Friday, June 24, 2016

Definition of astrology by Geoffrey Dean et al in Tests of Astrology

The first sentence of the new book Tests of Astrology by Dean, Mather, Nias, and Smit reads "Astrology supposes a link between the heavens and human affairs." This statement is factually inaccurate and results in a plethora of misconceptions that follow.

The term "supposes" is not the problem, but the term "link" cries out because it makes astrology seem like 18th-19th century physics. I do not believe astrologers today accept that there is any measurable physical influence that accounts for astrology, as this definition suggests. By framing astrology within a causal definition of links, Dean et al set up a straw man that they can easily attack.

The term "suppose" does not need to lead to any causal relationships. For example, in multi-universe theory we can suppose that our universe has a "relationship" or is "relative" to parallel universes where choices made in this universe were made differently in another. Choices in one universe do not cause choices in the other and yet a relationship exists. Nor does a "choice point" need to cause a split or a specific outcome in any particular case.

If astrology has rules, based on a corpus of observations, for finding and mapping choice points and potential outcomes, the rules could be heuristic or they could describe causality. Dean et al provide no justification why astrological rules need to be presumed causal.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Social pressures and transgender identity

A recent article was critical of the increasing rights of transgender people and advocated laws to force transgender people to use public bathrooms according to their birth gender rather than their self-identified gender. http://city-journal.org/html/trans-forming-public-spaces-14297.html

The article came to my attention through an online discussion among astrologer colleagues. In my very brief stint as a practicing astrologer in Toronto many of my clients had identity issues, including gender. I would have thought other astrologers had many similar experiences but this does not seem to be the case. Part of the online discussion cited a recent study that homophobia is significantly associated with homosexual arousal, as measured by sensors placed on the body, that is denied or unwitting. This study helps to understand the larger picture.
https://www.homeworkmarket.com/sites/default/files/qx/15/04/24/01/adams_et_al_1996_homophobia_defense_mechs_article.pdf

Family pressures and social pressures, such as the law changes advocated in the bathroom article, that go against an individual’s gender self-identity can cause that individual enormous and even fatal harm. In the few cases I saw in my practice, I found that the individuals who struggled with these gender identity pressures are almost always engaged in dangerous activities. It is apparent to me that the normalizing of same sex marriage in recent years has likely done much to reduce promiscuity, drug abuse, and crime. If marriage is denied, promiscuity tends to become the norm.

At the same time I have to say that I have encountered a few forcefully gay people and a few very needy transgender people who projected strong coping mechanisms that have made me feel uncomfortable. Yet it is clear to me, based on the calming effect that can be expected from the sanctioning of same sex marriage and families, that once the individuals are accepted for who they are, the disruptive coping mechanisms would become unnecessary. The social acceptance and normalizing of LGBT persons, which will take time, will very likely contribute to reductions of dangerous activities and crimes of the type that are complained about in the bathroom article.

A critical part of gender identity problem is that some people, who deny to themselves or who otherwise have latent and unresolved gender identity conflicts, due to social or familial pressures, and who are in positions of authority and influence, can make things very uncomfortable for people under their influence. Situations of this can range from classroom teachers to presidential hopefuls. When I look at the natal chart of Ted Cruz (http://www.astro.com/astro-databank/Cruz,_Ted), and consider the bigoted and religiously glorified views of his father Rafael Cruz, who condemns homosexuality, and consider Ted's distinctly creepy personality and his hateful and dangerous political views, I really have to wonder about this. Enacting laws to force gender identity on people, thereby removing choice and an opportunity for a normal life, is a very bad idea with serious consequences.

The Forecaster -- Documentary

If you haven’t seen it, there’s an intriguing documentary on investment consultant Martin Armstrong called The Forecaster. Armstrong developed a model or algorithm, the Economic Confidence Cycle, based on historic currency cycles and the value of pi, that is so astoundingly accurate in predicting currency collapses that he was imprisoned for eight years for supposedly manipulating the entire global economy. There was no evidence or trial. The actual offense that kept him in jail was contempt of court. Eight years. He refused to disclose the model.

Armstrong is critical of monetary systems that rig the system by pegging currency values, enabling no-risk borrowing that inevitably results in collapse. The documentary views much like a spy thriller except this is real life. Considering the development of events, it is remarkable that he ever got out of prison and that the documentary was made.

The documentary is largely engrossing but covers some esoteric details of finance in a few places where it would have been helpful to have explanations and commentary by third party participants. Here are a couple of trailers and an interactive string of segments taken from the documentary with additional footage. You can skip over the German language parts.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yWvEjEpENBw
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iJNEjq7I5Is
https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLiPVbMWg0XBV3RZqddlgaqDVkGaqB-YzR

Saturday, March 5, 2016

What we should not take literally

We should all know that there were no chariots carrying planets across the sky, there were no crystalline celestial spheres, there are no lines in a magnetic field, and there is no rubber sheet of curved space-time. No one expected to touch or sense any of these. None are illusions we need to free ourselves from but all are metaphors that enabled greater knowledge.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Knowledge is not for the few

By making more than 48 million journal articles freely available online, the Sci-Hub website created by Russian neuroscientist Alexandra Elbakyan does a valuable service to people like me and many others who write peer reviewed articles. I need access to articles published in scientific and academic journals but cannot afford to subscribe. I have to pay out of pocket to download the articles I need, which puts me at a distinct disadvantage to other writers who enjoy the benefits of an academic environment. Sci-Hub has been around since 2011 but I am only hearing about it now.
These publications should be freely available to all interested parties. The world of knowledge will benefit greatly from more open discussions and review. Knowledge is not the possession of only a few. Remember Aaron Schwartz!
Science Alert

Monday, January 25, 2016

Precessional shift and the 13th sign

Some astronomers claim that the signs of the tropical zodiac used in astrology have shifted due to the motion of precession and that the constellation Ophiuchus should be used as a 13th sign. This claim is refuted in the following video.
Click here.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Thomas Nagel on intelligibility, consciousness, mind, and theism

In his 2012 book Mind and Cosmos, philosopher Thomas Nagel has questioned the materialist, reductionist, neo-Darwinian conception of nature, concluding that it is “almost certainly false.” He considers the intelligent design controversy through an examination of the mind-body problem, constitutive accounts of consciousness (reductive or emergent), and accounts of the historical origin of consciousness (causal or teleological) as descriptions and explanations of intelligibility. Consciousness, he argues, presents a problem for evolutionary reductionism. His argument from “objective idealism” suggests a teleological causality. My interest in Nagel's argument is the suggestion that the original Aristotelian teleology, which is without theistic intention, has natural values as the explanatory end. To me this suggests astrology, which has a natural framework of values.  I can only briefly summarize Nagel's arguments here with some key passages, cited by page numbers, to which I've added a few thoughts. 

“The great advances in the physical and biological sciences were made possible by excluding the mind from the physical world. This has permitted a quantitative understanding of the world, expressed in timeless, mathematically formulated physical laws. But at some point it will be necessary to make a new start on a more comprehensive understanding that includes the mind.” (8)

“In the natural sciences as they have developed since the seventeenth century, the assumption of intelligibility has led to extraordinary discoveries, confirmed by prediction and experiment, of a hidden natural order that cannot be observed by human perception alone. Without the assumption of an intelligible underlying order, which long antedates the scientific revolution, these discoveries could not have been made.” (16)

“The intelligibility of the world is no accident. Mind, in this view, is doubly related to the natural order. Nature is such as to give rise to conscious beings with minds; and it is such as to be comprehensible to such beings. Ultimately, therefore, such beings should be comprehensible to themselves.” (17)

Edmund Husserl said "to like is intrinsically to be conscious." To me, this suggests that conscious liking, as opposed to being selfish and driven, is forward looking and purposeful because it is the basis of choosing and consciousness. The mind is occupied by likes and dislikes and this suggests intelligible values. I think this is where Nagel is going in his argument. Consciousness is a problem for directionless physical law.

