Attempts to debunk astrology once and for all have been undertaken for some time. The results are sometimes surprising. A number of studies have baffled empirical scientists, and infuriated skeptics. Enquiries based on official or scientific methods have produced positive results in astrology’s favour. Findings have also stood up to later scrutiny by experts who doubted the results or sought to find fault with the original methods of analysis. Obviously, this doesn’t mean fans of astrology can claim full respectability for the suppositions of this ancient practice. But it could well mean that the planets and luminaries of our solar system have a mysterious and perhaps somewhat predictable influence over us all in ways we don’t yet fully understand.
1 Angeline Adams Court Trial
At the beginning of the twentieth century, astrologer Angeline Adams became famous throughout America. Her accuracy was so widely believed that she was visited by thousands. Even the successful businessman, J.P. Morgan, consulted her. Based in New York, throughout her career she reached many more people nationwide by mail, and via the new technology of radio. She was challenged as a fraud in 1914 when an obscure New York law, designed to prevent fortune tellers from exploiting people, was used against her. But Adams was convinced there was science behind her craft. The case escalated to a courtroom trial.
After explaining her method, Adams was given the birth details of someone she didn’t know, and of whom she had never met. She was asked to form a horoscope, to interpret it, and to then present her findings before the court. She interpreted the horoscope with such precision that the judge declared her innocent. The horoscope, it turned out, had been that of the judge’s own son. The judge ruled that Adams was not merely a fortune teller. He even went so far as to agree with her defense lawyer’s claim that astrology is an empirical science.
While the judge was clearly being over-enthusiastic in stating that Adams had elevated astrological practice as a whole to “the dignity of an exact science,” Adams’s successful technique nonetheless (according to Yale scholar Nick Levine blurred assumed lines between science and superstition, defied probability, and must have involved some measure of scientific accuracy. Adams also went on to successfully predict in 1931 that America would be at war by 1942.
2 The Carlson Double-Blind Experiment
Conducted in 1985 by an undergraduate physicist, the Carlson experiment was based on the model of an earlier ‘matching test’ run by Vernon Clark in 1961. Clark’s experiment involved distributing ten pairs of horoscopes to a group of professional astrologers, and asking them to select which horoscope belonged to a person with cerebral palsy, and which belonged to a person of unusual intelligence. A similar, more detailed study was conducted in the early 1980s by Neil Marbell. In both these previous experiments, the astrologers were correct to a degree that was well above mere chance. Somehow, the astrologers had successfully determined details about individuals unknown to them, based on the information in birth horoscopes alone. According to the results, something more than mere guesswork was happening.
Obviously, this defies rational explanation. Skeptics of astrology were understandably suspicious of these results. Shawn Carlson therefore set out to test the “fundamental thesis of astrology” by seeing if professional astrologers could match horoscopes to a database of psychological profiles. He also distributed the astrologers’ interpretations of the birth charts to a group of volunteer students, to see if they could match any of the interpretations, based on the horoscopes of others, to themselves. The negative results were published in the scientific journal Nature.
For years, the Carlson experiment was cited by skeptics of astrology as conclusive proof that astrology was nothing more than superstition. However, in 2009, professor Suitbert Ertel, a psychologist and expert statistician from the university of Gottingen, Germany, published a review of Carlson’s findings in the Journal of Scientific Exploration. He not only pulled Carlson’s method apart, but also, by running the same data again, found that the positive matches of horoscopes with psychological profiles as made by Carlson’s astrologers showed a significant correlation slightly above mere chance. Additionally, Ertel was able to replicate a result of positive significance using a different method of analysis. Whilst Ertel’s findings certainly aren’t enough to verify astrology empirically, they havenonetheless proved that the Carlson experiment isn’t the valid empirical dismissal of astrology skeptics thought it was.
