Skeptics and the “Mars Effect”: a chronology of Events and Publications Compiled by Jim Lippard draft: June 5, 2011



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Skeptics and the “Mars Effect”: A Chronology of Events and Publications

Compiled by Jim Lippard

DRAFT: June 5, 2011
This document is copyright © 1997, 2002, 2009, 2011 by Jim Lippard, Phoenix, AZ, USA. Permission is hereby granted to reproduce and redistribute this document in its entirety with this notice intact.
This is a chronicle of events related to the “neo-astrological” claims of Michel and Françoise Gauquelin and the investigation of their claims by various skeptical organizations: the Belgian Comité Belge pour L’Investigation Scientifiques des Phénomènes Réputés Paranormaux (Comité Para), the U.S.-based but international Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP), the French Comité Français pour l’Etude des Phénomènes Paranormaux (CFEPP), and the Dutch Stichting Skepsis. Events listed include published articles, telephone calls, and personal correspondence. Not all of the listed events may have actually occurred; the source for each purported event is given in parentheses. Those marked with an asterisk have been verified by the author of this chronicle by first-hand observation of the relevant document. (In the case of telephone conversations, the relevant document is a transcript of the conversation by one party to the conversation—this author has not heard recordings of the conversations reported here.)
HISTORY OF THIS CHRONICLE

There were several events which led to my interest in the “Mars effect” controversy. Long a fan of the fiction of Robert Anton Wilson (especially his Illuminatus! trilogy co-authored with Robert Shea), I read his 1986 book, The New Inquisition: Irrational Rationalism and the Citadel of Science. That book criticized CSICOP and summarized (inaccurately, as I quickly learned) CSICOP’s involvement in the controversy. I asked then-CSICOP executive director Mark Plummer about it at the 1987 CSICOP Conference in Pasadena, and was told only that it was a bad situation which CSICOP has put behind. I read all of the back issues of CSICOP’s Skeptical Inquirer on the controversy.

The subject came up in December 1987 on the Internet “skeptics” mailing list which I was then co-moderating with Toby Howard of the Manchester Skeptics, raised by parapsychologist Dean Radin. Radin, who recommended Wilson’s book as a reference, criticized CSICOP for the “Mars effect” controversy, as well as criticizing James “Amazing” Randi’s “Project Alpha” hoax on parapsychologists. (Radin also said something about Suitbert Ertel confirming Michel Gauquelin’s “Mars effect” and having difficulty getting published in the Skeptical Inquirer.) I pointed out some mistakes in Radin’s account and defended CSICOP on the basis of information in my back issues of the Skeptical Inquirer. I also forwarded the messages on the topic to CSICOP. CSICOP sent them on to Executive Council members Philip J. Klass and Randi, both of whom replied by letter to Radin with copies to me. Randi replied only regarding “Project Alpha,” but Klass sent Radin a copy of a “Comprehension Test on Dennis Rawlins’ Charges of CSICOP Coverup,” offering to pay $25 to the charity of Radin’s choice for a score of 90% or better. To the best of my knowledge, Radin did not take up the offer.

In March 1988, Klass visited Phoenix to speak on the subject of UFOs at Arizona State University. This was an event organized by the Phoenix Skeptics, of which I was then executive director. In conversation with myself and Ron Harvey, Klass stated that the only person associated with CSICOP who could possibly be construed as having done anything wrong in the “Mars effect” affair (besides Dennis Rawlins) was CSICOP Chairman Paul Kurtz—but he seemed to think that even that was not the case and that the matter was trivial.

Somewhere along the line I read the issues of Marcello Truzzi’s Zetetic Scholar on the “Mars effect” and Dennis Rawlins’ “sTARBABY” from the October 1981 issue of Fate magazine (previously, all I had seen of Rawlins’ side of the story was his “Remus Extremus” in the Skeptical Inquirer). Then, on November 18, 1991, Rick Moen of the Bay Area Skeptics posted a copy of Klass’s “CRYBABY” (an unpublished reply to “sTARBABY” which had been distributed by CSICOP in 1981-82) to the Usenet “sci.skeptic” newsgroup and the BITNET “SKEPTIC” mailing list (which had displaced Toby Howard’s and my “skeptics” mailing list). This was the first time I had read “CRYBABY.” While I learned some new information about the events in the CSICOP “Mars effect” controversy, I also learned that “CRYBABY” failed to address the major complaints of “sTARBABY.” I pointed this out, with examples, in a response to the posting of “CRYBABY” to both skeptical groups on January 20, 1992.

