Never Give Up

-- by Bill Ranson

I had completed about half of my lecture on astrology when it happened. I had covered the history of astrology from its origins in Mesopotamia some 4000 years ago up to the present including the branches of astrology and claims made by astrologers. I was well into the key issue -- Does it work? -- citing numerous studies all showing conclusively that it does NOT work when one of the class members asked to speak to the issue.

Eager to have class participation, I invited Herb to come forward. He not only came forward but he brought several books from which he read at length taking over the class totally for a good ten minutes. The readings argued that astrology is a valid science which helps millions to make decisions regarding marriage, money matters, the propitious time to take a trip, etc. His parting shot was to ask me to explain the "Mars Effect" as claimed by Michel Gauquelin to show a statistically significant correlation between certain planetary positions relative to the horizon and the birth dates of eminent people in professions such as sports, the military, the arts, etc.

I have for several years taught a course "Probing the Paranormal" at the Academy of Lifelong Learning, an adult education program established in Wilmington by the University of Delaware. Our students number about 1500 and are largely retired professionals who wish to remain intellectually active. They are mature, highly intelligent, well informed and sophisticated, and often have advanced degrees.

At the start of each term I give the class an opinion survey designed to test their belief in or agreement with a number of paranormal claims. One year, 58% of the class members answering agreed with the statement, "Astrological signs offer some guidance to an individual's personality traits." In another area, as many as 80% have indicated a belief in telepathy. (So this is not an example of preaching to the choir.)

Back to Herb's challenge. I explained that the "Mars Effect" is not a claim of astrology and, in fact, Gauquelin devoted many years to testing the claims of astrology and found them to be without merit. I cited studies, including those of CSICOP's Paul Kurtz, all which were unable to replicate Gauquelin's "Mars Effect" results. This was to no avail with Herb, a retired engineer whom one would expect to value critical thinking.

My experience with this course has convinced me that there are a lot of Herbs in the world. The good news is that the second opinion survey at the end of the course, using the same questions as the survey at the beginning, indicated that belief in the paranormal claims tested by the survey fell dramatically after the classes had heard the skeptical side. However, there always remained a number of Herbs whom I could not reach.

But I'll keep trying. Most of my "well informed" students had been subjected only to one-sided media presentations favorable to the paranormal, and few were aware of objective, science-based, skeptical evaluations of the claims. Many will re-evaluate their beliefs and change when they hear the full story.

Never give up despite the Herbs you meet!

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