3 Michel Gauquelin
Michel Gauquelin dominates the history of scientific investigations into astrology. Over the course of his life, the Frenchman gathered a massive amount of birth horoscope data, and carried out many experiments. One such experiment involved giving 40 birth charts to astrologers and asking them to select which 20 belonged to criminals and which 20 belonged to responsible citizens. The results fell within the range of chance. In another experiment, he asked an astrologer to interpret what he said were the details of his own birth. He received a complimentary response, which praised him for his warmth, wit, intelligence, selflessness, and moral goodness. This was a definite fail for astrology (or for this particular astrologer), since the birth details actually belonged to Marcel Petiot, a French serial killer who had murdered and robbed 27 people on the run from the Nazis. He then advertised free astrological readings in a newspaper, and sent the same character report, along with a questionnaire, to 150 respondents. 94% of them agreed with the assessment of their personalities.
Gauquelin’s major find came in the 1950s when he discovered definite meaningful statistical correlations between the placements of planets in birth charts and the professions people came to excel at in their adult lives. In particular, meaningful correlations between the birth placement of Mars and eminent athletes were especially strong. This recognizable phenomenon has since come to be known as “the Mars effect.”
Obviously, sceptics weren’t very happy about this. Attempts have been made to discredit Gauquelin’s findings by means of further tests. The results of a test run by the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP) were less favorable than Gauquelin’s. However, Suitbert Ertel later discovered that the CSICOP test had deliberately skewed its results by including less distinguished athletes and excluding more prominent ones. Ertel also showed that Gauquelin’s “eminence theory” of planetary influence on the professions applied across other occupations, including eminent scientists and actors. He also successfully refuted the methodology of a study run by Belgian skeptics, which had previously refuted Gauquelin’s own methods. Additionally, in the Journal of Scientific Exploration, he even managed to use the skeptics’ own samples to find further significant statistical correlations in favor of the Mars effect.
A systems engineer from the Case Western Reserve University in Finland, Kyosti Tarvainen, has also weighed in on the debate more recently. His results showed that the birth horoscopes of journalists were more likely to correlate significantly with Gemini, the third house, and Mercury (as traditional astrology would predict). He also showed that 180 out of 316 statements in the Astrologer’s Handbook turned out to be correct when run through Gauquelin’s data, which was a statistically significant result in favor of the Handbook’s over-all validity. The same study found that Neptune was also significantly prominent in the birth charts of alcoholics (as astrologers would expect). An additional 2014 study found that certain Venus/Saturn aspects in the charts of husbands indicated a slightly larger higher chance of having larger age differences in their marriages, and that both husbands and wives with these aspects were more likely to have marriage significantly delayed in their lives (also as astrologers would expect).
As for Gauqelin, who was hunted for the rest of his life by the controversy his experiments had generated, he suffered a nervous breakdown and committed suicide in 1991, at the age of 60.
4 Jan Ruis and Male Serial Killers
According to astrologers, known serial killers should be identifiable by a predominance of signifying factors in their astrological birth charts. These include the mutable signs (Gemini, Virgo, Sagitarius, and Pisces), the “twelfth principles” (twelfth house, Pisces, and Neptune), and specific aspects of the Moon. These traits, associated by astrologers with childhood disruption and potential violence, fantasy, isolation, deceit, and insanity, should reasonably be expected to occur more frequently in the horoscopes of serial killers than those of the general population (if the art of astrology has any credibility in this regard, that is).
Even though it sounds completely incredible, a 2008 study by Jan Ruis found that a group of well over a hundred serial killers frequently did have celestial factors in the mutable signs (more so than a variety of large control groups, which used random birth dates to avoid ‘artifacts’). They also had an unusually high frequency of planets in the twelfth house as compared with the general population. The results for the astrologically expected aspects of the Moon were less convincing, but on the whole, Ruis’s study has shown that the claims of astrologers when it comes to serial killers cannot be so easily dismissed.
5 Judith Hill and Redheads
If you’re a hard-out skeptic, and the idea of astrology being used to detect potential serial killers seems outrageous to you, then medical astrologer Judith Hill’s study of how the planet Mars is distributed in the birth charts of redheads will probably have you seeing red. Actually, for many centuries now, astrologers have attempted to determine the physiognomy of individuals based purely on an evaluation of the birth horoscope. Back in the day, red hair specifically was said to occur when Mars was rising.
