(archived from http://www.psicounsel.com/starbaby.html )
EVER SINCE it came into being the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP) has proudly proclaimed itself the scourge of the "new nonsense": astrology, ESP, UFOs and other phenomena of which it does not approve. Its pronouncements on these and other subjects have received widespread attention and uncritical acceptance in the news media.
Critics such as Fate, professional parapsychologists and moderate skeptics like former CSICOP cochairman Prof. Marcello Truzzi, sociologist at Eastern Michigan University, have questioned the Committee's commitment to objective, scientific investigation of paranormal claims and have accused some CSICOP spokesmen of misrepresenting issues and evidence. But such dissenting views were little noticed by media writers eager to headline sensational -- although frequently unsupported -- debunking claims.
The story that follows, written by a man who is himself skeptical of the paranormal, confirms what critics of CSICOP have long suspected: that the organization is committed to perpetuating a position, not to determining the truth. -- The Editors.
I used to believe it was simply a figment of the National Enquirer's weekly imagination that the Science Establishment would cover up evidence for the occult. But that was in the era B.C. -- Before the Committee. I refer to the "Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal" (CSICOP), of which I am a cofounder and on whose ruling Executive Council (generally called the Council) I served for some years.
I am still skeptical of the occult beliefs CSICOP was created to debunk. But I have changed my mind about the integrity of some of those who make a career of opposing occultism.
I now believe that if a flying saucer landed in the backyard of a leading anti-UFO spokesman, he might hide the incident from the public (for the public's own good, of course). He might swiftly convince himself that the landing was a hoax, a delusion or an "unfortunate" interpretation of mundane phenomena that could be explained away with "further research."
The irony of all this particularly distresses me since both in print and before a national television audience I have stated that the conspiratorial mentality of believers in occultism presents a real political danger in a voting democracy. Now I find that the very group I helped found has partially Justified this mentality.
CSICOP originated with the statement "Objections to Astrology," published in the September-October 1975 issue of The Humanist. "Objections" was signed by 186 scientists, including 18 Nobel prizewinners, who were justly upset at the growing newspaper exploitation of a public that wasn't being informed that astronomy and astrology aren't the same thing. "Objections" and its child CSICOP were both the creation of The Humanist's then-editor Paul Kurtz (*1) and received widespread national publicity.
Unfortunately the statement was published (both in The Humanist and by Kurtz's own private publishing house Prometheus Books) in conjunction with a largely valuable article which included a misconceived attack (by Lawrence Jerome) upon the claims of the prominent French neoastrologers Michel and Francoise Gauquelin. Almost none of the signers read Jerome's analysis before publication.
Concerned that such an attack could cause trouble for the rationalist movement, I contacted Kurtz for the first time by phone on November 3, 1975.
He admitted privately that I was just one of a number of scientists who had called him about this article immediately after The Humanist published it. But the "Objections" statement was rushed into print intact, along with the uncorrected article, by Prometheus.
The embarrassment was compounded when Michel Gauquelin proved to be a more skilled statistician than his critic -- and intimated possible legal action. Kurtz, under some pressure from within the AHA for his antiparanormal effort, realized he had a problem. Publicly he admitted no error but privately was frantic to attack Gauquelin in print. Uncle Remus might say, Br'er Kurtz, he could just hardly wait to sock that TARBABY a second time to force him to release the stuck first fist.
During that first phone conversation Kurtz urged me to write an article refuting Gauquelin -- in about two weeks -- to beat a deadline for the January-February 1976 issue of The Humanist. This is not, it need hardly be said, the way of well-researched scholarship.
All that fall of 1975 Kurtz was mailing Jerome, me and UCLA astronomer Prof. George Abell reams of articles relating to Gauquelin, including the lengthy March 1975 report and alibis of the Belgian Comite Para which some years earlier, to its surprise, had confirmed the approximate successrate Gauquelin had predicted in his strongest alleged neoastrological correlation, now generally called the "Mars Effect": Gauquelin's results showed that 22 percent of European sports champions are born with Mars rising (Sector 1) or transiting (Sector 4), to express it roughly. Since Gauquelin divides the sky into 12 sectors, the purely chance probability of Mars' being in a prespecified pair of sectors is about 2/12 or 17 percent, well below the observed rate of 22 percent. For the 2088 sports champions in Gauquelin's sample, such a difference is statistically very significant (because of the largeness of the sample); the odds are millions-to-one against its having occurred by chance.
I did what I could with the material at hand. Even while continuing to analyze this strange problem, I sent Kurtz a paper which he relayed to others interested in the case, among them Jerome, Abell and Marvin Zelen (then director of the Statistical Laboratory of the State University of New York at Buffalo, but soon to move on to Harvard University). The paper, while suggesting that there might be a natural explanation for the Mars Effect, explicitly noted that if the European sampling was unreliable no amount of analysis (based on this sample) could be certain to detect that.
Thus, since a fresh sample and analysis of it would be an enormous labor, my paper recommended that any new test offered Gauquelin be both (a) extremely clear-cut in its predicted result and (b) free from the complexities and subtle bias-problems of sampling and of the astronomical/demographical influences that affected the expected ("chance") level (to which experimental observed data, once collected, would be compared). I suggested a possible experiment that would satisfy these conditions: Could Gauquelin use the position of Mars in competing athletes' horoscopes to beat the posted odds on sporting events?
At this time we all wondered, like other scientists on first acquaintance with the Mars Effect, if there was a possible "natural" (nonoccult) explanation. As seen from Earth, Mars appears near the sun more often than not. And birth rates are higher at dawn, when the sun enters Sector 1, so one would expect all births (not just sports champions') to be slightly more frequent when Mars is in Sector 1. For convenience I will call this astronomical/demographical intrusion (or "influence") the "Mars/dawn" factor. We will return to this since the Keystone CSICOPs' inability to compute this factor (until years after it was too late) was to prove their undoing.
My manuscript (which gently corrected the "Objections"-affiliated false attack on Gauquelin) was not published in January-February Humanist on the grounds that it had arrived too late for the deadline -- although it had been written in less than two weeks. Instead Kurtz published two other papers in that Humanist issue: one by Abell, on astrology in general and Gauquelin in particular, which based its discussion of the gravitational effects of Mars on us upon a common popular-science misconception, causing an error by a factor of a few million. The other, by Zelen, was "A Challenge" to Gauquelin.
The Challenge was a classic control experiment: isolate the sports ability variable by comparing the Mars horoscopic positions of the champions Gauquelin had already collected vs. the Mars horoscopic positions of all other persons (nonsports champions), the "control" group, born about the same time and place as the champions. If the control group exhibits the same hit-rate (a "hit": being born when Mars resides in celestial Sector 1 or 4) as the champions, 22 percent, then clearly sports ability has nothing to do with the Mars Effect, which is thus revealed as merely a by-product of purely natural influences. This is what the top CSICOPs expected to happen.
If the nonchampions' hit-rate turns out to be what Gauquelin had said is correct for ordinary people, namely 17 percent, then the control experiment has come out in Gauquelin's favor, since sports ability is isolated as the link to the five-percent difference.
The Challenge concluded (emphasis added): "We now have an objective way for unambiguous corroboration or disconfirmation. ... [Thus we may] settle this question" -- statements leaving no doubt at all that if Gauquelin met this test he would achieve confirmation of his claims.
I was appalled at the potential disaster that awaited if Zelen's presumptions (that the European sample was unbiased and that the cause of the Mars Effect was a natural influence) were wrong. As I checked further into Gauquelin's output, I became convinced there were serious problems in these presumptions. Kurtz said I should speak with Abell whom I did not know personally. When I reached him by phone on December 6,1 said I was worried about the Challenge.
Abell snapped, "Oh-what's-wrong-with-it?" as if uttering one word. I explained politely that the Challenge depended entirely upon the validity of the European sampling. Abell said he was sure that Gauquelin was honest and the Mars Effect was just a natural influence in the data. I agreed that it had looked that way at first to me too but that recent, still-proceeding attempts to verify the Mars/dawn factor's actual effect left me in skeptical suspension of judgment and thus in fear of possible trouble. Why gamble the outcome of a crucial experiment upon such an uncertain factor?
But to Abell that just wasn't worth bothering about. He was more interested in who I was. Had he ever heard of me'? Had we met at conferences?
