Researchers' response to Dennis Elwell's Critique
What follows is a response, from Geoffrey Dean, Ivan Kelly, Arthur Mather and Rudolf Smit, to the article 'Researching the Researchers' by Dennis Elwell.
The format which they have chosen is to interpolate their comments in the original article. In order to distinguish between their texts, Elwell's is in a regular font and not indented; the researcher's text is bold and indented.
Preamble by researchersFormerly a newspaper journalist, Dennis Elwell has been involved with astrology for more than fifty years. He has an international reputation for eloquence in both his lectures and articles, as shown by the AA's Astrological Anthology (1995) devoting sixty pages to "Elwell Eloquence", more than to any other astrologer. Since 1983 he has been a full-time astrologer and teacher, and his concern has been to restore the importance of astrology. We were therefore looking forward to having our views constructively analysed, especially as he claimed to have knock-down arguments against us that were so decisive that no rebuttal would be possible. But we were disappointed.
In the interview we had noted that half a century of systematic research had mostly disconfirmed astrology. Astrologers do not even agree on what a chart means, at least not to a useful extent. In particular, the reason why astrology seems to work is because astrologers are unaware of the errors that affect our everyday reasoning. These are the same errors that led phrenologists to believe in phrenology even though it was completely invalid. The point is, when these errors are prevented, phrenology and astrology suddenly cease to work. They suddenly perform no better than tossing a coin. So astrology is not needed to explain the supposedly decisive experiences of astrologers.
These research findings are based on a huge amount of work by many people over many years. Human reasoning processes alone are the subject of thousands of studies and dozens of scholarly books. Nevertheless to overturn the above picture of astrology disconfirmed you need only quote research that shows how astrology works when reasoning errors are prevented. We and others have failed to find or produce such research despite years of trying, but perhaps Elwell has been more successful. Unfortunately Elwell lets us down.
Ironically, his response denies that reasoning errors exist, or that there is a need for controls or other cautions. Elwell claims his own personal judgement is amply sufficient, and if thousands of scholarly studies suggest he might be fooling himself just as phrenologists did, then they are simply wrong, wrong, wrong. His response seems to confuse critical thinking with being critical. Critical thinking is about being rigorous, and being critical is only part of it. Elwell is certainly enormously critical about us, and he shows it by his repeated name calling and personal accusations. But when it comes to astrology he leaves rigour behind, and is very often guilty of the same mistakes he is so quick to accuse others of.
Elwell presents no new arguments for astrology, only unhelpful and unsupported assertions. He tells us we are doing it wrong but not how to do it right. He tells us astrology should be tested on its own terms but not what these terms are. Depending on how it suits him, astrology is either astonishingly obvious or very difficult to prove. He does nothing to show that his measures of astrology's success are valid, and never considers alternative explanations for that success. In short his response is uninformed and uninformative. Other than showing how not to do it, it adds nothing to the debate. True believers don't come more dogmatic than this.
So we are disappointed. If this is the best that a distinguished astrologer can do after fifty years of astrological activity, there is clearly no hope for astrology as an intellectual discipline, and no hope that lesser astrologers could ever contribute to the debate. But judge for yourself. Elwell's response (10K words) follows below with our point-by-point comments in smaller print (11K words), including our answers to his questions. Unfortunately one of us (Ertel) was away on vacation when this was being prepared (early April 2001), so the views given are the joint views of Dean, Kelly, Mather and Smit. Please let us know your reactions.
1. IntroductionAs one astrologer who came away from Year Zero with a sense of acute unease, I am grateful for an opportunity to comment at length.
Unease, because the section headed "Research into Astrology", with its enlarged version on the website, can only leave the ordinary interested inquirer with a completely misleading impression. They will reason to themselves, here are scientists who have conducted an impartial investigation and have come up with a big zero for the year zero. The best they can say is that astrology might be a prop for those unfortunates in need of it.
We hope the ordinary interested inquirer would realise we did more than conduct "an impartial investigation." For 25 years, both as scientists and astrologers, we have searched the literature, gathered our own data, tested the most promising claims, published articles and reviews, lectured at conferences, run critical debates, issued challenges, and held prize competitions for evidence in support of astrological claims. Not even Elwell has been as systematic or as thorough.That is not the astrology I know. After over half a century of absorption in this subject, including some original investigations, I have arrived at the opposite conclusion from these other researchers, whose efforts were bound to fail simply because they were proceeding in the wrong direction, and with a set of false premises.
Before we can accept Elwell's view we need to know what the proper direction is, what the proper premises are, and precisely what tests we should be applying to these premises. But despite the length of his response (10K words) Elwell never tells us. These are issues on which he stays resolutely silent.Later I shall indicate how that came about.
But Elwell was bound to arrive at the opposite conclusion because for half a century he has failed to apply safeguards against seeing astrology where none exists. Near the end he even confirms his rejection of such safeguards.Given contemporary mindsets, it must be virtually impossible for anyone to be able to investigate astrology impartially. One scientist who did is Kary Mullis, who in 1993 won the Nobel Prize and the Japan Prize for his work in chemistry. In his hilarious Dancing Naked in the Mind Field he recounts how his curiosity about astrology was kindled after three people on different occasions told him he must be a Capricorn.
According to Chapter 15 "I am a Capricorn" of the above book (published by Vintage Books, New York 1998), Mullis began to think about astrology when three people correctly classified him as a Capricorn. How did they do it? The first, a ten-year-old neighbour, said "You act like one." This was when Mullis was a teenager. Three years later a woman at a party said "it was the way I was waving my hands when I talked. And the way that I held onto the counter top when I was not waving them. I was also leaning forward, then backing off." A month later a man at a campfire party said "Because of the way you come on, really strong and then back off. You act like one." Interesting that the woman should see a Geminian waving-of-hands as Capricorn. Worrying that Mullis never considers how they might have discovered his birthday in advance and were having him on. Of course an astrologer might explain this coming-up-then-backing-off as the direct result of the sun (pushing outward) interacting with cautious Capricorn (pulling back), except that this sort of thing receives no mention in Hone, Mayo, Davison, or even Linda Goodman. Nevertheless Mullis seems to show how easily sun signs can be tested. One look and it is all over.He set out to draw up horoscopes himself, from the Nautical Almanac (the hard Capricornian way), and found that astrology worked.
The Nautical Almanac is an ephemeris and there is nothing especially hard or Capricornian about it. But if astrology hadn't worked, Elwell would presumably have blamed Mullis for not being an astrologer. Mullis says he later obtained a 50-page computerised chart interpretation, which fitted him very well except the part based on his rising sign, which was shown as Taurus instead of the correct Aries. Mullis says this was because it was EWT when he was born (WT = War Time, same as daylight saving), which the computer had corrected to EST by subtracting one hour. However, Mullis had already corrected his time to EST, so when the computer subtracted one hour it made the Ascendant one hour earlier than it should have been. Evidently neither Mullis nor Elwell noticed that this should give an Ascendant earlier than Aries (eg Pisces), not later (Taurus), so does Mullis really know what he is talking about? Anyway, when the computer redid his chart to give the correct Aries Ascendant, Mullis noticed that the rising sign part now fitted, a point confirmed by his friends. So he concludes that "A horoscope that accurately reflects your personality can be cast by a computer if you give it the correct birth data."Brave of him to admit it, considering career progression and the vagaries of peer reviewed funding, but Mullis is nothing if not an individualist
Brave indeed, for Mullis is completely unaware of the research into astrology, or even how to go about it. He says "there's a broad and arrogant understanding among social science professionals that folklore, like astrology, is for simpletons. Without doing any simple experiments to test some of the tenets of astrology, it has been completely ignored by psychologists in the last two centuries." Alas, Mullis could not be more wrong. Worse, in almost the same breath he says "I am a scientist", in which case his failure to use controls is inexcusable. He is a pot calling kettles black. But these fatal flaws, and his claim that testing astrology is simple, do nothing to diminish Elwell's enthusiasm. Nor does Mullis's attention to reductionist single factors such as sun sign, rising sign, and things like "A Grand Trine means that the Native will be born with a silver spoon." No doubt Elwell would be scornful if we did things like this, so why should Mullis be excused? Is it because he says nice things about astrology no matter how unsoundly based?Rather than investigate the subject in that same hands-on way,
Interesting how, when we ourselves investigate the subject in that same hands-on way, Elwell's enthusiasm does a sudden U-turn.most thinking people continue to scoff at astrology,
Speculation. Has Elwell conducted a survey of thinking people? In our experience, genuinely thinking people do not scoff at anything unless there is good reason to do so. Unfortunately Elwell's response only adds to the scoffer's case.which is the intellectual equivalent of socially challenged armpits.
An interesting way to define astrologyThis is partly the fault of the astrologers, who are not producing the evidence because today their science has become too psychological in its orientation, and client-driven, which often means pandering to the self-absorbed.
Why should evidence be hard to produce just because astrology is psychological and client-driven? If this was the case then two millennia of non-psychological astrology should have produced an overkill of unchallengeable evidence. But it has not. And what about the possibility that astrologers are not producing evidence because they cannot?Unfortunately the schools of astrology do not discourage this approach. Nor do astrologers seem to have the time to reply to attacks, an omission with far-reaching consequences because the essence of this science of the macrocosm points to a different kind of reality from the one that materialist science would impose on us, and the more voices raised in protest the better.
Ironically, materialist views (now called naturalistic) are more popular in the scientific and philosophical literature than ever before. Elwell should familiarise himself with this literature. Furthermore, on what grounds does he reject materialist philosophies? Because they don't fit in with his astrology? He gives his opinions but no arguments. Note that many people who believe in things like ESP are clearly not materialists yet they readily use the scientific approach to explore their beliefs. So what approach should astrologers use instead? Elwell never tells us other than a later (and unwise) reference to projective tests. Nor does Elwell tell us in his response what this different kind of reality is.Myself, I do have a little time, and have read and reread the researchers' presentation, which seems mostly to be attributed to Geoffrey Dean.
Wrong. The researchers contributed more or less equally to the presentation, and the outcome reflects their collective views.I think Garry Phillipson did not quite realise what he was letting himself in for when he opened the door to the Dean circus. He envisaged his book as a record of what astrologers do, in their own words, a sharing of experiences, expressed informally. Certainly contributors like myself, joining in a dialogue, did not imagine they were involved in a defence of their beliefs. Had they done so, they might have been more circumspect. It is very sad that Ivan Kelly and Geoffrey Dean should have seen fit, subsequently, to hold statements by these astrologers up to ridicule, as evidence of how astrology relies on nothing more substantial than testimonials.
Judge for yourself. Check astrology books (including Phillipson's Year Zero) and astrological websites. Most are loaded with retro-fit testimonials but few empirical studies. For the ridicule bit, see next comment.If it's admissible for them to comment retrospectively, then so can I. (Their remarks appear as "additional comments" to their polemic "Are Scientists Undercover Astrologers?" to be found on Smit's website.)
The remarks by Kelly and Dean focus on the claim repeatedly made by astrologers, that it is inappropriate to test isolated factors. What Kelly and Dean actually say is: "In Phillipson (2000) we endlessly read claims like Venus and Neptune create an artist ... If astrologers can see such isolated effects so easily, why would they suddenly vanish when researchers study them?" As you can see, there is no ridicule, and Elwell makes no attempt to resolve the problem by the kind of retrospective comment he is supposedly in favour of.
2. By Their Methods Shall Ye Know Them2.1 --- Working through their Year Zero contribution, paragraph by paragraph, line by line, I had an eerie feeling. I had expected it to consist of debating points, items of concrete evidence, to which a response could be made, one by one. I approached it with the pleasurable anticipation of a veteran journalist who appreciates a workmanlike argument. Instead I felt the same fascination I have experienced when watching a clever conjurer.
But thanks to Garry Phillipson it did consist of one point after another. How else should an interview proceed?So I would urge readers to treat these two chapters rather as they would a magic show, alert to possible misdirections, a striving for effect, the smoke-and-mirrors. Perhaps you will not have gone far before you wonder why there is so much harping on the virtues of clear thinking, and of scientific caution.
If you don't already know, just bear with us.Not to forget the pious "astrology is dear to us, but dearer still is truth" (p.126).