I came in contact with German psychologist and “Mars effect” researcher Suitbert Ertel through the computer network, and posted some things to the skeptical mailing lists on his behalf when the “Mars effect” was being discussed. The criticisms of the Dutch skeptics were discussed on these mailing lists, as was Ertel’s analysis of the CFEPP data.

In October 1992, I attended the CSICOP Conference in Dallas. On the last morning of the conference, I was approached by Klass, who asked me about messages I had sent to Rick Moen about the “Mars effect,” and what specifically my objections were to CSICOP’s actions. We were joined by Robert Sheaffer and Paul Kurtz, and I brought up Ertel’s analysis of the CFEPP data. Kurtz asked to see copies of Ertel’s posted messages on the subject, and I agreed to send them. On October 20, 1992, I sent a letter to Paul Kurtz and Phil Klass in which I summarized the criticisms I had of CSICOP’s involvement in the “Mars effect” controversy (and some minor criticisms of CSICOP’s “Beyond Belief” video). I enclosed copies of some postings by Ertel and others from the Usenet “sci.skeptic” newsgroup. This letter began a lengthy and not entirely pleasant exchange of correspondence with Klass, during which he sent me copies of many early memos and letters from Rawlins and others involved in the CSICOP controversy. Meanwhile, Ertel also sent me copies of some early correspondence on the controversy, as well as copies of early articles. These materials from Klass and Ertel were the primary impetus for my producing this chronicle.
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

I am grateful for the information provided to me by Jerome Clark, Patrick Curry, Suitbert Ertel, the estate of Piet Hein Hoebens, Gerd Hövelmann, Philip J. Klass, Tom McIver, Dennis Rawlins, Robert Sheaffer, Brian Siano, and Marcello Truzzi. I also relied on several previous summaries of events, including Dennis Rawlins’ “sTARBABY” (Fate, October 1981) and “Remus Extremus” (Skeptical Inquirer, Winter 1981), Philip J. Klass’s “CRYBABY” (1981, unpublished), Patrick Curry’s “Research on the Mars Effect” (Zetetic Scholar #9, March 1982), Richard Kammann’s “Personal Assessment of the sTARBABY Controversy” (December 15, 1981, unpublished) and “The True Disbelievers: Mars Effect Drives Skeptics to Irrationality” (Zetetic Scholar #10, December 1982), and George Abell’s untitled 71-page statement (April 1982, unpublished).


DISTRIBUTION

This version of the chronology is being distributed to the following persons:

Earlier drafts have been sent to John Bear, Susan Blackmore, Jerome Clark, Patrick Curry, Michael Epstein, Suitbert Ertel, Gerd Hövelmann, Ivan Kelly, Anson Kennedy, Paul Kurtz, Tom McIver, Rick Moen, Mike Norton, Damian Pope, Dennis Rawlins, Françoise Schneider-Gauquelin, Robert Sheaffer, Michael Shermer, Brian Siano, Marcello Truzzi, and Stephen Weldon. (My attempts to send copies to Lawrence Jerome and Philip J. Klass were unsuccessful—Jerome moved and the forwarding order has expired, and Klass returned his copy without opening it.)
ABBREVIATIONS

The following abbreviations have been used throughout:


Organizations

AHA American Humanist Association

CFEPP Comité Français pour l’Etude des Phénomènes Paranormaux

CP Comité Para (Comité Belge pour L’Investigation Scientifiques des Phénomènes Réputés Paranormaux)

CSAR Center for Scientific Anomalies Research

CSICOP Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal

Skepsis Stichting Skepsis

SSE Society for Scientific Exploration

UR l’Union Rationaliste
Periodicals

JASPR Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research

JSE Journal of Scientific Exploration

NS New Scientist

SI Skeptical Inquirer

SF Science Forum

Z The Zetetic (now the Skeptical Inquirer)

ZS Zetetic Scholar


Articles

As George Abell, untitled statement, unpublished (April 1982), 71pp.

