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Old 29th November 2011, 08:08 AM   #1
Denver
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Question Radford vs Browne

Apparently Ben RadfordWP is planning an interesting protest against Sylvia Browne. He will make a big banner saying "Convicted Felon Sylvia Browne" (the felony can be found here) and display it about an hour before an event near where she is to speak. I gather he then plans to share this banner with other locations and skeptic groups.

I'm all for StopSylvia efforts, and I think this one can have some good effect. But I'm also a bit mixed. The problems I see are:

1) Her conviction was 19 years ago. Isn't there something more current that could be used on that banner instead?

2) If she decides to defend herself against the banner to her audience, I think her excuse (that it was her husband who acted illegally and she didn't know) will fall sweetly upon the ears of followers and fence sitters alike.

3) She will defend herself against "not knowing" by repeating she can never be psychic to herself.

4) Details from the The Burzynski Clinic made me wonder of issues with "libel, defamation, and tortious interference with business contracts and business relationships." IANAL, but could it be shown that this protest involved malice, and so be legally risky?

5) Is this just an ad hominem attack? It may not be, since the felony itself involves her using her psychic powers, and so the case can be used to show her inaccuracy. But, the banner doesn't really allow that level of explanation, and from just a person driving by, I think it comes across more of an ad hominem than anything else.

I do hope this effort goes well. But, are my concerns above at all valid?
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Old 29th November 2011, 08:52 AM   #2
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Does Radford explain his thinking behind the protest somewhere?

I searched but couldn't find anything on the topic. I don't see any mention of this on Ben's blog either.
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Old 29th November 2011, 10:24 AM   #3
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It's a thread on his facebook wall.

Last edited by Denver; 29th November 2011 at 10:28 AM.
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Old 30th November 2011, 06:48 AM   #4
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Old 30th November 2011, 08:09 AM   #5
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Quote:
2) If she decides to defend herself against the banner to her audience, I think her excuse (that it was her husband who acted illegally and she didn't know) will fall sweetly upon the ears of followers and fence sitters alike.
I don't know about the legalities but what you say here is exactly true.

She has alluded to this in her books for years, blaming her husband. She divorced him immediately at the time. Possibly best of all, in the eyes of her supporters, is her ability to say that they are now, years later, good friends again.

Her supporters will likely not be swayed by this. People driving by who have only heard of her in passing, maybe.

Also possible is that local news people pick it up and her explanation will be another opportunity to make herself her look good. She can play the spiritual martyr, repeating the above and that she has never been psychic for herself, and point out that she has always had to deal with these sorts of unfair attacks. Good publicity for her if she can turn it around.

Unless the writers dig up some facts from the case that contradict what she says in the interview or on stage. That could, in fact, make it interesting.
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Old 30th November 2011, 09:48 AM   #6
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Originally Posted by Denver View Post
1) Her conviction was 19 years ago. Isn't there something more current that could be used on that banner instead?
Perhaps. But reminding people about a criminal past is probably more powerful than "She's sometimes wrong in her predictions". Saying they had a criminal past might be a bit more powerful in suggesting "You are being scammed".

Plus, calling her a 'convicted felon' is nice and simple and to the point... saying "She was wrong about X" is kind of hard to get across in a medium such as a billboard or banner. (For example, how do you explain the way she handled Hornbeck on a simple banner?)
Quote:
2) If she decides to defend herself against the banner to her audience, I think her excuse (that it was her husband who acted illegally and she didn't know) will fall sweetly upon the ears of followers and fence sitters alike.
This will likely happen regardless of what she was 'attacked' over.

The hope is that it might plant a seed of doubt in a few minds.
Quote:
3) She will defend herself against "not knowing" by repeating she can never be psychic to herself.
Again, she'll always have an 'out' regardless of what arguments are made against her.

Quote:
4) Details from the The Burzynski Clinic made me wonder of issues with "libel, defamation, and tortious interference with business contracts and business relationships." IANAL, but could it be shown that this protest involved malice, and so be legally risky?
Well, I think by definition, libel/defamation involve false statements. (Correct me if I'm wrong about that.) Even if she claims "I didn't know" she was still sentenced by the courts for her crimes, so she'd loose if she claimed "libel".

Now of course that doesn't mean she might try to launch a lawsuit anyways as a means of intimidation. I hope the person organizing the campaign has access to legal representation.

Quote:
5) Is this just an ad hominem attack?
To a slight degree it is. However, a couple of things should be pointed out:
- Given that Sylvia isn't willing to participate in a genuine test of her "powers", the ability to challenge her is limited
- Professional psychics are scam artists. (Or deluded). It is reasonable to point to a person's past reputation as a guideline for future business dealings. Its no more an 'ad hominem' attack as pointing out Berny Maddoff's past financial dealings if he should ever get out of jail and you want to buy a used car from him.

Quote:
I do hope this effort goes well. But, are my concerns above at all valid?
Yup, your concerns are quite valid.

There are no easy answers. I did give my opinions above, but they are just that: opinions. The banner could backfire/be counter productive, or it could convince at least a few people that they're giving their money to a fraud.
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Old 30th November 2011, 09:51 AM   #7
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It won't work.
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Old 30th November 2011, 10:20 AM   #8
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Originally Posted by Loss Leader View Post
It won't work.
What are you basing that statement on?

And please define what you mean by 'work'. If it causes one person to not go to the show, is it 'working'?

