Refuting comments relating to Ken McRitchie from Understanding Astrology by Geoffrey Dean, Arthur Mather, David Nias, and Rudolf Smit (2022)
by Ken McRitchie
Section 3.2 – Discovery of astrology according to astrologers
The authors suggest that at some point in history, astrology was discovered—by the Greeks—and that it is based on omens, magic, and irrational practices. By contrast, the astrologers cited in the examples given describe astrology as arising from observations and practice that continue to be improved and passed down over the centuries. Regarding the authors’ claim, it must be understood that chemistry, medicine, and other disciplines also have their origins in superstition and magic, and they were no more “discovered” than astrology. It is irrelevant, by genetic fallacy, to judge one’s conclusions on something or someone’s origins rather than its current meaning or context.
Section 4.8 – Disagreement on overcoming disagreement
The authors list a litany of various ways in which they say astrologers ignore problems and explain them away. But the views of the astrologers they cite seem to contradict this as they merely state what is important and what needs to be improved. All disciplines come with problems and one can always find disagreement; but then one can also find agreement. To dismiss astrology because of its disagreements while seeming to imply that other disciplines have none is less a critical argument than an appeal to spite.
Section 7.4.1986.5 – Planetary links with earthquake groups
The authors dig into a peer-reviewed research study claimed to be exemplary for its concept, its categories of data, its design, and its method, which were state-of-the-art for astrology research at the time it was published in 1986. Taken in its proper context, the study can still provide useful insights for continuing research today. New research into astrology and earthquakes should consider this original study as well as similar studies and more modern methods. Before any readers jump to conclusions, the authors’ reanalysis, which has not been peer-reviewed, needs to be scientifically vetted for its own problems and potential usefulness to taken seriously.
Section 7.7.2004.1 – How not to convince academics about astrology.
The authors review my book Environmental Cosmology: Principles and Theory of Natal Astrology. The title of the book could hardly be more explicit, that this is a book on principles of astrological cosmology. Cosmology is a branch of philosophy and yet the authors criticize the book as if for a different context, for a different audience, and that it should be only about evidence-based testing. The few experiments mentioned in the book serve only as a starting point for the underlying issues of what makes astrology a different worldview.
As one would expect from this misunderstanding, the authors find shortcomings as to what they would rather read about. They create an imaginary straw man adversary of things neither claimed nor presumed that they can easily confute. Thus, any philosophical speculations on basic principles and explorations of the astrological experience are dismissed because they are, well, speculative. To their disappointment, the authors find that the discourse does not “justify the claims of astrology.”
By missing the intention of the book, the authors ignore the main problems the book addresses. Astrology needs to have a clear understanding of its own concepts, definitions, and models, as discussed. It needs to update its language and ideas in the context of modern thought. Astrology needs to do this to explain its nature, to lay a groundwork for empirical research, and no less importantly, to build bridges that connect it to the philosophies of other disciplines. Although the authors are present in the room, they are unwilling interlocutors.
Section 7.7.2016.1 – No reliable evidence against astrological theory?
The authors criticize my 2016 article “Clearing the logjam in astrological research,” published in the Journal of Consciousness Studies, which is a criticism of an original article on astrology and extrasensory perception (ESP or psi) written in 2003 by Geoffrey Dean and Ivan Kelly in the same journal. The first part of Dean and Kelly’s article
, is a lengthy attempt to merge astrology with ESP as one in the same thing. It is quite plain that their argument ignores the critical difference that astrology is inferred from data whereas ESP is not the result of any means we know. Thus, they press into service a fallacy of conflation. In the authors’ aberrant reasoning all claims made against ESP (for example, that it is explained by “hidden persuaders:” cold reading, Barnum effect, etc.), apply equally to astrology.
Although Dean and Kelly interviewed more than one astrologer who claimed to use ESP, it is safe to say that most astrologers, certainly those who are certified and most qualified to say so, do not claim any ESP abilities. Dean and Kelly’s conflation arguments are replete with fallacies and misinformation in every claim, which I have already refuted in painful detail mostly by referring to the very same sources they cite. Dean and Kelly give no plausible evidence of their ESP claims. The point that the Understanding Astrology authors want to emphasize is that if empirical research with no hidden persuaders is successful in finding no evidence of astrology, then the hidden persuaders must explain astrology. This precarious logic leads to the second part of their argument to do with empirical research.
Virtually all empirical research of astrology has excluded hidden persuaders. Obviously, this makes the authors’ argument a moot point and explains their bewilderment over the “neglect” of astrology by psi researchers. Removing the fallacy also removes their justification for writing the article. Mixing with ESP has never been the problem, although there is a problem elsewhere. Unfortunately, until recently, astrological research has been a free-for-all of claims with hundreds of poorly designed and analyzed studies by would-be researchers who lack the necessary astrological knowledge and analytical skills. A meta-analysis of hundreds of atrocious studies cannot, counter to the authors claim, be reliable and the result is what I compare to a logjam.
To clear away the debris, I argue that it is necessary to find the best studies—those that are the most cited, which I call “exemplary”—and evaluate whether they are as good as claimed. This includes those studies that claim to have found “no evidence” as well as those that claim to have found evidence. As Dean and Kelly, themselves offer pages of their own exemplary studies that claim no evidence, they evidently agree with this approach. However, their best examples of the failure of astrology in empirical studies have not withstood scrutiny over time as they have all been either refuted or reversed in academic journals, as I have already laid out in Logjam. The reanalysis includes a study by Dean himself on extraversion and neuroticism, which was reversed by astrologer Robert Currey (2017). The authors of Understanding Astrology have not done their homework. There is no reliable evidence against astrological theories but there is a growing corpus of evidence and replications (McRitchie 2022) in support.