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September 7, 2001

Reluctant Wizard, Sylvia Browne — At Last, and Geller in Hungary....

The Larry King Live show with myself and Sylvia Browne, long promised but "bumped" twice, to discuss the million-dollar challenge, finally took place this last Monday the 3rd. It resulted in over 400 e-mail responses within the first 24 hours following, and comments continue to pour in. I'll share some of this with you here. But first....

A James A.. Conrad, who states that he is "a private American paraphysics researcher who has been looking into the subject of telekinesis on and off for over 20 years," describes in detail miracles he has done — and still does — by psychokinesis. That's moving objects or altering physical systems with mind power alone. Please note that he chooses to call his power, "detectable generated energy that is projected from the brain," whatever that means. He writes:

You may ask why I don't try out for the James Randi Educational Foundation million-dollar challenge prize? Two reasons. First, the knowledge of practical telekinesis in the long run is worth more than a million dollars (a prize amount subject to hefty income taxes).

Oh come on, Jim! Surely you can manage the taxes? Any accountant can arrange it for you. And what's left of the million dollars should be handy to further your studies, don't you think? But, moving along briskly....

Sharing what I know with temporary judges in a challenge, who would not be subject to any kind of confidentiality, would make no sense from an information security standpoint. It could jeopardize possible future trade secret protection and the contractual relationship that I am seeking with a research partner.

Okay, but where is there any indication that Jim would have to share anything in the way of "what he knows" with anyone? As an assurance, Jim, I can guarantee that no one will ask you to share any secrets at all, ever. You don't have to tell us how you do it, you just have to do it. And you have 100% agreement on confidentiality. Just do the stunt, and you win!

Second, it might be ethically inappropriate for me to participate in the JREF challenge. I am a dues-paying, rank-and-file member of a skeptics' organization of which James Randi is a consultant and whose officers and leading members do and have done pre-testing for the JREF prize. It might be necessary for me therefore to disqualify myself and seek to gain from my discovery elsewhere, and so that is what I am doing.

Well, I'm humbled by this remarkable display of integrity, but I've consulted with that organization, and they agree not to expect you to disqualify yourself, Jim. And, they're very willing to test you, or direct you to another authority who will test you. Fear not, in that regard.

As I've said before, ball's in your court.....

On the King show, I had to just sit still while Sylvia proved — as only she could — just what a bumbler she is. As I expected, Larry was impatient to get Sylvia on the phone with callers, so she could dazzle me with her powers. The first caller, inquiring about her deceased husband, was told that Sylvia "saw a clot." As always, these "cold readers" want to tell callers how the dead died — which they already know — and this one was a doozy. Sylvia, immediately after assuring the audience that she doesn't ask probing questions and make guesses, as the "other" readers do, and who claims to be in communication with 300 doctors, should know about this. She apparently didn't. Here's part of the transcript:

BROWNE: . . . what was the — clot or whatever that let loose? Because it looks like there was something about a clot.

CALLER: Yes, he had a severe brain hemorrhage at the very last minute.

Now, a hemorrhage is exactly the opposite of a blood clot! But notice that the caller has accepted this, wanting to be supportive.

BROWNE: Because it looks likes it was, not only that, but this was massive.

CALLER: Yes, it was.


CALLER: Right through the top of his head.

Now, to me, this sounds as if the caller is describing an impact of some sort to the top of the head! Clots don't go through the top of the head. They originate inside the head and stay there. Notice, too, that the term "embolism," which was introduced by Sylvia as applying to the cause of this death, and never by the caller, refers to a blocked blood vessel, and could not apply here. She said, amplifying her reading, — the caller had already been disconnected by that time — that I claimed "psychics" frequently refer to "chest problems" as a cause of death, while "not everyone has a massive embolism." She then predicted what I would say about this remarkable "hit," that I would call it a guess. She was wrong; I say that it's a dead miss. And it is. No, not everyone has a massive embolism, nor a clot, both of which Sylvia put forth as the cause of death, and this man had neither.

An MD friend said that in his opinion, Sylvia is not just full of baloney but also dangerous. She mentioned to one caller that she should check the "bilirubin," which she told King "is a liver enzyme." The fact is that bilirubin is not a liver enzyme but a degradation product of human hemoglobin. This is routinely checked when blood tests are done. No need to check it separately, as any elevation of bilirubin will give the very obvious clinical appearance of jaundice. You just have to look in the persons eye to see that. And there is no test for Epstein-Barr disease related to the examination of fecal matter, as Sylvia, in her vast medical expertise, offered to a caller. And, she prescribed the drug Tegretol, as well, for another caller's disorder. This type of medical advice, which by law Sylvia cannot offer, is dangerous as it can mislead the caller. Who is she to give medical advice? Larry King was amazed at her facility with medical terms. Facility does not necessarily equate with accuracy.