I certainly don't think its going to significantly affect her fan base. However, I do think it has the potential of causing at least a few fence sitters (who might not be hardcore fans and might not even know of her past legal problems) to at least ponder the issue of whether she (or any other psychic) is worth believing in.
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Old 30th November 2011, 10:29 AM   #9
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Originally Posted by Segnosaur View Post
What are you basing that statement on?

And please define what you mean by 'work'. If it causes one person to not go to the show, is it 'working'?

I certainly don't think its going to significantly affect her fan base. However, I do think it has the potential of causing at least a few fence sitters (who might not be hardcore fans and might not even know of her past legal problems) to at least ponder the issue of whether she (or any other psychic) is worth believing in.
Well it might have some impact if it was followed up by the question as to why she did not psychically recognize her husband was a crook and fooling her.
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Old 30th November 2011, 11:12 AM   #10
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Originally Posted by Gord_in_Toronto View Post
Well it might have some impact if it was followed up by the question as to why she did not psychically recognize her husband was a crook and fooling her.
Because she can't be psychic for herself.

Besides, as her spirit guide informed us when it happened, Dal (her husband) had defected to the dark side. And you can't predict what a dark entity will do. They don't have charts like white or gray entities.

According to this same spirit guide, once a dark entity, always a dark entity, and that does create a bit of an awkward moment when trying to explain why she and Dal became good friends again years later. (Was he an exception to the dark entities don't change rule? Does she frequently befriend evil beings?)

Fortunately, the statements above were only made to her trance classes 20 some years ago, and not published anywhere where it might be inconveniently brought up at a later date, and who's going to remember something said that long ago?! Who would even have those tapes after all these years?! (Besides me) And even if they did, who would they tell?
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Old 30th November 2011, 02:41 PM   #11
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It won't work because research shows that people devoted to one cause, when exposed to negative information, either shut down and don't accept it at all or become even more devoted. The vitriol of the opposition will be taken as evidence by them that Sylvia is right.
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Old 30th November 2011, 03:08 PM   #12
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Originally Posted by Loss Leader View Post
It won't work because research shows that people devoted to one cause, when exposed to negative information, either shut down and don't accept it at all or become even more devoted. The vitriol of the opposition will be taken as evidence by them that Sylvia is right.
I tend to agree that it won't be particularly effective (see my reasoning above), but regardless of what this research shows, there are plenty of people who when exposed to negative information about a favorite cause, do the sensible thing and abandon the cause. Myself included. And I don't consider myself particularly special.

The question is what kind of "negative information" is necessary in order to cause someone to abandon a favorite cause versus shut down or become even more devoted.
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Old 30th November 2011, 03:22 PM   #13
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It might also be a good idea for Radford to contact the local media, and let them know of the banner. He night get some good coverage, and have a fuller opportunity to explain the situation and protest to a wider audience.
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Old 30th November 2011, 03:24 PM   #14
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Originally Posted by Loss Leader View Post
It won't work because research shows that people devoted to one cause, when exposed to negative information, either shut down and don't accept it at all or become even more devoted. The vitriol of the opposition will be taken as evidence by them that Sylvia is right.
But the thing is, we don't necessarily have to go for the people that are 'devoted to her cause'. Such people would likely ignore us regardless of what evidence we bring.

What its possibly targeting is the people who are fence sitters, or who may believe there's "something to this psychic business" but have not yet paid for any readings, bought any books, etc. If we can reach a few of those people and either keep them from falling for Sylvia's bunk, or at least get them to approach things with a bit more knowledge, it will have been worth the effort.
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Old 1st December 2011, 04:54 AM   #15
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Originally Posted by ExMinister View Post
I tend to agree that it won't be particularly effective (see my reasoning above), but regardless of what this research shows, there are plenty of people who when exposed to negative information about a favorite cause, do the sensible thing and abandon the cause. Myself included. And I don't consider myself particularly special.
I think someone who spent four years making 2000+ posts on a skeptic board is a statistical outlier and cannot earn the title "not special" when it comes to logically applying rational thought to personal beliefs.

Quote:
The question is what kind of "negative information" is necessary in order to cause someone to abandon a favorite cause versus shut down or become even more devoted.
To put a finer point on it: the question is will an anonymous last minute claim (that may be untrue and that may have mitigating circumstances) cause someone to not go into the show. I am skeptical that it will have the desired effect.

ETA: plus, one should note the number of Christians who attend S.B.'s shows. To them, having a dark past that was overcome is a badge of honor - not a sign of shame.

Even if a person walking toward the event pulls out a smart phone and researches the claim, I suspect he or she will be swayed by S.B.'s counterarguments which can be easily found by a believer.

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Old 1st December 2011, 08:14 PM   #16
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Originally Posted by ExMinister View Post
The question is what kind of "negative information" is necessary in order to cause someone to abandon a favorite cause versus shut down or become even more devoted.

You're not kidding. That's not just the question, it is the question. Behavioral economists would kill to know it.
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Old 2nd December 2011, 06:25 PM   #17
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One good thing to do is to predict what will happen in the show. For example hand out bingo cards. Then give them a few good Internet links so they can do easy research later.
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Old 2nd December 2011, 07:43 PM   #18
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Originally Posted by rjh01 View Post
One good thing to do is to predict what will happen in the show. For example hand out bingo cards. Then give them a few good Internet links so they can do easy research later.

That won't work with Browne because, as Joel McHale says, Sylvia is the apathetic psychic. She doesn't cold read. She doesn't gather info from the crowd sureptitiously before the show. She doesn't employ any tricks at all. She just makes up stuff. That's her whole show.

Now, with John Edward you could fill up every square.
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