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Tags astrology , jeffrey armstrong , michael shermer , vedic

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Old 5th November 2007, 05:05 PM   #1
luchog
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Michael Shermer vs Jeffrey Armstrong

I've just encoutered this video on Youtube:
Vedic Astrology: Michael Shermer vs Jeffrey Armstrong

In it, Vedic astrologyer Jeffrey Armstrong appears to get quite amazing results in a double-blinded trial, with very specific results well above chance; including accuracy of ostensibly better than 90%. Taken at face value, this would appear to be highly supportive of the validity of at least JA's practice of astrology.

However, something appears to be missing. The video cuts off before Michael Shermer explains this phenomenon, and how such apparently an apparently high success rate could happen. This leads to the obvious conclusion that he can't. Which I know to be untrue, since JA could be a multi-millionaire by this time, and completely re-define science as we know it, if he was as good as he appears to be. I've seen a number of people using it as proof of the validity of astrology, as opposed to the scientific/skeptical view.

Unfortunately, I'm not knowledgible enough to forumlate an sufficient explanation. Does anyone know if the rest of this show, or a transcription, which includes Shermer's cut-off explanation, is available anywhere online? I searched the forum and Google, but couldn't find any info, even on Shermer's website.
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Old 5th November 2007, 06:10 PM   #2
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Who posted that to YouTube?
People posting video to You Tube have been known to make edits to try to make the video "Prove" their beliefs.
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Old 6th November 2007, 10:05 AM   #3
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I'd really like to hear Sherma's side of this. Especially as Armstrong is using that clip on his site as proof of the validity of vedic astrology.

Did the experiment actually go as claimed? Was it designed properly? Did Sherma go on to explain the results? Was Sherma diddled?
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Old 6th November 2007, 10:26 AM   #4
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I would certainly like to see the entire episode. Seeing as Shermer is the presenter, I have to give him a lot of credit if he aired the program only to debunk himself!
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Old 24th November 2007, 03:28 PM   #5
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It's certainly frustrating not to be able to see the whole of the show. If Armstrong could really get results that accurate, he could win the MDC in a jiffy and, as luchog says, completely re-define science as we know it.
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Old 24th November 2007, 06:21 PM   #6
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It is highly frustrating the clip has been cut short.

The experiment itself was flawed. The readings simply relied on the barnum effect.
The readings should have been read to the participants without them being informed who they were for, and then the participants should be able to recognise their own readings.
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Old 24th November 2007, 07:22 PM   #7
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Originally Posted by schlitt View Post
It is highly frustrating the clip has been cut short.

The experiment itself was flawed. The readings simply relied on the barnum effect.
The readings should have been read to the participants without them being informed who they were for, and then the participants should be able to recognise their own readings.
I think that was actually done; but cut out of the video that Armstrong uses on his site.

I tried contacting the Skeptic Society about the video, but haven't received any response.
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Last edited by luchog; 24th November 2007 at 07:23 PM.
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Old 24th November 2007, 07:40 PM   #8
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Originally Posted by luchog View Post
. . . The video cuts off before Michael Shermer explains this phenomenon . . .
According to -- http://www.petemccormack.com/blog/?p=339 --

"Further, Michael Shermer, seemingly caught off guard by Jeffrey’s accuracy, supposedly delivered an ending so irritable and unbalanced that Jeffrey called the show’s producer and pointed out that it was 'out of integrity' for them to not point out that the experiment had gone completely in favour of astrology.

"The producers, to their credit, made sure the ending was changed.

"But even after Jeffrey’s statistical success under the worst possible conditions, Michael’s closing statement rose only to:

"While skeptics will explain the results of our study as due to chance and wishful interpretation, believers will see them as further proof that the stars and planets directly influence our lives.

"One can only imagine the lambasting that would have resulted had the last two 'double blind' readings unfolded with opposite results. The term 'tarred-and-feathered' clucks to mind."

