The "Astrology defence kit" of Andrew Fraknoi and why it doesn't work

Surly cat

...I expected something better

Article udate on 27th march 2019

Note: If there are astrological terms that you do not understand consult my glossary.



I take again the defences of astrology, this time against the critics of an American astronomer, Andrew Fraknoi, who wrote an “Astrology defence kit” containing also “Then embarrassing question” that he poses to every astrologer, to which I am happy to answer:


The beginning


Fraknoi is a man of science, and seems to completely identify himself in the values and the methods that allowed the humanity to reach the impressive goals of knowledge and progress in the physical world (of which also we astrologers benefit since now the planet’s position is determined with much more precision).

These same values, however, prevent him from asking himself other questions and investigating the spiritual world, of which maybe he doesn’t even contemplate the existence.


This rigorous scientist wrote the article because he was fed up of seeing his discipline associated to astrology and being asked questions on the matter; so he expresses the intention of giving various objections that, anyone that has to do with an astrologer, can pose him to show the falsity of his beliefs.


He begins explaining briefly what astrology is, adding that many believe in astrology still today, mentioning the fact that even the US president Ronald Reagan regularly consulted and astrologer and that, according to a 2005 poll 25% of Americans believed in astrology. All data that make evident how important is, for a man of sound rational principles like Fraknoi, to enlighten the superstitious pleb with the light of reason.


Then follows a brief explanation that justifies the ancient peoples, always worried about the intentions of the gods, for their looking some reassurance in the stars and how, still today, it is more fascinating thinking about the astrological Venus than to physical Venus, characterized by sulphuric acid rains and unsustainable temperatures.


After having made known the problem to his rational readers, he starts with the interesting matter with “ten embarrassing questions” he would like to asks the supporters of astrology.


Answers to the “Ten embarrassing questions”


1. What is the likelihood that one-twelfth of the world’s population is having the same kind of day?
Proponents of newspaper astrology columns (which appear in more than 1,200 dailies in the United States alone) claim you can learn something about what’s in store for you by reading one of 12 paragraphs in the morning paper. Simple division shows that this meansmore than 500 million people around the world will all have the same kind of day, every single day. Given the need to fill so many bills at once, it is clear why astro logical predictions are couched in the vaguest and most general language possible.


None: Sun sign columns stand to astrology as the game “Operation” stands to surgery.


2. Why is the moment of birth, rather than conception, crucial for astrology?
Astrology seems scientific to some people because the horoscope is based on an exact datum: the subject’s time of birth. When astrology was set up long ago, the moment of birth was considered the magic creation point of life. But today we understand birth as the culmination of nine months of steady development inside the womb. Indeed, scientists now believe that many aspects of a child’s personality are set long before birth.
I suspect the reason astrologers still adhere to the moment of birth has little to do with astrological theory. Almost every client knows when he or she was born, but it is difficult (and perhaps embarrassing)
to identify a person’s moment of conception. To make their predictions seem as personal as possible, astrologers stick with the more easily determined date.


Affirming that in the past humanity did not noticed the progressive increasing of the mother’s womb is contrary both to history sources and to Fraknoi’s beloved rationality.

Among astrologers the importance of the conception is debated and ancient writers give weird methods to obtain the moment of conception from the given hour of birth.

Personally I do not consider meaningful the moment of conception.

Simply, by the analogy principle, the moment of birth is the moment when the child become manifest to the world. So the ascendant (that is the zodiacal degree rising in that moment) is representing him. From here astrologers start to evaluate the birth chart, and so of the life newborn.

Astrology could even seem scientific (according to what Fraknoi says) because it is based on the moment of birth, but it is not a science. Or better, it could be regarded as a branch of the “human sciences” as psychology, anthropology, philosophy etc, called also “soft sciences” to differentiate them by the “hard sciences” like astronomy, since although they are constituted by a structured and logically organized knowledge, but the scientific method can’t be fully applied.

If the scientists think that many elements of a baby’s personality are determined before the birth is not a problem: they follows other methods. Anyway even many elements of a novel are written before its completion, but the global evaluation of a book can be done only when it is ready to be published.


3. If the mother’s womb can keep out astrological influences until birth, can we do the same with a cubicle of steak?
If such powerful forces emanate from the heavens, why are they inhibited before birth by a thin shield of muscle, flesh, and skin? And if they really do and a baby’s potential horoscope is unsatisfactory, could we delay the action of the astrological influences by immediately surrounding the newborn with a thin cubicle of steak until the celestial signs are more auspicious?