Our quote refers to astrologers (we name names) who happened to test astrology with proper safeguards, and found it ceased to work. So they gave up practising it without necessarily losing interest in it.You might recall Emerson's "The louder he talked of his honour, the faster we counted our spoons."
Emerson is paraphrasing Samuel Johnson, who a century earlier had said "If he really does think that there is no distinction between vice and virtue, why, Sir, when he leaves our house let us count our spoons", meaning the wretch might have stolen the expensive silverware. It seems that Elwell equates integrity with stealing.Then you will see, if you are familiar with the classical reasoning fallacies, that quite a few old friends line up for their bow at the footlights.
According to Elwell, Dean plays games with the gullible, admits to deviousness, is mired in the fallacy of the double standard, passes over inconvenient facts and arguments, drops red herrings, appeals to pity (25 wasted years of fruitless research), insists on false alternatives (A or B when it could be A and B), and falls into semantic traps (not noticing when a word has different meanings). As we will show, such charges are related less to reality and more to Elwell's three rules of newspaper journalism: make it short, make it sensational, and make it up.Very discerning readers might even detect that I have veered between taking these chapters seriously, and regarding them as a straight-faced spoof, sprinkled with a few hard observations to create verisimilitude. In which event it is a case of "Do you see what I see?"
It is easy to see why Elwell does not want to take these chapters seriously -- they pose too much threat to his vested interests. As discerning readers encounter the increasing Elwellian polemics in the rest of his response, they will recognise the strategy: Why behave like a scholar when you can behave like a newspaperman, never letting the facts get in the way of a good story?Geoffrey Dean enjoys playing little games with the gullible. Most readers will perhaps not be aware that down the years the astrology bashers have frequently resorted to outright deception, gleefully sending out bogus horoscopes, and so forth, whereby they have not been testing astrology per se, so much as the credibility threshold of astrologers and those who believe in them.
This is typical of the way that astrologers deal with critics.Personally I have never understood why it is necessary to resort to deception, when there are more straightforward avenues to explore.
Then avoid the deception in your own response.We all know there are gullible people out there. They are found everywhere and nobody doubts it, so why this repetitive urge to confirm that gullibility is still with us on planet Earth? The reason is the fallacy of guilt by association, which means that if gullible people can be shown to believe in something like astrology, it must be rubbish. The fact that intelligent people might believe it as well is considered irrelevant. As Dean has put it, they are seeing faces in the clouds.
The references to "deception" and "this repetitive urge to confirm that gullibility is still with us" shows how Elwell has failed twice over to grasp the problem and its solution. First, our acceptance of our own chart reading means nothing if we are equally accepting of another person's chart reading, but we will never know the latter unless we try it. This is what is known as a control, without which no conclusion can be drawn. So they are an essential part of research. Alas, you will look in vain for any mention of controls in Elwell's Cosmic Loom: A New Science of Astrology, so its title is a contradiction in terms. Second, as we have repeatedly stressed, the acceptance of chart readings has nothing to do with gullibility and everything to do with the reasoning processes that all humans share. It is easy to fool ourselves, which is why we have to use controls, and why controls receive so much attention in textbooks of research design. Elwell's failure to recognise this elementary point says it all.Dean cheerfully admits to deviousness when he describes a test he carried out with volunteers, using what he calls "reversed charts" (p.125-6).
Done all the time in research. Jonas Salk tested his polio vaccine on more than 400,000 children, of which half were given a placebo, which according to Elwell should be dismissed as deviousness. But without it we might never know what is going on. One could not test acupuncture without using needles in spots where theory says no effect should arise. A recent test of the improved well-being supposedly caused by crystals found that people using real crystals reported improvements no different from those who unknowingly using fake crystals made from paste. It was all in the mind. Why should such safeguards not be used in astrology when they are used everywhere else?On the face of it, you might think his volunteers were stupid enough to accept descriptions of themselves which were the opposite of the truth. He reported this experiment at length in The Skeptical Inquirer (Spring 1987) where he says "The subjects were led to believe that the chart interpretations were authentic."
There is a peculiar glow of pleasure when the deceivers end up by deceiving themselves, and what should be a roll of drums is actually the sound of falling into the orchestra pit. This happened to Dean, without his realising it, in this same "reversed charts" experiment. His methodology contained two flaws, each fatal in itself, and if you can be patient with this writer (who, still in short trousers, built a contraption for sawing ladies in half) he will lead you through the stages.
For impatient readers the supposed fatal flaws are (1) assuming traits are meaningful, and (2) assuming Dean's subjects were not conned by his undeniable charm. We reply to these charges where they appear.2.2 --- In essence Dean collected 22 subjects and fired various personality traits at them, to see which would be accepted. Half were given traits genuinely reflecting their own charts, the rest other traits. It does not actually matter where these foreign traits came from, although Dean thought it did, and had arrived at them by reversing the alleged traits of some of the planetary aspects.
Wrong. The alleged traits were not reversed. And they came from the chart (authentic or reversed, the latter being the control), which is what the subject expected. Had they come from reading patterned wallpaper they would presumably have been rejected as irrelevant, so it did matter where they came from.Because acceptance by the subjects was high, Dean hypothesised that they must be searching deep inside themselves in order to lay claim to the traits described. He then makes this unguarded comment: "Given the variability of human nature (we have all been everything at some time or another) the search could hardly fail."
We have all been everything at some time or another. Those psychologists who object to trait theories of personality point out that behaviour is largely situation dependent, which does indeed mean that in different situations we may display different traits, possibly contradictory, and can even be all things to all men.
If this was true then we would all behave the same in the same situation, Because everything would depend on situation, Mullis would not recognize himself in his chart, and astrologers could not observe links between human behaviour and the stars. In fact behaviour is not "largely situation dependent." Thus fundamental traits (or more properly dimensions) such as extraversion show impressive longitudinal stability, they have a marked heritability, and they tend to determine the situation (for example extraverts seek social situations whereas introverts avoid them). None of this would apply if behaviour was "largely situation dependent." So such traits are alive and well.In other words, no matter what traits are suggested they could be acknowledged as true, because to some degree or other they are included in our common human nature. Judging astrology in its own terms (something seldom done), we embody every planet and every sign, so you can honestly lay claim to Venus traits, Mars traits, Neptune traits, and so on.
So traits can be tested after all.At least you can with a little good will. Some people will have more good will than others, which leads to the question of how Dean chose his subjects, a factor of critical importance in psychological tests. They were recruited through an occult bookstore and ads in an occult magazine, and so represented what Dean might call the "gullible" end of the spectrum. (Michel Gauquelin, of the "Mars Effect" fame, was a pioneer in preselecting people for gullibility, and then solemnly testing them for it.)
Wrong, see previous comment on gullibility.Moreover, Dean's chosen subjects were interested in astrology, and this enabled Dean to propose a possible explanation for the high scores, namely "cognitive dissonance", which he says means they wanted to avoid the painful prospect of having their beliefs shattered. A more sceptical view is that these accommodating people, mostly female, were eager to be agreeable to that nice Dr Dean, who spent one or two hours with each of them, presumably without charge.
If true it would also explain why clients are so ready to agree with the chart interpretations of that nice Mr Elwell. But it is not true: Elwell should read the article again. In any case, he was not there, so he is arguing from a position of ignorance.The sceptics keep setting traps of this sort. By their methods shall ye know them, and anybody confessing to sleight of hand must not be offended if others at the poker table henceforth watch their every move.
To Elwell a control is a trap. He really should read a few books on research design.
But astrologers in Year Zero pages 118-119 refer to the wrong chart issue as particularly threatening. Geoffrey Cornelius says it is "ruthlessly undermining of the status of astrology", and David Hamblin abandoned astrology because it was so troubling. Elwell is confirming that he does not understand the need for controls, baselines, and comparison groups.To astrologers, reliable data is the life-blood. Among their colleagues they are usually open about their own data, but if you decline to give out your details, for reasons of privacy, everybody understands. Dean's colleagues were certainly puzzled when they discovered data in circulation for Dean, alleged to have been given to Mark Pottenger by himself (a chart which, incidentally, took ten years off his age and gave him Australian citizenship). The astrologers tried to establish the facts, by a route I cannot disclose,
Because they phoned Dean's mother and conned her. Amazing how Elwell's qualms about deviousness can suddenly disappear.and obtained a certified copy of what appears to be his birth certificate. This would show that Dean was born on ... [Note from Garry Philippson -- when I asked each of the interviewees for Year Zero, including Geoffrey Dean, for their birth data I undertook not to publish it if they did not wish me to. Geoffrey's choice was to withhold his data, and I therefore feel honour-bound to not publish it here.]
Note how Elwell seems determined to invade Dean's privacy. GP was also aware that Dean's data is actually part of an important test of astrology, and to reveal it would compromise the outcome and therefore the efforts of everyone involved. Evidently such things mean nothing to Elwell. As for Pottenger, the context was the chart interpretation, so the scientific approach is to start with a control. This control data was given in confidence, on the assumption that data given in confidence will not be disclosed to others, so no harm could result. But this confidence was broken. By the way, the control was born in London, so it could not have given Dean Australian citizenship.It often happens that those impressed with their own cleverness will go right to the edge, as if daring stupid people to spot how they are being fooled.
Here Elwell shows good self-insight into his own character.Dean is not one of these, of course, but I must counsel him that it is so easy to give a wrong impression. It was perhaps unwise to include a professional illusionist in the roll of honour, along with his website. Readers may have been impressed to hear that the Amazing Randi has a standing offer of a million dollars to anyone who can demonstrate paranormal powers, astrology included. Whatever are the astrologers waiting for! Perhaps astrologers realise that money prizes (p.153) may not be what they seem, if the challengers are to be judge and jury in their own court.
Any reader who connected with the Randi website (perhaps most would not bother, but take what they had been told at its face value) might now be scratching their head. To clear up the puzzlement, Dean should explain (and this is a serious request) how an astrologer could win this prize. There are twelve rules to the Randi challenge, a verbal fence of razor wire, but rule four states: "Tests will be designed in such a way that no 'judging' procedure is required. Results will be self-evident to any observer. .."
So, only eyewitness evidence is allowed, which is fine if the astrologer can do the business while walking on water. There is a reason for the eyewitness stipulation. Since Maskelyne, illusionists investigating the paranormal have always had an ace up their sleeve. They will say that if the effect can be produced by trickery, their stock in trade, then the effect must be trickery.
Ironically, despite Elwell's talk of magic and illusion, it is astrologers themselves who consider that astrology shares common ground with magic, see Year Zero page 117. If astrology works in the way and to the extent claimed by astrologers then winning the prize should not be difficult. The Randi challenge requires that the test conditions, and the criteria for failure, be set up and accepted in advance by both sides. In this way the test can be seen to be fair, and the outcome can be seen to be self-evident. Contrary to what Elwell says, it does not mean that "only eyewitness testimony is allowed", nor would it allow the claim that "the effect must be trickery." The test would not proceed unless the astrologer was happy with the arrangements.Now here I must make a confession. I am an old fox, unlike the Amazing Randi, who is a public-spirited seeker after truth.
So Elwell is not a public-spirited seeker after truth?So I can offer, gratis, to the James Randi Educational Foundation an infallible backstop should any applicant manage to negotiate the other obstacles unscathed, and assuming they might not want to part too hurriedly with their pot of gold. Thus I might be sent a letter along these lines: "Dear Mr Elwell, Congratulations! You have succeeded in your demonstration! You have discovered a hitherto unrecognised phenomenon of nature which, however, as a natural phenomenon cannot by definition be classed as paranormal. We hope you get your Nobel Prize, but regret you do not qualify for ours."
This genial nonsense has been condemned as a publicity stunt even by fellow sceptics. So it is intriguing that the Dean team should drag it into what purports to be a serious discussion.
The money for the Randi challenge comes from individuals and organisations, all of whom see it as a serious means of investigating paranormal claims. If a million dollars will not do the trick, then what will? Furthermore, the discovery of a genuine paranormal phenomenon would be well worth a million dollars, so it is far from a publicity stunt. No wonder that, when we talk to those who attend skeptic conferences, the majority support it, which is contrary to the impression that Elwell gives.
