Psychic Dodge Ball: The Sylvia Browne Chronology

By Farha, Bryan | Skeptic (Altadena, CA), Summer 2003 | Go to article overview

Psychic Dodge Ball: The Sylvia Browne Chronology


Farha, Bryan, Skeptic (Altadena, CA)


Sylvia Browne is one of most popular "spiritual mediums" in the country, thanks to television hosts Larry King and Montel Williams. Her claims are monumental. She "diagnoses" health problems, purports to communicate with the dead, and even claims to have proven there is an afterlife. But the latest flap comes from her promise to be tested for psychic ability. The chronology:

March 6, 2001. CNN's Larry King Live dedicated a program to discussing Time magazine senior editor Leon Jaroff's article criticizing medium John Edward, host of Crossing Over: Two other psychics also appeared on that program--James Van Praagh and Sylvia Browne. A few skeptics were also guests. It was on this program that Browne agreed to take the One Million Dollar Paranormal Challenge offered by the James Ranch Educational Foundation (JREF). If she passed the preliminary and formal tests, the million would become hers to keep. Here's some of the dialog from that show: (1)

  Browne: I have never been offered this
   challenge.
   King: You would take it?
   Browne: I would take the challenge. I
   have tried to run around the table--[he]
   ran away from me [referring to Randi].
   King: She will meet with Randi and take
   the challenge.
   Browne: He ran way from me.

Promise #1. Browne has agreed to take the challenge. No problem, right? Many people have taken the challenge. So we'll see how she does. All she has to do now is contact Ranch and they're on. Here's where the psychic dodge ball begins. Months later in August, 2001, Sylvia has not yet contacted Ranch.

September 3, 2001. Another Larry King Live show-with Browne and Ranch squaring off This show even included the two of them agreeing on the specific test, conditions, and protocol. Transcript excerpts follow, including a reiteration of the general agreement for Browne to take the test (2)

  King: Are you willing to take his test?
   Browne: Yeah, whatever test it is.

Promise #2. Browne first agreed to the challenge after Ranch suggested the specific type of psychic ability he would test:

  King: You would be willing to do that,
   right?
   Browne: Oh, yeah. Yes, I would be willing
   to do that. But I just want him to
   know that that is not [the] only thing I do.

She agreed again after Ranch proposed the specific conditions and procedures:

  King [to Randi]: All right--Sylvia has
   agreed to your conditions.
   Browne Yes.

The dodge ball appears to be over, right? She agreed to everything this time, and even spoke directly to Ranch' Now Browne only needs to contact Ranch's foundation in order to arrange a test date. But wait ... two years later--by April 2003--Browne has still not yet contacted Ranch. Who's running from whom?

May 16, 2003. Larry King Live yet again--this time with Browne as the only guest. About 40 minutes into the show, without revealing my skepticism to the phone screeners, I managed to get past them to ask Sylvia Browne a few questions. I'm not proud of how I slipped through, but I don't think there was any other way. She had been fielding many questions regarding loved ones who had "crossed over." So when the screener inquired as to what I would ask Browne, I said "I want to ask her about my dead cousin." I was put through. It was a golden opportunity to publicly question Browne about her evasion of the test--a position I don't believe she has ever been in. Here's the full transcript of my phone call: (3)

  Caller: Yes, Sylvia, 620 days [ago] on
   Larry's show, you agreed to take James
   Randi's $1 million paranormal challenge,
   and on a later show you even agreed to
   the specific terms of the test.
   Browne: Yes, but let me tell you something.
   I also found out that he won't put
   it into escrow. He won't put the money
   into escrow.
   Caller: You agreed to the terms of the test.
   Brown: No, not until he puts the money
   into escrow. … 

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