Readers' comments on specific topics
Abstract -- So far (1) Twelve general comments including suggestions for research. Indian reader. Tests are not enough. You need to expose the absurdities of astrology. (But these are already well discussed on this website.) UK reader. Try testing quintile and septile aspects. (This fails to consider the whole chart.) American reader. Recent studies found a strong effect of month-of-birth on human lifespan. (As did Huntington in 1928.) Australian reader. Have you seen Leos that act like Leos? (Yes, and Leos that act like Scorpios, Librans, etc.) Australian reader. Is astrology helpful or harmful? (It can be both.) UK reader. You ignore things that show astrology working. (Like what?) UK reader. Your case against astrology is bigger than your case for. (What are we missing?) American reader. You ignore business astrology. (Yes, because it does not allow clear conclusions.) Argentinian reader. It is not the purpose of astrology to satisfy scientists. (We agree.) Indian reader. Astrology is obviously not useful so why bother with empirical tests? (Why have arguments when you can have tests?) American reader. Why don't you test astrology fairly? (Like how?) Australian reader. If our view of reality is flawed then the scientific arguments against astrology may also be flawed. (As in jumping off cliffs, outcomes are not changed by our views of reality.) (2) Four comments to which reasoning errors are relevant. American reader. Science seems biassed against astrology. (The problem lies with astrologers ignoring cognitive biasses, ie hidden persuaders. It is easy to produce a persuasive astrology reading by hidden persuaders alone.) Same American reader. Do astrologers really ignore other explanations? (Yes.) UK reader. Astrology really is a mystery. (Hidden persuaders are not a mystery.) French reader. Astrology cannot be tested scientifically. (Who says?) Over the years various unsupported comments have been received claiming that astrology cannot be investigated by science, etc, as if asserting the case was enough to decide it. All involved matters that we deal with in detail on this website. (3) Five comments about astrological forces and white crows. German reader. You don't understand the nature of astrological energies. (No need for energies to explain astrology. Hidden persuaders are enough.) American reader. Leo Knegt is a genuine white crow. (Details are too meagre for us to be sure.) UK reader. Astrology needs a mechanism. (See above.) American reader. Astrology needs a force. (See above.) Same American reader. Gauquelin's planetary effects demand an explanation. (First remove artifacts.) (4) Five questions from a Swedish radio station. Why did you start astrology-and-science.com? (To show the facts.) Is it important to show facts about astrology? (Yes.) What kind of reactions from astrologers? (Denial or outrage.) How do you look upon astrologers? (They are generally warm and caring.) What impact will your research have on astrologers? (None.)
Where necesary the comments have been abridged to save space.
(1) General comments including suggestions for research
UK reader. I suggest testing the brain states of people with a high incidence of quintile and septile aspects. According to the published findings, such people should find it easier to enter such states than others without the aspects. Reply. States like what? The findings are based on a sample of N=14, so replication is needed before further research (which for most people would be impractical) is justified. A negative result would no doubt be discredited by astrologers as yet another example of failing to consider the whole chart.
American reader. Recent studies have found a strong effect of month-of-birth on human lifespan. Reply. The same was found by Huntington in 1928. In any case astrology is not needed to explain the effect.
Australian reader. I would rather find broad evidence for astrology before I dissect its workings. In your research have you seen Leos that act like Leos? Reply. Yes. We have also seen Leos that act like Scorpios, Librans, etc. Here the broad evidence is no evidence at all.
Australian reader. After enrolling in a Kepler course I was given an article that explained why astrology is not currently a science but will be in the future, and how we don't know why it works, it just does. But your website shows how astrology will never be a science, which has saved me much time and money. Do you see astrology as helpful or harmful to society? Reply. It can be both. Astrology can be helpful because it indirectly puts clients in touch with someone they can talk to. It can also be harmful if clients have to believe in untruths. In 1995 a survey of British schoolchildren aged 14-15 found that most saw astrology as harmless fun; nevertheless more than one-third actually believed in it, and a minority had been led to traumatic occult practices. In 1966 in Japan the annual birth rate dropped by 25 percent due to an extra half million abortions; it was the year of the fire-horse, which is extremely unpropritious for girls. In these cases astrology was anything but harmless fun.
UK reader. People at the recent AA conference in York had the feeling that you had an agenda. Some saw you as having a fixed view which says there is no hope for astrology, so you tend to ignore things that show astrology working. Reply. This seems like wishful thinking to offset a lack of evidence, for such a view does not appear on this website. In fact we have given careful attention to claims of positive results including the Gauquelin work, but none of the claims have so far stood up to serious scrutiny. Also see next.