I mentioned a few papers l'd published in top journals. In addition I pointed out a couple of errors in his upcoming paper (such as the gravitational effect of Mars previously referred to) and I urged that these be corrected before the issue went to press. He said they didn't matter; he'd rather leave them as they were.
Since Abell and Kurtz wanted to check Gauquelin's calculations, I offered to help since I had recently prepared an efficient computer program that would calculate all planets' positions to one arcminute accuracy, a program that could be adapted to the Gauquelin project. Abell said fine, just send it along. He spoke as if he were doing me a favor.
Declining his generosity, l repeated my offer to do the work if it would help. He replied that it probably would be "easy" to compile such a program; after all, the astrological outfits now had computer horoscopes. So I suggested he try those routes. In case he wished to construct his own program, l imparted a few elegant mathematical shortcuts to assist him. l mention this because anyone who understood the necessary science would have quickly realized that I was an experienced specialist in this area.
Nonetheless Abell subsequently told Kurtz and other CSICOPs that I was an "amateur" and he continued to say so until October 1978. This was a major factor in CSICOP's decision to ignore me, the only planetary-motion specialist ever involved in the Gauquelin project (which was, of course, a planetary-motion problem). At this point of no return, Kurtz depended upon Abell's astronomical advice in his decisions on the Gauquelin investigation. It was to take them two years (and help) to perform the calculations Abell had called "easy."
I CONTINUED to examine the details of Gauquelin's claims and on January 23,1976, completed a mathematical analysis showing clearly that the "natural" Mars/dawn factor (a) couldn't come anywhere near explaining the Mars Effect and (b) had been already included by Gauquelin in his reports' expected-frequency values. Although Gauquelin's method was different from mine, our results were so similar that it was clear he had done this part of his experiments correctly.
The Mars/dawn factor was the only possible "natural" influence (although Zelen and Abell didn't seem to realize it) that could have lifted the nonchampions' hit-rate from 17 to 22 percent.
I communicated this to Kurtz immediately and forcefully. Getting no response, I phoned Zelen on March 8 and made an utterly fruitless appeal. By this time the Challenge had been published. And more support for it was in press, to appear (over my strenuous objections) in March-April 1976 Humanist (page 53).
The forces of antioccultism met in Buffalo, N.Y., on April 30 and May 1, 1976, to found CSICOP. I gave one of the Founders' Day speeches. It contained enough good press copy and one-liners to get me selected for the nine-man ruling Council of CSICOP.
Founders' Day was above all a media event. Reporters were wooed and catered to. I certainly had no objection to that, having had largely pleasant encounters with the media. But I was naive about the one overriding reality: a Committee that lives by the media will inevitably be ruled by its publicists, not by its scholars.
Once CSICOP was under way, I found myself not only on the ruling Council but also on the editorial board. Although most of the Fellows sought, like me, to battle pseudoscientific bunk, they disagreed about the means. Except for the agreement to start a magazine (Zetetic, later Skeptical Inquirer) there was little cohesion on public policy, a vacuum that was filled (if not in fact caused) by tacit cohesion on Private Priority Number One for active CSICOP Fellows: maximum personal press coverage. (*2)
Neither I nor most other Councilors were to be reinvolved in the Gauquelin affair for some time, since Kurtz was handling it in The Humanist, which he still edited.
I referred to Gauquelin's results in a paper for Humanist publication sent to Kurtz on June 5, 1976, a paper soon thereafter sent to Marcello Truzzi and eventually published in Skeptical Inquirer (Fall-Winter 1977). It attacked Gauquelin's Mars Effect on various grounds, pointedly excluding the Mars/ dawn factor on which Kurtz, Zelen and Abell (hereafter to be called KZA) were gambling CSICOP's reputation.
The September-October 1976 issue of Humanist published a paper by Abell and son, with commentary (formally coauthorship) by the Gauquelins. I did not see it until much later. Kurtz was no longer sending galleys or confiding to me the details of his increasing obsession with his neoastrological sTARBABY.
The paper had a number of important features. For one thing, Abell affirmed Zelen's "unambiguous corroboration or disconfirmation" statement. As Abell put it, it "appears to be a definitive test." He went on, "The [control] test will be refereed by a disinterested and competent committee of scientists, and we hope that the results will be available in about six months." In fact, the test was never neutrally refereed -- and the time estimate was equally ironic.
Reading Abell's article, I was struck, first, with the realization that every calculation was simple arithmetic. His computer analysis relied on an almanac provided by the U.S. Naval Observatory which listed Mars' celestial longitudes at a fixed interval. Instead of using spherical trigonometry to convert Mars' positions to equatorial coordinates (as the Gauquelin experiment required), Abell stuck with the ecliptical coordinates of the USNO program.
Since Abell had indicated in December 1975 that he intended to verify computationally Gauquelin's original calculations, I was amazed to read now, nearly a year later, that "we have not duplicated or checked the Gauquelins' original calculations" (my emphasis). How the devil could this be, when Abell had in hand (and was using in his simple-arithmetic analysis) a Mars almanac and all the birth data for the 2000-plus sports champions of Gauquelin's famous original Mars Effect study?
Incredibly, it appeared that over all the intervening months, Abell, the CSICOP Gauquelin-test subcommittee's sole astronomer, had not performed the elementary calculations of the astrologer he was taking on! Abell drove Kurtz crazy with stalls, mostly variations on not "having time" to do the work. Yet he found time to do all 2000-plus calculations -- the wrong way -- for the paper we've just been analyzing!
WHEN 1977 opened, it had been v s the better part of a year since I had had any contact with the Gauquelin matter. But Skeptical Inquirer (then Zetetic) editor Truzzi asked me to referee an antiastrology paper. l found to my astonishment that the paper was promoting The Humanist and Comite Para theory (which heretofore had not disgraced Skeptical Inquirer and CSICOP directly) that Gauquelin's results could be explained away by the Mars/dawn demographical influences.
Incredulous that my 1975-76 warnings were still being ignored, l sent out on March 29, 1977, a full mathematical explanation of the Mars/ dawn problem -- to no avail. The unkillable Mars/dawn misconception appeared intact on page 50 of Spring-Summer 1977 Skeptical Inquirer.
But Truzzi did not ignore the memo's implications. He phoned to ask if I would object to his sending the memo to Gauquelin to show him that not everyone on CSICOP disagreed with him. l told Truzzi to go ahead.
That summer Kurtz phone me in an agitated state. Gauquelin had shown him the memo (apparently in early July). Then in August Gauquelin attempted to quote the memo in an upcoming Humanist paper. Feeling that this would be mistaken as support from me for Gauquelin, l wrote Kurtz to ask that he publish a very short paper (dated September 17, 1977), pointing out that (a) the Mars/dawn effect ( KZA's only "out," their sole semiplausible hope of justifying the Control Test) could not explain away Gauquelin's results; (b) there was in fact no "natural" explanation of the Mars Effect; (c) I believed that the sampling of sports champions was amiss; and (d) I didn't believe Gauquelin's claims merited serious investigation yet.
Angry that I had let the Mars/dawn memo get into Gauquelin's hands in the first place, Kurtz urged that I ask Gauquelin not to make public use of it. He then used the memo's privacy (pretending this was my idea!) as a basis for deleting Gauquelin's comments on the memo -- and scratching my proposed September 17 paper altogether! (*3)
I did not yet understand Kurtz's anxiety over heading off my public dissent. He neglected to inform me that in press at this very time was the upcoming KZA report on the Control Test (nonchampions) results. This report flew right in the face of the truth revealed in the very memo l'd agreed to keep private only because I believed KZA would pay attention to it.
The KZA Control Test report appeared in November-December 1977 Humanist. It marked the beginning of the end of CSICOP's credibility -- because it was at this point that the handling of the Gauquelin problem was transformed from mere bungling to deliberate cover-up.
Before publication the KZA Control Test report was shown to the only other member of the Gauquelin subcommittee, Prof. Elizabeth Scott of the statistics department of the University of California at Berkeley, who was so upset ("I feel that the [paper's] discussion may be misleading") that she telephoned each one of the KZA trio (as I had done two years earlier). They ignored her.