Pete McCormack also says that he thinks the video was made for a show in 1999, but he doesn't say what show.
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Old 24th November 2007, 07:58 PM   #9
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Originally Posted by Rodney View Post
According to -- http://www.petemccormack.com/blog/?p=339 --

"Further, Michael Shermer, seemingly caught off guard by Jeffrey’s accuracy, supposedly delivered an ending so irritable and unbalanced that Jeffrey called the show’s producer and pointed out that it was 'out of integrity' for them to not point out that the experiment had gone completely in favour of astrology.

"The producers, to their credit, made sure the ending was changed.

"But even after Jeffrey’s statistical success under the worst possible conditions, Michael’s closing statement rose only to:

"While skeptics will explain the results of our study as due to chance and wishful interpretation, believers will see them as further proof that the stars and planets directly influence our lives.

"One can only imagine the lambasting that would have resulted had the last two 'double blind' readings unfolded with opposite results. The term 'tarred-and-feathered' clucks to mind."

Pete McCormack also says that he thinks the video was made for a show in 1999, but he doesn't say what show.
And who is Pete McCormack that his wild speculations should not be treated as anything other than the ravings of a credulous moron?

Last edited by schlitt; 24th November 2007 at 07:59 PM.
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Old 24th November 2007, 08:00 PM   #10
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Originally Posted by schlitt View Post
And who is Pete McCormack that his wild speculations should not be treated as anything other than the ravings of a credulous moron?
I don't know, but I doubt if he is as confused as Shermer is about when he became a skeptic.
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Old 24th November 2007, 08:21 PM   #11
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Why not contact Shermer and find out about it?

mshermer@skeptic.com

http://www.skeptic.com/about_us/contact_us.html

Also the video is likely from Exploring the Unknown (1999).
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Old 24th November 2007, 08:34 PM   #12
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Well, pluck my eyebrows!

So, astrology can tell people what they already know. Okay... Why would I pay a guy for this? Maybe he can tell me I am tall and thin. My mirror tells me that. Bushy eyebrows? Everyone knows all Aquarians have bushy eyebrows.

What about the predictions? Predictions like, you will get hit by a train at 3:13 on Tuesday, and there is nothing you can do to stop this...after all, Jupiter is on the cusp, and every male person on the earth born at the time and date you were born will be hit by a train at 3:13. Now, that would make the news!

The guy got lucky! Very lucky. Or the guy has sources. End of story. Since Mars is behind Neptune I predict he won't try it with Randi's MDC.
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Old 25th November 2007, 07:16 PM   #13
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What was so amazing about that? He had name, age and gender to work with. Even if he didn't bother with any hot reading, you can make a lot of good guesses with just that information.

The process wasn't blind, except for the two that they switched (and even then Shermer wasn't blind to the switch). But why would you expect agreement on readings done for women of different ages?

The people involved seemed to have an incredibly low threshold for amazement. If I could tell from a blurry little youtube video that the first woman plucked her eyebrows, I fail to see how he needed magical information sources to pick it up.

I'd be very surprised to discover that Shermer had any difficulty responding to that demonstration. If Armstrong blew him away, why not show the whole video?

Linda
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Old 22nd February 2009, 03:57 AM   #14
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So has anyone found the rest of the video?
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Old 23rd February 2009, 03:36 AM   #15
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I too would like to know more, has Shermer ever written about this? If the quote from another thread is true, they ran out of money and time to make another test. That sounds very unprofessional...especially if they had a multiple test system in mind from the beginning. And if not, the design of the test seems to be very bad. Anyone seen the full version or know which company aired it?
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Old 27th February 2009, 12:29 AM   #16
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Has anyone contacted shermer? Or has anyone seen the second part of this video? I have looked again and again and can't find the rest of the video this is driving me nut!
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Old 27th February 2009, 06:43 AM   #17
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It's not driving me nut, but I'd really like to see the rest of the video to make a more informed opinion. Right now it all seems very unprofessional from Shermer. This clip has been the talk of many woo-people in my country.

