The Twitter Exchange: 28 July 2014
Other Articles on Astrology & Science by Robert Currey
|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.
|How Signs of the Tropical Zodiac differ from constellations of the Astronomical Zodiac & why there are 12 signs.
|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
First, an MP comes out in support of Astrology
It all began with a BBC interview with David Tredinnick, MP on 25 July 2014. Tredinnick, who is on the Parliamentary Health Committee advocated the use of astrology in connection with healthcare.
Julia Hartley-Brewer, broadcaster and columnist interviewed Tredinnick on her weekday afternoon radio show on talk radio station LBC 97.3. In the interview, Tredinnick said it was possible to obtain a personal horoscope from my company, Equinox.
The MP Who Wants Astrology To Be Used For Medical Purposes
Then MP's Radio Interview sparks a debate on Twitter
Following the interview, a number of sceptics on Twitter tweeted criticisms of astrology to my Twitter profile with a copy to Hartley-Brewer.
In the ensuing debate, J H-B tweeted me a link to an article from Truth Magazine with the comment "This article is 24 years old, but still stands... ". The article is entitled "Astrology Fails the Test of Science " by Mark Mayberry from Cooper, TX published in 1990.
Sceptic cites Evangelist's 'scientific' critique of Astrology
"The Truth" is a monthly religious magazine run by preachers from the non-institutional Churches of Christ. The Bible is taken literally and seen as inspired by the word God. 'Brother' Mayberry is currently an evangelist preacher for the Adoue St Church of Christ in Alvin, Texas.
I am all for religious tolerance, but when a magazine with a by-line "Your Word is Truth John 17:17
" claims a monopoly on scientific
truth to judge others, various expressions to mind ... hi pot, meet kettle
or people in glass houses should not throw stones
. His own compass of truth, the Bible is very clear on this:-
"You hypocrite! First take the plank out of your own eye, then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's." ~ Matthew 7:1-5 Revised English Bible (1989) Oxford & Cambridge University Press
But rather than poison the well, I responded to the content with a series of Tweets (limited to 140 characters).
Seven reasons why the Truth Magazine Article fails
As you will see, it turns out that the article is not just out of date, it fails by its own 'Test of Science'. The final result is a text-book example of what can happen when bias mixes with ignorance.
Objection prior to investigation is prejudice
It is true that 186 leading scientists signed a document expressing their objections to astrology in 1975. What the article fails to mention is that none of the scientists had any knowledge of astrology. Their comments were not based on any scientific research or any other investigation. Not unsurprisingly, not one was prepared to be to be interviewed on their unsubstantiated claims afterwards despite invitations. The document was masterminded not by a scientist but by fundamentalist sceptic, Paul Kurtz. Despite his lack of scientific training, Kurtz went on to found CSICOP and later inadvertently produced some of the best evidence in support of astrology including replicating the claims of Michel Gauquelin and the Carlson Test.
If the mechanism for an effect is unknown, it doesn't make it disappear
The basis of the objection by the scientists was that the distances in space are too vast for any known mechanism to account for astrology. However, though sceptical, Carl Sagan refused to sign as he felt the tone was too authoritarian and he was not persuaded that a lack of mechanism is justification for dismissal of astrology.
"That we can now think of no mechanism for astrology is relevant but unconvincing. No mechanism was known, for example, for continental drift when it was proposed by Wegener. Nevertheless, we see that Wegener was right, and those who objected on the grounds of unavailable mechanism were wrong." Sagan, Carl. "Letter." The Humanist 36 (1976): 2.
Carlson Test now supports astrology
The first study cited is the Carlson Test (1985). Since it was published, no fewer than three professors (including Hans Eysenck) have independently criticised Carlson's conclusions. More recently, Professor Suitbert Ertel has shown that the astrologers were able to match horoscopes in a blind study to a level that cannot be explained by chance. (p=.027) Though this test alone does not 'prove' astrology, it is evidence in support of astrology rather than against the field.
Sun Sign Studies fail to test astrological practice
The five other studies listed (2 to 6) are based on Sun Signs - i.e. there is no time of birth. Now, it is well known that these studies are limited for several reasons.
- The first is the risk of self-attribution - that is people identify with their sun sign. When you try to remove this factor, there are many artifacts.
- The second is that without the time of birth, at least 6% of subjects allocated to each sign may be in the wrong sign as the solar ingress varies from year to year.
- The third is that only the writers of horoscope columns in newspapers work with Sun Signs alone. Astrologers interpret a full chart containing the Sun, Moon and planets. So 'scientific' tests of Sun Signs are rarely based on real astrologer's claims, but on 'Straw Man Arguments'.
Basic Astronomy: Signs are not Constellations
The preacher's claim that "Everyone's astrological 'sign' is wrong!" shows he also knows nothing about astronomy. It is very simple the Signs of the Zodiac are not the same as the Zodiacal Constellations or any other Constellations even though they have the same names and origin. Terms such as Capricorn are homonyms - words that sound and are spelt the same way but represent different meanings. Another example is an Imperial Gallon and an American Gallon. To say one is right and the other wrong is to confuse the two terms. For a full explanation of precession and the three different Zodiacs.
Astrology is far from flattery
Another common criticism of astrology is that "Astrologers tell people what they want to hear." Well, this criticism is preferable to the alternative that astrologers are just gloom and doom merchants. However, astrologers are only like that in the minds of sceptics who cannot otherwise explain their results. If you pick up any astrology book and read an interpretation of any natal aspect or transit such as the Moon square to Pluto, it is not filled with Barnum statements, flattery or optimism. Yet, the interpretation will be extremely useful for the individual.
Astrologers are not Psychics, Oracles or Exorcists
The final section entitled "It Fails to Accurately Predict the Future" does enable me to predict that the author and the Truth magazine are not in the running for any prizes for journalism with that brazen split infinitive. (I accept that my grammar is not prefect but this is a blog). In this section, the author follows the path of many sceptics in lumping astrologers with psychics, oracles, soothsayers and exorcists in order to debunk by association. This is not astrology and Mayberry's misunderstanding confirms that he is coming from a warped view of religion under the pretence of science to rant about a complex field about which he knows nothing.