End of Season for Cherry Picking

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End of Season for Cherry Picking

Astrology Research

Engaging astrology critics by not cherry picking

Astrology Research that engages sceptics is very rare. If it does exist, then Astrologers are dismissed by their critics for their lack of precision, non-replicable results and minuscule databases. I wanted to address these criticisms and show other astrologers how they can too.

This first hand version of the events leading up to publication of my research on adolescent behaviour and lunar phases appeared in the Autumn equinox 2017 edition of The Career Astrologer published by The Organization for Professional Astrologers and is posted here with grateful permission.

My research into adolescent behaviour and lunar phases first made the astrology headlines with the Astrology News Service in 2016. The original research was made possible with a grant from the American Federation of Astrologers (2016) and is published and available on Amazon here. This research is also referenced in Peter Marko’s Lunar Effect Bibliography (2017). I also presented the results of my astrological research at the Kepler Conference 2016 and will be presenting updates to include primary school data at this conference in 2018.

Further events referring to this research will be on Saturn cycles for OPA on 12 May 2018. I’ll also be referring to some of this material in my lecture for the United Astrology Conference. Subscribe to my newsletter for further details on these and other events. Join me for my lecture on “Astrology and the Adolescent Brain” for the United Astrology Conference.

For astrology consultations or questions, contact me on alex.trenoweth@gmail.com

Copyright: Alex Trenoweth, 2017

Research Astrology: Sleeping with the Enemy

Like the majority of you who are reading this, I am an astrologer and I love the language of astrology. I don’t need to “prove” astrology. I eat, sleep, and breathe astrology, and I see it working every day. The so-called sceptics of astrology, on the other hand, often proclaim that astrology is a superstition and there is no evidence that astrology works. These sceptics are not just sceptical; they are cynics who denounce astrology without knowing very much about astrology. In this regard, they are just as guilty as astrologers they accuse in their lack of credible research techniques.

The language of scientific research is not particularly appealing to me, and I describe my uncomfortable encounters with research and statistics in university in this article. However, I am familiar with terms like “anecdotal evidence” and that even people in the social sciences use more rigorous ways to determine if an idea works rather than relying only on their personal experiences. I have now found myself conducting research, and I am using the tools that the cynics so loudly proclaim are important. I find that the language of research enhances my intuitive understanding. This research does not dampen my sense of the spiritual and the mystical in astrology. If anything, it enhances it. I also understand how astrology works more clearly. I am using the language of the enemy and it is lovely!

A Personal Story

In this article I share part of my personal adventure into astrological research or, what many of us prefer to call Model Testing. The word “research” can conjure up images of dry statistics and lifeless investigations into data. I prefer the term “model testing” because it more accurately conveys what the research does: it determines how well our astrological ideas and theories (i.e. models) are working.

I am sharing this personal story and adventure not to draw attention to myself but rather because I think it is a story that most of us can relate to. Few of us in astrology come to astrology primarily from a background in the hard sciences. Most of us are lovers of stories, of drama, psychology, theatre, myths, mysticism, and the mysteries of life. In addition to being an astrologer, I am a teacher and I love teaching as much as I love astrology. I have been teaching children in England in the public school system for 18 years. I hope that in sharing my personal narrative, you are able to see a bit of yourself in this story, and you can feel that we are in a time of rapid change and that incorporating some of the Information Age tools into our craft need not kill the spirit of what we are doing, but rather it can enhance it.

New Insights into the Lunation Cycle

As we shall see, one area of my astrology research is the lunation cycle. I found that children are more likely to misbehave at the time of the New Moon than at other times in the 29 1/3 day cycle from one New Moon to the next one. This contradicts some expectations that poor behaviour will increase at the Full Moon. Well, this is exactly why I love Model Testing! We learn more about exactly how astrology works and these discoveries inspire us to think in new creative ways to understand what we have observed.

My Story: An Adventure into Astrology Research

I was eating lunch at my desk (yet again) whilst I was desperately writing end of term reports for my students. I was organising as well as attempting to justify the sudden surge in behaviour reports that were entered in the system by other teachers.