I think I'll write Shermer a mail later today about this.
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Old 27th February 2009, 09:56 AM   #18
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I'm impressed, Shermer replied very fast, about an hour after my mail:

Quote:
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.

Michael

I replied and asked if he would share his personal conclusions and thoughts about the results and the methodology of the experiment. I hope he will answer to that as well
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Old 27th February 2009, 10:19 AM   #19
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Again a fast reply:

Quote:
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.

Michael
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Old 27th February 2009, 03:23 PM   #20
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I see, dang that sucks. It seems all these nutties are now taking advantage of this.
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Old 27th February 2009, 03:50 PM   #21
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Originally Posted by Kuko 4000 View Post
Again a fast reply:
I don't usually do this, but kudos for following this up - and points to Michael Shermer for getting back to you on it.

The SkeptiWiki entry for Shermer could potentially add a bit of "controversy" to his comments, though as it states that, "Shermer also produces and co-hosts the 13-hour Fox Family television series,".

Which would seem to contradict his comments that he had no control over the final edit - except that the TV IMDB entry notes that he was NOT the producer, so the Skeptiwiki entry appears to be incorrect.

Certainly won't help him "clear his name" over the video clip being touted by bleevers.
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Old 28th February 2009, 01:23 AM   #22
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Quote:
According to -- http://www.petemccormack.com/blog/?p=339 --

"Further, Michael Shermer, seemingly caught off guard by Jeffrey’s accuracy, supposedly delivered an ending so irritable and unbalanced that Jeffrey called the show’s producer and pointed out that it was 'out of integrity' for them to not point out that the experiment had gone completely in favour of astrology.

"The producers, to their credit, made sure the ending was changed.

"But even after Jeffrey’s statistical success under the worst possible conditions, Michael’s closing statement rose only to:

"While skeptics will explain the results of our study as due to chance and wishful interpretation, believers will see them as further proof that the stars and planets directly influence our lives.

"One can only imagine the lambasting that would have resulted had the last two 'double blind' readings unfolded with opposite results. The term 'tarred-and-feathered' clucks to mind."

Quote:
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.

Michael
Wow I wonder who was lying lol? Either their was a second part or not it seems like there wasn't therefor pat is laying.

Last edited by contingent; 28th February 2009 at 01:24 AM.
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Old 28th February 2009, 09:44 AM   #23
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Originally Posted by fls View Post
The process wasn't blind, except for the two that they switched (and even then Shermer wasn't blind to the switch). But why would you expect agreement on readings done for women of different ages?
And even those two were only blind when they reviewed the wrong reading.

To me the whole thing is useless. The "hits" recorded for people who got the right reading are to be compared against what?

If anything, they should be compared to Forer's results, which run about 85%. (That is, on he gets an average of 4.26 on a scale of 0 to 5 for asking people how well they think his one-size fits all reading fits them specifically, which is really about the only measure we're getting from this exercise.) I haven't watched the video in a while, but IIRC the percentage quoted (which is only a subjective measure of how well it suits them and not really an objective measure of hits and misses) was lower than Forer's results.

So the guy isn't even very good at his humbuggery.

And talk about shoehorning!

He said the woman might be a martial artist or a dancer. She was, in fact, neither, but claimed uncanny hits on both because she used to take a class in tae kwan do and she likes to dance. I'll bet if you question women in her age cohort--say +/- 5 years, you'll find very few that have never had some kind of connection to martial arts (at least as near as "once took a class") AND that don't like to dance.
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Old 28th February 2009, 10:51 AM   #24
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I'm certainly unimpressed by this. The amount of information he had was great - using just age and gender, you can formulate a lot of generic statements about someone's life. When you're fine with getting some of them wrong, you can most certainly get a high hit-rate most of the time.

It's no more different than cold reading, except you're not getting as much information, and you're also not feeding back as much information, as is evident in this video.

I also agree that the whole testing process seemed flawed to me; it has already been established many many times that these general readings can apply to most people - the switching of the last two individuals in the end did little to appease that, given that they were of considerable age difference (perhaps 20 years?).

They all should have gotten eachothers' readings, and they all should have been within the same age bracket, with gender taken into consideration also.
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Old 28th February 2009, 12:32 PM   #25
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Originally Posted by contingent View Post
Wow I wonder who was lying lol? Either their was a second part or not it seems like there wasn't therefor pat is laying.
I assume that you meant to say "lying" but, in any event, all Shermer says is:

"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."

So, Shermer did not address the allegation that he delivered an "ending so irritable and unbalanced that Jeffrey called the show’s producer and pointed out that it was 'out of integrity' for them to not point out that the experiment had gone completely in favour of astrology."
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Old 28th February 2009, 12:33 PM   #26
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Originally Posted by JoeTheJuggler View Post
He said the woman might be a martial artist or a dancer. She was, in fact, neither, but claimed uncanny hits on both because she used to take a class in tae kwan do and she likes to dance. I'll bet if you question women in her age cohort--say +/- 5 years, you'll find very few that have never had some kind of connection to martial arts (at least as near as "once took a class") AND that don't like to dance.
Evidence?
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Old 28th February 2009, 12:34 PM   #27
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Originally Posted by Rodney View Post
So, Shermer did not address the allegation that he delivered an "ending so irritable and unbalanced that Jeffrey called the show’s producer and pointed out that it was 'out of integrity' for them to not point out that the experiment had gone completely in favour of astrology."

Yes, that's exactly what I would like to see Shermer address.
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Old 28th February 2009, 12:35 PM   #28
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Originally Posted by skeen View Post
I'm certainly unimpressed by this. The amount of information he had was great - using just age and gender, you can formulate a lot of generic statements about someone's life. When you're fine with getting some of them wrong, you can most certainly get a high hit-rate most of the time.

It's no more different than cold reading, except you're not getting as much information, and you're also not feeding back as much information, as is evident in this video.

I also agree that the whole testing process seemed flawed to me; it has already been established many many times that these general readings can apply to most people - the switching of the last two individuals in the end did little to appease that, given that they were of considerable age difference (perhaps 20 years?).

They all should have gotten eachothers' readings, and they all should have been within the same age bracket, with gender taken into consideration also.
So why did Shermer agree to this protocol, then?
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Old 28th February 2009, 01:07 PM   #29
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Originally Posted by Rodney View Post
So why did Shermer agree to this protocol, then?
What difference does it make? It doesn't prove anything to anyone. Are you saying that my solution would not have proved one way or another whether there was something to this? Are you saying that the protocol here did achieve that? Given all we know about general statements in astrology, as demonstrated by Randi?
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Old 28th February 2009, 02:38 PM   #30
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Originally Posted by Rodney View Post
Evidence?
<raises hand>

Linda
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Old 28th February 2009, 02:41 PM   #31
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Originally Posted by Rodney View Post
So why did Shermer agree to this protocol, then?
I was thinking about this. It may be useful to first show the effect under unblinded conditions, so that everyone agrees that the effect is present and obvious. Then demonstrating what happens when everyone is blinded - the loss of certainty, etc. - has a greater impact. The protocol may have called for both parts, but Shermer only had resources to carry out the first part.

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Old 28th February 2009, 02:59 PM   #32
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Originally Posted by Rodney View Post
Evidence?
<raises hand too>
And this goes as well for many of my friends from college (at least those I ever asked), if a course in Self Defence for Women counts as a martial art.

Femke
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I am 100% confident all professional psychics and mediums are frauds. The rest might be sincere but are still deluded.
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Old 28th February 2009, 04:53 PM   #33
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Originally Posted by fls View Post
I was thinking about this. It may be useful to first show the effect under unblinded conditions, so that everyone agrees that the effect is present and obvious. Then demonstrating what happens when everyone is blinded - the loss of certainty, etc. - has a greater impact.
Except that Armstrong's best results came with respect to the two women whom Shermer gave the wrong analyses.
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Old 28th February 2009, 05:06 PM   #34
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And who just happened to be many years apart. It's unlikely the younger woman would have been married twice, for example.
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Old 28th February 2009, 05:26 PM   #35
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Originally Posted by Femke View Post
<raises hand too>
And this goes as well for many of my friends from college (at least those I ever asked), if a course in Self Defence for Women counts as a martial art.

Femke
Armstrong specifically said a "dancer or martial artist" so I don't think merely taking a Self Defence for Women course would count. Now, admittedly, the woman in question is neither a dancer nor a martial artist, but on the other hand, she says that she took a Taekwondo course and likes to dance, so both are at least generally covered. And I seriously doubt if most women her age have taken a martial arts class, Linda and you to the contrary notwithstanding. According to Wikipedia:

"As of 2003, over 1.5 million US citizens practice martial arts." See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Martial_arts

Not exactly a large portion of the 2003 U.S. population of about 300 million, although I would guess perhaps more like 3 million would have taken a martial arts class at some point. However, I would also guess that more men than women have taken martial arts classes. Overall, I would estimate that perhaps 1-2% of that woman's age group in the U.S. have taken a martial arts class.

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Old 28th February 2009, 05:27 PM   #36
Rodney
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Originally Posted by skeen View Post
And who just happened to be many years apart. It's unlikely the younger woman would have been married twice, for example.
You evidently don't know my niece.
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Old 28th February 2009, 05:28 PM   #37
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Quote:
Armstrong specifically said a "dancer or martial artist" so I don't think merely taking a Self Defence for Women course would count.
Considering that in any kind of magical reading, be it astrology or psychic, the person is looking for something that matches. You can bet your ass she would have made it fit, just as they have made almost everything fit.

There are no specifics in this kind of a reading, only general statements. "You didn't have a good relationship with your father", for example, is maybe a 50/50 chance more or less.
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Old 28th February 2009, 05:34 PM   #38
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Originally Posted by Rodney View Post
Evidence?
Of what? That they counted her saying she once took a class in tae kwan do and that she likes to dance as a hit for the claim that she might be a martial artist or a dancer? That's in the video. It's obviously shoehorning.

My speculation that allowable hits to the statement that she might be a martial artist or a dancer is casting a very wide net is just speculation. It's certainly a lot wider than requiring an actual hit (like actually being a martial artist or a dancer).
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Old 28th February 2009, 05:37 PM   #39
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Originally Posted by Rodney View Post
Except that Armstrong's best results came with respect to the two women whom Shermer gave the wrong analyses.
You can't just pick out his "best" results though. Overall, he didn't do quite as well as the result Forer gets.
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Old 28th February 2009, 05:40 PM   #40
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Originally Posted by Rodney View Post
Armstrong specifically said a "dancer or martial artist" so I don't think merely taking a Self Defence for Women course would count. Now, admittedly, the woman in question is neither a dancer nor a martial artist, but on the other hand, she says that she took a Taekwondo course and likes to dance, so both are at least generally covered.
Yeah--so admittedly it was a double miss that was counted as a double hit. (For that matter, how do you know that what the woman described as a "tae kwan do" class wasn't in fact actually titled "Self Defense for Women"?)

That's the problem with this kind of demonstration. Anything goes.

That's why I'm saying the ONLY way you can evaluate these results is that the subjects' responses (counting hits and misses) was simply their subjective rating of how accurate they think the readings were for them. (Exactly the same question as the Forer experiment asks.) So we just convert both results to a percentage and find that Armstrong scored just a little lower (but virtually the same) as the results of Forer's tests.
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