When Psychics Fail: The Sylvia Browne and Amanda Berry Fiasco
Posted by mattusmaximus on May 7, 2013
I make no bones about how I feel about various psychic charlatans who take advantage of the desperate, grieving, and bereaved: they’re pretty close to scraping the bottom of the barrel, in my view. At the top of this list is none other than the queen of psychic charlatans: Sylvia Browne.
Ms. Browne has made a career, literally, out of taking advantage of any opportunity, no matter how sleazy, to get in front of cameras in order to promote herself and her supposed “psychic powers”. In many cases, this takes the form of her going on a popular daytime television show, such as the Montel Williams Show, and giving readings to various audience members. And sometimes, she has stooped so low as to give authoritative-sounding psychicly-guided advice to people who have lost loved ones.
Of course, such psychic predictions can backfire when people actually take the time to examine them critically (such as keeping track of the New Year predictions made by prominent psychics which are complete and total duds). But sometimes, especially when dealing with those who are really going for the gusto (like Ms. Browne), these predictions can fail in a truly spectacular and despicable manner, as it did with what is turning out to be a huge fiasco regarding the discovery and rescue of kidnapping victim Amanda Berry in Cleveland, Ohio. It just so happens that not long after their daughter went missing over 10 years ago, Amanda’s parents went onto the Montel Williams Show to consult with Ms. Browne, who told them – rather unequivocally – that their daughter was dead…
… yup, dead. Which is kind of exactly the opposite of what Amanda really was… you know, alive and hoping someone would find her? Whoops…
Sylvia Browne is coming under fire after the television psychic told the family of Cleveland kidnapping victim Amanda Berry that their daughter was dead.
The case made national headlines this week when Brown and two other kidnapped girls were found safe in Cleveland. But for the family of Amanda Berry, that does not undo the heartache caused by Sylvia Browne.
As Miller pleaded for her for information on her daughter’s whereabouts, Sylvia Browne, got it completely wrong:
Miller: Can you tell me if they’ll ever find her? Is she out there?
Browne: She’s — see, I hate this when they’re in water. I just hate this. She’s not alive, honey. And I’ll tell you why, here we go again. Your daughter was not the type that would not have called you.
Miller: So you don’t think I’ll ever get to see her again?
Browne: Yeah, in heaven, on the other side.
Brown was correct on the last prediction, though it does not appear to be intentional. Berry’s mother would die of heart failure two years later — her family said she died of a “broken heart” after her hopes of a rescue were dashed by Browne’s vision.
Now Sylvia Brown has come under assault, with commentators calling her a “grief vampire” and her Twitter page coming under assault. [emphasis added]
And to me that is one of the real tragedies of this whole sordid affair. Not only have Ms. Browne and similar psychic charlatans used the grief of people to take advantage of them in their most vulnerable moments to promote themselves and their cheesy, pseudoscientific agenda, but they have also propped themselves up as some kind of authority with no evidence to support their claims. And then they go making terribly irresponsible statements such as what Ms. Browne did regarding Amanda Berry; sadly, because Louwana Miller gave some kind of credence to Ms. Browne and her psychic claims, because she trusted Browne, she was horribly and terribly deceived… eventually dying thinking that her daughter was dead.
[ **Side note: Lest you think I'm being a bit too hard on Ms. Browne, it should be noted that this isn't her first high-profile grade-A screwup. For more history, check out her involvement in the Shawn Hornbeck fiasco. ]
I’m not one to say there should be a law against being a douchebag, especially such a self-aggrandizing and deceitful one such as Ms. Browne and her psychic ilk, but I do think it is incumbent upon those of us who call ourselves skeptics and critical thinkers to call these charlatans out on their lies and douchebaggery. We need to call them out long and loud on their lies and deceit, and we need to use these sad episodes as a lesson in teaching others the use of thinking a bit more critically about such extraordinary claims.