Debunking Psychic John Starkey

About a year ago, I got into a “discussion” with a friend about psychics – he thought I was closed-minded because I proceed from the assumption that the paranormal is bunk. And we briefly discussed hot-reading and cold-reading techniques. Then he described a session he had with a British psychic called John Starkey. At that time, I couldn’t find any information about him from the Randi site, but now I see that he is president of something called the Psychic Research Foundation of Great Britain. My friend’s description of his session with Starkey seems to be difficult to fit into the usual cold-reading patterns. Of course, it’s difficult to debunk a psychic based on second-hand information given that a major tool of the psychic is to take advantage of the subject’s perception of events. However, I was wondering whether anyone had any ideas as to what might have been going on:

Sounds like a hot reading to me.

The person’s experience is too subjective to gain a good perspective of this Starkey from. Need more info, but the probability that this psychic uses neither hot nor cold reading techniques is, oh say 0%.

Hm … There really is a difficulty in trying to debunk someone’s self-reported experiences. I wonder whether it’s even fruitful to try – I’m sorry, buddy, but you must have been the victim of a hot reading – Impossible! How could he find out stuff about me?

Of course, it’s even more difficult since my friend apparently didn’t want to disclose the specifics of the “revelations” made to him.

I wonder whether there are any who know more about John Starkey in general and what his usual m.o. is.

The ‘revelations’ he hints at all seem to be future predictions.
But what? Did Starkey predict that your friend would wake up tomorrow in bed? You are right in wanting to know the specifics.

But the easiest way to make hot readings from just a name and a birthdate is to look up demographics on the internet or other data sources. If he gave a credit card number, oy vey!

He calls himself a “psychic”. That’s enough debunking for me.

I agree, but, unfortunately that’s not necessarily an effective argument in these situations.

I’ve read of many investigations on “psychics” where the subjects vehemently INSISTED that at NO TIME WHATSOEVER did they offer any information about themselves, that they never once provided any clues to their personal lives, and that they sat silently the entire time while the “psychic” rattled on and on about them in a way that no one but themselves could possibly know. But then those subjects were presented with a tape or exact transcript and it’s very obvious they were providing all the answers.

The day any psychic takes Randi’s $1MM is the day I’ll believe in them. But that will never happen.

I visited John Starkey in London 4 times and its 20 years later and nothing has come true he is a conman, he spurts out a scripted speech, I repeat nothing has ever come near to coming true I have listened to the tapes and CD’s nothing has come close.

He said I would move and it would be a great time, an excellent time, I would meet someone in the medical profession with short blonde hair and piercing eyes who will be a very good friend indeed and possibly more later and can see me working for a large authoritative body which will go really well.

I will receive a cheque in the post and grant will be the name on the cheque but I think this is the signature and it will be a really good time for me, I will invest in a property outside of the UK, somewhere I can go to get away from it all, but remember its there to earn for you, this is all rubbish.

I did move as I thought excellent times awaited me it was the worst mistake of my life I was lonely and ended up drinking too much, I started taking drugs as I had no one to talk too I ended up with schizophrenia and I have lost my flat and I will be living on the streets in 2019, I have lost my job as well and I will be unable to work for the rest of my life.

I wish TV would have him on to predict things like would Brexit happen a simple yes or no that would have shown him up, conman, your reading/advice has ruined my life.

When I am living on the streets I will curse you every day I hope you can live with yourself, how many more victims are out there because of your lies.


There’s nothing here to debunk. Your friend’s account is vague to the point of being completely useless. That’s not meant as a slam - it’s just the nature of human cognition, perception, and memory. Humans are pattern-finding and story-telling creatures. We’re very good at it. We can, and often do, “find” patterns in, and put together coherent narratives out of, random events.

It’s possible John Starkey made a highly specific and definitively falsifiable prediction to your friend, which your friend accurately and completely remembered verbatim, which then came true.

It’s also possible your friend’s memory of the details of the prediction was influenced by later events, and he’s mis-remembering details, filling them in to better match the actual event, and creating a more coherent narrative. That’s how memory works. It’s not even really accurate to call that “mis-remembering.” Human memory is an active reconstruction, mixing bits and pieces from different events, filling in gaps, smoothing out inconsistencies - telling a story. Human memory is not a lossless digital recording.

