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Astro sleuthing contests
Research for the working astrologer

T Patrick Davis (1927-2001)

This article originally appeared in Correlation 16(2), 3-9, 1997

Abstract -- Astro Sleuthing Contests are aimed at reaching consensus on what works and doesn't work in astrology, ranging from individual factors to entire techniques. Each contest is based on a case similar to those commonly encountered by working astrologers but with two important differences: each case has a clear-cut outcome, and the data are of the highest quality. The required chart judgements are therefore both realistic and assessable. Astrologers are invited to send in their judgements together with details of their methods. A pilot study using six contests during 1992-94 produced much interest and some encouraging results but had to be discontinued due to lack of participants. The general indications were alarming. They confirmed what has long been known, namely that astrological methods are afflicted by total confusion, and that astrologers are generally unwilling to reduce this confusion by putting their methods to the test. Furthermore, astrologers whose methods clearly failed continued to use them as though nothing had happened, while methods showing superiority were ignored. This is no way to run a "profession". The problem will need to be addressed by astrologers as a whole when co-operation for the common good becomes a priority. Until then the professional astrologer will remain a contradiction in terms.

There are two primary goals for doing astrological research, both of which have their place in the total scheme of things. Goal One is to find information that will help astrologers to understand and interpret birth charts. Goal Two is to convince academia that astrology can be a source of reliable knowledge; this in turn will open new doors for astrology. Unfortunately those working to achieve Goal One tend to be run off by those who can conceive of no goal other than Goal Two, whereas a recognition by both sides of their dependency on one another, with a need for co-operation, would be beneficial to both.

I was interested in Goal One, to find information directly useful to working astrologers. Early on I came to the conclusion that using large samples and counting particular factors tended to distort rather than clarify the astrological picture. Gauquelin's Mars effect, for example, despite years of study, provides no useful information whatsoever to the working astrologer. Consequently I saw the need to be innovative, so that the complexities of astrology could be handled. What follows is an account of my approach and its results.

The need for consensus
Those of us involved for decades in research and tests of astrology, needing to evaluate the overall picture, cannot escape observing the high degree of confusion on basics within the community. Contradictory information and the proliferation of methods have now reached the point where they boggle the mind. Yet the situation continues to worsen.

Much of the problem arises because no record can be found of the astrological community convening for the express purpose of finding consensus on any matter, or of organizing any effort to separate the wheat from the chaff. Other than in rare refereed journals like Correlation, there is no peer review of new methods or theories by an impartial group before publication. Until recently there has been a general lack of recognition of the vital importance of complete and sourced data to the entire field. This lack of a professional approach has had enormous ramifications, none desirable.

What is needed is consensus. We need first to sift and sort astrology's body of knowledge and its many methods to find out what actually works. We then need to banish the unproductive, misleading factors afflicting our studies and retarding progress.

Astro Sleuthing Contests
In effect what is needed is a test of astrology that gives special consideration to astrologers' complaints about earlier tests such as those of Vernon Clark, which were seen as being too rigid and too removed from the everyday practice of astrology. Such a test should be realistic, unhurried, representative of what astrologers actually do, and of course sympathetic to their cause.

Thus was born the idea of Astro Sleuthing Contests, which drew on my decades of experience as an astrologer, teacher, author, researcher, and concerned observer of the astrological scene intent on seeking progress. Each contest was based on a case similar to those commonly encountered by working astrologers but with two important differences: each case had a clear-cut outcome and the data were of the highest quality. Thus the required chart judgements would be both realistic and assessable. Each contest invited astrologers to send in their judgements together with details of their methods.

In this way the contests could look at everything from the basic interpretation of individual factors to entire techniques. The idea was that a careful analysis of the results would indicate which approaches worked, and which were unproductive or misleading or were otherwise retarding progress. We would at last be on the road towards consensus.

