Geoffrey Dean and Ivan W Kelly
Abstract -- Astrologers were predictably outraged by the negative findings reported by Dean & Kelly (2003) in "Is Astrology Relevant to Consciousness and Psi?" Journal of Consciousness Studies 10 (6-7), 175-198, a long scholarly article of 24 pages and 85 references. Tests of time twins and of astrologers had showed no support for astrology. Conclusion: The possibility that astrology might be relevant to consciousness and psi is not denied, but such influences, if they exist in astrology, would seem to be very weak or very rare. When the media picked up and distorted the findings, it led to the biggest media frenzy on astrology for 2003. By 2005, according to Google, the article was being cited on several hundred websites. Two things make the frenzy of particular interest. First, its focus is not your everyday sun sign astrology but the serious astrology of conferences and consulting rooms. Second, the frenzy brought out some of astrology's top defensive guns, allowing you to judge how well they perform when confronted by scientific findings. Astrologers in general reacted with name-calling, getting it wrong, and never citing compelling evidence to support their claims. The top guns (newspaper astrologer Jonathan Cainer, pineal expert Dr Frank McGillion, maths teacher and astrologer Vladimir Gorbatsevich) did little better. Nobody noticed that the two sides might be talking about different things (facts versus benefits) which are not mutually exclusive. It seems that media interest in astrology generally destroys any hope of informed debate. Appendix 1 gives an abstract of the JCS article. Appendices 2, 3, and 4 give Dean and Kelly's response to the main points in the Cainer, McGillion, and Gorbatsevich critiques.
The special June/July 2003 issue of the prestigious Journal of Consciousness Studies was devoted to parapsychology, It contained twelve long articles, and the issue as a whole received praise for its balanced approach from New Scientist (13 September 2003 "authoritative and accessible"), and from Amazon ("serious and responsible"). But what caught media attention was the article entitled "Is Astrology Relevant to Consciousness and Psi?", a scholarly article of 24 pages and 85 references by Geoffrey Dean and Ivan W Kelly, which one astrology website later described as "Dean and Kelly rehashing old and flawed research hype". It led to the biggest media frenzy on astrology for 2003. By 2005, according to Google, the article was being cited on several hundred websites.
Two things make the frenzy of particular interest. First, its focus is not your everyday sun sign astrology but the serious astrology of conferences and consulting rooms. Second, the frenzy brought out some of astrology's top defensive guns, allowing you to judge how well they perform when confronted by scientific findings.
Content of the JCS article
But meta-analysis of more than forty controlled studies found no evidence that astrologers perform even marginally better than chance, even on basic tasks such as predicting extraversion (basic because according to astrologers it is one of the easiest things to see in a birth chart). They did not even usefully agree on what the birth chart indicates. More to the point, astrologers who claimed to use psychic ability performed no better than those who did not. Dean and Kelly cautiously conclude "the possibility that astrology might be relevant to consciousness and psi is not denied, but such influences, if they exist in astrology, would seem to be very weak or very rare". See Appendix 1 for an abstract of their article.
Distortion by the media
Outrage by Indian astrologers
Perhaps the most notable response from India was "Astrology is Science, not Rubbish" (India Express 25 August 2003), where Dr Raj Baldev "who is considered an authority on the subject of Astronomy, Astrology, Cosmo-Mathematics and Metaphysics" (he has a website www.occultastrology.com offering "The perfect gift. Occult Horoscope by post. Only $6.95") said Dean and Kelly had made "an abominable mistake that can never be pardoned". He explained that ancient Hindu astrology "is a complete science" where even one million billionth of a second "makes a lot of difference". So it is ridiculous to believe that people born a few minutes apart should be similar. (Measuring birth times to a million billionth of a second implies that the position of shadows cast on ancient sundials was routinely read to better than a hundred millionth of the diameter of an atom. Even at night. Should we believe it?)