3. The sun-sign debateYears ago Dean and Mather challenged me publicly to produce support for sun signs. With its prize of GBP 500, I recognised it as a gimmick,
Why? Because money was offered? Or because he believes sun signs are nonsense?But knew that others might believe otherwise, so I proposed that we should debate whether the prize was really winnable at a conference of the Astrological Association. At the end of the debate Dean insisted on taking a vote from the audience, and lost.
Wrong several times over. The prize was the superprize of $US5000, then (1983) the largest prize ever offered for support of astrological claims, and it was sponsored by a number of respected astrologers and astrological bodies including the Astrological Association, Astro Computing Services, Astro-Graphics Services, the International Society for Astrological Research, Matrix Software, and the Polakoff Foundation, all of whom had approved the details before the prize competition was announced. The sponsors would clearly not agree with Elwell that it was all a gimmick, nor would the more than 60 astrologers from around the world who expressed an interest in entering.I had already thought I had detected in Dean an inclination to coax the overly trusting into traps of his own devising, while keeping the killer facts out of sight. As usual, the terms were tightly drawn, which means it had to be done their way, not mine. In other circumstances this would be called stacking the deck, a manipulation with which Dean is all too familiar (p.136), but would not stoop to himself.
If such tests are so problematic, what tests should be done instead? Elwell does not tell us, and not telling us is something he does again and again (as you will see), which suggests he is unable to tell us because he hasn't a clue. Note how Elwell is effectively stacking our research deck with his pretence.I was challenged to prove that people born under Aries tend to be assertive, that Taureans tend to be practical, and so on. Dean is addicted to single traits, which allow for tidiness. Thank you, we don't want to hear about Arians who are assertive and practical, or Taureans who are practical and assertive.
Then why do astrology books describe Aries as assertive and Taurus as practical? If the statements are untrue then the books should stop using them. Alternatively, if the books don't mean what they say and are actually talking in riddles, why should anyone bother? In any case Elwell gets it wrong. This was an earlier prize challenge of $US2000 sponsored by Dean & Mather in which entrants were invited to demonstrate the truth of the sign hypothesis given by Margaret Hone on page 37 of her Modern Textbook of Astrology, which at the time had been the basic text for the Faculty of Astrological Studies for 30 years and was rated by many as still the best single textbook on astrology. The choice could hardly have been fairer. Page 37 says "The astrological hypothesis is that each sign is of a different nature. People born with one or other of these signs prominent in their charts will be very much of the nature of these signs." There is nothing here that corresponds to Elwell's accusation of stacking the deck, but once again he shows how the facts are not allowed to stand in the way of a good story.Anyone familiar with psychological testing will realise this proposal was no walkover,
Wrong. Anyone familiar with psychological testing will know that it was simple compared to many other kinds of social science proposals.particularly because any positive results would be promptly rejected on the grounds of self-attribution. What self-attribution means is that if Aries people are assertive, it may be because they have read in astrology books that they are supposed to be like that. Psychologists take this possibility very seriously, and for those who set tests for astrologers it becomes a convenient way of dismissing positive results.
But we have independent evidence that self-attribution exists. Also, analogous explanations exist in medicine, where placebo effects need to be considered. Alternative explanations are always seriously considered in science, but never it seems in Elwell's astrology. Furthermore we can test self-attribution directly by seeing how the results vary with knowledge of sun sign meanings. To determine if there is a genuine effect we simply extrapolate to zero knowledge. In principle it could hardly be more straightforward, but in what follows Elwell goes on and on about self-attribution as if it were a decisive point. It isn't.In his own work, psychologist David Nias controlled for self-attribution by testing children too young to read astrology, and officers of the Salvation Army -- a group who had been found to possess surprisingly little sun sign knowledge.
So to accept this challenge I would have to seek out astrological "virgins", and visualised an expedition to the rain forests, whose natives have been deprived of Linda Goodman all these years. (Just my luck, after a three day trek, to stumble over a very damp copy of her book.) In whatever way it was tackled, this was a major project. The public may imagine that astrologers have unlimited resources with which to prove their case, but that is completely untrue. It is virtually impossible for astrologers to produce evidence of the right academic calibre, because the mantra among scientists is that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.
But the same applies in everyday life. We demand more evidence to show a supposedly trustworthy person stole the money than one with a criminal record. Why should we be different in science? Interestingly, producing good evidence is "virtually impossible", yet later we are told that if you are receptive enough (whatever that means), "astrology will continually astonish you." Note the contradiction.An assault on this Everest of excellence would come down to money, one way or another. For one thing, most astrologers are too busy teaching or working with clients to find the time for an exercise from which there would be no financial return, and perhaps no other sort of return either.
So they should not complain if others don't believe them. But Elwell's argument is absurd. As researchers we have no more time or money than astrologers have, yet we have been able to do the sort of research that (if astrology was true to the astonishing extent claimed by Elwell) would certainly have produced ample positive evidence of the right academic calibre. Furthermore, over the years there have been enough astrologers testing astrology in acceptable ways to achieve the same outcome -- provided astrology worked. Given a choice of two underlying reasons for the consistently negative outcomes, namely (1) not enough money, (2) astrology doesn't work, Elwell opts for the first. How convenient.One of the Dean team, Ivan Kelly, has waspishly remarked that even if the money were available, astrologers would not know what to do with it. He has opined: "... astrologers generally have no training in how to conduct or evaluate research and therefore could not do it even if they had the funding." Presumably Kelly might have the funding, but not the training, to fix his teeth and his central heating, and does what astrologers would do, namely pay experts to do it for them.
In the sciences (biology, psychology, geology, physics, chemistry, and so on), people are trained in research in their areas. Astrology is the only "science" (Elwell's term) where people are not trained in research, nor even in evaluating research. An odd "science" indeed.David Nias collaborated with the late Hans Eysenck on the influential Astrology: Science or Superstition?, a book with Dean's acknowledged fingerprints on it. In this book they report the Dean-Mather challenge to the "eminent and outspoken" astrologer and, on my disinclination to take the bait, gravely commented: "The astrologer who, for years, had been insisting that sun signs were valid was unable to furnish any evidence to support what he believed to be true."
I did not put pistol to head, but this verdict by two distinguished psychologists seemed inexplicably unfair, because of all people they were familiar with the problems of validation. Particularly I could not understand why they should downplay the complexity of the task. They wrote: "All he had to do was to demonstrate that the signs as traditionally conceived contain an element of truth..." That little word "all" set the arteries pulsing. All he had to do was push a wheelbarrow on a tightrope across Niagara, while playing Auld Lang Syne on the bagpipes.
If it is so hard to demonstrate, how can Elwell see the truth of astrology everywhere, even when dozens of factors are supposedly interacting? It seems that astrology is simultaneously obvious and very difficult to prove. Some people (not us of course) might conclude that anyone who could believe that was seriously in need of counselling.Twenty years later, and pondering this present contribution, I wondered if they would stand by what they had written, and contacted Nias, to see if he might have second thoughts.
Nias admitted: "We could have worded this section better. Being practical, what we could have said was: 'All you needed to do was to convince an already funded researcher that it was worth testing the hypothesis about Aries, etc. Psychology students carry out projects and many would love to do something interesting like this (and to have an outside co-supervisor). With a library search, they would be able to find standardised tests, or at least test items, concerned with assertiveness, etc (they are usually given funds to cover the cost of tests, travel, etc).'"
He added: "The study would need to control for self-attribution; indeed this would be part of the challenge."
Not quite so simple then! Of course if they had actually taken that line in print it would have somewhat blunted the dramatic effect. On reflection I think they were so grateful for the unstinting (if not disinterested) help given to them by Dean, that they were reluctant to rain on his bonfire.
Controlling for self-attribution is hardly a daunting task, so how is this raining on Dean's bonfire? In any case, if it really were daunting, astrology books should stop saying "Aries are X." Notice Elwell's U-turn -- Mullis sees such tests as simple and gets a favourable quote, but suddenly such tests are no longer simple. How convenient.Before those eager, ready-funded, psychology students descend on the Salvation Army, to separate the assertive from the practical, they should be warned that to produce a result in support of a discredited belief may not exactly please their mentors.
And if it is negative, it would be dismissed by Elwell because it would not be the astrology he knows. In any case his warning is demeaning to the scientific integrity of students. Later in this section Elwell says that self-attribution effects must be tiny, implying they are small enough to be ignored, in which case sun sign effects should shine through. Didn't he notice this inconsistency?
4. Generous, extravert LeosIn several places the "researchers" contribution conveys the suggestion that if astrology works it must be easy to demonstrate, therefore the lack of evidence must speak for itself. If Leos are generous, it must be possible to test for it, say by analysing the tips given in restaurants (p.128). Really? Dean knows full well that even if the practicalities of this experiment could be worked out (a doubtful prospect considering all the variables)
So all the variables make it difficult. Earlier Elwell accepted Mullis's simple test, where all the variables were as nothing, so here we have another U-turn.a positive result would be instantly discounted, on the grounds of self-attribution.
But self-attribution can be tested and found not to be an explanation. It can also be controlled for, a point that any beginning student has no problem grasping.In other words, generous Leos plunge more deeply into their wallets because of some astrologer they read somewhere.
We are not saying this. The point is, until the self-attribution explanation is ruled out, we have competing explanations.There may be some evidence to suggest that self-attribution exists, at least in limited test situations. But it is generally agreed that it must be tiny within the total context of genetics, the hormonal climate in the womb, and early childhood influences.
Then astrological influences should stand out way above such effects. But they do not.There is also the possibility that if Leos become more generous after reading about their sign, it might be that astrology has merely helped them to adjust their self-image in the direction of their true personality. I suspect this alone makes the self-attribution theory impossible to test,
Wrong. We can find people who don't know their sign, or planets, or (more to the point) what they mean, and thus rule out self-attribution.but it remains the last resort of the debunkers, and the team confirmed to me that for the tipping experiment to be credible, the tippers must have no knowledge of their sun sign.
As we already said, we could also look at self-attribution directly by seeing if there is a relationship between tipping and how well sun sign meanings were known. Knowledgeable tippers would then be just as useful as non-knowledgeable ones.There must be easy ways to sort out those children and Salvationists whom the head waiter is always glad to see, but I confess I would not know where to start. And there is always a killer card to be played. Children may not read the horoscope page but mummy does, and she influences her children. As for the Salvation Army, they might have started taking more interest in their sun sign after they were involved in the psychological research.
Elwell may not know where to start (what a convenient cop out) but for a good researcher the matter is straightforward. Of course some researchers might be better placed to study tipping than others, but contrary to what Elwell implies there are ways to test Leos other than via tipping. We could also test several supposed Leo characteristics at the same time to see if they relate together, although we would of course have to be careful that (like being generous and being extravagant) they did not relate for reasons other than astrology. Note how, in his tirade against the supposed iniquities of existing tests, Elwell never suggests what tests should be done instead. Why be constructive when you can be silent?We are left with the question, is this suggestion thrown out by Dean genuine or tongue-in-the-cheek?
What about the simple Capricorn hand-waving by Mullis? If Elwell can so glowingly accept this as a genuine test, what is the problem here?Again, we learn that these assiduous researchers "might test the charts of extraverts to see if they differ from introverts (p.130)." Really? We know where the charts come from, but how do you find your extraverts or introverts?
In Cosmic Loom Elwell makes all sorts of claims about differences between people, yet he is now saying that such differences are hard to find and may not even exist. But people seem to have no difficulty in distinguishing between outgoing people (extraverts) and loners (introverts), nor do astrologers have any difficulty in doing the same in their books and web pages. So why is this such a difficulty for Elwell? For example one of Eysenck's early (1963) investigations of this dimension involved giving descriptions of the typical extravert and introvert to a convenience sample of hundreds of Mensa members, and asking them to nominate an extreme example of each from among their acquaintances. Those nominated had widely separated scores on the extraversion scale, confirming that they were genuinely different. Nothing here says extraverts and introverts are hard to find.Suppose you thought you had devised a test to winkle out the introverts from the general population, and then compared the results with their sun signs, or whatever, and suppose there was no correlation. Would that be a test of astrology, another failure of this absurd pseudoscience, or might it rather be a test of the authenticity of the yardstick you had applied?
