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The Truth of Astrology
Competition entries illustrate faulty reasoning

Geoffrey Dean

An abridged and updated version of an article that first appeared in Correlation 1997, 16(2), 40-56.

Abstract -- Artifacts and faulty reasoning by astrologers lie at the heart of every dispute about whether astrology works. But instead of avoiding artifacts and applying correct reasoning, astrologers retreat into irrelevant but high-sounding arguments about truth and reality. In this article you meet a diversity of such arguments, all devised by astrologers in response to a competition to show that astrology is true. In each case you are shown how artifacts and faulty reasoning have led the arguments astray. Read this article if you want to see how astrologers view astrology, and why critics find those views unsound. It started in July 1997 when the UK Astrological Association Newsletter Transit invited astrologers to submit articles demonstrating "the Truth of Astrology -- whatever that may mean to the author". The best articles would receive prizes of £200, 100 and 50. A total of 29 entries were received, including 8 from outside the UK, only slightly less than the 34 entries received for the $US5000 superprize of 1983. Only the prize-winning entries have been published, so all entries are summarised here. Roughly half the entries conclude that astrology provides meaning and emotional support but not factual truth, which is unattainable due to the fallibility of astrologers despite the underlying Greater Truth. The other half conclude that astrology does provide factual truth, as confirmed by implication, experience, or statistical tests. Apart from this disagreement, nearly all entries show a disturbing level of artifacts (especially the consider-only-confirming-cases artifact) and faulty reasoning even among the big names. The critical thinking skills that are essential for any respectable discipline are generally absent. If nothing else, the competition confirms an urgent need for astrologers to acquire such skills. Interestingly, this unwelcome conclusion produced a storm of protest from astrologers and led to the sacking of the editor. So it seems most unlikely that astrologers will ever worry about artifacts or take up critical thinking. The similarity to a fundamentalist religion is disturbingly clear.

About the competition
In 1997 the AA Newsletter Transit invited astrologers to submit "articles of up to 3000 words which put forward a case for, and demonstrate, the Truth of Astrology -- whatever that may mean to the author" (July issue page 27). Prizes of £200, 100 and 50 were sponsored by the AA, the Lodge, The Traditional Astrologer, and the late Dr Norman Hurst, then Britain's oldest active astrologer who died March 1997 aged 97. A total of 29 entries were received, including 8 from outside the UK, only slightly less than the 34 entries received for the $US5000 superprize of 1983.

The response was especially encouraging because astrology prize competitions have seldom done well in the past. An annual £25 Astrological Association prize "for the most valuable contribution to the study of astrology" was launched in 1970, fizzled out in 1973, reappeared in 1979 and (with prize money doubled) in 1980, and was then cancelled. The number of entries was typically only 2 or 3, ranging from 0 in 1972 to 9 in 1970. The 1980 $US1000 and 1981 $US2000 prizes offered by Recent Advances for the validation of signs attracted 6 and 4 entries but no winners. The 1982 Grand Prix Astrologique of BF100,000 (about £1200) for evidence of causal links understandably attracted a very poor response and no winners.

The encouraging response suggests that astrologers are at last on their home ground. Demonstrations of truth could involve interesting new tests, so the entries (details of which have not hitherto been published) could provide sobering and salutary lessons for us grubby empiricists. I start by giving a summary of each entry and finish by looking at some implications for researchers.

Classification of entries
As expected, the entries reflect the diversity of astrologers' feelings about the meaning of truth. But rather than being unmanageably diverse they fall conveniently into two roughly equal approaches, namely arguments vs demonstrations. The arguments are basically philosophical arguments (truth is X, astrology is X, therefore astrology is true) or appeals to experience (we know astrology works), with some of the latter also including philosophical arguments. The demonstrations are either statistical tests or chart interpretations.

For convenience I have grouped the entries according to approach, in alphabetical order of entrant's name, here reduced to initials. Where necessary I have added a note in [ ] to highlight features that might otherwise escape attention. In no way do these notes imply criticism of any author's dedication and enthusiasm, which are exemplary throughout.

Entries based on philosophical arguments (N=8)

KB, USA. Mankind questions everything. Skeptics challenge astrology because it has no obvious explanation. But there is no explanation of man's evolution, or of gravity, or of genes. They just are. The same with astrology. It is true because it exists. [But skeptics challenge astrology for many other reasons such as the failure of controlled tests to demonstrate useful effect sizes, and in such challenges the absence of an obvious explanation is irrelevant.]