Obtaining participants
My approach depended on having responses from the largest possible pool of astrologers. So I contacted the two largest US organizations at that time but they showed no interest. Fortunately Aquarius Workshops Inc, a non-profit astrological organisation in Encino CA, agreed to run my contests in their quarterly magazine Aspects. The magazine was founded in 1975, is aimed at both beginners and experts, is nicely produced, and has a circulation of over a thousand. Contributors include well-known astrologers such as Marion March, Joan McEvers (who is the current editor), and Lois Rodden. All subscribers must sign a code of ethics similar to that of the Faculty. It seemed to me that publication of the contests in Aspects would be a fair test of their viability.

Selecting cases
Using the pages of Aspects during 1992-94, I presented a series of ordinary problems, common to human life and astrological practice, and of a nature that astrologers claim can be read from a birth chart. Each involved cases taken from my private files. Previously unpublished data of the highest quality, complete and sourced, always timed to the minute, often independently confirmed as accurate by the parents, was provided for solving each problem through astrological methods. I identified the data as being that of a male or female, and occasionally provided a minimal clue to spur interest. No rectified or speculative data was employed.

The longitude and latitude were provided from a source known to be accurate. Time standards were carefully checked. The editors were happy to allow double-checking of the typesetting to avoid typographical errors. Selection and checking of data was extremely time-consuming, but data are of course the basis on which all astrological judgements are made, so they must be treated as vitally important. This painstaking approach to data assured participants that they would not be wasting their time on poor data, and that poor data could not be used as an excuse for incorrect judgements.

In selecting cases for study, preference was given to females because they provide the majority of clients for astrologers, and also because their data was less likely to be known to any other astrologer. Selecting cases required much care in order to highlight certain areas of inquiry, as well as to avoid embarrassing or identifying anyone. For example this could mean selecting cases from those born in large cities rather than in small towns. I knew something about each of the people selected in case this might be useful in any subsequent discussion.

Rules and procedures
The nature of the contests and goal required that each problem be non-subjective, because of a need for a clear and unambiguous answer. There were no broadly encompassing questions such as "What happened?" Some problems had more than one part. All problems were designed to elicit clarification on interpretations, on methods, and various practices. Entrants could use any astrological method or procedure, but they had to show their work, provide evidence of the astro reasoning followed, and list the methods used, thereby eliminating psychic answers or guesswork.

The contests were open to all astrologers desirous of testing their methods in this forum and of contributing to astrology. Those correct in their deductions were named; those who were incorrect were guaranteed anonymity. There was no desire to embarrass anyone. Aquarius Workshops provided winners with a Certificate of Recognition and prize they could select from products sold by Aquarius. I was responsible for setting up and running the contests.

Because of publishing schedules each contest had a deadline for the receipt of responses, which were sent directly to me. I analyzed each response for methods or interpretations leading either to correct or incorrect answers. For example I always recorded the zodiac and house system used, geocentric or heliocentric, the use of aspects and orbs, various systems or techniques, and so on. The results were published in the next issue of Aspects together with a new contest. The editor considered the contests to be an important learning experience, in keeping with Aquarius Workshops' aims of education and research, and gave me a free hand. Winners were notified and complimented. Everyone was thanked for their contribution.

Details of contests
Below are brief details of the seven contests presented in Aspects during 1992-94, one of which did not require answers, so in effect there were six contests. In the earlier contests the focus was on basics.

(1) Three young women born in successive years. Which one achieved a Doctor of Medicine degree on the given date, and a quite dramatic change in life style? The full text of this contest as it first appeared in Aspects is given in the Appendix.

(2) Four persons (two male, two female), each with the date of death of a parent, and the circumstances described either as "expected" or "sudden and unexpected". Was the parent the mother or father? Here the aim was to identify parents from the birth chart.

(3) Two young girls born in adjacent states just 1d 3h 27m apart. They had met and became friends. In a terrible auto accident one was killed instantly; the other survived but was paralyzed in the lower part of her body. The time (from one girl's crushed watch) and exact location were given. Which girl survived? Here, as in most of the contests, multiple principles of astrology were brought into focus.