“Must be a full moon,” my colleague “joked” from his side of the office.

This simple comment from a non-astrologer made me stop what I was doing and reach for my ephemeris. No, it wasn’t a full moon. It was a new moon.

Assumptions based on agreed interpretations rather than empirical evidence are known as “communal reinforcements”. A social phenomenon, communal reinforcement was nicely demonstrated by my colleague, who also succeeded in making fun of astrology in the bargain. As he smirked at my abject ignorance for “believing” that what goes on “up there” could possibly have an effect on what happens “down here”, I suddenly realised I could do a most interesting study on adolescent behaviour and lunar phase.

However, I had a very difficult problem: I had too much data and not enough time.

Thinking I could get the IT manager to do what I thought was going to be a fairly straightforward job, I scribbled down some of the dates of the new and full moons and shot off an email. My email was answered with a very polite “I’d love to help but I’m trying to complete end of term reports too.”

Although it seemed I was not going to be able to test if there were more reports of poor behaviour during the new moon or full moon, the sudden realisation that data could be my friend instead of my enemy was a true epiphany. For a brief, euphoric moment, I imagined a school that consulted a lunar calendar before allocating break and lunch duties.

A bit of background

Many, many years before, I had been a freshman psychology student at Western Michigan University. I was pleased to have gotten a place at WMU because it had the reputation of being one of the best psychology institutions in the US, largely due to the influence of Professor Jack Michael. The problem was that Jack Michael was the protégé of one B.F. Skinner of behavioural psychology fame. I fully expected to train rats and pigeons as part of my degree. I wasn’t ready for the crazy statistical methods I had to learn. Out of frustration, I changed my major and vowed I would never look at another statistic for as long as I lived.

However, avoiding statistical data in my teaching career was not going to be possible and I knew just enough about data handling to cope with the huge amount of information that came my way as Head of Year.[1]I knew who my top achievers were, I knew who the naughtiest children in my year group were (and had their parents’ mobile numbers memorised) and from all that data, I knew who I was going to be able to help and could make pretty safe guesses as to who was going to have to find a new school before the end of year 9.

It was largely due to my unusual position that I was able to spot patterns in the data.

1)    Boys received far more reports for bad behaviour than girls

2)    11-13 year olds receive more reports for bad behaviour than 14-16 year olds

3)    11-13 year olds were more likely to be in trouble for disruption

4)    14-16 year olds were more likely to be in trouble for inadequate work

From outside reading, I also knew that the brain development in adolescence is far more important than previously thought and that the majority of it occurred before the age of 13. I also knew there was a clear gender divide.[2]

Who’s going to listen to an Astrologer?

“It’s replicable,” I told my boss during a performance management meeting.

“It’s totally expected,” my boss replied. “Everyone knows the younger ones are more difficult.”

“But the brain dev—“ I tried again.

“Don’t you have reports to write?”

Knowing full well I couldn’t start talking about Jupiter returns and Saturn oppositions, I left well enough alone and began secretly writing my first astrology book Growing Pains.

But I hadn’t forgotten all that data or the question of whether or not children were more likely to misbehave during the full moon. I began collecting data on behaviour reports and before I knew it, I had an exceptionally large database. But I still had no time to analyse it. Or at least that was what I told myself. The truth probably came closer to being afraid that my data would lead to no significant result that could answer my question let alone be of any use besides satisfying my own sense of curiosity.

Addressing the Sceptics

I did have—and what is important for any astrology research paper—a clear idea of what I wanted to study. I had a simple question (Are children more likely to misbehave during the full or new moon?) that could be answered from the available data if I could just develop the best methodology to bring out an unbiased answer.

After an awful lot of reading what the sceptics had to say about astrology (Ophiuchus, the twins argument, the lack of mechanism, non replicable results, Sidereal vs. Tropical, precession, the old midwife vs Jupiter argument. . .Great Goddess it all gets so repetitive!), I resorted to what I thought was the coup de grace:

“Why don’t you study astrology before letting your bias show, Scientists?”

