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CFI Okanagan critics slam medium's claims

The Centre For Inquiry Okanagan posted advertisements on buses in Kelowna promoting an atheist stance, earning notoriety; they
The Centre For Inquiry Okanagan posted advertisements on buses in Kelowna promoting an atheist stance, earning notoriety; they're now protesting Sylvia Browne's impending show.
— image credit: contributed

The group who brought the slogan "there's probably no God, now stop worrying and enjoy your life" to Kelowna says people should know Sylvia Browne is just an entertainer.

Members of the Centre For Inquiry Okanagan, locally famed for placing the aforementioned atheist slogan on transit buses, will protest evangelical psychic Sylvia Browne's upcoming performance at the Kelowna Community Theatre in effort to debunk her claim she is a psychic and healer.

"It's a combination protest and public awareness campaign," said spokesperson Edwin Hodge. "We oppose the idea of people making money off claims and abilities that there's no evidence they actually possess.

"Sylvia Browne is notorious for claiming to be a psychic medium who talks to people who have crossed over, but there's just no evidence she has any ability to do anything of the sort."

Classifying Browne's show as "medical hucksterism," Hodge said the group set their sights on Browne's performance because she is unwilling to call herself an entertainer, holding steadfast to claims she is a healer, has extra-sensory perception (ESP) and can act as a spiritual medium for those who have passed away but still wish to communicate with the living.

"She's Miss Cleo with a bigger bank account," said Hodge. "…And my concern is that people get taken in by these sorts of people."

Browne's act has increasingly focused on medical issues, though she got her start selling the talk show  circuit on her connection to law enforcement agencies looking for missing people.

There are numerous examples on websites debunking Browne's various claims, with everyone from magicians to CNN news reporters tackling the project.

The Bronze Blog, formerly known as Rockstars' Ramblings, offers a standard example, listing predictions that never came true like: "The media over hypes El Nino. It will not cause as much havoc as predicted by weather watchers. There will be flooding in the Midwest and southern states, the other states will find it unusually dry and humid." The site then points to El Nino's affects in California where it caused widespread flooding in 2010.

Other statements, like those on Holocaust and the 9-1-1 victims choosing their fate, have simply set off a firestorm of angry critics incensed by the material.

One of her prime detractors, magician James Randi, has dedicated copious energy to pointing out what he believes is Browne's prime failing—that she deceives people without admitting to her deception. Randi runs the James Randi Education Foundation, which "promotes critical thinking by reaching out to the public and media with reliable information about paranormal and supernatural ideas." As a magician, he says he learned how to deceive people, but was always clear it was a deception intended for entertainment whereas Browne promotes her form of deception as truth.

From Quack Watch to The Skeptic's Guide to the Centre for Scientific Inquiry America, there is a mountain of critics on Randi's side, though she also has her supports.

Television talk show hosts Montel Williams and Larry King have spent hours of air time promoting her claims, providing her an unprecedented audience with a plethora of fan websites.

Hodge says the believers stick to a similar belief pattern as those he found doing research for his master's degree in political science at UBCO. Studying the impact of religion on gender identity in white supremacy groups, Hodge found people who identify with fringe beliefs will use the Internet to support those beliefs by considering only those information sources that support their own understanding of the world.

"The information doesn't matter. What matters is that it reinforces their own beliefs," he explained.

That said, there are plenty of others out there willing to counter these cultures.

The Centre For Inquiry Okangan generally draws 30-40 people out to their protests and demonstrations, but boasts a following of over 200 people on its Facebook page.

Sylvia Browne performs at the Kelowna Community Theatre on Monday, March 26 at 7 p.m. CFI Okanagan is planning a simultaneous demonstration; details will be released on their Facebook page—CFI Okanagan.

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