A Reply to Dennis Elwell’s
'Scholars v Scribblers'
by Geoffrey Dean,
Ivan Kelly, Arthur Mather and Rudolf Smit
the authors have chosen to reproduce Dennis Elwell's original article
(9k words) in its entirety, with their point-by-point comments (12k words)
interpolated. Elwell's original text appears in a normal font, whilst
responses from Dean/Kelly/Mather/Smit are in bold and are indented.
Comments and contributions on any aspect of the discussion are invited.]
we pointed out in our response to Dennis Elwell’s first article, we felt
his writing style was not conducive to communication in the present debate.
For example, he could not simply report that we did X. He had to make
us blast, boast, chant, cry, dupe, posture, savage, snort, smile, whatever
way suited his purpose. The same is true of his second article, where
instead of simply reporting that we did X he has to make us sniff, whinge,
sneer, issue diatribes, and so on. Also, he has partly or wholly ignored
numerous important issues that we raised, which we have therefore collected
together in our concise overview (3K words) of the debate so far, see
“Researchers respond to Elwell” on
best advice, when you are in a hole, is to stop digging. On the other
hand you can send out for a bigger shovel and sandwiches. I did not think
a coherent reply to my critique was possible, and have not changed that
opinion. My regret is that they should have produced more of the same.
think readers will understand that a coherent reply is difficult when
the original is as full of mistakes as Elwell’s is. Unfortunately Elwell’s
second article contains more mistakes, more evasions, and more unsupported
assertions, despite our repeated invitation for him to check with us
beforehand, so a coherent reply is again difficult. Readers who prefer
a concise account of the main issues will find one in our overview,
for details see our first comment.
are many points raised in the sceptics’ diatribe that call for correction
or comment, but their number presents a problem. Because they have introduced
so much “new matter”, as the lawyers say, mainly as challenges to myself,
my list of topics went off the page. To cover everything properly would
be tantamount to writing a book, so I shall confine this piece to specimen
charges. There are doubtless further topics which, should the “researchers”
so wish (and provided the webmaster has the patience), could be the subject
of further debate.
is blaming us for making too many comments. But since they consisted
largely of pointing out his mistakes and unsupported assertions, he
should be blaming himself for having made so many. In any case, because
he makes the same mistakes and the same unsupported assertions over
and over again (and still does, as you will see), our comments were
often repetitious. So their supposed number should not be a problem
to anyone genuinely interested in debate. Also, notice how he puts “researchers”
in quotes, as if we were not really researchers. So what is his definition
of a researcher?
are apt to become tedious because there is an inverse law operating. If
I declare that in the antipodes they have everything upside down, there
is no short answer to match, only 500 words of relativistic prose.
replies are not apt to become tedious if there is a genuine spirit of
co-operation, as existed between us and Garry Phillipson during the
interview. Whenever differences arose, they were speedily resolved (usually
they were due to simple misunderstandings), thus preventing tedious
waffle. That Garry was asking the questions, and would allow no evasion,
was another factor in preventing tedious waffle. To be sure, Elwell
had once expressed to us the view that “a civilised debate is long overdue.”
But a debate running on his somewhat sarcastic talk (his next few paragraphs
are an example), while perhaps entertaining, is hardly conducive to
focussing on central issues, and a debate in which (as we show) he ignores
or evades questions is hardly a debate.
part of this exercise it is opportune, because its authorship and content
overlap, to include comments on the critique of modern astrology posted
by Ivan Kelly, with help from his friends, on http://www.Astrology-and-Science.
In effect this compilation shows how easy it is to take your pet aversion
for a walk and let it bark at everything that moves. No, astrology is
not a “finished” science, not all its problems have been solved, and yes
there are anomalies and internal disagreements. Is it different anywhere
is begging the question to call astrology a science. All the sciences
(natural and social) are characterized by a suspicion of authorities,
tradition, and experience, whereas the opposite applies in astrology.
Ideas in the sciences are rigorously tested, and scientific journals
are filled with debates over theories and central ideas, and not even
the fundamentals are spared (witness the debates over quantum mechanics,
superstring theory, and the genome project). Where is the same level
of testing and debate in The Astrological
Journal or The Mountain Astrologer?
Further, no scientific theory could survive the quantity and seriousness
of the anomalies and disagreements found in astrology.
challenges and evidence-based changes are routine in science, but not
in astrology, where claims of infallibility and resistance to evidence
are the norm. Whereas disagreement in science leads to clarification
of the problems and progress in solving problems, disagreement in astrology
leads only to more (usually glossed over) disagreement and stagnation.
To be sure, Elwell admits that astrology still has problems. But just
as important as the existence of problems is the existence of procedures
for investigating and fixing them. Any research text in the social or
natural sciences will provide such procedures, but in astrology they
are conspicuously absent. For example, what procedures other than speculation
would Elwell use to challenge or support American astrologer Zip Dobyns’s
ideas that Pluto is the primary ruler of Scorpio and Chiron is a co-ruler
of Pisces? So to answer Elwell’s question, yes, it is
For the record
my observations on those chapters in Year
Zero which purported to represent the scientific view, I alleged that
the “researchers” contribution was not all it seemed. They sought to convey
the impression that astrology had been put under the lens of impartial
scrutiny and had been found wanting, but such evidence as they cited (1)
on inspection lacked the authority claimed for it, and (2) involved suppressing
better documented evidence which would have supported astrology. Their
reply indicates that they are still in the business of impressionism.
implication is that examples of this follow below, but even if you can
spot them, you will wait in vain for an indication of how (1) and (2)
apply. Readers who keep a tally of unsupported assertions and jibes-in-lieu-of-facts
will get a clear indication of which side is still in the business of
the question of the negative evidence connected with earthquakes, I am
again dismayed to find the scholars fudging their reply in order to be
able to conclude triumphantly: “So much for Elwell’s statement.” It is
sheer hokum, as will be seen if I unpick it.
is not so. Bear with us.
research was carried out into a specific claim not made by astrologers
at all, but by a fellow scientist,
claim was made by Rudolf Tomaschek, who was also an astrologer. Unfortunately
the argument depends on Tomaschek not
being an astrologer.
claimed that the passing of Uranus over the local meridian (a twice a
day event) could trigger earthquakes.
carried out a statistical analysis of 134 major earthquakes. He found
that the positions of the planets at the time and place of these earthquakes
was significantly non-random. In particular Uranus, Pluto and Jupiter
tended to be involved in configurations, which typically involved squares
and harmonics thereof, which supports those astrologers who have attributed
revolutionary or explosive characters to Uranus and Pluto. In 39 cases
Uranus was conjunct or opposite the MC orb 15 degrees, which suggested
that Uranus in such a position (and as part of a configuration) might
sometimes trigger a major earthquake. Elwell, in his previous article,
argued that this would mean a major earthquake twice a day, but evidently
he overlooked the role of the configuration.
course astrologers down the centuries have been interested in earthquakes,
as in everything else, and built up a picture of their cosmic correlations,
in which the main player was eclipses, in combination with a number of
planets. I cited the observations of the astrologer A J Pearce, pointing
out that he made only incidental reference to Uranus.
no observations from Pearce are cited. Elwell says only that Pearce
wrote a chapter on earthquakes “but makes only passing references to
then comes a ploy which, if this were a conjuring performance, would be
called misdirection. The scholars quote Pearce’s affirmation that planetary
aspects do indeed excite earthquakes (which might have been inferred from
his having written a chapter about it) and counted the pages of the chapter
so we shall be in no doubt about the thoroughness of our author nor their
own meticulous approach. And lo, Uranus is indeed mentioned as well!
ploy is to take what your opponent says, dress it up a bit, and serve
it back as if you had introduced it yourself. And since you are introducing
it, then it must support your case, mustn’t it? Highly recommended!
scholars then quote six words from the celebrated Alan Leo, namely that
“severe afflictions to Herschel ... cause earthquakes.” One might be curious
to know what was omitted from this sentence. Since Leo calls Uranus ‘Herschel’
it must be from his earlier writings, but I have not attempted to track
it down. However Alan Leo’s Astrological Manual on Mundane or National Astrology, written
by H S Green, has several pages on earthquakes, and Uranus is not mentioned
omitted part is “, Saturn, Jupiter and Mars in Taurus.” Had we quoted
more it supports our case even more: “They [earthquakes] are usually
produced by eclipses, and can be traced by the various rules given for
mundane Astrology; we have no record of earthquakes occurring when the
planets were not in violent signs.” It is from Leo’s Dictionary
of Astrology (1929).
this to justify the innuendo that astrology falls down even on a phenomenon
as big as earthquakes.
it was not to show that astrology falls down, it was to show that astrologers
do connect Uranus with earthquakes.
oh why, do they have to labour it to seem to be scoring a point. More
pertinently, where is the scientific detachment which might have led to
them conceding the point?
point? That astrologers do not connect Uranus with earthquakes? Go back
six paragraphs to where Elwell complains about ploys that dress up and
serve back. You have just seen him do exactly that.
a long-time student of predictive techniques, I was interested to read
that when Smit tested them in cases of accidental death the results were
negative, so I asked where I might be able to examine this obviously important
research. He replied that the work had not been published. Since he was
originator of the research I assumed he would know, and made my comments
on that basis.
is misleading. In his first article, Elwell said “Smit’s studies have
never been published” when in fact they had been published in a journal,
in an anthology, and in a report of a conference that had been attended
then Dean pitches in with his ringing “Wrong”, and castigates me for having
forgotten (“a remarkably convenient lapse of memory”) that Smit’s results
had been mentioned at a conference he and I attended in 1987. Presumably
Smit’s own lapse of memory was proving inconvenient.
how Elwell mentions only the conference and not the actual publications,
of whose non-existence he had previously been so certain.
exhumed the papers relating to that conference and saw that Dean had indeed
been allocated a 15-minute slot for a presentation on “Primary Directions
and Violent Death.” It cannot have been that memorable, because the pad
on which I was making notes was blank save for the heading. I must have
switched off, because I knew that primary directions contain a number
of unresolved problems.
reported findings ought to have been memorable — for example they did
not support claims that the aspects at important events are always fitting,
that the orbs are always tiny, and that precise birth times are always
necessary, all surely worth noting.
problems are sufficient to disqualify their use as ammunition against
astrology in general.
nobody is using them as ammunition against astrology in general, we
are talking only about Smit’s results and how they conflicted with Carter’s.
Note how Elwell is implying that primary directions cannot work, which
is the same kind of ex cathedra dismissal that he complains about in
others. More on primary directions later.
is that no consensus exists on how they should be calculated.
later he argues that the multiplicity of house systems and zodiacs is
not a problem. Also, as we note later, very little consensus exists
anywhere in astrology. So why is it suddenly a problem here?
there are some half a dozen different equations, and indeed three are
mentioned by Dean in his own Recent
Advances (p 189).
all primaries were calculated by hand, an extremely tedious and time-consuming
process. Nowadays computers do it all in a twinkling, so testing the
various methods to find the best performer is no longer a problem.
that produces an amusing Catch 22. If you are going to apply primary directions
to a fresh set of data you must presumably have already decided, on the
basis of past experience, which is the most reliable method.
so. Previous experience is not a pre-requisite for testing X, just as
owning a Ford is not a pre-requisite for taking a test drive. So the
argument self-destructs. On the other hand it is reasonable to run pilot
tests to weed out the worst performers, and this is exactly what a number
of astrologers in the Netherlands did in the 1970s. Smit was one of
them. They tested various methods and time keys on a small set of verified
charts, each with a large number of outstanding events. The results
were not shockingly different, but one method seemed to be more promising
than the others, which is why they initially stuck to it.
that would be simultaneously to endorse the connection between the planets
and events, so that the failure of your new data can hardly be used to
bolster the anti-astrology argument.
implies that researchers first make up their minds and then carry on
regardless of the results. In this case the Dutch researchers, including
Smit, were ardent believers in astrology at the time, but this did not
save their results.
made his choice from the selection, and one must conclude that it was
on the basis of past experiments. If not that, then what?
right. But Smit had already told Elwell this, so why is it being brought
would you establish the most reliable method? Ideally with charts for
which the hour and minute are not in doubt, because in this system four
minutes inaccuracy on the clock can throw your indications out by a full
if Smit and the other Dutch researchers did not know this, despite having
taken it into account with every experiment.
means you should first rehearse your act with charts from the “mundane”
sector of astrology, for example like the 1801 chart used for the United
Kingdom, where the time is certain.
try to solve the puzzles of primary directions from birth charts is
inadvisable, because even if there is confidence in the time on the
clock, there may be doubt as to what the moment of “birth” actually
is, cosmically speaking. Practically, the stated time might be the first
time those attending the birth think to look at the clock. Astrology
is not always the first thing on everybody’s mind at such moments.
is the familiar copout about how nobody knows what the “cosmically-correct”
birth time is. Some astrologers take it to extreme lengths and have
no qualms about rectifying birth times hours away from the one actually
recorded. Doris Greaves, the grand old lady of Australian astrology,
routinely asked astrologers to rectify her chart by way of testing their
skills, and some managed to shift her birth time back to before her
mother had gone into labour. But their faith in their result was undiminished.
