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We're launching a scientific test of astrology, and anyone can participate!

Updated: May 24



We recently released an article in which we analyzed whether sun sign astrology (i.e., zodiac signs such as Pisces and Aries) can be used to predict aspects of people's lives, based on a study we had conducted. We found that sun signs had no ability to predict any of the 37 life outcomes that we tested (including income, divorce, smoking, life satisfaction, and so on). As you might imagine, this result made a bunch of people annoyed at us.


The first group of people was annoyed at us because they think it's a waste of time to investigate astrology. We disagree because it's an incredibly popular belief system (almost 1 in 3 Americans believe in it). Whether astrology works or not matters because millions of people use it in an attempt to gain insight and make better decisions. Another reason that astrology is interesting to study is that it's a great case study for the scientific method. It raises questions that apply to many domains: how can one tell if it works or not? Is there an empirical test of it that can be conducted? How can that test be done in a rigorous fashion? 


The vast majority of astrologers were pleasant in response to our result, but the second group of people that were annoyed at us was a subset of astrologers who felt our test had been purposely or negligently unfair. They argued that we hadn’t given astrology a fair chance - that sun signs are only a surface level version of astrology, a far cry from the full astrological charts that real astrologers use in practice. Although we set out to do a fair test of sun sign astrology, their critique that this is not a test of astrology as most professional astrologers practice it is absolutely correct. While we think it was well worth while testing sun sign astrology in particular, because it is quite widely believed by the general public, it is absolutely true that our study was not a fair test of full-blown astrology as it is practiced by astrologers.


So we set about working to correct this. In doing so, we recruited six very gracious astrologers who helped us design a test of astrology itself, providing us with extremely valuable feedback throughout the process. 


Today, we're announcing the launch of that test - anyone in the world who believes they have the ability to glean insights about a person's life or character from astrological charts is invited to participate. And if you know astrologers, we'd love it if you'd help get the word out to them. 



The way the test works is simple - it is 12 multiple choice questions. On each page we show you lots of information about one real person, along with 5 astrological natal charts, and you have to determine which of the 5 charts is the real natal chart for that person (the other 4 are decoys that have nothing to do with that person). If you are the first person to get at least 11 out of 12 right (out of the first 200 people to participate in the challenge) then we'll pay you a $1000 prize!




If a person were guessing at random, they would have a 20% chance of getting each question right, and on average would get 2.4 questions right across the 12 questions. If astrologers can do substantially better (without cheating, of course) than that then they can demonstrate that astrology works! That's because modern science, as it is accepted by nearly all scientists, provides no mechanism by which a person's natal chart could predict substantive information about their life or character. So if astrologers can do far better than random guessing at this task, it's a strong indicator of genuine ability! 


More about how our astrology test works 

If a belief system (such as astrology) makes specific claims about the nature of reality, and those claims can be checked, then those claims can be subjected to scientific inquiry.

 

Astrology does make specific claims about the nature of reality. It claims that there is a link between the position of the celestial bodies at a person's time of birth, who the person ends up being, and how their life plays out. It’s not easy to check this claim directly but, if it is true, then skilled astrologers with enough information about a person should be able to tell which astrological charts are more likely to be that person's natal chart, and which are less likely (while not all astrologers we've spoken to claim this is possible, many do say that a skilled astrologer should be able to do it.)


On the other hand, if there are no relationships between a person's personality/life and the position of the celestial bodies at their time of birth, then astrologers would be no better than chance at identifying a person's natal chart from information about that person's life - the best they could do is guess at random which chart belongs to that person.


That’s the thinking that informs our experimental design, and we worked closely with astrologers to develop it.


If you believe you have genuine astrological skills, we would love it if you could participate! And if you know anyone who says they do, please share it with them!



Why Test Astrology?


To elaborate on why we think Astrology is interesting to test, it's because:


It is widely believed.


YouGov polling has found that approximately 27% of US adults say that they “believe in astrology or that the position of the stars and planets influences people’s lives”.


Click here to visit the source of this image.


This is slightly lower than the percentage of people who agree with the core claim made by sun sign astrology (32%), which was the focus of the  test in our last study on this topic:

Click here to visit the source of this image.


It is directly testable with the scientific method, relatively easily


Astrology predicts that there is a connection between the time and place of any given person’s birth and various facts about their life or personality. That connection is, in principle, testable. That makes it a great case study for how to apply the scientific method to real-life claims.


Scientific investigations into its validity are rarely seen by the public 


Most in the scientific community regard astrology as a pseudoscience. One reason for this is that it relies on no mechanism known to science (for example, it can’t be the gravity of celestial bodies that causes the outcomes astrology predicts, because you experience more gravitational force from objects on earth, such as passing cars, than you do from celestial bodies). Although there was a period when scientific investigation of astrology was somewhat more common, now, rigorous scientific investigation into astrology is rare. And when it does occur, the general public is unlikely to hear about it. 


It can be used as a test case for clear thinking


Testing astrology serves as an excellent exercise in critical thinking. The question of whether to believe that astrology works, mirrors the question of whether you should believe in many other things. And the methods for deciding what's true regarding astrology apply for deciding what's true more broadly. 


We want to steelman the views we investigate


We investigated astrology by looking at sun sign astrology, but people have responded by telling us that serious astrologers don’t put much stock in sun sign astrology. We think it’s important to steelman the views we engage with (steelmanning involves identifying the best possible version of a view, and is the opposite of straw manning), and this test is an attempt to address those critiques of our original work. We hope that this test gives astrology the best chance of working, and therefore tells us the most it can about astrology’s veracity.

 

Once again: if you believe you have genuine astrological skills, we would love it if you could participate! And if you know anyone who says they do, please share it with them!




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