Our polemicist is also a college professor and is much appreciated by his students for the quality of his astronomy courses, easy to understand and full of humour that make the learning process much pleasant; sadly this time he doesn’t know the subject (it would be more correct saying that his mind is incompatible with astrology, something that will surely leave him much relieved) and so he is less funny.

Anyway the womb isn’t keeping out anything, simply the influence of the planets start after the birth because that is the moment when the child is appearing in the world.

One can even give birth to the child in a room 500 meters below earth, wrapping the whole structure in steaks, but it wouldn’t make any difference, now he is born and the birth chart applies, be it good or bad.


4. If astrologers are as good as they claim, why aren’t they richer?
Some astrologers answer that they cannot predict specific events, only broad trends. Others claim to have the power to foresee large events, but not small ones. But either way, astrologers could amass billions by forecasting general stock-market behavior or commodity futures, and thus not have to charge their clients high fees. Yet, how many astrologers actually foresaw recent stock market or real estate tumbles and warned their clients about it?


Maybe their birth chart don’t speaks of richness, anyway I think that exist also rich astrologers, but I really hope that none is manipulating the stock market to make billions.

It can be that some astrologers that have also a good financial knowledge use their skills to enhance their stock exchange performances, as it seems also mathematicians, physicists and others do, but they will surely be a minority: if someone studies astrology (or mathematics) usually do it by passion, not with the idea of using it as a mean to manipulate the stock market.

About the stock market tumbles I do not know neither how many astrologers foresaw them, neither to how many astrologers has been asked what would have happened in that moment, but probably Fraknoi hasn’t a statistic on the matter too.


5. Are all horoscopes done before the discovery of the two outermost planets incorrect?
Some astrologers claim that the Sun sign (the location of the Sun in the zodiac at the moment of birth), which most newspaper horoscopes use exclusively, is an inadequate
guide to the effects of the cosmos. These “serious” practitioners insist that the influence of all major bodies in the solar system must be taken into account — including the outmost planets Uranus and Neptune, which were not discovered until 1781 and1846.
If that’s the case, what happens to the claim many astrologers make that their art has led to accurate predictions for many centuries? Weren’t all horoscopes cast before 1846 wrong? And why didn’t the inaccuracies in early horoscopes lead astrologers to deduce the presence of Uranus and Neptune long before astronomers discovered them?


I do not understand why he doesn’t mention Pluto since that planet has been discovered decades before this article; anyway The “fundamental” celestial bodies are those of the ancient times, from Saturn to the Sun (or from Saturn to the Moon, to follow the order used by astrology). The others are useful instruments that can ease the interpretation of many charts, but they still represent a lesser element compared to the “traditional” planets. I can’t exclude with certainty that some chart has been erroneously examined because for the absence of the transaturnians, but they would still be isolated occurrences.

It is like saying: at the beginning of XX century cars had no power steering, so they weren’t autos?


6. Shouldn’t we condemn astrology as a form of bigotry?
In a civilized society we deplore all systems that judge individuals by sex, skin color, religion, national origin, or other accidents of birth. Yet astrologers boast that
they can evaluate people based on another accident of birth — the positions of celestial objects. Isn’t refusing to date a Leo or hire a Virgo as bad as refusing to date a Catholic or hire a black person?


Bigots and level headed people can be found everywhere, I found a good deal of persons blinded by the “light of reason” and turned into bigots.

Astrology isn’t based only on Sun signs, but on the astrological chart on its whole; not to discriminate, but for helping people in expressing their potential and improving their awareness.


7. Why do different schools of astrology disagree so strongly with each other?
Astrologers seem to disagree on the most fundamentalissues of their craft: whether to account for the precession of the Earth’s axis (see the box below), how many planets and other celestial objects should be included, and — most importantly — which personality traits go with which cosmic phenomena. Read ten different astrology columns, or have a reading done by ten different astrologers, and you will probably get ten different interpretations.
If astrology is a science, as its proponents claim, why are its practitioners not converging on a consensus theory after thousands of years of gathering data and refining its interpretation? Scientific ideas generally converge over time as they are tested against laboratory or other evidence. In contrast, systems based on superstition
or personal belief tend to diverge as their practitioners carve out separate niches while jockeying for power, income, or prestige.


