Sunday, June 15, 2008

An Eclipse

For the better part of a year I had wrestled with the problem of why astrological matching tests did not produce results. Following the initial early promise of the Vernon Clark research (1961), the more recent matching tests had failed. My thoughts on this question eventually became part of a paper in which I reviewed the leading scientific research in astrology and attempted to assess the best methods by which astrology could be objectively evaluated.

I noted that matching tests had been done in two formats. In one format, astrologers are asked to match a set of subjects' birth charts to the subjects' questionnaire results (Carlson 1985, Nanninga 1996). In the other format, the lives of time twins (two unrelated persons with nearly identical birth charts) are tested to see if they match by using a set of predetermined criteria (Dean and Kelly 2003). I argued that the success of these matching tests depended on a level of determinism that was beyond the limits of astrological tendencies. As commonly stated in psychological astrology texts, "The stars incline; they do not compel." In my assessment, these matching tests were not sensitive enough to show significant results except, as Clark had demonstrated earlier, where the test subjects had strong differences.

In contrast to matching tests, statistical tests, as successfully pioneered by Michel Gauquelin, had shown much better results for astrology. These tests quantified a single quality or trait within a large sample of charts. I argued that the sensitivity of statistical tests, particularly to ranks of eminence or severity, as objectified by Suitbert Ertel's analysis (1988), made them more precise and useful than matching tests as a tool for researching astrology.

As I completed my paper, an interesting chain of events took place. It started when one of my peer reviewers asked me to verify my attribution of the astrological eminence hypothesis to Gauquelin. This attribution might have been confused because it was Ertel who first published objective evidence of a significant eminence effect. Ertel had used a simple yet sensitive method of citation frequency analysis to evaluate Gauquelin's entire database of athletes' birth charts. Using this same method, Ertel had also found significant evidence (1996) of athletic eminence in the astrological data used by each of the skeptic organizations that had published research on the subject, which they had gathered to support their intended denial of astrology.

The eminence effect exposed a monumental problem for the scientific skeptics. What made it much worse for them was that Gauquelin had predicted it. This effect begs for an explanation from the skeptics, which to this date they have failed to do. Furthermore, instead of initiating a scientific discourse, the discovery of the eminence effect began a period of deep silence on the part of the skeptics. The only response seems to have been that the few skeptic researchers who are still in the game have turned their attentions to matching tests.

To resolve the concern over the origin of the eminence hypothesis, I wrote to Ertel (Feb. 4), providing him with the relevant section of my paper. After a few correspondences we resolved the wording, which correctly ascribed the eminence hypothesis to Gauquelin. Upon completing this final bit of review, I quickly submitted my paper to the publisher (Feb. 6), who was waiting for my work.

With my paper safely in the hands of the publisher, I was relieved to get my life back. For over a month this paper had consumed nearly all of my free time and I needed to catch up and recharge. It wasn't until about week later that I emailed Ertel (Feb. 14) to thank him. I included a link to my paper, which by then I had posted on my web site. I hadn't thought this paper would be much worthy of his interest, so I wasn't expecting any response to it.

Coincidently during this time, I was peer-reviewing (Feb. 11-19) a lengthy technical paper by Peter Markos, which was a statistical analysis of the Moon and betting favorites. Peter used some advanced techniques, which weren't clear to me with my limited knowledge. I focused on editing, which is what I do in my professional life as a technical writer. I asked Peter for some clarifications and was ready to provide whatever help I could.

Then I remember getting out of my car at home late one evening (it was Feb 21). I was exhausted. The world was quiet. I looked at the Moon high in the clear sky above the trees. It was large, shadowy, and reddish. A planet (Saturn) was nearby. This vision held me transfixed. It was beautiful. Yet something was not right. The Moon's position told me that it was full. Then it struck me that I was seeing the culmination of a total lunar eclipse. It was only by chance that I'd seen it. I hadn't opened an ephemeris in weeks, and I hadn't heard any news of an impending eclipse. I flipped through the ephemeris and found the eclipse. It was at one degree and fifty-three minutes Virgo.

The next day (Feb 22), I heard from Peter. Unexpectedly, he had lost his job on the day of the eclipse. The eclipse was exactly conjunct, within an arc minute, to his natal Sun, which rules his 10th house (pertaining to career). He also had some Saturn and Mars activity. He wrote that he had to put his paper on hold because he needed to find a new job. I thought about my own chart. The eclipse was square, by less than two degrees of arc, to my own 10th house ruler, Mercury. I didn't think about my job so much as the paper I'd submitted. I felt that I was working the eclipse, making it work for me.

Some time later (Mar 16), Ertel emailed. He wanted to know if it was too late to suggest "improvements" to my paper. I replied that I was interested in the improvements, but I believed it was too late. More than five weeks had already passed since I'd submitted my paper. He replied back (Mar 17) that he had just completed a critical analysis of Carlson's 1985 study. The Carlson study was a matching test that I'd given an account of in my paper. Ertel offered that I might be able to cite his analysis as "unpublished" or "submitted for publication," which he planned to do shortly. He had attached his paper and I had a quick look at it. It looked interesting. But I was still very busy with my life at that point. I thanked Ertel, saying I'd read it.

That same day I mentioned Peter's paper to Ertel, saying Peter had been trying to get some expert opinion on his statistical analysis. Ertel agreed to look at it, but said he wouldn't know what his response would be until after he'd read it. Peter was grateful and sent his paper to Ertel. It seems Peter got some good feedback over the next couple of days, but he couldn't resume work on it yet because he was still looking for a job.

I must have forgotten about Ertel's paper for awhile, then suddenly (Mar 29) I remembered it. This time I went through the paper very carefully. Some parts of it were not clear to me and the English needed some work. I spent the entire weekend meticulously editing and polishing the English, and attempting to clarify troublesome sections. Ertel hadn't asked me for this work, but I instinctively did it. I sent the markup to Ertel (Mar. 31). He was grateful and responded with a new draft with astonishing speed (Apr 1). The new draft not only incorporated almost all of my suggestions but included quite a bit of further development, written during the two weeks when I'd left his paper sitting around unread. I wondered if he'd stayed up all night working on this new draft, but then realized that it had been daytime for him.

I emailed my publisher (Apr 1), asking if I could revise my paper. I had something important concerning the Carlson data. The reply came back that it was too late. I spent the entire day on Ertel's paper and sent him my second markup (Apr 2), which actually didn't look like very much this time. By now I had a headache (which later became bronchitis). After some additional small revisions, Ertel's paper was finished (Apr 4) as far as I could tell.