Renay Oshop, Peer Reviewed Science Comes to Astrology |345|

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  1. Alex

    Alex New

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    Renay Oshop, Peer Reviewed Science Comes to Astrology |345|
    by Alex Tsakiris | Apr 4 | Consciousness Science, Skepticism

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    Renay Oshop, uses big data, AI and advanced statistics to challenge what science thinks it knows about astrology.
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    photo by: Skeptiko
    On this episode of Skeptiko…

    Renay Oshop: We decided to just grab a screenshot of the top 1000 people who have [the highest] Twitter follower numbers, people like Justin Bieber… he had the most Twitter followers, Oprah Winfrey was in there, Dalai Lama was in there. Then we looked for their charts…

    (Later…)

    Alex Tsakiris: So the chance of these celebrities having that [particular] alignment of those planets is over 90%, and then of the control group, it’s 45%… the odds of that just being chance is far less than 1 out of a hundred right?

    Renay Oshop: That’s a good summary, so that was step one and then step two on that paper was to show a correlation…

    (Later…)

    Alex Tsakiris: So of your list of 86, those are spread across the top 1,000 ranking, so you might have somebody and they might be down [around 900], but the the real stunner is that any one of that 86, who happened to rank in the top 100 had a 100% correlation between that and having this certain position of the planets.

    Renay Oshop: That’s absolutely right, that’s what we found.

    Alex Tsakiris: Wow, that is pretty incredible.

    Stay with us for Skeptiko…

    Welcome to Skeptiko where we explore controversial science and spirituality with leading researchers, thinkers and their critics. I’m your host, Alex Tsakiris, and this introduction’s going to be a little bit of a long one, because this story today is a long one, interesting one. It’s about astrology.

    It starts with me, getting an email, the kind of emails I love to get from a Skeptiko listener who’s well-informed, is science orientated, and is digging for more. Emails from a guy names Jonathan and he writes…

    Dear Alex, I write you as a huge fan of your show, out of all your guests it is Dr. Julie Beischel and her rigorous methodology that has impressed me the most. She clearly has a love of science and uses the scientific method to discover knowledge once thought undiscoverable.

    In that vein, I wanted to introduce you to the work of Renay Oshop, she’s using her genius level mind and mathematical skills to investigate astrology and getting results like Dr. Beishel’s.

    Now Jonathan goes on, but you get the gist of the email. Catches my attention. I love Julie’s work, exactly as he said, using scientific methods to unmask bullshit scientific paradigms, he doesn’t say that, I do, and give us a better sense of what’s really going on in these kind of fringe areas that we think may be somewhat true, but we can’t really put our hands on.

    Astrology? Hey great, fits into that category. We all know it’s bullshit, right? Well, we all kind of think it’s bullshit, but we kind of think maybe there’s something to it. We know the Ancient Chinese were into Astrology, and we have Vedic astrology from India, and then of course we have Ancient Egypt and Babylon and a lot of history that somehow rolls into the astrology that we see today and gives us this sense that, while this daily reading stuff that we read might not be true, I think a lot of us have a sense that, maybe there’s something there that all these great traditions, for thousands of years, knew about.

    Now, of course, what also makes this so interesting to me is that when you turn to science and say, “Hey, from an observational standpoint, we have a question, is there anything going on here?” What you get is classic scientism, opinionated dogma, I wouldn’t believe it, even if it was true.

    As an example, after doing this whole show, I was listening to Joe Rogan, who of course everybody knows, he does this excellent podcast, even though he sometimes can’t get past this kind of inbred skepticism that he has, but anyways, he’s got Neil deGrasse Tyson on the show, one of the most famous atheist scientists of our time, who everyone thinks is so smart. I don’t get it, I don’t think the guy is that smart. I mean, I’ve interviewed dozens and dozens of people on Skeptiko that I tell you, just from an intellectual horsepower, able to handle issues, seem a hell of a lot smarter than this guy.

    But hey, everyone’s romanced with Neil deGrasse Tyson, he’s a great presenter. So anyways, they were talking about astrology, here’s what they say…

    Then you go to the astrologer’s tables and they say, oh this is the rain sign or this is a drought sign, and then you take the names of things and those names are what they interpret. Based on where the moon is, the sun is, where the planets are, and all, whatever the angle configurations there are and each angle has a certain latitude over which they’ll count it as a hit, rather than as a miss. So this give extraordinary capacity of the astrologer to tell you what’s going on in your life.

    Ah, so it’s bullshit?