Views of Western astrologers
The most orchestrated response came from the AA (UK Astrological Association), which in 2000 had refused to publicly declare its position on sun signs despite overwhelming evidence for their invalidity (see Response to an invitation under Sun Signs). The AA president Roy Gillett accused Dean of seeking to "discredit astrology". The AA website www.astrologicalassociation.com accused Dean and Kelly of having a "tortured imagination" and "defensively closed mindsets" that "deny astrology an even-handed debate", to correct which it then gave "a balanced response" via two reports that together "comprehensively dismiss these outrageous and disingenuous claims".
Jonathan Cainer's report
Cainer then drops a series of clangers -- personality tests are "dangerously unreliable" (not these ones), "most scientists hate astrology" (most have better things to do), the tests covered ages only up to 23 (so Cainer rejects phoneline callers aged under 23?). His most notable clanger was "Once again, it turns out to be an experiment rigged to make astrology look silly" (in fact it was the AA who proposed the experiment in the first place, not in a moment of weakness but in a well-researched eight-page proposal prepared when the subjects were seven years old). He ends with "And some scientists claim to have a truly open mind" (like his open-minded behavior towards negative findings?).
Cainer's piece was later featured in a double-sided insert page in the Astrological Journal 45(5), Sep-Oct 2003, as a response to Dean and Kelly "announcing to the world media 'new' research 'showing' astrology is not 'true'!!". See Appendix 2 for Dean and Kelly's reponse to Cainer's main points.
Frank McGillion's report
He says a focus on consciousness and psi "might seem less relevant ... than the authors appear to consider" (the call for papers required it), he dislikes "the citation of names of non-scientists in formal scientific papers" (so how to give astrologers' views without citing astrologers?), and he says editing such psi papers "is a demanding task for the non-specialist" (one editor was world expert James Alcock). At the end he generously allows that "there is much here that astrologers can learn from" (so Cainer was wrong to call it "a load of rubbish"?). Nevertheless conspicuously absent is a description of what Dean and Kelly did and a critique of their results (refutation by censorship?). McGillion later provided updates that notably failed to fill the gap, see below.
Claims of credibility are clearly not helped when the AA, which calls itself "one of Europe's leading astrological organisations", can see these two reports as "a balanced response" and "even-handed debate".
Other responses from astrologers in 2003
Without exception the astrologer responses boiled down to name-calling, getting it wrong, and never citing compelling evidence to support their claims. Even serious media outlets adopted this distortion. For example in the New Zealand Listener (4 October 2003), in an article subtitled "a recent study claims to debunk astrology once and for all" (not true), astrologers and skeptics are seen as being permanently locked in "trench wars" and "long feuds". Furthermore, serious studies are seen as attacks on astrology, researchers are seen as debunkers, and astrologer quotes such as "you will never get a correlation that is significant, because we are dealing with individuals", are seen as an adequate response to a negative meta-analysis that involved individuals. So "In the end, you either believe or you don't" (yes, why have tests when you can have shouting matches?). In the end readers receive only titillation for the hard of thinking. Such outlets never notice that the two sides might be talking about different things (facts versus benefits) which are not mutually exclusive. It seems that media interest in astrology generally destroys any hope of informed debate.
Later, in the January/February 2004 issue of The Astrological Journal, AA President Roy Gillett added "Of course it is easy to answer the Dean/Kelly/Randy/'CSI COPS' (and all other) criticisms", presumably as easy as mispelling Randi and CSICOP, but he conveniently omitted to say how. Most likely he meant more of the same getting it wrong.
Subsequent astrologer responses in 2004
Inexplicably, McGillion fails again to mention the aim of Dean and Kelly's article, their results, their conclusion, or their discussion of artifacts and hidden persuaders. He does not even mention the word parapsychology. The result is a series of glaring irrelevancies, like criticising a restaurant menu without once mentioning food.
