Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Under the Microscope #1: Sylvia Browne 08/30/2006

Welcome to the first edition of Under the Microscope, where I'll hopefully be cutting Sylvia Browne's most recent appearance on Montel to pieces. I'll be watching the show via DVR, so I'll be rewinding a lot to catch choice quotes as they happen.

WARNING: This is really long. Be gentle with your scroller-roller thingy if you want to read an earlier entry.

Already partway through the starting preview, and it's looking extra-silly, speaking of repressed memories by aliens. "Sylvia's clearest vision ever" is a featured line. How much do you want to bet nothing will come of it? Or even that it will ever be mentioned ever again?

2 minutes, 11 seconds: We're not off to a terribly good start, with Montel seeming almost proud of how shamelessly he promotes her book. I know that's a standard thing, but this seems a bit more excessive. I'm willing to suspect that's my bias showing. Not going to pretend I'm unbiased. At least he doesn't go into too much detail.

First other guest: A woman broken up about the ghosts in her house. Mentions a woman's head peeking around the corner. Yeah, and I always end up seeing fellow residents thanks to blurry peripheral vision. Some scenes are spookified by putting them in negative. Vague man in a suit and another in a hooded coat. Claims they were seen by her family, probably after she mentioned them herself. Wonder what would happen if they independently told some police sketch artists some descriptions. Probably would be a lot of variance.

Moving along, she mentions a physical attack. She says she was in bed, going to sleep and heard an electrical humming in her head and wound up paralyzed. Fellow skeptics probably know the most parsimonious explanation for that. A fairly typical description of one of the related nightmares/hallucinations follows, including fears that the ghost or whatever'll steal her soul.

It's situations like this that demonstrate that magical thinking and all that isn't gumdrops and lollipops, like woos are fond of implying.

~5:00 Sylvia says the ghost (which one?) is named Carl, along with a female named Darla. How we verify this, I don't know. Says that she's doing this to herself, describing it as "Astral catalepsy." Says the subconscious is powerful, which I don't doubt, but she's saying it's her trying to get back in her body or something. The guest doesn't seem to be very willing to accept it. Sylvia then waters down her assertion it was her fault by saying the ghost made her vulnerable or something.

~6:00 She describes a Native American ghost, and Sylvia manages to stutter out "Silver Dove" as his name (something that'll probably go unverified), probably because she's used to typical non-native American set of names. Says he comes and goes. Mostly concerned about Carl and Darla from earlier. Only after the vict guest asks if Carl is the one in the suit does Sylvia confirm that's who she was describing. After all, the one in the hooded jacket has more stereotype potential. Kept her options open like a good cold reader. Says the solution is to tell the ghosts to "go to God" or something. Montel interrupts to mention that how to do that is written in the book. I think I can hear the sounds of cash registers going off in their heads, but I'll wait until I can pass the Randi Challenge to ask you to trust me on that.

~7:00 Montel brings up a good point. If ghost attacks were so effective, wouldn't people be dying (literally) for a chance to get revenge on someone? Of course, this question seems to be raised to defend the whole "Astral catalepsy" hypothesis over the ghost attack one.

~7:30 In an abrupt change, and audience member asks if she'll meet "somebody" in her future. Great. We've got a woman spiralling downward as a result of sleep paralysis, and someone changes the subject to her love life. Montel comments with mock frustration about the commonality of the question.

Preview before first commercial break: Seems someone lost an hour in their car. My gut is already telling me that they forgot about daylight savings time.

Sweet annoying commercials. Takin' a break.

Return: She's going to find a Richard in 3 1/2 years. Turns out her ex is named "Michael-Richard." Weird name. Think we'll be seeing her again in 2009/2010ish to verify? No, I don't, either. I hope she doesn't take Sylvia seriously and pass on a soulmate because he isn't named "Richard." More likely, she'll keep doing what she's doing and will look for a tenuous "Richard" link to justify it.

