Pandemic prediction problems: meet the psychics who claim to have predicted COVID-19

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Brian Eggo
Brian Eggohttp://glasgowskeptics.com/
Brian Eggo has been running Glasgow Skeptics for over five years, hosting over a hundred events in that time. He has also spoken for a number of Skeptics groups and helped run SiTP organiser workshops at QED conference. His day job is training development and delivery for a tech company.

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Join me in a thought experiment: You’re at the lectern in an auditorium delivering a productivity report to a packed audience of your most valuable clients. You notice there’s an elephant in the room. More like a herd of them actually. They’re making a LOT of noise. It looks like there’s going to be a stampede. Your livelihood now depends on one of three things:

  1. Your paying customers not noticing the elephants, or at least not being overly concerned by them, despite the risk of being trampled.
  2. Your paying customers somehow ignoring the fact that you failed to warn them there would be elephants, but are now looking to you for advice in how to navigate the stampede.
  3. You convincing those paying customers that you knew about those elephants all along, and you even warned them that the elephants would be there.

It’s not an enviable position to be in, so I’d like to ask you to extend your sympathies to those unfortunate souls who now live in that reality. By that, of course, I mean Psychics, Astrologers, Clairvoyants, Fortune Tellers, Numerologists, and any other mystical future-predictors.

Con-undrum

Your sympathy should however be limited, as it turns out that those folks are doing just fine. Astrology in particular seems to be enjoying a lucrative renaissance, fueled by social media and an understandable (if misplaced) desire to seek some kind of certitude in a deeply uncertain time. Their continued success however contributes to what will surely be one of the great mysteries of our time: Why did none of them warn us about the COVID-19 pandemic? The entirety of 2020 was filled with death, disease, hunger, and (culture) wars. Those four horsemen brought all their unpleasant friends and relatives along with them as well. It was so bad that it even kicked our Brexit worries to the sidelines at times.

Was the year so tumultuous that it literally went off the astrologers’ charts? Did all those spirit guides misplace their guidebook? Did the numerologists forget to carry the one? Did the mystics get misty-eyed with clairvoyant-cataracts?

Forethought experiment

Hold your indignation for a moment though. It turns out that we do actually have a few practitioners out there who are now claiming that they did indeed predict the pandemic, and it appears to be doing wonders for their careers, even if they’ve yet to be recruited by the WHO to form some kind of Pandemic Precog Unit.

Before we examine some of those claims though, imagine for a moment that you had some genuine supernatural powers of prediction, or perhaps you’d somehow got hold of a Virus Almanac from a mysterious older doppelganger in a DeLorean. What would you do to warn the world if you knew a pandemic was on the way? It would be difficult to get the world’s attention without coming across as somewhat unhinged, but please compare your communication plan to what we saw from the supernatural superheroes I’m about to introduce you to.

My personal advice would be to focus on that one prediction only, and not a raft of other celebrity / political / sporting and other assorted shenanigans which may well turn out to be wrong, potentially undermining your credibility. It would also help if you hadn’t produced similar lengthy lists of predictions in previous years with results no better than chance. Perhaps contact government representatives or scientists instead of tabloid newspapers. I’d also recommend being as specific as possible, and very clear about the magnitude of the impending devastation. Let’s see how they got on…

Astrolo-jest

As far as claimants are concerned, the one who appears to be getting the most mileage out of it is Jessica Adams. The header photo on her twitter homepage is a Daily Mail banner with a headline about how she predicted Covid, which highlights the exposure she’s getting for her alleged powers. She even managed to make it on to television juggernaut This Morning with national treasures Holly Willoughby and Phillip Schofield.

A sheet of white paper with the word Virus and a yellow triangle with a biohazard symbol on it. There is a USB pen sitting on top of the paper.

On her website she makes a few claims about when she predicted the pandemic. One of them is a blog post from March 2019 where she mentions viruses (plural) with an associated date of 10th January 2020. Superficially that sounds vaguely impressive, but a little less so when you see the context in which it is mentioned. To quote: “One Last Note – Post-Millennium Bugs, Hackers and Viruses”. It’s clear therefore that she was talking about computer viruses, and not the human variety.

She also cites another blog post, this time from November of 2019, where the dates to look out for are the 8th & 9th March (by which time three UK Citizens had already died). On this occasion the text does actually mention human viruses:

you can circle these dates in your diary now, because we’re going to see computer and human viruses, and regular traffic, air traffic and shipping affected by wave after wave of rain/flooding.”

It’s a little better, but by no means indicative of an imminent public health crisis.

Disappointingly, her December blog post returns to the theme of computer viruses, and while I applaud her dedication to studying celestial bodies as a means of promoting cybersecurity, there’s no mention of human viruses (or other terms such as ‘sick’, ‘ill’, ‘pandemic’, ‘outbreak’, etc). If I’d read these blog posts back in 2019 I’d be less wary and more malware-y. Disappointing so far.