Dean and Kelly pointed out the above omissions in a letter in Correlation 22(2), 62, 2004. But McGillion's response (pp.63-64) did not rectify them. He still said nothing about the aim, methods, results, or conclusion of Dean and Kelly's article. He still said nothing about what astrology can deliver, what the most promising areas are, and what if anything is wrong with the present negative evidence. Instead it was more glaring irrelevancies, for example arguing that the topic could not be parapsychology because "It's the Journal of Consciousness Studies for goodness sake!". See Appendix 3 for Dean and Kelly's point-by-point response to a selection of McGillion's irrelevancies.
Subsequent astrologer responses in 2005
Appendix 1. The article by Dean and Kelly
The article occupies 24 pages (over 13,000 words) with 4 tables and 85 references. Contrary to what the AA says, it does not set out to disprove astrology, and other than a single application to newspaper horoscopes the word nonsense does not appear. Nor do synonyms such as rubbish. The first half looks at the views of astrologers on consciousness and psi. The second half looks at the relevant evidence.
For the updated version on this website Click here
Abstract -- Many astrologers attribute a successful birth chart reading to what they call intuition or psychic ability, where the birth chart acts like a crystal ball. As in shamanism, they relate consciousness to a transcendent reality that, if true, might require a re-assessment of present biological theories of consciousness. In Western countries roughly 1 person in 10,000 is practising or seriously studying astrology, so their total number is substantial. Many tests of astrologers have been made since the 1950s but only recently has a coherent review been possible. A large-scale test of persons born less than five minutes apart found no hint of the similarities predicted by astrology. Meta-analysis of more than forty controlled studies suggests that astrologers are unable to perform significantly better than chance even on the more basic tasks such as predicting extraversion. More specifically, astrologers who claim to use psychic ability perform no better than those who do not. The possibility that astrology might be relevant to consciousness and psi is not denied, but such influences, if they exist in astrology, would seem to be very weak or very rare.
Appendix 2. Critique by Jonathan Cainer
What a load of rubbish. Geoffrey Dean gave some personality tests to volunteers. He then asked some astrologers to predict how shy or outgoing those volunteers would turn out to be. So far, so good. But in questionaires like this, people are notoriously naughty. They will tend to say what they think makes them sound good. So liars will describe themselves as honest, show-offs will say that they really do not seek attention and bigots will call themselves fair minded. Such "tests" are dangerously unreliable as many observers, in the last 18 years, have been at pains to point out.
D&K: Psychologists have been aware of this for considerably more than 18 years. So the test used avoids such problems. In fact astrologers themselves have used such tests in their published research.
Dean and Kelly though, don't care. They just gleefully report that the astrologers got it wrong ... because they described what the subjects were actually like instead of predicting how they might try to paint themselves in the personality test.
D&K: Not so. The astrologers failed to usefully describe what the subjects were actually like. In fact to avoid ambiguity only the most extreme subjects were used, and the required judgements (of extraversion and emotionality) were chosen because astrologers had rated them as easy to see in birth charts.
The study contains another old chestnut involving time twins. They looked at the lives of 2,000 people all born in early March 1958. They grouped each of these up into pairs and sought similarities between their levels of intelligence, anxiety, weight and height.
D&K: And over 100 other variables, all said to be shown in birth charts.
They didn't find many. This, they say, disproves astrology yet again. It sounds impressive till you realise that the pairings were made arbitrarily, without any cross-referencing to the wider group.
D&K: Whatever that means. In fact the pairings were made successively, first of births close in time (less than 5 minutes), then of births further apart, then of births further apart still, and so on up to births 48 hours apart. There was nothing arbitrary about it. Astrology predicts that similarities should increase as the births get closer in time. But there was no noticeable effect.
The "tests" were performed only at the ages of 11, 16 and 23.
D&K: This makes sure that the characteristics are stable. But so what? Astrologers (and especially JC) are not noted for restricting their services to people over 23.
And all the participants were Piscean. Hardly a fair test of the whole zodiac!