Next guest is someone who went stargazing. Saw three stars in a triangle (along side a dramatization showing an equallateral triangle, though she didn't specify that, yet). As we all know, humans can perfectly perceive angles and recall them with exactitude. Joined together and went neon green. Saw some grays with a flashlight. And another sleep paralysis-like dream/hallucination-sounding experience where she has trouble escaping. She wakes up, has a little car trouble that probably got exaggerated, and manages to get going on the second try. Gets home and notices the clock indescrepancy, which was probably around since fall, assuming they remembered to set the in-house clocks.

Notices a large bruise in the morning. Nothing all that special about that. Sylvia says she did have an encounter, but wasn't abducted. Talks about her own experiences with lost time, says the guest got neuralized after talking with the alien. Doesn't really tell the guest what's up with her bruise, despite it being a primary concern.

Guest says lots of weird things happen with her kids. Describes a "perfect" triangular burn mark on one of them. I get the impression that this was a long time ago, and as a UFO/UAP woo, I doubt she kept her memory intact. Wonder if she'll show a photo. Says she has medical records, doctors couldn't figure it out (therefore, it's obviously aliens!), and something about heightened white blood cell count. Non-medical guess: An infection of some sort, in a roughly triangular shape, maybe?

~16:00 Says her body temperature went down to 34.2. No units. According to my conversion, that's about 93.5 degrees F, if the 34.2 was in Celsius. Probably looked at the wrong lines or something on the thermometer. Otherwise, I don't think she'd survive being just barely above the freezing point.

~16:30 Sylvia tells the guest that "You've always had a ticklish nervous system." And goes on about a friend who has a varying body temp... Were those thoughts related. Wants the guest to get in touch with her angels or something. Says that she's not questioning the UFO encounter... But what about the alien encounter? Anyone can see something unfamiliar in the sky.

~17:30 Audience guest member. She mentions health problems and stays thankfully vague, other than the doctors having trouble pinpointing it. Sylvia's diagnosis ...Fibermyalgia? That's a new one on me. Think I may save this for Orac or someone with more medical knowledge. She says that there are lots of tests that can't detect it. Says it comes with something called Candida, chronic fatigue (what doesn't come with that?) Says they can't find it in a fecal matter test, but they used to be able. Weird. This is definitely Orac's territory. She gives some advice that she tells people "again and again and again and again" to drink juice and up her protein. Juice, definitely. Protein, not so sure that's so near-universally good advice... Green juice? We know that tends to get associated with nonsense.

Commercial break preview: Mother wanting to know how her son got killed. I think we know where this may be going.

Sweet, sweet commercials.

~22:00 Back from break. Audience question. ([Possible sexism] Are there any males in the building? I'm not sure Montel counts. [/Possible sexism]) She wants to know the outcome of her mother's "condition".

Sylvia: "Um... It looks like there's some surgery going to be involved. Were you going to be worried about that?"

Guest: (smiles and nods.)

Sylvia: "Are you aware of that? Well, it's going to come out alright."
Such profound insight. Who would guess that a middle-aged woman's mother would be facing surgery?

Next guest: Mid-late 30ish woman. Mentions her marriage, wanting to know if there are going to be any more children in her future. Sylvia says it'll be a boy, which she seems glad about. I doubt we'll be hearing from this guest ever again. Sylvia estimates birth at 2 years, 4 months. I'll mark my calendar.

Now onto the woman with the murdered son. Understandably upset. Murder took place November 24th, 2004. Biography montage. He was coming home from work, got shot, his car veered to the right. Took place 3 blocks from home. $1,000 in his pocket, and other items of value, so it wasn't a robbery.

See if you can remember this name: Christopher Abraham Mader. I doubt Sylvia will be solving the case.
Sylvia: "Samantha, when I work, and I work with a lot of police..."
Last time I checked, Sylvia doesn't work with the police. "Psychics" work with the survivors, who tend to yank the police along wild goose chases. Note that to date, there has never been a case of a psychic being helpful in a police case.

