By Edward Snow
Using Science to Advance Astrology
In our evidence-based world truth can be elusive. More times than not we find ourselves checking things out in an intellectual climate that rhetorically confronts our sensibilities with diametrically opposed arguments or claims about the way things are supposed to work in the natural world.
Over centuries, the scientific method has proved to be a remarkably helpful and resilient tool for sorting fact from fiction. As the late Arthur M. Young once observed, in the 300 years since the Copernican revolution, when science got its start in Galileo’s and Newton’s discoveries of the laws that account for the motion of the planets, science has repeatedly revised its theories to accommodate new discoveries or facts. In the pattern that has emerged science has progressed by revising its beliefs, not by insisting upon them.
So far, astrology’s hard-nosed critics have stubbornly resisted and remain reluctant to revise their well entrenched beliefs on the subject. But astrologers continue to do what they can to encourage critical scientists –and everyone else on the planet – to take a longer look at the growing pile of evidence that suggests there’s more to astrology than some let on. In the era of Big Data things are definitely looking up for the ancient science.
A Glimmer of Hope
In what could become the first of many such events, astrologers from five continents recently converged in tiny Cocoa Beach, Fla., for an international conference that sought to showcase how far under-supported research efforts by individual astrologers have progressed. The Kepler Conference was the brainchild of research astrologer David Cochrane and organized by Courtney Roberts, MA, of Canaveral Research and Consulting. The venue for the conference is near NASA’s Cape Canaveral launch site.
Auspiciously, on the conference’s opening night, the space agency launched a blazing, highly- visible satellite-bearing rocket into the night sky in a seemingly synchronistic gesture that might be interpreted as a good omen by those who can wrap their minds around such things. At the conference the mood was clearly more pragmatic, more serious and more purposeful, but optimism and enthusiasm were as apparent as well.
Ms. Roberts cited a growing body of research showing significant results for astrology and suggested we could be getting close to a “tipping point” where astrological truth claims begin to win out. It’s about time.
Anti-astrology sentiment largely stems from centuries-old academic bias and from negative opinions formed based on cursory exposure to the subject in the popular press. False and misleading claims that science has successfully demonstrated that astrology doesn’t work have been aggressively peddled by true-believing professional skeptics, but these claims that are proving to be the weakest link in the anti-astrology evidence chain.
Five Starting Points
Five Starting Points for Statistical Studies in Astrology is the title of a paper by Finnish mathematician and research astrologer Kyosti Tarvainen, PhD, which published in the Kepler Conference’s online program. In the paper he observes that sophisticated advances in computer technologies and software programs are making it possible for astrological researchers to convincingly demonstrate linkage between behavioral traits and astrological symbolism with a high degree of certainty.
Dr. Tarvainen says it’s difficult to obtain statistically significant results when dealing with single astrological factors, like the Sun in a specific astrological sign. For significant results several factors must be considered; there must be more than one factor pointing in the same direction for a trait to manifest prominently.
Using technologies not available to earlier researchers – and birth data gathered originally by French statisticians Michel and Francoise Gauquelin in the last century – Dr. Tarvainen has been able to demonstrate statistical significance in 10 separate peer-reviewed tests of “ordinary” astrology. And he currently is collaborating with other researchers on promising projects that could further impact the conversation in meaningful ways.
Astrologers attending the event repeatedly stressed the need to work together to push progress forward. Presentations on a variety of significant research outcomes were made on everything from breast cancer to clairvoyance to predicting baseball batting averages. A unique study used artificial intelligence techniques to creatively demonstrate that Mercury retrograde effects are measurable. Another demonstrated that data cited in a published scientific paper written by super critic Geoffrey Dean for a scientific journal did not refute but provided evidence supporting astrology instead.
Why it Matters
Astrologers haven’t always warmed to the idea of using statistical methods to test the efficacy of astrological claims. Mostly, in the last century, many scientific studies on the subject were undertaken as part of a concerted effort to discredit astrological explanations. Even the determined efforts of Michel Gauquelin failed to satisfy because he was unable to make the case for astrology the way most practitioners wanted to hear it. As Dr. Tarvainen suggests, Gauquelin’s problem was he didn’t have enough computer power to process and assess the many variables or combinations that conspire to tell the individual’s personal story.
Research astrologers generally believe that using the tools of modern science to improve the astrological product is a good thing. And the idea of scientifically testing what in the oft-conflicting astrological literature does and doesn’t work has appeal as well. However, as important as these things might be, the main reason research astrologers respond to the challenge has more to do with a powerful urge to set the record straight.
Claims by critics that astrology is stuff and nonsense and inspired by superstitious beliefs are unsustainable when the language and tools of science convincingly demonstrate that the evidence doesn’t support such claims.
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