D&K: But a fair test of Pisceans and factors other than sun signs. Will JC now have disclaimers in his Pisces phone line? But fair tests of the whole zodiac have been made many times, always with negative results, see the articles on this website under Sun Signs. JC should have disclaimers in all his phone lines.
Once again, it turns out to be an experiment rigged to make astrology look silly, whilst cheekily claiming to be extra fair.
D&K: Actually it was the AA itself who proposed this test in 1965 when the time twins were only 7 years old. It was a well-researched proposal of 8 typed pages entitled Proposal by the Astrological Association for the investigation of the basic astrological hypothesis, the hypothesis being that birth data "have important implications for the personality and life history of the native". Specific variables are identified, predictions are made, and the statistical tests are spelt out. Was the AA rigging everything to make astrology look silly? Why was the AA happy with age 7 when (according to JC) even ages 11, 16 and 23 are suspect? JC does not tell us.
This though, is nowhere near as wicked as their next trick which involves testing astrologers for clairvoyance! Most astrologers claim no such power. Why would we go to all the trouble of calculating an accurate map of the sky ... only to let our minds go blank and say the first thing that comes into our heads?
D&K: Our focus was not clairvoyance but intuition. Evidently JC does not know the difference. We quote leading astrologers, all of whom say that intuition is required for the best readings. Some non-astrologers, eg Freud, have said the same.
Ah, say Kelly and Dean, "But some astrologers do claim to be psychic." Sure guys. And some scientists claim to have a truly open mind.
D&K: Sure Jonathan. Like your open-minded behaviour towards negative findings?
The sorry truth though, is that most scientists hate astrology with a vengeance.
D&K: Actually most scientists have better things to do than bother with astrology. After all, over the past few centuries it has made no useful contributions to science or philosophy, and seems quite unlikely to.
Academics who ever dare to remotely suggest a finding in favour of astrology have their work torn to shreds, their lectures met with howls of derision and their grants mysteriously "cut off".
D&K: Not so. Dean gives talks to skeptics around the world, and routinely includes the case for astrology, but has never experienced howls of derision. If JC himself has met howls of derision, readers can see why. Give the AA 0/10 for seeing this as "a balanced response".
Appendix 3. Critiques by Frank McGillion
A male non-scientist put a flea on a table and told it to jump. It did. He pulled its legs off and, again, told it to jump. It didn't. His conclusion? A flea with no legs is deaf. I open with this salutary tale because, in my view, the [Dean and Kelly] paper contains similar inaccuracies of logic and rationale that undermine the conclusions drawn from the data and arguments presented.
D&K: Inaccuracies like what? Despite FM's five pages, readers are left none the wiser. For example a key rationale (performance of astrology vs performance of astrologers) is not even hinted at.
The overwhelming impression I had after reading it was of reading lots of material I had no need to read for the authors to reach the conclusion they do.
D&K: FM fails to say what the conclusion was and how the unspecified material was irrelevant. How can impressions that might not be shared by others, on matters that are not revealed, be a legitimate part of a critique?
The authors appear to studiously ignore those parts of the literature that do appear to support certain astrological claims.
D&K: Claims like what? How are they supported? FM does not tell us. But if we do ignore parts of the literature it is because they are irrelevant to our topic.
(page 176) "We know that brain processes are related to consciousness, the difference between being awake and asleep." To me, this is an extremely unhelpful definition of consciousness that undermines the value of the paper from the outset.
D&K: So what? The term "consciousness" is not unclear to most people, and astrologers talk about it without insisting on definitions. And our definition has not the slightest effect on our results. In any case the term "consciousness" is not applied to people when they are asleep. Only if someone is awake do questions and theories about states of consciousness arise.
The paper's major omission, in my view, is to fail to cite mainstream work that clearly suggests that the planets (as the ancients understood them) affect us both physically and phenomenologically.