If we believe it is a poor yardstick, then we can repeat the study with a better one. And we don't have to think we have devised a test, there are plenty of existing tests of known authenticity to choose from. What are the authentic yardsticks that Elwell uses? How does he know they are authentic? He does not tell us.Do extraverts/introverts truly exist as categories? In The Penguin Dictionary of Psychology we read: "Originally the dimension was entertained as reflecting two unitary personality types which were presumed opposites of each other. Today most theorists doubt that either exists as a singular type ... it seems unlikely that the two poles can be validly regarded as opposites since many persons exhibit aspects of both ..."
Elwell is confusing types with dimensions. Had he read more deeply, and with more understanding, we might have been spared this nonsense. In any case, astrology books (including his own) talk as if such categories exist. We say more on extraversion in a moment.Indeed, Jung (who originally proposed this dimension) described Gandhi as an introvert in his asceticism, and an extravert in his politics, so what category would Gandhi's birth chart fall into? Nias volunteered the opinion that Laurence Olivier was an introvert in his personal life, which he had an opportunity to observe, but an extravert in his acting. Instead of trying to apply some external yardstick, why not evaluate the astrological in its own terms, something hardly ever done. We can be extravert where Mars and Jupiter are placed in our chart, and introvert where Saturn and Neptune are placed. Better yet, why not just say we can be Martian where our Mars is found, Neptunian where our Neptune is found, and leave it at that?
How does Elwell know we can be "Martian where our Mars is found?" How did he find this out? Isn't this looking at isolated factors?Some psychologists do maintain that the dimension shows up in surveys of large groups, but this raises questions concerning the circular nature of the testing procedures, which it would be tedious to discuss here.
Because it would condemn the tests of astrology by astrologers? How convenient for Elwell to see the details as so "tedious" that you may be spared them in favour of taking his word for it. But he is wrong. The evidence for the validity of extraversion as a dimension of personality is now overwhelming. It emerges from all types of personality inventories and ratings, even those with anything but E in mind, for example Freud's oral character relates to E. It emerges from laboratory tests of all types of behaviour such as arousal, conditioning, vigilance, sensory thresholds and learning. It is found in all cultures, including those very different from Western cultures, and in animals such as rats, dogs and monkeys. It is discernible in ancient personality descriptions such as the four temperaments, which of course is one reason for using it to test astrology. It is one of the most major and enduring of personality dimensions to emerge from long-term studies of individuals lasting ten years or more. And it has a marked heritability. None of this would be the case if E was not securely related to the real world of real people. Furthermore it matches what ordinary people including astrologers mean by extraversion. Because astrologers rate extraversion as one of the easiest things to see in charts, and because it can be reliably measured by a pencil-and-paper test, extraversion is one of the most legitimate tests of astrology, contrary to what Elwell claims. In particular, one can measure the extraversion of many hundreds of people and then pick only those who are extremely extravert or introvert, which should make it even easier to see in their charts. Astrologers never had it so good. But when they try this test, they perform no better than guessing.Sufficient is it to indicate that there are enough reasons to refute any suggestion that such tests are easy. Either the sceptics are aware of the difficulties or they are not. If they are not, they should be.
We are aware of the difficulties, which (other than the difficulty of getting astrologers to be rigorous) we nevertheless think are inflated. But if tests are so difficult, how can astrologers say astrology is confirmed for them every day? It is a complete contradiction for something to be simultaneously hard to test and easy to confirm, This contradiction is appearing in Elwell's response again and again. Doesn't Elwell notice?If they are, it is reprehensible to suggest that here might be a legitimate test of astrology.
Perhaps we can paraphrase Elwell: if astrologers are unaware of research findings, they should be.
5. Every picture tells a story5.1 -- Dean has a bloodhound's nose for artifacts.
Looking for artifacts (alternative explanations) is the first thing a scientist will do, but it seems unthinkable to Elwell. If alternative explanations exist, then each has to be carefully tested to see which one actually applies. Otherwise we could go on believing that cars run on faith rather than on petrol. Nevertheless Elwell is saying that the running of cars has to be proof of faith. And if we don't believe him, he gets abusive.He tells us that the supposed astrological effects disappeared when the artifacts were controlled (p.145). Well, equally, objections to astrology are apt to disappear when you get rid of the artifacts. Or perhaps, rather than artifact, I mean artifice.
Note the logic. Us: The evidence for faith is apt to disappear when artifacts are controlled. Therefore Elwell: but equally it is apt not to disappear when artifacts are controlled. Who says?Astrologers have a wide range of factors on which they can call, some of them discretional. Not an exactly breathtaking statement, and one to which you can forgivably respond with "so what?".
Not so. It is like saying petrol is discretional for cars. How does Elwell know they are discretional? Indeed, how could he know if the study of individual factors is meaningless?But Dean will not let you get off so lightly. As everybody in the black arts of persuasion knows, one picture is worth a thousand words. So he draws a picture, and many a heart must have sunk at the image of the impossibly crowded "superchart" (p.162).
The first thing to point out is that the majority of astrologers never use some of the factors which Dean has jammed into the circle.
So they are saying the whole chart is not needed. No doubt Elwell rejects factors like hypothetical planets that other astrologers happen to consider essential. How did Elwell decide they were not essential?Secondly, the illusion of unfathomable density arises from the simple stratagem of compressing the figure into the smallest compass compatible with legibility. It would seem less populated if it were drawn on a football pitch, or indeed, as would be appropriate in this case, on a sheet of paper the size of the solar system.
As if 1000 factors in an egg cup were fewer than 1000 factors on a dinner plate. Those factors had all been proposed and testified to by astrologers of some standing -- and that was in the 1970s, when the astrologer Dr Zip Dobyns could say "astrology is almost as confused as the earthly chaos it is supposed to clarify." Today the crowding would be much worse. Astrologers now have a choice of endless supercharts, so the present example is by no means unrealistic.Dean's superchart first appeared in Recent Advances and its reproduction here must indicate how highly he regards its message.
Note the mocking scornful tone. Yet the same applies to everything that Elwell says here that also appears in his book Cosmic Loom.It will helpfully serve as a continuing icon for the type of criticism he represents, with its desire to impose a spurious simplicity on essentially complex phenomena. In any other science such a demand would be instantly recognised as absurd. One could draw a page-size human outline, and decorate it with all the anatomical names, right down to the smallest details, plus the chemical equations for all the processes taking place in the body, and so on. The result would be total confusion, and on that account presumably a salutary deterrent to any book-browser who might have considered taking a misguided interest in how the body works. Yet anatomy survives, physiology survives, medicine survives!
Note Elwell's red herring. Later he argues that the pieces of the jigsaw have no relevance until the jigsaw is completed ("and it's a big jigsaw!"), which is the same as saying only the whole chart will do. But here he is arguing that less than the whole chart will do. So at what point will decreasing wholeness not do? Elwell does not tell us. His position remains unfathomably dense. To put it another way, what kinds of results would create problems for astrology? Clearly none, because according to Elwell there is always another hidden variable or an unknown force to bring out. For example: astrology only inclines not compels, there are too many competing factors, the manifestation is untypical, and in any case we should not impose our ideas on the cosmos.Coming closer to home, the sky is increasingly crammed with celestial objects, but astronomers are not despairing.
Yesterday the sky had some 10^22 celestial objects, today it has 10^22 plus one space probe. Yes, no reason for despair here. Also, we can find out where each one is and describe it separately, which is not the case in astrology. Another incorrect analogy.So we find ourselves here mired in the fallacy of the double standard, a favourite recourse of the debunkers.
And of Elwell. Given that Elwell has not told us how we should be testing astrology, or what he believes is the best positive evidence for astrology, he ought to be more careful.Incredibly, Dean portrays astrologers as being in a uniquely impossible situation, given the limitations of the brain to process information (p.161). What can one say, except that if workers in other fields felt they were faced with an irreducible complexity, there would be nothing for it but to go home and suck their thumb. Any student of the horoscope knows there are ways to work round it methodically, so if you are interested in marriage indications, perhaps, you look at one set of factors, or in the case of the career another set of factors, and so on. And there are computer programs to help.
That contradiction again. We understood astrology was difficult to test. Now it seems straightforward. Elwell's "ways round it" boil down to picking whatever simpler set of factors takes your fancy (no matter that elsewhere Elwell argues that the cosmos may not work the way you think it does). Furthermore, astrologers tend to completely disagree on the details even though based on long experience, for example some insist on using houses, others insist on not using houses, some insist on using progressions and ignoring transits, others vice versa, so we might wonder if an experience-based astrology could actually work when so much disagreement and rule-breaking are par for the course.The disturbing element is that Dean himself took a course in astrology, that he himself read charts professionally, and that he himself taught the subject. How come, if the difficulties of handling the chart's bits and pieces are insuperable?
Like Elwell, Dean started wide-eyed and ignorant. But unlike Elwell he was prepared to change his mind when faced with the evidence.Dean having detailed the awesome consequences for astrologers of the limitations of their short-term memory (a handicap which seems to have escaped them, unless like myself they are in the springtime of senility), Garry Phillipson, as interlocutor, rightly suggests that the situation could not be unique to astrology. I dare say he was inviting a comparison with other fields where the mobilisation of information is crucial. But at this point Dean performs a deft non sequitur. He breaks the thread of the argument, switching it away from facts, and science, in the direction of aesthetic judgment, and the arts.
The problem is what to do when, as in astrology, the variables are numerous and ill-defined. This is exactly the situation when people judge the aesthetic quality of artworks, where the number of variables is so large that they are forced to consider only a subset. The findings from tests of artwork-judging should therefore be of interest to astrologers. Especially as the findings point towards science, not away from science, as a check of the interview on this website will confirm. So how is all this a non sequitur?Perhaps he might be induced to return to his theme and explain how other sciences
Note that word "other." So astrology is a science?Manage to cope with the information overload, and why astrology is different.
It is a fact of life that all complex problems have to be simplified in order to be tackled, and the matter is won or lost depending on how they are simplified. Do it wrong and instead of oxygen you may get phlogiston. So other sciences cope with the information overload by selecting manageable pieces, and their books show how the result is progress, whereas before such selection there was little or no progress. Their books also show how, unlike astrology, other sciences insist on rigour and critical debate. And this is why astrology is different. Whereas the sciences reserve their highest praise for those who prove their predecessors wrong, astrology drums critics out of the corps. Criticism in astrology is simply not welcome, so any attempt to proceed in astrology as we do in the sciences is the cue for knee-jerk personal abuse, polemics, innuendo, name calling, ridicule, anything but scholarly debate. As Elwell is demonstrating. So much for astrology being a science.
Wrong. Contrary to what Elwell says, the issue is not the integrity of the subjective but its spiritual value, high for Santa Claus and low for phrenology. Indeed one of the most-used arguments against phrenology was that it demeaned God's work.Then there comes a little guilt by association, whereby religion and the spiritual are aligned with the subjective (i.e. Santa and bumps). Dean goes on to say there is one kind of astrology which does not need to be true, and another kind which needs to be true. The problem for him lies in that fuzzy word "true." By bringing in the concepts of subjective/objective Dean seems to rule out the possibility that the subjective might also be true,
Why should it? The subjective statement "I have a pain" can be true, even though it was brought in to avoid the fuzziness of True.and conversely that the objective might be untrue,
Why should it? "John is 6 feet tall" could obviously be wrong.as for example when measurements are wrong, or the wrong yardstick is used.
Such things are discussed under reliability and validity in even the most elementary of books on scientific research. But is the word "true" really so fuzzy? Philosophers may argue about what connects the usage of the word across various domains, and about its correct analysis, but the word creates no problems in everyday usage. In any case, Year Zero page 129 spells out our argument, and it is not what Elwell says it is. We are not ruling out the possibility that subjective astrology might also be true. We say only that, to be accepted, it does not need to be true, which has nothing to do with its possible truth. Similarly for objective astrology, where we say only that, to be accepted, it has to be true. To be sure, as Elwell says, the objective might happen to be untrue, but it will not be accepted unless we are happy with accepting untruths, like accepting that the distance between London and Moscow is six inches.If you plough through various reference works you find different definitions of objective and subjective, depending on whether it is philosophy, logic, or the everyday idiom. I like the definitions given by Ray Kurzweil, said to be the world's leading authority on artificial intelligence. Objective is the experience of an entity as observed by another entity, or measuring apparatus; while subjective is the experience of an entity as experienced by the entity.