“Because,” scientists collectively answered, “I would no more investigate astrology than I would one of my own farts. Both have about the same substance.”[3]

Yeah this is the kind of stuff astrologers are up against. And if you think we aren’t, then I would suggest reading Robert Currey’s fine article on how Wikipedia editors used “guerrilla tactics” to ensure astrology was defined as a “pseudoscience”.[4]

Despite this bias against astrology, if we’re going to carry astrology with some degree of credibility into the next decade, we need to improve our game by taking a good look at why sceptics are so virulently anti astrology.

Cherry Picking

Cherry picking, and an awful lot of other examples of bias confirmation, is a bit of a problem in the astrological world. The term comes from the notion that a cherry picker would only choose the best, healthiest fruit that would in turn lead an observer to conclude that cherries are exceptionally robust. It’s like when astrologers deliberately choose a chart because it works well with the point they are trying to make. There’s no doubt of good intention but it doesn’t make for robust research that is going to engage a sceptic on a level beyond running rings around astrologers who are often seen outside of their own community as people who take advantage of the gullible.

If astrologers are going to claim that there are more computer crashes during periods of retrograde motion of Mercury then a sceptic had better not be able to prove that computers actually crash more often during stations or periods of forward motion. To concentrate only on what fits into a preferred theory is cherry picking. It might make for a compelling performance during an astrology conference lecture but it isn’t going to hold up on a scientific level.

Personal Bias

I used the example of Mercury retrograde because, as it happens, blaming things on Mercury retrograde is one of my biggest pet peeves. Could it be because I have Mercury retrograde natally and I don’t want to be described as an introvert or in any of the other negative terms associated with Mercury retrograde?

Sceptics say astrologers are guilty of personal bias because they have vested interests in astrology: we’ve paid for those classes, we stuck our necks out to friends and family to prove how good we are at making predictions (carefully concealing our failures of course), we reject what we don’t like and we’ve developed our own system of working that only works for us. Which brings me to. . .

Non-replicable results

Let’s say an astrologer has made a correct prediction using a secret technique that they are unwilling to disclose so a different astrologer can try it out to see if it works. On the surface of this, we can see that the reason why the astrologer has chosen to keep the technique a secret is because they see the astrology market as a competitive one and they don’t want someone else cashing in on their hard work. But to a sceptic, not sharing one’s findings so they can be critically evaluated is a practice of the worst sort. Scientists share their results via “peer review” which means their work is put to the tests of other scientists. Instead astrologers tend to publish their findings in an astrology periodical without letting another astrologer test their techniques. So what happens is the astrologer in question has all the comfort in exclaiming “well it works for me” if another astrologer questions them. This practice circles back to personal bias and leads to an awful lot of self congratulation within the astrological community and acts as a barrier to the scientific community (who are suspicious of astrologers’ methodologies anyway). Not too different to preaching to the choir in fact.

Continued research

Let me be the first one to say that I love studying historical techniques. Historical techniques have incredible informational value and long may they continue to be resurrected from the shadows of the past. But scientists build upon their techniques so that their results lead to more testing and not only validate previous results but improve on the last results. It leads to further research and new scientific discovery. This is one of the reasons why astrology can be dismissed as “medieval superstition”. It might not be fair but it’s how a scientist is going to view the situation when an astrologer uses an ancient technique in a modern circumstance.

Lack of Collaboration

A scientist understands that they cannot possibly have the answers to everything. So they reach out to other fields to see what they’ve been doing. In doing this, they continually cross check what they are doing and they tighten up the way they are conducting their investigations. Just like astrologers, they probably have blow outs on social media because someone ridiculed their pet theory but astrologers never get to see these because we’re too busy clogging everyone’s newsfeed with predictions.

Predictions

Yep I was there when all those astrologers predicted a win for Hillary Clinton and I watched the aftermath as all the astrologers who predicted Trump would win rubbed everyone’s nose in it on social media. A disaster or a chance to learn from our mistakes?