Back in December 1975 Abell had expressed an interest in checking Gauquelin's celestial-sector positions but had not done this even for his September-October 1976 Humanist article. Now the new report (November-December 1977 Humanist, page 29) stated (emphasis added): "The committee ... has not ... yet [!] checked all [any?] of the [Gauquelin's celestial] computations. Prof. Owen Gingerich (astronomer at Harvard) is in the process of reviewing the calculations concerning the position of Mars ..." In addition: "The committee has agreed to make an independent test of the alleged Mars Effect by a study of sports champions born in the United States. This test is now under way."
As the data started to come in, KZA realized they were in deep trouble on the Control Test (based on European data entirely computed by Gauquelin) and so were forced to propose the fresh-sample American test in a July 1977 meeting with Gauquelin. By autumn the birth-record data were coming in for the American test. Now it was not a matter of just using Gauquelin's celestial calculations; CSICOP must compute positions not previously done -- and no report could be issued until this was accomplished.
Kurtz started receiving the American birth data as early as September. Stung by his private knowledge that he'd lost the Control Test (as he confessed aloud at least once), he was frantic to get on with the diversion of retesting (using the American sample) as quickly as possible.
By October 20 Kurtz, who was getting nothing from Abell and Gingerich, phoned and asked me, betraying not the faintest sense of irony, if I could do the work. He was so relieved at my consent that he instantly added me to the subcommittee on Gauquelin (presumably to replace Elizabeth Scott, now a nonperson). A CSICOP check for $100 accompanied the first installment of 72 athletes' birth data.
Kurtz told me that this time he wanted an advance look at the results, to see what was going to happen. He stressed that his sneak peek was to be strictly confidential. In all innocence I probably broke security first thing by phoning Abell in Los Angeles on October 22 to ask where in San Diego I could gain access to a computer. (I'd only just moved to California.)
Abell protested that he was doing the work with Gingerich, and what the devil was Kurtz in such a rush for anyway? Although I agreed that Kurtz was pushing, I remarked he'd waited two years and one might forgive some impatience. Abell tried to talk me out of getting involved but I stressed that this was entirely Kurtz's idea, not mine. He and Gingerich were free to compute these or any other data but Kurtz was hot to get a look at the way things were going to come out.
Abell gave me the name of John Schopp of the astronomy department of San Diego State University (SDSU) who'd helped Abell with a textbook he'd written. So on October 27, two days after the birth data arrived, I drove out to SDSU and met John and his colleague Fred Talbert. Fred got me hooked up that evening. I fed the problem into the computer, ran off the 72 positions and mailed a printout to Kurtz on the way home.
It's revealing that a lone "amateur" could perform at one sitting a project that the combined CSICOP forces of UCLA, Harvard and SUNYAB didn't get anywhere with for years, despite their access to a highly accurate U.S. Naval Observatory planetary-position program.
In succeeding weeks Kurtz mailed me further birth data as well as unsolicited cash. At one point (after 120 names) I told him by phone (he preferred hearing the accumulated score instantly, without waiting the few days the mail took) that the key-sector score was now at 22 percent. He groaned. l emphasized that the sample size was too small for the result to be statistically meaningful. He drew no comfort from this remark. l asked if he were sure that this was a clean sample. He was, so I assured him that the score was bound to revert to roughly 17 percent as the sample got larger -- unless astrological claims were true, which I certainly didn't believe.
Nonetheless he continued speaking in a pained voice, as someone cursed with a demon that would not go away.
Meanwhile KZA's November-December 1977 Humanist Control Test report appeared. No one then on CSICOP's Council (other than Kurtz) had seen it before publication. (*4) Yet it committed CSICOP to a cover-up course which ultimately sucked the whole Council into sTARBABY's goo, as one's willingness to go along with the cover-up (to protect The Cause) became a test of loyalty.
In the report KZA tried to obscure the clear success Gauquelin had scored. The Control Test had entailed analyzing 16,756 nonchampions born near (in time and space) 303 champions (a subsample of the original 2088 champions). KZA had believed that they too would score at 22 percent in key sectors ( I and 4) thus establishing that the champions' 22 percent hitrate was "natural."
Instead the nonchampions scored at exactly the chance -level (17 percent) that Gauquelin and I had predicted from our Mars/dawn-corrected expectation-curve analysis.
Faced with this disaster KZA pulled a bait-and-switch. (Thus the report will be hereafter called the BS report.) Suddenly converting their nonchampions test into a champions test, they attacked the subsample of 303 champions! The subsample had of course been chosen simply as a means en route to testing the point KZA had proposed the Control Test Challenge for in the first place, namely, was chance level 17 percent or 22 percent?
Since the 303 had scored at 22 percent (like the full 2088) the only ploy left was to protest that this 22 percent (of the 303) was not strongly statistically significant (not as strong as for 2088). Now, anyone familiar with statistics knows that no sample of 303 cases can produce strongly significant results if one is trying to measure 22 percent versus 17 percent rates. But you don't have to know statistics to realize that the attack on the 303-champion subsample's nonstrength could have been done before the 16,756 nonchampions were collected and calculated -- at enormous cost in time and labor to Gauquelin (all 303 champion birth data had been calculated and published years ago).
To sum up: the whole purpose of the Control Test -- of collecting nearly 17,000 nonchampions (the control group) -- had been to test whether Gauquelin's champions' 22-percent hitrate was just a "natural" (nonastrological) function of the time and place of birth. Had the nonchampions control group shown at the 22-percent rate also, the "natural" hypothesis would have been confirmed and Gauquelin's neoastrology would have been disconfirmed.
However, the opposite occurred. The nonchampions' rate turned out to be 17 percent, establishing the champions' 22-percent rate as a real, highly significant above-chance result.
I first read the Control Test report in March 1978 after seeing a letter in the March-April issue of Humanist from Lawrence Jerome who "congratulated" CSICOP for confirming his erroneous 1975 analysis!
Incredibly Jerome was claiming Confirmation by the Zelen-Abell test, B0f his (and their) belief that astronomical/ demographical biases explained Gauquelin's 22-percent rate. "The [Control] test proved no such thing," I wrote Kurtz. "To the contrary, [Zelen and Abell] confirmed Gauquelin's expectation values ... showing that there was indeed about a 17-percent probability for being in sectors I and 4 for nonchampions.... If I believed the European sample was clean (which I don't), I would count the [Control] test as a major proof in support of Gauquelin."
Years later I learned that Abell (as well as Kurtz) had known the awful truth all along. In 1980 1 obtained a copy of the smokiest Smoking Gun in this case, a letter written by Abell to Kurtz on April 29, 1977, privately telling him what l've explained here in preceding paragraphs -- the same thing l'd often explained to KZA.
The Smoking Letter answers the same key question that hung over the Watergate conspirators: When did they know? The answer is astonishing: over half a year before the cover-up Control Test report was published.
The letter admits that "in a sense" Gauquelin's calculation of a 17-percent chance-level had been "vindicated." Abell says the very test CSICOP had urged Gauquelin to carry out had shown his findings to be "significant." He also says that the 22 percent applied to both the 303 subsample champions and the full 2088.
The Smoking Letter to Kurtz reveals that KZA knew they were in trouble. But as Abell learned pronto, Kurtz wasn't about to publish any letter that admitted Gauquelin had won the Control Test. He was going to pretend that nothing had gone wrong.
Abell cosigned the BS report. Despite later claims that he didn't know what he was signing, Abell has never broken publicly with this report's united front.
Early in April I wrote KZA again, exhibiting in tabular form further difficulties with their report. KZA had suggested that the subsample of 303 champions showed geographical variations. This move had broken the subsample into subsubsamples! (The smaller a group, the weaker its ability to prove anything statistically.)
My April 6 letter's tables simply showed that none of the deviations (of, say, Paris' hit-rate vs. Belgium's) were statistically significant. (*5)
Again, Br'er Kurtz, he lay low: still no written reply.
In mid-April Kurtz visited California and we saw quite a bit of each other. He couldn't stop talking about the Gauquelin business. In the middle of conversations on other matters he would grow silent and go back to discussing some possible "out."
During this visit and subsequent phone conversations Kurtz tried out various schemes for getting off the hook. My favorite was the notion that Gauquelin fudged the nonchampions to force the score down to 17 percent. (*6)
Hilarious. First, if fraud or bias was involved, it would be lots easier to work it on the smaller original champions sample. Second, it was ridiculous to suspect fraud simply because the nonchampions came out at the very level chance would predict!