Nagel postulates that the opposite of materialism is “the position that mind, rather than physical laws, provides the fundamental level of explanation of everything, including the explanation of the basic and universal physical laws themselves. This view is familiarly expressed as theism. … theism makes physical law a consequence of mind. … theism interprets intelligibility ultimately in terms of intention or purpose.” (21) Nagel does not agree with theism.  

“Theism embraces that conclusion [a 'mentalistic or even a normative form of understanding'] by attributing the mental phenomena found within the world to the working of a comprehensive mental source, of which they are miniature versions.” (22)

[In evolutionary terms] “Teleological laws would assign higher probability to steps on paths in state space that have a higher 'velocity' toward certain outcomes. They would be laws of the self-organization of matter, essentially—or of whatever is more basic than mater.” (93) This intriguing postulation suggests something out of quantum physics, a sort of teleological boson having probability states that impart values as consciousness. Saying it seems to revert to reductionism.

The orthodox received view in evolutionary biology is that natural selection is blind to the future. It is progressive only "locally" in terms of better adaptation of an organism to its immediate ecological environment. In place of "chance, creationism, and directionless physical law," Nagel argues for "natural teleology," an evolutionary view that we perceive as forward looking and purposeful, yet secular rather than deistic or theistic. 

There is a problem that evolutionary reductionism does not explain. Nagel says that “the recent extraordinary discoveries of evolutionary developmental biology (evo-devo) seems to imply much more system and less chance in the sources of genetic variation than had formerly been supposed. But such facts would also have to be explained ultimately by physical principles in a reductionist theory.” (48) I believe Nagel is referring to calculations that suggest there could not have been enough chance variation over the past three billion years to provide a basis for the “single long process of evolutionary descent” that we observe in the natural record. This observation is akin to Hubble finding that the universe is expanding.

To Nagel, intentions of mind are not a part of the explanation. Rather, he suggests that teleology is restricted by organizing scales of values. “I believe that teleology is a naturalistic alternative [to explain evolution] that is distinct from all three of the other candidate explanations: chance, creationism, and directionless physical law... [this] teleology would have to be restrictive in what it makes likely, but without depending on intentions or motives. This would probably have to involve some conception of an increase in value through the expanded possibilities provided by the higher forms of organization toward which nature tends; not just any outcome could qualify as the telos. That would make value an explanatory end, but not one that is realized through the purposes or intentions of an agent. Teleology means that in addition to physical law of the familiar kind, there are other laws of nature that are ‘biased toward the marvelous.’” (91-92)

Nagel does in fact associate his teleology with the original Aristotelian idea of teleology without intention. (93) Yet his thinking does not go very far beyond Aristotle. He does not explain the organizing values that expand possibilities presumed to limit teleology and the tendencies of nature other than to suggest that they are laws on a par with physical laws. Nor does he address the current theories of “self-organization” (e.g. Stuart Kauffman and the Santa Fe Institute). This is disappointing in that astrology contains a well defined set of organizational values, the zodiacal signs, and it would be interesting to compare. 

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Carl Sagan against astrology

In his 1995 book The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark, celebrated astronomer Carl Sagan bemoans the shallowness of the media that presents pseudoscience, in which he includes astrology, as being credible.
"The dumbing down of American is most evident in the slow decay of substantive content in the enormously influential media, the 30 second sound bites (now down to 10 seconds or less), lowest common denominator programming, credulous presentations on pseudoscience and superstition, but especially a kind of celebration of ignorance."
To his credit, Carl Sagan refused to sign the infamous 1975 "Objections to Astrology" article endorsed by 186 scientists on the basis that the signers relied on their collective authoritarian tone instead of arguing whether astrological principles are faulty. Yet Sagan ignored his own criticism when he later condemned astrology in the Cosmos TV series and in The Demon-Haunted World. Sagan had a less than rudimentary understanding of astrological principles and practices and he never engaged in the only type of argument he declared was credible.

Hypocritically, Sagan attacked newspaper horoscopes (the 30-second sound bite he was critical of) and the most superficial aspects of astrology as if that were all that astrology offers. Sagan's public trivializing of astrology was in fact a striking example of his own considerable contribution to the "slow decay of substantive content in the enormously influential media". It was nothing less than his own appeal to credulity and celebration of ignorance.


In hindsight, it almost seems as if someone influential in Sagan's life correctly warned him not to sign the Objections article but was not around to stop him from making the same rational blunder at other times.


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Iunr4B4wfDA

http://www.dailymotion.com/video/xerwni_carl-sagan-videos-pseudoscience-of_tech

Monday, October 12, 2015

Astrology and modernity

In France, astrology has not had the same revival of traditional astrology as in many other parts of the community. Alain de Chivré, president of the Fédération d'Astrologues Francophones has argued against this trend toward traditionalism in order to distinguish astrology from fortune telling. Instead, he has suggested the alignment of astrology with the humanities and concepts of Modernity by advocating the following five requirements.

1) To avoid any association of astrology with tarot reading, clairvoyance, and mediumship.
2) To prohibit the astrological prediction of specific events, such as the outcomes of presidential elections or of football matches, and all predictions concerning individuals.
3) To apply astrology as a practice concerning nature and nurture rather than as a practice that applies techniques.
4) To exercise great caution in forecasting, limited to general forecasts only.
5) To refocus on the useful function of astrology, which is the development of human potential.
Full text: http://federation-astrologues.com/

One cannot blame de Chivré and the FDAF for trying to protect astrology from attacks. Astrologers have not fared well in the prediction of specific events and it should be recognized, as de Chivré suggests, that it is better to interpret probabilities and general tendencies instead. This is what most of mainstream science does today in a much more disciplined way. Psi is not part of the astrological corpus and formally making this distinction ends guilt by association.

However, I don’t completely agree with de Chivré’s avoidance of an emphasis on techniques. I see diversity of techniques as a strength rather than a weakness, provided there is an active discourse that places the development of human potential first, as de Chivré states. A process of critical discourse would separate the more promising concepts from the weaker concepts and this needs to be strengthened not only in France but throughout the astrological community.

In my view, a more serious mistake would be for astrology to embrace Modernity as de Chivré suggests. Modernity can be recognized in some of the worst global problems suffered today. Modernity in the name of progress or economic enterprise fosters widespread pressures on work dependent identities and the compulsive elimination of doubt. It has resulted in the avoidance of social diversity and the abhorrence of divergence. Astrologers need to divest from such social pressures even if it raises criticism from skeptics that astrologers do not agree on everything among themselves. Disagreement is an essential part of a healthy creative process.

The proper rejection of Modernity is not “Postmodernism.” Postmodernism turns out to have the same agenda as the old Modernity but repackaged and branded in terms of consumer identities. The proper response is rather the greatly maligned New Age. It is the New Age alone that combines an emerging sense of ecological awareness with the intelligent understanding of ancient knowledge and practices.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Is astrology authoritarian? Is science?

Since Galileo and Francis Bacon, science has been disruptive and anti-authoritarian. Astrology is too, but many scientists mistakenly believe astrology to be authoritarian and that is why they fight against it. Science is a method skeptical of claims. It replaces authority and dogmatic laws with evidence and statements of deductions and probable conclusions—its theory. Generally, scientists do not recognize astrological theory because it appears to be simply a black box of accumulated traditions. They do not want to look inside the box to see how the theory is structured and how the structures might provide evidence.