Sylvia almost gives a name, but interrupts herself. Since this woman seems to be from a small neighborhood, Sylvia seems reluctant to name names, since she could get one very angry innocent on her. Tries to pass it as road rage. It's my understanding that road rage tends to get people out of their cars, and this guy's car was apparently in motion enough to veer off the road. Anyway, Sylvia says the argument started with unappealing food. Talks about getting aggrivated over stuff like that. Samantha seems hesitant to nod. Sylvia then talks about the son's dislike of injustice. (Who doesn't dislike injustice... Jambo?)

Says the cook was crazy/stupid with an elevator euphemism. Says the cook was passing by and shot him. I wonder if some innocent but short-tempered cook is going to wind up with the blame, now. Says the attack was car-to-car, which strikes me as a little on the unlikely side, unless we're talking about fairly ideal conditions or high rates of fire.

Of course, I don't expect to hear anything further about this from Montel or Sylvia.

They hand a guest the microphone. Our first XY chromosome member. Apparently the guy lost his vision for as yet unknown reasons. Montel spoke with him before the show, so we've got a probable big info leak. At least he admitted it upfront. Sylvia says it's part of a "macrodegeneration" (macular?) instead of neurological. "It assimilates that." Huh? Says they'll be able to fix it in a year or year and a half with some kind of lens transplant. The guy seems unimpressed to me, probably because it's not a lens problem. Montel will probably see to it that we'll never know. Keep your eyes open (Ugh. Pun not intended) for some kind of surgical treatment for macro/macular degeneration about a year from now.

Next guest: Woman mentions her old grandmother who can recall events from a hundred years ago but, with Sylvia accurately, and unimpressively interrupting with short-term memory loss as the problem. Guest asks if her grandmother will ever recover. Sylvia goes with the odds and says no, saying she'll about to die (big surprise.)

Next guest: Another marriage-seeker. Someone really great in early spring. Yeah. Real specific, there. I doubt we'll be hearing of a return.

Lovely commercials.

Back. Almost. 'Nother book mention.

Guest: Father passed away when she was five. Close to him. 40. Only recently got around to planting flowers at his grave. Wants to know if he's still looking over her. The answer is always yes. No need to prove it, though. Nope, nope.

~32:00 Another guest wants to know if Sylvia sees a "big move" coming up in her life. Sylvia says she sees a move to someplace warmer. Around Florida. Wishes her luck with the hurricanes.

Next guest: She could be Meg from Family Guy, or a plain woman with a young voice. Says she was diagnosed with scarred fallopian tubes. Got pregnant with twins. Lost the son. 29 weeks eruption. Wants to know if she can get pregnant naturally. Sylvia takes the safe bet and votes for adoption. Next question: How'd her son die? Sylvia says something about air flow. Doesn't strike me as an impressive guess. Doctors said he erupted and bled to death. Sounds like a definitive miss to me. First one I spotted, especially since Sylvia's been sticking with the big unknown and the perfectly reasonable so far.

Featured guest: Man with a wife who was murdered. July 2004. Fire department chief was the one who told him. Closed casket funeral. Death certificate said she was stabbed.

Delicious commercials.

Back with the husband. Montel asks if there was a computer in the office. No cameras in the store she was working in.

Sylvia determines the murderer was male. I don't know crime statistics, but that strikes me as the safe bet. Says he was a maniac and tried to get sexy with her. Big guy. Starting to gray, heavy eyebrows. Tail end of an argument. Husband seems to be getting incredulous. Fingerprints and DNA are mentioned by the husband.

Squeaky clean commercials.

Audience: Asking about career changes. Says she'll go into "media work". She doesn't seem convinced.

'Nother audience member: Has an anxiety experience getting worried about her kid, yet she implies that there was a big time between when she reacted, and when the problem showed up: Kid tried to tie a rope around his neck 9 times. When asked why, he said "the white man" told him to do it. Had nightmare experiences and more white man scenes.

Sylvia reasonably links hallucinations with mentioned seizures. Leans towards medical. Guess she does it now, to avoid sounding dogmatic.

'Nother audience: Soul being pulled out of her feet while she was paralyzed. Scroll way up. Sylvia says she's astrally projecting because she wants to travel.

Ad for Sylvia's website. Here comes a better one.

