In Sylvia Browne's book "End of Days: Predictions and Prophecies About the End of the World," published in 2008, she wrote that a pneumonia-like illness would spread around the world in 2020. (Image courtesy of Penguin Random House)
Glen A. Wilson High School

Opinion: Psychic Sylvia Browne didn’t actually predict the coronavirus

Personally, I have never delved into the works of self-described psychics but amidst the mounting concerns surrounding the coronavirus outbreak, I put my unbelieving pride aside to crack open the book that had Kim Kardashian and thousands of other social media users gasping.

In her 2008 book “End of Days: Predictions and Prophecies About the End of the World,” Sylvia Browne predicted a “severe, pneumonia-like illness” would spread throughout the world in 2020.

“[It will attack] the lungs and the bronchial tubes, resisting all known treatments,” she wrote in the book. “Almost more baffling than the illness itself will be the fact that it will suddenly vanish as quickly as it arrived, attack again 10 years later, and then disappear completely.”

It’s creepy to the core and utterly mind-blowing. I would be a bit concerned as to why this was my first time hearing of this miraculous psychic’s existence if not for the paragraphs that followed. In the same book, Browne predicted that Pope Benedict would be the final pope and that IRAs, mutual funds, retirement plans and the stock market itself would not exist by 2020.

Now before you become a skeptic, pause mid-eye-roll and consider the mass following that Browne received even after her death in 2013. Sylvia Browne became known for her frequent media appearances on shows like “Larry King Live,” “The Montel Williams Show” and “Coast to Coast AM.”

Her popularity generated millions of dollars, both from the sales of more than 40 books and her $850 telephone psychic readings: sessions that generated a four-year-long waiting list.

However, in times where there are more memes about toilet paper then what is actually stocked on store shelves, just how accurate is Browne’s prediction?

First off, details and exact words matter. In her 2004 book “Prophecy: What the Future Holds for You,” Browne made more seemingly accurate predictions.

“By 2020 we’ll see more people than ever wearing surgical masks and rubber gloves in public, inspired by an outbreak of a severe pneumonia-like illness that attacks both the lungs and the bronchial tubes and is ruthlessly resistant to treatment. This illness will be particularly baffling in that, after causing a winter of absolute panic, it will seem to vanish completely until 10 years later, making both its source and its cure that much more mysterious.”

The “severe pneumonia-like illness” that Browne predicted does not accurately describe COVID-19, which has only caused pneumonia in a scattering of cases: not nearly enough to dictate that the virus is “severe pneumonia-like.” The majority of those that have been infected have mild symptoms, and currently, the virus has a mortality rate of between 2% and 4%, according to the World Health Association.

Additionally, the statement that “making both its source and its cure that much more mysterious” cannot be accurately gauged at the moment given that the source was likely a meat market in Wuhan or the disease like spores from a bat cave. Meanwhile, progress in creating vaccines for the virus is being made, if not in the timely manner necessary to stop the current spread.

Although it can be argued that a respiratory illness did hit in 2020, the vague descriptions of the illness in a book filled with vague and unlikely claims could be nothing more than a lucky guess. Moreover, Howard Markel, a medical historian at the University of Michigan said in an interview with the Washington Post that, “Nobody can truly predict the path of an epidemic while it’s still in midcourse. Anyone who tells you they can is either lying or foolish.”

In the time being, let’s be honest. My prediction that “You will become a millionaire” from my fifth-grade diary holds about as much validity as Psychic Sylvia’s prediction about the coronavirus.