A Brief Chronology of the
"Mars Effect" Controversy
More detailed chronologies can be found at
Jim Lippard’s site
as well as in The Tenacious Mars Effect.
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L’Influence des Astres published, in which Michel Gauquelin outlines
his discovery of a planet/profession connection in French births, including
the Mars effect for sports champions. Gauquelin shows that Mars, Jupiter
and Saturn tend to occupy two zones just after rise and culmination at the
births of eminent professionals significantly more or less often than chance
would allow. Mars, for example, occurs in these zones more often for generals,
physicians and sports champions; less often for painters and musicians.
Gauquelin approaches the Belgian “Para Committee” with the request that they
conduct an independent inquiry of his findings. His initial contacts are
Les Hommes et Les Astres published. Gauquelin replicates his planetary
effects in new data for the same profession from other countries, along with
additional findings for the Moon and writers.
Jean Dath, of the Para Committee, checks Gauquelin’s findings and says that
he can find no statistical errors in what Gauquelin has done, suggesting
an independent replication experiment with 500 Belgian athletes.
Para Committee begins an investigation of the Mars effect, completed a year
later, which repeats Gauquelin’s original results using 535 European athletes.
Over the next eight years the committee refuses to publish its results, until
finally forced to do so.
Anti-astrology manifesto published in
The Humanist, accompanied
by article criticizing Gauquelin. Gauquelin and wife Françoise respond.
Summary report of Para Committee’s investigation published, with committee
citing unspecified “demographic errors” as the reason their findings apparently
support Gauquelin. Their own unpublished internal analyses show this to be
incorrect, and Committee member Luc de Marré resigns in protest. In
order to resolve this question, however, American statistician Marvin Zelen
proposes the Gauquelins gather a control group of ordinary people born around
the same date and in the same place as a group of sports champions, pointing
out that Mars in the ordinary group should be present at a level significantly
different from the champions if Gauquelin’s probability calculations are
right and the Para Committee’s contention was wrong i.e., if demographic
errors do not explain the replication. While the Zelen test is in progress,
CSICOP researcher and astronomer Dennis Rawlins demonstrates privately that
Gauquelin is in fact correct and the Para Committee wrong, further pointing
out that the so-called “Zelen test” can only come out in Gauquelin’s favor.
With Gauquelin unaware of this analysis, the test is allowed to proceed,
and the data is completed and sent to Paul Kurtz in September.
At the end of April, CSICOP researcher George Abell writes a letter to Kurtz
stating clearly that the Zelen test has come out in Gauquelin’s favor. Two
reports on the experiment are published in The Humanist late in the
year. The comparison between the Mars positions of 303 sports champions and
16,756 ordinary people shows that Gauquelin was right and the Para Committee
was wrong, which is duly reported in an article by Michel and Françoise
Gauquelin. However, despite Rawlins’ analysis and Abell’s private admission,
an accompanying article by Zelen, Abell and Kurtz does not clearly convey
the favorable outcome for Gauquelin, diverting attention from the issue by
questioning the original champion data. This causes dissent and defections
within the skeptics’ ranks, aggravating existing personal and intellectual
conflicts and leading to open criticism such as that from CSICOP Fellow
along with several resignations. Simultaneous with publication of the Zelen
test results, CSICOP Chairman Paul Kurtz begins a study of the Mars effect
based on U.S. athletes, in consultation with Zelen and astronomers George
Abell and Dennis Rawlins.
The U.S. Mars effect study is published in
Inquirer, the journal of the Committee for Scientific Investigation
of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP). It shows a distinctly negative result,
with Mars almost significant in the opposite direction from Gauquelin’s
Fate magazine publishes
“sTARBABY,” written by
Dennis Rawlins, a highly critical internal account of the conduct of CSICOP
Council members in both the Zelen test and the U.S Mars effect study.
An article by Patrick Curry in the skeptic journal Zetetic Scholar,
accompanied by commentaries from Michel Gauquelin and others, raises questions
about the Zelen test and the CSICOP Mars study, paralleling Rawlins’ scientific
criticisms. An article in Science et Vie accepting the CSICOP
interpretation of the Zelen test and the U.S. Mars effect study is challenged
by Michel Gauquelin. The Comité pour l’Étude des
Phénomènes Paranormaux (CFEPP) proposes a new experiment and
at Gauquelin’s insistence a detailed protocol spells out what will be done.
From this point on, little is heard from the French committee, with the last
contact occurring in 1985. Professor Suitbert Ertel of the University of
Göttingen, who has in the meantime begun an exhaustive analysis of the
Gauquelins’ work, is briefly in touch with committee members, with his last
contact in 1986.
Abell, Kurtz and Zelen - responding to the criticism typified by Rawlins,
Curry and Kamman - publish a “reappraisal” of the Mars effect experiments
in Skeptical Inquirer 7(3), 77-82. They say, “Gauquelin adequately
allowed for demographic and astronomical factors in predicting the expected
distribution of Mars sectors for birth times in the general population.”
In other words, the Para Committee’s contention about the reasons for its
replication of Gauquelin were wrong.
Arno Müller and Suitbert Ertel’s initial investigations of the
Gauquelins’ work is published in
Zeitschrift für Parapsychologie und Grenzgebiete der
Psychologie, 28, 1/2 (pp. 87-135). Mueller replicates Mars, but not
Saturn, for prominent German physicians and notes that where his sample overlaps
with Gauquelin’s he finds no problems with Gauquelin’s sampling practices.
Ertel presents an overview of Gauquelin’s work, with an emphasis on its
scientific nature, and reanalyzes some of Gauquelin’s data.
