|We don't own the Solar System, but we're part of it. |On 6th April 2010, I posted a note on the Equinox Facebook Page stating my objection to a well-respected scientist declaring that “astrology is complete rubbish” on a spectacular BBC TV series “Wonders of the Solar System”. I strongly feel that his comment was not based on any investigation into astrology, was unfounded and was not appropriate in an educational program about astronomy.|
Since then, I have answered a huge number of posts from sceptics who disagreed with me. As the same points and questions are now being repeated, I want to set out my position. This is not an attempt at an academic treatise. I can’t speak on behalf of all astrologers and I am not here to defend the work of every astrologer or the motives behind every follower of astrology.
Here's my case:
Though we don’t know how it works physically, astrology is not a faith. You can experience, observe and know how it applies first hand. There are sound reasons why it has proved so difficult to test the real practice of astrology under scientific conditions and why so many tests have been flawed. However, some simple experiments have yielded results that are consistent with a scientific basis to the fundamental premise of astrology even though the practice is an art rather than a science.
What is astrology? Astrology is the study of the correlation between the positions and movements of celestial bodies and life and physical processes on Earth. Though some astrologers work with stars and constellations, western astrologers work with the Sun, the Moon and the planets (including Pluto) within the Solar System.
Astrology goes far beyond the popularised Sun-Sign columns published in newspapers and magazines. Astrology should not be confused with fortune telling, palmistry, psychic or tarot reading. Nor is modern western astrology a belief system like a religion.
These are the main arguments put forward as to why astrology is rubbish.
I will address each point. If you disagree, please state your case. If I find it persuasive, I will modify, edit or even delete my points. [Click to discuss this on Facebook]
- It's just plain common sense!
- The Signs of the Zodiac are wrong!
- No one knows how astrology works!
- Scientific tests show astrology doesn't work.
- Where's the scientific evidence for astrology?
- Astrology is at odds with scientific knowledge & modern philosophy.
- Astrologers defend astrology to protect their vested interests.
- Astrology is not a science.
Proof by assertion: In response to my post, a great number of sceptics have asserted that astrology is rubbish (or words to that effect). Most were unable to back this up with sound arguments or empirical study or show an understanding of what astrology is. Some declare, why bother as it is common-sense? Maybe this prejudice by self-styled ‘rational sceptics’ is based on feelings or intuition or divine faith as it is not based on reason. Depending on the manner of presentation, these type of arguments without facts or correct facts fail on a number of basic logical fallacies: appeal to emotion, proof by assertion, argument from ignorance and straw man fallacy.
Flying spaghetti monster or a straw man fallacy? Some critics argued that it would be non-sensical to do an empirical study simply to prove that the existence of a Flying Spaghetti Monster or another imaginary creature or that a tea-pot orbits the Sun (Russell 1958) is false – so why the fuss about astrology? An argument based around this type of analogy is known as a straw-man fallacy. There are two points to consider why these are prime examples of false analogy.
- Astrology is not a belief system - the claims can easily be tested in individual cases and even professional sceptics from CSICOP believe that it can be tested objectively. [see (Carlson 1985)]
- Astrology is not some arbitrary New Age theory. Astrology has existed for over five thousand years. Thousands of book titles, dissertations and journal articles in major academic libraries, conferences, schools, post-graduate studies, practitioners and businesses are dedicated to astrology. Astrology is considered of value to millions of individuals around the world. Before anyone misunderstands this argument as an appeal to tradition or appeal to popularity, these facts do not make astrology valid. However, this alone makes a compelling case that astrology deserves investigation before being written off.
Even if astrology were one of these unfalsifiable myths (which it is not), it is not good science, nor good sense, nor good humanity to ridicule myths or rule out cherished beliefs or deny experiences of others. It is hubris.
A Black Swan was once considered a mythical creature and used as a metaphor for something that was ridiculous and impossible. In 1797, black swans (Cygnus Atratus) were first discovered by Europeans in Western Australia.
Some fields that were once dismissed as being unworthy of study by the scientific community are now established within hard science. The belief that rocks could hit the Earth from space was widely ridiculed by eminent scientists of the Enlightenment. Now the study of meteorites is an important scientific field revealing insight into the nature and history of the Earth and Solar System.
Opinion without knowledge: Many who dismiss astrology know nothing of the subject. This is immediately evident when they use terminology such as the word astrologists or argue irrelevant points such as how the constellations have moved or the limits of planetary gravity or the false belief that astrologers claim we are controlled by the stars. At best, this known as Argument By Laziness - the arguer hasn't bothered to learn anything about the topic. Ignorance is no basis for opinion. At worst, it is prejudice and bigotry.
Faith in the Heavens?: Many people have claimed that astrology is a belief. That is largely true for many readers of newspaper horoscopes. It’s also true for those who believe astrology to be false without any knowledge. However, for those who have studied it, astrology is a knowledge and one that can be tested and verified - unlike a belief in a divine creator that cannot be tested.
Experience: Many people feel that they have a right to dismiss astrology as rubbish without any experience or observation of how it works in practice. This evasion of empirical study is reminiscent of Cremonini and Libri’s refusal to look through Galileo’s telescope.
Unnecessary for impossible or harmful practices: Some have rightly argued that you don’t have to smoke tobacco or experience slavery or even commit suicide to be able to make strong comments about the practice. True! However, studying an analysis of your character (like reviewing the results of a psychological test) is not a risk to health or life. Would you rank the opinion of a travel writer who has never left home over someone who has? A doctor should, where possible, examine his or her patient to help reach a diagnosis (even if it’s Dr House in the TV series).