This is "scientific investigation" which CSICOP claims as its middle name?
INCREDIBLY, despite all, I remained largely unsuspicious -- indeed I was downright enthusiastic -- about CSICOP as a whole.
Late that spring of 1978 I was back East visiting my family. Simultaneously Kurtz was in a tizzy because the last American data in the Gauquelin test had come in and he was as frantically impatient as ever to get them computed -- even waking my family one night and then, after finding I wasn't in, hanging up so abruptly that I found a note by the telephone the next morning asking me who this "Curts" was.
Since I was about to fly to Europe (and my files were back in San Diego) I suggested Kurtz get Abell, Gingerich or Jerome to try to do the work. But Kurtz kept pleading.
So I postponed my European trip.
I bothered the Loyola College computer people for a computer number and time. Next I hired trusted friend Mary Kidd to determine time zones (for the whole American test to date). Since she was sympathetic to astrology (and was not told that Gauquelin was involved), this would eliminate possible bias on my part. Needless to say, this is the sort of precaution that should have been applied (much more rigorously) at the sampling stage.
Mary interrupted her affairs to rush the zone-determinations work and get it back to me. I went right to the computer and stayed up all night typing in the program and the data. The next morning, June 8, all 325 athletes' sector-positions were computed, tabulated and dropped in the mail to Kurtz.
No sooner was this task finished and the American test supposedly completed than Kurtz phoned me up and said oops, we accidentally missed a lot of names -- they'll be sent right away to the states' birth-record offices and we'll get the birth data back late this summer .
So the whole push-and-shove aggravation of all those helpful people had been as needless as the original Control Test Challenge.
I returned to San Diego some weeks later. The last 82 names came in at summer's end.
I ran off the final data at SDSU. The cumulative score was not 22 percent or 17 percent but only 13'/2 percent -- strongly anti-Gauquelin. On September 18 I sent Kurtz a table of the totals for all 407 American athletes along with a brief report on the results which included gentle corrections of the various past errors published by CSICOP Fellows throughout this affair.
Since I had performed all the science of the American experiment that had reversed the earlier (Control Test) Gauquelin victory over CSICOP (lifting a three-year curse from Kurtz's shoulders), I innocently thought that Kurtz could hardly refuse again to publish my dissent. In a covering note I made it clear that this time I would insist. The moment Kurtz read this, l was a dead CSICOP in his royal eyes.
When the report arrived on September 20, Kurtz phoned to gush about how much he liked it, adding, however, that Zelen and Abell might not agree. Then he casually asked if I could send along the readout of individual positions too. He spoke of the upcoming Council meeting and press conference (to be held in Washington, D.C., on December 6, 1978) and assured me my travel fare would be paid.
The very next day, without even waiting for the data to arrive, Kurtz wrote Abell to suggest that KZA confer and prepare the test report for publication (excluding me). He did this, l remind the reader, less than 24 hours after assuring me he was eager to publish my September 18 report.
Kurtz's letter also called on Zelen and Abell -- the very men whose long immobility on the Gauquelin project had led to my being asked to do the computation -- to verify the work! Kurtz enclosed for Abell the readouts of the first 325 celestial-sector positions without saying anything to me about it, since I had emphasized that providing answers is the worst way to get independent checks of them.
It is obvious from his September 21 letter that Kurtz's promise, made the day before, to publish my report was being rethought.
Sure enough, once the calculations for the last 82 athletes had reached him, Kurtz phoned me and made two things clear:
(1) He wasn't so sure that The Humanist was the right place after all for my report. He mentioned Skeptical Inquirer. (Later he welched even there.)
(2) He didn't think he could pay my way to the meeting in Washington.
With Kurtz's letter Abell received my answers for 325 of the American athletes. Ten days later Abell still had not reproduced them. With Kurtz frantically pushing for verification Abell was feeling the pressure. On October 5 he called to rage at me for over an hour. I call it the Jaws phone call.
Abell started it by complaining that KZA hadn't-had-the-time to compute the 407 data, adding that I had. He asked me to describe my method to him allegedly because he was supposed to check my work. Since he now had all the answers from Kurtz, there was no longer any good scientific reason not to. So I did -- especially after finding that Abell still had a misconceived idea of how to perform the sector calculations.
Abell asked me to send a copy of my computer-program so that he could verify it. l responded that obviously it would be simpler just to check a few of the answers he now possessed via hand-calculation out of the American Ephemeris & Nautical Almanac.
Nevertheless Abell persisted, eventually justifying himself by saying he wanted to check out all the ordmag 1000 lines of the program to insure its accuracy! At any rate, l refused to give the program to anyone talking such transparent nonsense.
Abell couldn't believe that my calculations were correct because the score had come out at 13 1/2 percent instead of 22 percent. He wondered if I had tampered with the sample. I replied the sample came from Kurtz.
By choice I had had nothing to do with gathering the sample. Obviously neither had Abell. Nonetheless Kurtz insisted that Abell coauthor the lengthy published Skeptical Inquirer report. Unfortunately "coauthorship" in a Kurtz publication need not require that you cowrite "your" paper -- or even read it before publication. Your name gets tacked on to add prestige -- and you get to read all about it when it's published!
Abell asked countless questions about my academic training. Obviously unaware that my papers on planetary motion had been published in eminent astronomical journals here and abroad, he demanded, "How do I know you're not just a bullshitter?"
On October 6, the day after the Jaws call, Abell phoned San Diego State University to verify his suspicion that someone besides the "amateur" had actually done the Gauquelin experiment computations. He visited SDSU on the 11th, questioning at least two more scholars, who told him I had seemed quite competent when I delivered a recent lecture to an astronomy department symposium.
Between September 20 and late October I spoke fairly regularly with Kurtz regarding the Gauquelin problem and the upcoming December 6 Washington press conference. His private intentions surfaced as soon as his use for my work was finished.
Soon enough it became apparent that not only was Abell being invited to the press conference, he was to be the CSICOP spokesman on astrology in Washington -- this despite Kurtz's open admission in our conversations over the previous months that there had been a screw-up in the UCLA and Harvard experts' calculations. But now suddenly he began disremembering he'd ever said that!
I had now to face the fact that Kurtz was trying to suppress my dissenting report and (by not paying my travel fare) keep me from the December Council meeting, while inviting to Washington as a prominent CSICOP authority the very person whose appointed task I had myself performed.
I phoned Kurtz on October 23 in one final attempt to impress upon him the fact that he was locking CSICOP into an investigation that would curse the Committee to its dying day. It was the only time I ever raised my voice in any CSICOP dealings.
I hammered at Kurtz that the Control Test project he had led us into had been irretrievably lost and it was discreditable to pretend otherwise. Even if Gauquelin had faked the control (nonchampions) sample (which I don't believe for a moment he did), such a point cannot be raised post hoc -- because CSICOP should have had the foresight to keep the sample-taking from getting into Gauquelin's interested hands in the first place, especially since prior to the challenge I had warned KZA not to trust Gauquelin's sampling. What use is it to run tests if the side whose hypothesis loses can just scream "fake" as it pleases?
Kurtz seemed uncharacteristically subdued. Finally, when I pointed out that he was backing down on his promise to publish my report in The Humanist, he said he couldn't publish it there now for the simple reason that a day or so earlier he'd been fired as Humanist editor after 11 years at the post.
Concurrently a subplot was developing. On October 15 Councilor James Randi phoned and I mentioned some of my problems with KZA. On the 18th, when Randi phoned again, l remarked how odd it was that I had no written record (despite requests for such made over many months). Would Randi speak with Kurtz and get some firm answers? The next day Randi wrote a trial letter to Kurtz and sent me a checking copy before mailing it.
In the letter Randi agreed I was right in arguing that the Gauquelin test had been ill-designed and should not have been done. Now that the whole thing had backfired, Kurtz -- out of his depth when he attempted a scientific experiment -- was clearly responsible. Randi also criticized Abell for snooping into my background. If this was the way CSICOP business was going to be conducted, then CSICOPs were no better than the parapsychologists who covered up their mistakes. Randi asked why my expenses to the Washington meeting were not being paid (*7) and concluded by admitting that he was "mad," saying he seldom wrote such a letter except to parapsychologists. He assured Kurtz that no one besides him, Martin Gardner and me would see it.
