Sunday, August 17, 2003

LONDON — Scientists have once and for all debunked astrology’s central claim — that our human characteristics are molded by the influence of the sun, moon and planets at the time of our birth — in the most thorough scientific study ever conducted on the subject.

For several decades, researchers tracked more than 2,000 people — most of them born within minutes of each other. According to astrology, the subjects should have had very similar traits.

The babies were originally recruited as part of a medical study begun in London in 1958 into how the circumstances of birth can affect future health. More than 2,000 babies born in early March that year were registered, and their development was monitored at regular intervals.

Researchers looked at more than 100 different characteristics, including occupation, anxiety levels, marital status, aggressiveness, sociability, IQ levels and ability in art, sports, mathematics and reading — all of which astrologers claim can be gauged from birth charts.

The scientists failed to find any evidence of similarities between the “time twins,” however. They reported in the current issue of the Journal of Consciousness Studies: “The test conditions could hardly have been more conducive to success … but the results are uniformly negative.”

Analysis of the research was carried out by Geoffrey Dean, a scientist and former astrologer based in Perth, Australia, and Ivan Kelly, a psychologist at the University of Saskatchewan, Canada.

Mr. Dean said the results undermined the claims of astrologers, who typically work with birth data far less precise than that used in the study. “They sometimes argue that times of birth just a minute apart can make all the difference by altering what they call the ‘house cusps,’” he said. “But in their work, they are happy to take whatever time they can get from a client.”

The findings caused alarm and anger in astrological circles yesterday. Roy Gillett, the president of the Astrological Association of Great Britain, said the study’s findings should be treated “with extreme caution” and accused Mr. Dean of seeking to “discredit astrology.”

Frank McGillion, a consultant to the Southampton-based Research Group for the Critical Study of Astrology, said of the newly published work: “It is simplistic and highly selective and does not cover all of the research.” He added that he would lodge a complaint with the editors of the journal.

Astrologers have for centuries claimed to be able to extract deep insights into the personality and destiny of people using nothing more than the details of the time and place of birth.

Astrology has been growing in popularity. Surveys suggest that a majority of people in Britain believe in it, compared with only 13 percent 50 years ago. The Association of Professional Astrologers claims that 80 percent of Britons read star columns, and psychological studies have found that 60 percent regularly read their horoscopes.

Despite the skepticism of scientists, astrology has grown to be a huge worldwide business, spawning thousands of telephone lines, Internet sites and horoscope columns in newspapers and magazines.

It seems that no sector of society is immune to its attraction. A recent survey found that a third of science students subscribed to some aspects of astrology, while some supposedly hard-headed businessmen now support a thriving market in “financial astrology” — paying for predictions of trends such as the rise and fall of the stock market.

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