Tuesday, February 6, 2007

My skeptical challenge

   Lynn at Astrological Musings has commented on my last post. She accuses me of data mining and quoting out of context when I constructed my poll. I could attempt to defend myself, but that would lead nowhere but a resounding chorus of "Nyuh-uh!" - "Nyuh-huh!" Lynn believes her reading of me should be convincing. I remain unconvinced. No amount of he-said-she-said is going to change that.
   I have another alternative to offer. Yesterday I asked Lynn if she would take my challenge, without describing what that was. Today, in the comments section of her blog, she said, "I refuse to consider the possibility that astrology has no validity because I know as an incontrovertible fact that it is an uncannily accurate way to uncover the psychological dynamics of an individual." If that is true, then a person who has had an uncannily accurate reading done by a talented astrologer should be able to pick that reading out from among several other, conflicting readings. At least, it seems so to me. If I am committing an error of reasoning, please point it out to me.
   My challenge to Lynn is this: I propose we test her astrological abilities in precisely that way. Here is how I see it working.

1) I would post requests on some Internet message boards asking for volunteers to participate in the test. Message boards that are nominally neutral on the topics of astrology and skepticism would be chosen. For example, we might post on a cooking message board, but not a science message board. We might post on a car enthusiasts board, but not a new age spiritualism board.

2) From among all the volunteers, I would randomly select twelve participants, with the only stipulation being that they represent twelve different signs of the zodiac (Lynn may want to stipulate an avoidance of cusps. This would be agreeable to me). Those participants would send me their natal information - birth date, time, and location. I would forward that information to Lynn, with the names and any other identifying information removed. She would receive ten sets of birth information identified only by the numbers one through twelve.

3) Lynn would prepare a chart for each set of natal information, and e-mail me twelve readings. I would edit the readings to remove any hints about which sign the reading represented, and e-mail them back to her for proof reading to ensure the important, specific details of each reading were not altered or removed. I would then send each participant three readings. Their own, and two more, selected randomly from among the other eleven. Participants will be asked to identify which reading describes them most accurately.

4) The laws of chance suggest that one third of the participants would select their own readings, and two thirds would not (in the event that they were simply guessing). Astrologers, I hope, would argue that a much higher percentage would select the correct reading. The words, "uncannily accurate" imply a significantly higher percentage. At the end of the test, I will post an article on my blog describing the results. If 50% or more of the participants select the correct reading, I will state, uncategorically, that I believe astrology deserves more study. If 80% or more are correct, I will state, again uncategorically, that it seems there's something to this astrology thing after all. I will pledge to leave that article at the top of the front page of my blog for no less that one full week.

   Now, I know there are some potential methodological problems with this test design. The masking of identities, and randomizations should be done by an independent third party to ensure proper blinding, for example. I am willing to entertain suggestions of an unbiased, neutral observer to do that, if Lynn and I can agree upon one. As well, the sample size is far too small for statistical significance. Still, I think it would be a fun and instructive exercise. I took your skeptical challenge. Will you take mine? What do you say Lynn?

   Or, any other astrologer out there.

Tags: , ,

14 comments:

bpslider45 said...

And as we wait... the tension builds.

I'm guessing that even though they will profess to really want to partake, they will find some reason to pass.
Brent

princesssaurora said...

Huh... what a great idea!  But, she won't do it.

be well,
Dawn

dpoem said...

You could make it like Randi's million-dollar challenge.  

-Dan
http://journals.aol.com/dpoem/TheWisdomofaDistractedMind/

tenyearnap said...

If time and location of birth mean anything, then you really don't need to make sure that all twelve astrological signs are represented, right? You could get a larger and more random sampling by doing away with the "12 signs" stipulation. Also, when gathering your participants, I would suggest that they not be told that this has anything to do with astrology. And, yes, you need a third party involved here. Have you asked Lynn how long it takes her to generate one of these "readings"? You may be asking her to put in an awful lot of time on this if she is to do 12 or so in a row. Just a thought.--Cin

rdautumnsage said...