So what? The existence of various definitions is irrelevant because we explain what we mean by those terms. The Elwellian arguments that follow below, based on those other definitions, are equally irrelevant. It is like arguing that some people think pizzas are really treacle tarts, therefore our pizzas are also treacle tarts.Kurzweil points out that light measured at a wavelength of 0.000075 centimetres is experienced as red, but change the wavelength to 0.000035 centimetres and the experience is called violet. For him subjective has no pejorative associations, and the experience of diving into a lake, erotic feelings, listening to music, are genuine if incommunicable realities.
Wrong, they are not incommunicable. People communicate about these all the time (read any novel) and we can check them out. If they really are incommunicable, how can Elwell expect us to take seriously his experiences with astrology, let alone understand them?Is the red of the traffic light unreal, because subjective?
We can publically check out people's perceptions by asking them. In this case there are public tests of people's responses to traffic lights. After all, we give out objective tickets to people who go through red lights.Is the pain of toothache less real than the decayed tooth?
Decayed teeth and toothache have a high correlation.Considering the central place of the subjective in our life, it would be strange if astrology were not intimately bound up with it.
So what? The subjective can be bound up with all sorts of theories, including much of psychology. It was also bound up with phrenology.But for Dean the subjective element in astrology comes down to clients accepting statements regardless of whether they are "correct", or of it giving a sense of purpose and meaning regardless of the truth. He devalues the currency. On the other hand for him objective astrology is merely about the problems of validation, the nuts and bolts, the techniques, the tests, and so on. All proper considerations, of course, but overlooking the point that important to astrology is its claim to deal with the objective world, with concrete events.
Elwell is still arguing that our pizzas are really treacle tarts.Why should Dean introduce the objective/subjective dimension into what is really a discussion about truth and untruth? As a philosophical dictionary puts it: "...because objective truth is supposed to carry undeniable persuasive force, exaggerated claims of objectivity have often been used as tools of intellectual and social oppression."
Wrong. It is not a discussion about truth and untruth. If the word truth has to be introduced, then our distinction is between truth and benefit. Read it again. In any case Elwell's argument is a good criticism of most astrology books, which are filled with exaggerated claims of objectivity like Leos are generous.
6. The hermeneutic circle
Of course it would, so why mention it?Setting aside his few admitted lapses, a process is at work within both sceptics and believers whereby they tend to notice those facts and arguments which suit their case, and pass over inconvenient facts and arguments.
Elwell is certainly showing us how.This has been called the hermeneutic circle, a self-reinforcing process in which we are all to some extent trapped. Alfred Adler called it "teleological apperception", meaning that when we have an end in view, a commitment to some purpose, we unconsciously select what suits that purpose. Truth and objectivity become a secondary consideration, and we may unwittingly mislead others, as well as ourselves.
It follows that if that purpose is strong enough, perhaps bordering on the fanatical, everything that might impede it is likely to be pushed unceremoniously aside, while at the same time we are in danger of inflating the significance of "friendly" data.
Exactly. The researchers have absolutely no vested interest in astrology, so it is of absolutely no consequence to them whether research outcomes are for or against astrology. The chips fall where they may. But Elwell has spent a lifetime championing astrology, his guiding passion is the rehabilitation of astrology, and for nearly twenty years has been a full-time astrologer and teacher. So he has a huge vested interest in ignoring anything negative, and in avoiding any path such as scholarship that might pose the slightest threat, as his response and his book Cosmic Loom demonstrate.In this context it seems pertinent to examine the credentials of the Year Zero researchers (p.125). Three of the five started out as astrologers, but turned their backs on it when it failed to measure up to the tests they devised. It should be pointed out that on this admission they had already shown themselves capable of spectacular misjudgment, bearing in mind that when they embraced astrology scientific hostility was just as fierce as it is today.
Misjudgement because they embraced astrology? But what matters is the evidence, not the hostility, and the evidence at that time was nowhere near as decisively against astrology as it is today. There were also many other areas demanding attention such as the high level of astrologer disagreement on just about everything and their reliance on speculation in lieu of testing.Moreover, the busy astrological activity that followed must have been a cascade of incidental errors and self-deceptions.
The word "must" is telling. Elwell finds it incredible that anyone could find astrology less than persuasive. But phrenologists had the same view about phrenology. Furthermore an individual like Mullis can be criticised on the same ground: Unlike Dean and Smit, he was never a practising astrologer, and he is completely uninformed about research, yet he still carries much weight with Elwell. The reason is obvious -- Mullis says nice things about astrology.In the annals of apostasy it is not uncommon to find that when suitors discover their beloved is a whore, the result is a particularly rabid misogyny. Gauquelin was another of the disaffected. Those who have seen the light marvel that the other poor dupes persist in their illusions, and have a mission to save them.
Elwell again finds it incredible that anyone could give up astrology on legitimate grounds. And that anyone who gave it up could avoid becoming a crusader against it. But if crusading is a sin, where does that leave his own position?Since they can hardly afford to be wrong twice, they savage any vestige of evidence that might suggest they were mistaken in the first place, and here a pertinent example is Dean's wildly improbable assertion that any positive Gauquelin results must have been caused by parents fiddling an auspicious time of birth for their offspring (p.144).
We do not savage anything. Why should we? Elwell does not tell you that Dean's "wildly improbably assertion" is based upon a meticulous 10-year re-examination of 45,000 Gauquelin birth data, for details see elsewhere on Rudolf Smit's website, so on what grounds is it "wildly implausible"? Most academics find astrology to be even more "wildly implausible", because among other things it fails to perform when reasoning errors are controlled, but this does not seem to worry Elwell. In any case, why should astrology be more plausible as an explanation than parental tampering? Elwell doesn't tell us. Overall Elwell seems to be fulfilling his own prophecy that, when the purpose is fanatical, "everything that might impede it is likely to be pushed unceremoniously aside."One of his colleagues, Suitbert Ertel, has already cast doubt on Dean's elaborate thesis, to put it mildly. But my curiosity is why anyone should think it necessary to snatch the last bit of credibility from Gauquelin, who was no friend of astrology, and whose work has already become so muddied as to be no longer of use either to astrologers or their detractors.
Wrong. It confirms the reality of Gauquelin's observations so it actually adds to Gauquelin's credibility. It also shows how science advances, by debate, searching for flaws, and testing alternative explanations, something generally missing from astrology and evidently from Elwell's experience as well.As Richard Dawkins remarked, when shown the Gauquelin data, more robust statistics would be required before he could believe in planetary influences. So why the overkill?
Perhaps if Elwell had read the full report on which the "wildly improbable assertion" was based (and which Elwell gets wrong anyway), he might have shown less of his own rabid misogyny. Not for Elwell the careful weighing of views from both sides. For him it is sufficient to assert that one researcher has cast doubt, as if one swallow (if it is a swallow) could make a summer, and then leave out all detail so you have to take his word for it. Yes lady, don't listen to those alarmist mechanics, the car looks great! Trust me!I have every sympathy for the crisis of credibility in which these members of the Dean team found themselves, because I have been there myself.
A disagreement over the correct explanation of Gauquelin's results can hardly be described as a crisis of credibility.There came a point in my own life, measured more in years than months, where astrology was not doing what I expected it to do. These are the worst of times: you feel betrayed, plunge into depression, discover the virtues of the old malt. The main difference between me and the deserting trio must have been one of temperament.
Note Elwell's use of "the deserting trio." He is saying that those who consider the evidence and change their minds about astrology are deserters and backsliders. Why bother with evidence when you can have name calling?Some people feel more secure in their judgment than others, and for my part I was troubled by the suspicion that the defect might be mine, rather than belong to astrology.
One can always use this excuse. Fundamentalists use it all the time.I began to ask myself, if the heavens are not saying what I think they should be saying, what are they saying?
Notice how the possibility that the heavens were saying little or nothing was not considered. One of the perils of old malt?If they are not answering my questions, maybe they have the answers to questions I do not yet have the wit to ask? When the charts became opaque, I rubbed my eyes and looked again. If you are receptive in this way, astrology will continually astonish you. Our reality is not all it seems.
Galileo said the same thing. By discrediting once and for all the long-cherished view that the earth was not the centre of the universe whose sole purpose was the sustaining of human life, he showed that our reality is not all it seems. But he had observations that could be checked. Nobody had to take his word for it. Unlike Elwell's case.But for the Dean trio this kind of fundamental reappraisal seemed not to be an option, and their "beautiful world of astrology began to collapse." Their uncompromising loyalty was to science (AD 2000).
No, many of our criticisms are philosophical and conceptual, looking at the vagueness and ambiguity in much of astrology.As an early convert to General Semantics, I parenthesise the date, because if history is anything to go by, science AD 2500 will be very, very different.
Not if science is defined as being careful.Such changes as are on the horizon might have been accelerated by these researchers, given their knowledge both of science and astrology, and they might yet regret that their contribution was in the field of demolition rather than construction.
Note the implication -- future science will embrace astrology, but we researchers never got the message, being too intent on forcing the chips to fall our way. In 1898 Alfred Russel Wallace said exactly the same about phrenology: "In the coming century phrenology will assuredly attain general acceptance ... Its practical uses ... will give it one of the highest places in the hierarchy of the sciences, and it ... will be referred to an example of the almost incredible narrowness and prejudice which prevailed among men of science." This was based on Wallace's long experience and the same "mature judgement" that Elwell later finds so decisive, and on the avoidance of controls, the same controls that Elwell dismisses as devious. So in Elwellian terms Wallace should have been decisively right. But he was dead wrong. So why should anyone believe Elwell?6.2 -- Did the tests they imposed on their beloved astrology really stand up to scrutiny, or was their defection premature? Historically, it would be interesting to know where the break point came. I have examined all the so-called objective tests, like those in Recent Advances, and in my judgment they are all paper tigers, a conclusion I am prepared to defend if called upon. These are important questions for all those who believe, or might be prepared to believe, in this vital subject, and who in addition value integrity of intellect.
Elwell may be prepared to defend his conclusion, but he is evidently not prepared to be specific. Precisely what are these "so-called objective tests" that are paper tigers? Instead of telling us, Elwell dismisses them all in a single breath. Yet these tests were far better designed than the simplistic tests of Mullis that Elwell promotes as evidence for astrology.What has been said above may explain both the feebleness of the arguments marshalled by the researchers in Year Zero, and the satisfaction with which they are put forward. For example: "When Smit tested the main predictive techniques on people who had died an accidental death (nothing ambiguous here), the claims in astrology books could not be confirmed" (p.126).
Unfortunately Smit's studies have never been published, nor have his data, so checking this claim is impossible. There is no reason to doubt its veracity, except to point out that if the boot was on the other foot Dean would dismiss this piece of uncorroborated evidence without apology. Smit did lecture on his results to Australian groups, but his thesis did not find ready acceptance.
Wrong. Smit's results were presented at a London research conference in 1987 and duly appeared in the published conference report. Elwell was one of the other speakers, which makes his lapse of memory remarkably convenient. Contrary to what Elwell asserts, Dean would ask to see the data, would (with Smit) check the results, and would then add them whatever the outcome to the research database for meta-analysis. Indeed, he already has. Furthermore Smit has other publications in the same field, for example a long article in four parts in the FAA journal was later condensed in Under Capricorn, An Anthology of Australian Astrology published in 1989 by the FAA's Board of Publications, pages 267-306. The topic was "Prime Event Analysis of Post Natal Celestial Movements." And in the internationally distributed Astrologers Forum (published by the Australian Astrologer Dymock Brose, then living in Blackheath NSW, now in Adelaide, SA) issues 68 and 69, March and April 1987, Smit presented a full account of his study of 62 Cases of Suicide. A telling reaction from German astrologer Alexander Marr: "It is really wasted time to experiment with so-called exactly-recorded birth times unless they are approximately or exactly rectified" -- In other words, this astrologer found it completely allowable to work towards a desired result. Any scientist following such procedures would immediately and forever be disqualified.Smit was commendably candid when I asked for details. From the technical standpoint, the problem was that he was relying mostly on a single chart factor, the ascendant, which depends on the accuracy of the hour and minute of birth. He insists that he took great care over accuracy, and indeed his conscientiousness here is evident. However there is an ever-present problem involving the true time of birth, cosmically speaking. The Gauquelin results would be compatible with a time earlier than the traditional "first cry", the vagitus, when the appropriate planets would be on the meridian and horizon, rather than some degrees past. (When I suggested this possibility to Gauquelin he became agitated.)