Smit himself once tested various astrologers, whose techniques were
numerous, but there was no agreement on the rectified time, and none
approached the recorded time, the differences amounting to hours. Elwell
now goes on to promote rectification, but you will not find the slightest
hint that it might be suspect.
wonder experienced astrologers are hesitant to rely on the stated time
of birth until they have been able to confirm it by life-events.
use of the term “experienced” astrologers is typical of astrologers
attacking their former peers who for good reasons quit the field. In
this regard, during his email exchanges with Elwell, Smit did not tell
him, but doing chart rectifications counted for about 30% of Smit’s
income while he was still a professional astrologer. Thus he can hardly
be denied the experience Elwell apparently demands. Nonetheless, already
by that time, Smit did recognise that research projects working towards
a pre-determined result hardly qualify as research.
process of “rectification” becomes the basis of an attack on the astrologer
Alexander Marr, who emphasised its necessity.
Marr was a proponent of primary directions, which Elwell was attacking
a few paragraphs back for having “unresolved problems.”
scholars sniff: “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.”
see our previous comment on rectification. If astrologers cannot even
agree on the rectified time, what price rectification? In any case,
working towards a desired result is completely against the spirit of
research. A study that rigs the deck in favour of desired results hardly
qualifies as genuine inquiry.
Marr is cast into the outer darkness, let me protest that they have clumsily
misrepresented his position. Marr was not saying that in studying the
astrological indications at death it would be permissible to massage the
charts, under the guise of “rectification”, in the direction of the result
you hope and expect. Quite the reverse. He is insisting that before you
can place reliance on the indications formed at a person’s death, the
chart you use must have been first authenticated by reference to preceding
dates such as marriage, removals, accidents, and so forth.
Elwell himself undermines the whole idea: “Charles Carter once retorted
that he could not subscribe to the logic that for something to work
somewhere it had to work everywhere.” Also, Recent
Advances looked at Marr’s system and found that his results were
close to those expected by chance alone. Twelve years ago Marr contacted
Dean for a more up-to-date check based upon his more refined rules,
but the outcome was even closer to chance. In other words an astrologer
using Marr’s methiod has a choice — rectification or tossing a coin.
In any case astrologers should know that authenticating a chart requires
a sufficient number of verified and relevant events, which number is
seldom available, so even if the method worked the result would still
course it would have been damaging to Smit’s study to have admitted it
could be based on unconfirmed data, so he naturally rejected it. Yet when
you look closely you realise that it was Smit who unwittingly might have
been working towards an unavoidably negative result, by his confidence
in unsubstantiated data.
so. The data were reliable enough. A birth time such as 15:23 is sufficiently
precise for control variations (of say 4, 8, or 12 minutes either side)
to allow relevant aspects to be picked up. If the aspects showed a definite
trend in one direction, they were then tested to see if other methods
and other time keys improved the results. If there was anything in these
astrological prediction techniques then the various charts should tend
to converge on a particular method and time key. But there was no such
convergence. The results were all over the place, and remained all over
few e-mails later, Smit remembered that his conclusions had also appeared
in Australia, in the four-page Astrologers’
Forum, a non-profit monthly sheet produced for the last 20 years by
the dedicated Dymock Brose. To leave us in no doubt about the importance
of this event, the Forum is rather grandly described as “internationally distributed”,
meaning that anybody anywhere can pay the annual subscription.
means only that this journal has an international readership. And four
(or more) A4 pages a month for 20 years comes to over 1000 pages.
have been unable to discover how many copies were posted. Do we detect
an inconsistency here? Dean’s conference presentation involved 62 cases
of violent death, but the Year Zero
cases were described as accidental death (“nothing ambiguous here”) [p.126],
and the Astrologers’ Forum study
was of 62 cases of suicide. Are we being careful?
you are not being careful. The conference presentation involved 72 accidental
deaths in Holland and 62 suicides in New York. All have one thing in
common: the deaths were violent. No inconsistencies here.
over Smit’s research might have been resolvable had the raw data been
available. His own remarks on this are pertinent. He wrote to me to say
the raw data were not included simply because the Forum
is a four-page publication, and as it was his contribution had to be spread
over two issues.
these physical limitations, he could still have made the information available
in some form. But his reluctance to do so may be judged from the following:
“The normal rule in science is that every serious researcher will be made
available the raw data is they wish to have them. But nobody asked. But
besides, I would not give it to them for the simple reason that I was
not yet finished with the project; which is in line with another rule
in science: do not make available the data as long as the pertaining project
is not finished. Another thing that worried me (and still worries me):
many astrologers tend to be extremely good at working towards a desired
result. Such astrologers will always find something; but that is not how
true research works.
I would only make these data available to astrologers who will work with
a precisely defined research design, which includes proper hypothesis,
as well as statistical analysis, and the willingness to have their results
re-analysed in the most rigorous manner.”
stands by his decision. Anyone can have these data, provided they first
submit a proper research design and indicate their willingness to have
their results re-analysed. Before Smit (and other researchers) commit
themselves to helping others, they want a return commitment that the
research will be done properly. Many times in the past have Smit and
other CORA members replied at length to a request for information, only
to find there is no follow-up. Smit sees this as a reasonable safeguard
against having time wasted. (CORA stands for Committee for Objective
Research into Astrology and is discussed later.)
will be the judge in that decision is not explained. It should be added
that the data he used were not collected by himself, but received from
elsewhere, so proprietary rights were not an issue.
should it be explained? The criteria for good research design are simple
elaborate precautions invite comparison with Carter’s The
Astrology of Accidents, a book which does include his raw data.
includes an analysis of 168 cases of accidents but gives the birth data
for 160, some of which are only in the form of a reference to Leo’s
Notable Nativities, none with
more than local time, date and place (ie no latitude, longitude, and
GMT), and all inconveniently scattered throughout the book rather than
placed in a single table.
that data, Carter notes: “No cases are quoted unless I have reason to
suppose that the time of birth is at least approximately accurate. It
will be clear that it would be impossible to rectify a large number of
maps, of which many are of persons whose lives, except as stated in this
book, are unknown to me” (p.7).
calculating directions to the date of the accidents Carter used his favourite
“symbolic” measures, and suggested that those astrologers who were loyal
to other systems should compare their results with his. Whatever the virtues
or otherwise of this little book, and however its contents will ultimately
be judged, one detects here the spirit of scientific openness.
question I raised in my critique was why Smit’s negative results were
quoted in preference to Carter’s positive results. What gave them special
merit, except that they supported the thesis that astrology is worthless?
The scholars answer that by rubbishing Carter,
we merely point out that Carter’s approach did not use controls.
That is, it did not rule out alternative explanations (such as
artifacts) and other non-astrological contributions to the results.
of course they must,
us to note that Elwell’s style is a little offensive here, implying
(wrongly) that we had motives other than getting the facts right before
in so doing enter the realm of what Churchill called terminological inexactitude.
In his book Carter explains that he was using four directional measures:
four-sevenths of a degree, a quarter of a degree, an eighth of a degree,
but in the main the simple one-degree per year taken along the zodiac
so he was. Yet I am accused of keeping quiet about the “multiplicity”
of Carter’s time keys,
Elwell did keep quiet. Note also how “multiplicity” is in quotes, as
if to imply (wrongly) that it was not really a problem.
I quote: “... 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?”
scholars have mixed up this book with two of Carter’s other books, in
which he advances experimentally the possibility of such “fractional”
methods (The Zodiac and the Soul,
and Symbolic Directions in Modern
misses the point. Carter’s Zodiac
and the Soul, in which he promotes his multiple symbolic directions,
appeared in 1928, four years before The
Astrology of Accidents, so it seems reasonable to assume that the
latter is based on whatever subset of the former gave the best results.
The problem is that such selection puts the results in a very different
light. No wonder they were positive. There is another problem. Primary
Directions have the advantage of being based on true diurnal motion
of the heavens after birth, so they are not entirely imaginary. The
same does not apply to symbolic directions.
might have supposed that Smit, having drawn a blank with his primary directions,
would have tested Carter’s measures on his own data, to see if he too
could obtain positive results. But no. The only sequel, we are told, was
that he discovered “to his amazement” that his negative results were simply
not accepted in astrology circles.
had been told a lot more than that. In his emails Smit had told Elwell
how he had tested the most popular predictive techniques, including
Carter’s symbolic directions, but the results were all over the place.
Which may be why Elwell prefers to ignore them. We call this misrepresentation.
As for the “amazement”, judge for yourself: When the results were published,
astrologers showed no willingness to learn from them. For example one
astrologer explained the results by claiming that death was not shown
in the chart. Others insisted that everything is shown in the chart,
including the losing of one’s car keys, so death is certainly shown,
even though Smit’s thorough tests had revealed nothing. At which point
Smit abandoned further study.
people are easily amazed.
see-astrology-everywhere Elwell qualify here?
(section 3) makes much of the astrological community’s attitude towards
negative evidence, quoting Robert Hand and John Anthony West, whom Dean
accuses of irresponsibility because of the “deliberate suppression” of
such evidence in The Case for Astrology. This is tommyrot. While negative evidence
may have a marginal academic value, those who are searching for gold do
not want to have to wade through libraries filled with details of where
you failed to find it. Especially if its quality compares with the evidence
touched on above.
searching for gold are just as interested in where not to look as in
where to look, especially when (as in this case) there is no evidence
of gold anywhere. In fact having to “wade through libraries filled with
details of where you failed to find it” prevents people from following
unproductive paths or reinventing the wheel, and is an important part
of a literature review in any area (ask any graduate student writing
a thesis). Furthermore negative evidence has far more than a marginal
value in any science. Because of negative findings, educated people
do not promote cold fusion, but negative findings have no effect on
the promotion of astrology by astrologers. In any case the impartial
investigator must attend to all the evidence, not just to the bits that
support a particular view. To do otherwise would be like picking parsley
out of the pizza and declaring it to be parsley pie. Note how Elwell
condemns critics for looking at isolated factors instead of the whole
chart, but not himself for doing exactly the same with the evidence.
critics confuse negative evidence with contrary evidence, as does Kelly
in his summary. The difference need not be laboured.
is a good example of how one can imply that X is crucial, then fail
to elaborate, so readers have no clear idea of what X is about and no
way of deciding whether X is a reasonable point. Not only does Elwell
not explain the difference between negative and contrary, he does not
even give examples of where we are supposed to have confused the two.
So let us look more closely. Negative evidence does not support an idea
whereas contrary evidence contradicts it. An empty box does not support
the idea that boxes in general contain cats, and it contradicts the
idea that there are cats in this particular box. Failure to show that
sign X is different from other signs contradicts the idea that sign
X is different, and does not support the idea that signs in general
are different. So, depending on how we describe the idea, negative evidence
can also be contrary evidence. Indeed, if we run out of boxes and none
contain cats, then the negative evidence becomes contrary evidence.
In astrology we are running out of boxes, so the predominantly negative
evidence (if it continues) may well become contrary evidence. Elwell
implies we are claiming it is already there, but in our interview we
are careful to point out that this is not the case. There may well be
filled boxes out there (which we called white crows) that will save
the day, but the onus is on astrologers to produce them.
astronomers scanning the skies for signs of alien contact have come up
with negative results to date. When you draw a blank you don’t demolish
your radio telescopes, and least of all do you get hysterical because
today’s patient but unrewarded efforts have failed to be given the recognition
you think they deserve.
negative evidence is often contrary evidence, as when astronauts found
the moon was not covered by layers of thick dust. Elwell seems to be
saying that astrologers should not get upset because their patient but
unrewarded efforts to prove astrology have been ignored, which is contrary
to his claim that such efforts are never unrewarded. But, using Elwell’s
example, what would be contrary evidence for alien contact? Searching
all the planets thoroughly for alien life and finding none? The implication
is that the negative studies in astrology (but not the positive studies
even when they use the same procedures and questions) are somehow of
no consequence. So what would be contrary evidence for astrological
claims? We are not told. Furthermore his statement (about demolishing
radio telescopes if you don’t find aliens) is bizarre — telescopes have
many uses and were not developed just for spotting alien life.
other matter should perhaps be corrected in passing. I deprecated Dean’s
falsification of his own birth data in order to deceive astrologers. I
am wondering if he has lost track of the bogus charts he has put into
all data remain securely on file.
he denies the existence of a chart which gave him an Australian birth.
The Lois Rodden collection included a chart, ranked as “A” status, for
a birth on Christmas Day (a nice touch) 1944, in Perth, W. Australia.
This was the data given to Mark Pottenger, and which was also circulated
by the British data collector, David Fisher.
course it is defensible to expose the truth in such circumstances, even
if Dean whinges about his privacy being invaded, and that “an important
test of astrology” might have been compromised (!). I am not the culprit,
incidentally, since his correct data were published by Charles Harvey
in Polarity (January 1991).
But he has only himself to blame. When he reported to his “Skeptical”
friends that he had given out a chart purporting to be his own to astrologers,
and that their interpretation fitted him, it became very relevant to be
able to compare his genuine chart with the bogus chart, to ascertain whether
they were really so different, and why the astrologers might have been
misled. His genuine chart and the bogus chart just mentioned both have
the Sun in Capricorn, for instance, and his astrologer victims might pardonably
have taken that as their starting point.
this the very kind of reductionist analytic stuff that Elwell is complaining
about? In any case the reply above misses the point. What matters is
not that the charts are different but that their owners are different.
