The Scientific Consensus Delusion
Scientific Consensus does not exist in controversial and evolving areas of science.
However, the Press rarely see it that and frequently rely on 'weasel' expressions like 'scientists agree ...' to make a claim. It is rare that these claims are based on independent research on what scientists actually think. Once a majority view appears to prevail, many science writers and journalists will report the trending theory as fact even though they may not have studied the research or considered the opposing views. Though one might think that this only happened in the supermarket tabloids like the National Inquirer (USA)or Fox news (USA) or some UK tabloid newspapers like the Daily Express or the Sun, this sloppy journalism occurs equally with supposedly impartial but corrupted sources like the BBC or the Guardian (UK).
This semblance of consensus is understandable. It takes time to research every paper on a topic. For most scientists, it is stressful to go against the popular view of the day. Why risk losing your job and funding? So radical views are often limited to scientists who have gained tenure at their University and even if they have a Nobel Prize, they may still be dismissed as cranks.
As a result of this herd-like mindset, Quantum Physics was not taught to physics students for 2/3rds of a century. Physicist, Louisa Gilder, author of The Age of Entanglement stated that as a physics student, she only learnt about quantum entanglement in a philosophy lecture. However, Einstein's paper (EPR - Paradox) on Quantum Mechanics is now the most cited of all his papers.
The Irrational Reaction of a 'Rational' Sceptic
There is no question that the practice of astrology needs scepticism and critical thinking. Sceptics should prompt astrologers to improve their discipline and dispense with false and illusory notions. However, there is no scientific case to dismiss astrology entirely as a field. This spirit of open enquiry is problematical for fundamentalist sceptics since they have been taught to accept the falsehood of astrology as an article of faith. This prejudicial approach tends to be vindicated with soft targets such as creationists and other woolly beliefs. However, with astrology it is different as it does not make claims that are counter to science (like Young Earth Creationism) and astrology is supported by evidence. This frustration results in cognitive dissonance expressed through an over-the-top emotional reaction. The facade of rationality collapses into denial and an angry and indignant outburst of ridiculous pomposity.
"I hate astrology with a fervor that is almost frightening." Stephen Fry, actor, journalist & comedian. [For astrologers: Sun, Pluto & Mars conjunct in Virgo]
"I said "astrology is rubbish" on that programme (Wonders of the Solar System), and we got an almost record number of complaints from stupid people. ..." Professor Brian Cox, physicist.(Cox 2013)
"Of course, I expected people to take objection to my theory. But I didn't expect the reaction to be so vehement or so irrational."
~ Dr Percy Seymour
, Director of the William Day Planetarium and principal lecturer in astronomy at the University of Plymouth commenting on the reaction of some members of the scientific community when his book, Astrology: The Evidence of Science, appeared in April 1989. [Omni Magazine interview 1989]
Bias can even infect top scientists & journals
It is hugely frustrating for anyone who dislikes astrology to discover that the evidence favouring astrology is matched by the lack of evidence against. There are several instances where fundamentalist sceptics have allowed this frustration to get the better of their scientific integrity. In several instances sceptical groups have covered up or tampered with the evidence to protect their beliefs.(Rawlins 1981) This unscientific sceptical prejudice exists even in the most 'respectable scientific journals'. While there are tests that demonstrate the effects of astrology, the only ones published in Journals like 'Nature' are flawed. If you disagree, you are welcome to cite a test that is not. In fact, Nature has yet to retract the Carlson test despite overwhelming published evidence including three professors that his conclusions are based on flawed statistical methods. Go figure!
Maddox - unable to separate personal bias from scientific objectivity.
The Carlson Test 1985 was published by the editor of Nature, Sir John Maddox. Publication was an unusual decision for a prestigious journal that has rejected all other tests connected with astrology. (Vidmar 2008) However, Carlson's experiment was masterminded by CSICOP and Maddox was a CSICOP fellow (Currey 2011) and notorious for being unable to separate his personal bias from scientific objectivity. For example, in 1983, his editorial in Nature "No need for panic about AIDS" suggested that male homosexuals should change their ways of "pathetic promiscuity" and described AIDS as "perhaps a non-existent condition".(Maddox 1985) I would like to believe that such unprofessional prejudice would be totally unacceptable for an editor of Nature today.
The journal Nature is among the most prestigious academic journals in the world. However, it is still subject to error. A case in point was a paper that stated that the difference in accuracy between Wikipedia and the Encylopedia Britannica "was not particularly great". This claim is now quite risible given the evidence of Wikipedia's systemic bias in content and in selection of secondary sources - which either promote an author or the Wikipedia editor's agenda.
(Giles 2005) On one subject where I am an expert; astrology, the Encylopedia Britannica is a model of neutrality when compared with the inappropriately judgemental, pejorative, amateurish and biased articles on Wikipedia. So it is not surprising that almost all universities, academic journals and serious publishers will not accept references to Wikipedia or reliance on their secondary sources unless the Encyclopedia itself, is the subject of discussion.
Membership of sceptical groups can result in bias on some topics.
"After much communication with and observation of fellow sceptics, I concluded that sceptical groups can suffer from the same irrationality, dogmatism and 'group-think' as other groups. (Indeed, this seems to me now to be an essential characteristic of human social behaviour). Evidence that resists refutation and threatens foundational beliefs of a group may cause the group to reject, suppress or ignore the evidence."