To claim that astrology is pseudoscience is an authoritarian and unscientific position. If scientists do not know of any evidence that supports astrology, they should declare astrology to be probably pseudoscience (equivalent to "all swans are probably white"). But there actually is strong evidence of astrological effects (black swans). The evidence is widely suppressed, most publicly in Wikipedia, the popular, crowd-sourced encyclopedia. The intent of those who actively suppress the evidence is to maintain that astrology is authoritarian. Yet this can only be accomplished by the enforcement of authoritarian-based rules and dogma. The end result is contradiction that uses the very argument it rejects.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Review of Bernadette Brady's "Astrology and Research"

The complete title of the paper, published in June 2003, is "Astrology and Research: Astrologers’ attitudes to research methodologies and the implications of these attitudes for the contemporary communities of astrologers." In the paper, Brady voices strong opinions in support of qualitative research in astrology.

The article was written during a particularly pessimistic period when it seemed normal to characterize quantitative research in astrology as an obsession with legitimacy, almost in the sense of a psychological disorder that needed a cure. Looking back at the research in the late 20th century, I would not regard the research of Michel and Françoise Gauquelin or of Suitbert Ertel, and others as particularly concerned with legitimizing astrology but rather with exploring unknowns and making interesting discoveries. In itself, obsession is irrelevant to science, provided there is method, review, and replication.

While I can appreciate the promotion of good ideas in qualitative research, I don't think the problem is an over-emphasis on quantitative research. In my view, where the quantitative astrological research effort fails is in the critical review of its findings and claims, that is, in drawing greater attention to the flaws and to the promise of its individual studies.

The growing interest in astrology as a form of symbolic divination has a place but would be very worrisome if it were to become the predominant philosophy. Both qualitative research and divination astrology tend to throw out the basic principles and the best sources of criticism without trying to better understand them. They are just not astrological enough. They rely too much on the moment and on the rituals of practice.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Misreprentation of the temperaments in the EPI

From what I understand, Empedocles (c. 450 BCE) postulated that the universe is built out of fire, earth, air, and water. He was a nilist and did not assign any values to these elements. His predecessors had been Thales (c. late 6th century BCE) who believed the essential ingredient was water, and later Anaximenes who argued that the fundamental substance was air. Later, Democritus (c. 400 BCE) argued for materialism and that the world consists of nothing but imortal atoms and empty space, and even the soul was composed of atoms.

Soon after Empedocles, Hippocrates (460-370 BCE) incorporated the four temperaments or humours into his medical theories: sanguine (pleasure-seeking and sociable), choleric (ambitious and leader-like), melancholic (analytical and quiet), and phlegmatic (relaxed and peaceful). These may have their origins in ancient Egypt or Mesopotamia. I don't know how these ideas were conflated and incorporated into astrology.

As you can tell, none of these early descriptions of temperaments represents a disturbance, and as such they can be considered as stable dimensions of personality. What I think Eysenck and later psychologists did was interpret these dimensions in such a manner that suggested disturbances or unstable psychological states. The difference, I believe, is that in astrology the personality dimensions may be disturbed into such states but recovery is expected because psychological states are not permanent as dimensions are. Eysenck and others seem to take certain psychological states as being permanent and I think this has no place in astrology.

Thus in Eysenck's Personality Inventory (EPI) test, we have E (extraversion - sociability) and N (neuroticism - emotional stability) each with continuums between + and -. E+ is sociable and outgoing, E- is quiet and reserved, N+ is emotional and easily upset, N- is calm and not easily upset. Now, how often do you encounter people, for example, in the E+N+ quadrant (outgoing and easily upset emotionally)? Are these people in your everyday world? Is this really a personality dimension or a psychological state? You may encounter someone from this quadrant like Mayor Rob Ford, but such people are unstable and definitely need professional help. It is not a true personality dimension.

The beauty of astrology is that it describes both personality dimensions and psychological states but the states are assumed to be under the control of the native, whereas the dimensions are not. That is why astrology cannot predict with certainty what the state might be at any given time. This is a different paradigm than the E and N theories, which I now believe to be a corruption.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

The jetpack scientist turns to astrology

In view of the corporate manipulation of science funding and research programs in the pursuit of higher profits in the name of progress and growth, and the corresponding decline of scientific authority and credibility, here's a link to an insightful blog post with a "modest proposal." The author, that science potentially could once again be supported by astrology, in the way that Ptolemy, Galileo, and Kepler practiced astrology to support their scientific efforts. Science institutions could offer astrological services to the public as a means of supporting their research programs that are now underfunded because there are no foreseeable profits to be made from them for corporate gains. This is meant to be somewhat satirical, though it touches upon interesting discussion points. Apparently, skeptics ought not attack astrology because astrology might just be the means that at some time in the near future could once again support the best innovation in science.

http://thearchdruidreport.blogspot.ca/2013/08/not-written-in-stars.html

It seems to me as if science has been suffering a slow but steady decline. There are a growing number of history of science shows on television and they seem almost nostalgic. Science has become the stuff of storytelling and legend. Scientists today are not the impressive figures of authority and respect that they once were. Scientists nowadays are just ordinary people who collect a large amount of data for statistical evaluation or who isolate pieces of genetic code for Monsanto products and the profit motive. Some of the best known scientists are turning to skepticism as a career, trying to blame the "decline of science literacy" on what they perceive as "growing superstition" and "irrationality." In reality however, the current decline may have much more to do with a growing public awareness of a lack of ethical choices and global responsibility related to corporate control of science for profit.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Here the existential astrologer

If we have been taught doctrine of heliocentric world, haven't we all obligation then to conceive disembodied, floating in space, looking down at "You are here"? Where? Or would we now need declare liberty to think wherewith in reverse, abiding in our skins? Must one then invoke license, against that wisdom, to be at one with self and a whole universe a system whirling and substantiating about us? Because they who profess could not grasp this fateful objectivity which is that all share their own oneness at the multicenter of an at-once and often unique universe that encompasses within its many spiral arms an intimate feasible embrace.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Does astrology violate physical laws?

It is sometimes said that astrology defies the laws of physics. But what laws are these? Do we need to choose between gravity and thermodynamics? Anyone who makes this assertion should state exactly what those laws are and exactly how astrology ignores, denies, or goes counter to them. What I think you'd probably find would be an attempt to change the subject to astrology's "claims" of "influence" and "effects" and some interesting and revealing assumptions. Astrological "claims" are not so specific as to be law-like, but are complex postulations that are rather more like theories than claims.

Theory can postulate influences and effects, and these might potentially be indirectly evaluated and inferred, like the Higgs boson, through observing statistical correlations. "Influence" is just a word that astrologers have used. Like many words in the English language, the word influence has become somewhat ambiguous by the different meanings it has acquired. Astrological influence could turn out to be something more like quantum entanglement.

From the experimentation so far, entanglement seems to have no limits. If there was a primordial Big Bang, then everything was split from everything else at the beginning and theoretically there should be plenty of entanglements evident throughout the universe. Microcosms entangled with macrocosms in the astrological sense would be normal and not against natural laws. This relationship in astrology is known as the Hermetic maxim. The nearest macrocosm that everyone on Earth shares is the local environment of the Sun, Moon, and planets. Such an explanatory theory might challenge some of our conventional beliefs but does not violate or defy the laws of physics or nature.

Scientific theory allows the freedom to provide hypothetical interpretations and allows even extraordinary concepts to be seriously discussed. For example, the extraordinary principle of nonlocality is well documented through experimental research and might eventually be used to explain macrocosmic observations beyond quantum phenomena.

The "violates or defies physical or natural laws" assertion is in conflict with scientific curiosity. This assertion as an argument should always be critically questioned because the discussion can uncover deeper beliefs and lead to a better engagement with astrology. Astrologers have learned a how to evaluate astrology fairly within scientific frameworks, and are prepared to ensure fairness if given the opportunity.


