Main website

GWT Forum

Green World Trust
CSICOP
Contact ClimateGate Skeptical Climate Science Primer In a Nutshell Index to Topics
Links Stickers Videos
Has astrology been scientifically disproved?
No, the opposite happened, and here is the story

CSICOP (Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal) tried to debunk astrology scientifically. But the results of their work actually corroborated the very work they were trying to disprove. They then tried to cover up the results, using personal attacks and similar tactics. Since then, they have never even tried to use open scientific means in their work. It is the story of Climate Science all over again

Context: from "Explaining the Unexplained", chapter 11 -

from Prof. HJ Eysenck and C Sargent:

We consider that the experiments and facts summarized in this book constitute a strong claim for genuine anomalies in the realm of human ability. Human beings… do seem to influence distant events and objects through acts of will alone.

Nonetheless, many scientists find it hard to accept the methods and findings of parapsychology. They

  • ignore the evidence available,
  • make superficial comments about it,
  • claim that it is all due to mass fraud
  • or erroneous experimental methods,
  • or simply assert that the effects are impossible
  • and cannot occur.

There are at least two reasons for this.

One is historical. Parapsychology still carries with it memories of mediums, dubious materializations of ectoplasm, and assorted kinds of charlatanry.Scientists are wary of subject matter so controversial. However, this is not a rational basis for dismissing parapsychology as a science.A dubious past hardly disqualifies a science! After all, chemistry had its origins in alchemy and astronomy in astrology — Kepler, among many other early eminent astronomers, dabbled in and was highly sympathetic to astrology.

The other reason is of more general importance. Science often handles true innovation very badly. One has only to consider the mixture of fury, rage, and vituperative criticism ladled out to the pioneers of vaccination, the theory of continental drift, hypnotic anesthesia, and many other genuine advances in knowledge to realize this. At heart, science is all too often a deeply conservative process. The suggestion that scientists are simply being very cautious, wisely reluctant to accept new evidence prematurely, fails to explain the irrational emotion displayed by many scientists when faced with evidence of genuine anomalies.

If this description seems dubiously isolated, consider for a moment why that might seem so. Think of the many instances that could exist, unknown, if the story is true (it has all the appearances of truth and verifiability, and it conforms with Occam's Razor). Think how hard it might be to get word out. Think how rare it is to find someone intelligent, interested, skilled, qualified, and objective enough to record this in scientific detail. Think how people might need to rely on this one instance where the evidence has gone public. Go and check it. Go and read The Field by Lynne McTaggart, to see exactly the same story, magnified and repeated many times over, a generation later. Discover the subsequent work of Prof Benveniste who is mentioned in the CSICOP story below. I've emboldened passages that illuminate the parallel with Climate Science.

CSICOP's single attempt at scientific investigation: their experiment to debunk astrology, the experiment's revealing of evidence that clearly supports some kind of validity for astrology, and the abominations CSICOP used to hide their failure to debunk astrology

from "Explaining the Unexplained", Eysenck & Sargent, ch 11, continuing...

There exists in the United States an organization calling itself the Committee for Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal, or CSICOP for short. While the Executive Council of CSICOP has, in fact, few scientists, it has assiduously courted distinguished scientists as members, giving itself the appearance of a scientific organization, an appearance which it exploits to the full when its members go 'ghostbusting'. Interestingly, CSICOP as an organization does not undertake any research of its own. The reason for this is simple: it once did, and the results of that research merit a special place in the history of science.

Between 1976 and 1980 a group of CSICOP's senior Council members investigated the findings of the French researchers Michel and Francoise Gauquelin. The Gauquelins' data, collected over decades, show that certain special groups (distinguished scientists, artists, sports champions, etc.) tend to be born with certain planets in certain positions (sectors) of the sky. Eysenck… made a special study of this remarkable work and can testify to the excellence of its method. The CSICOP group investigated one particular finding, the 'Mars effect' for sports champions.

One member of the CSICOP group, the statistician Marvin Zelen, did not accept the Gauquelins' claims about the frequencies of planets in different sectors of the heavens… so he proposed a 'challenge' to the Gauquelins. The 'Zelen test' involved comparing a small group of 'Mars effect' champions with a very large 'control' group of non-champions, born in the same locations and at similar seasons. Next, Zelen (with CSICOP Chairman Paul Kurtz and astronomer George Abell) collected a new sample of data for sports champions to test the claimed Mars effect.

The results of the 'Zelen test' were absolutely clear-cut. The Gauquelins' statistics were correct. Their sports champions showed the Mars effect and the 16,000+ control sample did not — they showed exactly the theoretical frequencies for the placement of Mars which the Gauquelins had claimed. The Gauquelins were wholly vindicated by this finding.

