Media Frenzy over hyped research. Sensational news or yet another hoax?
London, 17 Aug 2003. The Sunday Telegraph [UK] and other media around the world published 'sensational findings' that research on time-twins (unrelated individuals born at the same time and date) revealed that astrology is "rubbish". Under the headline "Astrologers fail to predict proof they are wrong", the journalist claimed "Its (astrology) central claim - that our human characteristics are moulded by the influence of the Sun, Moon and planets at the time of our birth - appears to have been debunked once and for all and beyond doubt by the most thorough scientific study ever made into it."
The Press Report suffered from two serious problems. According to the original researchers, Dean and Kelly their findings were "... picked up and distorted by the Sunday Telegraph...". The second more serious problem is that the 'forthcoming' study on which the article was based was never published. Well - not in the last ten years (as I edit this page). Was it rejected at peer review? Did Dean inadvertently find evidence that favoured astrology which would undermine his role as a fellow of CSICOP (now CSI), lecturer to sceptical groups and regular contributor to the Skeptical Inquirer? In email correspondence, Dr Dean claims that he is still working on the paper. So by all acounts this news article has been shown up to be no more than hoax or at best a spectacular misunderstanding!
Having been an astrologer for almost 30 years, I have seen these so-called research "sensations" before. One classic was a hoax produced by the BBC Astronomy section claiming there was a 13th sign - Ophiuchus. Amusing for some, perhaps a little mischievous - but essentially sloppy journalism that misleads the reader.
No matter how many flawed tests you pile up, they remain flawed.
The preview of the Phantom Time-Twin test was included in a paper entitled "Is astrology relevant to Consciousness and Psi?" (2003) authored by Geoffrey Dean and Ivan Kelly. The whole paper is, in fact, quite interesting and full of original observations. However the logic is non-sequitur and the structure convoluted. For a start, does Psi have any relevance to astrology at all? Most modern astrologers including myself, don't claim to read a horoscope using psychic means. To support relevance, the report includes a trawl around previous studies where astrology is claimed to have failed in scientific tests. It includes Dean's Meta Analysis. While there is a case that the selection includes flawed and inappropriate tests and exclusion bias due to the file drawer effect and publication bias, Dean has yet to provide the list of tests. So this unsourced 'evidence' remains no more than pulp fiction.
Experimenters failed to do what astrologers 'claim to do'.
In order to rule out the argument that astrology works using repeatable, objective astrological (non-psychic) means, Dean cites his own studies of Time-Twins (still not published - see later). Since Dean et al failed to do what astrologers 'claim to do' - namely identify patterns in Time Twin data, astrological results cannot be based on objective evidence. Ergo - if astrologers get results, then maybe they're using psychic powers!
Here are some points to consider on Astrology & Psi paper:
- General Comments
Who are the sceptical researchers? Dr Geoffrey Dean, a chemist by training and Ivan Kelly, a sceptical psychologist. In the 70s Dean [from Perth, Australia] published a scientific astrology book 'Recent Advances in Natal Astrology'. The title was misleading since the only advance appeared to be Dean's own research supporting the technique of unaspected planets.
I was one a few people who bought and read "Recent Advances". It was never reprinted. In fairness, this was probably due as much to the Internet as a better place to publish information that is continually changing. The problem is that while astrologers are interested in the results of constructive research, there is a limited market for a detailed history of what were mostly flawed tests. Personally, I found the book very interesting and helpful in seeing how tests of astrology can go wrong. For Dean, the book brought neither support nor respect from the astrological community who are mostly more interested in practicing astrology than attempting the thankless task of trying validate it under scientific methodology. Since most scientific journals will not publish any research that validates or even favours astrology on principle, Dean was caught between a rock and hard place. From that point onward, many consider that he has pursued recognition, financial remuneration and respectability among the sceptical community with articles and on the lecture circuit. Dean is now a 'Fellow of the Committee for Skeptical Enquiry' and has been contributing critiques for the Skeptical Inquirer since 1985.
I have two questions for Geoffrey Dean:
- Why after 30 years has he not completed his own research into unaspected planets, which showed such promising early results? GD replied  that he has found other works on the topic which show some disagreement. He has also accumulated 120 responses to a long questionnaire designed to test the findings. However, other committments have left insufficient time to run the analysis.
- Why does GD have to document and pursue so many tests, if the previous thousand tests are the gold standard claimed. If he was genuinely looking for evidence in support of astrology, maybe he needs to emulate Gauquelin's methodology and success? Astrology needs research.