(4) The contest by Charles Carter which appeared in Astrologer's Quarterly, Volume 1(3), Summer 1927. What happened to a girl born 20 March 1916 at 5:40 am in London: (a) shortly after birth, and (b) on the 16 August 1926? My repeat was accompanied by the answers, so no entries were required. Interestingly there was a typographical error in the original contest, which Carter subsequently commented on because it had ruined his contest and wasted the efforts of respondents. It had the effect of warning the Aspects editor and me to double check our data before publication, and happily we found no mistakes.

(5) Three mature women. The first had never married although she had dated men. The second married at age 14, and again less than eight months after being widowed at age 28. The third had recently divorced her ninth husband. Which was which?

(6) Four women. Although born at widely varying years and places, all had chosen the same unique profession while in their teen years. What was the profession?

(7) A boy aged 11 had a mysterious paralytic-type illness come and go, leaving everyone confused as to the cause. Eventually the cause became known and was quite specific. Can astrology indicate the cause? I had hoped this would encourage horary answers, but none came in.

Responses were few but effective
I found that although astrologers were using the contests to test themselves at home, only a few were confident enough to submit a response, which rather defeated the purpose. Nevertheless the contests proved to be far more effective than expected in bringing forth useful information. Contest (6) on vocation had the largest response and the most correct answers. Contest (2) on identifying parents had the smallest response, probably because the astrological literature gives contradictory rules for judging this factor, for example the 10th house is variously seen as the mother, or the father, or the dominant parent, thereby providing a situation where nothing can be settled. I had hoped to find someone with clear workable rules, but in vain. (My own opinion, based on experience, is that the 10th house is the mother.)

In general, astrologers tended to enter only if great confidence was felt, and not to re-enter if their first entry proved to be incorrect. Given this tendency it is unsurprising that in six contests most astrologers achieved only one correct entry, with only one astrologer achieving two correct and one other astrologer three correct. No correct answers were received from Great Britain, and I was not overwhelmed with correct answers from the USA. Because of the high turnover I made no attempt to record the total number of respondents, but at least one correct answer was received in each contest.

Entries varied from simple tradition based on hand calculations to elaborate multiple techniques requiring extensive computer calculations. Unfortunately the number of responses was insufficient to give clear-cut results. But for what it is worth, aspects between planets and lights were the most consistently reliable significators, tropical won over sidereal when signs were crucial, using planets beyond Saturn was better than not using them, and midpoints (with tight orbs) and house position were both used successfully. For timing, everyone used transits, with the progressed Moon in second place. For further details see my summary in Aspects, Spring 1994, 19(1), 44-45, and in Astrological Journal, May-June 1994, 36(3), 180-184.

(The last included a repeat of contest (1), which attracted five responses, one to me and four to the editor, none of them correct, see Astrological Journal, November-December 1994, 36(6), 345-347. This is more worrying than it seems because the editor inadvertently published the charts with the contest. One chart showed the contacts that gave the game away, yet neither the editor nor the participants noticed! Afterwards there was no evidence that consistently getting the wrong answer had led to any sense of alarm demanding remedial action. Indeed, the editor suggested it shows how astrology belongs to a different order of knowledge, "which means it eludes being neatly captured by the concrete estimative faculty", whatever that means.)

Provocative findings
Some findings were provocative. For example many methods that I expected to be used never appeared, and different methods could be successful in the same contest. The last means that nobody can claim that only one successful method exists. Similarly, because many methods failed, nobody can claim that all methods are equally valid. Those using Hindu methods mounted a spirited response, with conference calls around the USA seeking consensus on an answer. Certain Hindu methods did lead to correct answers, but when answers depended on the zodiac and its rulers, those using the sidereal zodiac were led astray.

The best organized correct response came from a woman medical doctor with her own clinic. She used the tropical zodiac and known planets with Koch houses. For events she used day-for-a-year progressions on both planets and angles, plus transits. She succinctly described her astro reasoning. Only two respondents used a combination of geocentric and heliocentric, but both provided correct answers.

