Response to Dennis Elwell’s Comment on Gauquelin
Response to Dennis Elwell's Comments on Gauquelin

by Suitbert Ertel

[Note: This paper focuses on comments in Dennis Elwell's The Researchers Researched- GP]

Dennis Elwell rejects the researchers’ critique of astrology. In my personal view, which the rest of the group does not always share, some of Elwell’s points deserve consideration. E.g., the critics’ occasionally somewhat inflated manner of putting arguments should have been avoided. Perhaps it’s my fault, as a member of the group, during the text recycling process, I should have insisted more energetically on using agreeable forms of communication only. In this regard, however, Elwell himself can hardly be taken as a model. In addition, quite a few of Elwell’s points need to be contested and this will be done by Dean, Kelly, and Smit - I will not go into this. My present concern is Elwell’s depreciating the results of the Gauquelin research. This cannot go uncommented. Here Elwell gives us an example of reckless reasoning, apparently common among astrologers, that we critics, justifiably, deplore.

To quote Elwell:

“…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. “

Elwell thus contends:

(1) Gauquelin’s credibility as researcher has been gravely weakened, and this is because

(2) Gauquelin’s work and its results have become muddied.

(3) Astrologers should therefore disregard the Gauquelin results just as Gauquelin opponents disregard this muddied stuff.

(4) In addition, Gauquelin’s statistics is regarded as not robust enough. Here Elwell refers to an authority (an authority not in statistics):

“As Richard Dawkins remarked, when shown the Gauquelin data, more robust statistics would be required before he could believe in planetary influences.”

I corresponded with Dennis Elwell and he confirmed, what I suspected, that his contentions (1) and (2) are based on the French sceptics’ and J. W. Nienhuys’ publications who claimed that Gauquelin’s birth date selections of professionals are severely biased. His point (4), Dawkins, is taken from someone else’s personal communication.
Is Elwell aware of the bulk of research devoted to scrutinizing the sceptics’ three anti-Gauquelin campaigns? Yes, he is because he replied that he is aware of all pertinent CORRELATION papers, and he says that he even read articles about this research in the JOURNAL OF SCIENTIFIC EXPLORATION. As a member of the British Astrological Association he is certainly also aware of the book by Ken Irving and myself on The Tenacious Mars Effect published by Urania Trust (1996). (Readers may browse abstracts of my journal publications on Rudolf Smit’s website Astrology and Science):

So Elwell knows that immense empirical work was necessary to procure evidence for the following conclusions:

(1) The birth data of sports champions collected under the responsibility of the Belgian sceptics (COMITÉ PARA) confirmed the Mars effect. The Belgians delayed, by six years, the publication of their findings, until they had construed an evasive interpretation. Too many variables were involved, they said, so an expectancy could impossibly be calculated. But their objections are basically misconceived, and have been disregarded or rejected even by all non-Belgian sceptical communities involved in the Mars effect debate.

(2) The data collected under the responsibility of the US sceptics (CSICOP) supported Gauquelin’s Mars effect as long as they were collecting data with much hope of success (their first batch of data). But when the first batch’s result came out in favour of Gauquelin, the US data collectors managed to select the rest of the data (two more batches) in such a way that the Mars-born percentage of athletes dropped from its top to an incredibly low bottom, i.e., the results of batches 2 and 3 were alarmingly low, inconsistent with all other data collections by sceptical researchers, only consistent with what CSICOP had wanted to achieve. Now, the rules of scientific methodology demand that the significantly low level of their Mars percentage should be explained. But CSICOP’s chairman, Paul Kurtz, responsible for data collection, did not adhere to these rules. He did not allow me or any other CSICOP-independent person to check his original data, which might give hints, as to whether or not the data had been tampered with. Professor Kurtz subsequently stopped replying to my requests for pursuing this issue.

(3) The data obtained from French sports champions, collected under the responsibility of the French sceptics (CFEPP), showed another selection bias. The French included in their sample, contrary to the protocol with which Gauquelin had agreed, many low-eminent sports people. The Mars-born percentage in their total was therefore cut down to an insignificant level. Despite all this apparent data manipulation, a significant Mars effect came to the fore when I compared, within the French sample’s total, high eminent with low eminent sub-samples. All data, including eminence indicators, were taken from the sceptics’ own publication. Six independent researchers were invited to check this result and they confirmed that a significant birth surplus of eminent champions in the sceptics’ data really existed. My main Dutch discussant who defended the CFEPP assets (the organization CFEPP itself had expired) eventually deleted my e-mail messages without reading them. My last incriminating result published in Correlation (A.D. 2000) did not receive any formal or informal reply.