Cr Patrick Curry, “Research on the Mars Effect,” Zetetic Scholar #9 (March 1982), pp. 34-53.

Kt Richard Kammann, “The True Disbelievers: Mars Effect Drives Skeptics to Irrationality (Parts I and II),” Zetetic Scholar #10 (December 1982), pp. 50-65

Ri Dennis Rawlins, “Inside the sTARBABY Coverup: The Planners’ Private Words,” unpublished (May 11, 1983), 13pp.

Rr Dennis Rawlins, “Remus Extremus,” Skeptical Inquirer 6(2, Winter 1981-82), pp. 58-65.

Rs Dennis Rawlins, “sTARBABY,” Fate (October 1981), pp. 1-32 (reprint numbering).

Rt Dennis Rawlins, “General Memo on MT [Marcello Truzzi],” unpublished (May 13, 1978), 3pp. (This includes his letter of the same date to “Ken F, Martin G, Paul K, A Randi.”)

ZKAz Marvin Zelen, Paul Kurtz, and George Abell, “Is There a Mars Effect?” The Humanist 37(6, November/December 1977), pp. 36-39.
DRAMATIS PERSONAE

George Abell: CSICOP Executive Council member and Professor of Astronomy at the University of California at Los Angeles. Co-author of articles critical of Gauquelin’s “Mars effect” claims with Paul Kurtz and Marvin Zelen. Died October 7, 1983.

Mario Mendez Acosta: Head of the Mexican Section of CSICOP (now the independent Mexican Association for Skeptical Research, SOMIE).

Claude Benski: CFEPP

Bart Bok: CSICOP Fellow and Professor of Astronomy at the University of Arizona, co-author of “Objections to Astrology” with Paul Kurtz and Lawrence Jerome. Died 198x.

Bette Chambers: Executive Director of the AHA, former President of the AHA, former CSICOP Fellow.

Jerome Clark: Editor of Fate magazine at the time Dennis Rawlins’ “sTARBABY” was published. Is presently editor of the International UFO Reporter.

Daniel Cohen: Former CSICOP Fellow, former editor of Science Digest. Author of The Encyclopedia of Monsters and numerous other books.

John Cole: In September 1981, he was Assistant Professor of Anthropology at the University of Northern Iowa. He was briefly CSICOP’s second executive director in 1985 (he is listed as such in the Summer and Fall 1985 issues of SI). He is presently at the Water Resources Research Center at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and is editor of the journal Creation/Evolution.

Patrick Curry: historian of science, specializing in astrology. Lives in London.

Jean Dath: CP

Persi Diaconis: Former CSICOP Fellow, Professor of Statistics at Stanford University, magician.

Suitbert Ertel: German psychologist who has published numerous articles regarding Gauquelin’s theories.

Hans Eysenck: prof. of psych where? univ. london?

Kendrick Frazier: CSICOP Executive Council member, editor of SI. Former editor of Science News.

Martin Gardner: CSICOP Executive Council member, science writer. Was long-time writer of Scientific American’s “Mathematical Games” column.

Michel Gauquelin

Françoise Schneider-Gauquelin

Piet Hein Hoebens: CSICOP Fellow and journalist for De Telegraaf. Died October 22, 1984.

Sidney Hook: Professor of Philosophy at New York University. Died in 198x.

Ray Hyman: CSICOP Executive Council member, Professor of Psychology at the University of Oregon.

William T. Jarvis: Associate Professor of Health Education, Preventive & Community Dentistry, Loma Linda University, and president of the National Council Against Health Fraud.

Lawrence Jerome: Science writer, CSICOP Fellow, and author of Astrology Disproved.

Richard Kammann: Former CSICOP Fellow, Assistant Professor of Psychology at the University of Otago, New Zealand. Died in 1984.

