Research Sceptical of Astrology
Pollex, Hegele & Ban: Test of Nobel Prize Winners (2001)
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"Celestial determinants of success in research"
Testing Sun Signs of Nobel Prize Winners versus other medical researchers

Rebecca Pollex, Bob Hegele, and Matthew R. Ban
Department of Medicine, University of Western Ontario, London, Ontario.
Journal of Canadian Medical Association: CMAJ. Dec 11, 2001; 165(12): 1584.

Abstract
"Observations from a recent retrospective cohort analysis suggest that success is a determinant of longevity: a higher level of success may be associated with increased survival.[1] If this is true, then identifying the determinants of success would further our understanding of the mechanism that governs this association. Practitioners of astrology have, since ancient Egypt, claimed the ability to predict attributes and outcomes using the position of the heavenly bodies at a person's time of birth.[2],[3] We felt that this determinant was as plausible as any. We also felt that winning a Nobel Prize is a reasonable marker of success. Thus, we tested the hypothesis that zodiac sign is associated with the odds of winning the Nobel Prize.

Using the Nobel database (http:/almaz.com/nobel/birthdays), we obtained the birth dates of 171 Nobel laureates in medicine and physiology. We also obtained the birth dates of 375 members of a control group comprising physician-scientists, scientists, postdoctoral fellows and other scientific trainees working at a Canadian medical research institute. None of the control subjects had ever won the Nobel Prize. We derived the zodiac signs for each study subject using established criteria.[2],[3] "

Table of results of Sun Sign of Nobel Prize Winners

Do these results dismiss or support Sun Sign astrology?

You don't have to be a statistician to see there is an unusual result here. Yet, hard-line sceptics, who are by nature not especially adept at seeing patterns or understanding statistics, have cited this experiment as a negative result for astrology. Perhaps the misreading of the results is due to confirmation bias. If one assumes that astrology cannot be valid, why bother to inspect the paper?

Here's a classic quote from a sceptical article:
"One study was an attempt to correlate high intelligence and achievement with the so-called sun signs. ... The study failed to come up with any correlation between the person's sun sign and major intellectual achievement such as winning the Nobel Prize in science. It seems that the birthdays of Nobel Prize winners are distributed equally around the year as you would expect if the positions of the stars and planets had no effect on the abilities of people on earth."
Tim Philip, Thought Experiments
Astrology can be fun, but it is not science 2014 www.brantfordexpositor.ca


Claim 1: Uneven distribution of births

"... birthdays of Nobel Prize winners are distributed equally around the year as you would expect ..."

In both tables, the birthdays are not distributed equally around the year. This is to be expected as birth rates vary throughout the year and the number of days the Sun is in each sign varies slightly. While the standard deviation by sign among the population of medical researchers is reasonable at 1.53%, the standard deviation among the population of Nobel Prize Winners is over double this rate at 3.29%. In addition, the top sign for Nobel Prize Winners was twice the expected mean of 8.33% at 16.37%. These differences cannot be accounted for by the more even fluctuations in the birth rates.

Claim 2: Correlation of Nobel Winners and Zodiac Signs

"The study failed to come up with any correlation between the person's sun sign and major intellectual achievement"

This is also not correct. Dr Hegele and his associates were clear on the matter "Using the χ2 test, we found a general association between zodiac sign and the likelihood of having received the Nobel Prize in Medicine and Physiology (p = 0.042). In particular, the odds of having won a Nobel Prize were increased for people born under the sign of Gemini (odds ratio [OR] 1.90, 95% confidence interval [CI] 1.12–3.24, p = 0.017). Conversely, the odds of having won a Nobel Prize were decreased for those born under Leo (OR 0.35, 95% CI 0.16–0.82, p = 0.011)."

Factors to take into account before any conclusions

These figures show statistically significant results consistent with the traditional association of the sign of Gemini with intellectual endeavour. However, the results do not validate the practice of astrology for the following reasons:
  1. Astrological Tradition v the Results

    There has been no previous research into the success of medical researchers in relation to astrology. Here are some thoughts:
    1. Gemini came top of the Medical winners and second in the list of all 742 Nobel Prize Winners. All of this is in line with the traditional Geminian attributes: mental dexterity and communicative ability, but is Gemini strongly connected with health? No. However, it is possible to get misled here as Hermes or Mercury, the ruler of Gemini, holds a cadeuceus in his left hand. This symbol with two snakes entwined has been mistakenly adopted as a symbol by medical institutions when the correct symbol is the single serpententwined staff of Asklepios, the ancient Greco-Roman god of medicine.[4]
    2. Virgo has the highest frequency of medical researchers (equal with Leo) and the second highest Nobel Prize winners. This sign does have the strongest association with health of all signs.
    3. Leo occupies both extremes. Leo is (equal) top frequency of medical researchers and the lowest frequency of medical Nobel Prize winners. How could this be accounted for in astrology? Unlike, Gemini or Virgo, Leo is not known as a sign connected with medicine or intellectual pursuits. However, those born when the Sun is in Leo frequently have planets such as Mercury, Venus and to a lesser extent Mars in neighbouring signs which includes the health-oriented sign of Virgo. This may have helped to raise the frequency of medical researchers in this study.