I called Randi on the 21st and urged him to phone Kurtz to get his immediate reaction to the letter. For obvious reasons I didn't want to give Kurtz a lot of time to concoct fresh excuses.
After he had talked with Kurtz Randi called me back on the 23rd saying only that KZA had still not confirmed my calculations. Randi's call, which indicated trouble was brewing, seems to have inspired Abell. Two days later, using the method explained to him on October 5, he got the same answers as I had. He phoned me the news that evening (October 25) and urged that I do an expectation-curve for the American sample. I suggested he do the math. As a matter of fact l'd already done it myself and had mailed copies of the results to Gardner and Randi two days earlier.
On October 23 I had sent some background documents concerning sTARBABY to Randi and Gardner. Gardner wrote back six days later, chuckling about what an incredibly hilarious foul-up the whole thing had turned out to be. To a further packet of documents he repeated his feeling of deep amusement but he wasn't interested in doing anything about it.
When Kurtz phoned me on October 31, 1 (as a member of the CSICOP subcommittee on Gauquelin) asked for copies of Committee records and his correspondence with the various appropriate parties on the Gauquelin experimentation, thus putting to the test my hypothesis that he was deliberately avoiding the written word. Kurtz refused to send anything and said the dealings had been almost entirely by phone. (Later I saw copies of important correspondence and learned this was not true.)
On November 2 I wrote KZA asking:
(1) What was being looked for in the Control Test?
(2) Did KZA and Humanist readers know this from the start?
(3) Wasn't the test designed to show that the control group (nonchampions) would or wouldn't score at 22 percent like the champions? And if the control group had scored at 22 percent, wouldn't you have publicly concluded that Gauquelin lost the challenge?
(4) If you carry through your current plan to declare the Control Test "invalid," what if Gauquelin then challenges you to repeat it yourself? (Gauquelin would have won regardless; Abell later figured this out . )
(5) If a "valid" repetition isn't possible, are we not back at square one, where we were at the time of warnings not to get into this mire?
(6) If the Control Test is repeated, what do we look for?
(7) What will be your and CSICOP's position if the test again comes out in Gauquelin's favor (as I know it will)?
(8) Did you (or colleague) make any pretest estimates of approximate magnitude of astronomical/demographic [Mars/dawn] effects -- before issuing a challenge, the outcome of which depended entirely upon this question? Were you acquainted with any of Gauquelin's detailed quantitative discussions of these matters?
(9) The Bait-and-Switch (BS): "Why collect 16,756 new nonchampions -- and then attack [in the BS report] a [sub]sample of 303 old champion data because it is too small when it is in fact typical of the whole (22 percent success, just like the full sample of 2088, which is certainly not too small) and is about twice as large as you requested in your original challenge (Humanist, January-February 1976, page 33)? ... I have no written reply ... to this or any other point raised since the beginning of our involvement with the Gauquelin question ... I will ask the CSICOP editorial board to have the nonchampions [Control] test refereed by neutral judges before the Committee becomes any further entangled in this endless thicket, via publication in the hitherto-spared Skeptical Inquirer."
I had strongly protested the high-handedness of the choice of Abell as speaker at the annual meeting because of his involvement with sTARBABY. I emphasized that CSICOP had plenty of astronomers associated with it (Carl Sagan, Bart Bok, Edwin Krupp and others), all of them nearer Washington than Abell who lived all the way across the country, in the Los Angeles area.
Frustrated at being presented with a fait accompli regarding the permanent attachment of the sTARBABY albatross to CSICOP, I indicated that, since this had been done without consultation with me-(the sole astronomer on the Council), I was being forced to register a dissent (which had repeatedly been denied me in the pages of Kurtz's magazine) perhaps at the same press conference at which the damage to CSICOP was to occur, in order to ameliorate that damage. Such a prospect chilled the Council.
Kurtz's initial move was a threat that Zelen and Abell would be on hand personally to settle my hash at the private December 5 Council meeting. I asked if that were a promise.
On November 19 Kurtz called in the worst shape l'd ever found him. The prospect of a discordant CSICOP voice's being heard at his orchestrated press conference had badly frazzled his nerves. During the conversation he invoked, rather emotionally, our past mutual efforts -- for example in removing editor Truzzi.
I believe he felt genuinely bewildered and betrayed. To him reportage of contrary results was basically a political, not a scientific, matter. There was no chance of communicating on this. To me Kurtz was a censor. To him I was a traitor. Both of us felt a lack of gratitude.
He got to the point: he didn't want any trouble in Washington. In a strong, emotion-strained whisper he virtually hissed, "I'll do anything to avoid trouble."
I said fine, just get me some written answers to my questions on the Control Test and don't invite Abell to speak at the meeting. Kurtz said he had "no time" (sound familiar?) for written replies; then, contradicting his own account of October (when he'd said to me, hey, let's invite George), he added that Abell had been invited way back in August
Kurtz had earlier maintained his long secrecy about Abell's speech invitation because he thought I would want to speak instead (and would otherwise be so miffed I mightn't finish the U S data if I learned of Kurtz's intentions) So now he offered to let me speak too I told him that he obviously didn't understand the problem
Yet one must realize that in his own mind Kurtz had every reason to believe he'd found his solution Another chapter in our ongoing anthropology lesson: the clash of two alien cultures, public relations vs. scholarship
Kurtz tried another let's-make-a-deal ploy, bursting out. "But I agree with you" He went on to blame the whole sTARBABY mess on Zelen and Abell! They had led him into the pit! But he would do nothing beyond private assent
After we had finished! I phoned Randi to report Kurtz was trying to buy silence on the Gauquelin mess. By the next day (November 20) a Council deal had been concocted (and offered) that would have me chair the astrology section of the press conference. Of course this would entail my introducing Abell. My reply was the old adage that a man who can't be bribed can't be trusted
At this Kurtz exploded in raging fear that his holy press conference would be ruined. He immediately phoned the Councilors and expressed concern that I might attack the Gauquelin project from the floor during the conference; some way had to be found to get me kicked off the Council. (This sudden search for a pretext to eject me -- the first suggestion of the need for my demise -- should be kept in mind because Council is now at great pains to dredge up any other sort of "offense" on my part as the good reason for booting me To borrow from the business world, let us recall the immortal words of J. P. Morgan: "For every action there are two reasons: a good reason and the real reason.")
RANDI AND I drove to Washington together on December 4. Late that afternoon while Michael Hutchinson and I were in Randi's suite, Kurtz called to speak with me.
He immediately accused me of lying and conspiring against him (this only a few days after trying to organize a secret movement to have me thrown off the Council for the crime of dissent). (*8) I asked him to cite a single falsehood l'd ever told him. Unable to name one, he asked me to say what I thought his deceits were. I offered to provide a partial catalog if he were really interested -- but would do it at the Council meeting the next day.
Kurtz wanted to know if I intended to attack sTARBABY at the press conference. When I refused to make any promises, Kurtz grew more furious. We couldn't have a "schism," he said.
Council met the next day at Councilor Phil Klass' apartment. I noticed that Randi was his usual friendly self when Kurtz wasn't around but when he was within earshot Randi made different noises. He repeatedly cracked loudly, "Drink the Kool-Aid, Dennis." (This was shortly after the Jonestown Kool-Aid mass suicide.) During the afternoon meeting, when we established a rule for expelling Councilors, Randi bellowed that it is called the "Rawlins rule."
Randi meant, of course, that expulsion could come for public dissent. No other Councilor present (Gardner was not) said a word to suggest any other inference. I might add that two months later Randi foolishly boasted about how he "had to work to keep Dennis in line" in Washington, having convinced himself, apparently, that his threats had kept me quiet.
How these things grow! In 1975 and 1976 it was just a dumb, arrogant mistake by only three CSICOP Fellows. In 1977 it was their BS report, deliberate deception-cover-up. The next year, 1978, brought Kurtz's attempts first to bribe me and then (secretly) to eject me. Now there were Randi's threats.