But the Gauquelin results apply only to eminent professionals, about 0.005% of the population, and not to the remaining 99.995%. Ignoring 99.995% of your sample does seem rather extreme, but perhaps that is why Gauquelin became agitated. In any case, to get an exact fit the birth time would have to be moved back by an average of something like fifteen or twenty minutes, a long way from that "first moment of independent existence." As far as we know, astrologers do not routinely do this, so presumably they have found nothing wrong with the first cry.Smit's conclusions conflict with those of Charles Carter, in his day the doyen of British astrologers, who wrote an entire book on the astrology of accidents. It contains the primary data so that others can investigate for themselves. Carter believed his findings supported astrology, and one must wonder why Smit's opinion should be given precedence. The answer, of course, is that Smit was expressing the anti-astrology view.
Wrong. Smit was not expressing the anti-astrology view. He was simply conveying the results of work done while he was still a full-time and sincerely-believing astrologer. His aim was to find out which predictive techniques would produce the best results. Alas, none of them yielded positive results: even for a non-statistician it was obvious that there was no consistency. Smit later found out, to his amazement, that negative results were simply not acceptable in astrology circles, because they brought comments like "but then the birth times must have been wrong", or "so you don't believe in astrology!". Apparently Elwell reacts in the same way -- Smit reports negative results, hence he is "anti-astrology." Re Carter, Smit used controls, Carter did not. As Smit was to find out, astrologers rarely use controls, but without controls your results cannot be interpreted, a point that Elwell seems unable to grasp. Also, many of Carter's cases have birth times to the nearest hour or half hour, whereas most of Smit's were precise to the minute, so Elwell's concerns about accuracy apply predominantly to Carter's data. But Elwell keeps quiet about this, and about the multiplicity of Carter's time keys used -- not only 1 degree for a year as the basic arc (in either longitude or right ascension, and with or without latitude) but also fractional keys obtained by dividing by 2, 4, 8, or if this is insufficient then by 2, 2.5, 3, 3.5, and so on. No wonder that Carter gets positive results. How can one take such fiddling seriously?Again: "When Mather used the data for 900 major earthquakes to test the claim that they tended to occur when Uranus was on the MC or IC, the claim could not be confirmed (95 earthquakes fitted but so did 91 out of the 900 non-earthquakes) (p.125)." Thrown out casually like this, as if there were no room for dissent, such a statement may sound crushing, but like much else in this dissertation it will not bear scrutiny.
The claim being tested, which the ordinary reader might suppose to be a vital plank of astrology's platform, did not in fact emanate from astrology at all, but from a physicist, and was published in the respected scientific journal Nature. Long before the discovery of Uranus astrologers and other observers of nature had their own ideas about the cosmic correspondences of earthquakes and similar phenomena. Thus we find Aristotle recording that "it sometimes happens that there is an earthquake about the eclipses of the moon." A notable modern astrologer, A J Pearce, wrote a chapter on "Earthquakes and Volcanic Eruptions" but makes only passing references to Uranus.
Elwell says the claim does not originate from astrology at all, yet his notable modern astrologer A.J.Pearce (1840-1923) says "planetary action as an exciting cause of earthquakes is only doubted by those modern philosophers who have never made any fair and complete enquiry into it, and yet presume to deny it", which is then followed by eight pages of examples of earthquakes coinciding with various planetary aspects or various planets including Uranus in various sign or house positions. Alan Leo says "severe afflictions from Herschel ... cause earthquakes." So much for Elwell's statement.The way it is described (hands up those readers who know about this emsee and eyesee stuff) could have been more illuminating. The planets are carried around the sky once a day, by earth rotation, and like the sun they reach a "noon" and "midnight" point. Therefore they all pass over the local meridian twice a day, including Uranus, which means that both our breakfast and supper might be interrupted by subterranean rumbling.
Exactly, which is one reason the claim needed testing.(Did readers wonder about "non-earthquakes" and what it might be like to experience one? Uranus was making its upper meridian passage when the bomb dropped on Hiroshima, an obvious example of a non-earthquake.)
A non-earthquake is merely a control time and place at which no known measurable earthquake occurred. If an earthquake had occurred at Hiroshima it would be confounded by the effect of the bomb, so we could not know for sure if there was no earthquake. So Elwell's "obvious example" would not qualify as a non-earthquake.
7 "Critical thinking skills"
Yes, this is why universities have courses on critical thinking, and why their examples of fallacious thinking include astrology. But note how Elwell misrepresents what we actually say, which is: "The single most important factor in helping astrologers be more careful might be an improvement in their general education." This is then followed by our detailing the areas (notably critical thinking skills) where we think these improvements are most needed -- detail which is crucial for a proper understanding of our case but which Elwell chooses to ignore.On a bad day, I would describe that as insulting, patronising and condescending. It seems to this observer of the Dean scene that he may be reaching a point in his crusade which other professional sceptics have already reached.
Elwell may see our citing a lack of general education as insulting, but it happens to be true. Read any astrology book including Cosmic Loom, and you will find critical thinking conspicuously absent. And this insulting opinion is not just ours. In 1976 the classical astrologer Dr George Noonan said the typical astrologer's "ignorance is exceeded only by his lack of knowledge of just about every other intellectual discipline." Elwell has given us no reason to assume his own ignorance is atypical.They see no reason to engage in dialogue any more, because they just want to shout "You're all idiots, go away!"
What was our interview if not a dialogue? The interviewer was free to ask the most searching questions, and he might have noticed our calling him an idiot in lieu of providing detailed answers. By comparison, nowhere has Elwell clarified what he considers evidence for astrology, nowhere does he tell us how to conduct proper tests, all we get are name calling and statements like he sees the truths of astrology everywhere. An informed reader might see this as insulting, patronising and condescending, even on a good day.Dean may no longer care what astrologers think and feel, but is persevering because of the "floating voters", inquirers who might well be drawn to Year Zero.
How can Elwell know what Dean thinks and feels? Wrong anyway.There is no better deterrent than to warn these innocents that they are in danger of getting involved with a half-educated bunch, strangers to reason, every one. We here enter not so much the land of spin, as smear. You will understand what is happening if you keep in mind that Dean is not talking to astrologers, but to possible converts.
So here comes the empty posturing. Where, he cries, do astrological texts mention critical thinking? After all, books on psychology deal with it, and psychology is close to astrology (p.159). Well, one might pardonably expect books on thinking to deal with thinking. But is it also indispensable for books on astronomy, another close cousin of astrology? Science books seem to assume that readers have brought along their thinking skills, ready honed. Books of history and biography, subjects also interwoven with the astrological, do not begin with a crash course on critical thinking either.
Those with a science training know that critical thinking is indispensable to any science course, which is why the relevant topics (of controls, of statistical inference, of replication, of testing alternative explanations, and so on), are taught as part of the course itself.Mysteriously, astrology emerges as the lone exception. How outrageous that "... none of the hundreds of introductory astrology texts examined by us over the years give any hint that critical thinking even exists, even though it could hardly be more relevant to their implied invitation to test astrology for yourself" (p.159).
What on earth is going on here? Why all this indignant snorting? Are these five academics really asserting that every beginners' book, on whatever subject, is expected to be prefaced by a dose of Dean's didactics? No, they're not.
Not asserting or not prefaced? In fact many beginners' books do start in this way. Two examples addressed to psychology freshers are McBurney DH, How to think like a psychologist: Critical thinking in psychology (Prentice-Hall 1996), and Stanovich KE, How to think straight about psychology (6th edition, Allyn & Bacon, 2001). They talk about fallibility, the need to rigorously test our ideas, and how knowledge improves over time as a result. Not something you will find in your average astrology book or in Elwell's response, where doubts about the truths of astrology are forbidden on pain of ridicule. Which makes true dialogue impossible, as you can judge for yourself. In any case, all we ask is that astrologers don't make assertions of truth without the backing of research findings. We feel that astrology should be evidence-based, not speculation-based or experience-based as at present.All is not quite what it seems. This is a coded message, the equivalent of a government health warning. Dean would dearly love to put a sticker on every book on astrology, saying that if you intend to read this rubbish you need your head examined.
How does he know this? Indeed, Elwell is contradicted by what we say in Year Zero pages 165-166, where we say the area remains worthy of study provided the aim is not to prove astrology. Once again the facts are being sacrificed in favour of a good story.Since that might be a little too pugnacious, the next best resort is to imply that if you are opening any astrology book your reasoning faculty is self-evidently in need of training, but you'll be lucky to find the instructions enclosed.
All this is being retailed to achieve an effect, and the hoped-for effect is that readers will feel that astrology is fundamentally flawed because its practitioners are incapable of elementary logic. The poor dears have never learnt to think straight, you see, so be careful, it might be contagious.
Evidently it is. But the problem has nothing to do with elementary logic. The problem is that astrology is experience-based, not evidence-based. Astrologers and their books say "try astrology for yourself and you will be convinced." In other words, see the amazing match between chart and person, and lo! -- astrology works. But as we have explained at length, seeing an amazing match means nothing because people with wrong charts see matches that are just as amazing. So you have to proceed differently if you are to draw a reliable conclusion. In short, you have to be educated in critical thinking skills. That Elwell's own Cosmic Loom shows not the slightest evidence of such skills is of course a worry, but rather than fix it in his revised edition the Emperor continues to parade his New Clothes as if nobody would notice. Unfortunately they did notice, see the website www.astrovdm.com for independent comments on Cosmic Loom.
As Elwell is demonstrating.I should be reluctant to recommend Dean's arguments as models of critical thinking, and it is important to ask why this stern advocate departs so readily from the canons of clarity. And then the thought intrudes again -- maybe it is not so much reasoned argument as conjurers' patter?
Note the ex cathedra: Dean departs from clarity, take my word for it. Why have reasoned argument when you can have conjurers' patter?In his book The Case for Astrology John Anthony West dubs Dean "a master of the inappropriate analogy." He quotes the master thus: "Astrologers argue that signs and aspects cannot be studied in isolation (which is like arguing that overeating won't make you fat), and that what matters is the birth chart as a whole."
So West is an authority. Doesn't Elwell criticise arguments from authority? But look closer. The point being addressed by Dean is this: If the basic ideas of astrology are true, they should be detectable in their own right, regardless of other subtleties. Suppose we heard of a belief that there is a connection between diet and body weight. Many other factors come in, such as genetic makeup, age, exercise, health, culture and lifestyle. But if the belief was true and we took a large enough sample, we should certainly expect to see indications that well-fed people tended to be fat and starving people tended to be thin. If astrology is true, it must pass that kind of test. West says that the whole chart "bears absolutely no relationship" to overeating, so like Elwell he has missed the point.That was in 1988, but there are no signs of repentance, and the latest exposition contains other strange similes: "... like mechanics who claim that intuition allows successful repairs to cars despite having no workshop manuals" (p.137); "... like claiming that rhubarb explains why air planes fly" (p.160); "... like asking for a theory to explain flying elephants" (p.160); "... like having a clock that might or might not be working, and trying to tell the time from just a few of its countless cogwheels" (p.163). Or, choicely: "People do not travel to Heathrow Airport on the off-chance that somebody will suddenly discover aeroplanes" (p.148).
More of the same, always of course with no mention of the context lest the actual facts prove to be inconvenient.These Deanisms might seem innocuous, but students of critical thinking will recognise the classic fallacy of the red herring. By dropping some pathetically obvious point into the discussion (well, of course eating makes you fat!) the reader is nudged towards accepting the rest.
But eating does not necessarily make you fat, so how is it obvious? Also, what are the real issues that these supposed red herrings are designed to distract us from? Elwell does not tell us.Now Dean is knowledgeable on the various effects that might produce false conclusions, and indeed lists no less than 15 of them (p.136). And a fascinating lot they are, as he himself enthuses. He goes on: "For example, the Dr Fox effect involves blinding you with style and jargon rather than content (we just did exactly that)." There's nothing like telling the customers when they are being led by the nose! The candour disarms them for what's next.