After that things got muddier and more confused. KZA (Kurtz, Zelen, and Abell) started finding all kinds of reasons why the results of the Zelen test didn't please them. They began to chop up the data for sports champions in ways which were not part of any pre-agreed statistical analysis, dropping female champions on the bizarre grounds that 'women have not had the same opportunities men have had to pursue sports', dividing up the Gauquelins' sample of champions in post hoc ways in an attempt to discredit their Mars effect, collecting their own sample of champions without an agreed written protocol for doing so and erroneously claiming it disproved the effect, and so on.

Many of the issues surrounding KZA's research are technical, and it would be too time-consuming to go through them all here. The reader who wants to know how CSICOP operates must check the reports cited in the Bibliography. To prove our point about CSICOP we will quote the reactions of skeptics among CSICOP's own membership.

The first to break ranks was Dennis Rawlins, a CSICOP ex-Fellow, who remains highly skeptical about the Mars effect but who nevertheless felt that the KZA research was being conducted along illegitimate lines. Very simple errors were being made, despite Rawlins' best efforts to point them out. His attempts to circulate his comments on the problems of the research were systematically suppressed by CSICOP, which refused to allow him to speak at meetings and denied him access to their own journal while continuing to publish misleading accounts of the research findings and conclusions. Although Rawlins repeatedly warned KZA about the errors in their research, he was ignored — and then suppressed. Finally he was dropped from the list of CSICOP's Fellows. The cover-up had begun.

When other CSICOP members began to hear of Rawlins' treatment, some of them (to their credit) started making enquiries about his criticisms. When they did so, they found themselves barred from publishing what they had learned in CSICOP publications (which continued to carry misleading accounts of the research). One of those so excluded was Richard Kammann, a professor of psychology who has co-written very critical papers of his own on the subject of parapsychology.

Kammann's final account of the treatment he received from KZA and the CSICOP organization is staggering. If the reader is motivated to read only one of the many books and papers in our Bibliography, read Kammann's.

Kammann researched the entire affair from start to finish. His conclusion was that KZA had 'persisted in offering to the public a set of demonstrably false statistical arguments against the Mars effect in spite of four years of continuous and steadily mounting criticism of their illogic.... The striking feature of all these fallacies was not just their unmooring from the anchors of logic but their unsinkability in four years of competent statistical bombardment by Michel Gauquelin, Elizabeth Scott, Dennis Rawlins and Ray Hyman.' Scott, a statistician, and Hyman, a psychologist, were both involved with CSICOP at the time. 'Like the other Fellows of CSICOP,' Kammann continues, 'I couldn't accept that Dennis Rawlins was the single honest and correct person on a nine-man Council consisting of men of such stature and reputation as Martin Gardner, Professor Ray Hyman, the Amazing Randi and Kendrick Frazier. After seven months of research, I have come to the opposite conclusion. CSICOP has no defense of the trio's Mars fiasco and has progressively trapped itself, degree by irreversible degree, into an anti-Rawlins propaganda campaign, into suppression of his evidence, and into stonewalling against other critics.'

Kammann also lists the ways in which he, like Rawlins and anyone else who criticized CSICOP from within, was subjected to ridicule, suppression of criticism, denial of access to publications, and prolonged stonewalling. His article is as damning an indictment of CSICOP as one can possibly imagine, because his skepticism and integrity were not in question and he was, at the time, a CSICOP member. Another CSICOP member, the Dutch journalist Piet Hein Hoebens, has said that he regards Kammann's account of the KZA affair as 'an eminently fair, highly readable and — given the circumstances — remarkably restrained statement from a distinguished skeptic who has gone to almost incredible lengths in his attempts to help CSICOP free itself from its Martian predicament.'

But not even KZA could go on stonewalling forever. After publication of a long summary review by the wholly independent British scholar Patrick Curry, and seven years after the Zelen test had first been proposed, The Skeptical Enquirer (CSICOP's house magazine) finally published a 'Reappraisal'. In this, KZA admit their post hoc dabbling with the champions sample from the Gauquelins was wrong and that they should have agreed a protocol for their own research with the Gauquelins (to determine what predictions the Gauquelins would have made for the data). But it was a grudging and mean-spirited retraction, with no apologies to Rawlins (whose name was deleted from the list of those who were 'involved in [our] experiments'), no apologies to the Gauquelins for the baseless insinuations made about the trustworthiness of their data, and no recognition of most of the criticism from CSICOP's own ranks.