    So, classic Neil deGrasse Tyson, he’s mixing in some stuff that’s probably true, factual, with just some bullshit crap that he’s never investigated. Here to me is the scientific question about astrology: Is there a correlation between the positioning of these planets and events that are happening down here in the physical world? That’s it. Because look, when science enters into a fringe area it has to work from the ground up, right? It has to work from observation, to correlation, to causation. I mean, it would be great if you could start with causation and say, “Hey, we found these two things cause each other, now let’s go out in the real world and find out all that stuff that happens.” But that’s not usually the case.

    Take for example, you know, our buddy Rupert Sheldrake, right? Cambridge biologist, does all this fringe stuff, dogs that know when their owners are coming home, but he also does this great thing with the staring thing, right? So this is that where we have this sense that we’re being stared at, and he wanted to look at that.

    So you start with the observation. The observation here, in that case, on the staring phenomenon, is that we have overwhelming anecdotal data. If you go to people who do professional surveillance, they say, “If you’re following somebody, don’t stare them in the back of the head, they’re liable to turn around.” If you go to spies, if you go to undercover detectives, I mean it’s part of their training, they say, “Don’t stare at the back of somebody’s head.”

    So this, for a trained biologist like Sheldrake, says, “Hey, this seems to be occurring in the natural world, let’s go, run a test, and see if we find a correlation.” So the correlation would be, if I stare at the back of your head for this given time, under these controlled conditions, do you turn around? That’s the correlation. And, when you find that correlation, like Sheldrake did, it should change people’s mind, people should go, “Wow, that’s important, that’s science. Now let’s look for a causation, let’s look for a physics kind of explanation for what might be going on.” But you don’t deny the correlation, because the correlation is this really important part of this process.

    So, similarly, if you will now, let me switch back over to astrology. So, for astrology, the scientific question is, is there a correlation between the planets, sun, stars, whatever being in this particular position, and then events happening in the physical world? If there is that correlation, then we would have to investigate further and figure out what the causation is, but we’d be down the track of saying that astrology has some realness to it.

    So, you know, I was kind of getting on Neil deGrasse Tyson earlier, because he seems to miss that point. This question has been asked for a long time, and the results of it have been mixed. I mean, sometimes people have found that correlation, sometimes they haven’t, you don’t get any sense of that from what he says. That’s because, what he’s really doing is just promoting a particular world view, this status quo, keep everything going the way it is, kind of world view, and it’s disguised and people like Joe Rogan, who is a super smart guy, but they don’t just catch onto that part of the game and it just kind of slips past.

    But, it’s not going to slip past us today on Skeptiko, hopefully. In fact, my story, right? So I contact Jonathan, and Renay’s work immediately has my interest, because I investigate a little bit further, I look up and Renay is published in the Journal for Scientific Exploration, which I know is a very good journal. I’ve had editors of the journal on this show, I’ve had people who have published in the journal on this show, and I know, from talking to them, that it’s not only an excellent journal, it’s brave enough to tackle these controversial areas of science, but it’s also a hard journal to get into. In fact, referring back to Dr. Julie Beichel, she’s told me that she’s published in several academic journals, and that the review process for JSE, Journal for Scientific Exploration, was by far the hardest review process that she went through.

    So, it’s a real deal, and when I saw that she had published there, my interest was peaked and I really wanted to go forward with the interview. But I still had, in the back of my mind, these questions, concerns about astrology being mostly bullshit.

    So, I set up the interview with Renay, and at the same time I said, “Why don’t we do a reading?” Because, let’s be clear, Renay isn’t just an astrology researcher, she’s also a practicing astrologer. So, she provides that service, people pay her for that service, I paid her for that service, with the understanding that I would use it in the show as part of this exploration of astrology and astrology research.

    So, we got everything set up, and then we went ahead and did the reading, and the reading was not very good. Not very good at all. And some of the things that really concerned me about the reading was, not only was it not accurate, but Renay seemed really uncomfortable with the fact that the reading wasn’t kind of working out. I wasn’t, I was like, “Hey, I get that these things aren’t perfect and that they don’t always work,” and that there was this question about the time of my birth and whether I had that right, which I didn’t, and I later confirmed by getting a copy of my birth certificate. But the whole reading was making me question the idea that you can really give somebody the time and place of your birth, and they can start telling you all these precise things about your life and what’s going to happen in the next 90 days or couple of years or any of that stuff.

    So, I was in this space, I wasn’t put off by Renay’s reading and I was ready to move on and do the next interview we had scheduled, to really talk about her research. But the email exchange we had after that reading changed everything.