Let’s look at coin tossing. How many times would I have to correctly guess the outcome of coin tosses before someone is convinced I have some sort of superhuman predictive skills? Probably a lot fewer than I would have to get right if I said I was using astrology to predict the outcome. We all know that making a prediction is not the same as coin tossing. There are astrological techniques being used. What sceptics almost always point out is that we boast about our accuracies but keep quiet about it when we get our predictions wrong. We’re back to cherry picking results.

The real problem?

The thing is there are many, many scientific theories that can’t be replicated. We know that scientists get things wrong too. Look at the disaster (as it were) that was space shuttle Challenger. Consider how many people saw it live on colour television. This awful scientific mistake was there for the world to see. But people didn’t stop believing in science. And science didn’t just give up on space programs. They learned from their mistakes and they improved on their methods and models of testing. The consequences for getting it wrong in science are far more serious than the blush that comes from the wrong prediction about who will become president.

This thought was my turning point in finding the answer to my question about adolescent behaviour and lunar phase. With all of this in mind, I set out to pre-empt how a sceptic might respond to my paper.

The database

My database of behaviour was heaving with over 20,000 entries. I had fields on gender, age (but not date of birth), type of misbehaviour, date of incident, economic status, religion and ethnicity. I was overwhelmed with data and I didn’t have a clue as to how I was going to begin to answer the question. Added to this, I was nervous about looking like an idiot in front of my much smarter peers.

So I began with a very small sample of data. I had to start somewhere and I figured if I had nothing then I could just shut my big mouth about it. I selected 3 lunar months and divided the months into four sections. And then I filtered the data so I could separate the phases of the moon and record the number of incidents of poor behaviour.

First Steps in Research Astrology

This was the way I divided the lunar month:

When I manually counted the number of incident sheets, I could easily see there were more incident sheets given during the new moon phase. That was the point I knew I had something worth testing.

Divisions of the lunar month for research

Roughly, three days before and after the major phases of the moon were counted.

It was such a shocking amount of work, I knew I would have to concentrate on the astrology research and that would mean I would not have the mental energy to carry on teaching adolescents. I decided to take a sabbatical and I applied for a research grant from the AFA. To my delight, things from there slotted into place.

Robert Currey was a brilliant help with the statistics and other astrological researchers were absolutely instrumental in helping me collate the data as well as assisting with the astronomy of the paper. There was no way I could have done this paper without them.

My full methodology

Data was collected from an educational application called Capita SIMS. All members of staff, irrespective of position, can access this for information stored on all pupils (date of birth, parental contacts, academic progress, attendance, behaviour, achievements, ethnic and religious origins, timetables, etc.). The potential database for this project was massive (over 20,000 entries) and so, to make it more manageable, it was reduced to a single academic year (September 2012 – July 2013) of 8,000 entries. A second academic year (September 2009 – July 2010) was added as a means of comparison, as this gave a different cohort of children in the school. The effects would be compared by percentage and then further results would be assessed through investigating the latitude of the moon.

The effects of a high latitude moon was also considered: high node versus low node, i.e. whether syzygy (the generic name for Full and New moons) was near or far from the nodal axis, => large or small lunar latitude. So this investigation has focused on two different lunar-monthly cycles: Moon phase of 29.5 days (synodic month) and the draconic (nodical) cycle of 27.2 days (NB this is not the same as the sidereal orbit-period, despite their period being quite similar). The celestial latitude of the moon goes up to five or six degrees north and south of the ecliptic each month, then reaches zero latitude when it crosses over the ecliptic. That happens twice a month, and the moon is then conjunct its node, the two nodes North and South node: for the purpose of this study the researcher made no distinction between them, just as the researcher would have made no distinction between north and south celestial latitude. Lunar latitude is totally separate from lunar phase, except that twice yearly they come together in the ‘eclipse seasons’ when eclipses can happen.