As a last point, astrologers can borrow a useful term from quantum physicist David Bohm that could help overcome typical criticisms of astrology that are redolent of late 19th century classical science. Instead of "influences," we might say that there are planetary "implications" that operate between the interplanetary macrocosm and the microcosms of individuals. This suggests Bohm's concept of a deeper implicate (enfolded) order compared to the explicate (unfolded) order of our familiar existence according to the symmetry of the Hermetic maxim. Planetary implications referred to in this manner suggest archetypes and their taxonomies, which are abstract organizational concepts that have their beginnings in astrology.

Friday, July 20, 2012

How the galactic center replaced the constellations: A competing paradigm for the Great Year and astrological ages

The lack of unanimity regarding the timing of the ages in the Great Year precessional cycle has been problematic for astrology and is a perennial source of derision emanating from the scientific community, where it is sometimes incorrectly argued that Ophiuchus should be a zodiacal sign. Despite the minimal role that the precessional ages plays in the practice of astrology, this is one of the main issues today that prevents astrology from entering into modern acceptance and the potential it would otherwise offer for research. Even after many years of effort, the precessional problem in astrology cannot be educated away to the satisfaction of critics and the time is overdue for a change of paradigm. This proposal argues that zodiac meanings are derived from observations separate from the constellations and that a more modern consideration of galactic structure will resolve the issue of the astrological ages. Read the Full Article >>

Saturday, February 18, 2012

The "scientific hypothesis" against astrology falsified?

Here's another Scientific American blog article (Oct 4, 2011), "Drawing the line between science and pseudo-science," By Janet D. Stemwedel. Denimbius has offered some constructive comments:

While the example of creationism can be informative, perhaps the greater challenge to the problem of demarcation is the example of astrology, which the author mentions but doesn't directly address. Astrology is worthy of much more scientific scrutiny than it has received, especially in light of the findings of the late Michel Gauquelin. How have the scientific claims against astrology held up under Popper's criteria?

Astrology presents many "indications" or "significations," which due to the complexity of the subject and the insistence of astrologers on a holistic approach, are notoriously difficult to test.

To address this complexity, the 1985 double-blind experiment done by magician-scientist Shawn Carlson, set out to test what he called the "scientific hypothesis." Even a holistic approach to astrology, he suggested, could not be supported by the tests he designed. The tests in his experiment, published in NATURE [Dec. 1985, (318), 419-425] and by far the most frequently cited detailed claim against astrology, asked astrologers to match natal charts with psychological (CPI) profiles.

Although Carlson concluded his experiment with the assertion that the astrologers failed, recent peer-reviewed reassessments of the study have been critical of Carlson's analysis, pointing to numerous flaws, such as not following his own protocol, irrelevant grouping of results, and not reporting results that could have clarified a curious "statistical fluctuation" in the study.

As it turns out, when correctly assessed according to Carlson's own stated protocol and the normal evaluations of the social sciences, the data from the study actually supports the astrologers performance significantly better than chance. This critical evaluation might be the first well-documented case where the "scientific hypothesis" against astrology has been falsified according to Popper's criteria of demarcation.

This falsification of the scientific claim against astrology is a crucially interesting development for science. Clearly, the experiment needs a fair replication, which incorporates the improvements and safeguards offered by the critics. Until this happens, the claim that astrology is pseudoscience is seriously questionable. With the hypothesis for this widely cited experiment now broken, how does science explain the results?

Here are the links to the original Carlson article and some of its criticism:

http://muller.lbl.gov/papers/Astrology-Carlson.pdf
http://www.theoryofastrology.com/carlson/McRitchie_Carlson1985.pdf

Magicians, misdirection, and science: Who is fooling whom?

An older article (Dec. 2008) in Scientific American, posted on the SA blog, "Magic and the Brain: How Magicians 'Trick' the Mind" elicited the following response from reader Denimbius (comment 20, Feb. 13, 2012):

This article reminds me of a criticism I read of the "Double-blind test of astrology" by magician-scientist Shawn Carlson, published in Nature (Vol. 318, 5 Dec. 1985 pp. 419-425). The criticism seemed to suggest that Carlson used misdirection techniques in the published article. This is in addition to the criticism that the tests were unfairly designed to begin with, making them extraordinarily harder than they needed to be.

Carlson's stated protocol required the participating astrologers examine each natal chart they were supplied and to select the correct CPI from 3 supplied for each chart as either the 1st or 2nd choice. Yet, in his evaluation Carlson draws our attention to the 3rd choice, which was chosen no better than chance, and declares that the 1st and 2nd must also have been chosen no better than chance! The data in the article shows that the first two charts were actually chosen at a marginally significant rate.

Carlson's 3-choice test finding helps confirm the illusion that another test depended on its 3 groups. The astrologers rated (scale of 1-10) the accuracy of each of the 3 CPIs supplied for each chart (110 CPIs in this test vs. 116 for the 3-choice test). Applying the three bogus categories and drawing attention to the negative slope of the 1st category, Carlson declares that the result was no better than chance. However, his data shows that when ungrouped, the 10-rating test was significant for the astrologers, better than the 3-choice test.

In a control group test, Carlson found that the volunteer students could not identify their correct chart interpretation, written by the astrologers, out of 3 supplied, yet the control group successfully chose the "correct" interpretation with a high significance, which Carlson explains as a "statistical fluctuation."

In a related test, the students ranked the accuracy (scale of 1-10) the individual paragraphs within the same astrological interpretations. This test might have clarified whether the surprising "statistical fluctuation" results had somehow gotten switched. But Carlson complained that he couldn't be guaranteed that the volunteers had followed his instructions and discarded this test without giving the results.

If read uncritically, with the bias that typical readers of Nature have against astrology, then the reader sees exactly what he or she expects. Yet if read critically, it is another story. Was Carlson inadvertently fooling himself?

Read the Carlson article: http://1.usa.gov/e2dTGc

Psychological manipulation and the questionable ethics of professor Chris French

Another Chris French blog article (Feb 7, 2012) appeared on the website for TheGuardian.  "Astrologers and other inhabitants of parallel universes: Followers of pseudosciences such as astrology often draw spurious parallels between their beliefs and established science" This posting elicited the following response (Feb. 9, 2012) from reader Decloud:


This is a disturbing blog post, as are some of the responses. The post is reminiscent of a lecture I once attended where the professor, who had just launched into his arguments against astrology, suddenly remembered some important details of the upcoming exam that he needed to impart to his students. As we all know, students fear exams and this interruption by the professor perfectly illustrates how students can be psychologically conditioned to associate astrology with fears.

As I spoke to the students after the lecture it became apparent that the struggling students who sat near the rear of the lecture hall were the most at risk to being affected by those fears. The professor in that case was a philosopher and as I spoke to him afterward it quickly became evident that he was not aware of the potential psychological harm he was inflicting on his students and he apologized. He might simply have been passing on his own fears in much the same way that he had learned those fears himself.

However, in the present case Chris French is a psychology professor, and an excuse of unintentional psychological manipulation on his part would be far less convincing. Administrators at Goldsmiths, University of London, should take note that French, in an article on "Astrologers," leads with descriptions of abhorrent practices of ritual abuse, exorcism, racial differences, devil worship, sexual perversion, human sacrifices, forced abortions, and cannibalism. Considering the responsibility of his position as a psychology professor, we should all question the ethics of the way French has framed his arguments and whether he or his department should receive funding to further this agenda.

The arguments that French makes are far less serious than the way he has packaged his delivery. They are the same tired old arguments that show little knowledge or understanding of the discipline that he is trying to refute. Astrologers generally do not claim that astrology works by physical forces as he suggests. Where are the references? His opposition to that view, which is not supported by astrologers, even conflicts with Laplace's demon, which was typical of the mechanistic optimism of the same period in early modern science from which French draws his paradigm. His straw man argument even has its own internal problems.

