View Full Version : research guidelines?
12-28-2010, 10:11 PM
A big thanks to Tim for setting up this board.
Until researchers have something to post, I thought it might be interesting to discuss some possible shared assumptions about research--for you to confirm, refute, supplement, or replace. Please note that this thread is not a place for generalized anti-research put-downs. It is a place for people to think through what decent astrology research might look like; and to help members fine-tune and correct preliminary research designs. And "one size does not fit all!"
1. Science is not the only legitimate type of research into astrology, but it has been a very powerful form of research in many other fields. "Science" is a moving target, because it constantly changes and develops: the science of past centuries is of interest, but cannot strictly be considered consistent with the scientific method today. The scientific method of today, in skeletal form, involves: (a) a review of relevant studies, (b) a hypothesis, (c) a method by which the hypothesis can actually be tested, (d) data collection, (e) data analysis, (f) presentation of results, and (g) discussion of their meaning, implications for the hypothesis, and conclusions.
Science is divided into different fields. Usually scientists restrict science proper to the physical and natural sciences. Some of the methods of the social and behavioural sciences (such as anthropology and psychology) are probably more suited to astrology than are physical and natural sciences like astronomy or zoology. Mathematics, statistics, and engineering are slightly different: math is a large part of the reasoning in some disciplines, statistics is often part of the data analysis, and engineering has been nicknamed "science applied."
2. Other non-scientific fields with different standards for research that are also empirical in nature include history, philosophy, and qualitative studies within the social sciences. These fields also have specific procedures and standards of evidence.
3. One hallmark of research is its duplicability or replicability. Obviously some researchers are more talented or collect more data than others, but in principle, if a research design is sound, other researchers should be able to use it in a similar study, with similar results.
4. If astrologers can make a case for astrological research that does not follow models from the standard academic disciplines, it might be helpful if they nevertheless follow a sketch of the scientific method outlined above. If this is not possible or suitable, hopefully they can clearly outline their procedures and data, step-by-step, and cite the sources that informed their work. This way, others can see whether the conclusions drawn are supported by the methods used and information gathered.
5. All research is freighted with problems, such as: (a) over-generalizing, assuming that results from too small a sample can be generalized to a larger propulation. (b) Having a skewed sample that is biased in a particular direction. An example here might be an astrologer citing his client files, when the clients themselves come from a particular cultural group whose mores are not widely shared by the larger population; yet the astrologer extrapolates as though they were. (c) Not recognizing that the results of a particular study (for example, a correlation between Neptune placements and artists) are equally if not more the case in the general population.
6. It is fine for our purposes to post preliminary results, or results that are suggestive but not conclusive. This might be something like a small pilot study.
7. It should also be fine for researchers to solicit advice in developing a research design, or to solicit examples or data from other members.
8. This should not be a board for chatty threads like, "How do you recognize Capricorn rising?" followed with anecdotes about people who look like goats. Astrology is loaded with anecdotal evidence! The question is, how to get beyond the anecdotes into something more methodologically sound.
9. We are all advised to keep current with research posted on other astrology sites and print media.
If you are serious about astrological research, what do you think about the above recommendations?
I like the list, waybread. I only want to add that this is a place for the "nuts and bolts" of astrology to get "spread all over the table." This is the forum where we can examine the entirety of existing systems (including every small piece, individually or collectively) to prove or disprove particular notions. This is a place for development of new ideas or new studies of old ideas. If something has never been thoroughly examined, this is the place to examine it. If something has been inadequately examined, this is the place to perform your own study to confirm or refute existing ideas. This is also the place to recruit members who might want to conduct the same study as you.
There are many different types of studies which could be made useful here, so there is no one standard of how to post a study. The thing to remember is that proof needs weight. You don't need to support your preliminary hypothesis just to conduct a study. This isn't a corporation and nobody is getting paid for the research. What you investigate and how is entirely up to you. The one thing to remember is that words like "proof" and "fact" must be heavily supported. If you want to claim something as true, we will all need solid reasons to believe it so.
Things that are solid reasons:
Things that are not solid reasons:
Citations of Unsupported Claims
The solid reasons should be self-explanitory. Experimental evidence is our #1 guide in determining, as humans, what is correct and what isn't. Formal logic and mathematics are both categories of complete and consistent systems which are known to agree with Universal relationships.