The School’s Policy on Behaviour

The school has a clear behaviour policy with guidelines on what constitutes poor behaviour and how such behaviour should be recorded on the SIMS application. There is no analysis on whether or not the incident sheets are recorded in line with school policy. It is assumed that if the school is using the data, then it must be in line with their own policy.

This data is used by the school to produce reports in order to offer a bespoke education to all pupils, which is in line with UK government regulations. From the reports, intervention strategies are decided. This can often mean pupils with no academic or behavioural concerns are ignored. For the preliminary research, the reports used were calculated and distributed by a designated information and technology professional each half term. For the behaviour reports, there was a distinction made between the different types of behaviour, the age, gender of the pupil and the date the behaviour entry was made by members of staff. The graphs produced were generated by the school but were available to me (and others) as a member of the leadership team. The strength of this data was that personal bias was removed.

The latitude of the moon had to be added to the data by the astrologer after the preliminary reports had been separated by lunar phases. Again, there is no personal bias in this.

Data Reports

For the data for this project, I created my own data reports for the purpose of examining the number of behaviour sheets recorded for male and female pupils on the new, first quarter, full and last quarter moons. For each date Solar and lunar celestial longitudes were obtained, and the sun-moon angle found: such that New moon was zero and Full moon, 180° Roughly each lunar quarter lasted one week, but exactly it was 90° of sun-moon angle. The syzygy positions (Full and New Moon) were centred on these 90°sectors. The figure shows this. Thus the Full Moon quadrant spanned 135°to 225°of Sun-Moon angle. One could choose to use a smaller arc e.g. 60°in some future study.

There was no consideration of age or type of behaviour. Only gender and date of issue for the reports were taken into consideration. The numbers of incident sheets were then divided according to dates and then calculated to determine at which of the moon phases the behaviour occurred. A noon time was arbitrarily taken, for those days on which the demarcation-points fell.

To investigate whether gender could show a correlation between behaviour and lunar phases, the behaviour of boys (who have far higher incidents of poor behaviour overall) and girls was separated.

At the time of data collection, the astrologer was in a position of management in charge of monitoring the behaviour data of one academic year group. Because of this position, the astrologer had access to and an interest in the data outside of astrological interests. It was only after the astrologer had left the post that it was realized that there might be enough information to analyse whether or not the phases of the moon had an effect on behaviour.

It must be noted the data from this school is completely anonymised.

Replicating Results

I used a wide range of literature to back up possible reasons for pupils receiving more incident sheets at the new moon rather than at the full moon and in particular, the new moon at higher latitudes. I then used the data for a different cohort of pupils and found the results were replicable. I also offered a partial explanation for this result by tying in adolescent circadian cycles in with phases of the moon. Finally, I indicated that there is scope for more astrology research.

I submitted the paper to fulfil my obligations to the AFA and I also submitted it to another very small astrology newsletter that essentially ignored my research. I waited. Discouraged, I just didn’t think anyone else would take an interest. Eventually however, I presented my full research at the Kepler Conference in Cape Canaveral earlier this year. I thought that was pretty good going and I didn’t really expect anything more to happen with it.

Gaining Momentum

“My God,” Bill Meridian asked me at the Kepler Conference, “Do you have any idea what you have?”

“As a matter of fact I do,” I told him. “I have a huge database, replicable results, scope for further research and I’ve just had the paper peer reviewed.”

At this point, I would like to boast that I made Bill Meridian’s jaw drop.

Bill contacted Ronnie Grishman of Dell Horoscope on my behalf and she immediately contacted me to ask about my research.

“I don’t think it’s going to be suitable. It’s ultra nerdy, packed full of stats and footnotes,” I told her. I couldn’t imagine that a magazine with horoscopes could possibly be interested in my nerdy research. I did one scientific astrology research paper and already I was underestimating the intelligence of astrologers!! As a teacher, my speciality is taking the sting out of complex ideas. Not only was I undermining astrologers, I was undermining my own abilities!