If French would study the literature, he would have to argue against the "as above, so below" concept that has guided astrology from its beginnings. There are countless symmetries in nature, from snowflakes, to pine cones, to galaxies and quantum entanglement. It is a mystery why nature prefers symmetry and astrology is part of the natural curiosity of observing and attempting to correlate and understand that mystery.

Let's hope that French's "anomalistic psychology" is indeed a psychological anomaly as its name suggests and is not typical of the sort of ideas that psychology or the public should accept as being ethically or reasonably supportable.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Featured on journal Nature blog - response to Chris French and the Shawn Carlson double-blind study of astrology

Yesterday, I was searching for a way to get some mainstream science attention for the criticisms published by various authors and myself of "A double-blind test of astrology" from Shawn Carlson, published in the highly-regarded science journal Nature in 1985. I found that the Nature website has a new guest blog section called "Soapbox Science" and one of the featured short articles is a recent piece named "The rise of anomalistic psychology - and the fall of parapsychology?" by University of London Professor Chris French. Because French mentions astrology and this is the Nature website, I thought it might be a good place to bring up the Carlson issue and I added my comments. All comments are subject to review and at this point I don't know if my comments will make it onto the blog.

Here is the URL: http://blogs.nature.com/soapboxscience/2011/12/19/the-rise-of-anomalistic-psychology-%E2%80%93-and-the-fall-of-parapsychology#comment-110

Here is what I wrote:

Chris, Before you get too cozy with this emerging discipline, it is interesting to reflect on how modern skepticism is transforming itself to become anomalistic psychology. First we have the transformation of CSICOP (Committee for the Scientific Investigation into Claims of the Paranormal) into CSI (Committee for Skeptical Inquiry). CSI dropped the pretense of being scientific in the wake of the Dennis Rawlins "sTarbaby" exposé of the committee's unscientific shenanigans regarding their tests of the Mars effect discovered by the late Michel Gauquelin. (BTW, in 1988, this effect was elevated by Suitbert Ertel through objective data ranking to the status of the Mars eminence effect). This more recent anomalistic psychology approach seems to favor skeptical rhetoric  and lawyering under the guise of "critical thinking" over the scientific evaluation of evidence.

Consider the popular claim that astrology works by cognitive bias. This is a widely held belief among intelligent people, but no one has ever demonstrated it. Although classroom Forer-type tests have been performed hundreds of times, and are widely assumed to disprove astrology, they only demonstrate the Barnum effect, and cannot legitimately claim to refute astrology. The reason is because the sample of "astrology" to be evaluated by the students is carefully cherry picked to maximize the Barnum effect. This is not a scientific test of astrology with proper samples and rating of choices. Nothing of the sort has ever been published. Yet it is always trotted out in discussions against astrology. Is this an example of anomalistic psychology that you teach your students?

It is interesting to find this "soapbox" in the online pages of Nature. Research in astrology is done by interested amateurs, funded from their own pockets, as Gauquelin had done. There has not been a mainstream scientific forum for them to exchange ideas.

For example, In 1985 Nature published an article by Shawn Carlson entitled "A double blind test of astrology.” This article brought instant fame to its author and is still one of the most frequently cited studies to have claimed to scientifically refute astrology. Yet this article was not properly vetted by peer review because it contains design and methodological flaws that should have been caught, if perhaps they were not so well concealed. When evaluated against the actual design of the experiment (which Carlson sets out but does not follow) and the normal evaluations for significance used in the social sciences, the data marginally supports the participating astrologers.

It is frustrating to astrological researchers to see such a prestigious study as Carlson's go unchallenged in mainstream media. For those who wish to pursue the Carlson controversy, and Chris I strongly suggest that you do, please refer to the following links for references to the original article by Carlson and the ensuing peer reviewed discourse by Ertel and myself. My article includes a discussion of follow-up studies. The Carlson study needs a replication that incorporates the many useful suggestions that have been made through the discourse of these and other authors to make a fair and scientific study.

"A double-blind test of astrology": http://muller.lbl.gov/papers/Astrology-Carlson.pdf
"Appraisal of Shawn Carlson’s Renowned Astrology Tests": http://www.scientificexploration.org/journal/full/jse_23_2_full.pdf#page=7
"Support for astrology from the Carlson double-blind experiment": http://www.theoryofastrology.com/carlson/McRitchie_Carlson1985.pdf

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Astrology and the social sciences: looking inside the black box of astrology theory

Astrology texts provide details of astrological practice and interpretation, but astrology theory has not been well described. One approach to theory is to consider astrology as a study of natural symmetries rather than a study of causal interactions. Simplified versions of astrological frames of reference bear a suggestive resemblance to various patterns of personality and behavior that are identified within the social sciences, particularly those that deal with shared values, skills, and beliefs. Astrological operations within these frames of reference similarly suggest identifiable patterns of love, development, and a mechanism of psychological projection. A research program of further study should confirm and account for these similarities through a cross-disciplinary analysis and correlation of empirical findings. Read the Full Article >>

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Comment on Nevard's Philosophy, Science and the Philosophy of Science

Comment posted Feb. 17, 2011, 12:46 AM

I don’t think your example of how astrologers would test science by interpreting a horoscope of some scientific event is accurate. Astrologers are modern thinkers and admire science as much as anyone else. A failed test of astrology is not evidence that astrology is outside of scientific discourse, but is simply a failure of science to design a proper (and fair) experiment that will capture the results.

It is not unusual for science to fail and it is surprising to think otherwise. Most major discoveries happen by accident. Astrology may well be outside the “standards of science” but this where any scientific discovery comes from, and again this is not at all unusual.

Some scientific tests of astrology do actually succeed and researchers are finding ways to rate or rank the data to hone in on the astrological effects. I won’t list them, though there are good examples, but there is one in particular you should look at, the controversial Shawn Carlson double-blind experiment, published in 1985 in Nature, which has actually been reversed in favor of astrology.

For many years, this study was held up as the definitive test against astrology. However, a detailed assessment of this study published in 2009 by Professor Suitbert Ertel is forcing scientists to rethink their claims against astrology. The flaws in the Carlson study are very tricky to find, making one wonder if they are not intentional, but they are so serious that they distort the actual findings, which are that the data supports the claims of the astrologers. Once the flaws are pointed out, this is easy for anyone to see.

I invite you and your readers to read my article on the Carlson study and Ertel’s assessment:
Support for astrology from the Carlson double-blind study

And the original 1985 Carlson article itself:
A double-bind test of astrology
 
There is perhaps a philosophical problem for scientists who had believed Carlson’s claims, and believed others tests such as the McGrew and McFall test, which was so extremely difficult, and misrepresented as “simple,” that astrologers should never have participated in it. Scientists who conduct a test of astrology cannot allow a finding that supports astrology or their careers as scientists would be over. Astrology research is a very uncomfortable place to be. They may need some sort of philosophical solution that can rescue them if they need it.
 -------------------

I added on Feb. 17, 2011 8:24 PM

Your example of astrology, based on Brian Cox’s lecture, is a very good one. Science does not need philosophy as long as it can dismiss astrology as a superstition and then not examine what superstition is. This is where the philosophy is supposed to come in.

From Popper to Kuhn to Feyerabend, astrology has benefitted from philosophical discourse, because it is a challenge to describe it without resorting to ridicule and straw man arguments as Cox has done. Isn’t this the test of philosophy, to engage in discourse without the rational fallacies? Isn’t that why you chose Cox?

It is a very shallow view that modern science from astronomy and Darwin evolution would need to be thrown out if astrology works. There are tests that show that astrology does work and both scientists and philosophers have work to do. But even if the tests didn’t work, isn’t your statement an assumption?

