The Skeptical Teacher

Musings of a science teacher & skeptic in an age of woo.

Archive for November 5th, 2009

Jay Leno Sticks It to Sylvia Browne — On Live TV

Posted by mattusmaximus on November 5, 2009

On Tuesday, Nov. 3rd, psychic Sylvia Browne made a surprise guest appearance on The Jay Leno Show. This is very surprising, seeing as how Leno is a definite skeptic when it comes to psychics & their woo (he coined the now famous phrase “Why don’t you ever see this headline: ‘Psychic Wins Lottery‘?”).  So why was Browne there in the first place?

What happened is that his show has a segment called Earn Your Plug, whereby celebrities who wish to have their TV show or movie plugged have to do something on the show to merit the advertising.  Well, last night the celebs were Katie Featherston and Micah Sloat of the movie “Paranormal Activity”, and for the Earn Your Plug segment they decided to surprise Leno by having Sylvia Browne give him a reading.  See for yourself how it went…

Jay Leno vs. Sylvia Browne

Right off the bat, Leno was completely blindsided by the fact that a psychic like Browne was even on his show.  Notice how he makes the crack at the beginning of the reading about replacing some employees in the near future; something tells me that this is one prediction which is likely to come true.  Had he known that Featherston & Sloat had wanted to bring Browne onto the show, Leno would have likely stopped it from happening.

In addition, I want to point something else out that Leno did – he was openly, though playfully (his show is about entertainment, after all), skeptical of what Browne was attempting to do.  Whenever she made a claim, rather than allow her to prattle on and on with all manner of nonsensical “predictions” (often known as cold reading), he would stop her and challenge her on specific points.  It is also worth noting how she reacted to Leno not simply believing what she said or at least playing along with her: she got angry with him.  She didn’t get screaming mad, but watching her demeanor and body language speaks volumes about how upset she was that he even dared to question her supposed divine prowess (she did claim, after all, that her “abilities” were “from God”).  Essentially, she was doing little more than making a blatant argument from authority in this regard, and it was painfully (for her) obvious that Leno wasn’t having any of it.

I think a good example was this exchange:

Browne: “Do you know how many people over the years have told me that I’m wrong about something, but came back later to tell me that I was right?”

Leno: “No. How many?”

In the end, I think that while it was a negative that a psychic scumbag like Sylvia Browne even got onto Leno’s show in the first place, Leno himself turned it into a more positive experience by not treating her seriously & acting openly skeptical and asking questions.  The result was, in my opinion, that by the end of the reading – which was mercifully short – the vast majority of the audience was laughing at Ms. Browne and not with her.  And if there’s anyone who deserves to be laughed at, it is Sylvia Browne and her ilk.

Good move, Jay, for educating people on how to deal with such supernatural claims.  Johnny Carson would be proud of you 🙂

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