Many 19th century mediums were discovered to be engaged in fraud. While advocates of mediumship claim that their experiences are genuine, the Encyclopædia Britannica article on spiritualism notes in reference to a case in the 19th century that "...one by one, the Spiritualist mediums were discovered to be engaged in fraud, sometimes employing the techniques of stage magicians in their attempts to convince people of their clairvoyant powers." The article also notes that "the exposure of widespread fraud within the spiritualist movement severely damaged its reputation and pushed it to the fringes of society in the United States."
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The trance medium Leonora Piper was investigated by psychical researchers and psychologists in the late 19th and early 20th century. In an experiment to test if Piper's "spirit" controls were purely fictitious the psychologist G. Stanley Hall invented a niece called Bessie Beals and asked Piper's 'control' to get in touch with it. Bessie appeared, answered questions and accepted Hall as her uncle. The psychologist Joseph Jastrow wrote that Piper pretended to be controlled by spirits and fell into simple and logical traps from her comments. Science writer Martin Gardner concluded Piper was a cold reader that would "fish" for information from her séance sitters. The physiologist Ivor Lloyd Tuckett who examined Piper's mediumship in detail wrote it could be explained by "muscle-reading, fishing, guessing, hints obtained in the sitting, knowledge surreptitiously obtained, knowledge acquired in the interval between sittings and lastly, facts already within Mrs. Piper's knowledge."
In 1880 the American stage mentalist Washington Irving Bishop published a book revealing how mediums would use secret codes as the trick for their clairvoyant readings. The Seybert Commission was a group of faculty at the University of Pennsylvania who in 1884–1887 exposed fraudulent mediums such as Pierre L. O. A. Keeler and Henry Slade. The Fox sisters confessed to fraud in 1888. Margaret Fox revealed that she and her sister had produced the "spirit" rappings by cracking their toe joints.