As we were milling around, one Councilor asked where Abell was. Indeed, where was Abell? This, after all, was the awaited moment of the showdown Kurtz had threatened -- to blow away the amateur (Zelen also didn't show.) CSICOP's leader announced that Abell had a cold and was confined to his room. I wondered if it was a paranormal flu bug that might wane just in time to permit Abell to give his press-conference speech next day. (It did.)
The evening session studiously avoided the prescheduled Gauquelin discussion. Finally I raised the issue. Klass helpfully jumped in to say that it was too late in the evening. Kurtz perversely objected that Abell and Zelen weren't there Randi said not a word -- but Skeptical Inquirer editor Ken Frazier said l'd waited patiently and Ray Hyman suggested we discuss the matter.
I started right out by saying that this was an issue that would determine whether the Committee was worthy of existence. The provisional hope to jettison sTARBABY was now impossible. The language of the original Control Test Challenge and subsequent testaments to its "definitive" nature had left no way around the fact that we had lost and Gauquelin had won.
Klass, ever ready with useful remarks, interrupted to say that all this sounded like "just a lot of griping."
Randi continued to say nothing except at one point he suggested that I not answer even the direct questions of a reporter at the upcoming press conference .
Kurtz wouldn't admit that sTARBABY was a loss. He fell back on the alleged support of the absent Abell and Zelen. so I reminded him of our November 19 phone conversation in which he had tried privately to blame the whole mess on them I then produced and read Councilor Gardner's letter calling the Control Test a hilarious mess At this point Kurtz sprang from his seat and roared, "Well, you're wrong!" He grabbed the letter, glanced at it in disbelief and announced that Gardner didn't know what he was talking about
Continuing with his helpful suggestions, Klass urged that I state the problem in writing! (I was the only party who had )
During all this Kurtz never took into account the depth of my reluctance to harm CSICOP, a movement I had cofounded with him So to Kurtz's surprise and temporary relief I said nothing at the press conference and did not even raise my hand to ask a question Naively, I still had hopes for CSICOP -- shortly to be dashed forever
From the press conference we went to lunch I was asked to sit with Abell and Kurtz Disturbed that I was yet again getting into a nonwritten exchange, I quickly went over to Ken Frazier and Bob Sheaffer and told them that things were probably going to be said to which there ought to be an outside witness Would either come and sit in on it? Not a chance -- both flatly refused It was then I knew CSICOP would probably never get well
Abell and I were introduced. He remembered to mention his cold and at first sniffed convincingly (especially for someone with no red around his nose) but neglected to do so later. (*9)
Now, 10 minutes after the completion of his press conference with no embarrassment, Kurtz's plan to suppress my dissenting September 18 report came out of the closet As the three of us sat down to lunch, Kurtz and Abell said they and Zelen would write the published report and in it thank me for doing the calculations. Whereas earlier Kurtz had tried to disavow blame for sTARBABY, this time it was Abell who was unloading responsibility for it When I expressed abhorrence of the BS report, Abell replied that he was in Europe and didn't read it before cosigning it Kurtz shot back, "Oh, yes, you did!" (*10)
A few minutes later Christopher Evans (since deceased) came by and took the empty fourth chair at our table Within seconds of his joining us Abell had told him of his BBC television series and all three were talking of such matters. Right then it dawned on me I had come to promote open-ended scientific research -- but the real purpose here was media wheeling and dealing And that is why we were meeting at the temple of CSICOP's faith, the National Press Club
The subsequent afternoon proceedings dealt primarily with international organizing and publicity schemes But no one seemed interested in defining what all the hoopla was for. Which was reasonable enough -- because that was what it was for.
ON JANUARY 17, 1979, I wrote a memorandum on the dirty dealing I'd witnessed. I sent it and another memo ("On Fighting Pseudoscience with Pseudoscience") to most of CSICOP's Fellows. I inquired of Bart Bok if he could find a competent astronomer to take over my duties.
The first Fellow to phone Randi about the memoranda asked him about various charges they contained Randi admitted uncomfortably that they were true as far as he knew -- but then he quickly changed the subject
More often, however, the Councilors -- the same ones who had chided me for ad hominems -- declared, "Dennis is just a wild man " Someone who acts on principle probably does appear to CSICOPs to be a creature from the antipodes.
Since we're speaking of "wild": Klass and Randi reacted to my January memos by claiming they couldn't understand the indictment!
Klass added another fantastic touch to Council's reaction, contending that it was fruitless to try to "turn back the clock like Uri Geller." Funny, I used to know a Phil Klass who circulated long lists of conflicting statements made by Allen Hynek, going back many years, asking if these are the same Allen Hyneks. And this was the same Phil Klass who now wasn't interested in the past?
Many of CSICOP's Fellows fell for the unity pitch or copped a none-of-my-business plea A letter from one Fellow amused me in light of Council pretenses that it didn't understand the charges His letter, dated January 26 1979, makes plain how clear my January memos were The writer understood that the experimental results supported Gauquelin, that Kurtz, Abell and Zelen had screwed up the test and that CSICOP's leaders, primarily Kurtz, had tried to cover up the mess, thereby creating a "Buffalogate." This writer said he had long harbored doubts about the way CSICOP was being run.
A later letter written by the same Fellow contains a prescient sentence: "I regard your charges as very serious. ... Something must be done before we read about all of this in FATE "
I received a long letter from J. Derral Mulholland, one of the world's leading celestial mechanics experts He permitted me to distribute the letter to CSICOP's Fellows
The letter said Mulholland had been unaware that CSICOP had an elite Council that apparently was answerable to nobody Council members evidently were using CSICOP's name to advance their personal ends. Some persons associated with the organization were making pronouncements on subjects outside their area of competence. If CSICOP were to remain scientifically credible, it had better use scientific methods such as controlled tests with predefined criteria for success and failure, and nonprotaganists should judge the results. Alibis, image problems and economic concerns were irrelevant to the real issues.
I proposed Mulholland as a Fellow, someone who might replace my astronomical input. This proposal was never even acknowledged.
BY APRIL 1979 Council, which had held its breath for months breathed again, this time a deep sigh of relief: no resignations and no news stories. Kurtz phoned on April 9, hoping to placate me. I said to put the answers to my questions on sTARBABY in writing. That was that.
The next day Frazier offered this alibi for nonpublication of my September 18 report: he wished someone would write an article that straightened out the "mess" once and for all, but there seemed no way to resolve the matter, even though Frazier confessed to a "gut feeling" that I might be right in some of my criticisms .
He claimed that my writings on the controversy were unclear and overheated. But in fact CSICOP's own eventual referee reports found my September 18 report (which for now Frazier refused for lack of clarity) to be clearer than KZA's report on the same material Also my original unanswered questions to KZA were all exceedingly polite -- before the censorial outrages starting in autumn 1978.
I replied on April 19:
... incredible -- even aside from the various matters you (along with the rest of the Council) continue to shut your eyes to. In particular, you [all] still attempt to pretend that you don't understand the [sTARBABY] problem and don't know how to go about doing so. This is a ploy fully worthy of the kooks. As you well know, I have urged the refereeing of the matter for months. The only reply has been: silence.
What sort of Committee claims (in its very title) to be in the business of testing occult claims, yet can't even find a way to evaluate its own first and biggest test? What use is its testing, if the Committee cannot be counted upon to report the results honestly?
As for the no-compromise pose:
(l) Most of the Councilors (including Kurtz and Abell) either know or strongly suspect the truth. The problem isn't what's the truth but how to deal with it, p.r.-wise.
(2) Even without any scientific background one can just observe:
(a) Which side has made a complete. Open. written record -- vs. a year of refusal to commit answers in writing, while frantically juggling stories privately?
(b) Which has tried to silence the other by expulsion?
(c) Which has called for refereeing-arbitration? Which has steadfastly ignored the suggestion?
In any controversy within the Committee, it is always possible that the mistaken party will (instead of owning up) put up a smokescreen of alibis and pseudocomplexities (just like the occultists do, every time they lose). In that case is the attitude of the Council to be that, well, the whole matter is too complicated to adjudicate?!
At this time Kurtz attempted to persuade Gauquelin to agree to the suppression of even my mild September 18 report. He also tried to dissuade Gauquelin from visiting me during the latter's April trip to San Diego.