      But then why fewer Leonine Nobel laureates? This is possibly because the Sun is about reputation, image and fame - and Leos may be famous for their personality, theatricality and self-promotion, Virgos are famous for diligence, modesty and attention to detail. It may be that the Nobel Committee favours the Virgoan qualities over the Leonine.

  2. Outer Planet Transits can impact these results

    The fluctuations in frequency in this study could be as a result of long term transits of the outer planets that may favour certain signs This point is complex but crucial to understand this type of astrological research. The most obvious example is the major conjunction of Neptune and Pluto between 1891 and 1898 in Gemini (the culmination of a 493 year cycle). This produced a generation with a collective prodigious imagination, profound insight, relentless questioning and intense capacity for research. Qualities that are likely to yield a higher proportion of 20th century Nobel Prize Winners for medicine and physiology, whenever the conjunction features in the birth chart. This conjecture needs to be researched.[5]

  3. Previous research points to another signature

    While French psychologist and statistician, Michel Gauquelin was unable to find a connection between profession and sun sign, he did find a correlation between the diurnal (daily) position of planets at birth and eminence in certain professions. His meticulous studies of scientists using sample sizes in thousands are set out in the next column on this page.

    Dr Hegele and his team's test is on an entirely different scale. It is based on Sun Signs alone and conducted in spare time. By drawing both the experimental group (Prize Winners) and the control group (Researchers) from a homogenous group namely medical scientists, the researchers raised the bar for a challenging astrological experiment. This kind of precision may be premature and given Gauquelin's correlations the differences may only be identifiable by taking account of several factors in the birth chart.

    Before comparing Nobel Prize winners with less notable researchers in the same field, two preliminary questions need to be addressed:
    1. Are medical researchers more frequently born among certain signs than the average individual?
    2. Are Nobel Prize winners more frequently born among certain signs than the average individual?
    This would have required a second control group taken at random from people born in the same countries as the winners and from the same years. This three way comparison would have given a greater insight into the correlation and a higher possibility of identifying artefacts.

  4. Artefacts

    Astrological studies are especially prone to artefacts - artificial factors external to the hypothesis that affect the result.
    1. The date when the Sun changes sign (known as the solar ingress) varies each year. This is most apparent in leap years or if someone is born in a time zone that is distant from GMT such as in New Zealand. Did the researchers check for this potential artefact? Using certain change-over dates can artificially inflate or deflate the frequency of certain signs.
    2. Even if the researchers allowed for the variations in the solar ingress by year and by place of birth, without a known time of birth of birth, there is still the possibility of an error of up to 12 hours.
    3. Birth rates vary throughout the world and by other demographics including social class and year of birth. Think of the post-war Baby Booomers. The control group were selected mainly from Canadian Medical Research Institute. So we can assume that most of them were born in North America - while a large number of Nobel Prize winners were born in Europe and other parts of the world. So the Control group differed from the experimental group in ways outside of astrology.
    I have identified three possible artefacts. There are likely to be others.

Conclusion

This Medical Nobel Sun Sign Study is an interesting small scale study. It is evident that the births of Medical Nobel Prize Winners are unevenly distributed among the signs. This has produced significant correlations, that are arguably consistent with traditional characteristics of the traits of zodiacal signs.

The study is limited as it does not take account of the varying birth rates that may be recreated through a control group that parallels the experimental group by year of birth and by country of birth. As the time of birth is not recorded and a birth chart not calculated, the sun sign (or zodiac sign) of around 6% of the sample may be inaccurate resulting in an expected inaccuracy of 3%. This could affect the results by favouring one sign over another.

Previous studies from Michel Gauquelin suggest that other factors (the diurnal positions of Saturn, Mars and Jupiter) impact eminence in the field of medicine. Another factor, the powerful line-ups of the outer planets (such as the Neptune Pluto conjunction in Gemini at the end of the 19th century) may have favoured certain signs and disadvantaged others.

However, this test could never in any way be considered an argument against astrology. We cannot know for certain whether Drs Hegele, Pollex and Ban may discovered another signature for eminence in the medical field or not. Confirmation would require replication using more detailed birth data, a range of astrological techniques, a more comparable control group and ideally a large sample size.