I sent Ronnie my paper in all its finest nerdery and she got back in touch. We met in New York City to discuss how we could make this research more appealing to a broader audience and it’s currently pending publication (update: it was published in 2017 and this version can be read here). I could not have hoped to reach a bigger audience.

Fears and Hopes

The paper will also be published, in a different, peer reviewed form, in the Astrological Association’s Correlation. Asking more technically sophisticated colleagues like Peter Marko and Robert Currey for their opinion on my research was a scary thing to do and I expected my astrology research to be ripped to shreds. And it was. But guess what? I was able to strengthen my arguments and make my justifications clearer so someone like Geoffrey Dean didn’t get a chance (and I have been warned that Geoff would be having a go once my paper comes out). I’m thrilled that I can not only fly the flag for serious astrological research but that I could also support the AA’s Correlation and all their important historical work too.

I still envisage a school that consults a lunar calendar before allocating break and lunch duties. I envisage a school that understands that “naughty” children are bored children and therefore need more intellectual stimulation during the new moon phase (particularly when it is a higher latitudes) and during important stages of brain development rather than investing money in intervention during the exam years when they’ve missed an opportunity to make a real difference to a child’s academic progress. But most of all I envisage a world where astrologers can hold their heads up as keepers of sacred knowledge as well as become astrology researchers and rigorous investigators of scientific questions.

I expect I’m going to have a bumpy road in the near future. I know what happened to Michel Gauquelin (notthat I’m expecting to have as big an impact as the Gauquelins!). But I really hope somewhere, some nerdy, hard-nosed scientist will get a bug up his ass and try to prove me wrong.

These days, thought of adding more numbers to my database makes me smile.

P.S. This article was peer reviewed by David Cochrane before submission.

Footnotes

[1]In the UK a “Head of Year” is in charge of the pastoral care of a particular academic year group

[2]Giedd, J., Blumenthal, J., Jeffires, N., Castellanos, F., Liu, H., Zijdenbos, Paus, T., Evans, A., Rapoport, J. (1999) Brain Development During Childhood and Adolescence: a Longitudinal MRI Study, Nature America, Inc., article found online at: https://web.stanford.edu/class/cs379c/archive/2013/suggested_reading_list/supplements/documents/GieddetalNN-99.pdf

[3]A real answer to the question of why not study astrology found at: https://forums.digitalspy.com/discussion/1574831/how-can-anyone-take-astrology-seriously/p11

[4]http://www.astrologer.com/tests/wp.htm

Alex Trenoweth
Alex Trenoweth
Alex Trenoweth, MA, DFAstrolS is an astrologer, teacher and author of "Growing Pains", "The Wolf You Feed" and the soon-to-be-released "Mirror Mirror" by The Wessex Astrologer. She travels across the globe lecturing on the topic of Astrology and Education. In 2015, she was voted "Best International Astrologer" for her innovative research on astrology and adolescence. Her work has been published in major astrological magazines around the world such as Dell Horoscope, the International Society of Astrological Research, the Organization for Professional Astrologers and she is co-editor of "Constellation News", one of the largest astrological magazines on the planet.

5 Comments

  1. […] interviews with other astrologers to see what they’ve been up to. I’ll be sharing more of my own research to be peer reviewed so others can help me to be a better researcher. In true Uranus in Taurus […]

  2. […] to ‘like’ the video on youtube!) If you’d rather read the article, here is a link. There’s even a full length, nerdy version (the one that got me the honorary […]

  3. […] all, older astrologers do not have the technology we have! Personally, I like astrology to have a practical purpose. As the venue is on a beach, it is a welcome break from the terrible winter weather in England. […]

  4. […] An example from OPA’s quality astrological research in their member’s only magazine “The Career Astrologer” can be found here […]

  5. […] NB: Clearly the astrologers got this one wrong. This left a few astrologers feeling like they had egg on the faces but the analysis of this wrong prediction is so important to our craft. We need to look back on what went wrong and hone our techniques. This is a great opportunity for research. […]

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