Astronomy is the foundation of astrology. Without it, astrology would not exist. Social evolution is the main discourse in astrology today. If you throw out astronomy and evolutionary concepts, you would be throwing out modern astrology. If you scientifically change them, you would also change modern astrology.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Response to The Kindly Ones' "Astrology and its problems: Popper, Kuhn and Feyerabend"

February 15, 2011 at 15:07 (link)   

In your conclusion, you said:

“In summary, the philosophical problem for astrology is thus not that it can always explain failures (Popper) or that it does not attempt to solve problems (Kuhn) but instead that it has stagnated (Feyerabend) – assuming that this progression in criticisms is fair, of course.”

How fair are these criticisms? Does not science too always find a way to explain its failures, sometimes by alternative theories? If you read the articles Deborah has suggested, you will see that the more sensitive methods where data is ranked or rated do result in findings that support astrological claims. These methods have been applied to the Gauquelin data by Professor Suitbert Ertel. This shows not only that scientists are willing to solve astrological problems, but have explained the reasons and methods that separate its failures from its successes.

Deborah makes a critical point about why astrological research has stagnated. This is not a scientific issue so much as a social phenomenon. There is an opposition to astrology that is so overwhelming that it is a very uncomfortable area in which to do research.

I invite you to read my soon-to-be-published peer-reviewed article “The Good Science of Astrology: Separating Effects from Artifacts.”

----------

Added: February 15, 2011 at 15:47

Paul,

In case you are not familiar with them, let me just add two relevant articles:

Gauquelin’s last published article, “Is There Really a Mars Effect?” in which he describes how Ertel solved the problem he was having with the “Mars effect.”


Ertel’s published article on this was: “Raising the Hurdle for the Athletes’ Mars Effect: Association Co-varies with Eminence

---------------
Added February 15, 2011 at 19:17

Sorry Paul, but my comments did not do justice to your analysis of the criticisms as a progression from Popper to Kuhn to Feyerabend. It is difficult to argue against a certain stagnation in astrological research in that it has not captivated the imaginations of people who could develop it. I can think of a couple of contributors to stagnation.

Hellenist astrologers did not make a clean break from the constellations when they adopted the tropical zodiac. They continued to use the names of the constellations for the signs (tropes), which are more weird, arcane, freakish, mysterious, strange, supernatural, and outright creepy than they need to be. No doubt, this has contributed to millenia of confusion and hostility towards astrology. The Chinese adopted a more modern interpretation of values with their zodiac, although it is not attached to the tropical reference frame.

Astrologers also missed out in early modern science, when material things were said to have “properties” and this concept did not spread to astrology. Astrology continued to develop its system of “rulerships” where there is no reason why these studied characteristics could not be described as “astrological properties.” This also contributed to stagnation and a resentment against a sort of planetary subjugation that astrology seemed to suggest.

Modern astrologers are modern thinkers; they see through these problems and are not bothered by them. Perhaps if they were a little more reflective they would be willing to make some changes.
 -----------

February 16, 2011 at 14:41 (by me)

Your description of Feyerabend’s position (from your personal email) is:

“Any system of investigation which explains away failures instead of seeking to replace itself via the pursuit of ways to solve the problems it encounters is a system which assuredly mires itself in stagnation.”

In other words, if astrologers, instead of explaining away failures, would try to solve the problems by proliferating theories, then they would not be mired in stagnation.

By “explaining away failures” we would have to mean the criticism against numerous scientific tests of astrology as “unfair” such as Rawlins has done with regard to the Gauquelin “Mars effect” studies, as Deborah has pointed out, or such as Ertel has done with regard to other “Mars effect” studies, or as Eysenck has done with regard to the Shawn Carlson double-blind study.

Rawlins, although he recognized the unfairness and explained away the results, did not try to provide alternative theories. Eysenck tried to apply his own theories of personality to astrology, which I don’t believe was successful. Ertel, however decided to use a very sensitive method of ranking and rating, and produced positive results for astrology using the gathered Mars effect data. No new theories were required.

Clearly it is possible to find flaws in scientific tests of astrology and argue the tests are “unfair,” and this cannot be judged as “explaining away failures.” Unfairness is the leading criticism of the scientific tests that fail. In some cases astrologers just don’t know what to think, in which case they do not try to explain the failures. It is an assumption that they do.

Astrologers do proliferate theories, but they are exactly what you might think. If new asteroids or planetoids are discovered, astrologers will proliferate theories and the theories are developed among the community. Theories are proliferated for the astrology of historical events. The work of Richard Tarnus comes to mind. If astrology is stagnant, then why is it attractive to so many enthusiastic people? I don’t think “stagnant” describes it.
 -------------

February 18, 2011 at 02:22 by me.

Those critiques only apply to the “scientific tests of astrology”; consequently, those critiques in and of themselves produce no improvement in the astrological approach employed by astrologers.
The improvement is in the scientific methods used to test astrology. This is an improvement in science today and it is an assumption that these improvements would never lead to improvements in astrology. Otherwise, why would the astrologers themselves participate in the studies and wish to help design the tests? Again, I don’t think this is stagnation, especially if they are involved in the design of experiments.
Ertel, however decided to use a very sensitive method of ranking and rating, and produced positive results for astrology using the gathered the Mars effect data. No new theories were required.
Sorry if this was not clear. Ertel did not need new astrological theories to scientifically demonstrate a correlation between the rankings of sports champions and Mars placement. This one instance does not lead to the conclusion that astrology never needs new theories. New theories are developed in astrology, but in this instance were not needed.
If the addition of newly discovered astronomical objects has improved astrological practice, and if astrologers (for whatever reason) want to be thought of as part of the scientific research community, then maybe astrological theories can be put forth that both improve astrological practice and anticipate/predict astronomical (or physics) discoveries yet to come.
Yes, this comes close to what some astrologers want to do, except such research would not anticipate astronomical discoveries (how could it, and why should it?) as much as shed light on what astrology may be able to further discover, which is more in the nature of psychological and social understanding.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Comments on Steven Forrest's "Why Astrology's Image Needs a Makeover" Editorial

Link

Thank you so much Steven for bringing up this sensitive topic. I am very grateful to have this new ANS web service available as a public platform for news and opinion on astrology, and for the opportunity to see my own work posted. Yet it may be only the beginning of a makeover that astrology has long needed and deserved. As fulfilling as astrology is in many respects, there are aspects of astrology that the public is not comfortable with and this in turn makes us feel uncomfortable with our association to astrology.

As I read through the first few articles on this website, two articles strike me as most significant. One is that old story that we are all so weary of, which is the claim, by skeptics, that the zodiac signs have changed and we are not in the signs we thought we were in. Indeed this is a straw man argument and signs should not be confused with the constellations that have the same names. But the public (and the skeptics of course) never seem to learn no matter how often and how well it is explained. The other significant development is the growing popularity of Western astrology in China. I have seen the unbridled excitement and enthusiasm over this myself, which at times threatens to run roughshod over the whole practice.

I’m completely with you pondering a makeover of astrology’s image. And we all know it just ain’t gonna happen by printing ourselves new business cards, LOL.

You know what, I admire the Chinese zodiac. It’s better than the one we’re stuck with. They’ve got some fine animals in theirs, except some of them suffer from the humiliation of human domestication (e.g. pig and chicken–the wondrous bamboo pheasant in its native habitat) or our conflicts with them (rat for example). And the dragon in the West is much different than the Chinese dragon, which is fun loving and social.

The signs are values and animals exemplify different values depending on how they have adapted. For example, elephants have strong family values, while wolves and dogs value their competition within the pack. Geese and swans value fidelity, and so on. These animal signs are strongly intuitive and user friendly.

What do we have in the West? Well, we have the twins, crab, scales, goatfish, waterbearer, and so on. Tradition and the vast literature regarding the signs is one thing, but if we weren’t so accustomed to them, we’d have to admit that the Western signs seem pretty weird, arcane, freakish, mysterious, strange, superstitious, and outright creepy. They make a lot of people feel uncomfortable and I don’t think uncomfortable is good for astrology. Maybe this is where the image of astrology needs a make over.

