Sylvia Browne says god’s a better psychic

Yes, things are looking grim for Sylvia Browne. She might have to settle for however many millions she’s already made by telling credulous people that she’s a psychic, and not collect any more suitcases full of money.

“The [Ariel Castro abduction] is a test case for all psychics,” said Joe Nickell, editor of Skeptical Inquirer, a magazine that encourages science-based analysis of paranormal and fringe-science claims. “Why didn’t one psychic wake up in the middle of the night and know where they were?”

Ummmm…interference on the astral plane?

Browne responded with an official statement to The Huffington Post earlier this week that included this line: “Only God is right all the time.”

       For more than 50 years as a spiritual psychic and guide, when called upon to either help authorities with missing person cases or to help families with questions about their loved ones, I have been more right than wrong. If ever there was a time to be grateful and relieved for being mistaken, this is that time. Only God is right all the time. My heart goes out to Amanda Berry, her family, the other victims and their families. I wish you a peaceful recovery.

Browne has estimated an 87-to-90 percent success rate with cold cases, but Skeptical Inquirer did a 2010 analysis of 115 predictions she made on “The Montel Williams Show” and put her success rate at zero.

Oh? Is that how she markets herself? More right than wrong? In everything I’ve read of hers she just asserts things, confidently, as if she knows them. She doesn’t say she’s probably right.

Nickell has also headed projects researching the success rate of psychics working on police investigations, and found no substantial evidence of their effectiveness. However, he concedes that some investigators will accept psychic assistance as a very last resort.

“One detective, a homicide commander, told me, ‘you can be skeptical, but when you have a distraught family and a psychic has convinced them they have clues, it’s hard to refuse,'” Nickell told HuffPost.

Problem is, according to Nickell, many of the so-called “clues” offered by the psychics are too vague to be of use. Once the police find out the answers through legitimate police work, the vague clues might seem to fit after the fact, a process he calls “retrofitting.”

Same with god. After the hurricane, the people who aren’t squashed by falling trees or drowned retrofit the whole thing into god saving them.

Browne is also drawing criticism from other psychics like Craig Weiler, who said Browne’s callous prediction to Berry’s now-deceased mom crossed a line, possibly doing “harm to the family.” He advises mediums to use disclaimers.

“They need to say, ‘this is my impression’ or ‘this is my truth,'” Weiler told HuffPost. “Something like ‘this is what I feel’ is OK …”

Weiler runs a blog that attempts to explain scientific studies of parapsychology in layman’s terms, but said off-the-cuff predictions make things harder for people like him who are trying to demonstrate psychic ability is real.

“Failed predictions that are so high-profile are a pain in the ass,” Weiler said. “There’s a public perception that psychics are fake. They’re not, but it hurts.”

Ah yes the real psychics. Nice job, Huffington Post.


  1. Ulysses says

    oualawouzou @1

    “This is my truth”?! What does that even mean?

    It means “this is what I’ve pulled out of my ass.”

  2. says

    Just got back from the Oregon coast. Browne is scheduled to appear at the Chinook Winds casino in a couple months. I wonder if they might respond to a few, or more than a few, people emailing them and asking why they’re featuring such a morally reprehensible person.

  3. A. Noyd says

    Yes, real psychics use more weasel language so clients don’t get hurt when they find out the reading doesn’t match reality. Well, their reality.

  4. doubtthat says

    Bold move by Craig Weiler to seize the Crown of Vapid Obnoxiousness from Browne.

  5. says

    Of course, all humans, regardless of how they identify or what creeds they profess or renounce, are subject to cognitive biases. Among these are the Just World hypothesis and Retributive Justice. Although I am a Rationalist/Humanist/Atheist, I recognize that there are things I would like to see happen to Sylvia Browne, buit I reconcile myself to the knowledge that they probably won’t.

  6. says

    I’m too tired to look at the source right now, but her success rate was zero</em? That would be pretty remarkable to be that wrong wouldn't it? Wouldn't one expect a few hits just by chance? I wonder what the criteria for the investigation were. Maybe I'll look it up tomorrow.

    BTW, not sure if it's one of the predictions investigated, but I distinctly remember seeing her on Montel in 2004, predicting that 2005 would be one of the worst years for hurricanes. I remember because when Katrina happened, I thought of that prediction. Just the right kind to stand out, because, of course, any bad hurricane (and what hurricane season isn't bad somewhere?) would make the dupes think she was oh so psychic…

  7. Eristae says

    “They need to say, ‘this is my impression’ or ‘this is my truth,’” Weiler told HuffPost. “Something like ‘this is what I feel’ is OK …”
    . . . “It is my truth that your daughter is dead?”
    “I feel like your daughter is dead?”
    “It is my impression that your daughter is dead?”

    In what way are any of those helpful? They might be less explicit and/or clear (such that its more difficult to blame the psychic when they are wrong), but I don’t see how it leaves the family better off.

  8. grumpyoldfart says

    …things are looking grim for Sylvia Browne. She might have to settle for however many millions she’s already made by telling credulous people that she’s a psychic, and not collect any more suitcases full of money.

    I think you underestimate the gullibility of her followers. I think her earnings will soon be back to normal and she will keep making money until she dies.

    And when she dies her son will start getting messages from her and the family will start earning more than ever before.

  9. doubtthat says

    @8 Ibis3, Let’s burn some bridges

    I think it depends on how the question is phrased. If it’s whether she has accurately guessed whether a missing person is dead or alive, I’m sure she has a number of “hits.” I would have to look at the statistics (and I’m sure Browne has), but what is the rate of death of people missing for more than a year? Five years? If 90% are either found dead or never found, she can claim to be “right” most of the time.

    If the question is, “How many times have your guesses actually aided law enforcement,” zero seems like a generous number, given the times her random nonsense has diverted funds to wild goose chases.

    There was a fellow who posted on the JREF boards who had a great website dedicated to exposing her.

  10. coragyps says

    I read years ago of a police officer in New York City who worked the bunko squad – “fortunetelling” was apparently illegal there. She said that she had busted dozens and bunches of psychics, and that not a single one of them had predicted the arrest when they took her money.

  11. leni says

    I heard something a while that sometimes police will “consult” psychics because they can announce it to the press and then use it to basically frighten superstitious suspects.

    Which is both awesome and disturbing.

    In any case, even if she was consulted it doesn’t necessarily mean it was for her “expertise”.

  12. iainr says

    “off-the-cuff predictions make things harder for people like him who are trying to demonstrate psychic ability is real”

    That’s comedy gold. It’s not the fact that psychic ability isn’t real that makes it harder for him, oh no.



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