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How Accurate is Astrology?

Online horoscopes may be considered a pseudoscience, but serious astrology can be surprisingly accurate.

Over the decades, evidence has been accumulating of striking correlations between events in the heavens and events on earth. If astrological "influence" is a fact, it ought to be susceptible to statistical study. With this starting point, a number of early studies were made (the most famous by Jung), some of which appeared to vindicate astrological claims, at least to astrological devotees. Then, in 1950, a young Sorbonne graduate in statistics, Michel Gauquelin, set out to disprove these claims, with unexpected results.

Illustration by Tuyệt Duyệt

Birthdates and Professions

With his modern methods, Gauquelin was soon able to pick holes in the astrologer's statistics. One by one he discredited the claims, until only one remained. This exception, put forward by a French astrologer named Léon Lasson, maintained that a correlation existed between the position of the planets at birth and the profession a man was later to follow. The test groups employed by Lasson were numerically too small to satisfy statistical standards, but Gauquelin set out to prove them a fluke anyway.

He compiled a statistically acceptable group of 576 eminent professors of medicine and examined their horoscopes. To his surprise, he found that both Mars and Saturn "aspected" certain crucial points of the charts of these professors with a frequency far exceeding chance. In fact, the odds against Gauquelin's data being chance were so many thousands to one that he could not allow the matter to rest. Over the next five years, he collected the horoscopes of large test groups of eminent men in nine distinct professions, including military men, politicians, artists, musicians, journalists, scientists, writers, athletes, and clerics. In each case, with no exceptions, he found Lasson's premise borne out. Despite varying degrees of statistical significance, correlations existed between the positions of the planets at the moment of birth and the profession later pursued.

What is more, Gauquelin's data showed that the individual professions were linked with specific planets, and these correlations—allowing for several striking discrepancies—supported time honored astrological beliefs. Mars and Saturn were found to be prominent in the charts of scientists and academicians, as any astrologer would have predicted, while Jupiter and Mars recurred in the horoscopes of athletes and soldiers.

Expanding Studies

Not that Gauquelin was converted to astrology by this evidence. In heated terms he declared that he had discovered brand new planetary influences having nothing to do with that discredited old fraud, astrology. Nor did his data stir interest among his professional colleagues. For the most part, the relevant experts refused even to examine his work. Finally, M. Jean Porte, administrator of the French National Institute of Statistics, was prevailed on to comment.

Porte attacked the work on a number of statistical details, but his overriding objection was that Gauquelin had confined his inquiry to France. According to Porte, all he had done was to turn up a national fluke. Gauquelin obligingly devoted the next five years to a repeat of his original experiment, using data from four other European countries, and his original premise was duly confirmed—though turning up fluctuations that could perhaps be regarded as national. For example, while Mars was important in the horoscopes of Italian soldiers, it scarcely figured in the horoscopes of German soldiers—which might seem odd, for who, according to stereotype, is more martial than the Germans? But an astrologer studying these results could contend that precisely because Germans are military enough to begin with they do not need a strong Mars to make soldiers out of them, while the volatile but less violent Italians require an overdose.

By now, Gauquelin's test group had swollen to a massive 25,000, and the odds against his results being chance stood at many millions to one. Supporting arguments had been developed along the way. For example, the horoscopes of control groups selected at random from the population irrespective of profession invariably showed the planets distributed at the chance level. M. Porte was now forced to admit that there could no longer be any doubt about it: The position of the planets at birth had a definite "influence" on the profession a man was to follow. That influence on nine distinct professions could now be accepted as proved.

Illustration by Tuyệt Duyệt

Planets and Heredity

Subsequent research by Gauquelin has yielded further incontestable evidence of the influence of the planets, most strikingly in heredity. Planetary patterns in the horoscopes of parents show up again in the horoscopes of their children, corroborating another ancient astrological belief.

Nevertheless, Gauquelin’s work continues to be ignored by science in general, and on the rare occasions it wins a mention in the popular press it is usually distorted. Perhaps the final indignity was administered by Time magazine in an article on astrology, in which passing reference was made to "Science writer, Michel Gauquelin (sic)' who "foresees a new science of astro-biology."

Structured Astrological Studies

One important by-product of Gauquelin's work has been to make astrologers recognize the necessity of employing rigorous statistical techniques. Also, a number of qualified statisticians have become interested in astrology. There are now statistical studies that show planetary influences at work in various fields. Donald Bradley, an American astrologer and statistician, showed an impressive correlation between rainfall and phases of the moon (bearing out the lore of generations of superstitious gardeners). Bradley also showed non-random factors at work in the birth dates of several thousand clergymen taken from Who's Who in America. John Addey, president of the British Astrological Association, repeated the experiment with the dates of British clergymen from the British Who's Who and found the same non-random factors at work. Addey has also shown astrological factors operating in 1,000 cases of longevity, and in the susceptibility to polio of 3,000 victims of this disease.

