Re: META:Crop Circles, etc

Damien Broderick (
Sat, 06 Sep 1997 12:40:46 +0000

At 08:29 PM 9/5/97 -0400, Dan wrote:

>Paul Hughes wrote:
>> Show me proof. I have yet to see CSICOP 'consider alternative
>> hypothesis' as you claim. A good example was a couple of scientists
>> who on a whim, decided to do a statistical study on the accuracy of
>> astrology. [...] When they went to CSICOP to have it published, CSICOP
>> saying "We refuse to publish anything that may demonstrate any
>> phenomona outside of known scientific knowledge"!

>Paul, I cannot off-hand find the precise issue of "Skeptical Inquirer"
>in which this experiment was discussed. Do you have that information
>on hand?

There was a famous stink about Skeptical Inquirer's treatment of Michel
Gauquelin's `Mars Effect' studies. The basic idea is described in the
following abstract from the Journal of Scientific Exploration (a
peer-reviewed journal), Volume 1 : Number 2 :

Is There a Mars Effect?


Michel Gauquelin

Laboratoire d'Etude des Relations Entre Rythmes Cosmiques et
Psychophysiologiques, 8, Rue
Amyot, Paris, France 75005

Volume 2 Number 1: Page 29.

The so-called "Mars Effect" is discussed in a larger context. The
phenomenon refers to a significant
tendency for champion athletes to have been born at the time of either the
rise or the upper
culmination of the planet Mars. The populations and sample, methodology and
its development are
described along with earlier and more recent findings. Control studies and
replications by others are
reported in some detail. Particular attention is paid to certain basic and
procedural criticisms and the
problem of bias or artifacts. The current scientific status of the issue is
reviewed in light of several
kinds of empirical evidence that has accumulated over the past three
decades. The question raised in
the title of the paper is answered in the affirmative.


This apparently ludicrous claim was tested with new data by Sk. Inqu.
folks, and (to summarise brutally) when they apparently corroborated
Gauquelin's [extremely limited and *non*-astrological] findings, the
magazine declined to accept or, as I recall, even publish the results.
There's a lot about this on the net, but I don't have the urls handy.

Recently, a similar effect has been claimed by the physicist and
parapsychologist James Spottiswoode, whose meta-analysis of many psi
studies in different parts of the world showed that effect sizes were
markedly greater at a particular sidereal time of the day. This suggests
some interaction between attempts at paranormal activities (precognition,
etc) and some extra-solar phenomenon. I hate this idea, and so does
Spottiswoode, precisely because it smacks of airhead astrology, but the
evidence is not without its compelling aspects. Those intrigued by this
might take a gander at:

(To declare an interest: I have published a book on research in applied
parapsychological techniques, including a detailed analysis of my own on a
database comprising three quarters of a billion guesses. I remain
open-minded about the possibility that claims of psi represent a genuine
paradigm-buster teasingly, endlessly, hanging just beyond the experimental

Damien Broderick