Response to Dennis Elwell’s Comment
by Suitbert Ertel
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.
(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.
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
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).
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.
"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”.