Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Shadow of a Doubt - May 2013

The Monthly Calendar of the National Capital Area Skeptics
  • How to be a Psychic - A “Celebration” of the Techniques of Sylvia Browne and Other Psychic Entertainers
  • Torn From Today's Headlines 
    By Scott Snell - 
    Browne Responds to Critics
  • NCAS SkepTour Recap
  • New Board Members Elected, Officers Chosen
  • "Skeptical Thinking" Talks at Balticon 47
  • Shadow Light
  • Drinking Skeptically
  • New Postal Address
  • New Skeptic Line Number

How to be a Psychic!

A “Celebration” of the Techniques of Sylvia Browne and Other Psychic Entertainers

Presented by Independent Investigations Group – DC, National Capital Area Skeptics, and Center for Inquiry – DC

Thursday, May 30, 6:30pm - 8:30pm
Busboys and Poets, Shirlington
4251 Campbell Avenue
Arlington, VA [map] [directions]
(A few blocks from the Shirlington Bus Station)
FREE admission - Everyone welcome, members and non-members

On Thursday, May 30, "psychic" Sylvia Browne will be appearing at The Birchmere in Alexandria to present "An Evening of Insights and Live Readings."  (Yes, the same Sylvia Browne who told the mother of Amanda Berry in 2004, "She's not alive, honey.")

Meanwhile, IIG–DC, NCAS and CFI–DC will be presenting "How to be a Psychic!" that same night at Busboys and Poets in Shirlington.

Sylvia's show costs $55 to observe and $99 if you want to ask her a question.  Our show is free – two hours of fun and seemingly amazing social interactions where you might discover that you have hitherto unknown psychic powers – or that you're just reasonably OK at "cold reading."  Learn from a completely non-professional psychic instructor some of the same techniques that have given certain high-profile entertainers lengthy careers and lavish incomes.  After a brief period of instruction, you'll have a chance to try out your new-found talents on others at the event.  Then they'll have a chance to read you!  And all for $99 less than what Sylvia Browne would charge you!

We also plan to show some video clips "honoring" Sylvia Browne and others like her, plus give every attendee their own "Psychic Bingo Card."  And, of course, you may enjoy whatever libations Busboys and Poets has available (not included in the cost of the event - which, did we mention, is FREE?).

IMPORTANT!  We don't want this event just to be "preaching to the choir."  If you have a friend who is genuinely curious about those who claim to have psychic or clairvoyant powers, PLEASE bring them with you!  (We promise we won't preach at them.)

Space is limited, so please RSVP if you're coming.  Send an e-mail to rsvp@ncas.org.


Contact the Birchmere
NCAS members are encouraged to contact the Birchmere, a popular and respected entertainment venue, to express your views regarding bookings of "psychic" entertainers.

When writing your own message, remember to avoid using ad hominem remarks or any other language unbecoming of critical thinkers, so as not to undermine your point.  By way of example, the following recent message to the Birchmere is presented in its entirety below.

--- [message begins]
Sylvia Browne is listed in the Birchmere calendar on Thursday, May 30 for "An Evening of Insights and Live Readings."

You may be aware of the recent negative publicity concerning her and the Amanda Berry kidnapping.  For example:  http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2324733/Cleveland-kidnappings-Psychic-Sylvia-Browne-explains-wrongly-telling-Amanda-Berrys-mother-missing-daughter-dead.html

Ms. Browne has a terrible track record. A comprehensive review of her 115 predictions about missing persons and murder cases could not find even a single case where she was correct:  http://www.csicop.org/si/show/psychic_defective_sylvia_brownes_history_of_failure/

I understand that the Birchmere has contractual obligations, but please consider such findings when booking similar "entertainment" in the future.
--- [message ends]