Addey subjected his data to a method called harmonic analysis, in which all non-random factors would reveal themselves in rhythmic series of peaks and troughs. These peaks and troughs may occur regularly every 30 degrees, every 60 degrees, every 10 degrees, or every two degrees, and it is here that Addey's reasoning bears promise. Previously, researchers had been looking only for specific correlations: for example, trying to see if more clergymen had been born under one sign than under another, meaning they were paying attention only to peaks and troughs every 30 degrees, ignoring, or obliterating, all other rhythmic data. But it seems that the so-called sun signs are irrelevant to whatever it is that makes a man a clergyman. Other astrological factors seem to be involved. Addey's method, which applies modern statistical techniques to astrological concepts without distorting either, reveals these factors. If Addey's lead is followed, statistical research into astrology may produce significant surprises.

Illustration by Tuyệt Duyệt

Astrology and Biological Clocks

Every organism lives according to a complex system of predetermined rhythms, and for years scientists have argued over the nature of this so-called "biological clock." No clock-like mechanism, however, has ever been discovered that could regulate these complicated internal schedules. A professor of biology at Northwestern University in Illinois, Frank Brown, concluded that the answer had to lie elsewhere, and after ten years of research he and a team of workers produced evidence for a theory that organisms respond to rhythms beyond the surface of the earth. Experimenting in controlled laboratory conditions, Brown proved that these rhythms are independent of local temperature, humidity, and so on.

For example, while astrologers have always maintained that the full moon affects the insane, and makes animals restive and active, critics have insisted that the phenomenon was simply the result of moonlight itself. But Professor Brown showed that a rat in a darkened cage was twice as active when the invisible moon was above the horizon as when it was beneath it—proving the astrologers to have been correct.

Perhaps the most impressive of Brown's experiments was with oysters. Oysters open and close their shells in time with the rhythm of the tides, which has always been assumed to be the cause of their behavior. Brown, however, took oysters from the Atlantic and transported them to Evanston, Illinois, where he placed them in darkened containers. Within a fortnight, the oysters were opening and closing their shells to what would have been the tidal rhythm of Evanston, if there had been any tides there. This proved once and for all that it was the moon that was responsible.

The experiment led to a massive study of living organisms. It was found that all those tested were sensitive to rhythms whose origin could only be the sun and moon (Brown does not seem to have looked for phenomena related to planetary rhythms). Given such results, the next question follows inevitably. If organisms as dissimilar as the fiddler crab and the potato respond to the same celestial rhythms, how about man?

The Human Biological Clock

There are a number of experiments to show that man does respond. Dr. Leonard J. Ravitz of Duke University measured the electrical potential emitted by the human body. Working with both normal and disturbed subjects, he found that the potential changed according to the phases of the moon. Moreover, he found that the changes were more violent among the more disturbed subjects—neatly substantiating the old astrological belief in at least one respect. Dr Edson Andrews, a Florida physician, scoffed when his nurse reported that patients were hemorrhaging more severely at certain times than at others. But a rough check seemed to bear out the notion, and a careful check over thousands of cases, first by Andrews and then by another physician, established the matter beyond doubt. Hemorrhaging of patients was definitely relatable to the phases of the moon.

If the invisible moon above the horizon excites a rat, what effect does it have on a child born or conceived at that time? If all living organisms respond to solar and lunar rhythms, should not these rhythms impose themselves in some definite fashion on sperm and ovum? In at least one case where such questions have been asked, the results are intriguing.

Dr. Eugen Jonas, a Czech psychiatrist, and director of the psychiatric department of the State Clinic, Nagysurana, noticed that many female patients manifested cycles of unusual vitality and sexuality independent of the menstrual cycles. He began to look for an explanation. He also became interested in deformed, defective, and underdeveloped children with whom his clinic often had to deal. These interests led him down a trail of research, and ultimately to the long-derided astrologically oriented biology of ancient Egypt, India, and Greece. Noticing that at least some of the ancient notions were beginning to be substantiated by science, Jonas was led to experiments from which he draws the following remarkable conclusions: 

  1. The ability of a mature woman to conceive tends to occur under exactly the phase of the moon (Sun-Moon relationship) that prevailed when she was born. 
  2. The sex of a child depends on whether, at the time of conception, the moon is in a positive or negative field of the ecliptic (sign of the Zodiac). 
  3. The viability of the embryo is greatly influenced by the positions of the celestial bodies at the time of conception. 

