Email: "Psychic Baiting" Sylvia Browne
A man tests Browne's "psychic abilities" during the taping of a Montel Williams Show.
Published: Jan 30, 2008
Written by: Robert S. Lancaster
"Ten minutes later, I was approached by a crewperson wearing a set of earphones who asked me to come with her. As we left the studio, another gentleman curtly asked me to leave the premesis, or the police would be called."
- Email author
I frequently receive emails from people suggesting that I arrange for people to attend the taping of a Sylvia Browne episode of the Montel Williams Show, and to set Browne up with a false question. They would, perhaps, ask Browne about a dead relative, and let Browne go on about what that person is telling her. The idea being, if Browne were really psychic, she would know that she was being misled.
Recently I received an email from a correspondent who says he did this very thing.
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Here, with the author's permission, is that email, along with my comments:
Note: As with all of the emails I publish on this site, this one is just one person's account of events.
Subject: My Sylvia Browne experience...
Date: Thu, Jan 17, 2008 3:13 pm
As I was doing some internet research for my job this morning, I happened across your website. I must honestly say that I had no idea that there were so many instances where people have been "duped" by Browne. It is my sheer horror and disgust in this matter that I write you today. My stories pale in comparison to some I have read, but nonetheless, they may be helpful to your cause.
I was living in New York City during the fall of 2005. Two of my roommates were production assistants for locally filmed talk shows, and I was a personal assistant for a syndicated talk show host (a sort of "on-the-spot" format, if you will). Because of this, we spent quite a great deal of time as studio audience members at various shows taping in Manhattan (Oddly enough, my friends have told me that there are indeed "core people" who sit through multiple tapings for lack of anything else to do. I've also been a part of many studio audiences where empty seats were apparent. It is a sin to broadcast with empty seats! My friends would call frantically and beg me to show up as "filler."). I had four experiences with The Montel Williams Show, and two regarding Sylvia Browne.
As these events took place more than two years ago, I cannot recall specific dates of tapings. However, I CAN say they both occurred in the fall and both were early tapings (talk shows generally tape two episodes each day). My roommates and I had obtained tickets quite sometime in advance and were elated to realize that were a "Sylvia Browne audience." As the taping commenced, the entire studio was audience were on the edges of their seats. Fifteen minutes into taping, I was less than impressed.
I noticed a few things seeing Sylvia in person that I never noticed when I would catch her on Montel from time to time. First, she speaks in such generalities, it's impossible to take anything she says seriously. We began to refer to her after this taping as "The Horoscope Psychic." In other words, she is basically a talking horoscope. Anyone can read their daily horoscope and find SOMETHING in thier day that it pertains to. I distinctly recall an audience member asking Sylvia about whether or not her son had "crossed over." her response to the question was, "Yeah, oh yeah. Who is Mary?" After a very long pause, the woman said, "The only person I can think of is my Great Aunt Mary," to which Sylvia replied, "Yeah, they both come around you in bells a lot."
I was outraged.
She told this woman absolutely nothing. The mind believes what it wants to believe. Mary was (and still is) one of the most common names in the world. By adding that querie of a 'Mary,' it made it seem as though she was SEEING this woman's deceased child with his Great-Great Aunt. But it proved nothing. And each and every audience member asking a question got a similar response.
Furthermore, her expressions made me question her abilities. Each time she spoke to an audience member, she was looking up or down, but not at them. There is a great webite at http://www.blifaloo.com/info/lies_eyes.php that discusses this very subject. It's almost as if she's read this site and is using what they discuss to further her "credibility."
I have seen this web page before, and others like it, and have considered writing an article about Browne's "body language," including her eye movements.
I have done no study on this, but it seems that when thinking about an answer to a question, Browne most frequently looks up and to her right (our left). According to the web page linked above, this means she is, in essence, making something up.
I have, so far, chosen not to write such an article, mostly because this seems to be less than an exact science.
Back to the email:
After our taping, we gathered for coffee and discussed our feelings on what we had just seen. This is where it gets interesting. We all agreed it was a bunch of hogwash, so we decided to do a little experiment. Having been in the talk-show business for some time, we had connections to score some audience tickets the next time Sylvia was taping. Furthermore we got on the list of audience members to ask questions (a process, at the time, was nearly impossible to do, as everyone had a question), and eagerly waited for Montel to call on me, who had been designated the speaker of the group.
Sylvia didn't disappoint.
My question was simple. I had a roommate who worked in the World Trade Center on 9/11. I just want to know if they crossed over.