Bad reasoning is not nearly as obvious to most people. My apologies, but this isn't English class, so citations of someone else's work are not good enough to prove anything unless you are citing the proof. Ptolemy might be a good source for some things, but many of his teachings are entirely unsupported. If Ptolemy didn't support his work himself, then the work is unsupported. Claims, tradition, personal experience, and channeled material can all be used to direct an experimenter to new ideas to test, but none of these things are good reasons for someone else to accept your ideas.
No one should put forth any rigid methodology that the entire forum must use. Each should be free to conduct the research of their choice by their own chosen method. Keep in mind, of course, that not everyone is going to agree with your methods and conclusions right away, even if you are correct. So, be ready with answers to the questions you know will be asked. Use this forum to flesh out your ideas so that they can stand to any scrutiny. It is my hope that everyone will find this forum to be a place where work speaks for itself.
12-29-2010, 01:25 AM
Good contribution, Mark!
I would just suggest:
1. Citations, as you note, are not in themselves proof of anything. But some citations might be to extensive research published elsewhere. Also, if someone is basing assumptions on poorly reasoned sources, this could be uncovered by others familiar with them. At least we would know what they were and could evaluate the study accordingly.
2. Probably this should have been #10 in my OP, but research is plagued with a "garbage in, garbage out" problem. This expression doesn't mean that anybody here would post "garbage", but it is a common expression among researchers. It basically means that one's results/conclusions are only as good as one's inputs. If someone has some false assumptions in step one, even a sophisticated research design could produce spurious results in step 8.
3. Most of the academic social science and humanities research is not based on mathematics or formal logic. This does not mean there is a deficiency in them.
It's true that social sciences and "humanities" are not founded in formal logic nor mathematics. Note also that neither social sciences nor "humanities" can be used as proof of concept for any functional system. While I do want to leave the door open for any kind of research, social sciences are called social for a reason. It's good that you want to be inclusive, waybread, and I appreciate that. I just don't see what benefit could come from "sciences" that have no concern for functionality.
I'm currently enrolled in a local university as a psychology student. Some people might call psychology a social science, but I would disagree. Development of the field of psychology is dominated by experimentation and rigorous applications of scientific methods, including double blind studies. Perhaps the application of psychology can be included in the social sciences, but not the development of it. These things are difficult to discuss because each psychologist has his/her own definition of psychology. No two people approach the same way and I find that psychology is actually a field which allows for that. Behavioural and congnitive approaches are both internally consistent. They may seem incompatible, but if both can provide useful insights, they must not be mutually exclusive.
This relates directly to our predicament in this forum. The fact that Egyptian, Chinese, and modern Western astrologies all work differently (and sometimes on different assumptions) does not make them mutually exclusive. For the logic student, that mistake would be a false dilemma. There is no reason to think that only one can be right. That would be an assumption and, considering that each one can work effectively in its own way, an incorrect assumption. This brings us to our main point.
There is one Truth and it is that which we seek to describe. How should we describe it? Who cares? I am concerned only with that functional Truth that is alive and at work even now. There can be said to be one perfect system that describes all functions of astrology fully and rightly. If we define astrology as such, however, we must also say that it is a hypothetical system, because no one is currently able to fully reveal it. I feel that this must be our focus. Regardless of our persuasions or how we may want to talk about them, each of us seeks to describe and use that real system that is alive and working. It is that real system, which every astrologer agrees exists, that must always be our concern.
Said many times in many ways and bears repeating:
"The truth, if the Truth, can stand a little knocking."
P.S. I appreciate your contributions, waybread, because of your respect for the pursuit of Truth and for other people's persuasions. Please continue to help this forum develop as long as you're here.
12-29-2010, 05:56 PM
Mark, the social sciences and humanities were not founded in formal logic and mathematics, unless we take a very loose and very historical interpretation of these subjects.
A work of history, for example, needs to be based in logical inferences, but there is nothing very formal about this; with the exception of the work of a few scholars in the philosophy of history. A historian might write a very scholarly history of the American Civil War or a biography of Abraham Lincoln that would be packed with evidence assembled in a highly logical fashion, but this is a far cry from the stuff of the sub-field of logic in a philosophy or mathematics department today.
