Daily Horoscope:Mars May Be Conjunct Jupiter, But Your Head Is In Uranus.
Edit:I changed the grammar of the title in response to James’ criticism.
Note From George: There is a more lengthy criticism of Polaris in my follow up post Daily Horoscope: Polaris Software- A Critical Analysis.
After a month long hiatus, Jamie Funk is back for round 2 over at Lousy Canuck. Well, sort of. He has re-joined the fray now that Robert Currey has come in to defend astrology with something resembling a real argument. I do not by any means agree that Robert’s argument is anything short of trying to obfuscate the debate, but he at least came to the fight with a weapon; even if it is just pepper spray at a gun fight. I can summarize the new flavor of the debate like so:
1. Astrology doesn’t need a mechanism. It also apparently doesn’t need to have a quantifiable effect. In fact, it doesn’t seem to need anything other than a 3000 year pedigree and some nifty anecdotes.
2. Astrologers are not responsible to give any evidence to prove that astrology works. Science needs to prove a negative so that astrologers can critique these studies as faulty. Scientific method be damned.
3. Skeptics continually disregard “hits” out of hand. Even if those hits are based on ambiguous guesswork that could be viewed as a “hit” no matter which way the winds blow.
4. Astrologers like to insist that we divulge our personal information rather than subject their “field of study” to any semblance of a scientific assessment.
Why I Am Not Convinced.
Astrologers, in my mind, need to show that their “field of study” has some measurable effect in the world we live. Before we can postulate a mechanism, we first need to see the need for a mechanism. There has to be some phenomenon that can best be explained by astrology, and this would make a mechanism necessary. Astrologers do not seem to agree with this. They think we should prove that astrology has no effect, at which point they can decide if our proof is sufficient to discount astrology or not.
Then, out of the blue, James Alexander comes into the discussion. Those of you who have read my Daily Horoscope series would be familiar with James, both as the poster I referenced from Jamie’s blog and the author of the Polaris link I gave in DH: You’re in a Circle Jerk With The Confirmation Bias Fairy. You might also remember the open offer I gave him in DH: There Will Be A Test.
Polaris: What Could Possibly Go Wrong?
To reiterate what I said before:
A poster named James mentioned Polaris, a computer program that he described as being indisputably predictive in calculating birth times. I should have caught on when the process was referred to as “rectification”, but the temptation of a program that was testable and falsifiable blinded me to its obvious flaw.
The process is called “rectification”, I know now, because it uses your built in confirmation bias to re-jig your birthtime based on past events in your life. The idea is this:
Subject A either has no registered or confirmable birth time or feels that his/her birth time was miscalculated by timepieces at the time of their birth.
With the foreknowledge that astrology is more accurate at calculating birth times then, say, a clock or watch which was invented solely for the purpose of time keeping; Subject A gives a list of significant events from their lives and a list of probable birth times and Polaris extracts the most likely one based on a points system.
How eminently scientific! I can still see how this program could be used to disprove itself though.
Let’s say someone bought the program, gathered birth time information on several individuals using clocks that are accurate to the millisecond, witnessing and documenting firsthand the indisputable birth times. Wait say, 20 years and input events from those individuals lives and a wide range of birth times and voila, the indisputable birth time must surely emerge!
I’d like to know why, without any confirmation bias “that was the time they were supposed to be born” bullshit that I can hear already spewing from the credulous assholes mouth.
I’ve already proposed how to use this program in a less scientific way to at least lend weight to it’s credibility. I’m still open to takers:
From James’ comment at Funk Astrology.
Hypothesis: That the time of a persons birth can be calculated with better than average accuracy using the dates of a series of unrelated events in their lives.
Experiment: Provided with a list of ten (10) unknown subjects information including date of birth, place of birth, and several important events in their lives, the astrologer will be able to calculate their known birthtime within an insignificant margin of error. These calculations are to be statistically more accurate than the guesses of 5 non-astrologers.
James didn’t want to address my concerns with Polaris a month ago, and certainly has not seemed to keen to address them now. He claims that the odds of Polaris working are 1 in 1440 yet when I look at his example on the Polaris link I find this information:
She sent me over 40 events from her life, mostly with exact dates. I took 38 of these events (the ones where the dates were most accurately known) and entered each of them into Polaris. I gave the software a search range of an hour on either side of the supposed birthtime. This entering of events goes quite quickly. In about a minute (time dependent on computer speed), Polaris examined every 8 seconds in birthtime throughout the range and gave the following table:
With an hour on either side,and examining every eight seconds, you’re chances look like 1 in 900. But if we consider the fact that many people don’t have birthtime to the second, we must consider what range of “hits” would be considered uncanny to the person who has a rough birth time. Let’s suppose its just ten minutes either side of their birth time. By my math that equates to 1 in 6.
So I question the method, not the significance of it’s results.
I am left with the impression that his statistical skills are a bit lacking. He has succumbed to his own confirmation bias.
I still leave my original offer open though. I would gladly offer him the chance to set up a rigorous blind test of Polaris’ efficiency at calculating birth times. I’ll even allow him to help shape the parameters so that his program can get a fair shake. I doubt he will take the offer though, I just thought I would give him the chance he says every other skeptic won’t.
What Will I Do If You’re Right?
James, if you win, if Polaris can be seen to fair better than chance at calculating birth times, I will gladly take up your cause. I will stand behind you 100% on Jason’s site, and I will admit to everyone that astrology is plausible. I will give Jason and Glendon and Stephanie all the data we gathered together, and defend it as more than mere coincidence, proof that there is SOMETHING to astrology.
I will also post a retraction on my site saying that I was wrong to criticize astrology, outlining all the evidence I collected from our study, and you could link to this post with reckless abandon every time a skeptic questions astrology.
So let’s have a go then. Let’s put your program to the test.