In this case the difference was maximised, ie the owners were deliberately
very unalike, so if the astrologer was describing the true owner, however
briefly, the mismatch with Dean would be instantly evident. Just because
the chart was a control does not mean it had to be unfair, as would
be the case if the owners were actually alike.
exposure of any facts is sure to be unwelcome to somebody. The scholars
sneer at journalism, and indeed “make it up” might apply to the tabloid
prints. It was gratuitous to impute that I was ever that sort of journalist.
Early in my career I decided, like many others, that the truth should
stand on its own feet, and I have an instinctive aversion to those who
would compromise it, for whatever reason. Bear in mind that the first
step in a totalitarian regime is to shackle the media.
which case why is Elwell’s first article so full of distortions? Just
look at the mistakes it contains.
it is impertinent for Dean to try to justify his deviousness on scientific
grounds. There are limited circumstances, as in testing drugs or therapies,
where the placebo effect has to be ruled out, and the only way is to withhold
information. Even so, the ethics of the placebo make many scientists uneasy.
Unlike new vaccines, astrology can be exhaustively investigated in straightforward
ways, but what Dean does is not test astrology so much as try to expose
the stupidity of those who believe in it. He is no Jonas Salk.
is just such an example of distortions and mistakes. To start with,
Elwell is saying that, while controls may be necessary in those few
areas susceptible to placebo effects, they are not necessary in astrology.
But the need for controls is far wider than he says (read any text in
experimental science), and is not limited to placebo effects. Contrary
to what Elwell says, you do not rule out placebo effects by witholding
information. Next, note how the reader is supposed to equate “the ethics
of the placebo” with “the ethics of controls” so that the associated
unease of some scientists can be seen as applying to controls. Wrong
again. Their unease applies only to using placebos instead of genuine
medication and has absolutely nothing to do with the use of controls.
Indeed, the insistence on controls (they can involve many different
procedures) is general throughout science, and what makes scientists
uneasy is their absence, not their presence.
how Elwell does nothing so simple as telling us why controls in astrology
are not needed. Contrast this with the approach of John Addey, who had
long recognised the need to control for self-deception. For example in
1961 Addey expressed his complete agreement with the stand of American
researcher Donald Bradley “upon the simple proposition that if a thing
is true it can be shown to be true. In no other science is it so important
to adhere to this principle as in the quicksands of astrology, for in
no other science is the scope for self-deception so great.” (Astrological
Journal 1961, 3(2), page 7). Instead Elwell intrudes his own irrelevant
comment presumably in the hope that it will be seen as a considered reply.
In any case, what are the straightforward ways that avoid controls? Again,
we are not told. If testing astrology was straightforward then the majority
of studies should not be negative.
third killer argument advanced by the scholars in Year Zero concerned
Dean’s “reversed charts” experiment. Rejecting what still seem to me to
be valid objections, Dean points out that, in any case, I wasn’t there.
Indeed. So was anybody else there to scrutinise? How would these closeted
goings-on in some Australian suburb rate on the Randi credibility scale?
experiment is easily replicated. There is no need for snide remarks.
contention throughout has been that the claims of the sceptics ought to
be examined with the same rigorous attention to detail they marshal to
demolish astrology. Can anybody seriously argue that the scholars should
be in a privileged position in this respect?
course not. Nobody is suggesting otherwise.
Research, and its methods
the astrological is everywhere, or it is nowhere. The question has been
asked, if it is everywhere, why is it so difficult to test? It depends
what tests you think are appropriate.
is the nearest we get to having our question answered, and we are left
none the wiser.
is the test of experience, somewhat informal certainly, but supported
by many thinkers from John Locke onwards. Speaking personally, hardly
a day goes by without some confirmation of the presence of the astrological.
A news addict, I habitually check events for their astrological credentials.
Unless astrology had repeatedly confirmed itself in this way I should
have abandoned it long ago. It has never been my livelihood.
implies that only experience is an appropriate test. Experience is of
course important in everyday situations, but it can be misleading in
complex situations such as astrology, which from start to finish involves
the kind of judgements we are not very good at. Worse, the way we make
these judgements tends to ensure that errors go undetected, so we are
unlikely to learn from experience. Which is why people make scientific
studies — to check claims and to avoid being misled by experience. All
this is fully explained in our interview and in books such as Gambrill
E, Critical Thinking in Clinical
Practice: Improving the Accuracy of Judgments and Decisions about Clients,
eminent philosopher Karl Popper made a relevant quote here (cited in B
Magee, Popper, Fontana/Collins
1975, page 45). He says that dogmatic airtight systems have “the effect
of an intellectual relevation, opening your eyes to a new truth hidden
from those not yet initiated. Once your eyes were thus opened you saw
confirming instances everywhere: the world was full of verifications of
the theory. ... A Marxist could not open a newspaper without finding on
every page confirming evidence for his interpretation of history; not
only in the news, but also in its presentation — which revealed the class
bias of the newspaper ... and especially of course in what the newspaper
did not say. The Freudian analysts emphasised that their theories were
constantly verified by their clinical observations.”
is saying that we should look for disconfirming evidence, not confirming
evidence, since we can always find confirming evidence no matter where
we look. As an example of this, Popper (Conjectures
and Refutations 4th edition, Routledge & Kegan Paul 1972, pages
34-35) tells how he met the psychoanalyst Alfred Adler in 1919, and
“reported to him a case which did not seem particularly Adlerian, but
which he found no difficulty in analyzing in terms of his theory of
inferiority feelings, although he had not even seen the child. Slightly
shocked, I asked him how he could be so sure. ‘Because of my thousand-fold
experience’, he replied; whereupon I could not help saying ‘And with
this new case, I suppose, your experience has become thousand-and-one-fold’.”
The match with Elwell’s astrology will be apparent.
such results can be shared with anyone interested, who will judge whether
astrological rules have been observed, and whether what should happen
is indeed happening. You step back from the microscope and say “Come and
could be easier? But in his first article Elwell claimed “that there
are enough reasons to refute any suggestion that such tests are easy”,
and that nobody “should downplay the complexity of the task.” So once
again we are supposed to believe that a difficult-and-complex-to-test
astrology can be tested in a single look, and by simply anyone without
any need for controls, calculations, or even experience.
research needs to be done on a case study basis, because situations never
repeat themselves exactly, just as the heavens will never be the same
some planetary contacts will always differ, even if others are the same,
the overall situation is never the same astrologically. So any failure
can be explained away by appealing to these other differences, that is,
by after-the-event fiddling. Since astrologers cannot predict whether
astrology will work on any particular occasion (otherwise they would rule
the world), the advantages over making judgments on the basis of non-astrological
information are hard to see. But back to proving astrology:
then says you look at the situation, you look at the chart, you notice
the match, and voila, astrology is proven. But after the event it is
easy to find a match between any chart and any situation, so a match
proves nothing. Advocates of any theory can always find remarkable fits
after the event, which is one reason why problematic theories can persist
in all areas. (This is essentially the wrong chart issue, which astrologers
in Year Zero pages 118-119
refer to as particularly threatening, i.e. if control charts work as
well as authentic charts then what price astrology?). What matters is
whether an authentic chart fits the situation better than a control
chart. So do they? Since Elwell rejects the use of controls, we (and
Elwell) have no way of knowing.
the early months of 2001 saw the brutal slaughter of cattle in the UK,
in response to an outbreak of foot and mouth disease. Sickening pictures
of the pyres and burial pits were flashed round the world. The astrological
indicators were in precise conformity with the situation, as the critics
can confirm for themselves.
why didn’t British astrologers come out and warn about it? And why then
did no astrologer in the world tell us long before the actual event
that the Berlin wall would be falling? Telling us after the event is
no good. We already know the problem by then.
this research it is vital not to place too much reliance on isolated correlations,
which might have arisen by chance, but examine how they relate to other
events, at different times, different places, and also perhaps to the
individuals or institutions involved. You are thus assembling a jigsaw
of interdependent items, and the jigsaw can be as big as you care to make
it. But the fit is generally so knife-edge tight that chance becomes the
least likely explanation.
already mentioned, the point is that advocates of any theory can make
after-the-fact knife-edge fits. An example would be the psycho-histories
of many psychoanalysts, see our second Popper quote above. So astrology
is not alone here. As for chance being the least likely explanation,
the astrologer Alexander Marr had fits just as knife-edge tight (average
orb 2.5 minutes), so at first sight chance might seem unlikely. Nevertheless
on investigation the fit was close to that expected by chance alone,
see Recent Advances pages
174-176. The moral is clear: Until we make the calculations we are in
no position to draw conclusions.
in this case one was obliged to check for similarities and differences
with the previous UK outbreak of foot-and-mouth in 1967, and similar events
involving “mad cow disease.” Here too the bovine sign of Taurus made its
appearance in ways that would occasion alarm.
if it was so obvious, why didn’t it occasion alarm among astrologers?
Was the alarm sounded in astrological journals? And how can we tell
which Taurus events are relevant if the heavens are never repeating
themselves? Again, we can always find fits for events we already know
the reality we occupy everything is connected with everything else, a
truth which astrology persistently confirms, so it follows that one could
go on tracing connections ad infinitum. The cosmos was first with its
World Wide Web, and (all unsuspected) is constantly downloading information,
along with endless links and hypertexts. To describe the implications
as vast is to understate.
is an interesting metaphor, and could provide a model to hang “holism”
on to. For example we might envisage planets as energy sources linked
by aspects or harmonics whose behaviour would be predicted by the model.
The challenge would be to devise a predictive model that could be tested,
which is something that Elwell stops well short of. On the other hand,
how fruitful are such models for astrologers conducting research? How
do they help astrologers in their practice? Elwell does not tell us.
Furthermore this complexity has not stopped Elwell from seeing astrology
working every time he opens a newspaper, just as it did not stop phrenologists
from seeing phrenology working every time they passed someone in the
street, or Marxists from finding confirmations of their theory everywhere.
But phrenology was that Great Invalidity in the Head. Could astrology
be that Great Invalidity in the Sky?
course astrology is not alone in being a science whose meaning lies in
multiple combinations. They reach wondrous complexity in chemistry. Interestingly,
I believe Dean trained in this field, but as an analytical chemist, which
I take to mean he was isolating rather than connecting. This has been
his approach in astrology also, and explains why he and others have been
barking up the wrong tree for 25 years.
Analytical chemists, more than any other kind of chemist, are constantly
aware of connections, of how things can interfere in whatever they are
studying unless the appropriate procedures are adopted. To discover
those procedures requires first, an awareness of what could interfere
(which in principle could be anything chemical or physical), and second,
a rigorous testing using known samples (ie controls) to make sure the
supposedly appropriate procedure actually works. Get the wrong answer,
or the right answer for the wrong reason, and you start again. Furthermore,
in his first article Elwell speaks glowingly about the isolating approach
of Kary Mullis, and in his book Cosmic
Loom he speaks glowingly about the isolating sun sign studies of
Gunter Sachs (“it is hard to fault the methodology adopted by the Sachs
team”). It seems that isolating is good if you say nice things about
astrology, and bad if you say nasty things about astrology.
dare say the approach to validation that is congenial both to astrology
and “nature” itself may be more loose-jointed than a mechanistic view
of reality would like.
“more loose-jointed” means “more open to loose fits”, astrology’s competitors
could insist on a similar less critical approach to their own claims,
which hardly makes testing easier and does not help the case for astrology.
Also, what is a mechanistic view of reality? Is Elwell conflating modern
non-reductionist Naturalistic theories with 18th century mechanism?
Does being mechanistic mean using the isolated factors that Elwell criticises
others for using, then uses himself?
there are different standards of proof - we could call them laboratory
proof and courtroom proof. In both, mistakes are possible, although in
general they serve well enough. Both involve judgment, even more so in
the laboratory, where apart from any results that emerge, judgment has
to be exercised over what to test, and how.
proof involves people examining all the evidence (not just confirmatory
evidence), debating the evidence, and calling in relevant critics. Note
the difference from Elwell’s notion of courtroom evidence.
gain an insight into Dean’s cerebral processes when he implies that he
had to consult the “huge literature” on the subject before he could arrive
at the staggering realisation that people sometimes get it wrong (8.3).
is not saying that. He is saying there is a huge literature on how and
why people can be led astray and get it wrong. See for example the article
by Dean, Kelly, Mather and others “Astrology and Human Judgement” in
Correlation 17(2), 24-71,
a journal Elwell purportedly subscribes to, which contains five pages
of references and shows how easily astrologers can be led astray unless
they take precautions. Because this is the worst possible news for most
astrologers, Elwell is distracting you with ad hominems (which continue
below) in the hope you won’t notice.
accept that Dean and judgment are strangers to each other. If evidence
were needed of the absence of any restraining judgment over his speculations
it is his theory of parental tampering, as the reason for the Gauquelin
findings. Mature judgment finds obstacles to accepting his conclusions,
and I have explained mine to his adversary in this scholarly spat, Suitbert
the red herring. Elwell is saying the huge literature has got it wrong.