As I already said most astrologers consider their discipline more an “art” than a science; if it is a science it must be regarded as a “soft science”, much different from the “hard” ones like astronomy.

Anyway astronomy studies the humanity that, as we know, is a complex and contradictory matter. So, necessarily, is a complex and contradictory system; there is nothing strange on the existence of different approaches, as there are different approaches also in ancient human sciences like economy, politics and philosophy, or in new ones like psychology, sociology etc.


8. If the astrological influence is carried by a known force, why do the planets dominate?
If the effects of astrology can be attributed to gravity, tidal forces, or magnetism (each is invoked by a different astrological school), even a beginning physics student can make the calculations necessary to see what really affects a newborn baby. These are worked out for many different cases in Roger Culver and Philip Ianna’s book Astrology: True or False (1988, Prometheus Books). For example, the obstetrician who delivers the child turns out to have about six times the gravitational pull of Mars and about two thousand billion times its tidal force. The doctor may have a lot less mass than the red planet, but he or she is a lot closer to the baby!


If the astrological influences were carried by a known force Fraknoi would believe in astrology, but obviously it is not so.

When I first wrote this article I was not aware of any astrologer that affirmed such nonsense, but recently I had the displeasure of discovering that, for example the astrologer Jeff Mayo, brought into play “the patterns formed by the interplanetary gravitational fields”. (1) Anyway surely the planetary influences can’t be attributed to gravity, tidal forces, magnetism or else and I strongly recommend to avoid astrologers that make similar affirmations. Comparing the gravitational pull of an obstetrician to that of Mars can be useful only as a training for physics students, but surely can’t help in disproving astrology, not to mention understanding it.

Fraknoi has a materialist vision and doesn’t suspect what astrology is about.

The planets themselves are not influencing humanity, the force they are representing are those who act.

They are like barometer pointers that, instead of showing the atmospheric pressure, they tell us how different forces are interacting, whose forces are an emanation of God.

How had the planets been assigned to the corresponding forces? With the analogy principle, mainly based on colour, speed and estimated distance from the Earth.

The advancements of astronomy has given more elements in favour of these choices: for example Venus has also the orbit more similar to a circle, so confirming the idea of harmony and beauty; Mars, considered linked to iron, has a red colour visible also by eyesight because of iron oxide present on its surface; “expansive” Jupiter is the largest planet of the solar system; Uranus, that from its discovery has been associated, among other things, to eccentricity, has its own axis nearly parallel to its orbital plane and the rotation around its axis makes it to “roll” backward in respect to its orbital motion.

Astrologer name directly Mars, the Moon etc for briefness, telling every time “the forces represented by Saturn...” or “the position of Mars shows that the entities associated to him are interacting in the x way with those related to Venus” would make a text heavy and uselessly longer.


Naturally this has nothing to do with science, and won’t do anything else than strengthening Fraknoi’s scepticism… if it can still be increased more.


Between questions 8 and 9 there is a box about the precession of the equinoxes, a matter about which I already talked here


9. If astrological influence is carried by an unknown force, why is it independent of distance?
All the long-range forces we know in the universe get weaker as objects get farther apart. But, as you might expect in an Earth-centered system made thousands of years ago, astrological influences do not depend on distance at all. The importance of Mars in your horoscope is identical whether the planet is on the same side of the Sun as the Earth or seven times farther away on the other side. A force not dependent on distance would be
a revolutionary discovery for science, changing many of our fundamental notions.


If a force is unknown it is rather difficult to discuss its properties.

Personally I do not think there is any carrying, simply the planet’s movement suggest what is going to happen on the Earth.


10. If astrological influences don’t depend on distance, why is there no astrology of stars, galaxies, and quasars?
French astronomer Jean-Claude Pecker has pointed out that it seems very small-minded of astrologers to limit their craft to the influences of the bodies in our solar system. Billions of stupendous bodies all over the universe should add their influence to that of our tiny little Sun, Moon, and planets. Has a client whose horoscope omits the effects of the star Rigel, the Crab Nebula pulsar, and the Andromeda Galaxy really had a complete


The influence of the stars has always been taken into consideration by many astrologers: failed, return when you’ll have studied more.


Astrology put to the test


After having embarrassed the astrologers, making them answer to such nonsense, the good scientist declares that astrology can’t resist a “careful test”. Sadly it is rather difficult to apply scientific tests to a discipline like this, it is not about weighting rocks, anyway let us see what the scientific community has done.