AD, Denmark. The question is not whether astrology is objectively true but whether astrology will become a generally accepted model of reality. The more that people agree on a "reality" the more that reality is validated, which does not of course make it objectively true. Instead of asking if astrology is true we should ask if it enriches life and if it does good. Astrology is just one way, but a very effective one, of extracting meaning from the world. So is astrology true? In a relative sense, yes, in an absolute sense, no. [Meaning astrology need not be true provided astrologers agree it is true. Note the problem: if agreeing that the earth is flat does not make it so, then the reality implied by agreement is merely an illusion. The entry gives no hint that illusions can be bad for you.]

MH, England. This entry won first prize, see Astrological Journal Nov-Dec 1997, 14-18. Truth and facts are not the same thing. Fact = it is raining, truth = what really lies behind that fact (rising clouds, angry Gods, whatever). Astrological truth is not like logical truth, such as if A=B and B=C then A=C [no matter that this entry (as you will see) and later entries argue exactly like this, namely that if what we perceive is true, and if we perceive that astrology works, then astrology is true]. Nor is astrological truth like revealed truth as might come during meditation [as if being revealed makes it true even if it is false]. But like any language, astrology can describe truths [with language we can also lie, mislead, deceive, distort, conceal, confuse, mystify, and obscure, which difficulties the entry ignores]. It may well have the power to reveal truths about ourselves or the world [then again it may not]. Gauquelin's work has proved that there is a consistent connection between above and below. [So the stars must compel, which manifestly they do not. But Gauquelin's work cannot possibly prove a consistent connection when there is no effect for half the planets, or for signs, or for aspects, or for character traits, or for the 99.995% of the population who are not eminent, all of which are contrary to what astrology claims.] However, it would appear that this truth is not good enough for us. We do not seek factual truth. [A point contradicted by the conversation at any astrology conference or chart interpretation, which generally involves highly factual things like health, wealth, and relationships.] Neither logical truth nor revealed truth describes astrology. Instead, astrology is a language. [Here the entry assumes what it sets out to prove, namely that astrologers are interested in astrology as a language and not as a source of factual truth. As Bertrand Russell said, assuming your case has many advantages, like the advantage of theft over honest toil.] To ask for the truth of astrology is like asking for the truth of English. But with it we can make meaningful connections (eg Mars and sports champions) that are not possible with other languages. [But what makes a language useful is that people agree on what the words mean, which astrologers spectacularly do not. No meaningful conversation is possible when the same piece of sky can simultaneously mean intense (tropical Scorpio) to Western speakers and relaxed (sidereal Libra) to Eastern speakers.] Astrology's truth lies in our perception of what is being said. [Here the entry ends by shooting itself in the foot. In effect it says that astrology does not need to be true as long as astrologers like it. What matters is our perception of what is being said, that is, our fanciful imaginings. Why then all this debate about the nature of truth? If the author is correct then the entire Truth of Astrology competition was pointless.]

EH, Netherlands. Certain universal truths do exist, eg birth and death. Religion is potent because its truths are simple, eg Christianity says love our neighbours as we love ourselves. Just as simple is astrology's truth: as above so below. At a time when high technology alienates us, astrology provides a panacea, a framework of understanding, a valuable guide to living. The truth of astrology is its simplicity. [But many equally simple frameworks exist, see any New Age bookstore, and many of them eg biorhythms contradict astrology. How should we decide between them? The entry does not say.]

JP, England. Nobody has come up with a sure proof of astrology, otherwise we would know about it via the Astrological Journal if not the BBC. Its truth lies in its symbols and meaning. But we cannot know in advance which of countless possible meanings will apply, so the truth of astrology lies at a deeper level: Mars in Cancer is always Mars in Cancer. [Meaning we cannot know astrology is true even though we know astrology is true. But this is truth by fiat, like black clouds mean it is raining even if it isn't. Deeper also means vaguer, making it easier to get any meaning we like.]

