Thursday, January 01, 2009

Alleged Psychic Sylvia Browne's 2008 Predictions: Success Rate

Before I start here, I would just like to offer the humblest of apologies for not posting on my blog for approximately four months. I won't make excuses, I'll just say that school and other activities kept me extremely busy.

As I hope any frequent reader of my blog has guessed by now, I am a critic of alleged psychic Sylvia Browne. Starting at the beginning of 2008, I began documenting the predictions she would make on the now-canceled daytime-talk show Montel, hosted by Montel Williams. On the December 31, 2007 broadcast of Montel, Browne made several verifiable predictions dealing with politics, pop culture medicine and natural disasters. I made a list of these predictions here, and offered a mid-year update on them here. Now that 2008 has given way to 2009, I can accurately assess the success rate for the predictions Browne gave for 2008.

On the December 31, 2007 episode of Montel, Browne made 14 predictions that were specific enough to be falsifiable. I will present these predictions in a simple list format, and refer to a correct prediction as a “hit” and an incorrect prediction as a “miss.” I will also offer links to any sources that support or refute the claims made in the predictions and provide my own commentary. Any text which appears in quotes is the exact phrasing used by Browne.

As with all of my posts dealing with Sylvia Browne, I admit freely that I do not think she is psychic in any way, shape or form. Browne's despicable business practices are my definition of evil, and I'm attempting to do what little I can to offer a critical assessment of her. I write these posts in an effort to make Browne's numerous failings as an alleged psychic clear to anyone who may be interested.

1. Britney Spears’ younger sister Jaime Lynn Spears will have her baby.
Spears the younger gave birth to a healthy, although 10-days-premature, baby girl on June 19, 2008. Complications during the delivery apparently forced doctors to perform an emergency Cesarean on the 17-year old. Browne had what amounts to a 50/50 chance of getting this prediction correct. Spears would have either had the baby, or somehow terminated the pregnancy. Given entertainment news media's obsession with the entire Spears family, an abortion of any kind was pretty much out of the question for young Jaime Lynn. Was Browne correct? Yes. Is it impressive? Hardly.
Prediction #1: Hit

2. Browne described Britney Spears as having a “bi-polar condition,” and that she will get help for it in 2008.
A December 9 post on the Times of the Internet explaining Spears' reluctance to embark on a 2009 concert tour was the only blog post or news story I could find that asserts Spears was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. However, the post does not offer any source to support its claim. Other stories discussing Spears' mental health offered only speculation and no concrete evidence to support the claim that she was officially diagnosed as being bipolar in 2008. Even if Spears actually is bipolar, no news stories reported the singer getting help for the condition.
Prediction #2: Miss

Actor Owen Wilson will have “another dip” in his depression.
After Wilson's alleged late-2007 suicide attempt, a 2008 depression-related incident seemed like a logical assertion. However, Wilson had no publicized bouts with depression in 2008. In fact, a February 28 post on the entertainment news blog Defamer
reported on Wilson returning to work on Marley and Me, a film currently in theaters, and possible reuniting with actress Kate Hudson, his former girlfriend.
Prediction #3: Miss

4. Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie will adopt another child.
A November 12 story from the news section of the website Celebrity Archives reported that Pitt and Jolie are planning to adopt another child, but will wait until their twins, born in July of 2008, are six months old.
Prediction #4: Miss

5. Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie will not stay together.

Since this prediction was given as part of a list of predictions for the year 2008, I think it is safe to assume Browne meant to say that the couple will break up in 2008. As of the writing of this post, Pitt and Jolie are still together.
Prediction #5: Miss

6. United State troops stationed in Iraq will start coming home "in increments" due to the withdrawal of other collation forces.
No major United States troops withdrawals from Iraq took place in 2008. An August 21 article from the website for National Public Radio reported that a deal agreed upon by Iraq and the United States has set a preliminary timetable for a withdrawal of American forces from Iraqi cities by June of 2009.
Prediction #6: Miss

President Bush’s approval rating will continue to drop.
According to a December 31 article from the Los Angeles Times, President Bush will end his presidency with some of the lowest marks of approval of any recent president. From the article:

"According to a Pew survey released this month, just 11% of Americans rate Bush as an 'above-average president,' compared with 59% for Ronald Reagan and 44% for Bill Clinton as they left office."