Even before her Covid claim to fame, Jessica made it into the newspapers with reasonable regularity. So, what did she have to say about what 2020 had in store for us? A piece in the Japan Times on the 1st January carries no mention of any impending outbreak, and a similar article in the Metro on the same day is equally void of health warnings.

What about Social Media? If there’s one place that’s well suited for going viral about viral goings-on it’s Twitter. Unfortunately, this comes up empty as well. An advanced search shows no mention whatsoever of terms like virus, flu, pandemic, disease, or Covid at any time in the three years running up to January 2020.

The final nails in the coffin are from that very Daily Mail article from October 2020 that she seems to be so proud of. Firstly, it says that she moved to Tasmania in February to avoid the worst of the pandemic. This is simply not true, as shown in her Twitter history she has spent much of her time living there over the past few years, and she appeared to be over there well before February. Secondly, and more importantly, she said there would be no Covid vaccine. At the time of writing we have three approved vaccines, and there are more on the way.

The best of the mediocre-st

Nicolas Aujula claims in a Daily Mirror article that he actually predicted Covid back in 2018: “an ‘influenza’ disaster would dominate the world”. Unfortunately for Nicolas, most people can Google better than the Daily Mirror can. He did indeed mention influenza in a few places, including The Sun and the Metro, but was making predictions for 2019 and not 2020. Nitpickers will of course point out that COVID-19 did actually arrive in 2019 (the clue’s in the name), however he said specifically in both cases that he was referring to the livestock industry. As such, unless he’s a fan of human trafficking he scores no points in this case. His Twitter history is equally empty of pandemic predictions.

Sylvia Browne, best known for incorrectly telling a mother that her kidnapped daughter was dead on the Montel Williams show (and failing to apologise when proved wrong), ironically went viral last year even though she herself was already dead. The claim that she predicted Covid in a book she wrote in 2008 has already been taken apart nicely in various places, including TheHour, not least that she also claimed the virus would “vanish quickly”.

Anupam V Kapil is Google’s top hit for numerologists who make the claim. Unfortunately, his Twitter feed comes up empty for any form of virus prediction, as does his 2020 prediction article for the Times of India. For those counting, his score adds up to zero.

A black background. In white an outline of a SARS-CoV-2 virus, with the words "Coronavirus COVID-19" beneath. Below that, a map of the earth in red.

Annual publication Old Moore’s Almanac made a pandemic claim which, on further investigation, boils down to just one vague sentence in the entire book: “An unusual virus has people worried”. If this was a genuine reference to COVID-19, they should also win the award for Understatement of the Year. Old Moore’s appear to take a scattergun approach to their predictions, and then make as much noise as they can about the ones they got right. Interestingly, there was an article in extra.ie around the turn of the year with the biggest 2020 predictions from Old Moore’s – no mention of any virus, or anything health-related. Their primary predictions are as follows; An Oasis reunion (nope), a major volcanic eruption in Iceland (nope), Miley Cyrus to marry Cody Simpson (nope – they broke up), Julian Assange would be extradited to the US (nope), a terrorist drone strike (nope), but all is not lost, as they did manage to hurdle 50/50 odds to predict that Donald Trump would lose the election (it should be noted that former President Trump disputes that though).

Last and equal least, June Field is considered by many as the UK’s leading psychic. She even won an ‘International Psychic Battle’ in Ukraine in 2013, which was disappointingly lacking in hand-to-hand combat, but the footage of her winning is amazing for all the wrong reasons. She is quoted as saying the following:

I started January 2020 with a feeling of dread. Long before coronavirus arrived in the UK, I had cancelled work commitments – theatre dates and events. I felt death coming. I wanted to give the year a miss.”

We get a different story from her website though, with her events page showing entries all the way through the year, with the ones from March onwards showing as cancelled specifically due to “coronavirus”. Even more interestingly the ones earlier in the year which didn’t take place show as ‘rescheduled to October’, which shows a disappointing lack of foresight. Her Twitter feed has no mention of cancelled events, or anything related to COVID-19 between January and May 2020. On a side note, I went to one of her shows a few years back. It was less than impressive, particularly the part where she gave me a reading. That’s a story for another day though.

Destiny’s filed

To summarise, the evidence that any of the above were able to predict the horrors of 2020 is flimsy at best. If they genuinely have powers of prediction, then it appears to be indistinguishable from the methods we see again and again from known charlatans. It could of course be a particularly delusional form of confirmation bias they’re applying to validate themselves. The worst-case scenario would be that they’re lying (or exaggerating) in order to promote themselves on the back of a horrific pandemic which, at the time of writing, has claimed almost two million lives.

Certain parts of the media and the public unfortunately appear to have a very low bar when it comes to believing these claims. So, just in case any tabloid writers are reading this article I’d like to finish by providing my prediction for all star signs for every single year until the extinction of the human race. Feel free to publish it, and to contact me for other such nuggets of infallible foresight:

Viruses will have a significant effect on your life.

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