So he inform us of a “careful test” made by the psychologist Bernard Silverman of Michigan State University that would have examined the birth data of 2979 couples that were going to marry and those of 478 couples that were getting divorced to see if there was a correlation between the couples and the belonging to compatible or incompatible signs and found no correlation.

I am sorry to inform Dr Silverman that he lost his time: the Sun signs are only an ingredient of something much more complex, if he had found a correlation I would have been the first to be surprised.


Another “careful test” has been done by John McGervey, this time a physicist of the Case Western Reserve University, that investigated the relationship between Sun sign and vocation gathering the birth data of 6000 politician and 17000 scientists discovering (even him!) that the Sun sign distribution is completely at random.

Like before, an even greater effort, equally badly addressed.

If astrology would be so trivial anyone could do by himself, why should anyone need astrologers?

Someone could think that, with so great numbers, the Sun signs linked to some professions, or those compatible among themselves, should stand out somehow, but astrology has many variables, countless possible combinations. Not only: those signs can indeed be relevant in the charts of the examined subjects, simply not for the presence of the Sun, but for the presence of the Ascendant or its lord, the Medium Coeli, the Moon etc, elements not considered in the mentioned experiments.


Notwithstanding the fact that the author counted these among the “careful texts”, he speaks also of an experiments made by the physicist Shawn Carlson of the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory, designed to avoid the astrologers objection about the fact that one can’t rely only on the Sun sign.

So one could wonder why, if the author knows that the previous tests were made in a superficial way and alien to the real astrological principles, he included them in his article anyway; but for our disciple of the scientific method astrology is a clear trifle, so any experiment not proving it is a “careful test”.


Let’s examine this experiment.

On the paper the experiment can look interesting: Carlson has gathered some volunteers that gave their birth data and gave them the questionnaire “California Personality Inventory”, a psychological test that elaborates the answers giving descriptions using “just the sorts of broad, general, descriptive terms astrologers use”.

A “respected” astrological organization (brackets of the author, the unnamed organization was the NCGR “National Council for Geocosmic Research”) calculated the birth chart of the subjects, then 28 astrologers received one birth chart each and had to identify the right CPI among three. The astrologers obtained only a 34% of success, compatible with a random choice.

The problem is that the test has been made rather badly. The “Journal of scientific exploration” in 2009 published an article of the German psychologist Suitbert Ertel that gives harsh critiques to this test:; it seems that the CPI profiles given to the astrologers were too vague and, often, too similar among themselves, inducing some astrologer to renounce. To avoid closing the experiment, the remaining astrologers had to do even the work of the deserters, but this clearly altered the test. An astrologer attempted to say this to Fraknoi himself, obtaining only a literally evasive reaction:

It would surely be of interest to know that even the examined person weren’t able to identify their CPI among three.

Maybe for synthesis reasons, our adversary doesn’t tell us about another phase where every examined subject had to identify the interpretation of his own birth chart among three, even here the failure was complete.

Anyway there interpretation had been wrote in a manner different from usual, avoiding reference to places, times, age to avoid that they could be recognized basing on hints not purely of astrological derivation, and it had also to be rather synthetic (1.000 words in all).

It seems even that Carlson wrote his article in a not completely honest way, exaggerating the good terms he had with the astrologers and omitting the defection of some of them once they received the CPIs.


Fraknoi goes on with his reasoning affirming that, if a person is convinced that a birth chart interpretation is based on his data, he will identify on it, mentioning an experiment made by the French statistician and psychologist Michel Gauquelin (a researcher usually quoted by the astrologers because many of his studies seem to confirm the validity of astrology). He has sent the birth chart interpretation of a mass murderer to 150 persons; 34% of them said of recognizing themselves in the description.

We should see how the birth chart has been interpreted and how the resulting description has been wrote. Anyway, even if some birth chart are much more difficult to live than others, according to the context in which a person lives this person can have a normal life or become a criminal.


It depends from the way of expression of the influences of the birth chart: if in my mirth chart I have got a strong Mars’ influence, I could for example work as a policeman, a fireman, but also as a trade union representative or even as a politician, doing lively political orations.

Whereas, if the situation doesn’t allow me a harmonious expression of my birth chart influences, these express themselves in a twisted way with criminal tendencies, psychological problems etc.