Scary commercials.

Mid-reading on return. Stuff about saying goodbye. Another book plug.

Audience member asking if her dead father wants to say something. Something about dropping coins. She hasn't found any mystery coins. She takes Montel's word for it that he's around.

Another audience member asking about her father. He was found in his car near a bar, drunk and then shot. Wants to know why. Sylvia says it was 3 men. Said that he knew them. Montel interrupts before Sylvia gives names. Talks about friends with him, as if it's weird for a guy to have friends at a bar. Website plug interrupts.

Wonderful commercials.

Back. Yet another book plug. Montel comments on the number of women and the divorce rate. Talks about male perceptions and that women should sometimes keep their mouths shut. Sylvia should take her own advice. At least I won't have to listen to her until I do the next episode.

---

The Big Sylvia Browne Thread

18 comments:

Salad Is Slaughter said...

I admire your dedication, and I appreciate the pain you must have experienced as you slogged through all of her B.S. I know I couldn’t have done it; I had a hard enough time reading what this swindler was spouting without smashing my monitor to bits.

MichaelBains said...

No doubt! Those Commercial Breaks were freakin' invaluable!

And how'd you get that picture of an Actual Soul Theft?! aMAZing!

Johnny Vector said...

Next guest is someone who went stargazing. Saw three stars in a triangle (along side a dramatization showing an equallateral triangle, though she didn't specify that, yet).

Hey, that happened to me, once! And it was an equilateral triangle, near as I could tell. Never turned green, just eventually (after maybe 10 seconds) resolved into the usual view of Venus. I have no idea why it looked like 3 dots, but it sure did for a while. Could be either optical (I don't think an eyelash could do that, but maybe something else could) or neural (something in the motion-detection layer of the retina, maybe?)

I wonder if anyone else has had this, and if so what is it? I'm gonna stay away from 'aliens' as a preferred explanation, 'cause I wore a red shirt today.

Bronze Dog said...

Shown in ddoouubbllee vviissiioonn!
(where drunk) ;)

Johnny Vector said...

Hey! I wasn't drunk! I was maybe 12 at the time; I didn't start drinking until several years after that! Plus also, drinking only results in two images. Not that I would know anything about that.

I had just emerged from a relatively well-lit interior, though, which might matter.

Bronze Dog said...

Wonder if I could get a set of smileys or something for this place.

Anonymous said...

You are definitely a skeptic! Also, you must have no life of your own and have to deflect off of someone else. To put someone down like this is utterly disrespectful and your mother should be slapped for making a monster like you. How ashamed she must feel! It's people like you that make others wonder why this world is so fucked up! You have no self sepect and no respect for other people. What a sin. Did your mother never tell you "If you have nothing nice to say, say nothing at all?" Bitch slap to you and your mother.

Bronze Dog said...

Also, you must have no life of your own and have to deflect off of someone else.

Let's see if I've got this straight: People accuse me of judging Sylvia unfairly if I don't watch her stuff, and when I do, I suddenly have no life?

To put someone down like this is utterly disrespectful and your mother should be slapped for making a monster like you.

What's monstrous about showing disresepct to someone worthy of disrespect?

How ashamed she must feel!

She's proud of me. She thinks America's going down the tubes because people in the media are too afraid to criticize objectively wrong things.

It's people like you that make others wonder why this world is so fucked up!

What, honesty is ruining the country?

You have no self sepect and no respect for other people.

Typical Doggerel.

Riiiiight. Because my measure of respect for all of humanity is based on how I treat a likely fraud.

What a sin. Did your mother never tell you "If you have nothing nice to say, say nothing at all?" Bitch slap to you and your mother.

Let me guess: If I witness a crime, I should avoid testifying.

Sorry, I don't aid criminals. Sylvia is saying things that are not true. If you want to argue about that ARGUE ABOUT THAT. Don't change the subject to something as irrelevant as me: An arguer is unimportant to the arguments he makes.

The truth is what matters, and your efforts to distract people from that won't succeed here.

So, do you actually have something ON TOPIC to talk about?

Anonymous said...