Mars is “the red planet”—you probably made that connection already—but astrologers have also traditionally associated it with iron. Everyone knows red hair gets its color from iron in the body, so, ipso facto, people born with Mars rising are more likely to be redheads.
Of course, this would be an absurd thing for any astrologer to claim in this day and age, and surely it must be easily refutable. But before you go rushing off to tell everyone how ludicrous the astrology of hair color is, you’d better get your facts straight. Apparently, only one avenue of study on how frequently mars rises in the horoscopes of red heads has been opened to date, and that’s through the research of Judith Hill. Weirdly, Hill, who claims to have successfully matched five horoscopes to five biographies during a sponsored skeptics’ challenge in 1998, supposedly found a definite correlation between Mars rising (on or near the “ascendant”) and redheads when concluding her and colleague Jacalyn Thompson’s ten-year astro-genetic “Redheads Research” project.
6 Carl Jung and Marriage Partners
The Swiss psychoanalyst Carl Jung agreed that astrology was effective, but he didn’t agree with astrologers on the reason why it seemed to work. In a letter to the Hindu astrologer B.V. Raman in 1947, Jung explained that he had used horoscopes frequently throughout the course of his career as a depth psychologist. Jung had found that horoscopes could, in his opinion, shed extra light on “certain complications of character.” He stated that he “very often found that the psychological data elucidated certain points which [he] otherwise would not have been able to understand.”
From such experiences, Jung came to believe that astrology was of particular interest to psychologists, since it contained the experience whereby people unconsciously projected meaning onto the zodiac. He believed there was an unexplained link between the human psyche and the material universe, and that astrology was a useful way to illuminate and explore this link. The significant meaning Jung repeatedly saw in the horoscopes of his patients was for him a confirmation of his theory of synchronicity in action, although he didn’t entirely dismiss the idea that the planets might have some actual, physical effect on people’s lives.
Jung eventually attempted to find statistical proof that astrology worked. He studied the birth charts of married couples to see if they exhibited the signs astrologers would traditionally expect to see in lasting, loving relationships. His results were initially favorable, since the hundreds of horoscopes to be looked at had coincidentally arrived for him to study in three separate batches. Upon analyzing the first batch, a definite, positive result emerged, which corresponded with the positive expectations of Jung and his coworker. However, a more rigorous statistical analysis of the data as a whole (all three batches) showed that the original meaningful coincidence actually fell well within the limits of chance.
Though he had failed to prove astrology correct in regard to traditional indicators of marriage, Jung nonetheless saw the experiment as a further proof of his idea that “a secret, mutual connivance” exists between the material universe and the psychic state of astrologers. In other words, he was saying that our inner attitudes and expectations can effect external events and outcomes, and that astrology “works” by virtue of this principle. As pseudoscientific as this might sound, Jung’s theory of synchronicity has nonetheless anticipated the more recent discoveries of quantum physics, where the observer has been seen to have an effect upon the observed. Jung in fact credited Einstein with giving him the idea in the first place, and his correspondence with the quantum physicist Wolfgang Pauli involved the further exploration of this apparent interface between matter and psyche.
7 Bernadette Brady and Parent-Child Horoscopes
Bernadette Brady compared the horoscopes of parents and children from an Australian database and published the results in the British astrological journal Correlation back in 2002. The Frenchman Gauquelin had already suggested a link between heredity and birth charts, so Brady decided to follow this up. Using the Australian charts, she found several ways in which planetary positions and the traditional planetary “rulers” of houses in birth charts could be seen to echo from one generation to the next.
In particular, the nodes of the Moon (which are not physical objects, but hypothetical points plotted in space) were seen to have an unusually high correlation. When the moon revolves around the earth, it intersects the path of the sun (a.k.a. the ecliptic) at two separate points, which both astrologers and astronomers call the Moon’s north and south nodes. This correlation was most strongly apparent between mothers and their firstborn children. Traditionally, the moon has always been associated with mothers and motherhood, and astrologers typically associate the Moon’s nodes with karma and destiny.