Now, you only really have to have the ability to understand the English language and own a television set to "predict" that president Bush was not going to get any more popular in 2008. In all fairness, though, Browne did call this one correctly; as I'm sure most of the United States would have if asked.
Prediction #7: Hit

Senator Barack Obama will become the Democratic "front-runner" in the race to be the next president of the United States.
A cursory glance at any newspaper within the last few months will show that Browne was indeed correct on this one. Notice, however, that she did not go so far as to say that Obama will be the next president of the United States. Since this prediction was made way back in December of 2007, she could not confidently make such a claim. Rather, she saved the "prediction" that Obama will win the presidency for October 3, 2008; a month before the presidential elections. Browne offered this nugget of augury in a video posted on Youtube in which even she did not seem confident in her own powers. Quoted from the video:

"It's getting very close and I...I don't know, I really thought at one time that it might be Barack, but I'm leaning a little toward John McCain now. But that sounds like I'm doing a double thing but I'm still going to stick with Barack Obama. Because I think people need a new regime, I really do."

A month before the elections and she can't be anymore sure than this? Remember, everyone, this is a woman who charges $850 for an over-the-phone "reading."
Prediction #8: Hit

Browne predicts "diabetic breakthroughs."
In addition to a University of Manchester team discovering a new technique for turning stem cells into insulin-producing pancreatic tissue, a September 18 article from reported on a University of North Carolina team that successfully turn human skin cells into insulin producing cells. Insulin is the hormone that people diagnosed with diabetes lack. I can assure you that "diabetic breakthroughs" is all Browne said regarding this specific prediction. Given such a broad claim, medical science was bound to produce something that could be counted as a "breakthrough" regarding diabetes in 2008. One has to wonder why Browne could not offer any more details.
Prediction #9: Hit

10. Browne predicts the use of "sound waves with cancer."

Again, the quoted statement was all Browne had to offer regarding the treatment of cancer with sound waves. Because of her trademark vagueness, a December 22 ScienceDaily article about a pocket-sized ultrasound device could possibly apply. This device, invented by a graduate student at Cornell University, could help treat brain cancer by using intense sound waves to push medication through the brain after surgery. This "prediction" was slightly more specific than "diabetic breakthroughs" but still did not offer much useful information.
Prediction #10: Hit

Browne predicts "whooping cough, mumps and measles will be on the rise" in 2008.
This prediction was the most difficult to investigate since news stories often only focus on outbreaks of such diseases in specific parts of the country, as opposed to rises nationwide. A report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stated that cases of measles from January to July of 2008 were the highest they've been since 1996. An article in The New York Times attributed this rise in part to the unwillingness of many parents to vaccinate their children for fear of links to autism. Also, the Anchorage Daily News reported December 19 on a rise in reported cases of whooping cough in Alaska's capital city of Juneau, while offered a November 21 report on the rise of whooping cough cases in the Midwest. Despite the ambiguity of Browne's "prediction," I will count this one as a hit for her. Though one must ask the question: if Browne really did see these outbreaks coming, why did she not seek out any medical professionals who could have taken the proper steps to lessen the impacts of the outbreaks?
Prediction #11: Hit

Browne predicted more tsunamis.
No newsworthy tsunamis occurred in 2008.
Prediction #12: Miss

13. Browne predicted "a big earthquake in Japan."
A 7.2 magnitude earthquake did strike Japan’s Iwate prefecture on June 14, 2008 killing nine people and injuring at least 200. One would think Browne would have been obligated to alert Japanese authorities to this danger, or at least offer a more specific location. If Browne did either of these things, she did not publicize them.
Prediction #13: Hit

14. predicted "
volcanoes erupting from all parts of the country that have been dead for years."
The only reported volcanic eruptions in the United States occurred in Alaska in midsummer 2008. A total of three Alaskan volcanoes erupted over the summer. Hardly "from all parts of the country" as Browne predicted.
Prediction #14: Miss

So, how well did Browne do predicting the major events of 2008? With regards to this list, she predicted seven events correctly and seven events incorrectly. Exactly half. I won't go on to mention the major events that Browne failed to predict, the economic collapse for one, since expecting her to predict events like that would be unfair. With that logic, for example, I could complain that she failed to predict me doing all the various things I did in 2008. It does make one wonder, though, how big does an event have to be for it to show up on Browne's radar?

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