UK reader. I have read through your Case For and Against Astrology. It does put the Case For, but the Case Against seems too inflated for anyone to accept the arguments as a whole. Reply. Perhaps there are simply more aguments against than for. Readers are welcome to suggest arguments for astrology not already covered on this website. (That was in August 2003. So far no suggestions have arrived. The arguments are expanded in the 2013 book Astrology under Scrutiny, see bottom of our home page for details.
American reader. You do not examine business astrology. Reply. Yes, because as explained under 9.7 in the Phillipson interview, it does not allow clear conclusions. It has in-built practitioners and therefore in-built self-fulfilling prophecies. Thus if it worked, and everyone followed it, it would no longer confer an advantage and would therefore stop working. For more on this see the 2013 book mentioned above.
Argentinian reader. I have doctoral degrees in medicine and psychology and have been in professional practice for 26 years. Astrology is obviously not a science. Its persistence is due to the deep psychological needs of ordinary people that science is obviously not meeting. It uses astronomical concepts as a tool to help people, that is all. But to help people an astrologer must be in contact with the client, so studies that analyse its scientific viability a la Gauquelin are just rubbish. It is not the purpose of astrology to satisfy scientists, but to satisfy the needs of people, so the debate you are pursuing is a complete waste of time. You are trying to establish a new faith where only science is seen as a valid way of approaching the world. Reply. Actually quite the opposite, see Research (the Phillipson interview) on this website under Tests of Astrology, where we express views similar to your own. What we are contesting are claims that astrology is a science. We do not deny its possible psychological benefits.
Indian reader. You should be able to find arguments against astrology without referring to experimental results. Thus after many years of reading astrology books and forecasts, I have noted how sun sign forecasts rarely agree when in fact they ought to agree, and how readings have to be general if they are to fit. Also if astrology is to explain differences between time twins, and how thousands of people can die together in a mass disaster, it would have to be so sensitive to microscopic differences in birth time that no recorded birth time would be good enough. So astrology is not useful, a point readily arrived at logically without appeal to empirical tests. Reply. There are many such arguments, which we are inclined to accept, but inconsistency does not necessarily mean everything is in error, any more than an inconsistent pizza recipe means that pizzas cannot exist. Empirical tests are still needed if we are to be sure.
American reader. In response to your exchange with Dennis Elwell, I suggest you stop badgering astrologers into predicting the future and stop repeating the mantra that astrologers cannot determine which chart belongs to X. Instead you should for once consider a fair test of the validity of astrological principles and techniques. For example a team of astrologers could read a chart using a technique agreed in advance. The chart would be of a person or event picked by a neutral party. The reading would then be judged by neutral parties against nationally accepted standards specified in advance such as those taught by Kepler College. Reply. Nowhere do we badger astrologers into predicting the future. It seems you may have confused this with our concern to avoid after-the-event selection of chart factors, which of course has nothing to do with predicting the future and everything to do with predicting the past. Furthermore the inability of astrologers to determine which chart belongs to X remains a serious problem. Your suggested test consists of comparing the reading by one technique (the one agreed to in advance) with the reading by another technique (the one taught by Kepler College). This is thus a test of agreement, not a test of validity. But no useful conclusions about validity can be drawn from a test of agreement, in the same way that "yes, we agree that the earth is flat" says nothing about whether the earth is really flat. Furthermore, many tests of both agreement and validity have already been made, many by astrologers, with negative results, see Tests on this website under Tests of Astrology. What is needed is a new type of test, not an old type of test. Back to you. (That was in November 2001. So far nothing has arrived.)
Australian reader. The major events in my life (a head-on car accident, the death of my son, the end of my marriage, etc) have corresponded almost exactly with major outer planetary aspects, but because of the complex archetypal nature of astrology it is difficult to make specific interpretations in advance. Also, there are limits to empirical research since it fails to include a non-material element, some might say spirit or soul. If our view of reality is indeed flawed then the scientific arguments against astrology may also be fatally flawed. My fervent wish is for people to make their own enquires into astrology, but of course we are not all thoroughgoing enough to devote our lives to this complex subject. Reply. We have often heard the complaint that empirical tests are fatally flawed, but when we ask how these supposed flaws can be overcome, the standard response is a deafening silence. Your observation that interpretation is a difficult guessing game is not reflected by the confidence that astrology books show in such matters. And flawed views of reality have no bearing on whether astrologers can usefully match charts to their owners or usefully agree on what a given chart means, in the same way that flawed views of reality have no bearing on the outcome if you jump off a cliff. Numerous concerned people including astrologers have devoted time to testing astrological ideas, and their individual findings (as distinct from our overviews) are described in Best on this website under Tests of Astrology.