His own judgements are mature while those of people who disagree with
him are faulty. Why? Because he says so.
the question of evidence it needs to be pointed out that Dean, especially,
is excessive in his zeal to straitjacket the phenomena,
Elwell’s hand-waving Capricorns (his first article), seeing helmets
in charts, and Sachs’s sun-sign occupations are just as straightjacketing,
yet they meet with Elwell’s glowing approval. Why the U-turn? As before,
the difference has nothing to do with straightjacketing the phenomena
and everything to do with whether one says nice things about astrology.
unrealistic in his standards of evidence.
it is Elwell who continually shifts his standards of evidence (easy
to find evidence for astrology, then hard), who sweeps all the negative
evidence under the carpet, and who, upfront, states his arguments are
overstress the virtues of “carefulness” disguises the fact that progress
in science depends more on leaps of imagination, or even chance discoveries,
than the hobbled steps which excessive safeguards would allow.
are ten a penny, so while science may depend on ideas, it would not
get far without safeguards and the rigorous testing of those ideas.
years ago Dean was instrumental in producing a paper offering guidance
on how to do research, a formula so rigorous that had one believed him
research might have stopped altogether. As it was, the method he advocated
would produce only evidence consonant with his own position.
facts are rather different. In 1985, in response to the poor standards
of research shown by astrologers generally and by entrants to the 1983
superprize in particular, Colin Miles and Terry Dwyer (who were shortly
to become section editors for respectively computers and research in
the Astrological Journal)
suggested the Journal should
have an article on “how to do research” in which astrologers and scientists
would collectively produce guidelines acceptable to both sides. An initial
draft was recycled with Dean as co-ordinator, and after one year (marked
by helpful and enthusiastic input from many people) had reached version
6. The idea was to give broad step-by-step guidelines on what to do,
and access to a panel of researchers (Panres) willing to give specific
advice on demand.
document drew some observations from a bemused Hans Eysenck, himself no
stranger to the field. Eysenck damned it with faint praise, commenting:
“If you read it and follow it, no doubt you may do better than without
it.” (Refs to Eysenck here and in what follows are to duplicated sheets
sent out with Dean’s “Panres” material.)
view was that research in astrology, as in science generally, was so difficult
and technical that you could not properly learn how to do it by simply
reading books. Furthermore the key was asking the right questions, and
this could certainly not be taught from books. Ask the wrong questions
and no amount of statistics will save you. You needed personal guidance
and hands-on experience under proper supervision, and even then you would
not be successful unless you had the right aptitude. Which is all very
well, but it is not exactly helpful for those without access to those
kind of things. Eysenck was also commenting on a draft that was by no
means finalised, so the presence of problems was unremarkable.
a right or wrong question is one that is helpful or unhelpful. If Elwell
feels that the scientific approach is inappropriate to astrology, and
cannot ask helpful questions, he needs to explain why the questions
it does ask are unhelpful, and what can be done to make them more helpful.
would not have endorsed the repeated assertion by the “experts” that in
general astrologers are not equipped to do proper research.
yes he would. Eysenck’s view (in Astrological
Journal 29(2)) of the respective roles of astrologers and scientists
in astrological research was that “astrologers are the only group capable
of advancing hypotheses to be tested ... psychologists are the only
group with the necessary training in methodology and statistics to evaluate
the results of experiments, and to avoid artifactual results.” Nothing
here to support Elwell’s claim. Furthermore, Eysenck (who was then unaware
of Panres) was proposing the formation of a Neutral Committee to help
researchers avoid possible mistakes, which in mid-1986 led to the formation
of Eysenck’s CORA (Committee for Objective Research into Astrology).
At the same time it became clear that proper guidelines needed more
space than an article, and various people (not those doing the work)
were urging the production of a booklet. But because CORA made Panres
and booklet unnecessary, these ideas did not proceed. The point is,
CORA would hardly have come into being if Eysenck felt that astrologers
were equipped to do research.
is refreshingly more relaxed than Dean in his approach to statistics,
and in particular questions the insistent demand for random controls,
which “for most purposes are irrelevant.”
assignment is only one type of control used in studies. For some studies
matched controls would be relevant, in which case Eysenck is correct.
For more see next comment. Note how Elwell’s style leads here to noise
without signal. Thus when Elwell says Eysenck is “refreshingly more
relaxed than Dean in his approach to statistics”, readers are led to
believe that Dean’s approach is in some way deficient. Note how the
statement implies that Eysenck is refreshingly more sloppy than Dean,
which is absurd (Eysenck was never sloppy about anything). But such
absurdities evidently do not worry Elwell. In fact this paragraph is
typical of how Elwell is never specific when he can be vague, and of
how any statement, no matter how meaningless or wrong, will do if it
suits his purpose.
so. In my Cosmic Loom I present a few brief case studies which struck me as
suggestive, while not being proof of anything, but Dean deplores that
there is no mention of controls. He says: “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.”
(controls) of some sort, such as comparison groups or an independent
validation, are essential if we want to know what is happening. As the
history of ideas has shown, it is all too easy to see what we believe,
as occurred in the famous cases of N-rays and polywater. Thus if wrong
charts work as well as right charts, we cannot claim astrology is playing
a role, but we will never know unless we test wrong charts. Here “testing
wrong charts” would be our control.
(case study) research also needs safeguards, for example by having observers
work independently on the information or data and then comparing their
results, or by searching for both positive and negative evidence. Each
of these would be a control.
in Elwell’s book Cosmic Loom
are conspicuous by their absence, and this alone is enough to make his
findings problematic. For example his multicongruence fits in Cosmic
Loom (start with a theory and then look only for confirmations)
are a prime example of how not to do it. It was precisely this approach
that led phrenologists and many others in the history of ideas astray,
so we need not be surprised to find it leading Elwell astray. Now comes
the interesting bit. Since Elwell has introduced the topic of controls,
we expect him to say more. But as you can see below, he immediately
abandons the topic in favour of talking about random samples, which
is not the same thing at all.
on the failure to recognise this elementary point Eysenck advises: “If
a referee rejects your article because you don’t have a random sample,
ask him: ‘Why do I need a random sample?’ Most probably he will have no
answer. He simply assumes that everybody has a random sample, so you should
have one. This isn’t true at all.”
is agreeable to be on the same side as Eysenck, who is nothing if not
reassuring towards us amateurs. He writes: “You can do very simple experiments
in astrology, which are adequate for proving or disproving whatever you
are interested in. They need the minimum of statistics and a minimum of
application. They don’t need a computer or a whole hoard of computers.
They can be done without much training in anything. If you ask the right
question, you are likely to get the right answer, however ignorant you
might be of advanced statistics. And if you ask the wrong question, then
all the advanced statistics and all the computer facilities in the world
will not help you to get the right answer.”
example if an astrologer claims to tell appearance from a birth chart,
you give him several appearances and one chart (or vice versa) and ask
him to pick the right one. You would of course need enough cases, which
is where that minimum of statistics comes in. If the astrologer is happy
with the experiment but gets only chance hits versus the, say, 90% predicted,
then as Eysenck says you do not need computers or advanced statistics
to draw your conclusion. Readers who have been following Elwell’s arguments
will know that such experiments receive his glowing approval if the
outcome is positive, but quite the reverse if the outcome is negative.
having mentored some 200 PhD students during his career, Eysenck is not
sure research can be taught at all. “What you can teach is how to avoid
pretty obvious errors. But even that is not necessarily taught in courses
of statistics. If you look at the published articles in psychological
journals, a high proportion includes quite elementary statistical errors,
which were not identified by the referees nor by the editor.”
my remarks on “Why the impasse?” I pointed out that it all depends where
you are coming from. You might say it depends on the questions you ask.
It seems to me that I and others have been asking one set of questions,
and researchers like Dean have been asking another set.
“elementary statistical errors” are, however, pointed out in subsequent
reviews and research. (If they were not, how would we know they exist?)
We are then told that the impasse between critics and astrologers is over
the type of questions asked. So what are those questions and how do they
differ? Given that the most recent research done by astrologers uses much
the same approach as previous research, an answer will be of great interest
argument right vs wrong questions seems to be merely another variant of the
argument science vs astrology.
Here the supposed reductionism of science is made to seem incompatible
with the supposed holism of astrology, thus elevating astrology above
criticism. No matter that none of this is relevant to the quite ordinary
questions that astrology raises, such as whether authentic charts work
better than controls, and whether astrologers actually agree on what
a chart means. In other words the argument is pure smokescreen. And
Elwell is only one of many astrologers seemingly unable to see past
their own smoke. For example the French astrologer Dr Patrice Guinard,
in his doctoral thesis Astrology:
The Manifesto (Sorbonne 1993), concludes that scientific researchers
“appear to be just one more species in the roster of parasites on astrology.”
He also says “there is no such thing as Aries”, and “the astrologer
cannot question whether or not his base assumptions are verifiable”,
which seems like a contradiction (and also a problem, since progress
depends on verifying assumptions), but maybe Elwell can explain it.
is a common mistake to imagine that asking questions is easy, and answering
them difficult, rather than the other way about, but everything hinges
on teasing out the right questions. Nor is it helpful for one researcher
to insist that his questions are the only ones permissible.
writes: “How can you ask the right kind of question? I have no answer
to that. I don’t think I was able to teach my students that skill. Some
of them had from the beginning that kind of mentality. They instinctively
knew what question to ask. The others, who didn’t, I don’t think I managed
to teach them. I wouldn’t know how to specify how to ask the right questions.”
seems to me that persistently asking the wrong questions, without knowing
it, is how Dean and his fellow critics have misspent their time.
what are these wrong questions, and what are the right questions? Once
again, we are not told. Why cannot Elwell be more helpful? In any case,
his explanation is implausible because over the years we have made sure
that our questions include those asked by astrologers. It seems that
Mullis and Sachs ask the right questions, whereas if we happen to ask
the same questions they are automatically wrong.
the way, talking of statistical errors, are we now to understand that
some of the computations presented with such confidence in Recent
Advances have become suspect with the passing of the years?
because, as anywhere else, further study can reveal artifacts that were
unsuspected at the time. A case in point is the work of John Nelson,
to which Recent Advances devotes
five pages, which further study showed to be artifactual. The same for
the work of John Addey, Vernon Clark, and so on, all occupying many
pages. The point is, artifacts can be anything but obvious. Their detection
and control can take a great deal of careful and time-consuming work.
That results reported in Recent
Advances are now suspect is unremarkable. Note how openness to evidence,
and willingness to change views, seem unwelcome in astrology.
I have always had reservations about statistics, especially when they
contradict common sense. The allegation that they can be made to prove
anything does have a modicum of truth, and how to lie with figures is
a skill all economists and politicians acquire. Therefore it is a sound
idea, when being browbeaten by statistics, to focus on the concrete reality
enough. It is an even sounder idea to learn about statistics so you
can tell when they are being misused. At this point Elwell goes on about
tests of careers vs sun signs, which he sees as flawed because they
should start further back with personality, and with tests of the links
if any between personality and career. Here he seems unaware of the
extensive work done on vocational interest, and which contradicts what
he says, for example see any recent edition of Anastasi’s Psychological Testing. For more see our next comment.
instance the birthdays of army officers were investigated, to discover
whether they are more commonly born with the Sun in a sign like Aries
- which they are not. The trouble with tests such as this - and it applies
to most I have seen - is that they do not start from far enough back.
First of all, and astrology apart, it would be necessary to determine
how far careers are an expression of personality, or how far they may
be influenced by other factors. At one time the sons of upper class families
had to choose between the Army and the Church, regardless of their birthdays.
Moreover there was often a family tradition towards one or the other.
Mind you, having been dragooned into the Army the Sun-sign might contribute
to what kind of officer they became.
implies that signs manifest in expressions of personality. But Elwell
later contradicts this when he says sun signs represent a dynamic (an
inherent urge to do things in a particular way) rather than personality
traits. Furthermore, as pointed out by Gauquelin, it is precisely in
professionals like army officers that a dynamic is most likely to exist.
Or as he put it, the profession “expresses the pressing need to fulfil
oneself in a particular way of life or activity”, which would seem to
be a close match to Elwell’s idea of a dynamic. Research has confirmed
that such professions represent a way of life as well as a way of earning
a living, and that the associated patterns of likes and dislikes do
not arise from the profession but exist before a person enters it. Such
patterns are as stable and permanent as any known aspect of personality.