D&K: The call for papers required us to focus on psi, not on purported effects of planets on the pineal gland. Again, omitting this stuff has not the slightest effect on our results and conclusion. FM is here ignoring the failure of research to find anything in astrology not explained by hidden persuaders, so he demands a causal explanation. It is rather like arguing that a flea without legs must be deaf.
I am not convinced it makes any meaningful contribution to consciousness research, but I am convinced that the sources referred to are selective and not fully representative of the subject matter discussed.
D&K: As required by the editors, the focus was not consciousness research but parapsychology. So FM's comment is like complaining that a study of cement mixers makes no contribution to cooking with wine. Given that the AA asked FM to respond to our findings and defend astrology, why does he opt for irrelevancies? We want to know what astrology can deliver, what the most promising areas are, and what if anything is wrong with the present negative evidence. But FM does not tell us.
McGillion's 2nd update
I still think the phase "death in general", cited in the footnote of page 183 of the JCS article, is ambiguous. My dictionary defines general as "relating to the whole, or to most" [my italics]. To me, a truly inclusive statement is one like, "All astrologers are liars, said the astrologer".
D&K: This could hardly be more irrelevant. Especially as the footnote does not contain the cited phrase.
I still find the authors' definition of consciousness unconvincing. I simply don't consider it comprehensive enough. Am I really wrong in thinking that dreaming, for example, is an altered state of consciousness?
D&K: FM raised this point before, and our response still stands, namely: So what? Our definition has not the slightest effect on our results.
Finally, and for the record, I offered my comments to IK before they were published, but he declined, adding "it should be great fun all around". It has been, and highly informative too.
D&K: What IK declined was an invitation to debate irrelevancies. He preferred a proper academic exchange on the actual issues, which should also be enjoyable and therefore great fun. For some reason FM did not offer his comments to GD.
Appendix 4. Critique by Vladimir Gorbatsevich
The aim of this article is an attempt to discredit astrology on a basis of "empirical researches".
D&K: Our aim was clearly stated and was not to discredit astrology but to examine its relevance to psi and consciousness. As we have stressed elsewhere, there is more to astrology than being true or false, so it makes no sense to claim that our aim was to discredit astrology.
Now let's talk about the basic contents of that article. Initially, it describes a standard method used when attempting to refute astrology, using researches of twins.
D&K: It is more a standard method used by astrologers (eg John Addey, Joe Goodavage) when attempting to confirm astrology.
First of all, a birth time difference of just 4 minutes can lead to the disappearance or appearance of aspects from one or more planets to the angular points of the horoscope. Therefore there is typically a real astrological difference between the charts of twins.
D&K: Obviously any non-zero difference in time will lead to a non-zero difference in charts. But do all the characteristics of a person change after 4 minutes or just some? John Addey considered the same problem and concluded that "the tendency for similarities to appear in the lives of those born on the same day must remain strong". To imply (as VG does) that just a minute or two changes all the characteristics would mean that any birth chart not timed to within a few seconds would be more or less useless, which view any working astrologer (especially those like Cainer) would have to disagree with. VG cannot have it both ways.
Secondly, psychology is not yet an exact science, and you cannot yet measure the precise characteristics of a person using tests or interviews. And there is actually no good reason for using the results of standard psychological tests to judge any other areas of knowledge, such as for instance astrology.
D&K: So what should be used instead? VG does not tell us. More on our tests later. Notice how astrology is said to be knowledge. How does VG know this?
It has been proven that there is no direct correspondence of the IQ characteristic either with thinking or with intelligence in general.
D&K: A huge literature shows otherwise. Whatever one may think of IQ, it consistently emerges as the single most important measure in determining the general course of a person's life.
Aggressiveness (or anxiety and so on), can this be defined as an objective characteristic? No, this is only an artificial parameter. It can be ranked, but to measure it is a mistake. Teachers and parents ratings, I can only describe these as very erroneous data.