The reason we have detailed this shameful affair at some length is that CSICOP — despite having abandoned research of its own, possibly mindful of Curry's judgement that the KZA debacle 'must call into question any further CSICOP involvement in research on the Mars effect, and possibly other "paranormal" areas' — has continued to flourish as an organization and uses its influence to attack any area of science which it dislikes, and to harass and suppress researchers in controversial areas of science. A recent [1992], infamous, example of this was the Amazing Randi's extraordinary behavior in the laboratory of French researcher Prof. Jacques Benveniste. Benveniste published biochemical findings which appeared to support homeopathic medical theories in the highly prestigious Les Comptes Rendus de I'Academie des Sciences, the journal of the French Academy of Sciences. An investigating team was despatched by the journal Nature to investigate these highly controversial findings, and Randi was one of the investigators. Benveniste's laboratory literally became a circus while Randi was there. Rather than bore the reader with the details, we will simply note that this time even The Skeptical Enquirer published articles questioning the validity of the investigation, accusing it of 'careless criticisms', 'squander(ing) credibility', and 'preconceived bias'. Randi, during a public lecture on the affair, 'mimicked the Gallic mannerisms of Benveniste and made highly derogatory comments about "French science". Many in the audience were offended.'

Quite simply, CSICOP is not a scientific organization. The preponderance of conjurers and media people in its higher echelons show it to be a propaganda movement, dedicated to 'ghostbusting' and to extirpating 'irrational' beliefs. Unfortunately, due to its expertise in media manipulation and the sympathetic attitude of many academics who vaguely feel that 'ghostbusting' is a good idea although they remain blissfully ignorant of the facts, CSICOP members have had a baneful effect on parapsychology and retarded its development…

I have other stories concerning the fraudulent claims of former CSICOP member James Randi. He seems to have made a career out of fraudulent attempts to debunk people, not bad people doing fraudulent work, but good people doing good, precious, unique work. I believe he was obliged to step down from CSICOP when something of this became apparent. I dislike this man! And there is another whose unfortunately fraudulent debunking also needs revealing some time, though on other grounds he is, probably quite justly, well-regarded. His name is Carl Sagan - the matter concerns The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark. The story needs to come to light because it is an important milestone in Science's journey into the irrational - the irrational debunking of good evidence concerning matters that merely SEEM irrational!

How can we summarize the lessons in this remarkably clear parallel to today's corruption in Climate Science, masterminded by the IPCC, Al Gore, the heads of the scientific establishments and publications, and activist brownshirts?

  • CSICOP claims to be "the" scientific authority
  • but it is a propaganda movement
  • run by the media and by tricksters
  • dedicated to "extirpating irrational beliefs" -
  • while itself abandoning scientific method
  • in its attempt to discredit true practice of science.
  • Challengers are denied a voice to speak up
  • and denied access to information
  • while misleading accounts are published
  • and challengers are ridiculed.
  • More inquirers cannot believe this is happening
  • but eventually find out the truth.
  • CSICOP is eventually forced to own up
  • but it signally fails to apologize;
  • moreover it continues to function,
  • still claiming to be scientific
  • and its expertise in media manipulation
  • still fools many academics and others
  • and it continues to have a baneful effect.

There is another lesson regarding the investigation of solar cycles - Landscheidt et al. From the above story, we see that there is good scientific evidence of the validity of planetary influence at some level (statistically significant results) that is clearly related to, if not exactly identical with, the views of traditional astrology. Astrology has NOT been debunked, least of all has it been debunked by CSICOP or any other scientific investigative body. Moreover CSICOP never again (at the date of publication of Explaining the Unexplained) conducted its own research after its own failed attempt to discredit astrology.

So anyone claiming that "Science has debunked Astrology" should be referred to this piece of evidence. The same usurping has happened here, as has happened in Climate Science: the "official" organizations claiming purity of Science for themselves, while energetically vilifying the truly scientific work.

Prof. Benveniste reached the top in his line of research. An experiment that did things it "couldn't have done" prompted Benveniste to investigate. A colleague familiar with homeopathy noted the apparent similarity of the behaviour of some of his "pure water" to the behaviour claimed by homeopathic practitioners but generally dismissed by mainstream Science. Subsequent investigation showed the principle of homeopathic dilution unmistakeably at work. After a token acceptance for publication by the prestigious science journal Nature, they set to work to discredit him, bringing in the unscrupulous professional debunker James Randi, and Benveniste was cast out of his profession. But, interestingly, Benveniste continued his research, under severely straitened conditions, but producing more and more interesting results - read about his subsequent research in The Field by Lynne McTaggart.

Updated 1st January 2009

 

go to top