How can you experience astrology? Since some of the free horoscopes on the web are not ideal examples, you would need to select a professional service which would range from £20/$30 for a computer generated report to £150/$125 for a live reading of your birth chart from a top astrologer. [Please do not use my services as I don't want you to think this is a sales pitch.] Yes, it is a cost, but this is a small price to add to your experience. You can also study astrology through library books.
Why should I pay to have an opinion? Unfortunately, to enjoy the luxury of dismissing an entire field of study, you have to invest in personal research. Experiencing astrology first hand, will be good value and you might even learn something. Astrologers have to pay to download data or subscribe to Journals or purchase books so they can review flawed research papers that claim to debunk astrology.
Objective Data: Your personal horoscope is totally subjective. But why rely on the evidence of personal experience when you can also obtain objective data? It is possible to analyze the charts of other people and compare it to your knowledge of their lives. Though this is best done professionally, it is possible to do some basic interpretations by referring to astrology books.
Is the twelve sign Zodiac a viable model?
Some critics claim that the signs of the zodiac are wrong as they have shifted and some signs are missing. This article shows how there are three zodiacs - the Western Tropical Zodiac (based on seasons), the Indian Sidereal Zodiac (based on stars) and the Astronomical Zodiac (based on constellations). The key point is that all three systems are viable models of the solar system and that the Signs of the Zodiac are not the same as the Constellations of the Zodiac. [Explanation of Precession]
Mechanism: One of the core objections to astrology is that there is no known scientific mechanism to account for how it all works. [Mechanism]
Is the lack of a mechanism justification for dismissing a phenomenon?
Several examples make the point that a lack of known mechanism is never a reason to dismiss evidence [see point 4.]
- The lodestone (compass) was used successfully for two millennia. Yet, no one understood the Earth’s magnetic field until the 20th century.
- Semmelweis (1818-1865) introduced hygienic practices like hand washing in obstetric clinics. He was ridiculed by other scientists as he could not provide a mechanism, even though he reduced the mortality rate. Yet, it became accepted practice years after he died when Pasteur confirmed germ theory.
"That we can now think of no mechanism for astrology is relevant but unconvincing. No mechanism was known, for example, for continental drift when it was proposed by Wegener. Nevertheless, we see that Wegener was right, and those who objected on the grounds of unavailable mechanism were wrong.”
So to use a lack of known mechanism to reject a demonstrable effect [see point 4.] is to abuse science in an obstructive rather than use science in a constructive way.
Carl Sagan, astronomer, astrophysicist, author, cosmologist, broadcaster and sceptical of astrology.
Possible Mechanisms: Astrology may work by several mechanisms. Here are some hypotheses:
Gravitational Resonance: Many critics of astrology have repeated the story that the gravity of the midwife has more effect on the newborn baby than the planets. However, astrologers don’t claim that gravity is the basis for natal astrology.
However, it is universally accepted that gravity and orbital resonance of the Sun and the Moon affects the Earth’s oceanic tides and the Earth tide (body tide). Studies have proposed that the tidal forces also affect the Earth's plate tectonics (Continental drift). (Moore 1973) (Scoppola 2006) The tidal force is part of what some astrologers call natural astrology which also includes the study of the coincidence of seismic activity with celestial positions, harvests and weather.
I believe it is premature to set limits on the effect of gravity and orbital resonance on Earth as there is much we don’t understand. For example, gravity is the one known force that does not yet fit into a Unified Field Theory.
Correlation precedes possible Causation:
Dr Percy Seymour, former principal lecturer in astronomy and astrophysics at Plymouth University and previously a researcher at the Royal Observatory in Greenwich, has developed a model to describe the mechanism behind astrology. It is outlined in his title “Astrology: The evidence of Science”. This interview from 1989 may not include his more recent research. In outline, his model is based on the tidal tugs of all the planets in addition to the Sun and Moon which disrupt the Earth’s magnetosphere (magnetic field) which affects the human neural network. It works through the gravitational effects of the planets which are magnified by what Seymour calls ‘magneto tidal resonance’ to affect the sunspot cycle. [more]
Planetary alignments correlate with Sunspot cycles which impact the Earth: In separate studies, there are peaks within the Sun spot cycle coinciding with the Jupiter/Saturn [helio] conjunction 11.86 years, Jupiter’s perihelion 9.93 years and what astrologer’s call a Sun/Venus conjunction 11.08 years. Solar output (including heat, light, radio, x-rays, neutrinos, solar wind and possibly more) is extremely important as regards all life on Earth (not just climate). Some of these outputs directly affect human behaviour through interactions with the Earth’s electromagnetic field. For example, there are studies showing significant correlations between events such as wars on Earth and the 11 and 22 year sunspot cycle.
Causal or acausal relationship: Many astrologers believe that the observed (terrestrial/extra-terrestrial) correlation reflects an acausal connecting principle or ‘synchronicity’ as proposed by Swiss psychiatrist and founder of analytical psychology, Dr Carl Gustav Jung. Jung refined his concept with the help of one of the pioneers of quantum physics, inventor of the neutrino and Nobel prize-winner, Wolfgang Pauli Synchronicity is a belief, but not an article of faith.
Frontiers of Science. As I wrote above, I believe it is unwise and premature to use the current model of the four fundamental interactions (fundamental forces) as a basis to rule out possibilities for several reasons. First, within this model, quantum mechanics and gravity are not yet reconciled. Scientists are still struggling to develop a theory of Quantum Gravity and as a result a Grand Unified Field Theory. In addition, several discoveries within quantum physics suggests that this could in the future become a fertile area for research into a possible mechanism. [more]
In the field of astrology, there are many more fatally flawed tests than real evidence. There are many reasons for this. There is no budget for testing astrology and most astrologers are more motivated by the study and application of astrology than in addressing the challenge of providing and defending scientific proof. So most tests are run by sceptics with budgets in fields like psychology who design quantitative tests when the data requires qualitative analysis that would be better addressed by those who understand astrology. There are also real procedural hurdles to jump.