Contests had potential value
Although the responses were rather few, they nevertheless showed that the contests had great potential for sorting the wheat from the chaff. They also showed the overwhelming need for such a sorting. For example they showed how using the sidereal zodiac, or the Uranian system, had led even experienced astrologers away from the correct answers. The failure of many methods was compatible with the results of research generally, including the results of Vernon Clark experiments. A tolerance of failed methods is of course incompatible with progress.

Each contest could have only one correct answer. Although each answer had to be supported by proper astrological reasoning, there was still the possibility that a correct answer could have arisen by the wrong reasoning (thus an otherwise invalid significator might by a fluke just happen to fit) or by a calculation error (this did occur). Nevertheless, given enough contests and enough responses, such anomalies can in principle be identified and overcome. Of course I could have run a few random controls to cover this point, but I am opposed to such controls because there is no way of guaranteeing that they do not apply to a person as gifted or as directed as the test case. Controls need to be actual people, and they need to be selected as carefully as the test cases, which would have made my series prohibitively time-consuming. In any case my series was merely a pilot study to see if the concept was viable, so it was expedient to ignore such matters for the time being.

Aim was knowledge
In each contest the aim was knowledge, not support for any particular technique, therefore open minds were a requirement. Because methods and reasoning had to be explained, many problems were avoided that can upset tests not having these requirements. Therefore the potential for contests to address any area of concern seems unlimited, subject only to the availability of quality data and one's imagination or creativity.

One vital component is having an experienced impartial judge to evaluate responses, especially when respondents don't know what they use, as when it just came with their computer program. One of my biggest challenges was to convince participants that the aim was to improve astrology rather than to provide a diverting competition. Thus many participants (mostly males) needed a follow-up call to discover their methods and reasoning. It was clear that the idea of applying discrimination to reach consensus was an unfamiliar one, as was the idea that methods existed other than those they knew about.

Discussion and Conclusion
I was distressed to find that, when methods had clearly failed, astrologers continued to use them as though nothing had happened, while methods showing superiority were ignored. Indeed, only in contests like these can one clearly appreciate the anarchy and total confusion that afflicts astrology today. Truth is no longer a concern. Instead the Prima Donna syndrome has been allowed to run wild, making the ego fatally inseparable from the procedures. But this is no way to run a "profession". The problem will need to be addressed by the astrological community as a whole at such time as co-operation for the common good becomes a priority. Until then the professional astrologer will remain a contradiction in terms, astrology will justifiably be dismissed by its critics as "for entertainment only", and Goals One and Two will remain a pious hope.

In conclusion it seems clear that this approach holds great potential for establishing astrology on a more solid foundation. Ironically the approach itself is straightforward. The real challenge is to convince astrological organisations that no discipline which so clearly fosters confusion can ever become respectable. It is a challenge because the problem has been evident for centuries, yet these organisations have done nothing about it, at least not in a rational manner, and the problem is beyond the ability of individuals no matter how dedicated. Nevertheless I still have hopes that astrologers will decide to treat astrology on a responsible basis.

Depite having given over two years of my time to these contests, the poor response persuaded me to close the series. For me, the contests were a labor of love, and the satisfaction of intellectual curiosity was my reward.

Postscript 2000
During the six years following the last of the astro sleuthing contests, astrologers showed no interest in reviving them or in addressing the problems discussed above. In 2000 the author made the following comment to Dean & Mather, see Dead End on this website under Sun Signs: "After many decades of work it is clear to me that astrologers have no intention of putting their house in order. They have no interest in research unless it confirms what they already accept and use, or unless it requires no additional effort or supplies, or unless it emanates from a time period when the Earth was assumed to be flat and the center of the universe."

Thanks are due to Aquarius Workshops and Aspects magazine for making the contests possible, and of course to all the participants for their support. My thanks also to Dr Geoffrey Dean for help in reworking my various writings into the format required by Correlation.