D&K: Again, a huge literature shows otherwise. Also aggressiveness, anxiety, and so on, and teacher and parent ratings, are precisely the things that astrology books have always used to show how well birth charts match the person. Why should these things suddenly become "very erroneous" when used by non-astrologers?
My comment to their conclusion is the following. The authors used mainly artificial parameters for their research. What is IQ? It is not a measure of intelligence, it is something else. That means you cannot used it for unequivocal judgement of a persons characteristics.
D&K: How does VG know this? In fact each of the measures we used are supported by an extensive literature, sometimes a huge literature, and their general validity and reliability are well-established. They may not be perfect but they are adequate for the purpose. The author's argument would hold only if their validity and reliability were generally zero, but this is not the case. As for IQ, the author doesn't know what he is talking about, as will be apparent to anyone who cares to check the journal Intelligence or books such as Kaufman & Lichtenberger's Assessing Adolescent and Adult Intelligence (2nd edition 2002) that give a history and evaluation of attacks on IQ together with neuropsychological correlations and IQ assessments based on thousands of studies. Indeed, in 2003 the American Psychological Association noted that "Standardized intelligence testing, now almost 100 years old, has been called one of psychology's greatest successes". So one could say that the long-repeated denial of seeing IQ in a birth chart is one of astrology's greatest failures.
Another remark. Psychogenetic research reliably reveals a number of factors (including some which are connected with intelligence), which are significantly correlated for twins.
D&K: VG is referring here to identical twins, not time twins. The reason we didn't mention identical twins is that astrology is concerned with time twins. Indeed, from astrology's point of view, two babies born within two minutes of each other in the same location should show more similarity than identical twins born 4 minutes apart.
For example, for twins there are extremely similar encephalograms (especially in infantile and at senile age), and also features of a facial mimicry. At these researches it was taken into account, whether or not the twins lived together, and, if they lived separately, when the separation took place, as well as taking into account a number of other important factors. But our two authors have chosen not to bother with such details.
D&K: Nor do astrologers (read any astrology book), so we used things they do bother with. After all, had we used say facial mimicry in infants, VG could have claimed we addressed things no astrologer addresses, so our findings could have been dismissed as irrelevant to real astrology. Furthermore the same "psychogenetic research" shows good correlations between genetics factors and VG's supposedly invalid factors like IQ and extraversion. He cannot have it both ways.
This article further on discusses another theme, which has been very popular among the skeptics of the recent years, tests of astrologers.
D&K: And just as popular among astrologers (of the 54 tests to date, about half were by, or encouraged by, astrologers). Notice how VG is consistently one-sided in how he presents things, as if balance must be abandoned at the slightest hint of outcomes unwelcome to astrology.
The authors tell about the results of more of their research: about astrologers using an astrological chart to try to predict such parameters, as N (neuroticism) and E (extraversion). The obtained result: astrologers do not hit absolutely, there are only casual coincidences. In fact there is no such universal characteristic as extraversion. There is Mercury in Aries (or in Gemini or in Leo and so on), Venus in Aries, Mars in Aries, the Moon or the Sun in Aries, all this gives us various kinds of extraversion.
D&K: How does VG know this? What measures did he use to demonstrate these different kinds? On such crucial points he does not tell us.
Therefore it is impossible to measure extraversion as it is done in psychology. It is a methodological mistake. On the basis of an erroneous method, it is possible to refute almost everything. As it is done by the authors of this article to astrology. Alas, for the role of serious critics of astrology they do not aspire adequately. Using mathematical methods is no help, it the data used is artificial.
D&K: As explained in our article, E and N were chosen because they are among the most major and enduring of known personality factors. Thus they emerge from personality and laboratory tests of all types, even those without E and N in mind; and they are found in all cultures including non-Western cultures. Furthermore they are visible in ancient personality descriptions such as the four temperaments (which match the astrological elements fire, earth, air, and water). No wonder that, when asked, astrologers rated E and N as easy and moderately easy to discern in birth charts. VG needs to read our article more carefully.