What tests are easy?
Abstract -- It is a myth to say astrology cannot be tested. How could astrologers know it works if they could not test it? Some tests are difficult. Other tests are easy and can be made by anyone. The key is to ask the right questions. The most overworked areas are identified (don't bother with these since one more test will make no difference) along with three easy tests of sun sign beliefs, two easy tests of sun sign columns, one easy test of astrologers, and one easy test of Barnum effects.
Can astrology be tested?
Astrology (soul stuff) cannot be tested by science (materialism).
Ignore such objections. First, if they were true then astrologers could never know anything about astrology. How could they know it works if they could not test it? Second, the objections are irrelevant to the questions that matter, such as are Leos more generous than non-Leos, or do astrologers agree on what a chart means. Third, yes, some tests are difficult but others are easy and can be made by anyone. See Research results under Doing Scientific Research for abstracts of 91 studies that illustrate the diversity of tests that have been made.
(1) Why do you believe in this idea? This puts the burden of proof on the claimant where it belongs.
(2) What evidence would you accept as proving your idea wrong? This is a potent question because it opposes the tendency to consider only confirming cases.
(3) Are there other explanations that would produce the same outcome? This too is a potent question because it looks at how informed the claimant is.
Avoid open ended questions. Ask not "how does astrology work?" but "what is meant by astrology?" so you know what the issues are (astrologers seldom agree on this or anything else, so the answer will depend on who you talk to). Not "is astrology true?" but "to what extent is it true?" or "does it need to be true?" The key question is "does astrology deliver benefits beyond those due to non-astrological factors?", but this cannot be answered until the other questions have been answered. Do not expect to find this question answered in astrology books.
Projects about sun signs
Signs are the most researched topic in astrology with well over one hnndred empirical studies. Most studies are simply counts of people born under various signs, but such counts are too contaminated by ordinary influences (astronomy, sampling, demography, age incidence) to mean anything. We can try correcting for such influences but in practice the uncertainty is too great. So forget counting sun signs. If you need convincing, read this website's critiques of Sachs's Astrology File under Sun Signs.
The remaining studies, if adequately controlled against non-astrological influences, have invariably been negative. Signs are not only the most researched topic in astrology but are also the most disconfirmed. Signs are simply not valid, not even slightly. So forget validation, including validation of sun sign compatibility. Turn instead to looking at people's reactions towards an extremely popular belief now known (but not widely known) to be untrue.
Sun signs seem valid because they cannot fail to fit (everyone, not just Leos, will admit to being generous). They are also a good topic of conversation and are nice to have around. People tend to like them, but exactly why is not well understood despite many speculations. So one easy and useful project might be to ask people why they like or dislike sun signs, and to find reasons for any differences. For example men may view sun signs differently from women.
Reactions to disconfirmation
Sun sign junkies
Mix and match
Projects about serious astrology
The bad news is that many tests are difficult, time consuming, and have already been done. For example testing whether an astrologer can identify people from their charts has already been done in 54 studies, some of which took several years to complete. Overall 742 astrologers and more than 1400 charts were tested but the results showed no support for astrology. (The support shown by some early tests was later found to be an artifact of sampling.) Another 20 studies involving nearly 500 subjects tested whether people can pick their own chart reading but again the results showed no support for astrology. See Meta-analyses under Doing SAcientific Research for overviews of all the studies in areas like these.
In general the better the study the more negative the outcome. The problem is that the sheer weight of studies will not be overturned by adding one more study. The good news is that other studies are much easier, just as useful, and more fun. And anyone can do them.
Tests of agreement
To be feasible the above test requires access to a local astrology group. But it is worth the bother. Notice how all the usual excuses for error (birth time not accurate enough, person does not know themself, and so on) no longer apply, since accuracy is not a concern. The point is, if astrologers cannot agree on what a chart is saying, then what price astrology? So far 28 such tests have been made involving a total of 506 astrologers and 762 charts, but their agreement was scarcely better than no agreement. Do not expect to find this result mentioned in astrology books.
One size fits all
Here the sense seems to come from the reading but in fact it comes from our ability to make sense out of vague data, as when we see faces in clouds. The most readily-accepted Barnum statements are favourable (you are forceful and well-liked by others), or vague (you enjoy a certain amount of change and variety), or two-headed (you are generally cheerful but get depressed at times). Not unexpectedly, the result of accepting Barnum statements is an increase in belief. The Barnum effect has attracted around 70 studies but it still makes a telling point.
The fallacy of personal validation
Taken from Forer BR, The fallacy of personal validation: A classroom demonstration of gullibility. Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology 1949, 44, 118-123. The "personal validation" in the title refers to the process of looking at a statement, seeing that it fits, and concluding that the system works. Just as astrologers do every day.
To see how it works, look at volume 10 pages 25-27 of Noel Tyl's Principles and Practice of Astrology, Llewellyn 1975, where he gives a reading to show how astrological counselling should be conducted. Tyl, a famous American astrologer and a psychology graduate, is renowned among astrologers for the quality of his work, so we can take this as being representative of the best practice. Tyl is talking to Eric, a new client aged 24. I have added comments in [ ].
"Basically, we should begin with a general statement to differentiate you from ... all other people. The horoscope shows that you are gracious, friendly, that you express yourself softly [all this was already obvious, now comes the favourable Barnum], and that you're very sensitive. [Now the vague Barnum] But, Eric, there are tensions here ... linked to self-esteem, how you feel about yourself. [Now the double-headed Barnum] The horoscope suggests that, on the one hand, you're pretty particular about whom you relate to. [Now repeat vague Barnum] This might be a defense because you're not too pleased with yourself. [Now back to double-headed Barnum] And, then on the other hand, you're friendly to the extreme in order to be accepted. Do you think that is accurate?" To which Eric replied "Yeah (smiling). That's it, right on the button. [But how could it be otherwise?] Gee, I know a little about Astrology; how do you see all that?"
Sources of information
If your project requires a review of the literature, remember that books which examine the truth about astrology can be hard to find. For every book there are dozens of articles that can be even harder to find. Be aware that works earlier than 1990 tend to be dated. A comprehensive guide to finding information, plus an annotated book list, is on this website in Finding info under Adroit Utilities. Unfortunately books that suggest tests are almost nonexistent. Two recent titles are:
Blackmore S & Hart-Davis A (1995). Test Your Psychic Powers: Find Out the Truth for Yourself. Thorsons, London. Sets out simple experiments for testing sun sign columns and nine other paranormal areas (telepathy, crystals, dreams, dowsing, pendulums, premonitions, psychokinesis, ouija boards, and palmisty) that you might find more appealing! Blackmore was then a leading skeptic and investigator of the paranormal.
Wilson A (1998). What's the big idea? The paranormal. Hodder Headline, London, with illustrations by N Dewar. A humorous but critical look at the paranormal for young people, with occasional simple tests including one of sun sign columns. "If you want to know the truth about the paranormal, don't read the stars."