    So, Renay freaked out. She goes, “Oh my god, that was such a terrible reading. Please don’t publish it. I don’t want to do any more interviews. I should have never done this. I’m out of here.”

    So I was surprised, I was really surprised. Because again, during the reading I said, “Hey, this is no big deal, I’ve had medium readings from really good mediums that didn’t go well and yet I still believe there’s after death communication and I believe there’s people who can facilitate that. So this doesn’t matter all that much to me, let’s talk about the research.” But Renay was in freak-out mode and the more I talked to her through email, the more pissed off I was getting. Pissed off because, if you’ve got the goods, if you’ve done the research, you ought to be able to suffer the slings and arrows that come with being on cutting edge science.

    Now, as I say that, there’s another side of me that wants to highlight how fricking difficult this crazy biological robot, scientific, materialism, stupidity makes it for people to endure, to persevere, to push their research forward when it goes against this kind of dogma. And I think, I suspect, that’s what was going on with Renay.

    But still, I don’t cut her any slack. Hey, if we’re going to push this edge, we’ve got to expect the pushback and we’ve got to push through it.

    So, I went back to Jonathan, the guy who originally turned me onto Renay, and we had a long talk and I told him exactly what happened and I told him the same thing I told Renay, “Hey, I’m going ahead with the show, and if you want me to do the show with just your crappy reading, then I’ll do that. If you want to come out and explain yourself, and stand up for your research, then maybe we’ll have a different show.”

    Now, fortunately Renay came around, and I think we had a darn good interview about, what I think is some incredibly important research concerning astrology. There is now doubt she’s super smart, super capable, she’s using AI big data, very sophisticated, statistical techniques, very solid science to bring forward a new picture about what’s going on here, one that you’ll never hear Neil deGrasse Tyson talk about, because he’s a [unclear 00:10:55].

    Anyways, if you really just want to, as Jonathan said in that opening email, discover a knowledge once thought undiscoverable, here you go.

    One more thing, if you’re listening to this interview, it starts, again in kind of an unconventional way because, for the first time in my conversation with Renay, getting on Renay for backing out of this initial interview, and I think I pushed her pretty hard, but to her credit she withstood it, and then we eventually got into the interview that we both wanted to have.

    (MORE BELOW)
     
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  2. Michael Larkin

    Michael Larkin Member

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    Alex's questions at the end of the podcast:

    Do you think there is a correlation between certain planetary alignments and physical things that happen down here on earth?

    Do you think Renay's research moves us towards coming to that conclusion based on the statistical analysis of her data?
     
  3. Just from reading the OP I think it's worth pointing out that finding correlations between planetary alignments and human personalities doesn't prove that a system of astrology is correct. There might be correlations that need to be investigated but that doesn't mean the ancient people who developed astrological systems were basing it on empirical evidence. Let the scientists develop a system of astrology based on empirical evidence using randomized double blind protocols, then see if it looks anything like the existing systems. Because astrology as we know it today might be bogus, but that doesn't mean there are no genuine effects.

    I had a similar experience where I got a detailed astrological reading and it was all wrong but every time I pointed out a error, the reader in hindsight, came up with something, like a secondary sign, to explain it. So it seemed to me he could justify anything he wanted if he looked hard enough. Which means that there is room for someone who is genuinely psychic to use the system to help them organize their perceptions. Some astrologist might provide accurate readings even if the system itself is bogus because of their psychic talents, not because the system works.
     
  4. Alex

    Alex New

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    she was, on the recommendation of her Astrology teacher, testing a 1,000 year old sutra predicting "many followers" for people with this specific alignment.
     
  5. malf

    malf Member

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    One question that springs to mind is how many astrological predictions were tested, in how many ways, until one was found worth publishing? This may even go some way to explaining Alex's skepticism over the neatness of the results.

    If the official Skeptiko line is that "our lives are ruled by the positions of the stars and planets in the sky", and to doubt that one must be "stuck on stupid", the show may have just jumped the shark.
     
  6. Steve

    Steve Member

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    I don't understand why the position can't be "Our lives might be ruled by the positions of the stars and planets in the sky" and be content with that? Much more investigation might be required.

    If we were able to accept things as possibilities far more easily than it appears we are, I for one think we'd be moving in the right direction.

    I think there is probably something to Astrology and will listen with interest to the show.
     
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  7. Brian_the_bard

    Brian_the_bard Lost Pilgrim Member

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    Observation has taught me there is something to it but it's very loose. I believe though that the stars and planets are merely a way of measuring things and not an influence. It will be worth listening to this one IMO.
     