In other words, if sun signs represent dynamics, then professions should
be a good testing ground. That the results are uniformly negative is
of course awkward, so he is obliged to ignore them when he comes to
Cattell decided that an objective evaluation of “greatness” could be made
by solemnly measuring the space devoted to each candidate in encyclopedias
(Cattell, Study of Eminent Men). Among the first hundred eminent persons in
world history there was only one woman, and you might instantly wonder
if she was Catherine the Great, or Cleopatra, or the Virgin Queen, or
Joan of Arc. In fact she was Mary, the sad Queen of Scots.
could have simply said “Cattell measured greatness by counting the space
in encyclopedias.” But because he wants to knock the procedure, he needs
to know its faults, which of course would require familiarity with a
large technical literature. It seems that, rather than acquire this
familiarity, Elwell prefers to use offensive qualifiers intended to
show his disapproval regardless of whether it is justified. That way
he can generate propaganda without having to do any work.
reason for Mary’s undeserved promotion was that her history was so multifaceted
that she was written up at some length in the encyclopedias of different
countries and languages. Of course those who value statistical artifacts
over good sense would ask how else would you do it. To which the reply
would have to be, why do it at all?
study was made in 1903. He derived a list of the 1000 most eminent men
by measuring the space allocated in six biographical dictionaries (three
English, two French, one German), and no name was taken unless it occurred
in at least two. Like later workers he found that biographical authorities
make a common-sense distinction between two groups whom the world for
a time applauds equally, recognising those of genuine merit, and distinguishing
from them those whose reputation is fortuitous. Which is not to say
that artifacts can be entirely avoided, but they can be greatly reduced.
In this case Mary Queen of Scots was not a problem, unless (as Elwell
seems to be saying) she qualifies for inclusion as an Eminent Man.
are useful for handling data that naturally lend themselves to quantification,
but the qualitative distinctions that belong to astrology, and other fields
besides, can be distorted by being forced to conform to a strictly quantitative
noted by GP, the above point has already been covered in our interview,
but it seems Elwell has overlooked it.
The art of facile objections
One has to smile at the self-satisfaction with which the scholars presume
to teach astrologers their business.
Smiling is hardly justified when astrologers still need to show
that “their business” is anything other than charlatanry.
Objections raised on the basis that they know better are apt to be their
That our objections are “facile” seems almost true by definition,
since Elwell “did not think a coherent reply to my critique was possible,
and have not changed that opinion.” Note the wording “on the basis that
they know better”, which leads nowhere — the basis of our objections
is not our supposedly knowing better but the evidence from 25 years
of conducting research and from reviews of the research literature.
Since evidence to Elwell is not evidence unless it agrees with his views,
he is forced to retreat from this awkward partiality into gratuitous
Kelly is only into paragraph two of his Introduction when the discussion
passes from the cosmic to the comic. Consider this: “... The planet Venus
is associated with aesthetics, love, and an individual’s sense of internal
harmony. However, we have discovered over the last century, that Venus
is more like Hades, with its blistering high temperatures, lava-covered
landscape, and sulphuric acid clouds.”
Elwell will shortly reveal the basis of his complaint, which
is: “But when have astrologers said the surface conditions of planets
must determine their astrological significance?”. This implies that
Kelly was making such a claim, but Kelly was merely explaining how the
many problematic conceptual issues in astrology (of which the conflict
between symbolism and physics was only one example) justified a critical
in the same article Kelly looks at various ways the symbolism might have
arisen, and physics is of course one of the possibilities, but nowhere
does he say it has to be physics. The point is, what are the constraints
on astrological symbolism? What makes it relevant or irrelevant? The answer
seems to depend on the individual astrologer. Some astrologers use physical
symbolism, as when Michael Wolfstar (on the astrological website STARIQ)
says “Jupiter and Saturn, the biggest planets in the solar system, are
also symbolic of larger social and politial issues”, others do not, as
when they use asteroids. There are no rules of astrological symbolism
that tells us what is relevant and what is not.
This is the sort of statement you give a double take.
But only if you take it out of context, as is done here.
Is it serious, or is it spoof? The scholars seem to have an uneasy familiarity
with the nether world, because Dean (Recent Advances, p 4) refutes symbolism
with: “Pluto is the coldest planet yet is named after the god of the fiery
Contrary to what the above leads you to believe, Dean was not
attempting to refute symbolism but was merely pointing out some of its
problems. Thus the same page says “The point is not that symbolism is
useless (which it is not) but that it is sufficiently vague and subjective
to justify disbelief unless supported by objective evidence.” Elwell did
not need to say “refute”, but he did, and it has taken this whole paragraph
to show how the reader is being misled. You will recall how Elwell was
blaming us for making too many comments, and for introducing much new
matter, to which our reply was that he should blame himself for making
so many mistakes. This is an example of what we meant.
Let us overlook that Venusians find their climate rather languid, or that
hell is as cold as it is dark. Let us overlook that even on humble planet
earth there are microorganisms that excrete sulphuric acid (the archaea),
and that the extreme thermophiles live in water close to boiling point,
as in fumaroles. Setting those technicalities aside, this immaculate logic
leads to the conclusion that scientists are crazy to assert that the sun
sustains life on earth, because as we clever ones know, the sun cannot
support life, being even hotter than Venus.
Elwell is here attacking Kelly for comparing Venus’s symbolism
with its physics, which is more like Hades. Note the distortion — Elwell
is not comparing symbolism with physics but physics with physics, arguing
that life on the sun is equivalent to life on earth. No wonder astrology
has problems when astrologers can think like this.
But when have astrologers said the surface conditions of planets must
determine their astrological significance?
No one said they had. See next comment.
Where are the arguments that lunar people must have acne?
But the claim “lunar people have acne” is no more daft than
the claim “Aries people are pushy”.
Yet Kelly keeps doggedly on with: “The point is that most of the symbolism
modern astrologers use was created in times when the then astronomer/astrologers
had no idea whatever about the physical characteristics of the planets.”
If they had no idea whatever about the physical characteristics of the
planets (and there is no evidence that they even cared) then the symbolism
must have arrived by another route. So what is the point of this objection,
except to create the impression that Science Knows Best?
Kelly is merely surveying the ways in which planetary symbolism
might have arisen. Such a survey is necessary because astrologers go
all over the place in their symbolism without any consistent rules.
For example they refer to the rings of Saturn or the colour of Mars
as if physical attributes were relevant, but for other planets (as Elwell
demonstrates) they say physical attributes are not relevant.
The sceptics have a lot of trouble with symbolism,
Given that there is no astrological theory of symbolism, and
no consistency among astrologers in how they use it, it is unremarkable
that skeptics should have a lot of trouble with it.
and mix up several different things. Symbols need to be distinguished
from what are termed correspondences. For example a gold ring corresponds
to the Sun in its material,
But the Sun is mostly hydrogen.
and Saturn in its shape,
Only if you steam-roll the gold ring into razor-blade thinness.
but as a symbol of marriage it might be related to Venus.
Or, if we are pressed, any other planet (Moon for nurturing,
Mercury for communication, and so on). Elwell says no more about why
symbols need to be distinguished from correspondences, or why the distinction
is important. But what difference does it make whether Saturn rules,
symbolises, signifies, indicates, or corresponds to X, or whether the
association is based on analogies, metaphors, mythology, or fanciful
imaginings? Of course to improve our understanding it is useful to explore
these points, as Kelly does, but at the end of the day all that matters
is whether the claimed association is actually valid. So what follows
below are red herrings.
There are also what might be termed organic unities. Mars is the red planet,
yes, and we now know that the reason is a surface rich in iron. Before
that fact was discovered, the astrologers had already connected Mars with
iron, again by a different route. And blood is red, yes, precisely because
it contains iron. If it lacks iron you are unable to express your Mars
qualities! As part of this organic unity is the role of iron in man’s
mastery of nature, his ability to fashion machines and weapons.
But wasn’t Elwell supposed to be attacking the idea of links
between symbols and physics? Also, blood is red precisely because it
contains carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and nitrogen as well as iron, so why
single out iron? Furthermore Mars is red, not because of iron but because
of iron oxide, and war depends a lot more on oxygen than on iron, as
does man’s mastery of nature, so logically Mars should be connected
with oxygen and life rather than iron and death.
All the computer experts in the world gathered round the biggest computer
in the world, which was about to deliver its long-awaited answer to the
question: “What is the meaning of everything?” At last the printer stirred
into action: “Let me tell you a story... ” Stories, parables, symbols,
images, the truth beyond the facts.
Stories, parables, symbols, and images are the elements of communication,
i.e. a language, not the truth itself. But what does “the truth beyond
the facts” mean? Has Elwell investigated worldwide parables and stories
and discovered that there are significant truths in them? But the situation
is not simple. First, Wittgenstein noted that stories and parables serve
functions other than trying to provide “truth beyond the facts.” Second,
the parables and stories of different cultures are not consistent, so
what selection procedure does Elwell use? Third, they still have to
be interpreted. Thus in Ezekiel’s Biblical vision, some psychologists
see the results of sensory deprivation, Von Daeniken sees spaceships,
and many Christians see angels and God speaking. But at least these
people offer some evidence for their interpretations. What evidence
is offered for particular astrological ones and how would Elwell debate
astrologers with contrary interpretations?
It is the language best fitted to survive translation from one age to
another, from one culture to another, and it does reach a high degree
of sophistication in astrology. But you are no more born with the faculty
for symbolic cognition than you are born with numeracy, and perhaps the
congenitally literal-minded should leave it alone.
The statement about numeracy is not correct. There is much evidence
that mathematicians are born, not made, and mathematical ability shows
a distinct heritability as in the Bernoulli family. Also, the notion
of symbolic cognition is unclear here. Most certainly, story tellers
and myth makers were using much symbolism, as did Jonathan Swift and
Voltaire, but having a high symbolic cognition (whatever that is) does
not imply any belief that symbols have magical connections with other
things on the basis of analogy or metaphor.
It would be strange if symbolism were not deeply embedded in astrology,
because symbolism is inseparable from human consciousness. The “things”
surrounding us serve as symbols for something else. Even the car we drive
says something about us.
Even if that is the case, how do we determine the relevant interpretations
and justify it to others who disagree?. And do all the things surrounding
us serve as symbols? Freud (a materialist) would not give the same account
of symbolism as astrologers would, and neither would modern philosophers
who write on the topic. Their ideas of symbolism would differ from those
of astrology. Elwell claims that the embedding of symbols is so strong
that it can be seen everywhere. He then gives two speculations by way
of demonstration, coming up next.
I believe Ivan Kelly to be the same Ivan Kelly of Saskatoon renowned for
his collection of World War II German helmets.
In fact Kelly collects helmets of all countries, along with
old history books and many other things. German WW2 helmets are only
a tiny part of his collection.
Long past their usefulness, helmets might be treasured because they symbolise
something. If these are for the same man, one would expect to find an
unambiguous signature of the helmets in his birth chart.
But this sounds mechanistic and isolationist. Also, what would
helmets symbolise? It could be many different things. How would we determine
(before the event) which ones apply here?
However, he good-humouredly declined to divulge his data. (Why is it,
if the birth chart is meaningless, that critics are reluctant to disclose
this useless information?)
are several good reasons. These days birth data is used to check the
authenticity of phone enquiries about anything from bank statements
to electricity bills. So you are foolish to give it out. Also, critics
sometimes meet people who claim they can guess sun signs (Kary Mullis
was an example of this). If they can guess accurately then it could
be the start of something big — but not if your birth data is already
out there. Others may clam up because it could be embarrassing, like
April 1st, or because it might expose them to unwanted taunts about
their sun sign or their age. Elwell seems unable to understand that
people could have perfectly legitimate reasons for keeping their birth
But without revealing his data to the waiting world, and assuming he has
enough hands-on familiarity with astrology (if not why is he writing about
it) perhaps he could tell us what features astrologers might seize on,
in this meaningless diagram.
We predict that astrologers would not claim to see iron helmets
in charts. Or if they did, they would disagree on the significator.
Perhaps Elwell could tell us what features he is confident of finding.
Should he decline, or be wrong, or not show the confidence he demands
of others, this will speak for itself. Watch this space.
Better yet, why not have 20 astrologers play hunt the helmets (remember,
I have not seen the chart so I don’t know what likely candidates there
might be among its configurations)
Elwell is showing no confidence in predicting the significator for helmets.
He is saying: yes, I cannot predict what will be found, or how it will
match, but whatever is found will certainly show a clear after-the-event
match. Which is like saying: yes, I cannot predict which horse will
win, but no matter what horse it is, it will certainly come in first.
In this way he claims to show how astrology is everywhere.
to see how many arrive at the same conclusion, with their reasons. It
would be significant if all or most of them were found to agree in the
same falsehood. Such unambiguous, highly focused, tests might go further
towards confirming astrology than any tried to date.
No they won’t. To the extent that anything can be seen in a
chart after the event, finding a signature for helmets would be unremarkable,
as would any agreement between astrologers. This “unambiguous highly
focused” test is quite the reverse. The real question is whether the
20 astrologers could tell the authentic chart from a control in terms
At which point let us recall Elwell’s first article where he complained
that the Vernon Clark tests (1) “may not have been a fair test of astrology
(without the participants themselves realizing it) and that criteria
better suited to its subject matter could have produced more striking
results”, and how (2) “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.”, and
how (3) in one test “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.”
On this basis, if we were to set up a Vernon Clark test re seeing iron
helmets, Elwell would emphatically reject it, and would no doubt see
it as yet more evidence of our anti-astrology bias. In what follows,
he interrupts his examples by agreeing with Kelly that modern astrology
has veered away from the specific and testable towards behavioural dispositions,
traits, and personality. So you have to wait a while before his second
But it may be, sadly, that having to concentrate on the “factuality” of
the chart would puzzle today’s astrologers.