Appendix: the first Astro Sleuthing Contest

Reprinted with permission from Aspects, 17(1), Spring 1992, page 18.
It begins with a brief biography by the editor:

T. Patrick Davis has been teaching astrology for more than 30 years. Terminating her astrological consulting practice and bookstore in August 1974, Pat spent the next 18 years on applied astrological research. Her projects have included explorations of retrograde and stationary planets, sexual assaults, missing children, inventors, victims, criminals, financial markets, politics, degree areas, and astrological techniques. She is best known for her pioneering work on Heliocentric Astrology and her extensively published research findings. In 1991, she received the AW [Aquarius Workshops] Robert Carl Jansky Award for research and leadership.

Introduction: The need is great for astrologers to sift through our body of knowledge and its many techniques to find what works best and most consistently. It is hoped that this approach will nudge the astrological community to co-operate in a candid assessment of what we do and do not know and what we can and cannot do with our beloved science/art.

It is true that there are subjective situations which do not easily lend themselves to this type of testing, but much remains that is suitable. Those strongly advocating particular methods should find participating in this forum a splendid opportunity to demonstrate the worth of these methods. The wide-ranging advantages of knowing which techniques perform best should be obvious. If there is an enthusiastic response to this forum, it will be continued and many other challenges can be presented.

The Case of the New MD
Girl one: Born 18 September 1953 at 9:49 am CST in Kansas City, Kansas (39N07, 94W37:30). Data from birth certificate.

Girl two: Born 16 September 1954 at 9:50 am CST in Kansas City, Kansas (39N07, 94W37:30). Data from birth certificate.

Girl three: Born 26 October 1955 at 7:56 am CST in Kansas City, Missouri (39N06, 94W34:42). Data from birth certificate.

(General accuracy of all data was confirmed by the mothers.)

Event: One of the young ladies, represented by the data above, graduated with high honors as a Doctor of Medicine on the afternoon of 11 May 1991 in the Midwest. At a special dinner the night before, she was singled out and praised for her achievements. Before beginning private practice, she must fulfill a two-year residency, but there is a salary. Her residency work began within a couple of months of graduation.

Additional information: These three lovely young ladies have certain similarities between their charts and remarkably similar backgrounds and environmental conditioning. Indeed, two are cousins. Each one had disillusioning experiences in the first marriage, but has coped well. They are constructive, productive citizens, all holding responsible career positions.

Clues: The father of the new MD played a key role in assuring her advancement in status by supplying whatever funds were essential to continue her extended schooling over and above the grants received from alternative sources. The other two girls, for various reasons, received the standard assistance supplied in middle-class families up to the time of marriage. Thereafter, they were on their own.

Questions: Which young lady achieved this enormous jump in status and income potential? How did you arrive at your conclusion? What methods did you use?

Answers: The correct answer will be in the next issue of Aspects along with an assessment of the methods used that were most successful.

Contest: Are you a good astro-sleuth? If so, you'll probably come up with the correct answer to this issue's question. All entrants with the correct answer will receive a certificate of recognition; the entrant whose correct submission has the earliest postmark will also receive a $10 gift certificate to apply toward either his or her AW renewal fee or a purchase from the AW product list. To be valid, each submission must include information on what methods were used to reach its conclusion (in other words, show your work). All submissions are to be sent directly to: T Patrick Davis, 6096 Masters Blvd, Orlando FL 32819.

Editor's Note: There are many ways to skin a cat and no doubt many methods for making correct astrological predictions. We're interested in discovering what works for you. Let us know if you use sidereal, tropical, geo, hello, Hindu, Mayan, horary, usual planets, Chiron, Transpluto, Uranian, asteroids, comets, fixed stars, degree area, secondary progressions, solar arc directions, tertiary/solar/lunar returns, eclipses, cosmobiology, midpoints, declinations, transits, interface points, nodes, aphelion, perihelion, galactic points, eastpoints, vertex, Arabic Parts, house systems or whatever you use to get the correct answer.

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