When Sylvia Browne died, Montel Williams offered this sappy eulogy:
"A beacon that shined [sic] for so many was extinguished today, but its brightness was relit and will now shine forever for many of us from above."
To explain to this apparently dense man where his judgment has reverted to the level of a 5-year-old, I’ll point out that Browne was not at all funny "ho-ho" but frightening – to anyone with any compassion. She fed eagerly on the insecurities, the grief, the need and desperation, of her victims. They turned to her for help, at great cost -- $850 for a 20-minute telephone chat as she squatted before the TV camera like a taloned Jabba the Hutt confronting Luke Skywalker – played by Montel – and graveled out anything-but-funny, unfounded, useless, and damaging pap that added to their confusion and pain – but which made Montel and his sponsors ecstatic, because they could hear those cash register sounds as their products slid off store shelves.
And she let 10+ years go by yet never tried for the JREF million-dollar prize, as she’d agreed to do when we both appeared together on Larry King Live so many years ago…
I agree with JREF President D.J. Grothe that we do not celebrate her death, even as we criticize the way she lived. But I’ll be quite frank with you, I cannot mourn at Browne’s passing — she really hurt far too many people, and always so unapologetically.
It's unfortunate that she only stopped hurting so many people by dying.
The JREF sends our condolences to Sylvia's family and loved ones. No one celebrates her death, but skeptics do criticize how she lived. Her dismal track record at predictions -- she confidently predicted she would die at 88, not 77, for instance -- would merely be laughable if they did not hurt so many people. Remember Sean Hornbeck. Or Amanda Berry. The number of people she hurt with her pretend supernatural abilities is nearly as high as the number of her failed predictions. It is sad that it took death to stop Sylvia Browne.
D.J. Grothe is president of the James Randi Educational Foundation
A few years ago I was involved in a project where my investigative team tested a local ghost-hunting group. We invited them to investigate a home we said we feared to be haunted, to see if they found something where there was nothing. After a few hours of trudging about the house with digital recorders and KII meters in hand they declared the place to be haunted. In fact, they gushed that the house was “worse than Amityville.” The full story can be heard here at the Token Skeptic.
A few weeks ago the opportunity arose for another similar project. Local skeptic “Charles” whose home security camera captured an image with an interesting anomaly approached me. He showed it to his colleagues at the hospital where he works but only two out of eleven people thought there was a natural explanation for the image. The rest believed the image showed either a demon or a spirit.
The legal system is not the way to teach people to think rationally. Legalism is a way of thinking that often relies on carefully constructed logic, but should never be mistaken for reality – or for that matter, with right and wrong. The legal system isn’t a moral system, and if your only defense of questionable behavior is that you didn’t break the law – or weren’t convicted of a crime – there’s a strong chance you’re living a less than moral life. As a prosecutor friend of mine likes to say, the law is a blunt instrument – not a scalpel.