Problems testing astrological practice under strict scientific methods:
Profesor Hans Eysenck states that ‘testing astrology is a complex and difficult field, as indeed all fields relating to psychological variables’.
- It is extremely difficult to obtain sufficient fresh accurate objective data
- Isolating the huge number of variables involving human behaviour and astrology is an immense challenge.
- Replicating the unique conditions is almost impossible. For example, each human being is unique and identical planetary positions are never repeated within recorded human history.
- The Experimenter Effect is potentially stronger than in a chemistry experiment as the human experimenter is part of an experiment involving human behaviour. So the criteria used, the data selected, the format and the results are particularly open to reflecting the conscious and unconscious bias of the experimenter rather than providing objective data.
- Statistics perform well in physics, chemistry or molecular biology. However, when you work with more varied and complex data, results can be skewed, misrepresented and manipulated. You’d think with all the objective climate data and vast resources, we would have less controversy about the projections for climate change.
How a test might be improved. [more ...]
Myth of Flawed Experiments being passed off as Failed Experiments. Yet, many sceptics claim that astrology has consistently failed over many years in ‘thousands of scientific tests’. This is a very popular myth that has been duplicated in many websites. I have asked numerous critics of astrology to cite their best single test. This is the list of the 'best'. I invite anyone reading this to produce or even devise a test of astrological practice that is not fundamentally flawed. [I don’t have the time and resources to evaluate more than one test at a time].
The Carlson Double Blind Astrology test has been cited many times by sceptics. The study, published in Nature in 1985 claimed to show that qualified astrologers could not match test subjects charts with the results of the California Psychological Inventory (CPI) any better than chance. (Carlson 1985) It received much Press attention and is still published extensively on the web as the strongest evidence that natal astrology is no better than chance. However, at the time, Carlson's conclusions received criticism from a number of authoritative sources including Professor Hans Eysenck of London University. (Eysenck 1985) Recent analysis of the data have revealed that this test actually shows support for astrology (see scientific evidence). [more...]
Geoffrey Dean's AnalysesMany sceptical websites cite the work of Dr Geoffrey Dean, a one-time astrologer, now astrology's most ardent sceptic who yet claims there may be something in astrology. However, his sceptical evidence doesn't bear close scrutiny: [More]
Unpublished Study of Unaspected Planets (1975) A two-year study at a time when Dean was an astrologer involving over 200 cases initially showed strong support for astrology with independent replicated results, still remains unpublished.
Dean's Phantom Time-Twin Study (2003) A study of 2,101 people born in London between 3-9 May 1958 also sounds promising. Though he announced his provisional results in a paper in 2003 and it is widely cited by skeptical websites, Dr Dean is yet to publish over a decade later.
Dean's Meta Analyses (1986-2001)- unsourced or GIGO? There are sound reasons to question the selection of tests in Dean's most recent Meta-Analysis as the exclusion of his and other unpublished papers result in a 'file drawer' bias, tests of 'Sun Sign Astrology' are not appropriate and many tests were later shown by Professors Eysenck, Vidmar and Ertel and others to be incorrrectly analysed (e.g Carlson) or be flawed. Whether his analysis suffers from GIGO (Garbage In, Garbage Out) or not is speculation, as the analysis he published on the web over a decade ago states that the list of tests is still "in preparation". So without sources supporting his 'scientific' evidence, his analysis remains no more credible than fiction. And yet, a few sceptics still uncritically cite this analysis.
Test of Reported Intuition (1985-6) Why testing only outliers can be misleading:
By testing only the extreme results (1/15th) in a large sample of self-completed personality questionnaires instead of the standard 1/3rd, many problems occurred resulting in exclusion bias and misleading data.
Magic TricksWhen a sceptic has to cite a magic trick to support his or her argument, they are getting desperate. The are good reasons why these 'performances' cannot be replicated under scientific conditions.
Test of Astrology by illusionist Derren Brown: One sceptic was disillusioned with astrology largely as a result of a ‘test’ by magician Derren Brown. The illusionist presented the same horoscope to a group of carefully selected individuals. They all claimed it was accurate and personal to them. Though this appeared to be very damning for astrology, it was a trick designed to create this illusion. I hope that I am not breaking any magician’s secrets by revealing the techniques. [more ...]
Why I distrust magician, James Randi. Another sceptic suggested that I attempt to claim the million dollar prize offered by James Randi ‘Educational’ Foundation for showing evidence of powers that cannot be explained by known scientific laws. Though I had had an encounter with James Randi that left me with the impression that he could not be trusted to be impartial, I did look into his challenge. However, it's not an option for astrologers as according to Randi the statistical evidence required creates 'procedural problems' with his performance-oriented testing. It's also impossible as the odds required were unintentionally 'upgraded' to 1 in 10 million (p < 0.0000001)! But what mystifies me is that if the paranormal is such obvious bunkum as Randi claims, why has he gone to such extraordinary lengths to make it so difficult to present evidence that supposedly does not exist? [Why Randi's challenge is a charade ...]
Dawkins Sun-Sign Test & throwing stones from a glass house. One sceptic cited Richard Dawkins’ test on Sun Sign astrology in his TV series “Enemies of Reason” (Dawkins 2007). As stated earlier, I am not here to defend this popular media-friendly adaptation of astrology. Why did Dawkins choose to criticise astrology as a field and then only present and caricature newspaper astrology in his TV series? Was he so ignorant that he confused a recent off-shoot with a four thousand year old practice? Or was he attempting to misrepresent the case for astrology to make it easier to attack? Rather like his rants about soft targets like militant fundamentalism or religious abuse in his God Delusion book, Dawkins, like a proselytizing preacher, is only effective when pushing a straw man fallacy from his pulpit.