8 Brian T. Johnston and Earthquakes
Brian T. Johnston wasn’t the first astrologer who hoped to find a method of predicting earthquakes. He was, however, the first to research tens of thousands of earthquakes from history over a period of 6,000 hours of investigative work. Johnston discovered a significant statistical correlation between the angles between planets (known as “aspects”) as viewed and calculated from the perspective of earth (geocentric). The timing of these planetary aspects was found to be crucial. According to Johnston’s research, the correlations were even more significant at the point just before the exact angle or “aspect” was reached. Although these angles occur far more frequently than earthquakes do, when a fault has built up enough seismic pressure, it is, according to Johnston’s findings, a whole lot more likely to be triggered just prior to planets reaching a planetary aspect of the twenty-fourth harmonic (360/24 or 15 degrees). Aspects between larger planets (such as Jupiter and Saturn) were also found to correlate more significantly with larger magnitude earthquakes.
9 Pat Harris and Fertility
According to Pat Harris, certain angular aspects made by Venus and Jupiter with other planets indicate in a woman’s birth chart when conception and successful childbearing are most likely. The implications of this claim are obviously huge, since getting pregnant can often be a much desired but often difficult outcome for many women. Couples are sometimes willing to go to great lengths (not to mention expense) to have children, and there is frequently a lot of emotion attached to the idea of getting pregnant. Attempting to link astrology and fertility is therefore controversial. To some, it will no doubt seem a distasteful way of attracting the attention of those desperate to become parents who are willing to try anything.
For true believers, on the other hand, running a study to make these claims seem more official will likely only increase the credibility of an astrologer like Harris, who nonetheless cautiously offers no guarantees that her methods will work for everyone. Despite her caution, according to Harris, “My research into links between Venus and Jupiter contacting certain points or planets in a client's birth chart in years when they would have children showed a significant association, with the link having a 94.4% chance of being a true connection, and a 5.6% chance of being a “fluke.””
From Harris’ perspective, her research on optimal conception times according to her astrological method is about helping, rather than exploiting, women hoping to get pregnant: “If a new method could be found to reduce the number of treatments needed to succeed this would be invaluable in every way to women who hope to have children through assisted reproductive technology.” Her findings were published as a doctoral thesis at the University of Southampton in 2005.
10 Mayo, White, and Eysenck, and Extroversion and Emotionality
This study used the Eysenck Personality Inventory to ascertain how extroverted or introverted 917 adult males and 1407 adult females were, and to measure how emotional and sensitive they were. The birth details of these participants were also recorded, and their horoscopes calculated. The resulting data from the Eysenck tests were then checked against the horoscopes, using the traditional claims of astrology concerning introversion and extroversion, and emotionality, as the key. For instance, people born with their Sun in the oddly numbered astrological signs (Aries, Gemini, Leo, Libra, Sagittarius, and Aquarius) are generally assumed by astrologers to likely be more extroverted and outgoing, while those with their natal Sun in the evenly numbered signs (Taurus, Cancer, Virgo, Scorpio, Capricorn, and Pisces) are typically thought to be more subdued and introverted. Also, those born under the water signs (Pisces, Scorpio, and Cancer) are typically thought of as being more emotionally inclined personality-wise.
Although most serious astrologers would likely scoff at such a glib calculation (many more complicating factors than just a person’s Sun sign are considered when a birth horoscope is interpreted), a high level of significant statistical correlation was nonetheless found. The results were published in the Journal of Social Psychology. When a similar experiment was later repeated at Massey University in New Zealand, a similar positive result was found. Participants with both Sun and Moon in the “extroverted” houses were deemed extroverted by the Eysenk Personality Inventory, and those with Sun and Moon in the “introverted” houses were deemed introverted. In general, though, this study did not support the claims of astrology.
Copyright HTR Williams 2015 - December 20th