When it comes to red herrings, therefore, the least agreeable verdict would be that he knows what he is doing. Is it plausible that someone who is fascinated by such persuasion ploys, and has made a collection of them, should not also be a connoisseur of the dozens of reasoning fallacies that have been identified, starting in classical times? Would this not be the inescapable obverse of correct thinking?
More gratuitous psychoanalysing. Elwell still doesn't tell us what the real issues are that these supposed red herrings are designed to distract us from.Lists of fallacies can be found online. One, explaining 35 such fallacies, begins: "If you have been exposed to how magicians work you may be familiar with sleight, feint, misdirection or deception."
How is this a fallacy? And how is it relevant?Is the following a serious point, or just muddled, or is it merely patter? Dean says of his superchart that if interpreting it for a client, and allowing 20 words per item, "the result would be larger than the London or New York telephone directory (all you need is one client and you have enough work for the rest of your life, forecasts extra)." Of course the astrologer, without any help, might divine that his client may not wish to read the London telephone directory, and settle for something less taxing. But here Dean is trying to put astrologers in the most grotesquely caricatured situation he can find. I would seriously like the researchers to advise me whether this is the fallacy of the straw man, or a reductio ad absurdum, or a mixture of both.
If the astrologer is to interpret the whole chart, then they should work like this (which is the way taught by the Faculty of Astrological Studies): Delineate each individual factor, group them by topic, then synthesise them. To ensure accuracy, do it all on paper. At this stage the client has nothing to do with it, so the straw man is Elwell's.I lost patience with another section, where the researchers make fun of Astrology World (p.151). If you compose a similar critique of Science World you will broadly see what I mean.
No you won't see what he means. Astrology World began "suppose that all the research ever done has got it wrong, and that we have a world where astrology works to the extent claimed in astrology books. Hunger and hardship have disappeared because economic trends and climate are predictable. Science has disappeared because horary astrology answers any question." And so on. The point is that Astrology World emerges as totally unlike the real world.If science is so good, why are there wars, famine, crime, illness, accidents, and so forth?
You need only replace the first part with "If astrology is so good, why are there wars", or alternatively "If astrology is so bad, why are there no wars", to see how this supposed comparison is going astray. Elwell seems to be suggesting that before we had science there were no wars, famines, crimes, which is absurd. The point is, whatever we wish to do (plunder the earth, promote world health, calculate birth charts) science can help us do it. The crucial distinction, which Elwell ignores, is between science and the exploitation of science. Perhaps he might like to ponder whether, in Astrology World, the exploitation of astrology might lead to even greater worries than those due to the exploitation of science.To paraphrase: "Bearing in mind that science has had two thousand years to get it right, can we conclude that it really does deliver?"
The analogy is inappropriate. The claims of astrology, unlike those of science, are grandiose. Few scientists would dare to claim on behalf of science the claims that are typically made on behalf of astrology, such as Derek and Julia Parker's claim that "there is no area of human existence [ie not just material] to which astrology cannot be applied." Furthermore, science has so far had only 300 years, not 2000, to get it right. And its successes can be seen all around you -- 100 years ago the present wonders of plumbing, lighting, heating, communication, transport, and health care would have been unthinkable. Even its critics admit that science works. Where are the wonders attributable to astrology? Unbelievable sun sign nonsense in every women's magazine?This is our old friend the double standard. Why, we even get the argumentum ad misericordiam, or the appeal to pity. We are invited to condole with the unfortunate Smit, who paid a high price for his conversion to the truth (p.126), and to commiserate over the wasted 25 years of fruitless research, which at least produced some useful negative findings, comparable with "eating lettuce does not send you mad" (p.153).
Wrong. There are no such invitations, nor is the lettuce comparison accurate. The point being made was that negative findings generally are not necessarily unimportant, not that the finding itself was lettuce-like.Before anybody passes round the collection plate, let us ponder whether those years of research were not after all a great success.
How does this speculation contribute to the debate?Dean affects disappointment that no positive results were forthcoming, but all the evidence suggests the contrary.
Here Elwell is saying "all the evidence" suggests astrology is true but without telling us what the evidence is. He just asserts that astrology is true.They were not trying to prove astrology, but disprove it, and their efforts were directed to that end.
Wrong. This is a quite unfounded attack on our integrity.Understandably, if you have publicly turned your back on astrology, if you have announced that "astrology can be largely explained by intuition, gullibility and universal validity" (Dean, Recent Advances 1977, p.15) you are unlikely to be looking for the positive results which would undermine your own new-found position.
It does not follow. To say astrology can be largely explained implies there could be a genuine residue, which hardly amounts to turning your back on it. In any case exactly what are these "positive results" that we are unlikely to be looking for? Again crucial details are missing.As Aristotle might have said (p.126), who do you think you're kidding.
Elwell gets it wrong yet again. The point being made is that factors such as universal validity (which in those days was just one of the factors now included under reasoning errors) would seem to largely explain astrology. So if we are to establish that genuine astrological influences exist, we have to be especially careful to control such factors. Again, this is quite the opposite of turning our back on astrology.
8. Dean sights a White Crow
There is a problem here for Elwell. He cites only the early tests reported in Recent Advances (1977), and ignores the many later tests, all of which are reported in Year Zero pages 146-147. The problem is that the results no longer favour astrology and they are not even marginally significant. Elwell also ignores their meta-analysis (same pages), a powerful technique not available when Recent Advances was compiled, which shows that any apparently positive results are merely an artifact of sampling error. Some of the tests were sensitive enough to detect hit rates well below the level promised in astrology books, but nothing was detected. As a result there is no white crow, and as Elwell puts it, what should be a roll of drums is actually the sound of him falling into the orchestra pit. In any case Elwell makes other errors and shows a poor understanding of simple statistics, see next comment.Then comes the first cartridge. Dean unblushingly shifts the ground from significance to utility, saying that the extreme significance of 64% against the expected 50% was only "marginally useful", and adds (curiously for one who has just committed the error) that it is important not to confuse significance with utility. Nor indeed utility with significance.
The actual quote (from page 547 of Recent Advances) tells a rather different story. It is referring to the mean of 64% hits vs 50% expected: "The difference is extremely significant (by chi-squared test p<10^-14 for 1 Df) but only marginally useful (64% vs 50%). Hence it is important not to confuse significance with utility." No confusion here.In other words, whether the creature was black or white, here was nothing to crow about. Yet there must be many situations where a margin of 14% over the odds would be considered very useful indeed, for instance in investing or bookmaking.
Only if the 14% were genuine. But meta-analysis has shown it to be an artifact of sampling error. It has zero utility.What percentages of this order might represent in terms of astrological performance is hard to estimate.
Not so, but Elwell seems too innumerate to know this.What is certain is that the trials may not have been a fair test of astrology (without the participants themselves realising it) and that criteria better suited to its subject matter could have produced more striking results.
Elwell is already producing excuses. In fact the participants involved top astrologers like Elwell's hero Charles Carter, whom we might expect to recognise any unfairness, especially as Vernon Clark was himself a winner of the Faculty's gold medal. Also, better criteria like what? Without details it is like saying "with trotters better suited to their purpose, pigs could have flown."One marvels at the confidence with which the astrologers set about these tests, recalling the enthusiasm for Christmas imputed to another feathered friend. It is no surprise how few volunteer for such experiments, because the more knowing shy away from having to jump through hoops which might have been chosen arbitrarily. Imposing criteria on the astrological may be no more than a test of the criteria.
Many tests were devised by, or in collaboration with, astrologers, who ensured that the tests were acceptable. In any case, if the tests were suspect, astrologers would refuse to take them. And doesn't Elwell's argument also apply to his own criteria? How does he know his own positive results were not the result of biased criteria?One test involved matching ten birth charts with ten occupations and other scraps of information. In another, astrologers were given ten pairs of charts and invited to say which of the pair fitted the case history. An extraordinary limitation should be noted, in that the biographical data provided for the subjects in both these tests was deliberately brief, as if this conferred some extra virtue on the exercise.
It obviously did, seeing that waving hands was enough for Mullis. Presumably even Elwell might grant an advantage to each item being expressed in a sentence rather than in 500 pages.But why create that handicap? It would be interesting to discover whether the astrologers would have reached a better score if they were furnished with as much information about the subjects as possible, allowing them to pick out what they deemed to be diagnostic. Often it is the details, or rather the co-occurrence of linked details, which give the clue.
Sounds plausible, but it doesn't work, see next comment.Nor is there any reason why astrologers taking part in such exercises should not also be provided with the results of standard psychological tests, of which some might be more suitable to astrology's subject matter than others.
Which is why in some tests the astrologers were asked to nominate the information and tests they wanted. But even when they got everything they wanted, such as their own 7-page questionnaire covering things like hobbies, school grades, occupation, health, dates of important events, psychological test scores, and so on, even two photographs, their hit rate remained no better than tossing a coin.Projective tests, as when the subject is asked to describe what is happening in an ambiguous picture, would perhaps enable the astrologer to glimpse the world through the subject's eyes, and thus identify the appropriate birth chart. Experiments need to be made along these lines, pilot studies conducted, to determine the optimum conditions under which the astrological can reveal itself.
But we thought that Elwelll saw astrology's truths everywhere and that they should astonish us. So they should not need such elaborate tests. In any case, projective tests have a notoriously low validity that makes them quite unsuitable as criteria for the testing of anything. No doubt this invalidity would be instantly cited by Elwell if the results happened to be negative.8.2 -- The third Vernon Clark type test, discussed by Dean in the same place, proved negative. It involved trying to separate the charts of highly gifted children from children who were severely retarded. Behind such tests lies an unfounded assumption of considerable proportions, namely that the planets can be blamed for everything, from mental retardation to suicide. The existence of a correlation between the cosmic and the terrestrial does not imply that it is absolute. There is no reason to suppose that the astrological has the playing field all to itself: there are doubtless other factors capable of modifying or frustrating it, or introducing new elements altogether.
In fact the test was second, not third, the outcome was significantly positive, and behind the test was the astrologers' own confidence that such things could be seen in charts.This perspective is inadvertently supported by Dean when he considers under what conditions astrology, as distinct from non-astrological influences, could be judged to "work" (p.132). He says that before effects can be held to be astrological, alternative explanations must be ruled out. The inescapable corollary, which he does not mention, is that when astrology seems to fail, then non-astrological influences can legitimately be ruled in.
Elwell's inescapable corollary does not follow. If astrology seems to work, this means we have something that needs explaining, so we have to consider alternative explanations. But if astrology seems to fail, there is nothing that requires explaining, so there is no need to consider alternatives.An appropriate conceptual model might be the existence of a matrix which constantly works to shape what is happening within it. It seeks to impose itself where it can, and to the degree it can, but sometimes the material is resistant, insufficient or imperfect. Or the cosmos could be said to seek vehicles of expression, but cannot be held responsible for the defects of the vehicle. If the black keys are missing from the piano, you can't blame Mozart for the performance.
Such a conceptual model says "astrology works but only sometimes", but says nothing about when it will and when it won't. Astrology remains as predictable as tossing a coin. In effect the model is nonfalsifiable and therefore worthless. Furthermore, a model is only of value if there is something to explain, which the Vernon Clark meta-analysis seems to deny. In any case Elwell's description seems incompatible with his earlier claim that "astrology will continually astonish you." Something as unpredictable as tossing a coin is in effect no better than tossing a coin -- and nobody pretends that tossing a coin is a continual source of astonishment.The correlation between the cosmic and the terrestrial is not absolute, and the reason is easy to see. To file away your chart with your name on it may be convenient, but it perhaps obscures the fact that this chart does not belong to you. On the contrary, you belong to it. That is to say, it represents a time and place where a wide range of entities were coming into being, and many different activities were happening. Humans were being born, yes, but also alley cats and dung beetles. And not only living things, but purely physical entities, along with institutions, ideas, and even questions -- as in the horary concept.
From this it is clear that the language of the cosmos is not yet cast in terms of human nature, but something else, plastic enough to be readily adapted to alley cat nature, dung beetle nature, horary nature, and so forth. Equally it must be able to adapt itself both to gifted and retarded humans, without losing its essence. A challenge facing astrology is to understand this language in its own terms, before it has been distorted by expression through any particular vehicle.