Before moralising about the evils of astrology, Dawkins needs to keep his own avid disciples in order. Former Enron CEO, Jeffrey Skilling convicted of multiple federal felony charges relating to the Texan energy giant's financial collapse claimed to have been inspired by Dawkins' book The Selfish Gene. (Dawkins 2007) His selfish policy caused great harm. Every year he fired the bottom 5% of his team in a humiliating way. Twenty thousand staff were impacted by the bankruptcy which included at least one suicide. Millions in California were affected by Enron's forced rolling black-outs which lead to exponential price rises for energy and contributed to the state's energy crisis. (Egan 2005) So ironically when Dawkins' social darwinism was applied in the real world it resulted in 'mass extinction' - damage of a different magnitude to that of the worst example of an astrologer!
There are many sceptics who insist on 'scientific proof' before they can accept astrology and a few researchers who believe they can 'prove astrology'. While in mathematics, you can deduce a proof to show that proposition is always true, this is not how science works. You cannot 'prove physics'. Science works by the accumulation of empirical evidence to build up a theory. With each replication, the theory becomes more persuasive and established, but since it can also be disproved at any time, it remains a theory and can never become proof or a law.
Over the past fifty years, scientists and astrological researchers are discovering a growing body of objective evidence of correlations between celestial positions and terrestrial life. These statistically significant results have been published in peer reviewed journals (including Correlation, a specialist astrological journal). Ironically, some of the strongest evidence has come from experiments backed by sceptical groups including CSICOP.
French psychologist and statistician, Michel Gauquelin (1955-1991)Supported by his wife Francois, Michel Gauquelin conducted the most famous research into astrology. Though he was interested in astrology, he did not consider himself an astrologer and dismissed much of it including zodiac signs. His tests focussed on the correlation between the positions of the planets at an individual’s birth, his or her psychological nature and how this manifested in measurable ways such as choice of profession or independent biographical descriptions.
Gauquelin collected data from over 20,000 professional celebrities from various European countries and the United States. Gauquelin’s research detected statistically abnormal diurnal positions of the planet Mars at birth in athletes, Jupiter in actors, Saturn in scientists and the Moon in writers. His tests confirmed an ancient claim of astrologers that planets posited around the four angles are stronger and the characteristics associated with the planet manifests prominently in the individual.
Naturally Gauquelin’s tests attracted much controversy. He allowed independent sceptical researchers to scrutinize his original data. Three committees of rationalist scientists Belgian (LERRCP), American (CSICOP), and French (CFEPP), reviewed and independently replicated Gauquelin's results. CSICOP published their results in The Humanist. The Belgian group refused to publish their study for eight years, in the vain hope of finding a logical explanation for their positive result. The French took a full 14 years. In the end the group dissolved and the work was completed by Jan Willem Nienhuys from the Netherlands. All groups made their data available, but the CFEPP was the only one to publish the full data. The book outlining the study (The "Mars Effect", A French Test of Over 1,000 Sports Champions) [Review].(Gauquelin 1988) (Ertel 1988) (Müller 1990) (Ertel 1990) (Ertel 1992) (Müller 1992) (Ertel 1993)
‘The Tenacious Mars Effect’ (1996) by Suitbert Ertel and Kenneth Irving (Urania Trust) "describes the Gauquelin’s pioneering work and analyses in detail the attempts by sceptic committees in Belgium, the USA and France to disprove their results. The book highlights the often dubious methods by which hostile sceptics have sought to discredit the Gauquelin’s uncomfortable findings and shows that, in fact, much of the evidence is even stronger than previously claimed." (Ertel & Irving 1997) (Ertel & Irving 2000)
New York Suicide Test Press (1977)
Not all valid astrology tests have demonstrated evidence for astrology, but astrologers have been willing to publish these results. Nona Press and two other astrologers gathered 311 records of birth data of subjects who committed suicide in New York between 1969-73 who were also born in the five boroughs of New York City. Despite statistical comparison with a multitude of astrological conventional and unconventional techniques such as asteroids and minor aspects, they were unable to find significant results that related to suicide. However, their results (Press 1977) were duly published in an Astrological Journal. Some astrologers have argued that there may not be an astrological signature for suicide (since this is not part of normal astrological practice) or that astrology is divination and cannot be objectively demonstrated by empirical studies.(Cornelius 2003)
Gauquelin & Eysenck (1979)
An empirical study of personality and the position of the planets at birth. (Gauquelin 1979)
Professor Müller's Studies (1986)
A study by Arno Müller, Profesor of Psychology at the University of Saarland, Germany of the lives of 1,145 German nobility over five centuries where records were kept meticulously, showed a significantly higher frequency in infant mortality within the first 15 months (p=0.0004) of birth when Saturn was rising or culminating (Gauquelin sectors) at birth. (Muller & Menzer 1986) [This fits with a traditional interpretation of Saturn rising as difficulties early on in life.] This study might be applied to help understand the mysteries of present day cot-death syndrome.
Timm & Köberl: A re-analysis of a study by Hans Bender (1986)
A re-analysis of a study in 1952-55 on 178 German Astrologers showed that astrologers were able to match descriptions of 3 people to 3 natal charts to a significant level. (p=0.026). (Timm & Köberl 1986) However, researchers could not rule out the results being attributed to ESP.