Do you have ACTUAL proof that Sylvia Browne is a FRAUD???? Or is it just your mind thinking that way? You see fault in everyone? You said you wouldn't aid a criminal...of course not and who would?? But, Sylvia is not a criminal. I have been watching her since I read your website, stating she is a fraud. Who is to say she isn't telling the truth?? I'm not a pyschic and I am betting that you aren't either, so whose to say she isn't right? My guess is as good as yours. If you can give me ACTUAL PROOF that she is a fraud then I will beleive you, but not until then. Unless!!!!! you can't do that. Thanks.

Bronze Dog said...

Do you have ACTUAL proof that Sylvia Browne is a FRAUD???? Or is it just your mind thinking that way?

No, and I don't need it. I'm not deeply committing to that claim. Put simply, the core of my stance is that I don't see any evidence of her honesty, considering that she's from a profession that has no basis in fact.

You see fault in everyone?

Yes, but most is nitpickery. Sylvia falls well outside mere nitpickery.

Who is to say she isn't telling the truth??

Shifting burden of proof. What evidence is there to say that she is telling the truth?

I'm not a pyschic and I am betting that you aren't either, so whose to say she isn't right?

Prove that psychics exist. You could get a million dollars.

If you can give me ACTUAL PROOF that she is a fraud then I will beleive you, but not until then. Unless!!!!! you can't do that. Thanks.

My suspicions of her fraud aren't the issue. She claims to be psychic. Why don't you demand proof of that first before believing her? If I had to guess, you're employing the magic of double-standards.

It'd be much easier for Sylvia to provide proof, and there's been an ongoing invitation for her to do that over the past five years, and yet she chooses to make stuff up about Randi rather than go through a proper test of her powers.

Anonymous said...

Yeah uhh, they arent interupting shes not saying the names, they dont air the names of the murderers and such on television.

You should actually read some of her books first, there's a lot of logic involved and it really explains a lot of other things goin on in the world.

Bronze Dog said...

The problem with the murder mysteries: She's not really doing anything at all. Or at least nothing that can be verified. No one seems to ever follow later to see if she got anything right.

As for the books: I seriously doubt it'd be worth the time and money.

If you'd like to present the arguments presented in the books, feel free to stop by The Big Sylvia Browne Thread. Intended to be a general place for that sort of thing.

Anonymous said...

It hurts to see all these comments when I've experienced it first hand. She is definitely not fake, she was bang on about several things. She was correct not only with location but exact names. She really is amazing but I guess some people just have a closed mind, I fortunately grew up having a sister whom was a medium herself. It is hard for people to comprehend, it took me long enough but I have to admit it's scary the first time there right. I say believe what you want but when you cross over your going to feel like a real fool writing comments and analyzing every word and writing it down. I mean really why sit and go over a recording....sounds odd to me. I am now not going to continue wasting my time on closed minded people as I used to be, give her a shot you will be AMAZED. Go get soul pathing anything from any recognized name and I guarantee you will be rushing back her to erase your rude comments.

Bronze Dog said...

Anonny said:

It hurts to see all these comments when I've experienced it first hand.

First hand experience doesn't count for much. People are fallible and can be fooled.

She is definitely not fake, she was bang on about several things. She was correct not only with location but exact names.

Got a recording?

She really is amazing but I guess some people just have a closed mind, I fortunately grew up having a sister whom was a medium herself.

Doggerel #4.

It is hard for people to comprehend, it took me long enough but I have to admit it's scary the first time there right.

I've seen lots of this sort of stuff. When you see as much as I have and know the tricks psychics use, it's downright boring. I have yet to see an impressive psychic. Sylvia Browne would be boring if she wasn't so evil.

I say believe what you want but when you cross over your going to feel like a real fool writing comments and analyzing every word and writing it down. I mean really why sit and go over a recording....sounds odd to me.

In other words, you don't see the point in being curious? Apparently you are incapable of feeling wonder.

I am now not going to continue wasting my time on closed minded people as I used to be, give her a shot you will be AMAZED.

