The curious case of Shermer vs. Armstrong

Searching for skeptical responses to astrology, I came across this video entitled Vedic Astrology: Michael Shermer vs. Jeffrey Armstrong. The video is a clip (not a whole episode) from Exploring the Unknown. In the clip Armstrong, a “Vedic astrologer” – after assuring us that Vedic astrology is the only “scientific” astrology out there – appears to “read” a group of people with nothing other than the date, time and place of their birth, and their gender.

Armstrong got a 77% overall result. So does this validate Vedic astrology?

There is a long thread on James Randi’s website dedicated to Armstrong vs. Shermer. Most of the commenters are skeptical of the clip, mainly because Shermer doesn’t get his two minutes to explain the seemingly overwhelming success of Armstrong’s powers. Mostly people seem interested in Shermer’s silence. Why didn’t he promptly and clearly debunk his astrological debunker? Was Shermer a defeated skeptic after all?

Shermer pops up midway through the thread, in an email response attributed to him. We can probably assume these are Shermer’s words, because Randi’s site would have probably taken them down had they been exposed as a fabrication.

Here is meta-Shermer:

“The short story is this: we ran out of time at the end of the filming day to conduct any more experiments with Armstrong. I protested that it was going to make it look like he was successful, but to no avail as I did not have final authority over what was produced for the show, Exploring the Unknown, and so I just hoped that in the editing process it would be cut in a way that dealt with that problem, but it wasn’t and I couldn’t do anything about it, so it aired and no one noticed back then (in 2000), but someone posted the clip you reference and now we’re dealing with the fallout from it. It is an unfortunate reality of the series that I didn’t have enough control over the production and filming process. You can post this explanation if you like.

***

“My memory on what we were trying to do that day of filming is a little vague, but if I recall correctly there was to be another stage of the experiment where Armstrong had to match his astrological readings with the profiles of a group of new subjects, and then have them do the same, picking out their reading from a batch he produced, and then compare them. But we ran out of time. Here’s how it works in the film/television industry: camera crews are unionized and have strict rules about working only so many hours in a day, after which they get paid double time and even triple time, need a certain number of breaks in the day, etc. Our budget for that show required that we were done by 5pm, and we simply ran out of time and the producer called the shoot over, and there was nothing I could do about it. Very frustrating.”

If you’re interested, watch the video and judge for yourself. But keep in mind that if Vedic astrology really is all Jeffrey Armstrong and his commenter trolls crack it up to be, then why hasn’t it been more widely embraced by the scientific community? Or, why hasn’t it been embraced at all? Is he a lone rogue scientist, a modern-day Copernicus, a Galileo who will be vindicated long after those who ridicule him are forgotten, their memory scattered by the winds of time?

I doubt it. Armstrong and his visionary cronies are on the outer rings of science, the fringe. To penetrate the inner core of accepted scientific knowledge, Vedic astrology would have to amass mountainous proof of its validity and its ability to stand up to ceaseless testing and prove itself compatible with the existing body of scientific knowledge. Anything less than this, no matter how many lucky hits he brings home (who couldn’t get a few hits just by taking a stab in the dark?) means that astrology – Vedic or otherwise – is destined to remain on the outer limits along with mind-reading, tarot cards, Bible codes and legion other curios of the human intellect.

Or is Vedic astrology, like Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection, a game-changer?

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About Marc Alan Di Martino

I'm a skeptical poet, blogger, columnist, occasional cartoonist, atheist, kvetcher and all-around lovable mensch - in precisely that order. I live in Italy, a country in serious need of skeptics and secularists who will challenge the status quo. Kind of like the United States and most places on earth.
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4 Responses to The curious case of Shermer vs. Armstrong

  1. RadWind says:

    I want to say, Randi’s world is a little dark, if he do not to investigate me.
    Telepath phenomena heppens around me and could be proved repeatedly.
    radwind.wordpress.com

  2. Xoner says:

    Michael Shermer did his episode, the astrologer did what he was asked, and Shermer is upset because the results weren’t to his liking.
    Shermer imagines a fantasy world where with 30 more minutes, the results would have been different; just fantasy, see whats in front of you.

  3. Xoner says:

    What can Shermer possibly say to debunk what Jeffrey Armstrong did? Nothing.

  4. Xoner says:

    My response to the claim that if astrology is real, why hasn’t ‘science’ discovered it is this: Jeffrey is using Hindu Astrology which has only recently arrived in the West not many years ago. And it is indeed gaining ground in the West; even scientist cannot deny the scientific implications of Vedic astrological calendars as they begin to examine them. In India, Vedic Astrology is widely accepted.

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