In the universities with which I have been affiliated (I am now retired) psychologists prefered to call themselves behavioural scientists.
I hope I made the point, above, that some scholarship is quantitative and some of it is qualitative. However, qualtitative studies cannot be written off as a weak version of quantitative studies. A lot depends upon the type of question the researcher asks, and the type of evidence that is available or can be mustered for analysis.
For example, historians are limited by extant historic records that meet the criteria of internal and external criticism (i.e., that the documents are not forgeries, that eye witnesses are reliable, &c.)
There are also pitfalls in rigorous "top down" quantitative studies. My privacy is very important to me, so I won't mention in what academic discipline I spent a 30+-year career. I would only say that it includes both quantitative and qualitative research, and is usually classified as a social science.
During the 1960s and 70s, scholars in my field were very concerned to make their research more rigorous and quantitative. After a while, by the 1990s, quantitative research came in for some telling critiques; notably research involving ethnic minorities. This was in part due to the "garbage in, garbage" out problem mentioned in my previous post. For one thing, minorities complained that they were being studied to death by researchers who didn't bother to inquire what sort of research the minorities would actually find useful to them (as opposed to being useful to the researcher's careerism;) and that quantitative procedures like survey instruments or analysis of census data really didn't get at the heart of the inner dynamics of the minority communities. So today in my field, it is much more common for researchers to engage minority subjects in the development of the research project. One result is that a much less "scientific" type of methodology results--but to better effect.
One problem with older psychology studies in particular is that the researchers did not examine their own biases, norms, and cultural blinkers. And these biases went into the research design. For example, there used to be a lot of talk about individuals needing to be "well adjusted" (to what?) and homosexuality as deviant behaviour (compared to whom?). This is part of the reason why so much of Sigmund Freud's "findings" had to go out the window.
Hopefully your psychology studies will also include post-modernism, post-structuralism, feminism, critical studies, science studies, and cultural relativism. They are a far cry from the "one truth" thesis. Wars have been fought over the "one truth" thesis; and in the end, the "truths" were falsified.
I don't know that there is any reality behind astrology. I hope there is.
I agree that combining different kinds of astrology should prove more fruitful than insisting upon any one "brand name."
"One Truth" isn't a thesis. It's self-evident! I wish I were better able to support this notion publicly, but the mindset of the general populace just won't allow it. Our standard education curriculum is pathetic. If everyone were to spend a few years actively studying formal logic (the "nuts and bolts" of reasoning) around the same time they learn algebra, the understanding would be much more natural. There is no trouble with saying that there is one Truth. The trouble comes when people claim that they know what it is. The fact that two countries which believe in different gods are warring against each other has nothing to do with God. Most people will do as they wish, regardless of reasons. In fact, the average person is motivated more by feeling and sentiment, completely reactionary things, than by thinking. The average person is irrational as hell.
As for the qualitative research, it is still important. Both qualitative and quantitative methods are necessary and proper. The difference is in the purpose they serve. In the scope of "research and development," quantitative results are the ones that really tell the difference between what works and what doesn't. Qualitative work is the more inductive sort of thinking that forms the foundation for deductive work and afterwards fleshes it out to make it more humanly accessible. The reason I put quantitative work first is because a R&D forum needs that keen edge to cut the fat away from the meat, just as engineers do. The engineer builds the building and leaves the drapes for someone else to handle. :smile:
P.S. This thread may soon deserve to become a sticky. Let's see what else hasn't been said yet.
12-29-2010, 07:54 PM
Good points, Mark. As a sceptic towards most things in life, I reserve judgement on "the one truth" but will be interested to see what you come up with.
Also, I am really impressed that you are getting a solid university education in psychology.
I think a big problem with a lot of astrological research is that the astrologers do not have the background in research design; notably in statistics and in some understanding of common pitfalls in research design and data interpretation. Geoffrey Dean has done a great job of outlinging a lot of these potential pitfalls at: http://www.astrology-and-science.com/hpage.htm . [Click on his "Artefacts in data" and "Artefacts in reasoning" articles.] Then the people with the research credentials seldom have a solid background in astrology.
