He argues that his own personal judgement is sufficient, and if thousands of scholarly studies suggest he might be fooling himself then they are simply wrong. He claims the researchers have no idea how to properly test astrology. But when they ask him how it should be done, he generally evades the issue, so the debate is spectacularly unproductive. Nevertheless it does provide a typical example of what researchers have to endure, for Elwell is not the first astrologer unable to specify improvements to research when challenged.
Includes an option to visit the original interchanges on another website total 90, words, reading time 5 hours. The British astrologer Dennis Elwell disagrees strongly with the views of researchers given in the interview in Garry Phillipson's Astrology in the Year Zero pages , and in the expanded interview on this website. Formerly a newspaper journalist, Elwell has been involved with astrology for more than fifty years. Since he has been a full-time astrologer and teacher, and his concern has been to restore the importance of astrology. Elwell produced four long articles critiquing the researchers, their views, and their results, as follows:.
Scholars versus Scribblers May 3. Concerning ubiquity, evidence, and hard hats June-August 4.
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Memo to the Careful Ones September The researchers Dean, Kelly, Mather, Smit responded by inserting comments point by point into his articles. Each interchange averages 10, words of article and 13, words of inserted comments. The result is a long, tedious, but typical example of how astrologers respond to informed criticism -- by unsupported assertions, smokescreens, evasion, and name calling, but rarely by being helpful. Click here to see Elwell's articles with the researchers' inserted comments. This will take you to Garry Phillipson's website where the articles are stored.
To read the articles and comments will take about five hours. The following summary, prepared by the researchers, takes 15 minutes and you stay on the astrology-and-science website. Introduction In the interview we noted how half a century of systematic research had not supported the grandiose claims of astrology, how astrology was experience-based rather than evidence-based, and how reasoning errors and other artifacts explain why an experience-based astrology could be totally false yet still seem to work.
Our statements were not made lightly. Every social and natural science stresses the need for safeguards to rule out the reasoning errors and other artifacts that arise when relying on experience. Human reasoning processes alone are the subject of thousands of studies and dozens of scholarly books. But when safeguards are applied to tests of astrology the results show no hint of effects that are useful and replicable. It seems that astrology runs on artifacts, the same artifacts that have led people to believe in countless experience-based but false or problematic ideas such as phrenology, psychoanalysis, bloodletting, numerology, and biorythyms.
Nevertheless Elwell says our picture of an artifact-based astrology is wrong. So we now expect him to cite well-conducted studies where artifacts can be ruled out. If a meta-analysis of the studies shows that astrology delivers useful effects, ie to the extent claimed in astrology books, our picture would have to be abandoned. Although our own meta-analyses of such studies have been negative, maybe Elwell can do better. But Elwell merely refers again and again to his experience, and to after-the-event analyses, as if the problems associated with experience-based astrology and after-the-event astrology did not exist.
He also attempts to refute isolated studies, usually naively, as if his own poorly-designed studies were somehow unproblematic and the collective weight of evidence was of no consequence. How not to conduct a debate A further obstacle is Elwell's style, which is marked by unsupported assertions, ignorance of science, and abuse in lieu of scholarship.
For example whenever he says X is crucial, he typically fails to explain it, or resorts to jibes, so readers have no clear idea of what X is about and no clear way of deciding whether X is a reasonable point.
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His strategy is to find fault but never suggest improvements, to brush aside or ignore what doesn't suit him, and to bury everything else in torrents of words. In other words to be as unhelpful as possible. There is no attempt like ours below to list issues concisely to facilitate discussion, or to summarise the arguments to facilitate progress. Our most common reaction to his unhelpfulness is "Elwell does not tell us", meaning "why should anyone believe this?
Volume 30 (2) 2016
In what follows we look briefly at Elwell's articles, at why the absence of safeguards makes his case implausible, and at his response to the issues we have raised. We repeatedly challenge him to specify tests that would disconfirm his ideas, but he repeatedly fails to do so. He behaves like a fundamentalist whose dogmatic views make debate impossible. For convenience his four articles are referred to as Elwell-1, -2, -3, His own view, based on "over half a century of absorption in this subject", is that astrology can be seen everywhere.
He then attacks our integrity and our position. He deals with artifacts by denying their relevance. He also denies that tests of astrology need safeguards such as controls, which he dimisses as mere deviousness. He makes no attempt to see if other astrologers would use the same chart factors or make the same interpretations as himself.