JR, England. This entry won second prize, see The Traditional Astrologer October 1997, 15-17. The truth of astrology lies in the glory of the heavens, in the architecture of the cosmos, in being able to see the wood for the trees, and in adapting to changed circumstances. But it is not wholly comprehended by horoscopy and the tyranny of the chart. Tropical astrologers who ignore constellations have no right to talk about the Age of Aquarius. Many things point to the truth of astrology, such as the ratio 1:1.5 in the cycles of Pluto and Neptune (so Neptune does the work of dissolution at each Pluto return), and the countless correspondences between as above and so below, for example the Andromeda galaxy reached 0 degrees Aries around the birth of Jesus. [With millions of galaxies to choose from, such after-the-event correspondences mean nothing. It would be more remarkable if no correspondences existed. The author rightly calls his entry "a rambling mish-mash", a style well suited to those of an uncritical disposition and an attention span not exceeding one minute. Some topics seem irrelevant, such as the author can see the Moon while writing, and some are too rambling to allow any hope of a meaningful summary. Interestingly, the author judges his chances of winning from his birth chart, and concludes he won't win. Nevertheless the entry won second prize for its "sheer virtuosity, entertainment value, and deeper message."]

RS, England. The key concept is as above so below, which the mythical Hermes called an unassailable Truth. It can manifest in four areas, namely prediction (eg horary astrology), education (eg vocational), self-understanding (eg humanistic), and spirituality (eg esoteric). Thus as above so below is not only a correspondence, it is an activity (people act on it), a participation in as above vs so below. This is the truth of astrology. But it works only in symbols embracing different levels of existence, eg Jupiter can represent an object in a horary chart or a liver problem in a decumbiture chart, even within the same chart, eg Moon square Saturn may initially indicate a physical eating disorder and later a fear of authority. This diversity of interpretation means that any test of a particular correspondences is doomed from the start, because astrology simply doesn't work when confined to a rational framework. [Note the problem: all is well once we know the level, but we have no way of knowing the level. Which is like betting on a race only after we know the winner. Such a nonfalsifiable astrology is indeed untestable. It cannot possibly be wrong even when using the wrong chart.]

DT, England. Astrology helps us see our role in the universe. This deeper truth is obscured by arguments such as sun sign vs rising sign [which argument the author then gets bogged down by]. Astrology's greater truth is that it is incapable of lying, so it is only the fallibility of astrologers that leads us astray. [But this is truth by fiat again. Religious fundamentalists use the same strategy, keeping their beliefs intact by never saying anything that could be contradicted by observation. The astute person will ask disconfirming questions such as "What evidence would you accept as showing that astrology is not true?", but none of the entries provide an answer.]

Entries appealing to experience (N=7)
Those that include philosophical arguments are marked *

CB, Scotland. Much nonsense masquerades as astrology, and truth cannot conceivably embrace them all. To establish the truth of astrology we must start at the bottom. Many scientific observations -- the Piccardi effect, solar and lunar periodicities in plants, lunar effects in oysters and rats and Miami murders, Gauquelin's Mars effect, Jonas's prediction of sex from the birth chart -- suggest that astrology's truths will be found if only we care to look. [This entry gets many facts wrong, eg lunar effects, Jonas's predictions, and "it is not so long ago that the accepted laws of aerodynamics established that bumble bees were incapable of flight." Yes, the aerodynamics of fixed wings fail for bumble bees, but not the aerodynamics of flapping wings.]

CC, USA. In astrology there are many grandiose claims, endless arguments between astrologers, but little testing. Which is understandable, because astrologers can make more money telling fortunes than doing research, and they make no enemies by being uncritical. Indeed, anyone who makes money from astrology has a vested interest in keeping the waters as muddy as possible, so high-paying clients can never know how bad it is. "There is a great unconscious fear that somehow astrology is just not going to hold up under scrutiny." Compared to natal work, which is often too vague for testing, predicting sports outcomes is concrete. American football gives the author the best demonstration yet of the truth of astrology. She believes testing will reveal an astrology more accurate than is currently dreamt of. [This entry's admirable call for testing is nevertheless insecurely based. It is not true that little testing has occurred (much has occurred), nor is there just fear that astrology might fail when scrutinised (it is already happening). In fact testing has so far revealed only an astrology more erroneous than is currently dreamt of.]

JH, England.* We know the truth of astrology because chart readings are accurate -- even sun sign columns, albeit only slightly. Each chart is unique, so it cannot be tested statistically [modern researchers might disagree]. We assume astrology is valid, we proceed on that basis, and behold, it is so. Knowing you are part of a pattern does not make it go away but it does give you some kind of control -- and this is the truth of astrology. [But behold, it might not be so, see the later section on faulty reasoning.]

