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Austin Cline

Sylvia Browne: Psychic Guru or Quack?

By February 4, 2006

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Sylvia Browne is one of the more popular and famous mediums in the United States. According to her, she can cure illness, speak to the dead, and has even proven the existence of an afterlife - but does she have genuine spiritualist powers or is she doing a con on everyone? This is an important question, and one which doesn't get asked very often.

Sylvia Browne has appeared on many television programs, but it is rare that the journalists she speaks with make the effort to ask difficult and probing questions about her claims. It’s as if they don’t even care to be the least bit skeptical — perhaps because skepticism and critical thinking aren’t good for ratings?

Skepticism and critical thinking are, however, very good for society in general, even if media figures fail to exercise them when they should. Fortunately, Quackwatch has done an investigative piece on Sylvia Browne, focusing on her continuing refusal to prove her powers in front of James Randi, despite promising to do so three times already. It also reveals failed predictions:

...Browne said that Randi needed to see a doctor because had a problem in his left ventricle (the chamber in the heart from which the blood is squeezed out into the body’s general circulation). Soon afterward, Randi saw a cardiac surgeon, who found no problem. If you think this example is benign, consider that most of Sylvia’s readings are with people who believe in her alleged psychic ability and therefore take her seriously. Health-related readings like this are commonplace with Sylvia.

People who make medical diagnoses without any training, without any skills, and indeed without any actual information about a person’s real physical state are nothing short of a menace.

 

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Comments
Chris(1)

You may want to update this page now that Randi has, in fact, had a heart attack.

August 13, 2006 at 11:34 pm
tj(2)

He could have had minimal disease.
Visit the issue months, years, or decades from now and you might have a different outcome, as possibly with a different physician. just a thought

September 27, 2006 at 3:23 pm
Sherri(3)

Unless you have had a personal experience, I suppose you wouldn’t understand. I was a total skeptic, until recently, when I’ve been having some experiences of my own. I’m not blinded, nor ignorant, but the truth lies within itself. My sister-in-law said to me “do you know what the idiot Sylvia Browne said today? The aliens would show themselves”. My reply was, “well, you would have to be completely naive to believe we are the only beings in the universe, as we’ve already proved there is life on mars”. I guess if you are listening to mans distorted version of “the bible” you would say there will never be aliens, but hello all you bible thumpers, there are prophets in the bible, why can’t there be one in today’s society? It lays within all of us. What you do with it is the answer.

October 31, 2006 at 2:09 am

Unless you have had a personal experience, I suppose you wouldn’t understand. I was a total skeptic, until recently, when I’ve been having some experiences of my own.

And since you are infallible, it’s not possible that you could be misinterpreting or misunderstanding those experiences. Right?

My reply was, “well, you would have to be completely naive to believe we are the only beings in the universe, as we’ve already proved there is life on mars”.

1. That doesn’t actually respond to the claim that there is life capable of visiting this planet and, moreover, that Browne was capable knowing that this would happen “tomorrow.” I notice that it didn’t happen, did it?

2. No, life hasn’t been discovered in Mars, at least not yet.

October 31, 2006 at 7:17 am
SHERRI(5)

Your comment about me being infallible, unless you know me, you wouldn’t really know. It really doesn’t make a difference to me. But the people in my life know who I am and I do not exagerate any situation. (That is one of my pet peeves, people who exagerate and make claims that cannot possibly be true). Unlike yourself, I respect others opinions. Your opinion is different from mine, so be it. Fact is I have had experiences that even you “the one who knows” couldn’t explain it. And no I’m not psychotic, heavily medicated or otherwise.
You obviously didn’t read Sylvia’s predictions. She did not say (nor did I) it would happen tomorrow.
By the way you are dead wrong about life on Mars. Living organism have been discovered, so the next time you respond and try to discredit someone, get your facts straight. Documented by NASA.

October 31, 2006 at 11:27 pm

Your comment about me being infallible, unless you know me, you wouldn’t really know.

Of course I don’t know you, that’s why I ask. Unless you’re infallible, you can’t claim that your interpretation of your experiences cannot be mistaken.

But the people in my life know who I am and I do not exagerate any situation.

I didn’t say anything about exaggerating anything.

Unlike yourself, I respect others opinions.

I think that opinions have to earn respect. For example, I don’t respect the opinion that members of certain races are inferior because that opinion doesn’t earn my respect.

Since you respect others’ opinions, you must respect my opinion that merely reporting that an experience happened doesn’t validate a person’s interpretation or explanation of that experience and, moreover, that they might be mistaken in what they say about it.

That would include you.

Fact is I have had experiences that even you “the one who knows” couldn’t explain it.

The question is whether your explanations are accurate and whether you are capable of being mistaken about them. Are you, or are you infallible?

By the way you are dead wrong about life on Mars.

Fine, point to the proof.

November 1, 2006 at 7:33 am
Sherri(7)

I’ve enjoyed the “debate” with you. However, I am not going to continue. I do respect your opinion because that is what makes us who we are. Below are some interesting articles posted on the web by NASA for your reading. These are just a few things I’ve found.
There is a lot of data, you would be there all night trying to read it.

Enjoy.

http://mars.jpl.nasa.gov/msp98/why.html

http://astrobiology.arc.nasa.gov/news/expandnews.cfm?id=1263

http://mars.jpl.nasa.gov/newsroom/pressreleases/02-jan-14.html

http://nssdc.gsfc.nasa.gov/planetary/marslife.html

November 1, 2006 at 8:08 pm
Just Being Nosey(8)

Here is a link to 1 of many sites Sherry was talking about.

http://photojournal.jpl.nasa.gov/catalog/PIA00288

November 1, 2006 at 8:13 pm

I’m aware of this meteorite. It was originally believed to be evidence of life, but later research indicated that it might have been contaminated by terrestrial life. Right now, there is no consensus on whether the evidence points to there having been life on Mars or not. This is why Sherry’s claim (“we’ve already proved there is life on mars”) is false. If Sherry took the time to research the issue, she would have found that the reality isn’t as clear-cut as her memory of the original reports seems to be.

November 1, 2006 at 8:42 pm

Sherri, you claim that it’s been proven that life has been found on Mars, but you post links to pages that discuss the possibility of life on Mars. Every single one of them essentially refutes your claim.

Do you not understand what the word “proof” means? After reading all of those pages, you should have realized that you were mistaken, that your memory of the issue was flawed, and acknowledged the error.

November 16, 2006 at 6:17 am
brittany clements(11)

No one can judge the things sylvia says and does. it is not up to you to say whether or not she is a quack. She just so happens to be world renowned, so until you can do the same for yourself and help people understand things the way sylvia does, dont say she is a quack. She happens to be quite good at her job. so dont run your mouth about things you dont know.

December 28, 2006 at 10:30 am

it is not up to you to say whether or not she is a quack.

I didn’t say that she is a quack. However, what do you think distinguishes her from being a quack? What about her actions and methods are non-quack-like?

December 28, 2006 at 11:07 am
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