By Edward Snow
Journal of Consciousness Studies publishes research paper that takes astrology’s staunchest critics to task
Two of astrology’s harshest critics, Geoffrey Dean and Ivan Kelly, are taken to task in a paper published recently in the Journal of Consciousness Studies (JCS), an interdisciplinary peer-reviewed academic journal.
The paper, titled Clearing the Logjam in Astrological Research, was authored by Canadian researcher and writer Kenneth McRitchie and is subtitled: Commentary on Geoffrey Dean and Ivan Kelly’s Article ‘Is Astrology Relevant to Consciousness and Psi? ’ Remarkably, publication of McRitchie’s paper marked the first time in the current era that an established professional journal has elected to publish a paper that effectively challenges the astrological community’s most intractable critics.
“In their paper, Dean and Kelly argue that astrological experience is more likely to work by ‘hidden persuaders’ than by either objective or psychic criteria, but provide no evidence of this. The authors demand careful testing yet their own examples and claims against astrology are not careful,” McRitchie says.
Effectively, what Dean and Kelly deliver in their JCS paper is “a general critique of astrology without much regard for consciousness or parapsychology (psi),” he observes. In his response McRitchie refutes the unsupported claims and arguments that Dean, Kelly and other critics of astrology have been making for decades based on faulty assumptions, poor test design and/or investigator bias.
McRitchie is the author of Environmental Cosmology, a book he says is mainly for scientists who have an interest in astrology. He regularly contributes to theoretical and research journals and says he chose to respond to Dean and Kelly’s paper because it “supports practically the entire edifice of scholarly anti-astrology discourse. Nothing substantive has been added to the critical side of the discourse since this paper appeared in 2003,” he explains.
Dean is a prolific writer of books and articles who has been lionized by skeptical academics. His cover story describes him as a former astrologer who now lines up on the science side. Ivan Kelly is a psychologist who has teamed with Dean on various projects in the past but not so much lately. Both men have been intellectually aligned with the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, an organization comprised of critics of astrology and paranormal phenomenon.
Poorly Documented Claims
McRitchie describes Dean and Kelly’s paper as “complex with some obscurely written, difficult to follow arguments and poorly documented claims. I needed to get into the heads of the authors to understand how they thought and how to piece their arguments into more recognizable patterns.”
“My paper does defend astrology, but it also defends against junk science. There is too much junk science, like there is too much fake news. Maybe this JCS issue will serve as a wake-up call. If even astrology can separate itself from junk science and point to more promising efforts, then maybe those who tout themselves as defenders of science can do a better job too,” he said.
It’s not like McRitchie is alone in taking on skeptical critics. “Astrology has its own counter critics and I’m happy to be among them,” he says.
In Clearing the Logjam in Astrological Research he specifically acknowledges the help of psychology professor Suitbert Ertel and ANS Science Editor Robert Currey. Ertel is well known among astrologers. He wrote an article for the Journal of Scientific Exploration (JSE) in 2010 that challenged a seriously flawed research paper by Shawn Carlson that had published in the prestigious science journal Nature in 1985.
Currey, a UK astrologer, has critically reviewed Dean’s books and writes articles for Correlation and other print and online astrological magazines, including his own well visited website. His reviews on Dean and other topics can be read at: www.astrologer.com/tests/basisofastrology.
Why it Matters
Articles in scientific journals that give astrology more than short shrift are rarer than galactic Super Novas. When his paper was accepted for publication by JCS, McRitchie admits he “did not entirely believe that it would be published until the day I held a copy of the journal in my own hands.”
For astrological readers, he points out this happened four weeks before his Jupiter return (when transiting Jupiter arrives at the same zodiacal degree it occupied at birth).
“Now that the paper is published, I would expect it to make a difference. It appears in a high- ranking journal of science and philosophy, which puts it in the hands of elite thinkers. The paper’s complete title includes Dean and Kelly’s names and the title of their paper, which makes it appear in a search for their paper. Anyone writing a scholarly paper on science and astrological research will have to cite this paper as a reference and consider its arguments.”
McRitchie says the currently posted Wikipedia articles on Astrology and Astrology and Science rely heavily on Dean and Kelly’s paper. Because it comes from such a reliable source, their paper is cited by Wikipedia six times.
“The paper I have written comes from the same source and it either refutes or questions all the main arguments from Dean and Kelly plus several others that Wikipedia also uses. So, Wikipedia will now be forced to update its articles on astrology. Wikipedia is such a public venue that once the articles are updated new ideas and beliefs about astrology are likely to spread,” he said.
McRitchie acknowledges that a lot depends on whether his article is taken seriously.
“There are wars, refugees, climate crisis, aboriginal claims, Brexit and U.S. political uncertainty. By comparison, matters of science and astrology may seem too trivial to gather much attention. Yet much of the same discourse is encountered in the more public issues. There is a pressing need to resolve truth from falsehood in a world seemingly flooded with propaganda. There is a need to overcome the debilitating effects of much discussed echo chambers, filter bubbles and identity politics that place groups in limiting stereotypes trapped by insular and antagonistic attitudes.
A Disciplined Approach
“Astrologers discipline themselves to use cognitive strategies that are different than those used in psychology and the social sciences,” McRitchie says. “Astrological concepts are like the concept of complementarity in physics, such as the wave and particle theory. Only in astrology the properties are large clusters of related characteristics. Critics tend to regard this ambiguity as a problem with symbolism and not a problem in thinking. For them, it’s a failure to resolve black from white.
“The concept of complementarity has not entered into psychology, which is deductive and idealistic rather than holistic. In psychology, characteristics are measured as dimensions on fixed scales.
“Another difference is that psychology is concerned with innate tendencies and traits that we would think of as genetic. Astrology is much more concerned with the outer world, with environmental influences, lifestyles and personal interactions. These are what we may identify as sociological concerns except that astrology identifies them acting on individuals. There’s nothing to directly compare it with.”
It is McRitchie’s hope that shared discourse between science and astrology improves. His scientific papers are published at his website, www.astrologicalreviewletters.org. The JCS paper can be ordered here.
About the author
Tags: anti-astrology discourse, astrology, Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, consciousness, Environmental Cosmology, Geoffrey Dean, Ivan Kelly, Journal of Consciousness Studies, junk science, Kenneth McRitchie, parapsychology, wikipedia