Andrew inform us also of an experiment by Geoffrey Dean “Australian researcher who has conducted extensive tests of astrology” (in fact he is an ex astrologer now fiercely sceptic) that had inverted the astrological descriptions of 22 persons; 95% of them affirmed of identifying themselves in the inverted description, like those that received the right profiles.


These examples are given in order to demonstrate that often, those that turn to astrologers do that because they need someone to follow and do not apply critical thinking.

Dean’s experiment surprise me (if one tells me that, according to my birth chart, I seem exuberant and open to the opportunities of life, I would change astrologer or become sceptic), anyway I can’t exclude that mechanism like this can happen.


Finally the last test: the astronomers Culver and Ianna examined 3000 astrologer’s forecast finding only 10% of them true.

Mundane astrology is one of the most difficult astrology branches for the infinity of variables to consider; anyway the experiment monitored also forecast on the life of famous persons (politicians, actors etc).

Even the forecast on individuals are not easy at all: astrological influences can express themselves in rather different ways according to how the context make them flow; an astrologer could believe that a person will have a contention with his brother, and instead he have it with his neighbour, or something very different will happen, for example a car accident while going to work.

The astrologer correctly identified an influence acting on the third house, but he had made a mistake when trying to identify its manifestation. Usually the astrologer discuss the matter with the customer to focus the context and have and acquire a clear understanding of the kind of events that can more probably occur, but the forecast on a celebrity made by the astrologer on his own can’t count on this help and so the error margin is much higher.

There are also other factors: Not all the astrologers have the same skill level, some of the forecast could have been made by astrologers not good enough.

Besides these are not forecast requested by customers, but made or because requested by the mass media to have something to talk about (maybe even with insufficient time to study the matter) or done as a pastime and the published on the website, but probably without putting on it the same effort used when a paying customer asks directly something to the astrologer.


Then follows a brief rhetorical exhortation about the necessity of fighting astrology in the name of the reality of astronomy and the good of the young generations, that the author wants to see free from this “ancient fantasy”… so the dark ages church’s obscurantism has been substituted by the materialist obscurantism.


The “Jetology” of Fraknoi


The article has also a box with the last humorous expedient of Fraknoi, the funny astronomy professor:

Here, in order to make clear the absurdity of the astrology’s claim according which the planets influence us, suggest a new science, the “Jetology” that should do what astrology does, but using the position of the jets in flight at the desired moment (...and how does he think to examine Napoleon’s nativity using this system?).

Naturally this expedient can only show the extreme superficiality of the knowledge of the author regarding astrology, at least because the jets are built and flown by the man and so can’t show the action of metaphysical forces and entities, while the planets, according to the astrological point of view, are more directly related with the spiritual world and the forces ruling it.

It would have been more reasonable an example based on clouds, that I believe had indeed be used as a mean of divination; even if with more limited possibilities compared to astrology and, naturally, using only the clouds visible from the point where the interpreter stood.

The planets for astrology are a mean, for astronomy the end and the object of study.


Doubting astrology is absolutely understandable, there is nothing bad in this. On the contrary, well done objections can help the astrologers in finding the weak points of the discipline, in order to research on them, improve the art and make it stronger.

Anyway who believes that an article like that of Fraknoi can debunk astrology is a... “careful test”.


It is the astrologers fault


If to fight astrology even cultured and intelligent people like Fraknoi issue so mediocre materials it doesn’t depends only on the modern materialist mentality, that brings to view astrology as a silliness of which there should be no reason to talk about and that doesn’t deserve a real investigation.


In fact, sadly, even many astrologers contributed in creating this unpleasant situation selling themselves to the mass market with horoscopes bereft of any value expounded with apparent confidence, giving notions on the Sun signs without making clear that they are only a part of something more complex and vast, so contributing in giving a distort vision of astrology.


The result is visible to everybody: a deep and fascinating subject like this is reduced to a parody of itself, a mean of entertainment and evasion for the masses, an object of derision for the thinking heads of the society.


Horoscopes and superficial elements on the Sun signs represents a bad marketing, the fact of never telling what is behind the planets stimulates misunderstandings that attract the rage of the astronomers.


It is necessary at the same time to make clear that astrology is not a science (at least not a “hard” science like physics and astronomy), and explain that it doesn’t represent a mean of evasion to feed dreams and desires, but a discipline with its dignity, that can give a real help in understanding the reality of our everyday life and taking some decisions.


- The Cat



1) Jeff MAYO, Astrology, London, The English Universities Press, 1975, p. 5