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No. 44: Mar-Apr 1986

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The moon, the stars, and human behavior

We humans have an inherited penchant for observing the heavens and wondering if the stars can affect our daily lives. Secular humanists hate astrology with a passion because, like Cassius in Julius Caesar, they believe we are masters of our own destinies. Nevertheless, astrol-ogy columns are still prominent in most newspapers. In the scientific press, however, we have to score a big plus for the anti-astrologers. First, Nature has just published a detailed analysis of the predictive power of astrology, and astrology has come up very short.

The Nature study is by S. Carlson, a physicist at the University of California at Berkeley. At the end of seven data-packed pages Carlson concludes:

"We are now in a position to argue a surprisingly strong case against natal astrology as practised by reputable astrologers. Great pains were taken to insure that the experiment was unbiased and to make sure that astrology was given every reasonable chance to succeed. It failed. Despite the fact that we worked with some of the best astrologers in the country, recommended by the advising astrologers for their expertise in astrology and their ability to use CPI (California Personality Inventory), despite the fact that every reasonable suggestion made by the advising astrologers was worked into the experiment, despite the fact that the astrologers approved the design and predicted 50 per cent as the 'minimum' effect they would expect to see, astrology failed to perform at a level better than chance. Tested using double-blind methods, the astrologers' predictions proved to be wrong. Their predicted connection between the positions of the planets and other astronomical objects at the time of birth and the personalities of test subjects did not exist. The experiment clearly refutes the astrological hypothesis."

(Carlson, Shawn; "A Double-Blind Test of Astrology," Nature, 318:419, 1985.)

Next, if overkill is required, the Skeptical Inquirer, matches the Nature article with one on the effect of the moon on human behavior. The authors (two psychologists and an astronomer) conclude:

"This article outlines the results of a meta-analysis of 37 studies and several more recent studies that examined lunar variables and mental behavior. Our review supports the view that there is no causal relationship between lunar phenomena and human behavior. We also speculate on why belief in such relationships is prevalent in our society. A lack of understanding of physics, psychological biases, and slanted media reporting are suggested as some possible reasons."

(Kelly, I.W., et al; "The Moon Was Full and Nothing Happened: A Review of Studies on the Moon and Human Behavior and Lunar Beliefs,"Skeptical Inquirer, 10:129, 1985.)

Reference. Possible connections between human behavior and astronomy are cataloged at BHB27-BHB29 in our book: Biological Anomalies: Humans I. For more information on this book, visit: here.

From Science Frontiers #44, MAR-APR 1986. 1986-2000 William R. Corliss