(4) As to the credibility of Gauquelin’s own findings: Müller and Ertel tried to replicate planetary effects of the French members of the Académie de Médecine, they thus used the very first sample of Gauquelin’s own studies of 1955. After more than 40 years of this pioneering research we collected birth dates and times of the entire Académie sample from French registry offices, without Gauquelin’s hand in the pie, using an updated and considerably extended biographical directory. Gauquelin’s Mars and Saturn effects of physicians, reported in 1955, were clearly replicated.

Dennis Elwell, despite being well informed, ignores all this research. He refers to a no-authority in statistical matters (Dawkins) who has published nothing in this field. Further, he ignores most favourable judgments on Gauquelin research by H.J. Eysenck, whose score of published statistical studies in mainstream psychology has hardly been excelled by anyone. For me, therefore, the way Elwell uses his intellectual capacity to downgrade scientific research on Gauquelin effects is utterly irresponsible.

The psychological why of Elwell’s denouncing Gauquelin’s life achievement is readily understandable. He simply wants Gauquelin to be wrong – because, as he says himself, “Gauquelin was no friend of astrology”, and in his reply to my queries he explains “one problem with the Gauquelin work was that it had no practical implications, so it did
not matter (except in an academic sense) whether it was true or not”. Surely, Gauquelin’s negative findings, at the very least, should have strong implications for astrological practice. But Elwell, evasively, picks quotations which serve his discrediting purpose from wherever sources offer themselves, even from “detractors of astrology” whose prejudiced activities do not raise his concern at that moment (such as "The Strange Case of Astrology", a "Statement of 186 Leading Scientists against Astrology" ,18 Nobel prize winners among them, that appeared in the October 1975 issue of the Humanist1) .

I doubt that Elwell would find among his fellow astrologers many others endorsing his pact with those dogmatists of scientism. If he would find in his community supporters of his unfounded verdict on Gauquelin’s research, then the researchers’ critique of astrology would have to be sharpened, perhaps in a second edition of Garry Phillipson’s Astrology in the Year Zero.

Nevertheless, I do find in Elwell’s informal reply to my queries some points that I can endorse, e.g. “The very fact that yourself and Dean are currently in sharp disagreement over the validity of these results [the Gauquelin planetary results] weakens the persuasive value they might have.”

Yes, this is my own main concern. Geoffrey Dean’s claim to have found evidence that a great deal or possibly all of Gauquelin planetary effects might be man-made (i.e. that a large proportion of parents tampered the data) is likely to add in public to the devaluation of Gauquelin’s work that Nienhuys and other sceptics have been attempting – despite Dean’s stance that it wouldn’t.

Let me clear up my own position: If Nienhuys’, the Dutch sceptic’s, contentions regarding the credibility of Gauquelin as researcher - or if Dean’s contentions regarding the credibility of parents as reporters of original data - were the truth, I would not encounter any trouble. On the contrary, I am seeking the truth. Human affairs are replete with instances of deception and self-deception which should be uncovered wherever they show up. In this regard I myself have been active and did not even spare Michel Gauquelin (see the abstract of my 1990 paper “Scrutinizing Gauquelin’s character trait hypothesis…” on Smit’s homepage).

But one has an exceptionally tough nut to crack whenever claims of deception - or self-deception - are themselves nothing but an outgrowth of deception or self-deception. Tricky complications of this kind, to be sure, should be disentangled by all legitimate means and methods. I would be happy if critical observers of the Gauquelin research arena would support this endeavour – or else keep quiet and wait and see - instead of impeding this work by rumour-fueling commentaries in public. Gauquelin’s discovery doesn’t fit in present-day astrological, nor in present-day scientific frameworks. The wisest way of dealing with this discovery is to embrace it, since we can’t get rid of it.

June 2001


1) Note Paul Feyerabend’s comment on the document of the party from which Dennis Elwell draws his arguments:

"What surprises the reader whose image of science has been formed by the customary eulogies which emphasize rationality, objectivity, impartiality, and so on is the religious tone of the document, the illiteracy of the arguments and the authoritarian manner in which the arguments are being presented.'' Elwell should avoid coming too close, in his own style and manner, to those “detractors of astrology”.