Native Skeptic

Native Skeptic
Apache Crown Dancers 1887:

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Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Two well-known "psychics" or “spiritual mediums” coming to the valley of the sun

The amount of suffering that individual can experience with the loss of a family member or close loved one can be truly unimaginable. Consider that there is a business or business person making the claims that they can provide a specific service to these people and their plights (even when the claims themselves have never been proven). Now, take that a step further and include the details that some of these cases involve people with prior convictions in fraud and grand theft.

For example, Sylvia Browne calls herself a "psychic" and claims to be able to communicate with the dead. However, there is no reason to believe that anyone, let alone this one person, is doing anything other than performing simple acts of deception. Matter of fact, she is so good at deceiving people that she has been convicted of investment fraud and grand theft. *For more on this, see the story of Sylvia Browne's 1992 felony conviction in a case involving charges of grand theft and securities fraud.

Browne is quite popular among the known psychics in the world, James Van Praagh and John Edwards are a couple more known, and even amongst the people with less familiarity with psychic phenomena. Even just her name can produce strong reactions in people. To some of her devoted fans, she is a "true psychic-medium" that utilizes the help of a "spirit guide" named Francine. This is how she is able to see the future, diagnose illnesses, find lost children, and of course, communicate with the dead. To some others, she has never been able to prove any psychic or supernatural abilities. While using the stage tricks of magic like "cold-readings" to simulate psychic abilities isn’t in itself a ethical concern. Using this as a means to prey on the grieving, the ill, and the spiritually vulnerable is another thing all together. It is quite often during these readings that people selectively remember certain things and forget others, like the things the "psychic" got right, as opposed to the things that were wrong. This is often referred to as, "remembering the hits and forgetting the misses." We are not accustomed to seeing the "misses", however, Van Praagh demonstrates what this looks like in the following YouTube clip from the Australian television show, "The Circle" on "Channel Ten".

A computer programmer named Robert S. Lancaster started up a site called, “Stop Sylvia Browne”, dedicated to helping people make up their own mind about this very subject. Mr. Lancaster makes it quite clear what his site and campaign are all about with the following response from the ‘frequently asked questions’ main page,   

“Because I strongly believe that Sylvia Browne needs to either prove her purported ‘psychic abilities’, or stop pretending to have them.”

One very important message gets relayed from the readers’ inquiries when he is asked, “Why should we believe you?” This is a legitimate question, and good enough that it has me puzzled to why nobody ever poses it to the psychics. Instead, Lancaster gives his own answer, and at the same time, provides a much better explanation of the reasoning process by stating,

“You shouldn't. You should read and consider the contents of this site. You should dig around the web and see what you can find. If you can, find out what Sylvia's justifications are for some of the things you read here. Then, you should make up your own mind.”

This is excellent advice and a stance that all critical thinking citizens should utilize to protect themselves from the subtle and not-so-subtle nonsense that permeates our society. This is not just to serve as protection for the consumer, but to empower individuals through the knowledge of reason. Take this last part from Lancaster’s home page as he leaves us with an invitation to explore reason before investing anything emotionally or financially.    

“But here is a further comment, regarding TV/Celebrity psychics in general: It is important to remember that the producers of a TV show which claims to be about a ‘true psychic’ have a financial interest in making you believe that person is psychic. Because of this, you should never assume that what you see on the show is an accurate and unbiased representation of facts and events.”

Two "psychics" or “spiritual mediums” are coming to the valley of the sun. The first, James Van Praagh, will be appearing this week at an event put on the "Changing Hands Bookstore" in Tempe, Arizona on Thursday March 26, 2012 at 7:00pm. The event to follow features, Chip Coffey, next month on Friday April 20, 2012 at 7:30pm. The Phoenix Area Skeptics Society will be outside of these events to hand out flyers and some general information. Any questions or comments can be sent to: