Dr. Rebekah Higgitt,
Curator of History of Science and Technology
National Maritime Museum and Royal Observatory
Dear Dr. Higgitt,
Recently in an BBC television show, two scientists proclaimed that “astrology was rubbish” prompting an article by you, asking whether “we should debunk astrologers more respectfully”. I am fascinated by your assertion that “Astrology as a scientific hypothesis has been put to the test and found wanting”.
There are many semantic holes in this assertion that only serves to muddy the waters.
Astrology is not a “scientific hypothesis.” It is a practice, much like the practice of medicine, so straight off the bat we are in trouble.
Maybe what you mean to say is “that the principles of astrology, when held to the light of scientific inquiry fails to yield reproducible results”.
Is that what you mean Dr. Higgitt?
Because if it is, then we run into problems again and that is there are studies that do yield reproducible results.
The most famous of these is the “Mars Effect” in which prominent athletes show a higher frequency of of Mars placed in certain sectors of their chart than statistical average.
For those unfamiliar with the astrological definition of Mars, the red planet in astrology relates to aggressiveness and competition.
Despite the fact that certain of those in the skeptic community claim to have disproved the effect, it was found that those involved with this inquiry disallowed some of Gauguelin’s data and introduced other data with a result that was more favorable to their position.
Gauquelin found that people of certain professions tend to have the same planets in these critical segments with a greater frequency than statistical average. Not only that, but he also found an effect which he titled the “theory of eminence” which holds that not only do people established in their chosen fields have a greater than statistical chance average of having those planets in these important fields. The more eminent a person is in their field, the greater the likelihood that those planets will be found in those critical segments. For example, doctors were found to have the planet of Saturn in these critical segments. If you take an average, general practice physician, the chances of he or she having Saturn in that critical position is much less than the chart of a highly prominent physician, one who is frequently published and renowned in their field. In other words, the more prominent you are in your field, the greater the chances you will have the corresponding planet in the critical field of the wheel.
Although scientists find Gauquilin’s findings very disquieting, increasingly sophisticated analysis seems to confirm, rather than disconfirm, certain of the original results. For example, in a 1986 study, the German researcher, Suitbert Ertel, reported: “A reanalysis of Gauquelin professional data using alternative procedures of statistical treatment supports previous Gauquelin results. Frequency deviations from chance expectancy along the scale of planetary sectors differ markedly between professions.” Read more about it at the William James Roots of Consciousness website.
Of course one study does not “prove” the validity of the whole of astrology, but it is far from “found wanting”. So lets look at others.
Carl Jung studied the charts of 453 couples and found that of the happily married couples with the classic aspects, (connections between planets) that indicate the opportunity for a satisfying relationship occurred three times more often than the rate of coincidence.
Jung said of this:
The chances of this actually happening are extremely improbable. Even in the first two cases, the probability works out at 1:100 x 10,000, which means that such a coincidence is to be expected only in one case out of ten million. It is improbable that it would ever happen in anyone’s experience. Yet in my statistical experiment it happened that precisely the three conjunctions stressed by astrological tradition came together in the most improbable way
And then there is this:
On December 6, 2010 Science Daily reports on a study published in the journal Natural Neuroscience that “The season in which babies are born can have a dramatic and persistent effect on how their biological clocks function.”
The experiment provides the first evidence for seasonal imprinting of biological clocks in mammals and was conducted by Professor of Biological Sciences Douglas McMahon, graduate student Chris Ciarleglio, post-doctoral fellow Karen Gamble and two undergraduate students at Vanderbilt University.
While not a study on astrology itself, it comes dangerously close to suggesting that the tropical zodiac, the zodiac based on the position of the Sun as it travels thru the seasons, actually has something behind it.
I could go on, but we don’t have all day here, so let’s move along.
Let’s play devil’s advocate for a minute and look at tests that purport to dispute the validity of astrology.
One such study found online is the NCGR/Berkeley Double-Blind Test of Astrology undertaken by Shawn Carlson and published in 1985. Shawn Carlson concluded that “we are now in a position to argue a surprisingly strong case against natal astrology as practised by reputable astrologers”.
The experiment was designed to test the astrological proposition that:
“the positions of the ‘planets’ (all planets, the Sun and Moon, plus other objects defined by astrologers) at the moment of birth can be used to determine the subject’s general personality traits and tendencies in temperament and behavior, and to indicate the major issues which the subject is likely to encounter”.
In this test volunteers took the California Personality Inventory, was given three horoscope delineations, with only one of which was the written for them, and asked to choose the one that fits their personality, as well as choosing a second choice. Of 83 subjects only 28 chose the horoscope written for them, which was on par with chance.
But wait! To check the subjects ability to self evaluate their personality types the subjects were given three CPI evaluations and asked to pick out their own. In a subject sample even smaller than the first, the subjects did not choose their own personality profile in numbers that were not statistically significant. Calling this result “disappointing” Carlson writes “”if subjects cannot recognise accurate descriptions of themselves at a significant level then the experiment would show a null result however well astrology worked”
Carlson then moves on to the astrologers and ask them to choose the correct CPI out of three to the natal chart of each subject. The astrologers faired no better than chance when the astrologers themselves predicted they could match 50% of the profiles. From this Carlson arrived at the conclusion that astrology failed. But here again is there is a fly in the ointment.
Though Carlson claimed that natal astrology performed no better than chance, a number of authoritative sources including Professor Hans Eysenck of London University (1986) have shown that this conclusion was faulty. Recent evidence now shows that the part of the test that was valid (according to Carlson) shows evidence that favours astrology to a statistically significant level in spite of many disadvantages that the astrologers faced.
And remarkably, Dr. Carlson is not a psychiatrist or psychologist but a mathematician and physicist so he shouldn’t have gotten the numbers wrong. But the study itself was funded by the skeptics group CSICOPS, and for that group, no other conclusion but to declare astrology invalid, is possible.
All people are entitled to their opinions, and if some people prefer to think that astrology is rubbish, scientist or no, that is their right. However, as an astrology blogger friend said “The general opinion of people doesn’t make for good evidence.” To veil opinion with the mantle of scientific certainty is not only self-serving it is just wrong.
So Dr. Higgitt, despite your very nice attempt to debunk us astrologers respectfully, we respectfully submit that we are not in need of debunking. But thanks for the thought.
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