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Sylvia Browne

Sylvia Browne has been in the psychic business for as long as anyone, and she has certainly proven herself to be one of the most durable and popular psychics in the United States. This may not mean she's the most accurate psychic around, but most talk show hosts don't really care about how accurate she is. She makes regular appearances on the Montel Williams show, and just about any major news show or channel has had a cameo appearance by her, talking about the spirit world and making predictions and "readings" for all of her adoring fans.

Some psychics claim their abilities are based on science, but Miss Browne prefers a faith-based approach. She espouses the Bible and God as the source of her "psychic" abilities, and her published books refer to God rather than to any sort of science. Despite the contradiction in the title, her organized group of "Gnostic Christians" places an emphasis on prayer and hypnosis for communing with past lives. (I thought the idea of past lives was heresy in the Catholic Church, because people go to Heaven when they die?)

If her prophetic powers are indeed of divine origin, then Miss Browne evidently has trouble interpreting the Word when it comes to her. On September 12, 2001 – one day after the September 11th terrorist attacks – the following message was displayed at Browne's Web site:

"Sylvia has been given the following information regarding the attack:
"Sylvia did not get advance warning because she is not omniscient. Her list of predictions in 1999 warned of terrorism, but clearly the timing was wrong. Please pray for the wellbeing of the victims and their families, and focus your anger on helping other people rather than seeking revenge." [1]

As one of the most famous and publicly available psychics in the country (if not the world), Miss Browne has had an impressive amount of dirt and criticism dug up about her. Skeptics regularly hurl all kinds of nasty accusations at her, ranging from "fraud" to "scam artist." Two Web sites to look at for some of the things Miss Browne would rather you not see include Stop Sylvia Browne and her entry at Quackwatch.

Update, February 2007: In the early months of 2007, Miss Browne received a lot of bad PR and flak for an incorrect prediction she made in 2003. On February 6, 2003, she had appeared on The Montel Williams Show and told the parents of a missing 11-year-old boy named Shawn Hornbeck that the boy was dead…and then subsequently offered to assist with locating the body for a fee of $700. Four years later, the boy was found alive and well…and this sparked a backlash against Miss Browne and her prediction. In a reaction against all of the bad press, Miss Browne did the natural thing: she attacked her critics. Specifically, she sent a legal threat to the Web site – because we all know that the smartest thing to do when you're in the public spotlight is, of course, to act like an idiot.