Without a complete audiovisual recording of your friend’s session, there’s simply no way to know at this remove what exactly either of them said or did, what unconscious cues your friend may have given to John Starkey, or what “tricks” Starkey could have used.

BTW, the James Randi Educational Foundation is moribund and effectively defunct at this point, James Randi himself is quite elderly and almost entirely retired, and the “Randi Prize” is no longer being offered.

Please note the date of this OP.

That’s a great start to ones mindset, so naturally I disagree with your friends assesment.

There isn’t much elaboration here, but just that says a lot. Going in for a full session, if he supplied nothing but his full name, think what he could do with that before he got there.

I doubt it, but would like to know what those two were that were so specific. I bet if Randi was observing this whole time, perhaps Starkey would have made a few dozen predictions, most being vague and general. Be nice if we had the entire transcript unedited.

Looked for him on You tube, found this one: "The Amazing John Starkey, Psychic. He seems no different than any other psychic. That clip has been out well over a decade, and it’s not even got 10,000 views. Not so amazing.

These types of readings have been debunked by the same guy showing up dressed & acting totally different.

Also, just like handwriting analysis and astrology, they are full of vague generalities that often apply to just about anyone.
*You are enthusiastic and especially open to new experiences and interests. It’s likely to be a rewarding year ahead, particularly with relationships and projects. It’s especially strong for personal appeal and magnetism. This is a powerful time for connecting with others and sharing common goals and pleasures. You are both inspired and responsible at this time in your life. You’re likely to guide others in some manner. Some areas of life are growing exponentially, but you should watch for pushing too hard or dwelling on matters that frustrate more than motivate… more

Career and family are equally important to you–both of these things drive you. You are a real achiever who has determination and willpower, as well as intuition that serves you well. Spirit and beauty reflect from within, and others cannot help but take notice of you. Very diplomatic, you are a peace lover through and through, and bringing harmony to your environment and family satisfies like nothing else. *
I tested this once by handing out such readings to a class, after getting their birthdate. Everyone was handed a random reading, and was asked to say how accurate. Most rating them “fairly” or Highly" accurate. The few that got their own rated them no higher than the people who got a 'wrong" one.

You tend to tune out the wrong parts and focus on the right parts, thus such readings are considered accurate.

In the Ops case, his friend had given the reader quite a few clues- The reader knew ethnicity, his sex, his approximate age, how he dressed, his interest in spirituality, etc.

Remember how much Holmes could infer from just a watch? Think how much more you can get from the whole picture of how a person talks, dresses, personal appearance, etc.

Apparently a zombie thread but, yes, this sounds like hot reading.

Step 1: Floyd calls in to station.
Step 2: Station manager requests name and number (etc.) from Floyd - you know, like so they can get him back on the show if he loses connection, or because it’s required by the lawyers, or whatever.
Step 3: Google!

Now in case there’s no time to do this - e.g., the psychic is meeting someone on the street, they need to get a caller on the air and there isn’t a backlog of candidates prepped and Googled yet, etc. - then the psychic can switch tack and tell them about their future instead of telling them about their past and daily life.

When it comes to the future, well there’s a wide open timetable for events to occur. If they haven’t “popped” yet, well then they might still be upcoming.

And, sure, maybe a prediction seems “specific” and non-general. But if I say four things, each of which only has a 17% chance of happening to a person at any point, then ~52% of people will have at least one of those events occur. I will have proved myself to a majority of people, and the rest…well I haven’t been proven wrong. They’re still living. And, it’s worth noting that, ~14% of people will have had two of the events occur. And if 14% doesn’t sound like a large number, that’s pretty near to the odds of you losing at Russian Roulette. Would you play? No, because that’s a pretty big number, when it comes to probabilities.

And so, like I said, if you haven’t met someone before, you haven’t had time to Google them and look through their Instagram and Facebook photos, then you go for their future.

But once you have met them, gotten their contact information, name, etc. you can prepare for encounter 2. And in encounter 2, you don’t have to limit yourself to the future. This time, you talk about their past and present - because you can.

So, for example, let’s consider this statement:

“They all struck me as being unrelated to me and highly improbable considering what was going on in my life at that time.”