It is interesting that Elwell believes concrete prediction is
possible. The confidence of earlier astrologers could be relevant if
they were less confused and distracted by the “erroneous” claims of
modern science, at least in relation to their own activities. Below,
Elwell goes on the imply that this confusion is why modern astrology
doesn’t seem to work properly, and he even seems to blame the Faculty
for playing a part in this!
absolutely right when he says (section 2) that modern astrology has veered
away from the specific and testable towards behavioural dispositions,
traits, and personality. The evidence he cites is shaky, since most contemporary
astrologers would cheerfully sign up to Carter’s 1925 statement, but modern
students do not understand the confidence of an earlier generation of
astrologers in the ability of their science to produce concrete information.
Here Elwell is saying that most astrologers would agree with
Carter (1925) that, among other things, planets indicate changes in
our minds, feelings, bodies, and circumstances. But tests have repeatedly
indicated that Carter is wrong. So how does the cheerful signing up
of problematic claims by astrologers make Kelly’s case shaky? Also,
why should the confidence of earlier astrologers be relevant when they
were even more uninformed than modern astrologers about the need for
controls and safeguards against being led astray?
of the quality of the information to be extracted from a chart have declined,
which is why there can be objections on the score of the wrong chart serving
just as well for interpretation as the right chart, or people not recognising
their own chart interpretation. If the expected quality is non-specific
a vast area opens up for fudging and nudging.
Astrologers seem to be in no rush to make large numbers of specific
predictions, and given their track record, this is understandable. The
links are seen only after the event, as Elwell shows for mad cow disease
and Taurus tell-tales. But as we noted three comments earlier, Elwell
is also complaining that Vernon Clark tests were bound to fail because
they were too specific. Once again he wants it both ways. In any case,
what should we do to rectify the problem? We are not told.
Student courses today seem mostly to be psychological in tone, and client
orientated. (I often think, what a pity the Faculty of Astrological Studies
got to Dean first.)
Like many astrologers, Dean is self-taught, so Elwell’s comment
is beside the point.
The shift from the concrete to the psychological is exemplified in a study
presented by that Faculty luminary Margaret Hone in her Applied Astrology.
A client had a problem, a conflict between love and duty. My own students
would have had to stand in the corner had they not instantly spotted that
in his natal chart the planet of love, Venus, was quarrelling with the
planet of duty, Saturn.
So much for warning earlier against using isolated factors.
Instead of recognizing this “factual” key, and squeezing out its implications,
Hone launches into pages of psychological waffle, in which the existence
of the Venus-Saturn square is barely acknowledged.
Perhaps Hone felt her students should pay attention to all of
her client’s problems (which involved rather more than a conflict between
love and duty), to the rest of the chart (which among other things had
an exact Mars opposition Neptune and a close Moon opposition Uranus,
neither exactly irrelevant), and to the two synastries involved. Elwell
now moves gradually to his second example:
to specifics facilitates the development of a practical astrology. If
you can identify the signature of your hobby or other interests in your
chart you have a useful marker, to provide hints about your unfolding
relationship with it.
Given the importance of such a marker in charts, is there any
consensus among astrologers on identifying it? If not why not?
When Dean’s true chart was published, there was speculation about what
it might imply for his personality. But moving from the contentious to
the concrete I am struck that he has spent almost a decade working on
the theory that families have cheated by mis-recording or intervening
in the birth of their children, and that this is the real explanation
for the Gauquelin results.
This may be Elwell’s theory but it is not Dean’s theory.
ask how the various elements in that theory translate into astrological
language, and here I would expect Dean to recognise the relevance of his
Moon opposition Neptune across the meridian, an axis itself associated
with the parents.
But this is looking at factors in isolation, and is reductionistic,
which Elwell previously said was a no-no. So by his own standards all
this is contrary to good astrological practice. Besides, this again
demonstrates how any chart can be made to fit any situation after the
event. Traditionally the 4th house rules the mother and the 10th house
the father, so anyone with a 4th and 10th house can be made to fit,
either because planets are in them, or aspecting them, or transitting
them, or whatever. It is impossible to not find something, especially
when (like Elwell) one uses several house systems. In any case, as he
repeatedly asserts, the cosmos may not have categories like parents,
so how does he know where to look?
Such obvious and concrete correlations are commonplace,
Note the U-turn: yes, astrology can easily be tested.
and consistently serve to strengthen belief in the ubiquity of the astrological.
If I have been wrong about this all these years I genuinely want to know.
For the sceptics, needless to say, such observations are worthless unless
they measure up to some artificial test situation of their own devising,
and I am curious what that would be. For myself, the identification of
such personal icons in the chart enables them to be used as markers to
test predictive equations like progressions. Thus I have no hesitation
with Hitler’s chart in relating his Venus-Mars conjunction to the suicide
by gunshot of his beloved niece, and the shooting of his bride before
his own suicide.
As we showed two comments earlier, such observations really
are worthless. What matters is whether astrologers could pick the authentic
chart from a control knowing that the subject is characterised by X.
Also, Elwell is historically wrong. Hitler’s bride, Eva Braun, took
poison at the same time that Hitler shot himself.
expect those dates to be confirmed by progressions etc., which at the
same time would be confirmation of their own validity. Given that we already
know the dates, it would hardly be surprising that astrologers would not
fail to fit them. When astrologers don’t know the dates in advance, they
are all over the place.
Just as astrologers had no hesitation in relating Ronald Reagan’s
birth chart (for which no official time is available) to the events
in his life. As noted in our interview, the result was over 30 different
birth times spanning 15 hours, with each time being firmly defended
by its originator against all others. Elwell argues that, by confirming
event dates, the validity of astrology is also confirmed. But the results
cannot all be right, so in those cases the apparent confirmation is
a delusion. Such delusions are of course precisely what controls are
designed to avoid. Since he rejects the use of controls in astrology,
what safeguards against being deluded would he use instead? How does
he know that his own apparent confirmations are not a delusion?
found the marker for Dean’s theory in his chart, we must expect key stages
in its development to be indicated by progressions and so forth to it,
thus confirming the attribution. Thus his presentation of it seems to
have coincided with progressed Sun conjunct natal Moon, solar return aspects
and so forth, but perhaps he should discover this for himself, as he casts
around for ammunition to refute what I say!
Elwell seems unaware that Dean’s supposed theory was first published a
few years ago, when the said contact did not exist. So his finding merely
confirms how anything can be made to fit after the event. He now moves
on to the area of sun signs, stressing that their true nature is a dynamic
rather than a trait.
Another penalty of the plunge into psychology which Kelly noted, is that
the sense of the suprapersonal nature of the astrological has almost been
lost. Nowadays astrologers find it hard to consider (say) the sign Aries
in its own right, without reference to its expression in human nature.
Since astrology embraces many things, its language is bigger than human
psychology. In dynamic terms, for instance, Aries represents a self-starting,
urgent, forward-directed push, which disturbs the settled equilibrium
(Libra works to restore it); while the following sign Taurus represents
relative inertia (Taurus is the immovable object and Aries the irresistible
force), and the preceding sign Pisces represents pendulum-style reversals
How does he know this? From things like Mullis’s hand waving?
(see Elwell’s first article). Where is the sort of evidence that he
was so keen for others like Smit to produce?
2) quotes a somewhat self-evident statement from a Dutch psychologist
to the effect that if you take 100 Aries people, they should have something
in common, and this commonality should be different from 100 Taureans.
Yes indeed. The problem is how to demonstrate it, and to whose satisfaction.
So is astrology easy to demonstrate or not? A few paragraphs
back it was easy, because “obvious and concrete correlations are commonplace.”
Now it doesn’t seem so easy.
seems to be that the demonstration will be statistical, but against this
I would expect to be able to detect the Aries dynamic in every single
one of the 100, provided they were of reasonably mature years and circumstances
had allowed their personality to flower to some degree.
Earlier he was complaining about reductionistic, single factor
studies. Now they seem OK. He implies that this Aries dynamic will not
be present in 100 Taureans, as if the rest of the chart did not matter.
Which is like testing redheads to see if they are hot-tempered without
looking at brunettes and blondes. (Redheads may emerge as hot-tempered,
but it will mean nothing unless they are more hot-tempered than other
hair colours, otherwise there would be nothing special about red.) In
any case it suggests that astrologers should refuse to work with younger
clients in case immaturity gets in the way of reliable interpretation.
It is important to understand that Aries is more than the “traits” incidentally
precipitated from it. What then is the true common denominator? I expect
to find in this type people who are strongly motivated in a forwards direction,
able to start things, given always to moving on rather than resting on
their laurels, with a capacity to put past troubles and failures behind
them, who function best with goals and challenges, who benefit from being
associated with a single forceful idea, who tend to brush obstacles and
contrary opinions unceremoniously aside, and egocentrically avoid being
distracted by the concerns of others.
In other words Aries are self-starters, ambitious, goal-oriented,
pushy, and egocentric. He calls this the Aries dynamic.
That is a clear picture, a style you recognise when you see it - which
however may not be on first acquaintance.
So astrology may or may not be easy to test. As already mentioned,
Elwell carries on as if Gauquelin’s sign tests of professionals did
not exist, where “the pressing need to fulfil oneself in a particular
way of life or activity” would seem to be a close match to Elwell’s
definition of a dynamic. Gauquelin’s results were consistently negative,
even though his large sample sizes made the tests extremely sensitive.
So if sign dynamics were real, they should have shone through. But they
did not. Perhaps Elwell could now calculate an upper limit to the effect
size, and show (if we are to believe his claims) how it could be detected
by unaided human observation when N=1.
would you measure it? What if your psychology is couched in trait words?
Take “assertive”, what does that mean?
This barrage of unanswered questions implies that answers are
hard to come by, but any text on psychological testing would prove him
wrong. Assertive means things like assured, outspoken, strong, insistent.
You meet Aries people who would not be described as assertive, because
their conduct is the reverse of pushy, yet all the time they are ineluctably
carving out a path for themselves.
Elwell is saying they cannot escape from their path-carving
destiny. Since he just told us that Aries is pushy, these non-pushy
Aries are not behaving like Aries. Nevertheless he is confident he can
spot them, because these non-pushy Aries are carving out a path for
themselves, which means they are Aries after all. Note the problem:
We must all carve paths in order to survive, so we are all Aries. This
means that, provided Elwell has chosen Aries people in advance, he cannot
fail to find what he is looking for.
On the other hand what could be described as assertiveness can be present
in people born in all the signs, because there are plenty of ways it can
arise. The Moon or ascendant could be in Aries, or a group of planets
there, or Mars might be especially prominent. Even Pisces, being somewhat
impressionable, can surpass all others for assertiveness if it is in a
macho milieu, and so can Libra if it is bouncing off a strong enough opposition.
This is arguing that assertive is a trait, which can arise in
many ways unconnected with signs, whereas path-carving is a dynamic,
which can arise only from a sign. So anyone can be assertive without
being an Aries. Fair enough, but then anyone can be path-carving without
being an Aries. So the rejection of traits in favour of dynamics does
not clarify things. Furthermore, if the twelve sign-dynamics were real
attributes of people, they would shine through in every factor analysis
of human behaviour. Large numbers of such analyses have been reported,
but no such twelve dynamics shine through. Indeed, there is not even
the slightest hint of their twelve-fold existence. Elwell is claiming
to see things where hugely more powerful and sensitive techniques have
failed to see anything.
Astrology aside, taking 100 members of the general population, how would
you go about scaling them for assertiveness? And having scaled them, how
would you prove that you were right?
On the one hand Elwell can see astrology everywhere because
he knows where to look. On the other hand, “how would you prove you
were right?” He implies that such problems are somehow intractable,
whereas any text on psychological testing gives methods that might solve
them. For example we could derive a behavioural scale and then test
it on people who are described by their friends and colleagues as assertive
or not assertive. In any case, if astrologers have problems with terms
like assertive, which people use every day, they should avoid things
as vague as “ineluctably carving out a path for themselves.”
The tests used to define personality can be circular, in the sense that
a trait may be used to explain behaviour which itself served as the basis
for the concept in the first place. My favourite illustration: “Brenda
likes talking to others because she is high on the scale of sociability,
and we know this is a valid dimension because we can record how many hours
she spends in conversation.”
Circular definitions like this would be spotted very easily
by psychologists. Unlike astrology books, psychology texts on testing
spend considerable time on procedures that explicitly avoid the very
kind of circular reasoning and other biasses that Elwell describes.
See for example A Anastasi & S Urbina Psychological Testing (7th
edition 1996), J Feist & GJ Feist Theories of Personality (4th edition
1997), S Maddi Personality Theories: A Comparative Analysis (6th edition
2001). There are many others. Furthermore modern personality psychology
has replaced traits as primary measures in favour of broad dimensions
such as the Big Five (Emotional stability, Extraversion, Openness, Agreeableness,
and Conscientiousness). What makes a dimension valid is rather more
than Elwell would have you believe, see any of the above texts.
We may have to concede that what Aries people have in common, while visible
enough when you know where to look, is probably impossible to quantify
on a traits basis.
