Last week, on January 23rd, one Thom Nickels, identified as a “Philadelphia-based author/journalist,” contributed a piece on Huffington Post entitled “The Most Talented Psychic in Philadelphia.” Perhaps it should have been attributed to the most credulous “author/journalist” in Philadelphia.
Mr. Nickels is obviously a big fan of his proclaimed friend and the subject of his story, Arlene Ostapowicz. In the course of his breathless narrative, Mr. Nickels recounts that:
- Ms. Ostapowicz “… has been a guest on many television and radio shows,” although the only specific show mentioned is one in which she was allegedly invited to appear on but declined.
- “In the 1980s, [Ostapowicz] was in high demand with [Philadelphia] City Hall politicians and judges.”
- Thanks to Krajewski, “word spread among the vast network inside City Hall, especially among the judges, some of whom contacted Arlene and asked for appointments.”
- “The judges were so eager to see Arlene that they sent limos to her humble house in the city's Wissinoming section to pick her up and drive her back to their chambers.”
- “After a few months of this, Krajewski came up with an idea. She asked Arlene if she would see former mayor Frank Rizzo, who was then set on running for a new term as mayor. This was in the 1980s, when Rizzo had his famous radio show. Arlene agreed, and met Rizzo and Krajewski in a South Philadelphia house where the consultations began.”
- After getting a psychic reading from Ostapowicz, “…the next time [Rizzo] saw her, he said, "If I get elected, I'm going to get you an office in City Hall and put you on the payroll." (Since the reporter does not claim to have heard this statement, best guess is that the story was related to him by his pal the psychic. The fact checking appears … slender.)
- “When [Ostopowicz] was on TV during the Goode administration and the city was on the verge of bankruptcy, she was asked by a reporter if the city would sink or swim, and she said swim, meaning that the federal government would come to the city's rescue at the last minute. She provided other details, of course, and when the prediction came true, there were more limos at her door.” Thank goodness our trusty journalist explains the meaning of Ms. Ostopowicz explicit prediction. And as to the other details she provided, “of course” … they do not appear in this article. (Nor does any specific details that would enable one to pin down the specifics of said television appearance.
- She doesn’t have a press agent. (With friends like Mr. Nickels, why would she?)
- “She has worked with the police on many crimes, such as the Dolores Della Penna murder in 1972, the Candace Clothier killing in 1968, as well as far more recent cases.” And accomplished specifically … what? No details are provided.
- Ostopowicz “…studied metaphysics in England in 1972 and became an organizer of the Atlantean Society, and then came back to the U.S. to start a chapter here. The chapter studied things like auras and everything related to the paranormal, even possession and exorcisms.” One surmises that our trusty scribe Mr. Nickels believes in all these things as well as in the psychic powers of his friend.
- Ostapowicz recounted to Nickels “her experiences in a possessed house in Bridesburg near All Saints parish. The malevolent presence was so bad that when the home owner tried to get the pastor of All Saints to come by to do some prayers, the poor priest couldn't get up the steps. A force kept pushing him back. With her Atlantean Society friends, Arlene says that she then went into the house and to the troubled room in question where her group formed a circle, held hands and began some prayers when something unbelievable happened. She says that she was pushed all the way across the floor, as if gliding on ice, to the very edge of the stairs.
Impressive? Amazing? Apparently very much so to Mr. Nickels. To me … not so much.
Like any good believer who is contemptuous of rational inquiry and interest in evidence (much less responsible journalism), Mr. Nickels can’t complete his story without a pre-emptive strike against we annoying skeptics:
“While there's no way to prove to skeptics who laugh or sneer at the paranormal, those of us who've had a ‘Ostapowicz moment,’ know better.”
Ah, but Mr. Nickels, there are countless ways to prove to any interested party that Ms. Ostapowicz possesses even a fraction of the supernatural abilities claimed in this promotional piece. While Mr. Nickels claims that Ms. Ostapowicz has never been interested in fame or riches, nevertheless, since she is such a deeply spiritual person, I imagine if she came into some significant financial resources, that she would be very pleased to be able to offer charitable contributions to causes she deems worthy.
Therefore I would like to offer Ms. Ostapowicz the opportunity to receive the sum of one million dollars.
On behalf of the James Randi Educational Foundation, and the Million Dollar Challenge sub-committee on which I serve as a member, I would like to propose that Ms. Ostapowicz (perhaps with Mr. Nickels’ enthusiastic support and assistance) fill out an application at http://www.randi.org/site/index.php/1m-challenge.html. This will set into motion a process by which Ms. Ostapowicz and we at the foundation can devise a fair and simple and mutually agreed upon test of just one single aspect of Ms. Ostapowicz’s extensive array of extraordinary abilities.
Just one single ability among her many remarkable claims.
And then when she performs that test successfully under mutually agreed upon test conditions, she can eventually receive one million dollars and, since she does not want to be rich or famous, she can keep it a secret, and give it away.
I await her application.
Jamy Ian Swiss is Senior Fellow at the JREF. He blogs regularly at randi.org.