References & Footnotes

  1. ^ Redelmeier DA, Singh SM. (2001) Survival in academy award-winning actors and actresses. Ann Intern Med 2001;134 pp.955-62.
  2. ^ Raphael. A manual of astrology. London: C.S. Arnold; 1828. p. 62-5.
  3. ^ Sakoian F, Acker LS. (1973) The Astrologer's Handbook. New York: Harper and Row. p. 36-41.
  4. ^ Wilcox, Robert & Whitham, Emma (2003) "The symbol of modern medicine: why one snake is more than two" Annals of Internal Medicine. April 2003 Vol.138(8) pp.673-7. "Today, two serpent motifs are commonly used to symbolize the practice and profession of medicine. Internationally, the most popular symbol of medicine is the single serpent-entwined staff of Asklepios (Latin, Aesculapius), the ancient Greco-Roman god of medicine. However, in the United States, the staff of Asklepios (the Asklepian) and a double serpent-entwined staff with surmounting wings (the caduceus) are both popular medical symbols. The latter symbol is often designated as the "medical caduceus" and is equated with the ancient caduceus, the double serpent-entwined staff of the Greco-Roman god Hermes (Latin, Mercury). Many physicians would be surprised to learn that the medical caduceus has a quite modern origin: Its design is derived not from the ancient caduceus of Hermes but from the printer's mark of a popular 19th-century medical publisher. Furthermore, this modern caduceus became a popular medical symbol only after its adoption by the U.S. Army Medical Corps at the beginning of the 20th century."
  5. ^ Between 1891 and 1898, Pluto and Neptune were conjunct in Gemini. (see Palden Jenkins 2002) This fertile planetary combination occurs roughly 493 years. In a birth chart, when combined with the Sun or Mercury it manifests in individuals with exceptional mental powers, imagination and skills in research. These are individuals who will ask difficult questions. Since the mean age of the Nobel Prize for Medicine is 58 this prodigious generation born with Pluto/Neptune conjunct had an opportunity to win the prize from the 1930s to the 1960s.
  6. ^ Imbert, N. (1936-1939) Dictionnaire National des Contemporains Paris
  7. ^ Gauquelin's results for 3,647 famous physicians and scientists:
    1. 724 born with Mars in key sectors. Probability: 1 in 500,000 or (p < .000002) or p < 5.00 × 105
    2. 704 born with Saturn in key sectors. Probability: 1 in 300,000 or (p < .000003) or p < 3.00 × 105
The authors of the study state "Competing interests: Rebecca Pollex and Bob Hegele were born under the sign of Scorpio, and Matthew Ban is definitely a Leo."

Robert Currey
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Gauquelin Studies of Eminent Scientists

The only previous research into medical experts were those of French statistician and psychologist Michel Gauquelin. However, his results were not related to Sun Signs as with this study. He and his wife, Francois found a significant correlation between the diurnal planetary positions at the time of birth of eminent scientists. His first study was of 576 members of the Académie de Médecine born 1820 - 1939.
"They [notable Doctors] had chosen to come into the world much more often during roughly the two hours following the rise and culmination of two planets, Mars and Saturn. Moreover, they tended to 'avoid' being born following the rise and culmination of the planet Jupiter." ~ Michel Gauquelin (1983) The Truth About Astrology p.21
Gauquelin was able to replicate these initial results with all 508 famous doctors listed in the Dictionnaire National des Contemporains[6]. He then extended his research into European countries outside France. His results improved with larger studies. In the charts of 3,647 famous doctors and scientists, he found that Saturn (p < .000003) and Mars (p < .000002) fell significantly in his key sectors.[7] Gauquelin obtained similar results with actors or writers (Jupiter) and athletes (Mars).

However, Gauquelin's meticulous methods using birth certificates and exploring complex chart configurations was not the approach of this experiment.
Article in the New Scientist about Gauquelin's work.

Sun Sign Data of 742 Nobel Laureates

Another collection of Sun Sign data for Nobel Laureates was compiled using software.

Though the data undoubtedly suffers from the artefacts of the Canadian study of Medical Nobel Prize Winners, the results are interesting.

Gemini is again high and Capricorn and Aquarius are low. With a slightly higher frequency than Gemini, Libra, another air sign tops the list. What does it mean? It could be that Gemini and Libra are born near the starts of academic years in some countries. This would according to Malcolm Gladwell's book, Outliers give them an advantage. "The data for the study was collected by using ScraperWiki to build a series of scrapers and views to go through the List of Nobel laureates and find the Date of Birth for each person."
  Sun Sign Nobel Prize Winners  
n=742
Sign Frequency Percent
Aries 64 8.57%
Taurus 61 8.17%
Gemini 78 10.44%
Cancer 72 9.64%
Leo 54 7.23%
Virgo 72 9.64%
Libra 80 10.71%
Scorpio 56 7.50%
Sagittarius 60 8.03%
Capricorn 42 5.62%
Aquarius 47 6.29%
Pisces 56 7.50%
Data compiled by Lawrence Woodman Does When You Were Born Affect Your Chance of Becoming a Nobel Laureate? Scraping Wikipedia to Find Out 24 August 2011


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