Phillipson interview of researchers
An expanded version of the interview in Chapters 9 and 10 of Astrology in the Year Zero.
Abstract -- Garry Phillipson grills a team of five prominent researchers (Geoffrey Dean, Suitbert Ertel, Ivan Kelly, Arthur Mather, Rudolf Smit) with more than 150 questions covering the main issues of scientific research into astrology, to which they reply collectively. It took an entire year to establish the questions (and the questions raised by questions) and to ensure that the answers are concise, readable and complete. Issues normally evaded by astrologers are tackled head on. The five researchers have been investigating astrology for at least twenty years. Two have been full-time practising astrologers, two are university professors, and all have had numerous articles published in the astrological and scientific literature, their collective total in astrology being over 200 articles and several books. Part 1 (background) covers research methods, tests, what researchers investigate, whether astrology needs to be true, reasoning errors and their disastrous effects, intuition, unconscious processes, ESP. Part 2 (research results) covers Gauquelin, sun signs, the whole chart, isolated vs multiple factors, time twins, open-mindedness, influence of world views, reactions of astrologers to research outcomes, white crows, prestige, whether the dismal outcomes to date might improve, resources, parallels between astrology and poetry, credibility problems, education, critical thinking skills, whether modern science supports astrology, our inability to cope with complexity, how reasoning errors make mind/reality/etc issues premature, sources of research information, prospects for the researcher, questions to ask oneself. To help retrieval there is a list of topics and an index with over 700 entries. Figures have been updated to December 2005. Conclusion The researchers conclude that astrology is neither science nor magic, and is more likely to be a delusion arising from pervasive artifacts. The interview is nontechnical, easy to understand, and cross referenced. Much of the information is not readily available, especially in astrology books. For new readers it is the best available overview of research into astrology on this website. Don't get involved in astrology without reading this interview first.
The following brief excerpts from the answers give an idea of what to expect:
Testing. If we are to accept the claim that astrology provides reliable knowledge and accurate diagnoses, it has to do this under conditions where errors in our reasoning cannot intrude. Yes, the chart may fit the person, but does it fit better than other charts? Yes, clients may identify with their reading, but can they pick their own reading out of several? Yes, the prediction was a hit, but how many were misses, and is the hit rate better than that achieved by informed guessing?
Outcome. Many such tests have been made, some by scientists, some by astrologers, and some by scientists and astrologers working together. Many have been made by ourselves since the 1970s when we first started our researches. But over the whole range of approaches the answer has been generally negative. The occasional promising result has not been confirmed, which illustrates the importance of not depending on just one study. Half a century of research into astrology, using techniques incomparably more powerful than those available to the Babylonians and Greeks, has failed to reveal effects (or at least effects commensurate with astrological claims) beyond those due to ordinary causes such as errors in reasoning. Which of course is very disappointing to those of us who have been astrologers. On the other hand it does not deny that future tests may be more positive, or that astrology may be fruitful in zsubjective ways.
Below. How large sample sizes home in on the truth.
Left. Hit rates for 54 studies of astrologers matching birth charts to their owners, grouped by sample size (number of birth charts or pairs of birth charts per study). [When this interview was completed the number of studies was 47.] As the sample size increases from left to right, the hit rates show a general decrease in scatter as shown by the trend in bar lengths, and a closer approach to the truth. The length of each bar is q2 standard deviations, which is the range within which just over 95% of the results from a large number of repeat studies are expected to fall. In each case the chance level of 50% falls well inside each range, which suggests that these astrologers were generally unable to match charts usefully better than tossing a coin, a point confirmed below.
Right. Decreasing scatter and increasing accuracy is a general consequence of increasing sample size. Thus the same trend is shown by 109 studies of graphologists matching handwritings to their owners, but this time the trend is more uniform due to the larger number of studies. Mean hit rate for the 109 studies (55.8% sd 5.6%) is higher than for the 54 astrology studies (51.7% sd 5.8%) due to personal information inadvertently present in some handwriting samples, which the graphologists took into account even though they are supposed to ignore content. But neither mean differs significantly from 50% (p = 0.30 for graphology and 0.77 for astrology). Tossing a coin would be easier, quicker, and generally just as accurate.
Conclusions. Four points can be made. First, astrology is no longer the mystery it used to be. Most of the important questions that can be asked now have answers that are generally consistent. Second, the claim that astrology works implies that all non-astrological influences leading to the same result have been ruled out. Don't accept the first unless you can be sure of the second. Third, ask yourself if your kind of astrology needs to be true. If no, you are safe. If yes, you are on shaky ground, and you should ask yourself which alternative is the more likely: (1) That pervasive astrological influences exist which contradict known science even though astrologers spectacularly disagree on the nature of those influences, or (2) that the many known errors in human reasoning of which most astrologers are spectacularly unaware explain astrological beliefs. Fourth, whatever our views of astrology, they cannot deny its historical importance, nor should they deny our open-mindedness to possible future discoveries in astrology and in extraterrestrial influences.
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