MJ, Wales.* We are beginning to realise that our physical world is a complete holistic system, helped by the recent concepts of "fractal" [a geometric form having a fine structure at all magnifications] and "attractor" [a condition that dynamic systems converge on if you wait long enough but then drastically diverge from once they reach it, like a moth attracted to a candle flame]. Just as fractal has endless fine structure, so astrology has an infinite number of self-consistent variations on the general theme. Just as dynamic systems converge on attractors, so Mars attracts sports champions, the Moon attracts writers, and people are attracted to being like their birth charts. For the first time, scientific support for the truth of astrology is within our grasp. [But the entry is merely arguing by analogy: astrology is complex, science is complex, therefore science proves astrology. The only truth this reveals is the truth of magical correspondences, which unless independently confirmed is no truth at all.]

JM, England.* Astrology has many inconsistencies, eg it gives no weight to planetary distance and size. Nevertheless experience shows that astrology works, despite scientists dismissing this as anecdotal evidence. [But that is precisely the problem -- "anecdotal" means there is no prevention of non-astrological factors such as faulty reasoning, so such experience cannot tell us whether success is due to astrology or to something else.] Just as physical forces have effects, so do images and symbols such as psychoanalysis and astrology. We know this because they change our behaviour [but only we change our behaviour, even if the symbols happen to be wrong, ask any critic of psychoanalysis]. We use astrology to give meaning to the world, and therein lies its truth [so faces in clouds are true?].

CS, England. Planetary movement could affect us directly via its effect on the birth process and on DNA, as per Seymour's resonance-enhanced geomagnetic theory. Pre-natal epoch indicates the ideal birth moment, echoing the time of conception nine months previously, which is a birthright lost each time that intervention occurs. Link these two, and we get nearer to proving the scientific truth of astrology. [Maybe, but it is a huge leap of faith between theoretical physical influences and the grandiose claims of astrology.]

JBW, England.* There is only one way to become aware of the truth of astrology, namely by observation. It is only by experience that we are made aware of Nature's influences; from this secure foundation nobody dares to doubt their existence. Does a mountain climber stay at home because others disagree about theories of gravity? The same applies to astrology. Centuries of rich experience confirm the truth of ancient wisdom beyond all possible doubt. Astrology is truth itself. Like the gentle rain from heaven, or the warmth of spring, it is there whether we seek it or not. [We could also say that centuries of rich experience confirm faulty reasoning beyond all possible doubt, as occurred with bloodletting and belief in the four humours.]

Entries based on statistical tests (N=4)

GB & MK, England. MK claims that married couples show more harmonious aspects by sign than inharmonious ones. To test this claim the authors obtained a random sample of 5885 married couples from the UK National Bureau of Census and Statistics, and generated controls either at random or by shuffling husbans and wives. A chi-squared test (df=11 with expectancies = control counts) found a significant occurrence (p=<0.05) of Mercury-Mercury and Mars-Mars aspects measured by sign, which was seen as "powerful circumstantial evidence for the truth of astrology." [But a chi-squared test is inappropriate here because it does not allow for sampling error in the controls. When the correct (contingency) test is applied, the results become more consistent with chance. Furthermore, statistical significance tells us nothing about the size of the effect, which on a scale of 0 (no effect) to 1 (perfect) is a negligible 0.015 for the best individual result, equivalent to tossing heads 50.8% of the time instead of the 50.0% expected. Hardly "powerful circumstantial evidence for the truth of astrology." Ironically the authors do not test MK's actual claim, but their data shows that the claim is simply not true, at least not in this sample.]

JLL, USA. Bonatti's 13th century astrological rules of warfare can be applied to US Presidential elections. But which chart should be used out of the nine that could plausibly apply? For the 51 elections to date, the hits for each chart ranged from 38% to 71%, mean 55%, which seems promising. The incumbent won 61% of the time, so the astrological model has to explain this bias, and it does -- there are astronomical factors that can be weighted to match this bias. Even so, the difference in astrological scores between the two sides was unrelated to the outcome, thus scores of +5 vs -3 were no more likely to be a hit than 1 vs 0. [So a strong indication is no more reliable than a weak one, which is bad news. Unfortunately insufficient details are given to allow proper assessment. The author implies that these results confirm the truth of astrology, but they might also confirm flaws in the approach. Without more work we cannot tell.]