This was the first encounter. Now, the friend is showing how impressive it is that some of these predictions hit, given how they seemed unrelated to his daily life “at that time”.

But those predictions did not succeed “at that time”. Saying that they seemed unlikely, based on your situation, doesn’t mean they’re unlikely, it means that you’re ignoring that the prediction has a 60 year time span in which to hit, to count as a success. Though, I probably want it to trigger sooner than that, so I’ll probably dive into demographics to try and get something that would happen for a reasonable percentage of people in a 2 year time span.

If I know that you’re a man (which I can tell by your voice) and roughly in your 20s (by your voice), I can make a prediction that has a 17% chance of triggering for you inside a window of a couple of years. But that prediction might have a much lower probability of triggering for a girl, for someone older, for a child, etc. I have chosen this one, out of my library of predictions, on the basis of the demographics. It is a thing which has the right balance of seeming unlikely, and so impressive and compelling if it comes true, while having a high enough probability based on your demographics that, thrown in with a few others like it, something is bound to work, and to a listener who isn’t thinking about demographics, it doesn’t sound like I’m making a 17% chance prediction, it sounds like a 2% prediction, because that would almost certainly never happen to them!

But what about the other predictions, that ones that were given in person? Very little is said about those and no mention that they were “unrelated to me”.

I might, as a conman, and given a person who clearly wants to believe in me - going so far as to schedule a meeting - want to ensure that I establish a “prover” in that first in-person session. I want my predictions to hit and the best way to do that is to ensure that I am predicting things which are tightly tailored to my mark. I am no longer targeting 17% for someone in this general demographic over a period of two years. I’m not going to predict that they’ll fall asleep sometime within the next 7 days, or whatever. My goal isn’t to make a prediction that has a high chance of success, my goal is to make a prediction that will convert the sucker and make them forget the other 20 predictions I made during that session.

In this session, I want to generate a hit that will trigger in days or weeks. The sum total of all 20 predictions, added together, needs to be 100%. One of them needs to hit.

But there are twenty of them that I get to make, because we’re not on a radio show with a line of people right behind you. I have now Googled the living bejeezus out of you. I don’t have to rely on basic demographics. I can make predictions that are tightly tailored to the math of the situation and your life. They’ll be more specific than the ones from before, because that’s my proof to you when there’s a hit. No one could have guessed that. And if I didn’t know anything about you, it would be laughable to try and make that prediction. But I do know you. I’ve pored through every blog post you’ve written in the last five years. Because I know everything about you, these aren’t shots in the dark, they’re still 5-8% probabilities each, on things that will pop very quickly. And there’s twenty of them, and you’ll forget the other 19 as soon as I get the one hit, because you’re the sort of person who would sign up to meet a psychic.

If you kept metrics on the radio show, keeping track of visions of the past versus visions of the future, are those evenly distributed across the duration of the show, just as many right when it starts as when it finishes? Does he seem to prefer predictions early into the show and migrate over to mentions of a person’s past later into the show? In the cases where an early caller does get a lot of visions about their past, are they a repeat caller or a new caller?

Did anyone take the friend’s name or any other contact information when he called into the show before OR AFTER? Did he provide any contact information when he made the appointment to meet the psychic?

Did he do anything to prevent hot or cold reading from being able to take place, like recording all of his interactions with the psychic, people working for the psychic, to have a record that he could go back and check, to ensure that no information was given and that the predictions were worded as tightly as he interpreted them, and exactly as he remembered them two years later? Did he run through the things that were said and see if there was any mysterious correlation between what was mentioned and the things that appear in his online media profiles, and his friends’?

Did he create any fake profiles, wear clothes unlike the sort he would usually wear, etc. and provide within the fake materials, certain trivia that would certainly be used by a psychic - deaths in the family, personal illness, etc. - and then see if the psychic gave predictions that seemed generated out of these falsehoods?

How many predictions were given in the in-person meeting? Did the first one of those that hit, hit before the predictions that were given on the radio? Did those predictions seem “unrelated to me”?

As missbunny mentioned, everyone’s perfectly free to take the James Randi challenge and earn a smooth, easy $1m. But it’s a widely different ballgame to give a person a tightly perfected “show” and to demonstrate your powers in a place where they have gone through and figured out how one could cheat.