It represents a serious change, but It has happened throughout history. Cultures see something they like in each other and in this case it has the added bonus of terminating forever some of the stupid shenanigans and public confusion between signs and constellations perpetrated by astrology’s detractors. Adopting the Chinese zodiac, perhaps with a few modest variations to give the animals their dignity, could do wonders.

Aries becomes dog (wolf), Taurus becomes pig (bear), Gemini becomes rat (or squirrel or bat), Cancer becomes buffalo (or bison), Leo becomes tiger (or cougar), Virgo becomes rabbit, Libra becomes dragon (or swan or goose), Scorpio becomes snake (or rattler), Sagittarius becomes horse (or mustang), Capricorn becomes sheep (or bighorn), Aquarius becomes monkey (or crow?), and Pisces becomes chicken (or elk?). The suggested changes in parentheses are North American totems, but local animals would suffice wherever in the world you go. If you play around with the glyphs with a little imagination, a transformation will happen right before your eyes.

Yes, that’s what I’d call a true image makeover!

Conversation on the McGrew-McFall "Validity of Astrology" Test


Feb 12, 2011 at 1:32 PM
 Dear .....,

An astrology skeptic has brought an article to my concern. This article, "A Scientific Inquiry Into the Validity of Astrology," published in JSE in 1990, acknowledges some of the initial criticism of the Carlson study and presents a supposedly better test design. http://www.scientificexploration.org/journal/jse_04_1_mcgrew.pdf 

In this study, six astrologers used a 61-item questionnaire developed specifically for the test by a larger team of astrologers. From this test and the 1996 Rob Nanninga test, both of which failed for the astrologers, it seems that astrologers are not so good at developing questionnaires.

The six astrologers were asked to match 23 charts with 23 volunteer test cases. For each chart, the astrologers were allowed to match a first, second, and so on choice of test case, although not all astrologers exercised this option. They were also asked to give a 0-100% confidence rating to their choices.

This gives the impression that the choices were ranked and rated, though I'm not sure this is the best way to do it. In my mind, accurately matching 23 charts to 23 cases seems like a nearly impossible task, even though the authors consider the mathematical probability.

One claim in particular stands out for me (p. 81):



"One final point should be mentioned. The experimental task probably was considerably easier and, presumably, easier to perform accurately, than the task that astrologers attempt in their counseling practices. That is, without a priori information, because each individual is unique, in practice an astrologer must use the birth information to "select' the one correct interpretation that uniquely matches that individual from nearly countless possibilities, not just from 23 possibilities. Thus, our task can be seen as a simplification of the task that astrologers routinely undertake as a part of their daily professional practice. The conclusion one can draw from this inference is unequivocal. If our task provides a simplification of standard astrological practice, and if the astrologers cannot perform a simplified task accurately, then it is not likely that they will be able to perform a more complicated task accurately."

I am skeptical of the "unequivocal" truth of this statement. Am I incorrect to think that it is a simpler task for an astrologer to interpret one chart to match one person than it is to interpret 23 charts and match them to all the possible choices among 23 cases? While it is true that there are "only" 23 cases, there are also 23 charts!

Regards,

~Ken


------
Feb 12, 2011 at 3:52 PM
Dear Ken,

"That is, without a priori information, because each individual is unique, in practice an astrologer must use the birth information to "select' the one correct interpretation that uniquely matches that individual from nearly countless possibilities, not just from 23 possibilities. Thus, our task can be seen as a simplification of the task that astrologers routinely undertake as a part of their daily professional practice. The conclusion one can draw from this inference is..."

I fully agree with you. The astrologers experimental task was not a simplification of their ordinary business. On the contrary, it was much more difficult. 

Even Carlson’s task was simpler for astrologers than that of McGrew-McFall. The reason the two authors provide for their judgment is not at all convincing.

~....

Response to Rebekah Higgitt's "'Astrology is Rubbish,' but..." Blog

February 13, 2011 at 12:34 am (link)

Hello Rebekah,

While it is good to see an effort made to put the astronomical arguments against astrology put to rest, because they have no basis, there are still many people who wish to claim that astrology is rubbish on other grounds. You yourself still want to make this assertion, but how closely have you examined those supposed other grounds? There is a body of evidence that research of astrology, when it is conducted fairly and uses methods to carefully weigh the data by rank or ratings, has shown scientific evidence in support of astrology.

Those experiments that did not use rankings or ratings, do not find evidence of astrology, but those that did use these methods (and there are a number of them) have found scientific support.

An outstanding example of this is one that you alluded to earlier, the controversial Shawn Carlson double-blind experiment, published in 1985 in Nature, which has actually been reversed in favor of astrology.

For many years, this study was held up as the definitive test against astrology. However, a detailed assessment of this study published in 2009 by Professor Suitbert Ertel is forcing scientists to rethink their claims against astrology. The flaws in the Carlson study are very tricky to find, making one wonder if they are not intentional. These flaws are so serious that they distort the actual findings, which support the claims of the astrologers. Once the flaws are pointed out, this is easy for anyone to see.

I invite you and your readers to read my article on the Carlson study and Ertel's assessment:
http://astrologynewsservice.com/articles/support-for-astrology-from-the-carlson-double-blind-experiment/

And the original 1985 Carlson article itself: http://muller.lbl.gov/papers/Astrology-Carlson.pdf

Responses to Martin Robbins' "Astrologers Angered by Stars" Blog

26 January 2011 11:52PM (link)

Reading through these comments I see a lot of misconceptions about astrology. First of all, you need to look past the rubbish.

Just to be clear, astrology is relativistic; it places the individual (not Earth) at the center of the universe, and the individual does not need to be on the Earth. Many of the commentator need to get their minds out of the "flat earth" types of criticism.

As to Forer effects and similar arguments. These are based on informal classroom demonstrations. The reason why there has never been a rigorous Forer effect test of astrology is because the samples are always cherry picked to support the hypothesis. These tests do demonstrate subjective validation, but it is an assumption that they say anything about astrology.

Evidence in support of astrology is hard to find. There is no funding, no acceptance in science journals, and a lot of resistance by people with closed minds. But published studies do exist. Here are some peer-reviewed studies to consider:

  • Ertel, Suitbert (1988). "Raising the Hurdle for the Athletes' Mars Effect: Association Co-varies with Eminence" Journal of Scientific Exploration, (2): 4. This study has been replicated numerous times, even with data collected by skeptical groups, and is unrefuted for over 20 years.
  • Hill, Judith (1996). “Redheads and Mars: A Scientific Testimony,” The Mountain Astrologer, (May): 29-40. This study (originally done in 1988) has been replicated numerous times with data from various countries, has passed time switching tests, and has remained unrefuted for over 20 years.
  • Yuan, Kathy; Zheng, Lu; Zhu, Qiaoqiao. "Are Investors Moon struck? — Lunar Phases and Stock Returns" Journal of Empirical Finance. 2006, 13(1), p.1-23. This study, which was much larger than previous similar studies and included data from 48 countries, was controlled for such factors as stock market volatility and calendar-related anomalies. It found signficant results that support astrological claims.
  • Clark, Vernon (1961). "Experimental astrology," In Search, (Winter/Spring): 102-1 12. This landmark double-blind study found significant results for astrology and has led to other double-blind studies that support astrology.
  • Marbell, Neil (1981). “Profile Self-selection: A Test of Astrological Effect on Human Personality,” Synapse Foundation Research Report, privately distributed. This brilliant double-blind test by the late Neil Marbell, which involved the participation of respected scientists and well-known skeptics, found highly significant results for astrology. It led to the Carlson study.
  • Carlson, Shawn (1985). "A double-blind test of astrology," Nature, (318): 419-425. This well-known study, one of the most cited papers on astrology research, claimed to find results inconsistent with astrology, but contains many serious flaws that obscure the actual results (see next item).
  • Ertel, Suitbert (2009). “Appraisal of Shawn Carlson’s Renowned Astrology Tests,” Journal of Scientific Exploration, (23): 2. This examination of the Carlson study by professor Ertel, shows that when the methods that Carlson initially states in the paper (but does not follow) are applied, the data from the study shows significant support consistent with the claims of the astrologer participants.
 30 January 2011 4:52AM (last word, almost) (link)

