Jonathan Leake, Science Editor - Sunday Times 16 May 2004
A renowned astronomer has broken with scientific orthodoxy to claim that astrology could have some basis in fact. Long dismissed as little better than fortune telling, astrology has been attacked as a pseudo-science by the Royal Astronomical Society. But one of its members, Dr Percy Seymour, has reopened the debate with a provocative book claiming movements of the sun, stars and planets can influence the brains of unborn children in measurable ways.
Seymour is a former principal lecturer in astronomy and astrophysics at Plymouth University who has been a researcher at the Royal Observatory in Greenwich. While stressing he has no time for star-sign horoscopes, he does believe human brain development may be affected by the Earth's magnetic field, especially during growth in the womb. In his book, The Scientific Proof of Astrology, he suggests that the Earth's magnetic field is affected by interactions with those of the sun and the moon. Other planets such as Jupiter, Mars and Venus also play a part because their magnetic fields affect solar magnetism.
Seymour said: "It means the whole solar system is playing a symphony on the Earth's magnetic field. We are all genetically tuned to receive a different set of melodies from this symphony." His claims will infuriate other astronomers. They have suffered the humiliation of seeing astrology rising in popularity with top astrologers' earnings surging beyond those of even the most eminent of researchers. Until now they have at least had the comfort of being able to dismiss any suggestion of scientific support for the idea that people's lives and personalities are influenced by the planets.
Among the most outspoken figures against astrology are Sir Martin Rees, the astronomer royal, and Professor Stephen Hawking. Rees has described astrology as "absurd", adding: "There is no place for astrology in our scientific view of the world; moreover its predictive claims cannot stand any critical scrutiny."
Seth Shostak, a leading American astronomer, was also scathing, describing Seymour's theory as "nonsensical". He pointed out that even though large planets like Jupiter had magnetic and gravitational fields far greater than the Earth's, they were massively diluted by distance. "Jupiter's magnetic field is about a trillion times weaker than the Earth's," he said. "You would experience a far stronger field from your lights and washing machine." Shostak works for the Seti Institute in California which is building a powerful radio telescope to seek alien life. "By 2025 we will have surveyed a million stars and I believe we will have found intelligent aliens," he added. Hawking, Lucasian professor of mathematics at Cambridge University, has said that astrology became impossible as soon as early scientists found that the Earth was not the centre of the universe, an idea on which astrology was founded. 
However, Seymour's theories won qualified support from an unexpected source. Richard Dawkins, professor for the public understanding of science at Oxford University, who once suggested that astrologers be prosecuted under the trades descriptions act, said that although he had not read the book Seymour's ideas sounded interesting.
Astrologers were delighted by Seymour's claims. Russell Grant, the astrologer, said: "At last someone is not just saying: It's a load of poppycock'. If the moon is connected with the ebb and flow of the tides, and humans are 70% water, then why can't the moon be affecting us? So we have good moods or bad moods depending upon the position of the moon?" Others seem to agree although few will discuss it openly.
Several years ago it emerged that the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development was using astrology to help manage its £ 5 billion investment portfolio programming computers with crucial dates such as lunar eclipses and planetary conjunctions.
This year's Sunday Times Rich List included an analysis of the star signs of Britain's 1,000 richest people finding significant differences with 110 born under Gemini but only 73 under Pisces. Among the powerful who have admitted consulting astrologers to make decisions are Ronald and Nancy Reagan, who allowed the astrologer Joan Quigley to dictate the presidential agenda, including the take-off times for Air Force One. Reagan's chief of staff reportedly had a colour-coded calendar around which he was expected to organise the President's schedule: green for "good" days and red for "bad". Even Margaret Thatcher once told MPs: "I was born under the sign of Libra, it follows that I am well-balanced."