So on what basis should it be described? We are not told. So
the Elwell approach seems to reduce to statements like “these Aries
people are path-carving, therefore Aries, but these Taurus people are
path-carving, therefore not Aries.” Furthermore, psychology has many
ways of quantifying visibles and invisibles, even invisibles like love
(which naive critics said could not be quantified), so where is the
The best approach is perhaps individual case studies, a method recommended
by Allport in his classic on personality (Gordon W Allport, Personality:
A Psychological Interpretation - 1937). The image of the Ram, that specialist
in the head-butt, is an eloquent testimony to the power of the forward
thrust embodied in this sign. Kelly and company want to give the impression
that astrology is a quaking bog of uncertainty because it embraces symbolism,
but there are symbols whose usefulness as shorthand has been endorsed
The image of the Ram, that specialist in the long shaggy coat
plastered with burrs and mud, unable to figure out how to negotiate
road grids that no dog has problems with, and notably excelling in the
no-brains department, is hardly eloquent testimony to the supposed power
of forward thrust. So how is the symbol useful?
are intent on describing astrology as split on a number of unbridgeable
issues, a ploy which fools nobody except innocent bystanders.
But a major theme of his book Cosmic Loom is that astrologers
are split on too many issues to be credible, so they should try to reach
agreement on what the best theories are (see page 34). So who is fooling
Internal differences on concepts and techniques (which exist in every
field of endeavour) are deliberately exaggerated. The truth is the exact
opposite: there exists a remarkable unanimity among astrologers.
It depends on what you mean by remarkable unanimity. After all,
John Addey, after examining the areas of signs, houses, and aspects
for this supposed unanimity but finding only disagreement and uncertainty,
concluded that: “So one could go on. One could take each and every factor
in use in present-day astrology and show it to be surrounded by a host
of uncertainties” (Astrological Journal 1964, 6(3)).
We agree with Addey. Astrologers tend to agree on the importance and
meaning of the known planets, but there is general disagreement about
everything else, see next paragraph. Indeed, among astrologers there
seems to be a consensus that they can disagree on almost anything, which
they then justify under the motto: “If it works for you, then it works,
and no questions need be asked, period.” No wonder that astrological
conferences often seem models of peace and harmony, because any disagreement
is quickly glossed over or swept under the carpet.
Unlike disagreement in the sciences, which generally leads to
resolution and progress and therefore tends to exist only at the leading
edge, disagreement in astrology goes right back to square one. For example
there is disagreement on what is relevant to astrological symbolism
and what is irrelevant. There is disagreement on what should be included
in a birth chart (signs, houses, aspects, nodes, parts, antiscions,
harmonics, hypothetical planets. asteroids, helio positions, the list
is endless), and on what kind (there is more than one system of signs,
of houses, of aspects, of hypothetical planets, and so on). There is
disagreement on predictive techniques (progressions, directions, transits,
returns, primaries, secondaries, tertiaries, forward, converse, again
the list is endless). There is disagreement on the how of interpretation,
which ranges from using rules to ignoring rules in favour of psychic
Astrologers do not even agree on what a birth chart is supposed
to indicate. Fifty years ago they tended to settle for minds, feelings,
physique, health, wealth, vocation, relationships, events, destiny,
or mostly everything. “There is no area of human existence to which
astrology cannot be applied” say Derek and Julia Parker in their astrology
bible The Compleat Astrologer (1975 page 60). Today, the shrewd astrologer
opts for hidden potentials and other unobservables that are secure from
disconfirmation (and, by the same token, confirmation). In any case
the agreement between astrologers on their chart judgements is very
poor, which should not be if their internal disagreements were as trivial
as astrologers claim. For further details see back issues of the journal
with what? Well, psychology for one thing: at the last count how many
different theories of personality were there? If you rejected every discipline
because not everybody sees eye-to-eye there would be no disciplines left.
A look at modern books on personality theories will show huge
differences from astrology books. The psychology books that describe
personality theories provide the reader with overviews of research studies
along with an overview of the positive and negative findings regarding
each theory. They also provide the reader with conceptual criticisms
of the theories and other shortcomings. For example see the works by
Feist and Maddi cited above. There are no comparable texts in astrology,
at least not by astrologers.
Furthermore it is a characteristic of science to progress by
challenges that often resolve the initial differences. If ideas are
easy to test, progress can be rapid. In psychology (or anything else
involving people) it is not so easy, so progress is usually slow. Nevertheless
it still occurs. Thus most of the arguments and uncertainties over traits,
and over personality theories, that existed when Recent Advances (1977)
was compiled have now been resolved. There are now large areas where
agreement has been reached. This is not the case in astrology.
Now observe this. If you skim through astrological textbooks and magazines
you will see the same monotonous chart format again and again, a circle
divided into 12 segments with some 10 or 11 astronomically accredited
objects scattered around it. This really is remarkable, because according
to the scholars astrologers are supposed to be in bitter disagreement
about what their charts should contain.
Of course disagreement among astrologers would be less of a
problem if (regardless of technique) they agreed on what a chart means
as opposed to what it should contain. But they do not agree even on
this. See previous two comments.
How they arrived at that conclusion is a saga beyond belief. Astrologers
have often pointed out that you cannot justifiably isolate for study factors
which are glued to other factors. Rather than isolate, say, the Sun sign,
and magnify its importance, they insist that the whole chart should be
Except when it suits them, as Elwell showed when he isolated
Moon-Neptune or talked about Aries people. In any case, arguments about
isolated factors have no bearing on what a chart should contain.
Scenting blood, the sceptics demanded to know what was meant by the “whole”
chart. The clever ones had noticed, you see, that some charts include
factors which others don’t. Sometimes quite a few more.
how it would have sufficed to say “But what is meant by the whole chart?”
But Elwell dresses it up, gratuitously introducing terms like scenting
blood, sceptics, clever ones, and how they happen to notice things,
none of which is relevant to the debate.
follows should be explained gently. When astrologers draw a chart they
are mapping the heavens, albeit in a very simple way. Compare the process
with mapping the earth. You can make a crude outline map of the continents
or countries, and put in a few dots for cities. At the other extreme your
maps can become very detailed, as you include more and more information,
right down to the street where you live. And you can make different kinds
of maps, geological maps, population maps, political maps, tourist maps
- lots of maps, same territory. Nobody is there to ridicule you for including
this set of features, or excluding that. The map simply records the information
you want it to record.
It’s the same with the horoscope. If individual astrologers want to include
items they have found useful, why not? The same discretion about what
information to include, what to exclude, is exercised in many activities,
not least in writing a piece like this.
This begs the question. On the one hand there is no disagreement
that if rocks could leap up and assault you, then geological maps would
be relevant for most people, just as they are for rock collectors and
geologists. But you would certainly be ridiculed if you included say
ocean depths on a political map. On the other hand, there is general
disagreement among astrologers about what is relevant to X. And this
disagreement will never go away while they proceed as Elwell recommends,
namely rejecting controls and other safeguards against making wrong
This is where it gets absurd. Kelly tells us (Section 4.3): “There are
an incredibly large, but finite, number of possible celestial patterns
from which astrologers have arbitrarily excluded certain components. For
example, they may have chosen to ignore the moons of Jupiter... ” Quick,
send back your map of Europe, or Australia, or wherever you are, because
it has arbitrarily excluded a certain component, namely downtown Saskatoon.
Astrologers will not lose any sleep over leaving the moons of Jupiter
to the astrologers of Jupiter, nor for that matter will the weathermen
heed the complaint that they have arbitrarily excluded the storms of Jupiter’s
red spot from their calculations.
exclusion is not arbitrary. Regardless of whether we are geologists
or politicians or tourists, we do not pick up maps of Europe or Australia
and expect to see downtown Saskatoon. We know for sure that it would
not be relevant. In the same way we know that Jupiter’s red spot has
no useful relevance to weather forecasting, which is not to say that
its relevance would be zero. But as noted by Elwell, astrologers are
dealing with a symbolic system that bears no relation to physical attributes,
so there is no reason whatever why anything should be excluded. Symbolically
the moons of Jupiter, with their rich mythology, might be just as important
as Moon-Neptune. Why shouldn’t they be?
readers may wonder if they have strayed with Alice into Blunderland. They
should realise that the cynics will take hold of any stick to beat astrologers.
No, not any stick, only relevant sticks.
The reason is that there is more at stake than whether astrology works
or not. What is at stake is the view of reality described by rationalism
and scientism, versus the more liberal view to which most other people
Here the admirable liberal astrologers are being pitted against
the hidebound scientistic academics. Elwell has a point, but why does
he refer to “views of reality” rather than “irrationality”? Also, as
we explained in our comments on Elwell’s first article, which comments
he ignores, views of reality have little to do with it. Creationists
and Evolutionists differ regarding their views of ultimate reality but
have no difficulty understanding each other in debates over the evidence
or what kinds of studies are relevant.
the view proposed by Elwell. Since he takes no precautions against being
misled, is unaware of the many ways where he can go wrong, does nothing
to rule out non-astrological influences, and turns a relentless blind
eye to unwelcome evidence, there is no reason for anyone to be persuaded.
Views of reality cannot be an issue when so unsoundly based.
In any case, before referring to rationalism, Elwell needs to spend
time reading the views of modern philosophers and rationalists. He also
needs to consider the views described by astrologism, the astro equivalent
of scientism, which might imply that nothing else is relevant because
astrology is the way, the truth and the light, or that it is meaningful
to describe isolated factors but meaningless to test them, or that sun
sign astrology is valid but a five-minute error in birth time can make
all the difference, or that, given the right technique, astrology can
explain everything. Any resemblance to Elwell’s astrology does not seem
to be coincidental.
danger for the scholars is that by always scrabbling around for some
new blunt instrument they could discredit their legitimate and more
surgical objections. Dean and his colleagues succeeded in showing what
astrology is not - it is not a science easily susceptible to reductionist
But Elwell’s own earlier reductionistic endorsement of isolated
factors such as Venus-Saturn and of unambiguous signatures such as those
of helmet collecting, and his glowing support of the reductionalist
talk of Mullis and Sachs, show that astrology is easily susceptible
to reductionist investigation.
It may be that the opposite of “reductionist” is “holistic”, but that
word does not quite measure up to the phenomena we encounter, and maybe
a new term is needed. I could argue the case for astrology as “macroscience”,
by which I mean that every phenomenon and every item of data is referred
to something larger and more inclusive, whereas the tendency to isolate
This is an interesting speculation but how could it be tested? What
does it really tell us? We need more specifics but Elwell does not tell
us. Does he mean every problem in astrology is relegated to the next
plane? And how does this idea help astrologers decide what to include
in a birth chart? Does it help anybody? Does it clarify disputes in
modern astrophysics or astronomy? We are not told. Furthermore Elwell’s
inclusion of “science” in his new term for astrology (“macroscience”)
is pretentious and misleading in the extreme, because the defining attributes
of a science are absent from astrology.
The critics’ overall interaction with astrology through the years has
been positive, in the way a laxative is positive, forcing astrologers
to shed notions which had never properly been thought through. Dean’s
appearance on the scene was timely, and I once told him that if he did
not exist he would have to be invented.
It would be useful if he had provide examples of notions discarded and
on what basis they were discarded. Presumably they were based on symbolism,
so how were they deemed wrong? How was their symbolism misleading? But
Elwell’s own reactions illustrate how astrologers have absolutely not
shed poorly-based notions. Such shedding requires paying attention to
negative evidence, which evidence most astrologers automatically reject
as irrelevant, so there seems to be no way that such shedding could
of maps, the knowing ones have noted that there are different ways to
divide the astrological chart into 12 houses. No agreement there then!
Well, my atlas contains maps drawn according to a dozen different projections,
which means there is no exclusively correct way to do it. Nobody suggests
that cartography is any the less credible because of that. It is perfectly
feasible for the astrologer to work with several house systems, and I
routinely consult three or four - you get different information from each,
but different does not mean contradictory.
Not the same thing at all. An atlas has to convert a spherical
surface to a plane, which of course cannot be done except by distortion.
For example we cannot have both undistorted direction and undistorted
distance, or both undistorted shape and undistorted area. So we have
to choose the one most suited to our needs, and provided we can define
our needs there is no disagreement on which distortion is best for which
need, for an introductory treatmentfor see HS Roblin, Map Projections,
Edward Arnold 1971. The same is not true of house systems, where there
is no general agreement on which system is best for which need. Furthermore
map projections are not theories that pretend to make predictions about
the world or lead to new findings or provide us with laws of nature.
Nobody asks whether modern theories in biology or physics or geology
or anthropology cohere with any map projection.
An especially knowing one has pointed out that a popular method of dividing
the astrological chart (Placidus houses) breaks down in the polar regions.
On this score Charles Carter once retorted that he could not subscribe
to the logic that for something to work somewhere it had to work everywhere.
And have you seen what happens to latitude and longitude at the poles?
Carter evidently does not subscribe to the logic that for central
heating to work in Stourbridge it has also to work in Murmansk. The
problem is rather more than mere Placidus. In polar regions parts of
the zodiac neither rise nor set, and quadrant houses are severely distorted,
for example at 70N (roughly the latitude of the northernmost parts of
Scandinavia and Alaska) some houses can be 100 degrees wide and others
only 2 degrees wide. To be sure, people living in polar latitudes have
distorted lives, but so do people living in non-polar regions at high
altitudes, which can be just as distorting. But until there is evidence
for the validity of houses (real evidence, not the unsupported assertions
of astrologers) all polar problems remain hypothetical.