Ivan Kelly: Prof. of XXX University of Saskatchewan. Chairman of CSICOP’s Astrology subcommittee.

Philip Klass: CSICOP Executive Council member, was long-time senior editor at Aviation Week & Space Technology magazine. One of the leading UFO skeptics, author of UFOs: The Public Deceived and UFO-Abductions: A Dangerous Game.

Paul Kurtz: Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at the State University of New York at Buffalo, chairman of CSICOP, co-author of criticisms of Gauquelin’s “Mars effect” with George Abell and Marvin Zelen. Chairman of the Council on Democratic and Secular Humanism (CODESH), head of Prometheus Books. Former editor of The Humanist.

Gerald Larue: Professor of Religion at the University of Southern California, CSICOP Scientific/Technical Consultant.

R.A. McConnell: Research Professor of Biophysics at the University of Pittsburgh, parapsychologist.

J. Derral Mulholland: Astronomer, formerly at the University of Texas .

Lee Nisbet: CSICOP Executive Council and Board member, Professor of Philosophy at Medaille College in Buffalo, New York. Was CSICOP’s first executive director (1976-1985).

James Randi: Former CSICOP Executive Council member (resigned in 1991), magician, author of Flim-Flam!, The Truth About Uri Geller, The Faith Healers, and other skeptical books.

Dennis Rawlins: Astronomer, teaches at the University of Maryland (?).

Evry Schatzman: UR/CFEPP

Elizabeth L. Scott: Professor of Statistics, University of California, Berkeley.

Robert Sheaffer: Science writer, Skeptical Inquirer “Psychic Vibrations” columnist, author of The UFO Verdict: Examining the Evidence.

Elie Shneour

Gordon Stein: CSICOP Scientific/Technical Consultant and editor of The American Rationalist.

Marcello Truzzi: Former CSICOP co-chairman and former editor of Z, Professor of Sociology at Eastern Michigan University. Editor of ZS, co-author of The Blue Sense: Psychic Detectives and Crime with Arthur Lyons. Frequent critic of CSICOP.

Marvin Zelen: CSICOP Fellow, Professor of Statistics at Harvard University.


CHRONICLE OF EVENTS

1945


Publications

Leon Lasson claims that eminent professionals are born slightly more often (or less often) when a characteristic planet rises or culminates. (Published in Ceux qui nous guident (Paris, Rene Debresse, 1946).)


1962

Events and Correspondence

January 28: Jean Dath, president of the CP, writes to the Gauquelins regarding their methods that “I have personally verified some of your results and did not find anything that can, on the statistical point of view, be objected to them. But of course this verification admits a priori that the basic data, i.e., your gathering of dates and hours of birth, is correct” (quoted in Michel and Françoise Gauquelin, “The Truth About the Mars Effect on Sports Champions,” The Humanist July/August 1976, p. 44). The letter concludes by suggesting a replication experiment with 500 Belgian athletes.
1968

Events and Correspondence

???: CP does tests on the Mars effect (Cr, pp. 35-36).
1969

Publications

Michel Gauquelin, The Cosmic Clocks, New York: Avon.

Michel Gauquelin, The Scientific Basis of Astrology: Myth or Reality. New York: Stein and Day. (Translated from the French by James Hughes.)


1973

Publications

*Printemps [Autumn]: Lawrence E. Jerome, “Astrology and Modern Science: A Critical Analysis,” Leonardo 6(2):121-130. Jerome writes that “Gauquelin has committed two basic errors in his statistical study, not in his statistical methods, which are rigorous, but rather in his interpretation.” (p. 129) Gives Mars/sun proximity+nycthemeral curve explanation of the “Mars effect.”
1974

Publications

*Winter: Michael Zeilik, II, Letters, Leonardo 7(1):94. Praise for Jerome’s 1973 article.

*Spring: James R. Hein, “On Astrology and Modern Science,” Leonardo 7(2):151-152 Criticizes Jerome’s 1973 article as “grossly misleading.”