Dr. Richard Serrao, M.D., wrote me that Sylvia's mumbo-jumbo " makes no medical sense whatsoever." He offered "Advice to Sylvia: go to medical school if you want to talk medical." He opined, "What works in her favor is that she speaks to gullible individuals who want to believe, and don't question her whatsoever. It was clearly evident from the callers who phoned in that night."

Larry asked a caller from Yonkers why she had asked Sylvia about "fault," and Sylvia very softly and quickly whispered to Larry "She's afraid it was a suicide." The caller immediately stated, "It was a car accident," and Sylvia smoothly changed tack and continued, as if she'd known that all along, "Yeah, she was trying to veer off from something." Note: all of this procedure is in exact conformance with the methods offered in Ian Rowland's book, "The Full Facts Book of Cold Reading," which we mentioned last week.

Larry asked me, as I expected, what's the harm in what Sylvia does? Let me give you an example, sent to me by a viewer. Many months ago, on another show that featured Sylvia as a guest, the grandmother of a local missing child was also on the program. The child was a six-year-old named Opal Jo Jennings, from north Texas. She had been in the news a lot because of her disappearance. On national TV, Sylvia said that the child was still alive but had been sold into white slavery and was currently in Japan! She even gave a city name. But there is no city in Japan by that name. Currently, there is a man sitting in prison in Texas who has confessed to Opal Jo's abduction. "What's the harm?" How about false hope? To tell such a far-out and freaky tale just for TV ratings....?

On the King show, Sylvia provided a motherly warning to me that I should "check" my "left ventricle," a cheap shot on her part, obviously designed to provide viewers with a spicy prediction that cannot immediately be checked on, as well as diverting attention from her rather ineffective performance. And not too wild a try, since I'm on public record as having had heart attacks and an angioplasty. I told King that I would consult my cardiac surgeon in that regard. Well, now I've had a "Persantine" stress test performed, using radioactive thallium, a very thorough, definitive, cardiac examination, including an echocardiograph. No enlargement of the left ventricle, nor of the coronary artery supplying it, though that would be expected in a man my age. It appears that Ms. Browne might be playing the odds, but I just don't match the picture. I obtained 96 points out of a possible 100 in my tests. I'll let you evaluate her accuracy on that one.

In one of Sylvia's many books, titled "Life on the Other Side," a reader points out that on page 18 she relates the story of how her beloved college professor led her to a bookstore and showed her books by authors including Jean-Paul Sartre and Bertrand Russell. Her professor said these authors were "like you" (Sylvia). Correct me if I'm wrong, but weren't these guys rather vehement atheists?

The volume of e-mail — which continues as I write this — was very largely supportive of my appearance, but (need I tell you?) there were some who differed with me. To keep you up to speed on such matters, so you'll appreciate the quality of the opposition, I've selected two excellent examples....

What a jackass you were. Sylvia mopped the floor with you. And, what a lady she remained. Want to know who the fake is? You! Your web page asks for money. How commercial is that? It's pretty clear what your real objective is — the almighty dollar. I must congratulate you, though — you're a great con artist. Like all of the con men I've read about, you've mastered how to cause a ruckus by making inane, nonsensical statements with no basis and refusing to answer very fair questions by repeating and repeating and repeating that "there is no question." You are absolutely laughable. I can't wait for your next confrontation with Sylvia. I'm going to enjoy watching you hand over one of the millions that suckers have sent you. Oh, by the way, how's your left ventricle? You'd better check it. Also, check your web page. I believe you mean "peek," not "peak." Which reminds me — what's your educational background?

Smooth talker! Yep, I corrected that "peak" to "peek." Just proves my abysmal ignorance, also pointed up by the next viewer:

I can only hope that you watched a tape of your appearance on Sept 3 to see what a FOOL you made of yourself. What a sad excuse for a human being you proved yourself to be — believing in no higher deity or God. You can't believe that anyone could take you seriously with the attitude you project. Sylvia Browne has proved herself to be a compassionate caring person who has helped countless numbers of people. You left no doubt in anyone's mind how little you knew of her or her work. Before attacking someone, you should do your homework about them. Yes, there are psychics who are frauds, but if you really LISTENED to Sylvia you would know she is not one of them. You talk to hear yourself talk. Larry King should be highly insulted that you would even dare suggest that a caller was a "ringer" on his program. What makes you think you are so wonderful? I can't wait for Sylvia to prove how little you know!