He never told me any of this. Instead he pretended (as he had the previous year) that he might be willing to publish my report if KZA got to sum it all up afterward. And this is roughly how it was done eventually.
However, my challenge to call in outside refereeing (as Abell had promised in September-October 1976 Humanist) to determine the truth did not tempt the Committee.
During this period Randi would occasionally phone up for a friendly "just-happened-to-be-thinking-of-you" chat. l suspected he was trying to draw out of me statements of anger or of dissatisfaction. Despite his private rages Randi wished to make no public waves. When I asked him why, he repeated the tired old alibi that the occultist kooks would whoop it up if Kurtz fell. But he claimed that he had dressed down Kurtz (privately) in Washington in December. He stated without qualification that Gardner Hyman and he all supported my scientific position on the sTARBABY mess. (I knew, however, that he was telling all inquiring Fellows that a little old nonstatistician like himself just couldn't understand the problem.)
Next Randi (and soon afterwards Bob Sheaffer) tried to get me involved in new projects, i.e., diversions. As part of this effort Randi asked my advice on the Helmut Schmidt parapsychology experiment which some CSICOPs had been investigating. I simply urged that it be approached with all the caution KZA had thrown to the winds in 1975 and 1976. He assured me how cautious he was in the testing for his well-publicized $ 10,000 prize for proof of psychic abilities (for which he acts as policeman, judge and jury -- and thus never has supported my idea of neutral judgment of CSICOP tests. "I always have an out," he said.
THINGS HAD quieted down by late spring 1979. All the while I was mercifully occupied at sane, non-CSICOP projects.
Then on June 24 Randi phoned mentioning he'd just talked with Truzzi. Randi seemed suddenly anxious to settle the sTARBABY problem. Two days later he wrote a letter to the Council stamped CONFIDENTIAL on both pages. It said he hoped he and the other Councilors could find a way out of a long-standing problem. Randi observed that CSICOP was always under the watchful eye of irrationalists who chortled at every apparent failing, as witness the response to Truzzi's resignation. (*11) At the Washington meeting he had feared the Gauquelin affair would be brought up in front of reporters. That would have been unfortunate because CSICOP cannot afford to wash its dirty linen in public.
But then Randi hit upon a solution. Why should CSICOP worry about the Gauquelin matter? If (Randi's emphasis) the thing was a mistake, Councilors should decide once and for all that it was never a CSICOP project and be done with it.
Randi's letter touched on another subject of interest to both sides of the paranormal controversy, relative to my proposal (in an early issue of Skeptical Inquirer) that the American Association for the Advancement of Science reevaluate its decision to let the Parapsychological Association be affiliated with it if the PA could not produce a repeatable experiment. A petition I had circulated among the Fellows had drawn support from some of CSICOP's leading lights.
His letter said that when physicist John Archibald Wheeler denounced the parapsychologists (as he had done the previous January) and urged that they be kicked out of the AAAS, Councilors "cheered." But they "forgot" (*12) that I had suggested the same thing and been rebuffed. (*13)
Curiously, the following November Randi cosigned a letter to the PA stating, "We have no intention of requesting the 'expulsion' of the Parapsychological Association from the AAAS and would be opposed to such a move" (Spring 1980 Skeptical Inquirer). I will leave it to the higher theologians on the Council to reconcile this statement with the foregoing CONFIDENTIAL document's statement, "We cheered."
I might have been more impressed with the CONFIDENTIAL letter had it not been for another piece of mail that arrived the same day. It was a letter from Jerome Clark of FATE asking me to relate the sTARBABY episode for publication.
The mystery of Randi's strangely sudden desire to open up sTARBABY evaporated. Before answering FATE I called Randi (on July 6) and asked whether perchance Truzzi had mentioned FATE during their communication just before Randi phoned me on June 24.1 got a well-we-talked-about-a-lot-of-things response and hmm-well-maybe-we-did
I mentioned the coincidence of his let's-get-moving CONFIDENTIAL letter arriving the very day I heard from FATE after six months of CSICOP inaction. It was about a 200-to-one shot. He suggested "synchronicity." (And CSICOP is supposed to be antiparanormal.)
Randi also admitted (having learned elsewhere that I already knew) the Kurtz-NisbetKlass-Randi plan to try to silence my dissent at the December 6 National Suppress Club meeting.
We hung up on slightly better terms than l'd expected although I remained quite disgusted that only the threat of FATE exposure had produced even token motion toward nonsuppression.
I had asked Randi the big question, the question all CSICOPs will be asking themselves for years to come: Why? Why get involved in a conspiracy that was as stupid as it was low? Why do something that would mark him and CSICOP for the rest of their lives? The reply was ever the same: We can't let the mystics rejoice. A lifetime price -- just to prevent a little transient cuckoo chirping.
On August 11 Randi again wrote the Council to discuss CSICOP's response to the FATE interview with Truzzi, saying the latter had been dumped because he wanted the journal (then called The Zetetic) to be a scholarly rather than a popular publication. (*14)
I told the Council l'd be open with FATE. Part of my reasoning was that, although I didn't wish to hurt rationalism, I felt that realpolitik cynics were taking advantage of that very reluctance and their increasing power was endangering rationalism's reputation. These were the wrong people to be carrying the cause's banner.
As the FATE-story realization set in, Council reacted like the White House when it learned that John Dean had sat down with the prosecution. The awareness of how much I knew and what would happen if I told all -- this was the stuff of nightmares. Thus a new game plan was needed: Be nice to the wild man. Soothe. Flatter. Laugh at his jokes. Project as honest and self-critical an image as possible -- at least until the problem subsides again.
By August 24 Frazier had received from Kurtz a 45-page package of four papers; the shortest of them was my original September 18 report on my Gauquelin results. Kurtz evidently hoped to bury the embarrassing parts (mild as they were) of my report in the sheer volume of print.
Since I had repeatedly requested refereeing, the board decided it would have to go through the motions.
Refereeing in professional journals is the backbone of the legitimate scientific community. In serious journals the process requires months of careful examination, often back-and-forth communication among author, editor and referees.
But if this were done now, some blunt, explicit revisions l'd already promised (last April 5) might have time to find their way into my previously-gentle September 18 report. So, professing fear that Gauquelin might "skoop" (sic) CSICOP, Frazier suddenly sent the 45-page, four-paper package to various CSICOPs (not neutral referees as promised in September-October 1976 Humanist) -- with the demand that the results be back within 10 days! Maybe it was just another of our paranormal coincidences that I was away from home while this was going on.
All of this activity took place without my knowledge -- although I was the author of one of the papers, the calculator of the entire study, a Councilor and associate editor of the magazine. Thus two referees, as yet unaware of the problems with the Control Test (defended in KZA's paper in the Gauquelin package), were insulated from my pointing these out to them. And my own paper was being rushed into print not only without my approval of its form but in actual defiance of my written statement that I would have to revise it in the direction of bluntness.
When I returned to San Diego late on October I, 1979, 1 learned that Frazier had left a message on September 24 saying that his deadline was October 1. Still no mention of the secret rush-refereeing, which I learned of only upon telephone questioning the next day. I asked for copies.
When the material arrived on the sixth the consensus of CSICOP's own referees was in my favor (versus Professors Kurtz, Zelen and Abell) in all major departments: (a) clarity, (b) technical competence, (c) honesty and (d) defensibility of conclusions. No scientific criticisms were leveled against my report, while the two statisticians among the referees criticized the KZA paper on various grounds.
Only one of these two referees had been forewarned (not just by me) about the problems with the 1977 BS report, the central nonsense of which KZA were again ladling out. Appalled, he counseled neutral refereeing by appropriate experts before rushing into publication
Here are some excerpts from the referee report (on KZA contributions to the Gauquelin package) by the sole Councilor trained in statistics:
I would be irresponsible if I did not point out serious defects in the documents in their present form .... ambiguities should be avoided -- especially if they can be interpreted as evasions or ways to wriggle out of a prior commitment ... quibbling over whether to include [a very few] females in the sample ... looks like post hoc playing around to push the data in their [KZA's] favor. At what point did they [KZA] decide NOT to include females -- after they knew the results or before? The same can be said over the splitting of the data to try to show that the major effect is carried by the Paris [-born athletes]. Again this is post hoc. Besides the splitting of the small sample into even smaller subsamples, of course, lowers the power [of the study's significance] considerably .... What is important is that the entire sample, taken as a whole, shows the [Mars] effect .... Such post hoc rummaging [for possible hitherto-unnoted trends in the data] has to be kept in perspective. It can supply ideas and hypotheses for a new study but it has no basis for drawing conclusions [for this study].