*Spring: Lawrence E. Jerome, Letters, Leonardo 7(2):187-188. Bart J. Bok, Letters, Leonardo 7(2):188. Jerome responds to Hein. Bok points out some errors in Jerome’s 1973 article and agrees with Hein on one point, while disagreeing with Hein overall.

*Summer: James R. Barth and James T. Bennett, “Astrology and Modern Science Revisited,” Leonardo 7(3):235-237. Lawrence E. Jerome, Letters, Leonardo 7(3):283. Barth and Bennett offer empirical evidence against astrology (U.S. Marine Corps membership shows no correlation with sign), while criticizing Jerome for ignoring empirical data. Jerome replies.


1975

Publications

*Spring: Jean-Claude Pecker, Letters, Leonardo 8(2):181. Agrees with a point Bok made (not about Jerome) and asks Hein what he knows about astronomy (since Hein asked Jerome what he knew about astrology).

*Spring: Marcello Truzzi, “Astrology as Popular Culture,” Journal of Popular Culture 8(4):906-911. Brief account of history of astrology and different types of astrology. Page 910 has footnote which contains the sentence “Gauquelin’s books present an excellent case built upon a presentation of these many anomalies” which Rawlins complains about in his letter to Truzzi of December 27, 1977 and in his letter to the president of the University of Toronto of February 6, 1978.

*Summer: Michel Gauquelin, “Concerning the Possible Influence of Planets on Human Beings,” Leonardo 8(3):228-231. Lawrence E. Jerome, Letters, Leonardo 8(3):270. Gauquelin soundly criticizes Jerome. Jerome’s letter says “I have found that the statistical method that Gauquelin applies to his data is invalid,” the same criticism he makes in his Humanist article (September/October 1975).

*September/October: Bart J. Bok, Lawrence E. Jerome, and Paul Kurtz, “Objections to Astrology—A Statement by 186 Leading Scientists,” The Humanist 35(5):4-6. A very short statement with many signatures. Bart J. Bok, “A Critical Look at Astrology,” The Humanist 35(5):6-9. A brief look at the history of astrology, horoscopes, what scientists think about it, and the psychology of belief in astrology. Lawrence E. Jerome, “Astrology—Magic or Science,” The Humanist 35(5):10-16. History of astrology, a look at horoscopes, cosmic and biological clocks, statistical astrology, and “humanist astrology.” Writes that “Gauquelin’s statistical studies present an interesting case wherein totally fallacious results appear to be scientifically valid; in fact, Gauquelin’s research has been checked by several European scientists and statisticians, who could find nothing wrong with his complex statistical manipulations. As frequently happens, however, the fallacy does not lie in his manipulations, but rather in his basic statistical assumptions. As I have shown in a recent publication (Leonardo 8 [1975], p. 270), Gauquelin has been improperly applying binomial probability statistics to his data, thus arriving at odds against chance on the order of one hundred thousand to one for statistical fluctuations that are actually well within chance level” (pp. 15-16). (Rawlins’ memo of March 28, 1978 shows why Jerome is wrong here.) Corliss Lamont, “My Flirtation with Astrology,” The Humanist 35(5):16. A small sidebar about how Lamont was once mistaken for a professional astrologer named C.W. Lemont.

*October: Michel Gauquelin, “Spheres of Influence,” Psychology Today (British) No. 7, pp. 22-27. Summarizes research and conflict with the Belgian CP. (Reprinted in Patrick Grim, editor, Philosophy of Science and the Occult, 2nd edition, 1991, Albany, N.Y.: State University of New York Press, pp. 37-50.)

*November/December: Paul Kurtz, “Astrology and Gullibility,” The Humanist 35(6):20. “Press Comment on ‘Objections to Astrology,’” The Humanist 35(6):21-23. “The Astrologers Reply,” The Humanist 35(6):24-26. Lee Ratzan, “The Astrology of the Delivery Room,” The Humanist 35(6):27. The force exerted by various celestial objects on babies being born, as compared to that exerted by the delivering obstetrician.