Media Spin through an inept Press Release If there was a Press Release, I would like to see it, because Dean & Kelly assert that the Sunday Telegraph article entitled "Astrologers fail to predict proof they are wrong" was 'distorted'. This article with it's distortion was recycled around the world resulting in 'misleading headlines and reports' such as "Research paper rubbishes astrology". How did this spin happen? I can only see two possibilities. The first is that the Press read into a story what they want to read - that the truth is secondary when 'spin' sells copies. The second is that Dean & Kelly used the Press to hype their research, while the Press are using them to fill columns on the slow news days of August. Despite, the newspaper hype, it is clear that the Press preferred to recycle than invest. Certainly there was no presentation to the astrological community who were all caught on a back foot and myself, included initially reacted emotionally - knowing Dean's history and agenda.
- Damning Critique: Frank McGillion, PhD., science author and reviewer, commented that the article was "essentially flawed and well below expected academic standards" . It is fair to say that this commentary was rushed due to the demands of newspaper deadlines who required a response to the paper. If D&K had circulated their paper to astrological bodies like the AA in advance of release to the Press, there would have been a more measured response and less hype printed.
The ISBA website featured a critique by Russian maths teacher and astrologer, Vladimir Gorbatsevich. He dismisses the results as erroneous on the grounds that the birth data were inadequate and the measures were invalid. As an astrologer, the inaccuracies in the birth times sound acceptable to me for an analysis but they may not be adequate for testing under scientific methodology.
- What has PSI got to do with astrology?
- Where are 700 astrologers who participated in studies? The report claims that studies have involved nearly 700 astrologers. I am founder and still involved in the busiest astrology shop in the world, I go to conferences throughout the world, I am part of international astrology networks and I have never heard of anyone getting involved in any of these tests. I doubt there were 700 professional western astrologers at the time.
- Who claims astrologers are psychic?
So that there is no misunderstanding here.
- I am not claiming that ESP or PSI/psychic abilities don't exist or that astrologers don't use intuition or that astrologers are never psychic. Tests by Dr James Spottiswoode , a physicist show that ESP is four times more likely to occur at a particular sidereal time (When around 24º. Libra in the Tropical Zodiac is at the Midheaven).
- Even though it would be very difficult to prove, I cannot rule out the possibility that an astrologer can have a seemingly 'magical' effect on results even at a distance on the lines of the observer effect. Similarly, this phenomenon could have a negative affect on the results of astrologers being tested by sceptical observers like Dean et al. The analysis of the Time Twin tests are vulnerable to simple cognitive bias, in terms of handling of data and statistical judgments. (Astrologers are, of course, equally prone to this.)
Dean & Kelly extract quotes from astrologers who suggest that there is a psychic component to their work. They also cite a survey of 250 astrologers by Moore (1960) stating that over half claimed to use psychic ablility in their reading. I was unable to find any information about this survey as it does not reflect the practice of astrologers I have worked with since turning professional in 1981. And I have worked with a huge number having run the Astrology Shop in central London for over a decade, exhibited around the world and employ a team of astrologers. I would like to see the original question that drew this answer. At the time of writing, Moore's survey was 50 years old and astrological practice has advanced since then. I recall in the '90s learning that astrologer Christina Rose marked a student astrologer down in an Exam for the Faculty of Astrological Studies (The FAS diploma is widely considered to be one of the most rigorous astrological qualifications) for claiming the client may have been 'psychic'. Also, as D&K report, Charles Harvey pointed out that some computer-generated readings 'can prove remarkably to the point.'
Did they deliberately 'sex up the dossier'?
In this paper, Dean has refined the art of misunderstanding what astrologers do or profess to do. Then he attempts to disprove what we (still) don't do! Even people with very little knowledge of the subject know that special psychic gifts are not required to practice astrology. Surely Dean, as an ex-astrologer should know this? A psychic can be an astrologer, just like a golf player can be a doctor but not all doctors are golf-players. Could it be that Dean and Kelly 'sexed up the dossier' while off-loading years of hopelessly flawed research under the headline-grabbing banner of PSI?
The Quest for Dean's mysterious Time Twins Test
In order to rule out the argument that astrology works using measurable, objective (non-psychic) means, Dean cites his Re-Analysis of the Roberts/Greengrass Time Twin study (Dean, Leadbetter & French 1997) and briefly outlines his own 'more powerful' test. This involved 2,101 people born in London during 3-9 May 1958. As I write, ten years after this 'trailer' (2013), Dean has not yet published this study nor shared this data even though he authoritatively reports the results and sceptical sites uncritically recycle it. This report claims to show no support for astrology on testing objective birth and personal data for expected similarities. Of course, it is arguable that this experiment could be measuring the psychic ability of the researchers by testing their ability to spot a pattern in this data. In this respect, they failed. In the Conclusion, they appear to argue that since Dean et al failed to do what astrologers 'claim to do' - namely identify patterns in among Time Twins, astrological results cannot be based on objective evidence. So, if astrologers get results, then maybe they're using psychic powers!