Whew! Apparently my lack of belief has some folks very disturbed. Sorry about that. But we'll all be able to see Sylvia at her best when the Big Test comes up, right? Well, I'd better warn you that it may take some time. I'm anticipating Ms. Browne getting very busy with foreign trips and other projects, so it may be tough to fit in a million dollars. After all, she isn't exactly broke. Of the 120+ persons who rushed to send me their particulars so that they could be subjects for the testing procedure I offered to Sylvia, about half said they were doing it just so they could get a free reading, since her prices are so high. One reader suggested to me:

I went to Sylvia's web site, she charges $750 a half hour, I guess that guarantees she is going to get customers that will pay anything rather than claim responsibility for their own lives. I have never come across a psychic or astrologer that doesn't use the famous two words "Free will." Now mind you, this is from people who believe it is all pre-destined. "Free will" translates as "just in case I don't get it right." By the way her son, who is also a psychic, only charges $375. Does this mean he's half as accurate?

For the record, as promised, here's the test I offered to Sylvia Browne on the King show:

[I said that I had to ask Sylvia a few yes-or-no questions to get the picture clearly and to be able to suggest a protocol for the test. I said as follows.]

My observations lead me to believe that you, Sylvia Browne, are playing a version of the "20 Questions" game with the subject, that you ask questions, observe expressions and body language, make guesses, offer suggestions, throw out words and initials, and then wait for answers. It appears to me that you only actually guess what the subject tells you, rather than telling them things, otherwise your guesses can apply to anyone out there.

[I asked Sylvia, "Is that correct, yes or no?" After a little more discussion than just "yes" or "no," we settled on, "no."]

We've also seen you do readings merely by talking to folks by telephone, and you seem very successful with this method. Are you telling us that doing it by telephone is also not done by the methods I outlined?

[Again, eventually, we agreed on, "yes."]

Just what do you require in the way of information from the person you're reading? For example, would your knowing the gender, the name, and the age, of the subject, be sufficient for you to establish a proper "connection"?

[Sylvia assured all that she doesn't need to know anything in advance.]

Would a person for whom such a reading is done, be able to recognize that they're the person who is the subject? Would they identify with it?

[Happily, the response was, "yes."]

Well, I have a proposed test, approved by people at Harvard and at MIT, that would clearly test whether you're simply doing a guessing game, or that you have the powers you claim to have. May I suggest that process to you?

[Sylvia agreed.]

I suggest that we advertise — via the Internet — perhaps even on Larry's web page, if that would be possible, Larry — for ten persons who would be willing to be subjects for this test, done via telephone. Each one would have to attest in writing that (a) they believe in your powers, Sylvia, (b) that they believe you can do a genuine spiritual reading, and (c) that they've had a personal loss of a loved one within the last year. At a date and time convenient to you — and I know how very busy you are — we would randomly select one of those ten persons — by choosing a number from a hat. Then, either you would call us or we would call you — your choice — you'd be given the gender, name, and age of the chosen subject, and you would do a reading over the telephone without getting feedback, that is, without doing questions-and-answers or asking for guesses to be accepted or refused. That reading could take a minute or two, or as much as half an hour — again, Sylvia, your choice, so that you could be sure that you've made "connection" with the subject.

When the reading is finished, you would so indicate, and the subject would then be asked to give a score to the reading, from zero to ten points. Following that, we would contact, again in random order, each of the other nine persons for whom the reading was not done, and present them with either a transcript of the reading, or an audio tape of it, for them to also score from zero to ten.

Now, we should expect that the person for whom the reading was done would obtain a score, say, from six through ten, and — unless my "guessing game" scenario is correct — the other nine for whom the reading was not done, would have scores of zero to five. But, to simplify all this, in order to beat 50-to-1 odds — which is much better than the thousand-to-one odds we usually require for such a test! — eight of those scores would have to be less than the score given by the person for whom the reading was actually done.

I point out to you, that the person chosen to have the reading would be a believer in Sylvia's powers, and would therefore be expected to be sympathetic to her success. Please note, Sylvia would be provided with complete identifications on each of these persons, so that she could fully check out their credentials. And one more thing: we would have an independent party, approved by both sides, present at all procedures, and everything would be videotaped, and the original videotape would be retained by that independent party. It could be someone from your staff, if you wished, Larry, and if Sylvia approved, of course.