Sylvia's first resonse was one of condolence, which should have been heartwarming. She then proceeded to tell me that yes, he had in fact crossed over and he went very quickly, as the initial impact of the plane killed him instantly.
I felt satisfied.
Not one thing she told me was accurate. Indeed, I DID have a roommate who worked at the World Trade Center on 9/11, but SHE was out of town on business, HER office was below the impact zone, and furthermore SHE was sitting right next to me during the entire taping, alive and well. So, very tastefully, I said, "That's not true," to which she responded, "I know it's hard, honey."
"No. It's not true. My roommate is right here." As I pointed to her, all I got was a blank stare. Then they moved on to the next segment.
Ten minutes later, I was approached by a crewperson wearing a set of earphones who asked me to come with her. As we left the studio, another gentleman curtly asked me to leave the premesis, or the police would be called. When I asked what the problem was, I was simply told that I disrupted a taping, the show filmed on a tight schedule and I was no longer required to be in the audience. So, I left. Five minutes after I had been ejected, my roommate (the very alive-and-well roommate) was kicked out as well.
The taping went on as sceduled, with two alleged crew members taking our seats. My friends and roommates who weren't kicked out were told the date the show would air and we eagerly awaited the day. As we watched, not only were my comments omitted from the show, but every scan of the audience during a question or before a commercial break omitted the section in which we were sitting. Go figure.
I never really thought much about it until today. Obviously the show and/or Sylvia Browne expressed concern about her validity when they opted NOT to show my footage. But I just forgot about it and assumed she was nothing more than a ratings gimmick. When I came across your site and started investigating, I was aghast. I feel so much sympathy for these poor, unsuspecting persons who actually believe she is the real deal and have serious concerns about loved ones. My heart goes out to all of them.
In closing, I would like to thank you for your time. I hope my story can be helpful to you and your readers. If you have any questions, comments or concerns, please feel free to contact me.
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One thing about the email which confused me was the talk about the author's being able to "get on the list" of people who would ask questions of Browne. I wrote and asked for clarification on this:
I'm curious as as to what you meant by "we got on the list of audience members to ask questions." I was under the impression that there was no list, but that Montel chose people from the audience as the show proceeded. Am I wrong in this? Or, was there a different method in place at the time?
Here was his response:
As for being put on a list, the two tapings we attended with Sylvia were run like this. After the audience was allowed to enter the studio, we took our seats and were greeted by the classic "audience warm-up guy." Basically this guy told jokes, asked questions and explained the format of the show. He explained the crew on either side of the set who prompted the audience when and how much to applaud. He explained the "etiquette" during interviews (i.e. when to talk, react, to not cry too loud...). And he finally explained the staff members filtering through the audience. These people asked each person in the audience if they had a question for Sylvia and what it was. If the question was deemed "acceptable," the persons name was requested and put on the list. I only got on the list because a friend working that day singled me out when "interviewing" the audience.
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This process of playing along with a "psychic," only to later reveal that they were totally incorrect about something, is sometimes called "psychic baiting."
The first time I heard this term was in Ian Rowland's excellent book The Full Facts Book of Cold Reading (an excellent book which I highly recommend to anyone curious about the process of cold reading). In one section of the book, Rowland discusses techniques for blocking the techniques of cold readers (those who use cold reading techniques to create the illusion of psychic abilities), where he has this to say:
In essence, psychic baiting is the only sure way to demonstrate that someone giving readings is using cold reading, not genuine psychic ability. It involves going for a reading and allowing the psychic - which I stress means 'cold reader' in this case - to get snared by her own methods.
Rowland then goes on to give examples of, and advice regarding, psychic baiting.
As I said earlier, I have been asked many times why I have not done something like this, or urged others to do so.
Part of the reason I have not done so is that Browne is demonstrably wrong so often, with people who have come to her with sincere questions, that I don't think it necessary to bait her.
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Is "psychic baiting" a valid way to test the abilities of an alleged psychic? Perhaps, perhaps not. It is not something I would necessarily recommend.
But, I will say this: If someone were determined to try it on Sylvia Browne during the taping of a Montel Williams Show, I would not recommend telling Browne to her face that she was just baited. As the correspondent above learned, it gets you escorted from the building, and it will never end up being broadcast. The only people who will ever see it are those present during the taping.
I would instead suggest that you wait until after the show has been broadcast, and then reveal the truth about the reading. If you contact me about it, and I can verify to my satisfaction that you are the person in the broadcast, I will consider publishing your account of the reading here on the site.
My thanks to this man for writing, and for allowing me to publish his email here on this site.
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