I mean ultimately, if you take the basic assumption that the psychic is a conman, then you’re just looking at an engineering problem. A result was produced through non-magical means. What means can produce that result? Probabilities? Yes, that’s one way. Googling? Yep, that would do it. Gullibility? Liable to work.

There’s probably more than one way to do this. My suggestions about how these effects would be produced without magic may not be the only ones. But if we assume that there is no magic and only things that can be done using the things here in the real world, then we can (hopefully) figure out guards against all of those things, leaving only actual, genuine magic to be able to succeed.

And if you have actual magic, then you’re just as free to practice your psychic abilities on your radio show, in your tarot room, whatever as you are to go into a room at the James Randi Institute, submit to all of the rules that would prevent non-magical techniques from working, and gain an easy paycheck of a lot of money.

If you’re not doing that, when you have actual magic…well you probably don’t have actual magic.

So the friend said there were many predictions made for the future and two have come true but he is still waiting about the others? Two words: confirmation bias.

Late to the party but as for this:

It’s possible that Starkey did not have his eyes fully closed and was able to pick up on subtle body clues (“I did not manifest my reactions outwardly” - uh, suuure.)

Without knowing exactly what those predictions were (“specific” covers a lot of ground), I agree that jumping on the “correct” ones and ignoring the false ones as predictions that simply haven’t come true yet is the mark of…well, a mark. :slight_smile:

As soon as one of these guys manifests a consistent ability under controlled conditions, I’ll revise my opinion. Until then, they’re all fakes.

For your edification

This took like ten seconds to find

There are no psychics, only conjurers and con men.

Is it really necessary to go back and explain a 16-year-old thread?

Sigh. Okay, fine.

It doesn’t need to be explained to me that psychics aren’t real. That’s the premise of the OP.

The questions are these:

  1. Does anyone know anything about Starkey and how he operates?

  2. What techniques might Starkey be using?

  3. How do I address my friend’s assertion of belief?

Now, before you go whole hog on this, keep in mind that this is a friend I haven’t been in touch with in many years, who lives an ocean away, and now that I’m off Facebook, in unlikely to be in contact with him at all in the foreseeable future.

So given all that, feel free to comment further. Keep in mind that explaining to me that psychics aren’t real is unnecessary. If you have any insight on Starkey specifically or his modus operandi, that’s something I’d be interested in these many years later.

If you want to show someone how psychics function, and why someone who claims to be speaking to the dead is probably bullshitting, have them read one of the Jaime Vegas stories by Kelley Armstrong - “No Humans Involved” is a full length urban fantasy and “The Ungrateful Dead.” is a short story in the anthology “Blood Lite”.

Jaime Vegas works as a psychic who does shows where she speaks to the dead loved ones of audience members. The twist? She actually can speak to the dead, but purposefully avoids it during her shows (she actually visits the venues beforehand to make sure they’re not haunted, and burns herbs to deter spirits - remember this is a fantasy).

In both of these stories, Jaime details exactly how she operates using cold and hot readings and all the other tricks that psychics use to make it look like they’re speaking with the dead, when they actually aren’t.

I recommend “Blood Lite” with no reservations - it’s an anthology of humorous horror stories, many of which are absolute gems. “The Ungrateful Dead” works very well as a standalone story in this book.
“No Humans Involved” is also good, but is the 7th book in a series called “Women of the Underworld”, and doesn’t stand on it’s on as well as “The Ungrateful Dead” does.

If I recall my conversations accurately after all these years, this friend took the position that “just because X psychic has been debunked, that says nothing about whether Y psychic as genuine paranormal abilities. If you’re alleging fraud, then you must prove it from scratch with each new psychic.”

Of course, the fact that he wouldn’t reveal any of the specific predictions to me made it impossible to evaluate his specific fortune-telling.

we have pointed these out.

I’m not saying you didn’t, but so long as folks feel the need to add to this ancient thread, I thought it worth reiterating what it is and isn’t about. It’s plausible that more people might have more to add about Starkey, which would be interesting. It wouldn’t be interesting to me to have more posts just making blanket statements about paranormal stuff.