In short, Elwell claims his own personal judgement is amply sufficient. If thousands of scholarly studies suggest he might be fooling himself, just as phrenologists and their clients were fooling themselves, then those studies are simply wrong. Note how the source of the disagreement between ourselves and Elwell could hardly be clearer. Unlike ourselves, he rejects the need for safeguards, so he has no grounds for ruling out artifacts, alternate explanations, and self-deception. At which point Elwell's case for astrology becomes implausible and cannot be taken seriously.
The rest of Elwell's article is equally disappointing. He presents no new arguments for astrology, only unsupported assertions. He tells us we are doing it wrong but not how to do it right. He tells us astrology should be tested on its own terms but not what those terms are. Negative studies are dismissed as sloppy but much sloppier studies if positive are automatically accepted.
Depending on the situation, astrology is either astonishingly obvious or very difficult to prove. He does nothing to show that his way of measuring astrology's success are valid, and never considers alternate explanations for that apparent success. Scholars versus Scribblers Elwell-2 continues to attack our integrity and our position with the same mix of unsupported assertions and ignorance of science.
He does make some interesting speculations on astrology, for example that it is a sort of World Wide Web where the cosmos "is constantly downloading information", or a macroscience where "every phenomenon and every item of data is referred to something larger and more inclusive. What do they predict? How are they useful to working astrologers?
How would we detect errors in the downloading? Elwell does not tell us. He continues to reject the need for safeguards, so his case remains implausible.
Concerning ubiquity, evidence, and hard hats This is the longest of Elwell's articles and the least abusive. He continues to reject the need for safeguards as a matter of course. He rejects the use of controls because they are not always possible which does not explain his failure to use them when they are possible , and because replication is better.
He argues that astrological knowledge "had been in place for thousands of years, and controls had not been necessary for its formulation. It was reached by careful observation, confirmed by replication. Which misses the point artifacts can replicate , so his case remains implausible. As an exercise, Elwell notes how well President Kennedy's Sun in 8th house fits his life and assassination. But he fails to note how the fit is negated by Kennedy's Venus and Jupiter in the same house.
In another exercise, Elwell looks at the charts of helmet collectors Kelly and Tagliavini, finds repeated significators for German iron helmets, and argues that such hits are irrefutable evidence for astrology. But his repeated significators are not actual repeated factors but different factors whose symbolism can be made to fit.
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Also, although Elwell is a non-collector of helmets, we find that his chart contains even larger numbers of helmet-collecting significators. This suggests that his significators and by extension his astrology are urgently in need of re-evaluation. Note Elwell's approach -- look at charts after the event, find factors that fit symbolically, and conclude that astrology is proven.
But there is a wide choice of events, each event has a wide choice of charts, and each chart has a wide choice of factors. So the number of possible comparisons is effectively without limit. Given such an enormous choice, we should expect to find amazing after-the-event fits purely by chance, and their absence would be more surprising than their presence. Note the problem -- a hit means little unless Elwell applies safeguards to show that it cannot be explained by after-the-event selection.
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Worse, if a hit does not occur, Elwell argues that the test is inappropriate, or that the cosmos does not necessarily use our concepts, which points are conveniently forgotten should a hit actually occur. Either way, his strategy is to praise positive studies no matter how flawed and reject negative studies no matter how well conducted. No wonder Elwell sees astrology everywhere. In an earlier now-deleted version of Elwell-3 entitled "Validation: The Essential Issues", Elwell made a couple of extra points that deserve comment.
Because the cosmos is never twice the same, the result is a series of one-offs, which makes testing difficult. But how can he know this if testing is so difficult? But as far as we know, astrology involves nothing not explainable by non-astrological factors, see later, so contrary to what Elwell says it actually sits very comfortably in the "current scientific paradigm".
So Elwell's question is premature. It would be like asking what it would mean for science if the earth were flat. Memo to the Careful Ones This is the last of Elwell's four articles.
It returns to the same mix of abuse, attacks on our integrity, errors, evasion, fundamentalism, unsupported assertions, and ignorance of science that made his earlier articles so tedious and unproductive. Nobody who is genuinely interested in debate would behave in this way. Elwell-4 proceeds by criticising existing research, not by suggesting better ways of research, which here is the only thing that matters.
Any competent researcher could do this in a few hundred words. But Elwell's total of 41, words have left us none the wiser.
Eloquence, maybe, substance, no, lies, yes. For example it is simply not true that we urge "abstracting single factors from the totality", and we have pointed this out every time he argues this way, which is all the time. Clearly Elwell is neither listening nor does he want to listen.
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