In Which I Almost Apply Statistics To Astrology

Murderous Signs

That, my friend, is a very bold claim. We’d better do some investigation to see whether it holds water.

It seems to me that the most surefire way to identify people who are likely to commit murder is to find people who have already done so. We need a pool of convicted murderers – not a swimming pool…that could turn grisly – a data pool. We might further narrow the search to serial killers, since they are, by definition, the most likely of the most likely to commit murder. Having populated our list with the names of the worst humanity has to offer, we would then set about the business of procuring their birthdates, and by extension their Sun signs. Then, and only then, could we determine if the Arieses, Scorpios, Sagittarii, Virgos, and Cancers are the most likely to off a fellow human.

I had my calculator all fired up, ready to crunch some data, when I remembered the second step of the cookie-cutter Scientific Method: Research. Perhaps somebody has already performed the calculations of interest. I decided to look it up.

Lo, my query was quickly answered via search engine. Dr Jan Ruis has turned his statistical chops to the formidable task of analyzing the birth charts of nearly 300 serial killers, and has revealed…that there is a statistically significant tendency for serial killers to be born under the mutable signs: namely Gemini, Virgo, Sagittarius, and Pisces.

Oh. Well, that’s rather embarrassing.

So now you might be asking whether I intend to change my stance on astrology, and this meme. Wouldn’t I be some kind of hypocrite if I preached about the value of science as a tool to discover the natural world, then turned a blind eye on scientific research demonstrating that astrology is a legitimate way to profile somebody?

Well, not so fast. If Dr Ruis’s analysis is correct, then his results should be repeatable. In other words, many other statisticians, using identical methods, should arrive at the same conclusion. And believe me, there would be plenty of desire to repeat his studies. Any scientific analysis demonstrating the reality of astrology…well, that would turn the scientific world on its ear. That would finally show all those nay-sayer scientists who have derided astrology as pseudoscientific nonsense.

And yet, the confirming studies have not been forthcoming. I searched for other studies that confirmed – perhaps even expanded upon – the connection between a person’s Sun sign and his or her proclivity to kill lots and lots of people. If the literature is out there, it’s not well-indexed: the standard search engines have trouble finding it.

Instead I found lots of websites with anecdotes and unsupported generalizations. Astrology adherents frequently use words like “studies have shown”, but never actually cite a study. The one analysis that seems to lend real credence to astrology stands virtually alone like a tiny island of scientific inquiry in a sea of ignorance.

It’s also interesting that Dr Ruis’s study is published by NVWOA, a Danish Dutch society dedicated to the scientific study of astrology.  (Many thanks to Jan Zbikowski for mentioning my geographical error!) Although the NVWOA claims not to take a position regarding the “truth” of astrology, all of their published research seems slanted toward supporting rather than debunking astrological claims. It seems the organization attracts believers, even if that is not its stated purpose. A true believer with a strong enough scientific background can make a convincing argument to almost any end; only another scientist (or body of scientists) can spot the methodological flaws and biases that infect the work.

I’m not saying Dr Ruis’s conclusions are wrong, by the way. I lack the statistical know-how to confirm or debunk his findings. I do know this: you have one study standing against a wall of scientific knowledge that says astrology is bunk. The established body of science knows of no mechanism by which astrology could work, nor of any huge amount of statistical evidence that it does. We just have to accept that the world is a much more frighteningly random place than we want it to be, and plan accordingly.

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3 thoughts on “In Which I Almost Apply Statistics To Astrology

    • Oops! It seems that you are correct. I have rectified the error.

      Also, thank you for the compliment and for reading. I might not convince many people who truly adhere to astrology, but perhaps I can reach somebody who is on the fence. Thanks again.

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