The thing is astrologers rarely get angry; they are generally good natured, inclined to be supportive, but their critics are always self-righteously angry and very emotionally tied to their beliefs. We're used to that. So maybe that's what makes this news to The Guardian. Astrologers, who have no funding for their research, this time got a weensy bit angry about what was claimed to be "balanced." That seems newsworthy.
The problem is that where we have such strong emotional attachments to our beliefs, and a huge avoidance issue, it often turns out that there is actually something valuable in the thing we are trying so hard to avoid. We try with all our might not to listen and not to understand astrology. We want to believe that science is all done, that we completely understand science, and we are clinging to the unsullied magnificence of science for dear life.

But we are scared out of their wits that science might not be all done, that there might possibly be some undiscovered science in astrology. We rationalize, by making up a steady torrent of reasons why we should not touch the dreaded unknown, the rubbish we know as astrology. Science should never sniff, probe, or measure anything that is rubbish. Let's all agree, for the sake of science, to keep astrology in the dim past, where it belongs, where science should never go.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

The good science of astrology: Separating effects from artifacts

Assumptions of causal mechanism, influence, and credulity are examined with regard to the astrological premise. The Hermetic maxim, which is widely accepted in astrology, suggests that symmetrical processes mathematically associate microcosmic and macrocosmic features and take precedence over causal mechanisms. The astrological literature suggests that influences should be interpreted as interactions within these cosmological symmetries between individuals rather than between planets and individuals. The literature further suggests that effects should be evaluated by inclination or “eminence,” which means that correlations should be ranked or rated by magnitude to objectively separate effects from artifacts. This method has proved to be successful in astrological research and should be universally adopted. In this light, classroom Forer-type tests, which are presumed to support credulity arguments against astrology, are scrutinized. It is questioned how these tests, which are typically composed of selectively assembled non-astrological artifacts found in horoscope columns, or for that matter, any of the leading empirical studies that have claimed to repudiate astrology, can rationally stand up against more objective studies that have tested for eminence effects. Read the Full Article >>

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Support for astrology from the 1985 Carlson double-blind study

The Carlson double-blind study, published in 1985 in Nature (one of the world's leading scientific publications) has long been regarded as one of the most definitive indictments against astrology. Although this study might appear to be fair to uncritical readers, it contains serious flaws, which when they are known, cast a very different light on the study. These flaws include: no disclosure of similar scientific studies, unfairly skewed design, disregard for its own stated criteria of evaluation, irrelevant groupings of data, rejection of unexpected results, and an illogical conclusion based on the null hypothesis. Yet, when the stated measurement criteria are applied and the data is evaluated according to normal social science, the two tests performed by the participating astrologers provide evidence that is consistent with astrology (p = .054 with ES = .15, and p = .037 with ES = .10). These extraordinary results give further testimony to the power of data ranking and rating methods, which have been successfully used in previous astrological experiments. A critical discussion on follow-up studies by McGrew and McFall (1990), Nanninga (1996/97), and Wyman and Vyse (2008) is also included.  Read the Full Article >>

Unasked Questions

Why would anyone not want to study astrology? Astrology is ancient. People like to study ancient things. Astrology organizes the world. People like to study things that create order out of disorder. Astrology analyzes human interactions. People care a lot about relationships. Astrology examines the meanings of the past, future, and present moments. People like to study ways of regarding different circumstances.

By all indications, people should want to study astrology.Yet few people give astrology any thought beyond an occasional glance at their sun sign horoscope, even though they know there is much more to astrology than that. Astrology is not seriously studied at universities and research in astrology is rarely done. Scholarly journals and funding are not open to astrology. Professors are not clamoring for astrology to be taught. Instead, professors are more inclined to argue against astrology as if their careers depended on their ability to discourage students.

The usual academic argument against astrology is that it is not a science, as if science has a monopoly on Greek roots: astrology = star study, horoscope = time watcher. Yet why would astrology need to be a science for researchers to study it? Science studies multitudes of things, even things that are not real. For example, it would be difficult to claim that superstring theory is a legitimate science because it does not use real world values and therefore it cannot tested. Testing is the test of science. Bird song dialects are certainly real but what is the science that studies them? Is it linguistics, ornithology, psychology, musicology, or sociology? Modern science tends not to fit the old pigeonholes.

Why should science waste the immense literature of astrology? Wouldn't it be interesting to follow up on the few tantalizing bits of astrological evidence found so far? Is there some fear that science would somehow lose integrity if it ventured into the part on the map that is marked “Here be dragons”? Is there no way to study dragons, or even if there be dragons? Why would anyone not want to go there?

Is astrology a sort of Pandora’s Box that might, or might not, contain dreadful unknown stuff, and ought not to be opened for scientific inquiry? We see astrology proscribed with such labels as pseudoscience, superstition, occult, and remnants of the dim past. Is nothing ever learned from the dim past? Maybe the box of astrology, like a cursed tomb, should just lie where it is, undisturbed.

Then again, maybe astrology doesn’t need science, because astrology is technology and has always taken care of itself. Since the beginning of civilization, technology has been successfully used to build bridges, arm armies, cure diseases, grow crops, and navigate the deserts and seas, all before the arrival of what we call science. Technology was developed from whatever worked best. 

Without the aid of science, ancient mariners read the subtle signs in their environment that let them know how to best catch the winds, currents, and tides. They learned from their experience and discipline where the channels and shoals were, how the weather would change, and how to steer from one destination to the next. They developed practical techniques, and did not need formal laws and theories. Similarly, astrology developed as a technology and continues to develop to this day, with techniques being added, abandoned, and re-examined. Does astrology need to be anything more than collection of techniques for reading subtle signs?

Why read subtle signs? Isn’t it true that paying heed to subtle signs and recording them is the most effective way to prevent problems and assure success? Is there any better means of adaptation and survival? Why ignore early warnings and wait until problems become obvious and unavoidable? 

A concept in chaos theory known as the butterfly effect suggests that the subtle flap of a butterfly’s wings in Africa can stir the wind with an effect that can accumulate the force of a hurricane when it reaches the Caribbean. Powerful effects had to begin somewhere. But why stop at the butterfly? Where did the wing flap begin? Was it due to some urgent necessity within the butterfly? Going even further, was it perhaps something that might have issued from the quantum realm? What exactly is the quantum realm, where does it begin and where does it end, and how can it possibly affect things that we experience in our everyday world?

Quantum effects can be illustrated by the famous Schrödinger's cat thought experiment. This experiment involves another sort of box that Pandora might have been tempted to open. In this experiment a cat is placed in a box with an isotope that has a known probability of decay. The decay of the isotope will be detected and this will trigger the release of a poisonous gas, which will kill the cat. Observers would need to open the box to determine whether the cat is alive or dead at any point during the experiment. Without observation, the cat is said to be in a state of superposition, also referred to as a wave function, meaning all possible states at once, with a probability calculated for each state.

This thought experiment illustrates that the quantum realm of microscopic radioactive decay, though extremely subtle, can affect the familiar macroscopic realm in which we live, and that there are limits to what science can and cannot predict. Science can predict the state of a large number of Schrödinger’s cat boxes with a high level of certainty but it cannot predict a single case with certainty. The concepts of superposition, uncertainty, and observation in this thought experiment have interesting implications for astrology.