SS, Germany. The author counts beneficial aspects (0,60,120) in the helio charts of famous people. Helio allows him to focus on aspects without having to worry about the fast-moving Moon, Ascendant and MC, which means he can use birth dates without times. He finds that what matters are not individual aspects but multiple combinations, for example conjunctions of 3 or more planets, 3 or more linked sextiles, and Grand Trines. These multiple combinations occur much more frequently in the charts of famous people than in the charts of ordinary people. [The expected frequency depends on the time period, so the data being compared have to be matched in time, but the author seems unaware of this. He does not say how these particular combinations were chosen, which leaves the possibility of selection artifacts. A better test would be to plot counts vs shifted birthday.]

CS, England. The popularity of astrology is not enough to prove its truth. Tests are needed. Hypothesis: congenial relationships will involve more compatible sun signs than expected. Questionnaires were completed by 25 volunteers (7 male) aged 17-77 mean 36 years, who indicated birthdate and sign for themselves, their partner, their best friends, and their favourite relatives. Fire signs had more contacts with the same element (in this case Fire) than with each of the other elements, as did Water signs, but Earth and Air signs had fewer contacts. [So the results are inconclusive. Also the sample sizes are too small for comfort. Also the author's questionnaire is labelled Astrology (Sun Sign) Survey and gives the aim of the study, thus encouraging self-attribution and data-selection artifacts.]

Entries based on chart interpetations (N=10)

BB, England. This entry won third prize, see Astrology 1997, 67(4), 38-46. The author presents astrocartographic maps for two UK earthquakes and takes nearly five pages to say (1) Mark the event place, its opposite position on the other side of the world, and their mirror images across the equator. (2) Do the same for the place where the Sun is overhead at noon. (3) Ditto for the Moon. Somehow, by a logic that is nowhere explained, such marks are said to show both the truth of astrology and how modern ideas of gravity are wrong. There are other obscure maps, some of which are said to contain various circles centred on the place that make the truth of astrology quite clear, but none of the maps show such circles. The author concludes that his approach provides "the chance to show Scientists that Astrology is very connected to Astronomy, and which IS the Truth of Astrology." So persuasive was his argument that his entry won third prize.

PC, England. One problem of astrology is that its truths are expressed in a language that few people can bother to learn. But not any more. The use of own-name asteroids make the truth of astrology instantly accessible to anyone. No struggling with arcane symbols, just look at the names. The contacts are easier too, the most dependable being conjunctions, oppositions, and sometimes midpoints, in four different zodiacs. If the asteroids don't work then invariably their dwads will (dwads are the 12 signs within each natal sign, so in effect each asteroid appears a total of 12 times around each zodiac. The author gives eight of her favourite charts showing how perfectly the system works. [Throw in enough factors, as here, and the system cannot fail to work. So the claim is meaningless without blind controls to show that applicable asteroids work better than inapplicable asteroids.]

CD, England. Astrology must prove itself. So the author cast a chart for the moment she chose to explore the issue (8 May 1997 at 1600 GMT 50n50 0w17). The chart says that astrology must develop into a living philosophy (angles in Cardinal signs), that it must be interpeted intuitively (MC in Cancer), that it cannot afford to be ambivalent (Ascendant in Libra), that astrology cannot be subject to the same [unspecified] criteria as a science (Mars in Virgo in 11th), and so on. Controlled studies cannot show the truth of astrology because they only look at isolated factors, thus reducing astrology to a pseudoscience. Our own experiences will validate our beliefs in Astrology. [Controlled studies are not limited to isolated factors. They can look at whatever an astrologer looks at, but this time avoiding artifacts that can fool people into seeing links where none actually exist.]

CD, Romania. The author lists selected natal chart positions, also transits, progressions, and one-degree directions, for Romania's chart (5 February 1859) for 47 individual years during the 130 years 1859-1988. The agreement between the interpretation and the events of that year confirm the truth of astrology. For example, in 1930 Jupiter in 3rd house coincided with the return of Carol II as regent, while in 1957 Jupiter in 4th house coincided with the retreat of the Red Army. [This is a good example of the consider-only-confirming-cases artifact at work. The results show only that, given enough events and chart factors to choose from, astrology can fit anything in restrospect, in the same way that a big enough bag of licorice allsorts will always contain our favourites. The issue is whether unselected events fit Romania's chart better than they fit other charts, but the entry does not tell us.]

IF, England. Astrology is proved every time we read charts for clients. If it were false we would not have clients. [Not true, witness phrenology.] Researchers look at isolated factors so no wonder their results are negative. The chart of John Dee shows how accurate astrology can be. For example Sun in Cancer indicates that Dee loved the past, and Moon in Aquarius indicates that Dee was ahead of his time [no matter that the author is doing precisely what he condemns researchers for]. However, the multiple meanings of astrological symbols means that these things cannot be predicted in advance. Once the life has been lived we see how the chart fits like a glove [but thanks to multiple meaninmgs even the wrong chart fits like a glove]. Science has not yet come to terms with multiple meanings. If you want proof of astrology, use the same proof that applies to religion or painting or music, not to science, ie life should be enhanced by it. [Like drugs enhance the life of a drug dealer? It is not true that science cannot cope with multiple meanings, see any matching test. Unlike the next entrant, the author gives no hint of the problems caused by nonfalsifiability.]

AM, England. Most charts have such a wide range of possibilities that they will fit anything in retrospect. So the truth of astrology is best tested by predicting events, in this case predicting the outcome of the UK General Election [which at the time of writing was one week away]. Uranus culminating at the opening of the polls indicates a change of government. The charts of Major, Blair and Ashdown indicate a Labour win. If this indication is correct then it will demonstrate the truth of astrology. [The indication was indeed correct. But by the same argument, wrong predictions (which are not hard to find) demonstrate the opposite. So what should we now conclude? Especially as the author's readings can be plausibly reversed depending on whether you see Uranus as innovative or disruptive. Also, one week before the election the outcome (a Labour landslide) was more or less obvious to everyone.]

JR, England. The author gives the chart factors relevant to her various painful neuroses and traumas, and finds comfort and guidance in them. For example she shows how particular transits related to a nervous breakdown, and how on another occasion "this T-square ... must have been the root cause of many of the problems of my life", which kept her going. Hopefully this has led to the truth of astrology, for this will mean harmony between the heavens and my earthly journey. [Note that word cause. Does embracing causality make astrology more helpful?]

BU, England. Cardinal Newman became converted to Christianity at age 15. As did C S Lewis in 1929. In 1977 George Foreman, bashed insensible in his heavyweight title fight, had a religious vision, and when he regained the title at age 45 he claimed it was due to God. In each case either a Saturn transit or a Saturn opposition return was involved, suggesting that God/religion = Saturn, a point supported by various mythologies. Thus Saturn is the Rosetta stone that reveals the truth of astrology. [How does this sit with Saturn being the Greater Malefic?]

BW, Norway. Dogs cannot role-play their chart and are therefore ideal subjects for study. The author's dog has Sun conjunct Uranus in 3rd (needs constant stimulation to calm him down) and Jupiter in Leo in 10th (a showman, up to many tricks and antics). These and many other correspondences confirm the truth of astrology. In working with clients we can never be sure if they are free from self-attribution, ie more or less living their lives in accordance with their astrological knowledge. Dogs cannot do this. [The entry came with delightful pictures of a Golden Labrador showing the various correspondences. But as already noted, such correspondences confirm only how easy it is to match ambiguities. The issue is whether the chart matches the author's dog better than it matches other dogs, but the entry does not tell us.]

AW, Scotland. Astrology is true if planetary meanings agree with observations of people and world affairs. The Jupiter-Uranus conjunction coincided with breakthroughs in 1903 (first powered flight) and 1969 (Moon landing). It occurred again in 6 Aquarius on 15-16 February 1997. To find out what happened, the author gave a questionnaire to 17 people with key planets in 4-7 Aquarius, asking if January was unusually difficult, and if anything significant happened in February. The answers averaged 15 yes, 2 no. On a global scale China's leader died, Hubble telescope sent stunning images, USA appointed first woman Secretary of State, Scottish scientists cloned a sheep. This demonstrates the truth of astrology. [But there are no controls and no blind conditions. The issue is whether these two months were more Jupiter-Uranus than any other two months, but the entry does not tell us.]

Overview of entries

Recall that the 29 entries had to put forward a case for, and demonstrate, the Truth of Astrology. They fall conveniently into two roughly equal approaches, namely arguments vs demonstrations, or philosophical (12 entries) vs non-philosophical (17 entries).