(2) Comments to which reasoning errors are relevant
The point is, after a brief practice in using these cognitive illusions, any astute person can deliver readings that are precise, specific, on-target, and highly persuasive (see Michael Shermer, Psychic for a Day or How I Learned Tarot Cards, Palm Reading, Astrology and Mediumship in 24 hours, Skeptic 10(1), 48-55, 2003). Shermer is no ordinary fake psychic. He is founder and director of the Skeptic Society and author of many skeptic books. He agreed to perform live before a TV audience even though this allowed him only 24 hours of practice in cognitive illusions and the five techniques (the fifth was psychic reading).
He was given one subject for each technique, all women unknown to him, with no prior contact before the reading. For the astrology subject he used a birth chart downloaded at random from the Internet (it was wrong by 21.3 years and he hadn't a clue what it meant). Yet his unknowing subjects rated his readings as accurately summarising their life and personality. One subject who had been visiting psychics for ten years rated it as the best single reading she had ever had.
Shermer concludes "There is not a shred of evidence that any of this [reading by astrology, palmistry, etc] is real, and the fact that I could do it reasonably well with only one day of preparation shows how vulnerable people are to these very effective nostrums. I can only imagine what I could do with considerable experience. Give me six hours a day of practice for a couple of weeks and I have no doubt that I could easily host a successful syndicated television series and increase my current bank balance by several orders of magnitude. There -- if not for the grace of evolved moral sentiments and guilt-laden scruples -- go I. I cannot do this for one simple reason: it is wrong." (page 55)
Same American reader. You say that astrologers ignore other explanations. But do they? For example there can be many reasons for feeling depressed during a Saturn transit, such as overwork or a lack of exercise, and astrologers would not ignore them. Reply. This is not what astrologers are ignoring. They are ignoring the many cognitive illusions (reasoning errors) that foster false belief. See previous reply.
UK reader. I think you are misled and misguided when you suggest that astrology is not a mystery (I say it is a mystery). For example reason alone could never hope to provide accurate astrology. Reply. Our point exactly. But reason can assess it, and astrology has been found wanting. Who said cognitive illusions were mysterious?
French readerr. In my 30 years of astrological studies have I never found much sympathy for astrology, only hostility and accusations of taking advantage of people's gullibility. Is it science's business to assess astrology or any other belief system that, by definition, cannot be tested scientifically? My own numerous (free) readings have provided pretty accurate information about the past or the present that stunned some of the skeptical participants. Reply. Again, if it cannot be tested, how can you know your readings were accurate?
(3) Comments about astrological forces, white crows
American reader. You cite a test of Leo Knegt in which he was right "ten times out of ten". So here is your white crow, which you then dismiss because "the test had none of the features such as controls that we would consider essential today". Science is less to do with impartial testing than with selecting conditions to support preconceptions. Reply. The Knegt details are so meagre that neither we nor anyone else can be sure that Knegt is a genuine white crow. Think of the Cottingley fairies -- being sure (as Conan Doyle was) did not make them genuine. You imply wrongly that science has stagnated into a set of arbitrary beliefs resistant to change. In fact science has undergone massive changes whereas astrology has remained much the same since Ptolemy. Ironically your anti-science views are not only misguided, they apply even more forcibly to astrology.
UK reader. I see a physical mechanism as the ONLY way that any change is likely to occur in astrological ideas. If no mechanism is found then I fear your website will last till the next millenium. Reply. This problem is echoed in the next comment:
American reader. Is there an astrological force that would make it possible for astrology to work? If the answer to this is no, then the game is over and we can all go home. Reply. Astrology does not need such a force. Cognitive illusions alone are sufficient.
Same American reader. Re your statement in Garry Phillipson's book Astrology in Year Zero about Gauquelin's planetary effects being too tiny to be of the slightest practical value. This is like being a tiny bit pregnant. The existence of an astrological force, no matter how tiny, must be explained. Can it be accounted for by the present basic forces known by science? If not, then it becomes the white crow you seem so eager to deny. Reply. True, but again, no force is necessarily needed. This website (see the Gauquelin section under Tests of Astrology) explains why.
(4) Questions from a Swedish radio station
Q: Why did you start astrology-and-science.com?
Q: Is it important to show facts about astrology?
Q: What kind of reactions have you got from astrologers?
Q: How do you look upon astrologers today?
Q: What impact do you think the research will have?