I have access to on-line academic journal indexes, courtesy of my former employer. You probably do, as well. Some of the published tests of astrology by academics are real howlers. One example concerned a comparison of university students' career goals with their sun signs. Unsurprisingly, no correlation was found. Apparently the author was clueless about the role of the 10th house, ruler of the MC, and so on. It seems that humanities professors are more able to publish and even teach decent material on astrology, through the back-door of history and literature, rather than testing astrology's truth-claims. It's a start, however.
I agree totally that scientific rigour would be a huge help in many, many astrological studies. But not all sorts of research are amenable to rigorous application of the scientific method, depending upon the question being asked and the stage of the research. A small pilot study would be one example.
Also, I don't see qualitative research as necessarily analagous to putting the drapes on the windows of a building designed by engineers! [i.e., "mere window dressing"?] In the example I gave above, of problems with "top down" quantitative research, I do see astrology today as saturated with assumptions and "received wisdom" that are problematic and are probably best initially approached by viewing them from alternative perspectives.
For example, let's suppose we really wish to learn something about how individuals with the sun and a stellium in a particular sign express its purported attributes, if these people do. If I want to learn about how life looks to a hyper-Scorpio, I am probably better off at least starting with an open-ended, qualitative set of interviews with such people, and asking them to suggest how I might get at my topic.
I was alerted to the problems of the "received wisdom" in astrology after reading umpteen published descriptions about Scorpios as "intense", "jealous", and "vindictive." Hardly flattering, and probably not written by a hyper-Scorpio. Then I read an interesting thread where posters who identified with the sign talked about understanding themselves as administering just desserts to friends who behaved badly in some way. To them, the retribution wasn't negative insofar as it reflected on them, but was entirely justifiable according to an internal gyroscope that related to justice in inter-personal relations.
Another thread alerted me to how important [I]privacy is to many people identify with the sign of Aquarius. This is something that the "god trick" or "god's-eye view" of the conventional quantitative researcher might miss; because it isn't an attribute commonly ascribed to this sign.
And again, a rigorous quantitative study is no better than its initial assumptions. If they are inappropriate or simply wrong, then the whole edifice of a technically sophisticated study falls down.
We haven't yet touched on the "-isms" that take aim at the taken-for-granted assumptions underpinning both science and society, such as post-modernism.
12-29-2010, 09:28 PM
I thought it might be useful for anyone reading this thread if I tried to explain what some of the "isms" like "post-modernism" and "post-structuralism" are about. If you google these terms, you will find a massive amount of material on them, much of it contradictory. Some writers insist on the various "isms" being distinct and separate, whereas others tend to conflate them or point to commonalities. For the sake of brevity, I will conflate them in a way that an expert would not. Again, I hope people will tinker with my overview. Just briefly, and followed by some implications for astrology....
1.[B] Modernity is a condition and intellectual movement of Enlightenment and post-Enlightenment western/ized societies, in which the benefits of science, progress, technology, capitalism (or Marxism) and secularism are seen as obvious and true. Modernity may be contrasted with "backward" or "superstitous" beliefs and habits.
In astrology, this might cut several ways. We might take for granted that positions of planets affect human behaviour as described by self-styled "modern astrologers', or we might view astrology as some kind of backward superstition that has effectively been replaced by modern psychology and medicine.
2. Post-modernity is a condition in which the modern person's taken-for-granted world is open to question, because it is seen as a suite of cultural artefacts, rather than as a universal truth.
Just for example, a scientist might see the scientific method, as I outlined in my OP, as being the best or even the only way to arrive at truthful statements about our natural world. A post-modernist would term that view scientism; because it fails to acknowledge legitimacy to other means of knowing something; and also because this view cannot be demonstrated using science's own methods.
3. Common attributes of one's taken-for-granted views of "the truth" include one's socio-economic class, race/ethnicity, gender, level of physical ability, age, and historical period and place. Thus "the truth" is an artefact of one's standpoint or perspective, which is largely a result of one's cultural conditioning. For example, it is not inherently better to be born male or female. It might seem inherently better to be born male, however, in a society that values men over women; and that instructs children from infancy that girls' qualities are naturally inferior to boys'. And all of the above attributes are open to contestation in terms of their meaning and legitimacy. For example, the term "race" still appears on US census forms, whereas many anthropologists argue that it is a cultural construct that has caused more harm than good to people of colour.