Well, a bit to my surprise and delight, I admit, Sylvia Browne agreed to all this, and Larry King asked if he might be part of the control procedure, an offer that I accepted.

So, that's where it sits at the moment. After 6 months (181 days) of no-contact with Sylvia — we tried e-mail, fax, postal mail, phone calls — we have her agreement, and we have a list of possible subjects that we are now narrowing down. How do we do that? They have to have the three qualifications specified above. Stay tuned....

This is what I sent out as a general response to those who inquired via e-mail about the King show....

Thank you for your comments on my September 3rd appearance on the Larry King Live show. I regret that this must be a stock response, necessary because of the copious mail received following the show. To answer the more frequently-asked questions:

1. I did not challenge Sylvia on obtaining direct answers (Who killed Jon Benet, etc.) because she, James Van Praagh, John Edward, and the others, have repeatedly stated that they can only tell us what the "spirits" tell them, and thus cannot answer "direct" questions. This is very convenient for them, of course.

2. I did not challenge Sylvia on the Chandra Levy case because I was told, in advance of the broadcast, that Larry did not want the subject brought up. I can only suspect that perhaps Sylvia, too, was reluctant to be forced into commenting.

3. We are receiving a great number of requests from persons wanting to be part of the million-dollar test of Sylvia's claims. If you are interested, please provide your name, telephone number, e-mail contact, fax number, postal address, age, and gender. You must also provide a statement that you (a) honestly believe in Sylvia Browne's powers, (b) that you believe she can do a genuine spiritual reading, and (c) that you've had a personal loss of a loved one within the last year. We cannot guarantee that we'll be able to use you, but your application certainly will go into the database for possible use.

4. We do not at this time have a possible date for the test. These people are very difficult to handle, and past experience would indicate that it may be several months before anything actually gets underway.

5. The wording of the protocol, and my comments on the matter, will appear on our web page and will be archived and updated regularly.

6. Abusive attacks on my personal philosophy which are not pertinent to the facts we are investigating, will be ignored and addresses will be blocked. I simply have no time or facilities to cater to the ego needs of those out there who cannot deal with the real world.

7. You should know that the incoming calls on the show are always edited and selected. King wants entertainment value above all else, and you may have noted that ALL calls accepted were from females who had lost a loved one and wanted comfort. That's the business Sylvia is in, and King knows it's good for ratings. Many persons have called to tell me that they could not get through to the program to express their support of my point of view. But that's showbusiness, folks.

If I'm perceived as rather confident of testing Ms. Browne and not having to pay the million to her, I offer these three predictions that she made on TV, her confidence very evident:

On another show, she predicted that there would be a serious hurricane in a particular month, coming in to the west coast of Florida. And she said she was very worried about it. She was very sure of it. I noted her prediction on my calendar. That particular month came. Not a drop of a hurricane. Not the next month, either. Then she predicted Democrat Bill Bradley would win the election in 2001, and she also placed Gore in the White House. A perfect record, right?

Ten years ago, with much fanfare, Uri Geller was summoned to Budapest, Hungary, by the very wealthy family of Helga Farkas, a high school beauty queen who had mysteriously vanished. Geller was asked to put his mighty powers to work on the case. He came into the matter at the request of Helga's mother (the father apparently resented Geller's involvement) and soon determined by his psychic abilities that Helga was alive and well and would be returned "soon." This was widely announced in the press. Surprisingly, Mr. Geller has not said much about this matter in the decade since.

Well, the facts are as follows: Imre Farkas, a rich man who lives in the town of Szeged, a city 170 km. south-east of Budapest on the Hungarian border, runs a number of prominent and successful gambling operations. He had given his daughter Helga a red sports car by her father as a graduation present, then on June 27th June, 1991, both she and her car disappeared. Though her abandoned car was later found, and Geller picked up "vibrations" from it, Helga has not been seen ever since.

Now we know that a József Csapó and his friend Benedek Juhász, being in serious financial trouble, had kidnaped Helga. They had asked for a large ransom from her father, but alarmed by the intensive hunt for the girl, they killed her shortly after. The case began unraveling when Juhász started to talk about the kidnaping and the subsequent murder of the girl, and in April, 1995, Csapó killed him with five gunshots and dumped him into a canal. The body was soon found and identified.

In 1998, Csapó was found guilty of the kidnaping of Helga Farkas, as well as extortion and a number of other offences. Helga's body was never found. In any case, she was presumably already dead when Uri Geller arrived in Budapest to solve the case.

There'll be more about Sylvia appearing here, and material is pouring in as I close this weekly page change. I need a bigger staff....

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