A look at the claims, predictions and behavior of a media "psychic".

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Coast To Coast AM: The Sago Mining Disaster

Sylvia Browne makes a prediction about something which has already happened, but still gets it wrong despite appearing to change her story.

CNN Headlines January 4, 2006

CNN Headlines January 4, 2006

Many "psychics" claim to have precognitive powers - the ability to see events which have yet to happen.

Sometimes, after an event has happened, a "psychic" will claim to have predicted it beforehand, with no proof of that prediction ever having been made. Not a prediction, but a "postdiction", if you will.

You might think that "postdictions" would be 100% accurate. After all, it doesn't take any special powers to "postdict" last week's winning lottery numbers, last month's celebrity divorces or last year's election winners.

But what happens if a "postdiction" is made based on inaccurate information? In January of 2006, Sylvia Browne seemed to show us the answer to that question - on live radio.

Background

In the early morning hours of January 2nd, 2006, an explosion rocked the Sago Mine in Buckhannon, West Virginia, resulting in thirteen coal miners being trapped deep in the mine.

The efforts of rescue teams to locate the miners was the subject of much national news coverage. Nearly two full days later, the body of one of those miners was found, leaving twelve still unaccounted for.

Then, around 1:30am on January 4th (EST), a welcome report hit all of the national news wires: all twelve of the remaining miners had been found alive!

A half-hour after this news was first reported, the January 3rd episode of the late-night radio show "Coast to Coast AM" began (due to time zone differences, it was still January 3rd on the US West Coast, where the show originates).

George Noory, the show's host, spoke about the report during the opening segment of his show, and interviewed a West Virginia reporter about the good news.

The guest for the second and third hours of that night's show: Sylvia Browne.

Sylvia "Knew They Were Going to be Found"

After Ms. Browne was introduced in the second hour (11pm PST - more than an hour after it was reported that the twelve miners were alive), the following conversation took place between Browne and Noory:

Click here to listen to the audio. (.mp3 format, 225kb)

(George) Noory: Of course, this is after the fact, with these twelve of thirteen coal miners that they found successfully.

(Sylvia) Browne: I know.

Noory: Had you been on the program today, and had they not been found, would you have felt as if, because they had heard no sounds, that this was a very gloomy moment, and that they might have all died?

Browne: No, I knew they were going to be found. Uh, you know, I hate people who say something after the fact. It's just like I knew when the Pope was dead and I said it on, thank God I was on Montel's show, and I said, according to the time, it was nine-something and whatever Rome time was, I said he's gone, and he was.

Despite her saying that she hates "people who say something after the fact," she seems to be doing precisely that: after it has already been reported that the miners were all found alive, she says that no, she wouldn't have been gloomy, thinking that they were all dead, because she knew they would be found.

However, after she made this "postdiction", the news agencies put out a gut-wrenching correction to the earlier story: only one of the twelve miners was alive. With the one miner who had already been found dead, this meant that of the thirteen miners who had originally been missing, twelve were dead.

Sylvia's Story Seems to Change

After the corrected story hit the airwaves, Noory and Browne had the following exchange:

Click here to listen to the audio. (.mp3 format, 48kb)

Noory: And they're talking about the possibility of a miscommunication between rescue crews and command center about those survivors. So that story that now is breaking is that twelve of the thirteen are reported dead, not alive. How tragic, Sylvia Browne, for this to occur after a world-wide euphoria...

Browne: (overlapping) Exactly.

Noory: ...that they may have been alive. This is frustrating.

Browne: (overlapping) And how crazy for them to report that they were alive when they weren't.

Noory: Ugh! You know I had a reporter from West Virginia to start my program tonight. One of the first questions I asked her was "Were these miners pulled out? Is that how they're saying they've been rescued? Or did they hear them? What was going on?" And she said "Well, I really don't know" but she alluded to the fact that they weren't pulled out yet but that they were all in the process of... And any time in a coal mine situation when you hear that, that's still dangerous, because anything can happen. The mine could, you know, cave in again.

Browne: (overlapping) It could collapse, anything.

Noory: So we're going to follow that story this hour when we're with you Sylvia, taking phone calls, and then...

Browne: Right.

Noory: Uh, for those of you with our affiliate stations, I will be live in that last hour of Coast To Coast, leading into most of the morning shows.