We see this problem a lot in astrology books, where the author's own culturally-influenced beliefs and even prejudices are apparent in how they describe people with different horoscopic placements. For a prime example, see Dane Rudhyar on women, and his interpretation of the moon.
4. Power relations influence what version of reality prevails in a given society. We have all read the statement, "History is written by the conquererors." People in a position of power and authority (oftentimes bolstered by control over more resources) disproportionately influence or even control our sources of information such as schools, media, and the society's "common knowledge." In other words, people in power have the means of representing themselves and others in a way that advantages them and disadvantages others. When this control is reasonably complete, it is called hegemony and it explains how or why people participate in and justify their own oppression.
A discourse is a combination of beliefs and material artefacts (such as public buildings or even horoscopes) that express a holistic world view, in which these power relations are embedded. Clearly, astrology has some major taken-for-granted discourses. Does anyone seriously question, for example, why horoscopes are mostly round or square, and whether a second house is "real" or a figment of our collective imaginations?
5. Power relations therefore indicate who has the power to represent something in a certain way.
An example in astrology might be the loss of astrology in European universities; mostly during the Renaissance. A new version of reality prevailed, fostered by both the church and more secular thinkers, that left no room for traditional astrology among educated people. Today, science is a highly influential endeavour in western society: asttrology is not. Another example might be the highly fatalistic and negative views of character one reads in both traditional and modern astrology books--and which individuals tend to adopt rather than question.
I am often struck in astrology cookbooks by negative views of sun-sign Aquarians as "cool" and "aloof", for example. On Planet Aquarius, however, more emotionally-detached Aquarians are normal and fine; and it would be possessive, jealous watery types who would be described as given to emotional over-kill! I imagine the cookbooks were written by people happy to point out the negatives of people whom they could not personally dominate and control.
5. Scepticism and criticism are therefore hallmarks of post-modernism. And this, paradoxically, is why innovative research into astrology would seem to be useful. If truth-claims of astrology are legitimate, they should hold up to scrutiny, or be able to explain precisely why the critics are misguided.
Deconstruction is the act of taking apart and critiquing cultural artefacts taken as reality by society or its power-brokers. So one of the first principles of research might be to understand what are our "sacred cows."
BTW, if you are with me so far, you might enjoy the article by Robert Hand on post-modernism at http://www.astro.com/astrology/in_postmodern_e.htm I don't think it is terribly post-modern, but is a good thoughtful article.
Thank you for those points, waybread. Those are some things that everyone should keep in mind when viewing the world. You also gave treatment to qualitative work more fair than I did in my last post. We must leave open all avenues of research because any assignment of meaning must be qualitative. In an R&D forum, our measure of what works and what doesn't must be quantitative. That quantitative information doesn't mean anything, however, without qualitative information. Studies such as the proper assignment of attributes to each sign and planet are qualitative by definition. Therefore, any complete system of astrology must be both quantitatively and qualitatively sound. A lack on either part renders the system erroneous and incomplete.
In speaking of assigning attributes to signs, I also find that too many interpretation manuals are strictly specific when they shouldn't be. Qualities like "jealous," "emotional," "considerate," and so forth naturally belong to all signs or to none. Each influence must be treated as latent possibility until it is made manifest through the individual. We must not confuse the two! Twins, born with almost identical charts, can grow to become radically different people. This necessarily tells us that there are many factors in human development which are not included in what is astrologically measurable. Astrology describes latent influences, but cannot speak as to the manifestation.
My mother is an excellent example of this. She is loving, slow to anger, kind, forgiving, selfless, and long-suffering. No one would guess that her Sun sign is Aries. What this tells me is that each sign has many possible manifestations. Aries represents anger and jealousy, but it also represents the means by which those same tendencies can be controlled. The latent forces are not the same as the concrete manifestation. It would be most sensible, therefore, to speak of astrological tendencies as being latent influences, the manifestation of which is chosen by the individual. There is no other way to explain the variation we can readily observe in the world as built.
To simplify, behaviours cannot be reliably attributed to astrology. Behaviour is a function of the individual. The value of astrology is the description of latent influences from which the person may choose. In this light, astrology itself seems to infer the existence and power of free will. It's amazing how only two examples can clear up such murky waters.
P.S. Huzzah for deconstruction!
12-30-2010, 08:28 PM
Well said, Mark! Hear, hear!
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