Sara Ridgley: Astrologically Predictable Patterns In Work Related Injuries. (1993)
In her Phd. study of 1023 workers in California who were disabled for at least 3 months as a result of accidents at work between 1987-1991, Dr Ridgley found a correlation (p<0.00000001) was found between the Sun position at birth in a 'hard' aspect (0°,90°,180°) to the transiting Sun and the frequency of accidents. (Ridgley 1993) This study was replication of data from 55 subjects from C.E.O. Carter's book The Astrology of Accidents (1932) which resulted in a high significance (p<0.00016) for such a small sample. However, a study by Dobyns and Pottenger (1996-1999) were unable to replicate the results using critical work related accidents to 2,865 workers in Sweden in 1993.
Judith Hill: Redheads and Mars Rising (1996)
In a 1988 study of 500 redheads a remarkably significant (27.2%) were born within 30° of the Ascendant (p=<0.000001) and a low 9.8% <30° of the Descendant (p=<0.000035) when compared with control groups. A follow-up replication in 1996 of 479 American and Canadian and 473 British redheads (N=952) showed significance (p=0.007 and p=0.015) for Mars rising when compared with two control groups. (Hill 1988) (Hill 1996)
Didier Castille: La Population Française au Rythme du zodiaque (1999) Stats for birth distribution in France. Tests on the Sun Signs (6.7% signs are estimated as all times of birth were unknown) and large populations (6.4m & 10m) in France show significant sign correspondence between marital partners (12/12 significant v 1/12 in the control), between Birth Sign with Sign position on Death Date (9/12 significant v 0/12 in the control) but rejected the null hypothesis for a correspondence between birth and death on the same day of the week (i.e. no significance found in the non-astrological test). Castille poses the similarity of these results suggests the possibility of an artefact, but to date none has been discovered.
Bernadette Brady: The Australian Parent-Child Research Project (2002) Dr Brady (currently with the University of Wales, Trinity Saint David) demonstrates a series of significant correlations between the natal horoscopes of parents and their children. Most notable correlations involved the Moon, the first-born child and the angles. (Brady 2002)
Kathy Yuan +:Are investors moonstruck? Lunar phases & stock returns (2006)
A study in 48 countries over 32 years (402 lunar months) where data is available, showed that stock returns are lower on days around the Full Moon than on days around the New Moon. This result is statistically significant on both a 7 day window (6.9%) and on a 15 day window 5.4% (p=.0009). Another study by Pelc and Bondar (2010), analysts at RBS show among other results that by "moon trading", £1,000 in 1928 invested in S&P 500 would be worth £1,502,689 in 2010 compared to £63,894 if they had tracked the index.
Suzel Fuzeau-Braesch & Jean-Baptiste Denis (2007)
In an empirical study of 500 pedigree dogs in the Paris region, significant correlations were found in seven angular planets and anthropomorphic traits including two highly significant ones: Jupiter with extraversion and sociability (p<.000001) and Sun with strong personality. (p=0.00002) (Fuzeau-Braesch 2007)
U-Turn in Carlson's Double-Blind Astrology Test (2009 & 2011) While Carlson in his famous study published in Nature claimed astrology was no better than chance (Carlson 1985), Professor Eysenck (London University) and other reviewers found that Carlson's original sceptical conclusion was not supported by the evidence. Professor Ertel's (Göttingen University, Germany) re-analysis of the data compiled shows that astrologers were able to rate authentic psychological profiles significantly higher than unauthentic profiles in a blind test to a statistically significant level (p=0.037). (Ertel 2009) (Currey 2011)
Jan Ruis: The Birth Charts of Male Serial Killers: Evidence of Astrological Effects? (2012)In response to criticism of Dr Ruis' initial study 293 serial killers published in 2008, the researcher was able to demonstrate convincingly that the deviation of the test group from the control is highly significant both by Zodiac Signs (p=.0002) and by Placidus Houses/Gauquelin sectors (p<.005). There was a particular emphasis on mutable signs and the '12th principle'. Also, the Moon was significantly conjunct and opposite the MC (p=0.03). (Ruis 2012)
Christian Cajochen: Evidence that Lunar Cycle Influences Human Sleep (2013)
Professor Cajochen and his team at Basel University, Switzerland conducted a retrospective study of the data records of the sleep patterns of 33 subjects tested in a darkened room in the lab ten years previously. They found that on a full moon, subjects took 5 minutes longer to fall asleep, had 20 minutes less sleep, spent 30% less time in deep sleep and had diminished melatonin levels. (Cajochen 2013)
Is astrology anti-scientific? ... Over 500 years astrology drifted from being central to the academic system to an outcast on the fringe. How? Radical new discoveries of the mechanics of the solar system appeared to refute an ancient system developed under the previous paradigm. As the academic world polarised, astrology was not considered an objective science nor an art or a religion. So the real question is how did astrology survive at a time when so much superstition was jettisoned.
[For a fuller explanation ...]
If not, why isn't astrology at the heart of mainstream thinking & education?
Astrology has not only survived these crises, but with the discovery of additional planets and the growth in knowledge including psychology, the field has transformed into a much more powerful system. Yet, conventional wisdom dismisses it as a product of the dark ages.
The Causes of the Decline:
- Four major astronomical discoveries appeared to break the astrological model:
However, only one discovery forced astrologers to rethink the model. The discovery of Uranus (and later Neptune and Pluto) led some astrologers to review the ancient attribution of sign rulerships. After much trial and error, these new planets took western astrology to a far more sophisticated and complex level mirroring the changes in our evolving consciousness on Earth. Find out why the astrological model survived intact.
- Precession of the Equinox
- The Copernican (Heliocentric) System
- Discovery of the Outer Planets
- The vast distances in space
- Prediction to protect kings and nobles was at odds with a world liberated by free-will, republicanism and democracy during the Age of Enlightenment.