Philosophical entries
The philosophical entries argue variously that astrology is truth because: it exists, astrologers say so, it is simple, it gives us control, it is consistent with modern-day physics, it provides meaning, correspondences exist, as above so below is unassailable, it is incapable of lying, and it is truth itself. Some of these depend on particular interpretations of truth (eg existence, meaning), some on the distinction between astrology and astrologers (only astrologers are fallible), and the rest on circular argument (astrology is true because it is true). Most of them conclude in effect that the truth delivered by astrology is actually satisfaction (it provides meaning, it enriches life, it does good) rather than accuracy (freedom from error), which due to the fallibility of astrologers is held to be undeliverable despite the underlying Greater Truth.

That the last is held to exist despite the declared impossibility of actually knowing it exists, as opposed to merely believing it exists, shows how close their kind of astrology is to a religion. Interestingly, most of the philosophical entries avoided mentioning religion.

Non-philosophical entries
By contrast the non-philosophical entries focussed on accuracy, either by implication, observation (ie experience), statistical tests, or chart interpretations. They presented various arguments. Things like lunar effects in oysters and the prenatal epoch indicate a sound scientific basis to astrology, as do tests with p=<0.05. Centuries of rich experience confirm the truth of ancient wisdom beyond all possible doubt. Every day astrologers see evidence that astrology works. The relevant chart did fit Romanian events, earthquakes, world affairs, human character, nervous breakdowns, and dogs. These results confirm that astrology delivers accuracy and therefore truth. Or so the entries argued (more on this in the next sections).

This division of truth into satisfaction vs accuracy is a crucial one. Failure to recognise it has caused much unnecessary dispute between astrologers and critics. In this case a similar failure by entrants has created much unnecessary discourse, wasting effort that could have been used more productively. Indeed it creates unnecessary dispute even between leading astrologers. For example a recent 4400-word internet debate on the Vertex between Michael Erlewine (for) and Chris Turner (against) can be summarised as follows. Erlewine: Techniques that work for one astrologer do not work for another because astrology is an oracle with elaborate rituals. That the rituals differ is of no consequence, it is the reading we are after. What matters is what we experience and what we learn about ourselves. Turner: A chart is like a piece of sheet music. People may play the music differently but the melody and harmonies do not change. The same applies to astrology otherwise it becomes useless. Why bother learning to play if we cannot get the melody right? In short: The above debate boils down to Erlewine's satisfaction (astrology need not be true as long as it feels good) vs Turner's accuracy (astrology needs to be true otherwise why bother?).

Some implications for researchers
Entries can be viewed in various ways depending on the interests of readers. Thus a Fire person might be looking for stimulating ideas, a Water person for emotional satisfaction, and an Air person for feet off the ground. Nobody can say that a particular view is better or worse than another, and in this case all three views are amply rewarded. The entries collectively provide fascinating reading. Indeed, the judges were clearly delighted with the "wide variety of styles with impressive or moving themes, which made our roles as judges very difficult."

But for an Earth person looking for disciplined arguments, clear thinking, and absence of errors, the entries are less rewarding. They tended to be uninformed, wordy, and hard to follow. Many statements, for example those linking suicide with the full moon, were simply wrong. Gauquelin's results were invariably misrepresented. Only ten entries cited works by others, as if nobody else had ever discussed truth before. Indeed, there was generally no hint of the difficulty that philosophers have in deciding whether something is true or not. On the other hand, if you jump off a cliff then debating the nature of truth will not save you. Some entries correctly noted that science cannot discover absolute truth -- but then nothing can. None noted that science is an excellent way of discovering error, something that astrology could never do, at least not an astrology as promoted by most of the entrants.

Worst of all, artifacts and faulty reasoning were everywhere, especially the consider-only-confirming-cases artifact. Thus almost all entries failed to recognise that no conclusions can be made from hits unless we consider the misses and have a control group for comparison. Until we do, the supposed fit between charts and Romanian events, earthquakes, world affairs, human character, nervous breakdowns and dogs is meaningless in the same way that finding food on a restaurant menu is meaningless (we should be surprised only if food was off the menu).

