated why this, it is no surprise (in long form), that I personally think it’s kind of awesome that you were banned. The only thing I’ve ever been banned from is an Orchard Supply Hardware so you have me beat. I having something to aspire to. (Mostly kidding)

A final point here is that this trashing of the paranormal reality and by proxy parapsychology, is unlikely to end. Even when these shows can no longer hold a substantial audience, Hollywood will always be there. These phenomena are obviously incredibly captivating, so there will always be a market for these TV series and films. I don’t mind horror films at all, so as a wanna-be parapsychologist and a “scary” movie fanatic, I reach my own hypocrisy. What scares me is the possibility of the downfall of parapsychology as a science. Who is going to replace the Auerbach’s, Taff’s and Radin’s of today’s world? Maybe me? Maybe someone similar to myself? Maybe nobody?

That’s what worries me the most. Regardless, rock on for getting banned!!

Very well articulated. But my fear is that long before you reach our age, parapsychology will be as relevant to society as taking a horse-drawn covered wagon across the US in order to go from Los Angeles to New York. Just as you’ve stated here, these paranormal shows have so contaminated the media and this field in general, that we’ve been set back at least 65-70 years if not more. But this is all part of the dumbing down of America and the world in general, to where we will no longer even be able of repair the machines left by our ancestors. And like I said in this blog, when Loyd Auerbach told me seven years ago that I’d been banned from this network for not willing to lie on their behalf over the years, it was like telling me that my photograph will NOT appear in the post office. Thank you for your comments sir, they are much appreciated.

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