Why??? Seriously why bother. It seems if someone believes something so incredibly fierce, even presented with facts would not change their mind. It would give you the satisfaction if it proved to fall in your court of saying "I told you so".
That in itself would be up to you, is it worth all that just to prove a point or not? Past experience tells me, leave people to their own principles unless of course they challenge yours! (winks) Indigo

plittle said...

Indigo: It's not about me, and it's not about Lynn. It's about the public perception of these things. You say what's the harm? Have look at Lynn's website, especially the section where she lays out her rates. Naive and misguided people pay astrologers, and psychics, and homeopathic doctors, etc., etc., ad nauseum, far too many hard earned dollars most of them cannot really afford to part with, and get in return, absolutely nothing. This is about education. If one person reading this blog learns something about how these people operate, and puts his money back in his pocket, I consider that the real victory.

Cin: You are absolutely right about the time aspect. It has to take a practiced astrologer at least six or eight minutes to put together one of these uncannily accurate readings, like the one Lynn sent me. Just think of the number of fortune cookies they have to go through to get all that information.

Dan: If I had a million dollars...I'd buy all the most expensive ketchups for my Kraft Dinner...like Dijon ketchup...
-Paul

justaname4me2 said...

So here's my question.
I read all the mumbo jumbo down an entry. (putting all snickers and chuckles aside)
What exactly is she trying to prove, accomplish or convey? Is that chart supposed to help you in some way? Is it supposed to change your direction in life, or simply placate a person into believing any buggered up thought/problem/issue/self nourished loose screw/or change they are having is fine or justified because the sun is played footsie with Jupiter?

Perhaps I'm being narrow minded here, but damn, if people pay for this service, what exactly is it supposed to be accomplishing?????

I should start up a new business. It's called "Word Analysis" I have no doubt I could sift through a person journal and get a damn good idea of what they are like, what direction they are going, what their personality is like and stamp a notion of 'prediction' on their future. No mystical magic needed.
Rebecca

plittle said...

Rebecca said: "if people pay for this service, what exactly is it supposed to be accomplishing?"

Lynn?

-Paul

dpoem said...

Way to work the head, Paul.  

Now, stick and move and work the ribs.  Body blows.  

-Dan
http://journals.aol.com/dpoem/TheWisdomofaDistractedMind/

princesssaurora said...

Good one, Dan...

be well,
Dawn

dpoem said...

I actually spun by that woman's blog, and read some of the comments, and I'm a little disappointed that she's not interested in taking Paul's challenge.  

-Dan
http://journals.aol.com/dpoem/TheWisdomofaDistractedMind/

midwestvintage said...

 I never could understand how people could fall for these trained con artists.  A friend of mines sister did this.  She actually went to a psychic school to learn how to bilk these people who go to her.  How in the world do people even fall for this is what I want to know? But she makes a pretty good living and admits its just a trick.  Its like the crop circles.  The people who made it admitted they faked it and even showed how they did it but some people still want to believe space people made them, unbelievable!

                   Julie

teeisme57 said...

Paul, wouldn't make more sense to have 12 astrologers do readings on one person rather then one astrologer do readings on 12 different people?  I mean, if your point is to say astrology is a crock, doing it your way would only prove Lynn is a crock.

plittle said...

  That is a very astute point, Teresa. Were Lynn to accept the test I have proposed and fail, it would not definitively prove anything. It would not show astrology to be bunk. It would not even indicate that Lynn was a poor astrologer. All it would show is that on that date, by the terms of that test, she was unable to demonstrate her claim. In fact, were she to pass the test, her claim for the validity of astrology would be much more strongly supported than my claim against it were she to fail.
  Tests like the one you have described have been done several times before, and the outcomes were always the same. Multiple astrologers could not be seen to agree on what a specific person's natal information indicated.
-Paul