- Dean 'Can Astrology predict E and N? 2:The Whole Chart' (1986)
Here is a brief outline of some of the main unresolved issues.
For a full review of Dr Dean's paper.
- Problems using Outliers: In his survey of astrologer's ability to judge Introversion/Extraversion, Dean used only the top and bottom 6.66...% to 'make each definition clear-cut' even though the usual approach in psychology of taking the top and bottom thirds' (33.33...%). Why would a sceptic and CSICOP (now CSI) Fellow like Dr Dean make a test of astrology 'easier'? It actually undermined the experiment as these extreme cases include outliers. Such individuals have a misleading impact on small samples (N=40) as outliers are likely to include:-
- Hoaxes and mismeasured responses which can impact the small samples.
- The Jungian concept of the shadow personality is more likely to be evident in exteme responses. The shadow can occur when an individual actively dislikes a trait that is a part of his or her own nature even though they are not conscious of it. Such individuals will go to great lengths to suppress it only to have it emerge in strange ways. In a self-reporting test, they can be counted upon to give misleading responses.
- Extreme respondents are more likely to include psychopaths - who may have a physically (rather than psychologically) impaired brain function and the effect is not measurable by astrology.
- Limits on the use of Personality Tests:This test hangs on the reliability of the Eysenck Personality Inventory (EPI) as a gold-standard objective measure. However:-
- Self-compiled Personality Tests are inevitably subject to self-delusion, fantasy and denial.
- The EPI lacks the objectivity and incisiveness of astrology: It is arguable that the EPI that broke down and not the astrologers. After all, in the Carlson test, subjects were unable to identify their own test results. The EPI as a self-compiled test is after all totally subjective, while astrological data comes from a more objective and independent source.
"It disconfirms the idea of sun signs (2,101 Pisceans evidently had few
similarities) and Jung's idea of synchronicity. Here, however, such a result is
actually good news, because if artifact-free tests of astrologers are found to give
positive results it might suggest the existence of human abilities of interest to
p15 Dean & Kelly Is Astrology Relevant to Consciousness?
It's strange that Geoffrey Dean, a sceptic and senior member of CSICOP might welcome the possibility of evidence of psychic abilities as "good news"! Apart from his unfinished study of 'Unaspected Planets', Dean has made no contribution to the advancement of astrology. For the last 30 years, he has single-handedly blocked or been 'unable to identify' any positive finding in favour of astrology - which other scientists have subsequently managed to identify.
Astrology needs sceptics to improve the field, but these sceptics must be competent, able to identify patterns and not be governed by a biased agenda.
As an individual Dean has many qualities. I enjoy his lectures and he had the grace to correspond with me over several months in 2008 in which I learnt a great deal. We both have agendas. I am a professional astrologer and he is a professional sceptic.
Star Wars. Astrologers react to negative findings. Geoffrey Dean and Ivan W Kelly http://www.astrology-and-science.com/o-star2.htm
 From email exchanges between Robert Currey and Geoffrey Dean 19 July 2008 to 8 September 2008. In 2008, I requested permission to publish these exchanges but Dean has yet to reply.
 Initial response to "Is Astrology Relevant to Consciousness and Psi?" ~ Dr Frank McGillion. [Astrological Association August 2003]
 The Journal of Scientific Exploration, Vol, 11, No. 2, 1997 Apparent association beteeen effect size in free response anomalous cognition experiments and local sidereal times. ~ James P. Spottiswoode [Cognitive Sciences Laboratory, Palo Alto, CA 94301]
 There is not time and space here to go into this. In 2008, I asked Dean in an email exchange to cite the best test that he believed showed conclusively that astrology failed. His best evidence were tests of astrologers and not astrology. In all the examples, these were unknown, inexperienced astrologers (with very little to lose) who clearly had no idea about tests or statistics or the limitations of astrology. It said more about the astrologers and the experimenters than about astrology. This is why the Time Twin test appears to have merit as it appears to test the basis of astrology.
^ 'Can Astrology predict E and N? 2:The Whole Chart ~ Geoffrey Dean (1986) Correlation, 6 (2), pp.7-52.
^Suitbert Ertel was able to identify crucial data favouring astrology in the Carlson experiment that appeared to have been overlooked by Geoffrey Dean who is the leading supporter of this study.
Original Paper: Is astrology relevant to Consciousness and Psi? ~ Geoffrey Dean & Ivan Kelly The Journal of Consciousness Studies, 10, No. 6-7, 2003, pp. 175-198
- General Comments
- What's PSI got to do with Astrology?
- Where's Dean's unpublished Time Twins Test?
- Can Astrology predict E & N?
- Could Dean ever be objective?
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