The attempt to recast astrology as a science is a relatively recent development – less than 100 years old – which runs counter to our 4,000-year old history. Here are two ways in which astrology fails when it comes to available scientific methods of validation.
In the 1950s, when Michel Gauquelin, John Addey and a tiny handful of others were beginning their research, there were virtually no studies available that had put astrology to a scientific test. Today there are at least 100 studies published in psychological journals and 400 in astrological journals, “equivalent to about 200 man-years of scientific research” (Smit, Rudolf, Grand Summary of Entire Web Site, Astrology and Science, 4 November 2009). Some of these studies were conducted by scientists; some by astrologers; some were obviously biased; some were not.
In nearly every single case, astrology has failed the test to which it was put. According to a summary by Wikipedia, these studies “have repeatedly failed to demonstrate statistically significant relationships between astrological predictions and operationally-defined outcomes. Effect size tests of astrology-based hypotheses conclude that the mean accuracy of astrological predictions is no greater than what is expected by chance” (Astrology: Research, Wikipedia, 4 November 2009). Anyone who objectively reviews the research to date will see that this is true.
The one piece of scientific evidence that has stood the statistical test against an unrelenting half-century onslaught of criticism is the controversial Mars effect, documented extensively by Michel Gauquelin in 1955. This is a mighty wobbly statistical peg on which to hang our scientific hat. In the end, most researchers reviewing the available scientific studies as a whole form pretty much the same conclusion as Michel Gauquelin himself, who said,
Gauquelin drew this conclusion in 1979, after analyzing the horoscopes of 16,000 famous people. If the preeminent scientific researcher among us has dismissed astrology on scientific grounds, after conducting extensive scientific research, then how can we continue to pretend that science will ultimately validate astrology?
Despite the brisk reality check of research to date, and the conclusions of serious researchers such as Gauquelin, there are those among us who still insist that with better, more sophisticated or more lenient or less biased research models, we can still prove the validity of astrology scientifically. I, for one, do not believe this is ever going to happen.
The Limitations of Qualitative Research as a Pathway to Validation of Astrology
In particular, there has been recent enthusiasm about the idea that we can effectively approach a scientific validation of astrology through qualitative research, increasingly adopted by soft sciences as a more appropriate research methodology (Perry, Glenn. Causality, General Laws and Astrological Research in International Astrologer, Summer, 2005, Vol XXXIII, Number 3, p. 42).
While it is likely that this approach is more amenable to a scientific study of astrology than the statistical model that has historically been applied, its usefulness as a pathway to validation of astrology is not quite as promising as its proponents seem to imply. This is so for two reasons.
First, though qualitative research has gained increasing begrudging respect in the last 20-30 years, it is still an evolving methodology struggling with its own credibility issues. As one qualitative researcher states the problem (Labuschagne, Adri. Qualitative Research – Airy Fairy or Fundamental. The Qualitative Report, March 2003, Volume 8, Number 1):
Secondly, unlike other soft sciences for which qualitative research methods are more useful and appropriate, astrology faces a philosophical hurdle on the road to validation that these other disciplines do not. Astrology is currently attempting to dig itself out from under the deficit label “pseudoscience,” in part because it is considered by scientists to be bastardized form of astronomy.
If you look at the history of astrology, this is not that far from the truth, since at one time (say prior to the 7th century CE), astrology and astronomy were inseparable – both encompassed under the study of astrologia. Since then, astronomy has continued along strictly scientific lines, while astrology has gone a different route.
Because of this heritage, the bar is a bit higher for astrology than it is for psychology, let’s say, which emerged from its inception in the laboratories of William Wundt and other behaviorists as a hard science, backed by research, to gradually occupy the broader and softer umbrella it encompasses today. Western astrology, by contrast, arose as a divinatory art in Babylonia.
Later during the Hellenistic period, it was modified by the Greeks as a logical system, thoroughly intertwined with the mythopoetic worldview against which the emerging protoscience of the era arose in contrast and rebellion (Landwehr, Joe. The Seven Gates of Soul: Reclaiming the Poetry of Everyday Life. Abilene, TX; Ancient Tower Press, 2004. pp. 104-107).
The attempt to recast astrology as a science is a relatively recent development – less than 100 years old – which runs counter to our 4,000-year old history. To simply call ourselves a Johnny-come-lately soft science, and take shelter in qualitative research – even if we could prove our validity by non-statistical methods – will do nothing to keep our detractors at bay, since it is obvious to them, if not to us, that we are merely attempting to graft science onto a poorly suited root stock.
This series of posts has been adapted from a lecture given at the ISAR Conference (Chicago, August 22, 2009) and later published in the ISAR's International Astrologer Aries issue (Vol. 38, No.3, 2010).
List of posts in this series:
Why Astrology is Not a Science
Two Problems with the Scientific Validation of Astrology
Science Demands Objective Truth - Astrology Yields Subjective Truth
Astrological Symbols Vary (Unscientifically) with Context and Consciousness
The Participatory Experience of Astrology is not Predictable by Science
Astrology Facilitates a Quest for Meaning that Science can't Recognize
Qualitative Time and Non-causal Phenomena in Astrology Have no Place in Science
Astrology: If Not Science, Then What?