- 18th century astrology did not fit into a new academic curriculum increasingly divided into humanities (theology & the arts) and sciences. The Church had long seen Astrology as subversive and early science was not compatible with deductive theories about the complexities of the human psyche and patterns of behaviour.
The Legacy of this Decline:
- Isolated from the academic environment for over two centuries, astrology is increasingly judged from a position of ignorance. Such prejudice is unquestioningly passed onto the next generation of students so that astrologers are seen by as heretics.
- Media distortion and regulation. The tabloid press presents astrology in a sensationalist manner with unsupportable predictions. Pressure groups like CSICOP's (now CSI) "Council for Media Integrity" push their point of view onto the broadsheet press and mainstream media to encourage criticism or ridicule.
- Historic bias now masquerades as scepticism and can infect top scientists. Mainstream scientific journals will not publish an astrology paper as it is not their field and they cannot peer review it. Yet, flawed experiments supporting a sceptical agenda that would not pass peer review in journals like Correlation, sneak past peer review. For many, especially older, male, white scientists, the subject is taboo unless like Professor Hans Eysenck, you get tenure and can indulge your hidden interest. [More ...]
Astrologers only defend astrology to protect their vested interests. To try to undermine an argument by claiming that the proponent has financial, psychological or other motives rather than address the merits of the argument is an ad hominem and psychogenic fallacy. Many sceptics claim that astrologers make a lot of money. This may be true of a few Sun-Sign columnists who are more like media celebrities than typical astrologers. The fact is that most astrologers devote much of their life to studying their subject and still struggle to make a living or supplement their income with better paid work. Their motivation is the pursuit of knowledge rather than money.
Those at the top of the million dollar "Skeptical Industry" make a comfortable living and notoriety through popularizing their beliefs. There are lucrative conferences, lecture circuits, books, magazines and journals to promote and like an evangelical church, playing on the fears of the faithful for donations. Their tax-exempt organizations are in a different league to their astrological equivalents: CSICOP (CSI) [2011 expenditure ca.$2 million] or the JREF [2009 expenditure ca.$1 million] (JREF 2009)
Is astrology a science? The short answer is no. However, much depends on your definition of science. If you are looking for laws, objectivity and predictability, then science is really confined to physics, chemistry and molecular biology. The scientific part of astrology: tidal, seismic and meteorlogical correlations are an ancient and important part of astrology, but not enough to classify astrology as a hard science.
The same argument applies to many other so-called sciences: Climatology, meteorology and especially those involving human behaviour psychology, sociology, history and nutrition cannot claim to be hard sciences. It is arguable that evolution is not scientific under this strict definition. The nearest equivalents to astrology are cooking or horticulture which are both a mix of art, science and craft.
Some argue that using certain dictionary definitions of science, there’s a case that astrology is a science as there is a body of knowledge that can be taught. (OED 1996) However, the practice of astrology by most astrologers is better defined as an art or a craft than a science and it would be wrong for these type of astrologers to claim to be scientists. As such it would also be equally wrong for a scientist who has not studied astrology, to consider him or herself qualified to judge such practices since they are outside the realm of science.
If you have read this far, you will now know there are no grounds to dismiss astrology as complete rubbish from a scientific point of view. If you still believe astrology to be rubbish, ask yourself your belief is based on astrological knowledge and actual experience.
Or is it blind faith inspired by feelings?
Or were you won-over by an illusionist's trick?
Or were you informed by a second-hand opinion that appears authoritative, but is based on an outdated or prejudiced view of astrology? Astrologers are the best authorities on their special subject.
- Brady, Bernadette (2002) The Australian Parent-Child Research Project Correlation Journal Volume 20 (2) 2002
- Bingham, John (2012) Richard Dawkins: I can't be sure God does not exist. The Telegraph. 24 Feb. 2012
- Cajochen, Christian; Altanay-Ekici,Songül; Münch,Mirjam; Frey,Sylvia; Knoblauch,Vera; Wirz-JusticeAnna (2013) Evidence that Lunar Cycle Influences Human Sleep. Current Biology, 25 July 2013.
- Carlson, Shawn (1985) A Double Blind Test of Astrology. Nature, December 1985 Vol.318, pp.418-425.
- Cornelius, Geoffrey (2003) The Moment of Astrology. Origins in Divination. pp.50-52
- Currey, Robert (2011): U-turn in Carlson's Astrology test, Correlation. Vol.27 (2), July 2011
- Dawkins, Richard (2007) Enemies of Reason, Part 1. Channel 4, UK. Aired 13 August 2007.
- Dean, G. (1986), ‘Can astrology predict E and N? 3: discussion and further research’,Correlation, 6 (2),
pp. 7–52. With 110 references. Includes meta-analyses of astrological studies.
- Dean, G.A. & Mather, Arthur (1977) Recent Advances in Natal Astrology. A Critical Review 1900-1976. Analogic, Subiaco, Australia
- Egan, Timothy (2005) Tapes Show Enron Arranged Plant Shutdown, New York Times, February 4, 2005
- Ertel, Suitbert (2009) Appraisal of Shawn Carlson's Renowned Astrology Tests Journal of Scientific Exploration, Vol.23, No:2. pp.125-137
- Ertel,S. (1988) Raising the Hurdle for the Athletes’ Mars Effect Journal of Scientific Exploration Vol.2 No:1 pp.53-82
- Ertel,S. (1993) Puzzling Eminence Effects Might Make Good Sense Journal of Scientific Exploration Vol.7 No:2 pp.145-154
- Ertel,S. & Irving,K.(1997) Biased Data Selection in Mars Effect Research Journal of Scientific Exploration Vol.11 No:1 pp.1-18
- Ertel,S. & Irving,K.(2000) The Mars Effect is genuine Journal of Scientific Exploration Vol.14 No:3 pp.421-430
- Ertel,S. (1990) Bulky Mars Effect Hard to Hide
- Ertel,S. (1992) The Gauquelin Effect Explained? Comments on Müller’s Planetary Correlations
- Eysenck, Hans (1986). Critique of “A Double-Blind Test of Astrology”, Astro-Psychological Problems, Vol.4 (1), January 1986. Eysenck wrote “The conclusion does not follow from the data”.
