February 26, 2005

Science: Pseudoscience Detection Pt. 2

You'd better not doubt,
You'd better not try,
You'd better not think
I'm telling you why...
Sylvia Browne is coming to town!

Well, now I know that at least 1,400 people have far too much money (between $105 and $165) and not enough intelligence in Victoria, BC. The Royal Theatre is playing host to this Royal Pain on the first of March, thirty-one days early. One of the more embarrassing aspects of the West Coast is the flake quotient, and she has more flakes than Kellogg's.

This is a woman who takes her scores of television appearances and radio appearances and uses any possible references to anything that happened and counts them as "validated" predictions. Most frequently, she's decided to take one of her scads of Montel predictions (India could be dangerous) and explain that she actually meant that a tsunami would hit the area, killing 15,000 people or so. Of course, she neglected to mention Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Thailand, Maldives, Myanmar, and Somalia. But heck, one out of eight isn't that bad! She's also gone out on a limb and predicted that it would be a health hazard to travel there over the next 6 months.

Oh, and just as importantly: she managed to predict that Brad Pitt and Jennifer Anistion would get divorced. Hmm... Predicting divorce in Hollywood... Shouldn't it count as a negative if you DON'T predict someone getting divorced? No dates were given as to when these events were supposed to happen, of course. But here's one that she has put a date to: in 2010, aliens will reveal themselves to us. Pretty cool, huh? Except when it doesn't happen , she'll explain that they revealed themselves only to a select few, or only to top secret government agencies, or... I'm sure you get the idea.

The only special ability this woman has is the ability to lie with a straight face. And to take $35,000 from people for a seven hour chat. Must be nice.

I wish, how I wish I were less honest. Her live shows are a simple cold reading technique, where the larger the audience the better; on the phone ($750 for a half hour) she combines generalizations (dead people tend to "point to their head and chest") with leading questions ("Who is..."; "Do you know..."); and she will have staff listen in to conversations of people who are in line for the show. These people are true believers going to see a supposed psychic, so what do you think they'll be talking about? And now she also gives out vague medical advice, usually about the "lumbar region" in men, where just about all back pain occurs, and about vitamin supplements in women, who are at a higher risk for calcium and iron deficiency anyways, especially if they've had kids.

Then there's James Randi.

Hoo, boy, you don't want to mention James Randi to her followers. Mr. Randi is, or at least was, a professional magician. As such, he can catch a whole lot that someone with Ph.D.s and other letters after their name would miss, unless they knew what to look for. He has a little thing called the Million Dollar Challenge.

Here's the gig: anyone who can prove any paranormal ability at all gets $1,000,000 in cash. They agree to the test, and all of its protocols, before they begin. Then, when the person being tested is satisfied, the test is done under strict controls to ensure no cheating could be carried out. To get this straight: these folks do not "debunk" anyone, or their supposed abilities. The simple precept is this: Extraordinary claims demand extraordinary proof. You say you can read minds? Prove it. You believe you can dowse treasure? Prove it. You think your machine can detect a human being over the distance of one mile? Prove it.

Back to Sylvia Browne. During an appearance on Larry King Live, she agreed to undergo the challenge. And avoided it ever since. But then, I've never thought she was stupid. Knowing who the most vulnerable to deceit are, she's made sure to always credit God with her "abilities". This gives her a nice ring of Truth to those who believe in such stuff. And she won't be confused for a witch and killed. (Ex 22:18) Because anyone who predicts the future is, after all, a witch. (De 18:10) So it's now (Feb 26, 2005) been 1353 days since she first accepted, and 1272 days since she agreed to protocols, all that's left is for her to step up and collect not only a million dollars, but a staggering amount of publicity.

So why should I even care? I don't know, really. It's something about making your money by targeting the emotionally vulnerable that sticks in my craw.

Of course, I could just be jealous. Hell, who wouldn't want to make $35,000 for a day of chatting with people who worship you?


posted by Thursday at 11:27 pm


Post a Comment

<< Home