Magick and astrology have been deeply intertwined for thousands of years. In the past, astronomical and astrological influences were often more involved with magick, and even today, magicians often look at such things as the astrological signs and houses certain planets are in, the planetary hour of the day, whether the moon is waxing or waning, etc., in the design of their rituals and spells. Of course, this all falls apart if one thing is demonstrated: the failure of astrology.

The Debunkers Debunked

Indeed, so-called skeptics (I’d call them pseudo-skeptics) and debunkers often bring out flimsy logic, misunderstandings and misrepresentations about astrology, as well as bad science or bad scientific technique, to desperately disprove the effectiveness of astrology. In 1981, FATE magazine published an article entitled “sTARBABY,” where they revealed deception and intimidation among the debunking community, forever changing that community.

Recently, while browsing the internet, I came upon a video I want to discuss. First, however, some background.

The Debunker and the Astrologer

Dr. Michael Shermer is the Founding Publisher of Skeptic magazine, the Executive Director of the Skeptics Society, a monthly columnist for Scientific American, the host of the Skeptics Distinguished Science Lecture Series at Caltech, and Adjunct Professor of Economics at Claremont Graduate University.

The astrologer being tested in the video I saw is Jeffrey Armstrong. Mr. Armstrong uses Vedic astrology rather than Western astrology. One of the main differences is that Vedic (ancient Indian) astrology uses a sidereal zodiac (with the actual positions of the planets and constellations) rather than the Western Tropical zodiac which fixes the beginning of Aries with March 21.

Even with his many credentials and degrees, Dr. Shermer’s statement at the beginning of the video (originally shown in 2000 on the show, Exploring the Unknown), that according to ancient astrologers, “the movement of the Sun, Moon, and planets directly controls our lives and our destinies” is false. As astrologers will tell you, “The stars impel, they don’t compel.”

Armstrong is Tested

Shermer challenged Armstrong to give nine readings. Armstrong would only be given the dates, time, and location of birth, plus the gender of the subjects. After he analyzed the charts, Shermer videotaped Armstrong giving three-minute readings. He could not see or talk to the subjects. Then he watched from another room as the videos were played to the subjects.

I have no doubt that Shermer expected that Armstrong would be correct 50% of the time or less. In other words, he expected to prove the horoscope interpretations were just chance. This would show that astrology was a fraud. He could then gloat and ask questions like, “What do you think now that we’ve shown you that astrology is a fraud and nothing more than coincidence?” What he got, however, was shocking. Armstrong’s success rate for seven of the nine people was 69%, 63%, 89%, 71%, 74%, 75% and 66%. This was far above chance or coincidence.

A Debunker Trap!

But with the last two subjects Armstrong only scored 38% and 21% correct. How could he have been so correct on seven people and so wrong on two others? Well, Shermer—kudos to him for being honest—admitted that they played a trick on the subjects and Armstrong. Shermer had reversed their readings without letting anybody know it. When the subjects were shown their actual readings, Armstrong’s success rate jumped to an amazing 92% and 94% accuracy for these two people. Armstrong correctly hit 105 out of 137 comments for the nine subjects, an accuracy rate of 77%.

This was nothing less than an astounding proof of astrology.

Excuses, Excuses

Dr. Shermer, when asked about this by a supportive poster in an on-line forum, responded:

“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.”

Dr. Shermer further added,

“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.

“You can post this as well. In fact, maybe you can post it on the YouTube video of it, and anywhere else you find it playing.”

Those are Dr. Shermer’s quotes in full and in context. I’ll just bet he’s “dealing with the fallout!”  In fact, I’ll bet he and his supporters are doing everything they can to come up with all sorts of excuses. We were going to do more. We ran out of time. Other tests would have shown him to be a failure. We couldn’t edit it our way. It’s the fault of the camera crews. Our budget ran out. Yada, yada, yada.

In the sTARBABY incident, the main form of cheating by the skeptics was to change the number of people analyzed until the results showed what they wanted rather than the truth. Here, Mr. Shermer is saying they wanted to add more and more tests until they could get the results they wanted. If they couldn’t do that, maybe they could have it edited so it would appear like they were getting the results they wanted.

A Horrible Thing…For the Debunkers!

Instead, to the skeptics, a horrible thing happened. In a show that was designed to make astrology look like it was a fraud, even though it was being monitored by one of the leading lights of the skeptic/debunker movement, one dedicated astrologer proved that in this test, astrology was valid.

What do you think?

[Note: Our new website is still going through growing pains. I was unable to post a copy of the video. It is available on You Tube. When the kinks are worked out I’ll embed it in this blog post.

Written by Donald Michael Kraig
Donald Michael Kraig graduated from UCLA with a degree in philosophy. He has also studied public speaking and music (traditional and experimental) on the university level. After a decade of personal study and practice, he began ten years of teaching courses in the Southern California area on such ...