- French, Chris (2013) Astrologers and other inhabitants of parallel universes The Guardian. 7 Feb 2012.
- Fuzeau-Braesch, Suzel; Denis, Jean-Baptiste (2007)
An Empirical Study of Some Astrological Factors in Relation to Dog Behaviour Differences by Statistical Analysis and Compared with Human Characteristics. Journal of Scientific Exploration, Vol. 21, No. 2, pp. 281-293, 2007
- Gauquelin, M.; Gauquelin, F. and Eysenck, S. B. G. (1979) Personality and position of the planets at birth: An empirical study British Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, Vol:18: pp.71–75.
Note though Hans Eysenck was involved in this paper, only his wife Sybil put her name on it.
- Gauquelin, Michel (1988) Is there a Mars effect? Journal of Scientific Exploration Vol.2 No:1 pp.29-51
- Hume, David (1888) A Treatise of Human Nature, ed. L.A. Selby-Bigge, Oxford Clarendon Press
- Hill, Judith & Thompson, Jacalyn (1988) "The Mars-Redhead Link: A Scientific Test of Astrology" NCGR Journal, Winter 88-89.
- Hill, Judith (1996) "Redheads and Mars: A Scientific Testimony" The Mountain Astrologer, May 1996, pp 29-40.
- JREF (1990)
- Form 990. Return of Organization Exempt from Income Tax 2009. James Randi Educational Foundation, FL. Revenue: $852,445 Expenditure: $1,062,364 Reportable compensation from the Organization: James Randi $195,000. p.7. 6 May 2010
- Form 990. Return of Organization Exempt From Income Tax 2011. Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, Inc., NY. Revenue: $1,649,787 Expenditure: $1,965,032. 15 August 2012
- Moore, George W. (1973) "Westward Tidal Lag as the Driving Force of Plate Tectonics". Geology 1 (3): 99–100. ISSN 0091-7613 ^
- Müller, A. (1990) Planetary Influences on Human Behavior: Absurd for a Scientific Explanation? Journal of Scientific Exploration, Vol. 4. No. 1. pp.85-104
- Müller, A. (1992) The Gauquelin Effect Explained? A Rejoinder to Ertel’s Critique Journal of Scientic Exploration, Vol. 6, No. 3, pp. 255-259, 1992
- Kierkegaard, Søren (1847) Kjerlighedens Gjerninger (Works of Love), SKS vol.9 Gad & Søren Kierkegaard Forskningscentret 2004 p.13
- Milton, Richard (2000) Critique of CSICOP: The Paradigm Police The provenance of this quote cannot be tracked to the original context.
- Press, Nona et al (1977) An Astrological Suicide Study. Journal of Geocosmic Research Vol.2 #2. Also in Recent Advances in Natal Astrology. (Dean 1977)
- Ruis, Jan (2012) The Birth Chars of Male Serial Killers: Evidence of Astrological Effects. Correlation Vol.28(2) November 2012 pp.8-27
- OED: Oxford Compact English Dictionary (1996) O.U.P. Science n. 2 a. "Systematic and formulated knowledge esp. of a specified type or on a specified subject e.g. political science." ^
- Müller, A., & Menzer, G. (1993). 1145 Angehörige deutscher Dynastien [1145 members of German dynasties]. Astro-Research Data 4.
Waldmohr, A. P. Müller-Verlag.
- Ridgley, Sara Klein. "Astrologically Predictable Patterns in Work-Related Injuries," Kosmos. XXII, 1993, pp.21-30
- Scoppola, B.; Boccaletti, D.; Bevis, M.; Carminati, E.; Doglioni, C. (2006) "The westward drift of the lithosphere: A rotational drag?" Geological Society of America Bulletin
- Sidgwick, Isabella (1898) 'A Grandmother's tales' Macmillan's Magazine, LXXVIII, # 468, Oct. 1898, pp.433-4
- Timm, U. & Köberl, T. (1986). Re-Analyse einer Validitätsuntersuchung an 178 Astrologen. Zeitschrift
für Parapsychologie und Grenzgebiete der Psychologie, 28(1/2), 33–55.
- Yuan, Kathy; Zheng, Lu; Zhu, Qiaoqiao (2006) Are Investors Moon struck? - Lunar Phases and Stock Returns Journal of Empirical Finance. 2006, 13(1), p.1-23
- de Waal, Frans (2009) The Age of Empathy, Review. How bad Biology killed the economy. RSA Fellowship. Winter 2009
||How Wikipedia has been hijacked by 'guerrilla skeptics' who push an anti-astrology agenda.|
||Was CSICOP scientific and is CSI truly skeptical?|
||Philosophers who refused to look through Galileo's Telescope|
||Problems with testing astrological practice under strict scientific conditions |
||Illusionists are for entertainment, not to feign or undermine science.|
||U-Turn in Carlson's Double-Blind Astrology Experiment|
||How and why Astrology became an outcast from the mainstream|
||Scepticism can be used to justify institutional bias even among respected scientists and journals.|
||How the Signs of the Tropical Zodiac differ from the constellations of the Astronomical Zodiac and why there are 12 signs.|
||Sunday Times article on Percy Seymour's new Book Scientific Proof of Astrology|
||Is there a known mechanism for astrology and if not can it be dismissed?|
||Was astronomer and mathematician, Johannes Kepler a sceptic or an astrologer or both? |
||Secrets behind a Test of Astrology by illusionist Derren Brown|
- Proof by Assertion (or "Argument by Assertion" Fallacy), occurs when someone declares a "fact" without offering supporting evidence. e.g. Astrology is rubbish!~
- Argument from ignorance (appeal to ignorance, argumentum ad ignorantiam) – assuming that a claim is true (or false) because it has not been proven false (true) or cannot be proven false (true). e.g. Since there is no proof that Pluto impacts life on Earth, it cannot be possible. This crosses another fallacy: "absence of evidence is not evidence of absence". However, the burden of proof is always on the claimant. The correct position of a scientist is one of doubt or agnostic until proved otherwise.