Jonas has written that at first he found his own conclusions too fantastic to believe, but thousands of observations confirmed their veracity. His research has, he claims, enabled him to predict the sex of future offspring with up to 90 percent accuracy; He can predict for otherwise barren women days on which they can conceive, and he can, on the basis of birth data, predict days likely to produce deformed or defective children.

It is hardly surprising that these claims should be met with incredulity in Orthodox quarters (even astrologers find them hard to believe) but a number of independent orthodox scientists in Europe have tested them and pronounced them accurate.

Illustration by Tuyệt Duyệt

Astrology and the Inorganic World

Evidence for celestial influence does not stop at the biological level, but extends down to the most elemental levels of the inorganic world as well. John H. Nelson, an electrical engineer, was hired by Radio Corporation of America to look into the possibility of a connection between fluctuations in radio disturbance and celestial phenomena. Checking records back to 1932, Nelson found that most magnetic storms (which cause radio disturbance) occurred when two or more planets were lined up in specific angular positions relative to the sun. Further, he found that the atmosphere was particularly disturbance-free when two or more planets were lined up a different but equally specific angles.

From an astrological point of view, Nelson's discoveries were particularly significant: Not only did he prove the existence of planetary influence in this sphere, but he provided evidence for the validity of the theory of "aspects." From time immemorial, astrologers have contended not only that planets had specific characters and meanings (proved by Gauquelin) but that specific angular relationships of the planets to each other were meaningful, and that different angles had different qualities. Traditionally, the conjunction is neutral, depending on other factors, the 90° and 180° angles are "disharmonious" and the 60° and 120° angles are "harmonious." This belief found corroboration in Nelson's data: Magnetic storms were at their worst when planets formed 90° and 180° angles from the sun, while disturbance-free periods occurred when planets were at the astrologically "harmonious" angles of 60° and 120°.

Are our heads, which are far more delicate receivers than a radio set, subjected to the same magnetic battering? What effect does it have on them? And how about children born or conceived in such conditions? Are they not affected as well?

The first of these questions has been partially if inadvertently answered, it seems. Magnetic storms within the atmosphere of the earth appear to be related to solar flares and sunspots—gigantic magnetic storms and eruptions on the surface of the Sun—and these have been shown definitely to affect human life. A Russian Scientist, Dr A. K. Podshibyakin, found that road accidents increased as much as fourfold the day after a solar flare. Independent studies done in several European cities have come up with similar figures for suicides and other forms of violence. Since Nelson has connected magnetic storms with the aspects of the planets, the next step would seem to be research into the qualitative differences between the aspects of the various planets. A study of all children born in conditions of intense solar flare or magnetic storm (that is, when the planets were lined up at traditionally "disharmonious" angles) might show if they were more prone to violence than other children. But so far, no one appears to have attempted such studies, and astrologers themselves lack the time, and finance, the backing, and the access to the required records and test groups to perform them adequately.

Meanwhile, Nelson's discovery of extraterrestrial influence in inorganic realms has been amplified and buttressed. Giorgio Piccardi, professor of chemistry at the University of Florence, has investigated anomalies in basic chemical reactions. For example, it has long been known that simple colloids and precipitates do not always react in the same way. Precipitates that will form when mixed in given proportions on one day will sometimes not form at all on another day, though the proportions remain constant. Colloids can be even more whimsical. Until Piccardi studied these phenomena, they were either ignored or attributed to flaws in setting up the experiments. But after thousands of experiments—one series done over a seven-year period with a worldwide team of helpers as part of International Geophysical Year, 1957—Piccardi proved that these anomalies were due to extra-terrestrial influences. The reaction times and manner in which certain chemicals behaved could be plotted on a curve and shown to be periodic in nature. Most interesting, perhaps, was that in order to account for the rhythms exhibited by his data, Piccardi had to call in not only the planets but the entire galaxy.

Cycles Research

Another field showing extraterrestrial influence is called cycles research, a large-scale development of what began as an investigation of the effects of sunspots. It has been known for several centuries that the intensity of sunspots follows an ebb-and-flow rhythm with a peak every 11.1 years, and it was Herschel, the discoverer of Uranus, who first discovered that the price of wheat seemed inexplicably to rise and fall with the sunspot cycles. Throughout the 19th century, intermittent efforts were made to isolate cycles, particularly business cycles, and to make practical economic use of them. But when systematic research into cycles was begun in the 1920s, principally by Professor Ellsworth Huntington at Harvard, cycles began to show themselves everywhere, not only in economic realms. Some scientists then set out to prove the cycles imaginary or due to ordinary, mundane causes, but within a short time, all had to admit defeat. Cycles were realities, and they were connected in some way to the sunspot cycle.

