After the 2003 attack...

April 2006-Telegraph misunderstand & misrepresent astrology yet again!


Just under three years later on the afternoon of Wednesday 26th April 2006, Roy Gillett, the AA President was contacted this time by Daily Telegraph reporter Sally Pook, who asked him to comment immediately on a piece of research that he had not seen, which she said was a study of 15,000 people that showed no link between intelligence, personality and astrology. He told her he had heard about the research from the Press Association a few minutes earlier and could only say what he said to them that, if the research were done by non-astrologers without consulting astrologers, it was unlikely to be reliable. He then answered questions on his experience of astrology.

In her piece the next day (news page 9 “Astrology? There is more truth in a comic”), the “findings of the research” are quoted as clearly established fact, his reservations are not mentioned at all, although Russell Grant’s comment at the end is used to suggest a broader perspective.

The next day, we read the research paper. [Personality and Individual Differences © 2006 Elsevier Ltd. Available at Science Direct Volume 40, Issue 7, Pages 1323-1504 (May 2006)]

The first thing we notice is that the basis for the Daily Telegraph report’s title (“probably more truth in a comic strip”) is in quotation marks, but does not appear in the research paper at all. Where then does this quote come from?

Secondly, we noticed the researchers’ limited understanding of the key astrological element of their study. So Chris Mitchell emailed one of these researchers, Dr. Peter Hartmann , immediately. Below is a copy of their email correspondence. Other than re-ordering the messages from top to bottom and taking out the >>> for readers’ convenience, the emails are pasted verbatim. English is not Dr Hartmann ’s native language and he was kind enough to reply immediately to our enquiries, so there are obvious “typos”. Yet, allowing for that, three things are clear:

  • The researchers have very little idea of the technical background to what they are researching and do not understand the basic motions of the solar year and the effect of leap years upon it.
  • Even more important, they do not understand the highly complex nature of astrology and the way that popular media columns simplify it for the general public - rather like judging the entire body of classical music on the basis of listening to Chopsticks on the piano.
  • Even more important still, it is clear from Dr Hartmann ’s last email that they were really studying intelligence and personality against time of year births; not astrology at all. They only included it “as a bonus”. You will notice he goes on to write “We never claimed that astrology said anything about IQ and sun signs.. and for other aspects of astrology, please also notice that we explicitly state that astrology as such has not been disproved. .....”
  • This is certainly not the impression reporter’s article gave!

2006/4/27, Chris Mitchell

Dear Dr. Hartmann,

I was interested to read your paper "The relationship between date of birth and individual differences in personality and general intelligence: A large-scale study", and astonished to read the following statement in your paper:

"Where one Sun Sign stops and another starts is not completely agreed upon among astrologers, due to slightly different methods of estimating an individual Sun Sign."

I wasn't aware that the boundary between Sun signs was a subject for debate amongst either astrologers or astronomers. The "Sun sign" is simply a shorthand notation of describing the position of the Sun along the ecliptic with reference to the Vernal Equinox Point. When the Sun has an ecliptic longitude of between 0 and 30 degrees of the Vernal Equinox Point, it is said to be in the "sign" of Aries. As soon
as it reaches exactly 30 degrees, it is said to be in Taurus.

There is no debate about this whatsoever - the precise time that the Sun reaches each 30 degree boundary can now be calculated to within seconds of time; the precise date and time varies from year to year, but for any individual it can be calculated to a high degree of accuracy provided the date and time of birth is known. The most accurate ephemeris is probably that developed by NASA, and can be found at http://ssd.jpl.nasa.gov/horizons.cgi

For example, the output from the NASA ephemeris for the period between 05:00 and 06:00 UT on 20 April 2006 looks like this:

Date__(UT)__HR:MN:SC.fff ObsEcLng ObsEcLat
2006-Apr-20 05:25 29.9992704 -0.0002014
2006-Apr-20 05:26 29.9999485 -0.0002014
2006-Apr-20 05:27 30.0006266 -0.0002014
2006-Apr-20 05:28 30.0013048 -0.0002014

As you can clearly see, the Sun's ecliptic longitude changed from 29.9999485 at 05:26 to 30.0006266 at 05:27. Somebody born at 05:26UT would have Sun in Aries, where someone born at 05:27UT would have Sun in Taurus. This seems very precise, and the degree of accuracy is indicated by the value to 7DP that NASA provides. I'd be very surprised if you consider that NASA's calculations have a high degree of error, or indeed if any astronomers or astrologers were to take issue with their calculations.

For this reason, I'm very curious by what you mean when you say there are "different methods of estimating an individual Sun sign". What are these different methods, and do you have any source references for this claim, which I find extremely puzzling? Regards,

Chris Mitchell.