Suitbert Ertel’s extensive investigation into the Mars effect, published
in The Journal of Scientific
Exploration, offers firm support for the Mars effect. Ertel ranks
all athletes in Gauquelin’s database (including his unpublished controls)
according to the number of volumes in a standard set of references in which
each is cited. He concludes that while there is evidence of a bias in
Gauquelin’s determination of whether individual athletes belong in the champion
or control groups, it actually serves to mask the Mars effect as shown in
these “citation counts.” When the bias is corrected for, the effect is actually
stronger, and not weaker.
Arno Müller publishes an analysis of 402 Italian writers. He does not
replicate Gauquelin’s results showing significance for the Moon, but does
report positive signficance for Jupiter and negative significance for Saturn,
as with Gauquelin’s journalists.
The CFEPP issues a preliminary report on a study using 1,066 French sports
champions, with Gauquelin receiving his copy in October. The report discusses
methodology and lists the criteria by which data were selected, giving full
data for the 1,066 and names of 373 who fit the criteria but for whom they
could not obtain birth times. At this point it becomes evident that several
points of the 1982 protocol have been violated, though Gauquelin expresses
the hope that something might come of the situation nonetheless.
Gauquelin and Claude Benski of the CFEPP meet in his Paris laboratory to
discuss differences between his data and theirs. In April, at age 62, Gauquelin
An article by Ertel in The Skeptical Inquirer uses the same methods
as in his 1988 JSE article to demonstrate that the Mars effect is
present in CSICOP’s own data.
The CFEPP report on the Mars effect is “leaked” to the Dutch newspaper
Trouw at the time of a conference of Dutch skeptics. Speakers at the
conference offer their own analysis of the CFEPP report, along with criticism
of Gauquelin and Ertel, though no one outside skeptic circles has yet been
provided with the CFEPP’s final report or data. Around the same time,
Müller and Ertel publish their report of a replication of Gauquelin’s
first study, of members of the French Académie de Médecine,
with a sample that includes his original data and data for members admitted
since his original study. They state:
The results confirm Gauquelin’s original 1955 findings. The predicted
positive deviation from chance expectancy for Saturn is very significant,
for Mars significant. An additional negative deviation for the moon is also
apparent in both studies, but only in ours is the sample large enough for
the deviation to reach significance. In both studies there also is a
nonsignificant negative deviation for Jupiter. For each planet (sun and moon
included) there is no significant difference between the deviations in
Gauquelin’s sample (N=576) and those in our sample (N=915).
Ertel analyzes the CFEPP’s 1994 report in Correlation, contending
that the Mars effect is evident, despite some serious flaws in the CFEPP
experiment, including a bias toward low-eminence athletes and an incorrect
calculation of the crucial “chance” level for Mars.
The CFEPP report, with an additional commentary
by J. W. Nienhuys and several letters from Gauquelin to the Committee, is
published as The Mars Effect, A French Test of Over 1,000 Sports
Champions. The Committee says its own experiment showed no Mars effect
and concludes that the effect was due to bias in Gauquelin’s data selection,
offering as its main evidence several suggestions for changes in their list
of athletes made by Gauquelin to the Committee. Around the same time, The
Tenacious Mars Effect by Suitbert Ertel and Kenneth Irving is published,
with a foreword by skeptic Jim Lippard and an abridged version of Lippard’s
extensive chronology edited by Irving. Lippard’s foreword concentrates on
the problems of partisan debunking and advocacy sparked by the controversy,
urging a turn toward more serious investigation while not endorsing a specific
view on Gauquelin’s claims. Irving provides a background of the history of
the controversy and Ertel analyzes all data from the skeptic organizations,
concluding that while the results in each case were affected by bias of one
type or another, all three show the effect when citation counts are used.
Suitbert Ertel and Kenneth Irving analyze the question of
“Biased Data Selection in Mars
Effect Research,” in an article in the Journal of Scientific Exploration,
dealing only with the question of how advance knowledge of Mars positions
might have affected the various studies by both Gauquelin and skeptics. After
a computer reanalysis of his work in 1984, Gauquelin had concluded that all
of the planetary effects were best shown by including the areas just before
rise and set along with the traditional “key sectors.” Reasoning that any
bias due to foreknowledge of Mars positions would not have included these
areas, Ertel and Irving calculate the ratio between the average number of
cases in these newer “initial” sectors and the average number in the
“main” sectors in order to look for evidence of such bias in all available
data from both Gauquelin and the skeptics. This initial/main quotient (IMQ)
confirms the bias previously shown in Ertel (1988) for Gauquelin’s unpublished
control athletes, and shows no apparent difficulties with the data set from
the CFEPP. However, the CSICOP figure shows an anomaly of the same size,
direction and probability level as that for Gauquelin’s unpublished athletes,
suggesting a high probability of bias influenced by knowledge of Mars sector
positions during the sampling process - i.e., the same as in the Gauquelin
case. Though not offering a firm conclusion on this point, Ertel and Irving
hold that until such time as an independent audit of the CSICOP files relating
to the experiment can be made to settle the question, that data should be
excluded from further consideration in regard to the Mars effect. Replying
in “Is the ‘Mars Effect’ Genuine?,
” Paul Kurtz, J. W. Nienhuys and Ranjit Sandhu contend that Ertel and
Irving are begging the question by drawing conclusions from a ratio based
on an effect whose existence has not been demonstrated. In the Ertel and
Irving article, they report an anomaly of a different sort in the Para Committee
data, from which an abnormally low IMQ is obtained. Following publication,
the Para anomaly is found to be due to rounding errors in data obtained from
the Gauquelin laboratory, and on recalculation the IMQ is found to be within
normal range, leaving the CSICOP data and the Gauquelin unpublished data
as the only remaining anomalies.