Contact information:
The Birchmere
3701 Mount Vernon Ave
Alexandria VA 22305

Torn From Today's Headlines
By Scott Snell
Browne Responds to Critics
"Psychic" entertainer Sylvia Browne got in the news recently for having told Louwana Miller in 2004 that her daughter, Amanda Berry, was dead.  The reading was broadcast on the November 17, 2004 edition of The Montel Williams Show.  A transcript is available at the following site:


Now that Amanda has been rescued after many years of captivity, Browne has issued the following public statement:

For nearly six decades, Sylvia Browne has dedicated her life to helping others as a spiritual psychic and guide. She has been called upon to assist individuals, families, and law enforcement agencies across the U.S. and Canada on hundreds of high profile criminal investigations. She has received numerous commendations for the positive impact her contributions have provided, resulting in important information and leads that have ultimately led to the closure of major investigations.

"For more than 50 years as a spiritual psychic and guide, when called upon to either help authorities with missing person cases or to help families with questions about their loved ones, I have been more right than wrong. If ever there was a time to be grateful and relieved for being mistaken, this is that time. Only God is right all the time. My heart goes out to Amanda Berry, her family, the other victims and their families. I wish you a peaceful recovery." - Sylvia Browne

Sherry Cole, Amanda Berry's cousin reached out to Sylvia this morning to let her know that she supports her, loves her, knows Sylvia never claims to be 100% right, but wanted to let her know that she was accurate in her description of the perpetrators at the time.

"Our family in no way blames Sylvia. This doesn't change anything. We still love her and believe in her." ­ Sherry Cole


True, Browne "never claims to be 100% right."  But in her book Prophecy: What the Future Holds For You (Penguin, 2005), she states, "my accuracy rate is somewhere between 87 and 90 percent, if I’m recalling correctly."

In "Psychic Defective: Sylvia Browne’s History of Failure" from the March/April 2010 issue of Skeptical Inquirer, Ryan Shaffer and Agatha Jadwiszczok reviewed 115 cases for which Browne offered details about missing persons and murder cases.  In 25 cases, Browne was wrong.  The other 90 cases were either still unsolved or no details were available to evaluate the accuracy of her claims.  Thus Browne's confirmable accuracy is actually zero percent.

For the Berry case, Browne's supporters are likely to trumpet the following two statements she made in The Montel Williams Show transcript, as Berry's cousin has by stating that Browne "was accurate in her description of the perpetrators at the time."

"There was only one person."
[In 2004, Browne's statement contradicted the last witness to see Amanda, who saw her getting into a vehicle with three men. In 2013, Amanda, after her release, stated that she was indeed abducted by one man. Score one for Browne, who notably went against widely-available information at the time.]

"Now, the thing that gets me is this sort of Cuban-looking, short kind of stocky build, heavyset..."
[The lead suspect is Ariel Castro. Obviously his surname would suggest a Cuba connection. As to whether Ariel Castro is "sort of Cuban-looking," that may be open to wide interpretation. At this time it's unclear if Castro is of Cuban descent, but he was born in Puerto Rico. From recent photos, Castro appears to be heavyset and possibly stocky, though his weight may have been different at the time of the abduction or Browne's reading. His height is 65", shorter than the average of 69" for US men.]

Browne's supporters are likely to ignore or downplay another statement of hers in the transcript:

"He was maybe 21, something like that, 21, 22."
[Ariel Castro was born in 1960, so his age was actually 42 at the time of the Berry abduction.]


NCAS SkepTour Recap
The first annual NCAS SkepTour was held on the afternoon of Saturday, May 11, 2013 in Washington, DC.  A tour group of 15 walked from Dupont Circle to the National Archives along a route featuring points of scientific, pseudo-scientific, and cultural interest to skeptics, as compiled in "A Skeptic's Guide to the National Capital Area," a work in progress published online by NCAS.

Tour guides Grace and Chip Denman and Scott Snell spent a few minutes at each location describing its significance. Contributors to the guide who were unable to attend included Tim Farley ("What's the Harm?") and Jim Lippard (Phoenix Area Skeptics Society).