Peter Weber Hartmann wrote:

Dear Chris.

First of all, sorry for any grammatical or spelling errors. English is not my native tongue.

I am not an expert on astrology, but psychometrics. I have consulted different astrological homepages (in Denmark) and discovered slightly different cut points for the sun signs. As far as I understood, then due to the earth rotation and such, the dates for the sunsigns can change over time, so instead of going from, lets say 22-21, it could change to 23-22. In order to be sure not to "do a wrong cut" we decided to excluded the dates just around the alleged cutpoints. This excluded around 200 subjects as far as I remember (but could be a little more or less).

However, I am glad that you brought this to my knowledge. Could you please elaborate on this, so that I will be able to include all dates in future studies and use the most up to date sun sign division.

Best regards

Pete


2006/4/27, Chris Mitchell

Dear Peter,

Many thanks for replying so promptly.

The question of which sign the Sun is in is one of celestial mechanics, so from a methodological viewpoint it would really have been better to consult physicists or astronomers rather than the home pages of astrologers. An astrological chart, of which the Sun sign is a small part, is effectively a snapshot of the positions of all the planets at the precise moment someone was born. Up to this point, astrologers and mainstream scientists are in full agreement - the objection that mainstream science has to astrology isn't in the calculation of planetary positions (indeed, the ephemerides most commonly used by astrologers are based on NASA's publicly available JPL data), but in the significance that astrologers ascribe to these positions.

The problem with astrology websites, or newspaper horoscope columns, is that they are necessarily approximate. If I were to ask a colleague "what was the precise ecliptic longitude of the Sun at the moment you were born?" they would be unlikely to know the answer. If I ask them "what zodiac sign are you?" they probably know! Since most people know their date of birth, horoscope columns can give approximations by saying "Pisces - 19 Feb-20 Mar". In fact, this does vary slightly. For instance, in 2006, the Sun moved into Pisces on 18 February at 19:25UT. In 2007, it will move into Pisces on 19 February at 01:09UT. In 2009 it will be 18 February again at 12:46UT. Since people record their birth dates and times using local time, this means that most people born in San Fransisco on 18 February 2006 will have Sun in Pisces (anyone born after 11:25PST), although the newspaper horoscope page would probably convince them they were "an Aquarius". Similarly, nobody born in Australia on 18 February 2006 will be a Pisces, and quite a few people born on 19 February will still be Aquarius.

Newspaper horoscopes can't take this subtle variation into account easily - but one would hope that a scientific study attempting to look at correlations would, although this would require you having accurate birth dates, times and locations.

You've pointed out that you're not an expert on astrology - and the problem with using astrological homepages on the Web as the basis for quotes in an academic paper is that these sources are not necessarily accurate; anyone can set up a home page without the need for peer review. I'm sure if an academic were doing a study to verify the findings of physicists they would ask a physicist to verify that the methodology was sound. For future studies, it might be valuable to consider asking an astrologer or two to review the methodology to see if there are objections to the method that you might wish to address before publication. The question of whether Sun sign is a valid indicator of intelligence is of course an astrological one, and for that it may have been worth asking astrologers how valid that hypothesis is - I think most astrologers would be astonished if you'd found a significant correlation, since astrologically Mercury (and not the Sun) is considered to be the planet relating to intellect, and the concept of Mercury being "strong" in a birth chart would depend on far more than the sign it is in.


Regards,

Chris.


Peter Weber Hartmann wrote:

Dear Chris

It would have been preferable to have EXACT birthdates of the subjects, however, these were not available. Due to the fact that these were missing and that the “assignment” of sunsign does change over time as you mentioned we excluded subjects born close to a alleged cutpoint in order to avoid possible confounders. The decrease of the sunsign interval, however, shouldn’t affect the general principle of the sunsign and potential relationship with personality.

Consulting an astronomer would perhaps be overkill since there are astrological (not peer reviewed) societies where you can get the information, and if they all use NASA, which according to you is correct, then I don´t see any problem in using these homepages. But I see your point, but as mentioned we circumvented this by throwing borderline cases out.

The study is not perfect and we are not saying that....the limitations have been stated in the discussion section. As for IQ, you will notice that the study did not set out to study astrology but time of birth in general, the astrological study was just a “bonus”, and since we did the analysis anyway, then IQ was also included. We never claimed that astrology said anything about IQ and sunsigns. As for other aspects of astrology, please also notice that we explicitly state that astrology as such has not been disproved, but that the independent effect of sunsigns in relation to personality (as some astrological theories apparently claim) and IQ (as we tested in relation sunsigns) is not likely. Any effect of Mercury, or ascendance or such was not tested, and NO claim were made in respect to this. If you disagree please find the citation in my article and I will elaborate on it.

Best regards


Peter

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