Dear Straight Dope:
Supporters of Jeanne Dixon and other psychics frequently point to Ms. Dixon's prediction of the death of President Kennedy. They turn a deaf ear when asked what else she's predicted, but then that is to be expected. In fact, this one prediction is so well known that even her detractors acknowledge it. But no one seems to want to let us in on the whole story. So I'm turning to you to do what you do best. What did Ms. Dixon predict, and when did she predict it?
Ian and David reply:
Amazing how these contemporary myth things work, isn’t it? In her life, Jeane Dixon had a dozen or so "uncanny" predictions come true, mostly through vague statements like 1989’s "A shipping accident will make headlines in the spring," said to be the Exxon Valdez, and 1978’s "a dreadful plague will strike down thousands of people in this country" supposedly predicting the coming of AIDS. Of course, these Nostradamus-like hits (they wrote without a trace of irony) came among literally hundreds that were wholly false, such as predicting the Soviet Union would be first to land on the moon. In fact, the Skeptic”s Dictionary notes that "Ms. Dixon was never correct in any prediction of any consequence" (http://skepdic.com/dixon.html).
Her obituary in USA Today was representative of the way she was put forth in the evidently skepticism-free media: "her prediction that President John F. Kennedy would die in office came true." The actual blurb which ran in the Sunday supplement Parade on May 13, 1956, was, shall we say, a bit less specific: "As for the 1960 election Mrs. Dixon thinks it will be dominated by labor and won by a Democrat. But he will be assassinated or die in office ‘though not necessarily in his first term.’" Less equivocal than most "psychic" predictions, but really just a lucky guess which grew in the retelling.
But here’s the real problem–in 1960, she forecast that Kennedy would not win the coming election. Yes, that’s right. Although she is credited with predicting his assassination because of her 1956 statement, her 1960 one is routinely ignored by those who perpetuate this myth. And unlike her previous one, it couldn’t be more specific: She predicted clearly that "John F. Kennedy would fail to win the presidency."
Well, if he wasn’t going to win, how could she have predicted that he would be assassinated in office?
The answer: She didn’t. Instead she made a lot of vague predictions, some of which contradicted each other, and then relied on people to only remember those which could somehow be worked into a claimed "hit" with 20/20 hindsight while forgetting the far-more-numerous misses. This same technique is used all over the globe today. And people still fall for it. P.T. Barnum would be proud.
Ian and David
Send questions to Cecil via email@example.com.
STAFF REPORTS ARE WRITTEN BY THE STRAIGHT DOPE SCIENCE ADVISORY BOARD, CECIL'S ONLINE AUXILIARY. THOUGH THE SDSAB DOES ITS BEST, THESE COLUMNS ARE EDITED BY ED ZOTTI, NOT CECIL, SO ACCURACYWISE YOU'D BETTER KEEP YOUR FINGERS CROSSED.