In a previous blog post called Fraud Psychic Sylvia Browne Proven Wrong Yet Again, I explored the recent failure of alleged psychic Sylvia Browne where she claimed that Amanda Berry, a kidnap victim recently found alive after being held captive for around a decade, was dead. In the wake of the huge backlash Browne got (both on Twitter and Facebook, as well as from Anderson Cooper at CNN), she inactivated both her Facebook and Twitter account. Here is skeptic Michael Shermer’s reaction:
I could not have agreed more. The fact that she inactivated her Facebook and Twitter accounts as a result of the backlash gave me a lot of comfort. First, the events might have been enough to make her face the reality of her failure (a misbegotten hope, as we shall see below) but also because, for a time, she was unable to spread her vile nonsense on those social media sites.
Unfortunately, Browne reactivated her Facebook account a few days ago. Did she finally acknowledge to herself and the world that she does not have psychic powers? Far from it. Here is what she now writes:
Notice how Sylvia Browne calls her financial exploitation of human greed a dedication “to helping others as a spiritual psychic and guide”. Notice how she claims that she has helped the police solve high-profile criminal investigations, yet fails to provide a single shred of evidence for this extraordinary claim. Notice how she quotes herself and claims that she is more often right than wrong (hardly an achievement for someone who practices common “psychic techniques” such as cold reading) without any evidence whatsoever. Notice how she attempts to sway readers by presenting her own rationalizations and the rationalizations of Berry’s family.
In other words, the public failure of Sylvia Browne has not forced her to admit that she does not have any psychic powers. It has not convinced her true believers or even the family of Amanda Berry. In fact, true believers of the alleged psychic abilities of Browne chime in in the comment section. Some profess their undying support for Sylvia, whereas other perform twister and anti-scientific rationalizations. Here are a few of the more stunning cases (I have blacked out the name and the profile picture because I want this to be about the assertions, not the individuals):
This is an abdication of reason. Of course it matters if she is for real or a fake. If she is a fake, that means that she is exploiting human grief for financial motives without providing any actual benefit above and beyond placebo. Charging a fee means that the placebo effect is increased and she profits from her manipulations. This is completely different from psychiatric therapy. Psychiatric therapy has been shown to be effective in treatment mental illness in scientific studies. Sylvia Browne has failed to provide any scientific evidence for her ability, and she even refuses to take James Randi’s 1 million dollar challenge. Presumably, she makes more than 1 million dollars annually and do not want to take the risk of being exposed, yet again, as a fraud.
It is absolutely our responsibility to stand up to people like Sylvia Browne who callously exploit human grief for money. It is not just a matter of being right, but protecting psychologically vulnerable people from being abused.
This is a great example of the dogmatism of some of Sylvia Browne’s true believers. It is a direct admission that this individual is not open to being shown wrong. Nothing that anyone can say will change this person’s mind. It is also ironic and interesting that this commenter is telling critics to “do some research” before speaking, yet it is painfully clear that this individual has not read any critical appraisals of Browne, such as Psychic Defective: Sylvia Browne’s History of Failure that shows that Browne is very often wrong.
The argument is not that Sylvia Browne lacks actual psychic powers because she is not 100% accurate, but because she is often wrong, her methods include cold reading and other tricks, she makes wild assertions without providing any evidence, she refuses to submit her alleged abilities to scientific tests and so on.
This comment also shows how some true believers of Sylvia Browne lack any resemblance of critical thinking. Taking the “positive things” Sylvia has said and ignore the critical comments against her is tantamount to confirmation bias.
This individual claims that alleged psychics have actual psychic abilities and can connect to “the other side” yet provides no evidence for this claim. Rather than engage the arguments, the person tells skeptics to go elsewhere with the anti-scientific rationalization that skeptics contaminate their space with “negative energy”. In reality, energy is necessary to perform physical work and “negative” energy just means that the change in energy is in the opposite direction of positive e.g. the energy change in potential energy is negative if water flows down a hill and the positive direction has been assigned upwards. Energy is not some spooky and supernatural entity that floats around the universe is “positive” or “negative” forms. That is just a crackpot misinterpretation of modern physics.
Right of the bat, this commenter starts with irrelevant personalizations like calling critics “asses”. Then, a far-fetched rationalization is provided (“she probably felt that Amanda was dead because Amanda’s spirit was dead for a time), without any evidence for the existence of spirits, evidence for the possibility for spirits to be dead but not the body or evidence that this was the case here. In addition, the claim that psychic powers are not “definitive science” assumes that it is a science to begin with, a claim that is never justified either. The comment continues with more assertions, such as the idea that Browne has been right several times.
What makes Sylvia Browne a monster is not that she happened to be wrong this time, but that she is routinely wrong, refuses to submit her claimed abilities to a scientific test and exploit human grief for money using techniques that have been debunked many times before (e.g. cold reading).