One of the stops was the Samuel Hahnemann Monument at Scott Circle NW, commemorating the "Leader of the Great Medical Reformation of the Nineteenth Century and Founder of the Homeopathic School."  (Photo courtesy of Brian Gregory.)

After the SkepTour concluded, many of the participants proceeded to Elephant & Castle Pub and Restaurant (1201 Pennsylvania Ave NW) for food, drink, and conversation.

"A Skeptic's Guide to the National Capital Area" is an ongoing project for the National Capital Area Skeptics, and will include locations across the VA-MD-DC area. If you'd like to contribute suggestions, please write to SkepTour@ncas.org.

The latest edition is available at http://goo.gl/maps/lt1y8.

The next NCAS SkepTour is planned for May or June 2014.

(Note: NCAS SkepTour is not affiliated with College of Curiosity Field Trips, formerly known as "SkepTours," a project of College of Curiosity.)

New Board Members Elected, Officers Chosen
Results of the recent NCAS member vote on candidates for the board of directors have been tabulated. One new board member was elected: Robert Sheehan. Re-elected and incumbent members include: Nelson Davis Jr, Chip Denman, Bing Garthright, Brian Gregory, Curtis Haymore, Kevin Jennings, Melissa Pollak, Mya Riemer, Scott Snell, Jamy Ian Swiss, and Marv Zelkowitz. At its May 13 meeting, the board selected its officers, who are: Grace Denman, president; J. D. Mack, vice president; Walter F. Rowe, secretary; and Beth Kingsley, treasurer.

"Skeptical Thinking" Talks at Balticon 47
Balticon 47, the Maryland Regional Science Fiction and Fantasy Convention (May 24-27, 2013 at Hunt Valley Inn Baltimore) will include talks on various science and skeptical topics.  Check http://www.balticon.org/Balticon_47_Program_by_Program_Tracks.pdf for the latest information.

Shadow Light
Some members and contacts of NCAS receive a postal notification of this and every new monthly Shadow of a Doubt.  The Shadow Light postcard announces the monthly lecture and highlights of the electronic Shadow of a Doubt, which is available online at ncas.org/shadow.  NCAS thereby reduces Shadow production and postage costs.  To further reduce costs, members and contacts can opt out of postal notification altogether, while continuing to receive Shadow of a Doubt via e-mail.  To opt out, send us an e-mail at ncas@ncas.org.

Drinking Skeptically, now in MD and  VA!
On Wednesday, June 12 at 7:00 p.m., please join fellow NCASers at either of our simultaneous DC-area Drinking Skeptically events:

Jackie's Sidebar
8081 Georgia Avenue (entrance on Sligo Avenue) in Silver Spring, MD

The Front Page Arlington
Rear patio / National Science Foundation atrium
4201 Wilson Blvd (across from Ballston Common Mall) in Arlington, VA
(703) 248-9990

The February 2011 issue of Washingtonian magazine features the Sidebar on its cover, for a story on the best bars in the DC area.  (And you'll find the area's best hot dogs there, according to the June 2012 issue.)

Drinking Skeptically is an informal social event designed to promote fellowship and networking among skeptics, critical-thinkers, and like-minded individuals. There's no cover charge and all are welcome. Don't drink? Don't let that stop you from joining us! Some of the world's most famous skeptics are teetotalers, and we are happy to have you! Remember that drinking skeptically means drinking responsibly. If there's one thing science has taught us, it's the effects of alcohol on the human body.

New Postal Address
As of June 2012, NCAS has switched post office boxes, from 8428 to 8461:
National Capital Area Skeptics
P.O. Box 8461
Silver Spring, MD 20907-8461

New Skeptic Line Number
As of March 2013, NCAS has switched telephone numbers, from 301-587-3827 to 240-670-NCAS (6227).

Time to Renew?
Be sure to check your renewal date above your postal address on the Shadow Light postcard. Send any queries to ncas@ncas.org.  Use the online membership form to renew.