Events and Correspondence

November: Truzzi sends article “of pseudo-support for astrology” to Science, according to Rawlins (letter to Truzzi, December 27, 1977; letter to J.R. Evans, February 6, 1978).

November 3: Dennis Rawlins’ first contact with Paul Kurtz (Rs, p. 3).

*November 8: Luc de Marré to Paul Kurtz (in his capacity as editor of The Humanist). “Dear Mr. Kurtz: I was a member and administrator of the Para-Committee (P.C.) (fully: Belgian Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Phenomena reputed to be Paranormal) in Brussels. I have not only followed, but taken part in, the verification of the works of M. Gauquelin (M.G.), since the beginning, more than ten years ago. Because of a controversy about M.G.’s work, issued in ‘The Humanist’, I heard, during the P.C.’s last meeting, that you asked to be advised concerning this matter. This is why I make a point of bringing my testimony to you.”

November 15: Rawlins writes to Kurtz that if something is wrong with Gauquelin’s sample, no amount of statistical testing could be sure of detecting it. (Reported by Rawlins in “Critical Notes and/or Correction Suggestions” on Cr, August 12, 1981.)

December: George Abell says he will verify Gauquelin’s Mars sector calculations (Rs, p. 7).

December 1: Paul Kurtz to Dennis Rawlins. “Your paper came a few days too late to run in the Humanist… The Gauquelin stuff has really got me concerned. Please keep in touch.” (Quoted in Rawlins’ “Critical Notes and/or Correction Suggestions” on Cr, August 12, 1981.)

December 6: Rawlins phones Abell to warn that the Zelen test will come out in Gauquelin’s favor if the data is bogus (Cr, p. 37, which incorrectly describes this as a letter). Rawlins phones the same warning to Kurtz and Zelen on January 23 and March 8, 1976, respectively.


1976

Publications

???: Comité Para, “Considérations critiques sur une recherche faite par M.M. Gauquelin dans le domaine des influences planétaires,” Nouvelles Brèves 43:327-343.

*January/February: Bart J. Bok, “Post-Objections Reflections,” The Humanist 36(1):28. Michel Gauquelin, “The Influence of Planets on Human Beings: Fact versus Fiction,” The Humanist 36(1):29-31. Responds to criticisms of Jerome and the CP. (Correctly shows Jerome to be mistaken.) “The Committee Para Replies to Gauquelin,” The Humanist 36(1):31. Rejects Gauquelin’s conclusions about their work on the basis that Gauquelin assumes that “All the possible configurations of the diurnal (daily) revolution of the planet Mars had an equal probability during the period from 1872 to 1945” and that “the frequency distribution of the hours of birth during the day (the nychthemeral curve) is a constant distribution valid for the entire period from 1872 to 1945,” and that both of these assumptions are false, and that therefore Gauquelin’s calculations for the theoretically expected number of athletes with Mars in a key sector is incorrect. They do not, however, offer any suggestion regarding what is actually producing the “Mars effect” in Gauquelin’s (or their own) data. Marvin Zelen, “Astrology and Statistics: A Challenge,” The Humanist 36(1):32-33. Suggests a resolution to the dispute over Gauquelin’s assumptions: collect a sample of non-sports-champions corresponding to each sports champion (or each one of a random sample of sports champions) from Gauquelin’s data, in the same place and date. See if the percentage of those non-athletes born with Mars in a key sector is the same as the athletes. If so, it’s some kind of demographic effect having nothing to do with athletic ability. Zelen concludes, “Can the proponents meet this challenge? Gauquelin has devoted a considerable part of his professional career to attempting to gather valid evidence that would persuade the scientific community. We now have an objective way for unambiguous corroboration or disconfirmation. Great interest has been created by the proponents and opponents of this influence of the planets on human behavior. It would be of considerable interest to settle this question in the manner I have suggested” (p. 33). George O. Abell, “One Astronomer’s Views,” The Humanist 36(1):33-36. Comments on reactions to “Objections to Astrology.” [One of the letters in this issue criticizing “Objections to Astrology” is from Carl Sagan. He explains why he refused to sign it.]


Directory: ~lippard


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