Another great divide is supposed to exist between the tropical zodiac,
used mostly in the West, and the sidereal zodiac, used mainly in India.
(In fact I also take note of a third zodiac, said to be the oldest of
them all, the draconic, measured from the moon’s node.) What can this
seeming confusion mean? Merely that it is possible for different frames
of reference to coexist, a situation accepted without embarrassment in
other disciplines, but of course fatal to astrology.
for good reason. We can accept different measures such as feet and metres
without embarrassment because the thing measured remains the same. Not
so in astrology. The tropical and sidereal zodiacs differ by almost
one sign, yet the sign meanings in both systems are essentially the
same. So tens of thousands of Western tropical astrologers can agree
that in their experience Virgos are modest, while hundreds of thousands
of Indian sidereal astrologers can look at the same piece of sky, which
they call Leo, and agree that in their experience it is not modest but
bossy. Similarly Western astrologers see Scorpios as intense, while
Indian astrologers see the same piece of sky, which they call Libra,
as relaxed. It is like saying the length of your garden is fifty feet
in one system and 500 metres in the other. So of course it is fatal.
In truth, the existence of only one frame of reference would be highly
suspicious. Human nature is not a one-dimensional cardboard cutout: there
are complexities and contradictions, and ironically astrology can be of
unparalleled assistance in their unravelling. We operate simultaneously
on different levels, conscious or unconscious, and might even be said
to possess different selves. This can be seen with celebrities, where
the private face may contrast sharply with the public face. Again, how
we see ourselves is certainly different from how others see us, and how
we actually are might be different from both.
Elwell is saying little that people don’t already know. Skeptics
could agree with almost all of the above paragraph and still think astrology
(Section 3) makes sport of the “time twins”, Freud, a pioneer in his field,
and Peary, credited with blazing the trail to the north pole. The popular
image of Freud is as an intellectual, but he himself emphasised his affinity
with men of boldness and courage. Not unlike Peary-type men! He told a
friend: “I am by temperament nothing but a conquistador, an adventurer,
if you wish to translate this term - with all the inquisitiveness, daring,
and tenacity characteristic of such a man.”
shows only how we can always find similarities between any two people.
We might just as implausibly argue similarity on the basis wearing the
same kind of hat. Thus we need not spend much time in remote country
to discover that intellectual daring has little in common with physical
daring, at least not if you wish to survive. So we need to apply controls
such as comparisons. To start with we can ask if it goes both ways:
Did Peary consider himself an intellectual?
Then again, as we show in the interview, there are many millions
of time twin pairs currently alive, and of course many more if we include
those no longer alive. So why should just one selected pair mean anything?
For the benefit of non-astrologers it should be said that whichever zodiac
is used the main determinants of the horoscope, namely the patterns of
the planets, remains the same, with the zodiac merely adding a special
colouration. In fact you can do astrology without a zodiac.
How does he know this? Many astrologers would disagree. How
low can the correlation go (ie between results with and without zodiac)
before we decide a zodiac is needed after all?
On this tropical/sidereal question, we may not realise that we exist simultaneously
but quite comfortably in two kinds of space. You will appreciate the distinction
if you visit Foucault’s famous pendulum. Suspended from high in the ceiling,
the pendulum swings always in the same plane, but as it does the earth
can be seen to be turning under it. As you stand there reflect that the
pendulum is swinging in a different space, which has been called absolute
space, or star space, to distinguish it from the space relative to the
earth. The twelvefold division of the one gives rise to the sidereal zodiac,
of the other the tropical zodiac.
Kelly’s flip assertion that you can be an Aries in America but a Pisces
in India implies that an exact equation exists between the zodiacs, or
in other words that their spaces are identical.
all zodiacs are referred to the same ecliptic, so the space they occupy
is necessarily identical. What matters is whether the meaning stays
the same regardless of zodiac, in the same way that distance stays the
same regardless of feet or metres.
Regardless of whether you are in America or India, you can be a tropical
Aries and a sidereal Pisces, but which version of you appears to predominate
at any one time depends on a number of factors.
How does Elwell know this? How could anything “predominate”
if the rest of the chart is so crucial? He does not identify the factors
on which everything depends, so perhaps they are identifiable only after
familiar tropical zodiac, which in psychological terms has been developed
to a far greater degree than the sidereal, seems to be more indicative
of innate qualities, and closer to the everyday you, from which you may
never stray very far. It is homocentric (which usually means egocentric
as well) whereas the star-self could be described as a cosmocentric version
of you, your remit within a wider scheme of things.
How do astrologers know this? Earlier Elwell said that 100 Taurus
(inertia) were dynamically distinct from 100 Aries (push), but now we
are told that 100 Taurus (tropical stop) are also 100 Aries (sidereal
go), so they are not dynamically distinct after all. He does not explain
how a person’s instinctive urge can be simultaneously stop and go.
wonders if the West feels more at ease with the tropical zodiac because
it has developed a more personal consciousness, with individuals living
more unto themselves.
Whatever that means. Always assuming people can feel anything
about a zodiac so expendable that astrology can be done without it.
In India the caste system seems to indicate that self-awareness is inseparable
from a larger not-self. Differences in ego-awareness may not only be geographical,
there may have been an historical evolution in the growth of individuality
too, explaining why, over time, the tropical zodiac has become dominant.
Speculation, okay, but interesting.
In the absence of any evidence that either zodiac is valid,
this is adding speculation to speculation. To paraphrase Elwell, we
could perhaps argue the case for astrology as “macrospeculation”, by
which we mean that every speculation is referred to some larger and
more inclusive speculation.
this reading, Freud and Peary would derive from tropical Taurus personal
attributes like stubbornness (or tenacity as Freud calls it),
How come? Didn’t Elwell reject traits as sign attributes? And
reject giving weight to isolated factors?
sidereal Aries would be their “go forth and conquer” mode. In the draconic
zodiac the Sun also falls in Aries. Incidentally, sidereal Aries can lay
claim to Hitler, Cromwell, Mahomet, Charlemagne, Marx, Lenin, Salazar,
Robespierre, the Duke of Wellington, Tito, Catherine II of Russia, and
assorted other shakers and movers.
what? Such cases cannot be interpreted without controls. Could astrologers
have picked them in advance as sidereal Aries if they had been mixed
up with other famous people? Shakers and movers such as Alexander the
Great, Julius Caesar, Darwin, Edison, Frederick the Great, Galileo,
Henry V, Ivan the Great, Abraham Lincoln, Napoleon, Peter the Great,
Rockefeller, George Washington, James Watt, none of whom are claimed
by Sun in Aries whether sidereal or tropical. Again, what happened to
objections against citing isolated factors?
Rather than confound astrology, the existence of more than one zodiac
confounds the attempts by statisticians to use signs simplistically.
This did not stop Elwell praising the simplistic hand waving
of Kary Mullis or the isolating sign studies of Gunter Sachs. Recall
again what he said in his Cosmic Loom: “it is hard to fault the methodology
adopted by the Sachs team” (page 15). Yet he has just faulted it.
5. It’s those bumps again
Think of some mistaken belief, now discarded. It could be medical, or
even scientific. There are plenty to choose from. You then draw parallels
between this vanished superstition and astrology, and declare that astrology
must eventually likewise go into the dustbin of history. Dean has settled
on phrenology to show how foolish people can be, before the immaculate
truth of science dawns.
No, it will not do to take any mistaken belief. Just because
people no longer believe that the livers of unblemished animals say
something about our destiny is not necessarily relevant to astrology.
Phrenology is especially relevant because of strong parallels with astrology:
It covers more or less the same ground, it involves the same juggling
of multiple factors, and it flourished for the same reason — experience.
That is, as in astrology, practitioners and clients saw that it worked.
Even more to the point, phrenology involves the same looking at lots
of complexity and the same making of links with people, which means
that it involves the same reasoning processes as apply in astrology.
So if these reasoning processes can lead people to see validity in phrenology
where we now know that none exists, it follows that we have to be suspicious
of astrology, and indeed of any other experience-based (as opposed to
evidence-based) system covering the same field such as numerology and
palmistry. It all comes back to being sufficiently careful.
So we have to ask whether astrology, like phrenology, will suddenly
fail to deliver when we control for reasoning errors and other artifacts.
This is a crucial but straightforward question that, as shown next,
astrologers seem generally unwilling to address or even recognize. Indeed,
as noted by GP, the next point (longevity) has already been covered
in our interview, but Elwell proceeds as if it never existed.
[Note - cf Interview with Researchers pdf file - Q6.4 (GP)]
Trouble is, phrenology did not last long, whereas astrology has been around
for centuries, and is still gaining strength. Thus Dean’s argument can
be stood on its head. If phrenology demonstrates that an unsupported belief
is liable to disappear, astrology’s survival requires a more plausible
explanation than Dean has so far offered. The obvious answer must be that
something is sustaining it which failed to sustain phrenology.
idea has free reign only up to the point where scientific procedures
become capable of testing it, which gave astrology a head start. Thus
much of the necessary methodology for testing astrology was not available
until the 19th and 20th centuries, and the really decisive technology
(computers) has been available for only two or three decades. An example
similar to phrenology is that of Freudian ideas, whose initial untestability
steadily disappeared as methods improved.
Furthermore, physiognomy, the forerunner of phrenology, is as
old as astrology. If we see the relation between modern astrology (say
post Alan Leo) and traditional astrology as similar to that between
phrenology and physiognomy, the comparison is almost exact. In any case
longevity is irrelevant for our purpose — ideas just as old and stable
as astrology, such as the geocentric view of the cosmos, the four elements,
planetary gods, alkahest (universal solvent), and the philosopher’s
stone, have now all been abandoned.
Moreover astrology is more vulnerable than phrenology ever was. To read
your bumps I need your physical presence, and the transaction is strictly
between to you and me. Nobody can check my findings at a distance, or
consult the record.
Not so. Phrenologists were well aware of the problem, and attempted
to solve it by systematic measurements of the head and by head casts.
Most enthusiasts had a collection of casts, albeit rarely exceeding
one or two thousand cases.
And nothing could make me more vulnerable than risking predictions, which
fell right outside the phrenologist’s diagnosis of propensities.
entirely so. Phrenologists did predict the general tone of life, albeit
not specific events. In any case, unlike astrology, failures could not
be attributed to uncertainties in birth time. To that extent, phrenology
was more securely based than astrology could be, but that did not save
The case of phrenology is instructive, but not for the reason Dean thinks.
Elwell is saying that the validity of X is not relevant to the
validity of Y even though both validities are based on the same reasoning
processes. This is like saying the fates of cliff-jumpers X and Y have
nothing in common even though they are jumping off the same cliff.
For one thing, it shows there are always different ways to say it. “Those
phrenologists must be idiots to imagine that different areas of the brain
are specialised for different functions!” Ironically it was the claims
of phrenology that stimulated the early neurophysiological discoveries,
such as Broca’s identification of the speech centres in the brain.
what? Phrenological faculties are actually traits of ability and character,
such as vanity and caution, whereas the brain deals in processes such
as speaking and moving. Not the same thing at all.
Similarly you can ask scientists if they believe the planets exert the
influence astrologers claim, and there will be a resounding “No!” But
if you ask whether it is plausible to propose a universe of multiple interconnections,
then at least the theoretical physicists might not be so dismissive.
tell them your notion of multiple interconnections comes from armchair
speculations on mythology, verbal associations, stretched metaphors,
and symbolism, and they will lose interest again. It is a leap of faith
from traits to processes, and an even greater leap of faith from interconnections
to the claims of astrology.
It all boils down to this: In the end people will believe what they want
to believe, and the reason may lie less in the facts than in their own
There are big differences between astrologers and scientists
here. To start with, all scientific theories are fallible. But while
fallibility is a hallmark of science, astrology seems to be viewed by
most astrologers as impervious to negative evidence. Another hallmark
of science is progress, whereas stagnation is the norm in astrology.
Listen to this comment by astrophysicist Victor Mansfield taken from
his paper An Astrophysicist’s Sympathetic and Critical View of Astrology
presented at The Cycles and Symbols Conference, San Francisco, 14-16
February 1997, see www.lightlink.com/vic/astrol.html :
“If we revived Kepler, he would surely recognize modern astrology, be
delighted by the elegant astrological software, Transaturnians, asteroids,
etc. But he would be struck by how little has changed since his day,
especially in contrast to the extraordinary explosion of knowledge in
astronomy. Where are the astrological advances that compare with Kepler’s
three laws of motion, Galileo’s formulation of the scientific method,
Newton’s mechanics, or Einstein’s general relativity?”
As we said in our previous response, the only noticeable advance boils
down to having unbelievable sun sign nonsense in every women’s magazine.
So when we look at astrologers vs scientists, it is clear which group
is stagnating and which group is advancing, and which group is unresponsive
to negative evidence and which group is responsive.
material is © Dennis Elwell, 2001