This is pure speculation, so it cannot be genuinely "clear." The reference to "challenge" is a red herring designed to distract the reader from noticing that Elwell fails to propose any means by which his ideas can be tested. Why have tests when you can have speculation?
Why should it? The fact that astrologers greatly disagree with each other when they interpret charts (which should not happen if astrology plus intuition was so marvellous) does nothing to help Elwell's case. Note that Elwell's section 8.3 is not addressed to anything in Year Zero and is therefore irrelevant. It is also hopelessly out of date because all the issues raised by Elwell have been resolved by the later research work reported in Year Zero.Dean states: "Thus in Clark's double-blind trial, Lee deliberately applied intuition and after spending only 2 minutes on each chart got 7 out of 10 right. In Astrology Now's test the two highest scoring astrologers (one a student, the other a professional) had studied astrology for only two years and both indicated that intuition played a part in their judgement."
Dean concludes: "...it is clear that the significant blind trials have not demonstrated that astrology works but only that astrologers work. Hence to adequately test astrology the participation of the astrologer must be eliminated."
Keen students of critical thinking may wonder whether Dean has not compounded a classical fallacy with a classical semantic trap, namely that the same word may mean different things to different people.
This does not seem to worry astrologers when they write reports.Did Dean on the one hand, and the participants on the other hand, understand the same thing by "intuition"? Early in Recent Advances Dean says that for convenience "intuition" implies ESP and psychic ability,
What Dean actually says is "For convenience in this section [on intuition] the term 'intuition' implies a consideration of ESP and psychic ability also." In other words the section covers ESP and psychic ability as well as intuition. Now read on, and see how Elwell builds on this misquote.and he defines intuition as "knowing" other than through the senses. In effect he was asking if they had used either astrology or clairvoyance.
But Recent Advances contradicts Elwell's contrived dichotomy. It merely points out that tests of one are compounded by the possibility of the other. Nothing here about it having to be all one or all the other.But whatever he may or may not find convenient,
More contrivance. The point is that astrologers themselves see intuition in same light as ESP. For example the celebrated American astrologer Carl Payne Tobey says "The person who conducts research into ESP is not hampered by astrology. But the person who investigates astrology is constantly hampered by the possibility of ESP." For further examples of astrologers who see intuition in an ESP way, see any issue of The Mountain Astrologer.his definition was idiosyncratic. Webster's definition reflects the general view, namely that intuition is the "immediate apprehension of a truth, or supposed truth, in the absence of conscious rational processes."
Dean's definition of intuition as "knowing other than through the senses" is not idiosyncratic. First, if something is known through the senses (by seeing, hearing, etc), then by definition it does not involve intuition. Second, Dean's definition is completely compatible with the Webster definition, where "absence of conscious rational processes" is equivalent to "not through the senses." It is also completely compatible with the OED definition ("immediate apprehension ... without the intervention of any reasoning process").The astrologer (and for that matter the physician, entrepreneur, or poker player) may get a "feel" for a new problem on the basis of experience, or a recognition of analogous situations, but it is hardly extrasensory.
Nobody said it was. Although Dean is considering ESP in the same section as intuition, purely for convenience, this does not require them to be identical. In any case this part of Recent Advances (like most of the rest) is very out of date. Thanks to progress in the understanding of intuition, we would now see Lee's remarks rather differently. Even his score of 7/10 (vs 5/10 expected by guesswork) is unremarkable. Elwell should be reading the relevant sections in our Year Zero interview.If Lee was using pure clairvoyance he could have scored seven out of ten by being given just the bare birth data, minus the charts. On the other hand, if it was the erected charts, perused however casually, that made the difference, then it was astrology that made the difference.
Why should it? Genuine clairvoyance might not need either. In any case Recent Advances makes it clear that Lee was looking at charts.Perhaps he should have been invited to say why he reached his conclusions, because if he was following textbook precepts, those conclusions would have to be given higher status than mere guesswork.
To everybody's relief, Dean tells us that thanks to intuition we don't need "formal arguments" to decide between strawberry and vanilla ice cream (p.137). We don't need intuition either, because we may have hated vanilla ever since it made us sick. But then he adds a telling comment, namely that their convenience in daily life "does not alter the fact that intuitions are unreliable." But intuitions cannot be intrinsically
More on Elwell's addition of "intrinsically" in the next comment.unreliable if they served Lee well when scanning his charts. They may be unreliable, certainly, but no more wildly so than the conclusions based on what we are pleased to call logic. He argues that intuition is unreliable because it is not self-verifying, but then neither is reason self-verifying, unless it becomes dangerously locked into a manic circle where A proves B, B proves C, and C proves A.
Elwell misses the point. Nobody is saying that intuitions are intrinsically (Elwell's word) unreliable, whatever that means, only that correct intuitions are not distinguishable at the time from incorrect ones, meaning they are not self-verifying.Dean seems unable to distinguish between intuition and healthy human judgment, which is what juries use in deciding where the balance of the evidence lies, or athletes in estimating distance and timing. Judgment has more force than a mere hunch, and it is superior to reason, since it can discriminate between differently reasoned arguments, such as those presented by the prosecution and defence. Judgment may be primarily what astrologers use in weighing various factors against others, and in this they are no different from experts in other fields. Give me mature judgment, developed by experience of the world, and you can keep your "critical thinking skills." It can be wrong, and often is, but it's the best hope we have.
Again all this is covered in Year Zero. Elwell seems unaware of the huge literature showing how "mature judgement" can be spectacularly wrong, for example see Dawes RM, Everyday irrationality (Westview Press 2001). Our judgement only seems okay because we are unaware of how we might be fooling ourselves. When our follies are controlled, we see the light. Elwell seems determined not to recognise how reasoning errors can take over unless prevented by controls and critical thinking skills. That he rejects both says it all.
9. Why the impasse?Readers who have not been privileged over the years to witness the cuts, thrusts, and parries between astrologers and their critics may well wonder why the truth has not been established by now, one way or the other. It is a mess, and the responsibility for it is divided pretty equally between both camps. The main obstacle is the existence of different agendas, of vested interests, but there is no difficulty in explaining to impartial outsiders why the truth has been so elusive.
If this has prompted you to expect a convincing explanation, you will be disappointed. Note how Elwell's first few paragraphs in this section are almost pure waffle. At the end you are none the wiser. You are told that there is overwhelming evidence for astrology, but not what it is. You are also told that astrology is elusive and hard to investigate, but not how this is compatible with it being overwhelming. You end up with no case for astrology other than Elwell says so.The handle whereby you take hold of a problem determines the outcome. The door you go in by is the same door you come out. Remember the travellers in Wales who stopped in a village to ask one of the locals the way to Llanyblodwel (or was it Trefeglwy)? He pulled deeply on his pipe. "I wouldn't start from here." Astrologers tend to favour one point of departure, the sceptics another. Neither is intrinsically right or wrong, but each will inevitably arrive at a different conclusion.
Below, Elwell suggests the difference is because skeptics look at parts, astrologers at wholes. Wrong. Both look at both. Skeptics also look at symbolism, metaphors, nonfalsifiability, reasoning errors, the poor education of astrologers, and so on, and see problems everywhere. A more plausible reason is explained in Year Zero page 130 -- the typical believer is looking for a spiritual experience that transforms the self, the typical critic is looking for factual proof, so they are looking at different things. Nothing here about parts vs wholes. Unless you recognise this difference, debate is unlikely to be productive. Despite his alleged familiarity with classical semantic traps, Elwell doesn't, and it isn't. To see what we mean, read on.There are two optional imperatives any inquiry can follow -- one is isolate, the other connect. It is all a question of the relationship between parts and wholes. Every phenomenon, whatever you can think of, is simultaneously both a part and a whole. Everything is included in something more comprehensive, in a context. And meaning is always a matter of context. When Lady Macbeth washes her hands, it's not like when you and I wash our hands. When Othello visits the wife he imagines to be unfaithful, and snuffs out the light, it's not because he is trying to save candles.
So what? How is this an argument for Elwell's specific astrological beliefs? If meaning is always a matter of context, why are astrology books filled with absolute meanings like Leos are generous?Years ago Dean wrote that a watch could only be understood by taking it to pieces, and in this approach he echoed a recurring theme in many scientific endeavours, namely that in productive research parts must be isolated for study. On the other hand, if you want to understand the function of a cog, rather than its merely physical attributes, you have to put it back in the watch, and see how it relates to the rest of the mechanism. The cog needs the context of the watch, the watch needs the context of time keeping, and timekeeping needs the context of the solar system.
So what? The scientific approach takes this for granted.It happens that nowadays physics is leaning very much towards the "connect" mode, and this tendency may eventually work through to astrology, but it will become a different astrology.
A different astrology like what? No more sun sign columns? But why should we assume that the new physics and the new astrology will be related just because both use the word "interconnected"? This is a pretty slim basis for such a huge leap of faith.The universe is increasingly viewed by scientists as a totally interrelated and interacting whole, a development which is entirely congenial to the data of astrology.
So what? What matters is whether astrology can produce effects beyond those explainable by non-astrological factors. If it cannot (as seems to be the case) then it is of no consequence how the universe is viewed. In any case we are talking about physical connectedness (the universe) vs symbolic connectedness (astrology). So we are talking about different things. Whatever happened to Elwell's alleged familiarity with classical semantic traps? How do notions of connectedness lead to claims that Scorpios are secretive, that Saturn signifies bones, that the birth moment is the significant one, and so on? Why to those claims and not to some other claims? Elwell does not tell us. Below, he has a second chance, but he still does not tell us. One might think that, just as the solar system is only a microscopic part of the whole universe, looking at it via astrology would allow only a microscopic understanding of human affairs. So why bother?"Where is the effect, show me the effect" chants Dean. He demands an isolated part, which bereft of its connections may be meaningless, like a kidney left forlornly on the mortuary slab.
But what support does Elwell provide for the supposed meaninglessness beyond bald assertions? None at all. In any case, the Vernon Clark plots given in Year Zero pages 146-147 involved astrologers reading whole charts, so this reference to Dean demanding an isolated part does not make sense. The demand is simply to be shown how astrology delivers something more than things explainable by non-astrological factors. Presumably when Elwell buys a bottle of his favourite old malt, he demands that it provides more than just a pretty label. Why should we demand any less from astrology?Some things are too big to see, which may explain why Dean sees astrology nowhere, but somebody like myself sees it everywhere. The reason is that for me the pieces of the jigsaw have no relevance until they are put into the jigsaw -- and it's a big jigsaw!
The reason why he sees astrology everywhere, and we don't, is easily explained by looking at his book Cosmic Loom (1987/1999). Here Elwell never applies the safeguards that would prevent seeing astrology where none exists, so no wonder he sees it everywhere. Phrenologists saw phrenology everywhere, but it was the Great Invalidity in the Head. Until Elwell presents evidence to the contrary, as opposed to repeated assertions, why should anyone not see astrology as the Great Invalidity in the Sky?Dean professes not to hold with this new-fangled thinking: "Even if science did turn out to be based on say interconnectedness, astrologers have not explained how this would support the idea that the heavens reflect what happens on Earth, let alone such ideas as Leos being generous. It is like saying astrology involves books, cooking involves books, therefore cooking makes astrology more plausible" (p.159).
Musing on this peculiar paragraph, I was finally overcome with a sense of the futility of any attempt to make any kind of rational response.
It seems that Elwell has no idea why interconnectedness results in astrological claim X. So we are left with: It does so because he says so. Readers will be sharing his sense of futility.For me it was the final straw, where I felt I could not take this paragon of clear thinking seriously any more ... but imagined him just smiling quietly.
So has the impasse been explained? Are you any the wiser? To us the real source of the impasse is identified in Year Zero pages 131-132, namely carelessness. What Elwell does is essentially no different from what we do, but he is hugely more careless. As his book Cosmic Loom demonstrates, he takes no precautions such as controls against being misled, he is unaware of the many ways where he can go wrong, he does nothing to rule out non-astrological influences, and he turns a relentless blind eye to unwelcome evidence. He then proceeds as if none of this matters. If you object, he responds with name calling and abuse. No wonder there is an impasse. Astrology 1, Scholarship 0.
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