To be fair, most of the above defects are never absent from astrology books and magazines, so the entries are not alone. Nevertheless the defects pose a serious threat to astrology, so let me sidetrack for a moment to explain what I mean

Faulty reasoning and the consider-only-confirming-cases artifact
In every entry that involved a chart interpretation, as indeed in any chart interpretation, the author's claim (that charts match the person or event) is like my claiming that clouds match the presence of winter. Obviously my claim makes no sense in places with clear winters or cloudy summers. So before you can accept my claim, you need data on clear and cloudy days in each season. Counting confirming cases (cloudy days in winter) is not enough.

The same applies to chart interpretations. Without data showing that applicable charts work better than inapplicable charts, the claim that a particular conclusion (astrology works) follows from a particular observation (confirming cases) is simply meaningless. It is a case of artifacts and faulty reasoning.

Recall that the entries are required to demonstrate the truth of astrology. Suppose some researchers do their homework and show that, contrary to my experience, clouds and winter are in fact totally unrelated. And suppose I pay no attention, arguing that astrology works on a higher plane and therefore cannot be tested by statistics. After all, I spent all winter looking at clouds, so I just know it works. Note the problem -- not everyone will believe me. Why should they?

Note the solution -- avoiding artifacts and false reasoning does not require me to embrace mechanism, or materialistic science, or hostile paradigms, or any other supposedly anti-astrology horror, it merely requires me to think clearly and count the right things. Nothing special at all. Many people do it all the time, especially when shopping. Now back to where I left off, namely the low level of scholarship evident in the entries and in astrology generally.

But does it matter?
Of course none of this matters if we see astrology as an elaborate sun sign column, good only for entertainment or for consoling frustrated romantics. But if we see astrology as a source of knowledge, we are making a claim that, like all claims to knowledge, will be contested by philosophers, scientists, and educated people generally. After all, such claims are ten a penny, and no sensible person will take the claimant's word for it. If our claim is even to be considered, we have to write clearly and have a good standard of scholarship, otherwise no educated person will bother. But none of the entries come close, especially the prize winners. We should therefore not be surprised to learn that many people have trouble taking astrology seriously.

Nevertheless the entrants achieved a higher standard than generally exists among astrologers, as shown by Joanna Ashmun's description of astrology emailing lists, see Correlation 1996, 15(2), 41-43. The lists involve astrologers from beginning student to established professional, but on average the participants have about one year of astrological study. According to Ashmun: "They write badly and they read badly, ... there is almost no critical response; errors are ignored, corrections are not acknowledged. People answer off the top of their heads ... and then get sidetracked into arguing about who's a liar instead of sorting out the facts of the original question. ... Many astrologers have university educations, quite a few have graduate degrees, and they must, therefore, have had to do some reading, writing, and scholarship sometime, but these presumed skills rarely escape to the mailing lists."

It need not be like this
As shown on this website in Case for and against astrology under Adroit Utilities, and Phillipson interview of researchers (section 4) under Doing Scientific Research, it is feasible to make a case for astrology that is scholarly, impartial, and consistent with the evidence. So why cannot astrologers do just that? Why instead do they make their case so assailable?

The remedy might seem obvious. Astrologers must become familiar with research results, and they must acquire the critical thinking skills that today are part of any university course in the social sciences, meaning no more artifacts and no more faulty reasoning. On the other hand, it seems clear that this would mean the demise of astrology as currently practiced. So what should astrologers actually do? Here, in lieu, is what they actually did:

Interestingly, this article and its unwelcome conclusion produced a storm of protest from astrologers. It even led to the sacking of the Correlation editor who published it and, in subsequent issues under a new editor (a practising astrologer), a dramatic drop in scientific rigour. The publishers, despite their supposed interest in truth, had evidently decided that, when faced with the Emperor's New Clothes, it was best to keep their heads in the sand. So in retrospect it seems quite unlikely that astrologers will ever avoid artifacts or take up critical thinking. Criticism in astrology is simply not welcome. Whereas science reserves its highest praise for those who prove their predecessors wrong, astrology drums critics out of the corps. The similarity to a fundamentalist religion will be disturbingly clear.

My thanks to Deborah Houlding for so kindly and so efficiently making the entries available, and to her and Nick Campion for providing copies of published entries no longer in the original collection. For helpful comments on earlier versions my thanks to Joanna Ashmun, Ivan Kelly, Arthur Mather, Frank McGillion, and Rudolf Smit. And of course my thanks to the entrants for their hard work and stimulating diversity of themes.

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