The price of pig iron follows a cycle, as do salmon catches in Canada. Lynx and lemming populations are cyclical, the number of marriages in St. Louis is cyclical, and the incidence of certain diseases is cyclical. For years cycles researchers, organized into The Foundation for the Study of Cycles, and affiliated with the University of Pittsburgh, were understandably chary of mentioning astrology, or even of speculating too openly on the causes of the cycles. But all along it has been impossible to avoid the notion that the planets with their varying orbital speeds forming their complex recurrent conjunctions and aspects must in some way be implicated. In the September 1968 issue of Cycles, bulletin of the Foundation, Edward R. Dewey, president of the Foundation, published a paper called "A Key to Sunspot-Planetary Relationships." His report at last established the connection. Virtually everything on earth is cyclical in its nature or behavior, and cycles can now be shown to be linked to solar events which in turn coincide with planetary aspects and conjunctions. This is astrology (at any rate, one form of astrology) in everything but name.

With the notable exception of sun signs (the "I'm-a-Gemini-are-you-a-Taurus?" of cocktail conversations) sufficient direct or circumstantial evidence now exists to support the theoretical validity of most of the principal aspects of astrology. There is proof that the positions of the planets at birth do have a bearing on man's later character, and that events in the heavens demonstrably and undeniably affect life on earth. But is practical astrology such as it is today good enough to stand up to scientific testing?

Illustration by Tuyệt Duyệt

Meeting Scientific Requirements

Actually, it is exceedingly difficult to devise a test that satisfies scientific requirements without forcing astrologers to distort their methods just to comply with it. But at least one large scale attempt has been made. The late Vernon Clark, an American psychologist, became interested in astrology in the 1950s, and secured the cooperation of several of the most highly regarded astrologers. He selected 10 people on the basis of participation in well defined professions, including a musician, bookkeeper, veterinarian, herpetologist, art teacher, puppeteer, librarian, pediatrician, art critic, and prostitute, and their horoscopes were drawn up. No attempt was made to select "casebook" horoscopes (those which obey all the rules), or to select "problem" horoscopes (those which obey none of the rules), nor was there any attempt to make life easier for the astrologers by ruling out overlapping functions. The astrologers were sent the birth data only and their job was to match the 10 charts to the list of 10 professions.

When the results were tallied, 16 out of the 20 astrologers participating scored above the chance level. When the astrologer's overall score was calculated, it was found that they had scored above the .01 level of significance; that is, the odds against their answers being attributable to chance were more than 100 to 1.

Nevertheless, 100–1 shots do come in, and Clark's method was vulnerable on several counts, principally that it was impossible to know whether the astrologers were actually practicing astrology or some form of clairvoyance (in which case, the results would have been equally paranormal, but the object was to test for astrology, not ESP). So, in another test, the astrologers were furnished with 10 pairs of horoscopes. Each pair had two histories attached of important events, long journeys, deaths in the family, awards, and so on. One history was authenticated and belonged to one of the pair of horoscopes, while the other was "cooked" at random for a time and place near to the actual horoscope. Since Clark could have no knowledge of who it might be that belonged to the cooked chart, this minimized the chances of using ESP, though not eliminating it altogether.

Twenty-three astrologers participated in this test. Three matched all 10 charts up perfectly, 18 scored significantly above chance, two scored chance. Again, when the totals were calculated, the odds were better than 100–1 against the astrologer's results being chance. For good measure, a third and still more difficult test was devised, in which the subjects whose horoscopes were to be used were chosen by outsiders with no knowledge of what the data was to be used for. The charts were also drawn up by outside astrologers equally ignorant of the experiment. This virtually eliminated the possibility of ESP.

In this test, 10 pairs of horoscopes were again furnished to the astrologers. One chart of each pair belonged to a victim of incurable cerebral palsy, and the other belonged to someone of superior intelligence and normal health born at a time and place near the palsy victim. The astrologers were to distinguish which was which. Again, the astrologers answered above the .01 level of significance, and everyone knows that three 100-1 shots in a row make a good day's horse-racing.

Until or unless someone can show that Clark's test was a fluke, or inadequately proctored and organized, or rigged, the conclusion to be drawn is inescapable: Whatever astrology may appear to be in the newspaper columns, serious astrologers can back up their contentions in striking statistical fashion. On the basis of birth data alone, they can distinguish, they can categorize and they can predict. So astrology, though so much more remains to be discovered about it, can already be said to be neither a fraud nor an illusion.

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