- Appeal to Emotion is where emotion is used "in place of reason in order to attempt to win the argument. It is a type of manipulation used in place of valid logic."~ e.g. Psychology Professor Chris French, CSICOP fellow, lead into an article in the Guardian critical of astrology with unrelated descriptions of abhorrent practices of ritual abuse, exorcism, racial differences, and Satanists "engaged in devil-worshipping rituals involving sexual perversion of all kinds, human and animal sacrifices, forced abortions and cannibalism." (French 2013)
Deputy editor of the Skeptical Inquirer, Radford claims that astrology is like racism.
- A straw man argument (also known as an Aunt Sally in the UK) is an informal fallacy based on misrepresentation of an opponent's position. By replacing the opposing argument with a superficially similar but not equivalent one, it easy to ridicule this much weaker argument and thus create the illusion of refuting the original position. A famous example comes from the Oxford Debate on Evolution in 1860 when the Bishop of Oxford asked Thomas Huxley whether it was through his grandfather or his grandmother that he claimed his descent from a monkey? (Sidgwick 1898)
- False analogy or spurious similiarity. A fallacy in which an argument is based on misleading, superficial, or implausible comparisons. e.g. Why should I investigate astrology before dismissing it, I don't need to investigate unicorns to disbelieve them.
- Argument By Laziness (Uninformed Opinion) occurs when the arguer hasn't bothered to learn anything about the topic, but nevertheless has an opinion. e.g. "Astrology is rubbish." "Astrology flies in the face of four centuries of evidence,from Galileo to the latest space probe." "....that‘s all rubbish, right, astrology, because the planets are in different places at different times."
- Prejudice n a judgement or opinion formed prematurely or without due consideration of relevant issues; perpossession or bias in favour of or against anything; unthinking hostility." Chambers Dictionary (2008) Chambers Harrap, London ~
- Bigot a person who is utterly intolerant of any differing creed, belief, or opinion. ~
- Psychogenic (or Psychogenetic) Fallacy is faulting an idea based on its origin and the motivations of the proponent rather than address the substance of the argument. This is subset of argumentum ad hominem which is to attack an opponent's authority, character or other personal traits in an attempt to undermine their argument.~ e.g. Any argument or evidence presented by an astrologer or a debunker should be judged on the merits of the case and supporting evidence not on their affiliation or vested interests.
- Appeal to tradition or appeal to antiquity (argumentum ad antiquitam) – assumes that an idea that has been around for a long time must be true simply because it has stood the test of time. e.g. Just because astrology has survived for over 4 thousand years, does not make it factual.
- Appeal to novelty (argumentum ad novitatem) assumes that that an idea or proposal is correct or superior, simply because it is new and modern. This could be the reverse of the appeal to tradition fallacy. e.g. dismissing traditional beliefs as primitive.
- Appeal to popularity (argumentum ad populum) assumes that an idea or proposition is true because many people beleive it is. e.g. The universal popularity of astrology does not make it true. A consensus among scientists alone does not justify a belief.
- Slippery slope (thin edge of the wedge, camel's nose) – asserting that a relatively small first step inevitably leads to a chain of related events culminating in some significant impact/event that should not happen, thus the first step should not happen. In a TV interview, Paul Kurtz, Chairman of CSICOP said, "If we are going to admit aliens, what are we going to admit next? Fairies? Elves? Where do we draw the line?" (Milton 2000) (This statement is also Reductio ad absurdum.) Now even Richard Dawkins believes it "highly likely that there was life on other planets." (Bingham 2012)
“There are two ways to be fooled: one is to believe what isn’t true, the other is to refuse to believe what is true.
” ~ (Kierkegaard 1847)
Criticism of Astrology and Astrologers
I admit that I am guilty of most of these criticisms.
Astrologers must learn from history that their practice must respond to changing scientific knowledge and changing consciousness to survive.
Astrologers should do more research, of the scale and quality of Gauquelin. There are only a few practicing astrologers and even fewer would dare to dedicate their life to the thankless task of research without funding in the face of hostile peers.
The quality of practice of astrology is variable. Though we are limited with the tools at our disposal, many astrologers could take a more empirical approach to their work.
Astrologers are largely unregulated. There are professional bodies and astrological schools who require that members adhere to a code of rules and standards. However, not all astrologers comply with that system.
Astrologers disagree with each other in fundamental ways even though there is for example, a consensus about the energy connected with the planet Mars. But then psychologists, cosmologists and climatologists are deeply divided. Does that make their fields less valid or more complex?
Astrologers use idioms that can appear unscientific or ignorant.
- We use the word planets to includes Pluto, the Sun and the Moon.
- If we say a planet is in Sagittarius, it does not mean it is actually within the constellation.
- If an astrologer writes about the influence of Mercury, it does not necessarily mean that the astrologer assumes a causal relationship.