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  8. DarthT15

    DarthT15 Member

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    I'm very curious to see if anyone would be willing to revisit the "Mars Effect' after all that CSICOPS stuff that went on with it.
     
  9. Renay Oshop

    Renay Oshop Member

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  10. Renay Oshop

    Renay Oshop Member

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    I don't think anyone is doubting the doubting. In fact, it is being celebrated by all concerned.
     
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  11. David Bailey

    David Bailey Administrator

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    Welcome Renay - it is always good when guests come on to the forum to discuss their ideas.

    I wonder what percentage of the population would have this signature by chance.

    Do you have any thoughts on the mechanism that could produce astrological effects of this sort?

    What happens if someone is born premature - is any correction made?

    I suppose I am like a lot of people, in that astrological data seems so impersonal - it seems hard to believe in such a link.

    David
     
  12. Stephen Wright

    Stephen Wright New

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    I think you know I have a worldview where answers are typically probabilistic. Quantum "predictions" are such, as are Bayesian predictions of behavior. Maybe certain correlations of our geo-positions vs the surrounding cosmos are more fertile for categories of events than others? Only measuring the data will tell.
     
  13. Renay Oshop

    Renay Oshop Member

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    Hi, David. Thanks for having me on the forum.

    The incidence of the signature in the simulated general population from the paper is 55.4%. (It rose to 71.4% in the top thousand Twitter accounts for which we could get birth data and 100% for those Twitter accounts in the top hundred.)

    [Warning: complete and utter speculation follows.] I think quantum entanglement may prove interesting in regards to mechanism. If a small diamond chip can instantly cohere with another diamond chip miles away, maybe a huge planet like Venus can cohere with us. [End of complete and utter speculation.]

    If the baby is premature, if the doctor came across traffic getting to the hospital, etc. etc., it does not matter. The time of the first breath is (typically) taken.

    I hear you regarding the sheer oddity of the idea of astrology. That is where we are right now.
     
    Last edited: Apr 5, 2017
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  14. MaxUsernameLimit

    MaxUsernameLimit Member

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  15. malf

    malf Member

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    Thanks for the reply. In what way do you think you were "lucky"?

    On p-hacking. We have more than one thread on this forum that explore some of the problems with published science, and discussions around how the situation can be improved (e.g. here). As I'm sure you are aware, there has been much discussion around researcher "degrees of freedom", which aren't always easy to assess in the published work. Consequently, the benefits of preregistering a study (detailing exactly what will be studied and how) ahead of time have been put forward as a safeguard. Was your study preregistered and, if so, where?
     
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  16. Alex

    Alex New

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    thx so much for joining us here, Renay.
     
  17. Charlie Primero

    Charlie Primero Member

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    Ms. Oshop, Twitter follower numbers are a wildly unreliable data set.

    The numbers are gamed and manipulated by Twitter, by users, and by social media companies.

    Some people purchase thousands of fake followers, some do not.

    Some people employ sophisticated algorithms for increasing their numbers regarding times of day, tweets per week, optimized text, etc., while others don't bother.

    See: http://buytwitterfollowersreview.org and http://buyfollowersguide.com

    I didn't hear you mention this factor.
     
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  18. Michael Larkin

    Michael Larkin Member

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    Fair point, Charlie, but the question occurs to me (however people gather their follower figures): how come is it that their birth dates correlate with certain planetary configurations that occurred around the time of their birth? It might be that the top 100 (Oprah, Justin Bieber and the like) aren't artificially beefing up their follower figures, hence the 100% correlation.

    OTOH, who knows, maybe the lesser correlation with people further down the follower scale is accounted for by a proportion of their number massaging their follower numbers. Maybe the real correlation isn't with people who necessarily get lots of followers, but with those who want lots of followers, even if they have to buy them.

    Me, I'm not even on Twitter and if anything would give me the heebie-jeebies, it'd be the thought of thousands of people I don't know following me, hanging on my every word. Yuck!:eek:
     
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  19. Alex

    Alex New

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    exactly.
     
  20. Renay Oshop

    Renay Oshop Member

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    Back in the hazy days of yore (2013 to be exact, when the Twitter paper was submitted), pre-registrations and even open data repositories were still mostly just being debated. They were not yet widely implemented.

    I think that they are great and wish now, of course, to be able to point to a pre-registration and repository. Moving forward from 2015, I have been using OSF, Zenodo, and GitHub quite a bit.

    To the degree that science can still be inspired and not an algorithmic passing-through of pre-registrations, I consider myself lucky that what inspired me was also borne out through analytical efforts.
     
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