Browne: (overlapping) Yeah, I don't think there's... I don't think there.... I don't really think there's anybody alive. If there is, I think maybe only one. I just don't believe that there's.... I haven't heard anything 'cause I've been with you, but uh... I just don't think they are... alive.

Noory: That's frustrating.

Browne: It's terrrible. Especially when everybody was...

Noory: (overlapping) Okay. Let's go to the phones.

Browne: ... yeah, false hope, exactly.

So, after it was announced that only one of the thirteen miners was alive, Ms. Browne's revised her postdiction: "I don't really think there's anybody alive. If there is, I think maybe only one."

Her Story Changes Yet Again

Later in the show, Noory seems to give Ms. Browne a chance to explain why she had been so wrong about the miners:

Click here to listen to the audio. (.mp3 format, 507kb)

Noory: And welcome back to Coast To Coast. I'm George Noory, Sylvia Browne will take your phone calls for the rest of this hour as they line up. Sylvia, with the, with the accuracy rate that you have, and it is very high, of the few that you get wrong, do they sometimes become right, maybe later on?

Browne: Yeah, but see I, I never... I didn't believe that they were alive

(pause)

Noory: What... what's that? The miners?

Browne: Uhuh.

Noory: Oh, okay.

Browne: Yeah. No, I think that... I think that they're... and see I've been on the show with you, so I don't know, but I don't think that there's any that are gonna, you know - make it.

Noory: Well, that's not a good situation.

Browne: No.

Noory: I'm, well, I'll talk about that next hour. I'm concerned how the media could just...

Browne: (overlapping) Yeah, what were there, thirteen, wasn't there?

Noory: Thirteen were in there, and they said one had died, twelve had, had, uh, were alive.

Browne: Well, there's twelve gone. And there's one that's going.

Noory: (overlapping) I think the misunderstanding for you was that I was telling you, after the fact, about the fact that they were alive. Had they... had that story not broken while we were on the air... what do you think would have happened? And that's where I think we threw a curve ball at you.

Browne: Yeah, no, I, I just believed that they were gone.

(pause)

Noory: Well, I think unfortunately you may be right.

But she wasn't right.

Even though she seemed to revise her story yet again, saying now that none of the miners will "make it," she was again incorrect. As of this writing, Randal McCloy Jr. - the one miner who was found alive - is still alive and is currently suing the owners of the Sago Mine.

Noory Seems Doubtful

Later, Noory spoke with his listeners about the whole series of events, and seemed to be somewhat doubtful of Ms. Browne's interpretation of her earlier statements (emphasis mine):

Click here to listen to the audio. (.mp3 format, 1.17mb)

Noory: Well, welcome back to Coast to Coast open lines for you. Now what we're going to do is I'm going to play a portion - and it's the wonder of being able to get technology together so quickly. Because this is... I want you to make up your own mind. I want you to listen to Sylvia Browne, and we're going to come back for a little bit, then I want you to listen to another response of Sylvia, and uh, then you just make up your own mind.

But I will tell you that when I was talking with it, it was my impression that she knew, based on my question, that they were going to be found alive. And then, it sounded like she changed a little bit when we came back after the break. However, she contends now that's not true, she claims that she merely said that they were going to be found. And by that she meant that, a lot of time in coal mine accidents, the bodies never are found. They're in there because of the explosion, and the collapse of the mine, they can't really go in and get them all out. That they're buried alive, and they stay in.

Noory then went on to play clips from the above-quoted portions of the show, demonstrating how Sylvia changed her story "a little bit."

Noory's openly doubting a guest's claim is not a common occurence, and in fact is the only time I recall hearing him do so in all the times I have listened to the show.

Conclusion

In essence, Noory asked her: if the news hadn't already announced that the miners were all alive, would she have assumed they were dead? Her answer: "No, I knew they were going to be found."

Now, it is true that Sylvia did not specifically state that she she knew the miners would be found alive. But from the context of her response, her implication seemed clear to me (and evidently, to George Noory as well): she knew they would be found alive.

A postdiction. And, tragically, an incorrect one.

A final observation: It is interesting to note that as of this writing (November 2006), Sylvia Browne has not been a guest on the show since the events described above, despite having been on a total of eight times between 2002-2005 (this from the Coast To Coast site's list of her appearances).

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