~ James Lippard, Foreward to the Tenacious Mars Effect by Ertel and Irving.
Lippard founded the Phoenix Skeptics in 1985, edited The Arizona Skeptic from 1991-1993 and is former webmaster for the Skeptics Society (1994-1997)..
Can the peer review process become a closed-shop?
While the peer review process has many advantages, it can become a closed shop. 'Peers' will naturally favour views that support their existing world-view. Reviews of studies in a field like astrology in conventional scientific journals suffer because 'peers' can be qualified in fields like geology or astronomy where a traditional, conventional, mechanistic and materialistic approach is favoured. It is arguable that this puts a necessary brake on radical notions. However, it can also stifle innovative theories.
"... a very worrying trend amongst scientific editors and referees to opt for 'economy and simplicity' in an article at the expense of historical facts, irrespective of the validity or acceptance of the theory."
~ Robert Bauval, commenting on flaws in an archeoastronomy paper published by Nature
Rupert Sheldrake (Sheldrake 2013) identified three filters to publication in a science journal:
- Experimenters decide what is published and what is left in the file drawer.
- Journal editors only consider certain types of results.
- Peer reviewers ensure that expected results are more likely to be published than unexpected results.
So Astrological research is suppressed using a circular argument: "Astrological evidence is only acceptable if it has been published in a well-established peer reviewed science journal, but such a journal should not risk their reputation by publishing any evidence that supports astrology."
- Carlson, Shawn (1985) A Double Blind test of Astrology, Nature ~ Carlson S. (1985) Vol.318, 5 December 1985
- Cox (2013) Jimmy Carr and Brian Cox discuss the end of the world Cox Channel 4 (18 October 2013) "I did my programme, you know, The Wonders of the Solar System; I said "astrology is rubbish" on that programme, and we got an almost record number of complaints from stupid people."
- Currey, Robert (2011) U-turn in Carlson's Astrology test Correlation. Vol.27 (2), July 2011
- Donaldson, William & Eyre, Hermoine (2006) The Dictionary of National Celebrity: A Who's Who of Today's Celebrity Culture - From C-List to Z-List George Weidenfeld & Nicholson. Stephen Fry is described as "a stupid person's idea of what an intelligent person is like." To balance this, my son appeared with him in a short section of the movie, Stormbreaker and said Fry was kind, charming and amusing.
- Ertel, Suitbert (2009) Appraisal of Shawn Carlson's Renowned Astrology Tests, Journal of Scientific Exploration, Vol.23, #2.pp.125-137
- Eysenck, Hans (1986). Critique of "A Double-Blind Test of Astrology", Astro-Psychological Problems, Vol.4 (1), January 1986. Eysenck wrote "The conclusion does not follow from the data".
- Giles, Jim Internet Encyclopedias go head to head. Nature December 15, 2005. A detailed and well supported response from Britannica "Almost everything about the journal's investigation, from the criteria for identifying inaccuracies to the discrepancy between the article text and its headline, was wrong and misleading." While it is arguable that Britannica would inevitably defend their position, many of the undeniable errors should have come up in the original peer review or if a review is about objective truth then the Nature should have put the points to Britannica's panel of experts prior to publication. One can only wonder how Nature would perform in a comparison with Encyclopedia Britannica.
- Maddox, J. (1983) No need for panic about AIDS. Nature. Vol.302 (5911) pp. 749. April 1983
- Rawlins, Dennis (1981): sTARBABY , Fate, No: 34
- Sheldrake, R. (2013) The Science Delusion. Hodder & Stoughton, London. p.308
- Truzzi, Marcello (1989). Reflections on the Reception of Unconventional Claims in Science. November 29, 1989 Colloquium. [The following article originally appeared in "Frontier Perspectives" (vol. 1 number 2, Fall/Winter 1990), the newsletter of The Center for Frontier Sciences at Temple University.
- Vidmar, Joseph (2008) A Comprehensive Review of the Carlson Astrology Experiments, Correlation, a refereed journal of research in astrology, Volume 26 (1) 2008.
Find out why it is no longer acceptable to say astrology is rubbish on a scientific basis.
Why it is no longer acceptable to say astrology is rubbish on a scientific basis.|
||How Wikipedia has been hijacked by 'guerrilla skeptics' who push an anti-astrology agenda.|
||Was CSICOP scientific and is CSI truly skeptical?|
||Philosophers who refused to look through Galileo's Telescope|
||Problems with testing astrological practice under strict scientific conditions |
||Illusionists are for entertainment, not to feign or undermine science.|
||U-Turn in Carlson's Double-Blind Astrology Experiment|
||How and why Astrology became an outcast from the mainstream|
||Scepticism can be used to justify institutional bias even among respected scientists and journals.|
||Sunday Times article on Percy Seymour's new Book Scientific Proof of Astrology|
||Is there a known mechanism for astrology and if not can it be dismissed?|
||Was astronomer and mathematician, Johannes Kepler a sceptic or an astrologer or both? |
||Secrets behind a Test of Astrology by illusionist Derren Brown|
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