An Encounter With a “Skeptic”

[NOTE:  This piece was written prior to entering journalism school – 23 years ago.  As such, some of the writing is not up to my current standard or AP Style.  I’ve only adjusted a bit of formatting to make it a bit more readable. The formatting is off because I had to grab it off of USENET.  I’ll try to clean it up a bit more when I have the time. I apologize in advance for my writing at that point in my life.]

On June 20, 1992 I attended a lecture at the Universe ’92 National Astronomy Exposition and Fair.  The Lecture was by Andrew Fraknoi, and was titled “What I Would Have Said to Nancy Reagan: A Skeptical Look at Astrology”.  Mr. Fraknoi is the Executive Director of the Astronomical Society of the
Pacific, and Editor of its astronomy magazine, “Mercury”.

Mr. Fraknoi began his presentation with a diatribe against the astrologer, Joan Quigley,who was employed by Nancy Reagan during the Presidency of Ronald Reagan.  The lecture was filled with inaccuracies and invective against Ms. Quigley.  At one point, Mr. Fraknoi even equated her to Rasputin. I feel that many of his remarks toward Ms. Quigley were slanderous. Mr. Fraknoi then went on to state that astrology was dangerous.  He explained this by saying that there were medical astrologers practicing without any formal medical training.  He also criticized the technique of Astro*Carto*Graphy(tm), saying
that it encouraged clients to move across the country due solely to
astrological factors.

He then went on to enumerate his “Ten Embarrassing Questions to Ask Believers”.  Here is a paraphrased list of those questions

1. How likely is it that 1/12th the population will have the same characteristics?
2.  Why do astrologers use the birth moment rather than the moment of conception?
3.  If the moment of birth is the essential moment, how doe the mother’s womb “block” the forces that are associated with astrology?
4.  If astrology is so effective, why aren’t astrologers richer?
5.  Why don’t astrologers perform more scientific tests to prove the validity of
6.  Isn’t astrology bigotry?  (Judging people by circumstances of birth.)
7.  Why is there so much disagreement between astrologers?
8.  If astrology is associated with a known force, such as gravity or tidal forces, why would the planets dominate?
9.  If astrology is associated with an unknown force, why does this force
act differently from all others?
10. If distance does not play a factor in astrology, why are stars,
galaxies, etc. not taken into account?

While most of these questions seem laughable to anyone who has studied astrology seriously, the audience that Mr. Fraknoi usually addresses has little or no astrological knowledge. Most times, no one is present at his lectures to present a conflicting viewpoint.  The audience is therefore ready to accept his assertions without question.

After presenting his “Embarrassing Questions”, Mr. Fraknoi went on to explain his new “science” of “Jetology”.  This “science” claims to tell the character and love relationships of persons by the position of Jumbo Jets at the time of birth.  This was meant to show the absurdity of the astrological hypothesis.

The next area in which Mr. Fraknoi attempted to convince his audience of “the folly of astrology” was scientific testing.  He quoted the negative results of the Silverman sun sign tests, and the Gauquelin sign tests.

He was about to go on to another set of tests, when I loudly said “Excuse me!  Why are you neglecting the positive results of Gauquelin’s diurnal planetary placement tests?  By not including the results of those tests you are lying to your audience by omission!”  Mr. Fraknoi then asked if I would hold any questions till the end of the talk. Having made my point, I agreed. (Besides, I heard people moving around behind me, and felt I would be “assisted to leave” if I continued.)

The Carlson test using the CPI was the next test Mr. Fraknoi approached.  After stating that the NCGR had approved the test, and selected the astrologers who participated, he explained that the results were just slightly better than chance.  Unfortunately for him, he was unaware that a participating astrologer, Neil Marbell, was in the audience.

Mr. Marbell stated that the NCGR did not approve the test or select the participants, but merely assisted the testers with the recruitment of astrologers.  He also stated that for the study he was asked to perform as two separate astrologers due to the shortage of astrologers who were willing to submit to the
conditions of the test.  This was at variance with the original structure of the test.  Mr. Marbell
was also asked to hold his questions to the end, and he agreed to do so.

After a short conclusion, the floor was opened to questions.  Mr. Marbell asked  Mr. Fraknoi if he were familiar with the results of his (Mr. Marbell’s) test of astrology.  He was not.  Mr. Fraknoi claimed he was also unfamiliar with any studies performed by Gauquelin with eminence in profession and diurnal planetary positions other than the Mars/Sports Champion tests.

Mr. Fraknoi then said he did not expect this to be a debate, and asked if anyone else had any questions.  Yes, they did ask questions, but oddly enough, not of Mr. Fraknoi, but of Mr. Marbell and myself.  After a few minutes, Mr. Fraknoi stated that it was time to bring the session to a close.

As the meeting broke up, Mr. Marbell and I were surrounded by attendees requesting further information, which we were happy to provide.  Mr. Fraknoi, on his way out the door, was asked by Mr. Marbell if he would like to see the report of his study.  Mr. Fraknoi said that he hadto “take care of his slides” and that he would return.  Mr. Fraknoi never returned.

As astrologers, we need to keep a close watch on people like Fraknoi.  His lectures are filled with inaccuracies, half-truths, and outright lies.  If he is allowed to continue to spout his opinions without rebuttal from the astrological community, it can only hurt the overall image of astrology.  Astrologers everywhere need to watch for when Andrew Fraknoi is speaking in their area, and challenge his assertions as much as humanly possible.  Only by constantly disputing the “facts” that he disseminates though these lectures can we either make him “clean up his act” or cease lecturing on this subject altogether.