1. You've effectively confessed to being closed-minded by questioning the need for my open-minded inquiry.

2. Why should I spend $750 dollars on someone with such a poor track record?

3. Why doesn't she answer skeptical challenges?

Go get soul pathing anything from any recognized name and I guarantee you will be rushing back her to erase your rude comments.

If you didn't waste your first post spouting hateful, presumptive, nihilistic garbage, here's what I would predict (based on experience with epistemological nihilists like you) would happen if I went to a "recognized name": I get an unimpressive reading and you declare the psychic I visited to be a fake "everyone" knows is a fake, or claim that I'm blocking, or whatever. My efforts to point out the use of the scientific method to distinguish between real and fake psychics would be summarily dismissed because you think science is all about technicolor liquids and Jacob's ladders. And you'll like having such a cramped, claustrophobic, closed worldview.

Of course, why should I rely on something so flimsy as a typical cheat-friendly reading? Just get me a psychic who will agree to JREF-style protocols, which are designed to be objective. Anything else is simply asking for bias.

Finally, you aren't doing much of a job setting an example for politeness. You're playing the part of a cynical misanthrope in your comment. In your infinite arrogance and hubris, you've claimed to know me before bothering to test me. I would give you a chance to prove me wrong, but you've already declared an end to the discussion because of your bigotry.

William said...

"Soul pathing"?

Dark Jaguar said...

I have a few things I'd like to say here.

For one, you seem to assume right off the bat that we have not looked into her ourselves when you say "give her a shot". It's not like we're just hearing "she's psychic" and shutting our ears and just shouting out "it's not real!".

For the most part, everyone here actually looked into her track record. She does a lot worse than you think. "Near water" is a true statement in pretty much any location (deserts excluded, but seriously no one expected victims to be found in some distant desert).

Then you wonder why we bother looking into her. There's really something contradictory about that. So which is it? Should we look into her or not? If you are saying we need to "give her a shot" well that's how we give psychics and anyone else making claims a shot, by actually checking out their prediction record.

She's never actually prevented a single disaster I'll note. If she is capable of seeing these things, wouldn't that make her guilty of horrible attrocities by note of her willingly hiding information?

What you really seem to be asking us to do is to blindly accept what she says at face value. How do you get progress out of something like that?

Here's something we should share. If psychic powers exist, and we should discover that to be the case, I'm not going to be "embarressed". If there's an afterlife, I'd be glad. I mean that's eternity. I can live with a few seconds of "I told you so's" I'm pretty sure. Does humiliation at the very thought of being wrong just completely run your life?

It's more important to reach a conclusion through reason than to be able to blindly say "I believe" at every single claim out there just so that if one of them by chance happens to be right (and if you arne't using evidence, it all comes down to chance) and then being able to say "I told you so". It really seems a sad way to go about things. All you seem to want is to be able to say after the fact that "I totally liked that band before they were cool".

Should Sylvia prove her abilities some day (which I doubt, and have good reason to, but am fully willing to accept if evidence should surface) I'd be quite happy. That's an entire new field of science opened up, and every other field of science would be overturned almost to the root. That's not something scientists are afraid of. Something like that wins nobel prizes, grants, and the sheer satisfaction of new things to explore.

But, as of yet, nothing has turned up in any way. If you really think it's true, surely you have nothing to fear from looking at it with a critical eye right? I mean if it has an effect, it can be measured. I don't mean measure as in "use the PSI meter" (though some psychics apparently try to use such imaginary devices), I mean measure in terms of down to earth results, in real testable predictions.

I'll also say one more thing. That post isn't very PK Rockin'.

Bronze Dog said...

Well said, DJ.

Dark Jaguar said...

I think I'll add something I forgot. I have a good idea what it would take to convince me of psychic powers, and it's nothing overbearing, at least not for someone who can actually do as they claim.

The question I put to you is this. Would any evidence be able to convince you to change your mind and conclude, at least tentatively, that psychics don't exist? If nothing I say could ever convince you, is that really something to be proud of? Is that really open minded, totally convinced of something with no evidence and no way to ever convince you otherwise?