I suspect that as a LEGAL debate G won this first round [Control Test. Afterwards, it appears other factors] than a true Mars effect ... might account for the correlation. But, as originally stated, G has won.... I hope that they [KZA] can see that a neutral reader ... can interpret their criticisms as post hoc attempts to wriggle out of an uncomfortable situation.
THE FIRST weekend after my October 2 call to Frazier, Kurtz phoned, dripping charm. I urged that if the package was to be published, the statistician-Councilor's referee report ought to be published instead of KZA's.
I revised my September 18, 1978, report in the promised direction of bluntness and submitted it to Frazier on October 8,1979, telling him that if there were any alterations not cleared with me, l wanted a note printed with the paper stating that deletions had occurred over the author's protest and that the missing portions could be obtained directly from me.
On the morning of October 12 Frazier was happily protecting Skeptical Inquirer's innocent readership by blue-penciling out all my report's revelations of KZA's fumbling (leaving intact, of course, all its negative scientific revelations about Gauquelin's claims, including the nonreplication [13 1/2 percent versus the 22 percent in the French data] in the American sample (*15)). Suddenly he came upon my request for a printed note regarding the existence of unauthorized deletions. He lunged for the phone and got through to me with the opening salutation, delivered in a loud growl, tense with rage, "I am pissed off at you." He said my note was "blackmail."
Frazier went on in this vein for some time before easing off to mere exasperation. I reminded him that I had said a year ago that CSICOP would publish non-neutrally-refereed BS sham over my dead body (which is just the way it happened) in a magazine of which I was a responsible associate editor. If Frazier insisted on printing -- at great length -- what five of his six associate editors privately deemed questionable science and/or intentional pretense, l would insist just as adamantly on protesting such in my brief paper. As the person who had actually performed the experiment, l felt that this was perfectly reasonable.
Frazier, editor of a magazine born to tear down dumb beliefs, said such criticism would create dissension and "confuse" the readers. We finally left it that he would send an edited version and see if we could agree.
Instead, as the final deadline approached, Frazier just sat on it. l finally phoned on October 20 and left a message -- no reply. I telephoned again two days later and was curtly informed that the report would be published his way or not at all. He said that Kurtz opposed publishing my report at all.
I received Frazier's edited version the next day. l phoned him small (undisputed) changes on October 27 and 28 and on November 4, quietly but pointedly reminding him on each occasion that I protested his substantial deletions and his bowdlerization of my very mention of these deletions (into a version designed to indicate to the reader that no deletions had occurred).
On November 6, two days after a last request to Frazier to reconsider, I circulated a memo to all my fellow associate editors:
Alone among the Councilors, l still have no compensation for travel expenses to the last Council meeting (c $230). I have booked a flight to this one -- the cost will be nearly $400 just for the plane, and I have to stay 7 days (at my own expense) just to keep the rate down to that. This must be paid in a (very) few days -- and I won't do that unless all 630 dollars are here beforehand.
My upcoming Skeptical Inquirer article ( l 979 winter) on the Gauquelin matter has been neatly censored here and there, so I have asked to add a statement saying so and suggesting that readers who wish to consult the original version may do so by contacting me. This sentence has itself been bowdlerized (so that it reads as if no tampering occurred). It seems to me that to distort the meaning of a contributor's statement over his explicit protest, especially when he is an "Associate Editor" -- whatever that means -- is a serious matter. Therefore, I will here ask the other members of the Skeptical Inquirer Editorial Board whether they concur in this action ... none of this should be published until the KZ&A [Control Test] is competently, independently refereed. Another point I have vainly stressed to Ken [Frazier]: there has been some faint hope of dissociating CSICOP from this disaster. The forthcoming package seals the matter forever: opening and closing arguments (and pseudoscientific obfuscations of the clear outcome) coauthored by CSICOP's Chairman and a CSICOP Fellow who is [senior] editor of the forthcoming Scribner's book [Science and the Paranormal] attacking everybody else's pseudoscience (full of CSICOP contributors).
I must also say that these same two gentlemen have each attempted privately to blame the other authors for the adventure. They had an amusing argument on this point in my presence 1978/12/6. Yet they now [in their upcoming articles] have the brass to pretend to Skeptical Inquirer's readership that there is nothing amiss. This is deliberate sham. And I think most (if not all) of you know so or strongly suspect it.
When he read this Frazier blew his stack again and on November 9 wrote a memo declaring he had deleted only "one sentence from a late-added footnote" (emphasis in original). False -- there were in fact a dozen deletions.
Frazier's letter conveniently confused his right to edit (which I never had questioned) with his right to alter the meaning of a brief note telling the reader where to obtain the unedited version .
ON NOVEMBER 15 Randi phoned trying to find out whether I meant my November 6 promise not to come to next month's Council meeting in New York City unless both 1978 and 1979 fares were paid. (After badgering from Frazier, Kurtz in early November had sent the 1979 fare only, citing a ridiculous excuse for not sending the 1978 fare.) I replied to Randi that if he cared (his ostensible reason for calling) he should tell Kurtz to wire the still-unpaid 1978 fare.
I also made an offer which, in view of all that had happened, was about as forgiving as one could possibly be: I said that Council would have no more trouble with sTARBABY if Skeptical Inquirer would publish the dissents of those Councilors who knew the truth about it -- the same suggestion made to Frazier a month earlier in regard to publishing the statistician-Councilor's referee report. They were not interested .
I heard nothing further. Even my November 6 note to Martin Gardner, asking him if he planned to be at the meeting, went unanswered.
As might be expected, at the December 15, 1979, meeting Kurtz (who never really believed I wasn't coming) carefully held a closed-door minipress conference that was kept a secret even from some attending Councilors until they were in the room and the doors were closing.
Equally surprising to some Councilors was the decision, made that same day, to hold an "election." (*16) No prior announcement had been made -- which violates every established code of parliamentary procedure.
By another of our paranormal coincidences, only one person was "not renominated" and I was replaced by Abell. It was then decided to put off the Abell announcement for some weeks so that there would seem to be no connection.
A comedy high is the December 21 letter I received more than 10 days after the meeting from Randi, the appointed bearer of the tidings that I had been unanimously dumped or, as he so delicately put it, "not reelected." Randi hoped we could continue to be good friends. Also, since I was still on the editorial board, he urged me to write regularly for Skeptical Inquirer.
I thought it was curious that one who was such a horror that he merited unanimous expulsion should at the same time be asked to stay on as associate editor and publish lots in the CSICOP journal.
Along the same line, I received a January 5, 1980, letter from Abell, four solid pages of "gush" (Abell's word). I felt I was in danger of spiritual diabetes from the syrup that had been poured over me all through 1979. (The funniest inundation had come from, of all people, Gardner, at Randi's behest.) The truth is, my admiring "friends," who "reluctantly" (Randi's adverb) voted my ejection at the December 15 meeting, had a long argument at this very meeting trying to identify the boob responsible for getting me onto the Council in the first place!
My reaction to ejection was not quite what Council expected. On December 31 I wired Frazier a request that a note be printed at the end of my upcoming Gauquelin-package article stating that "following editorial disagreement over these articles" I had been "unanimously ejected," which was undeniably true.
Frazier refused this (in a January 9 letter) as "inappropriate and inaccurate in its implication of cause and effect."
Back on December 18 Frazier had written me to say that Skeptical Inquirer Assistant Editor Doris Doyle had emphasized it was too late to make any further changes in the Gauquelin package. Yet, nearly a month later, on January 12, Doyle told me that even then there was time for alterations. Consistency was hard to come by.
So on January 14 I sent Frazier another Mailgram:
Since the mechanicals are still with Doris (who says you refused my ["following editorial disagreement"] statement), please replace "Further commentary ... from the author" with: "Deletions from this paper are available from the author at his address. This December CSICOP Council unanimously decided soon to replace me on the Council with George Abell." If you kill one sentence, consider the other separately. (If some particular words or phrases bother you, have Doris phone me today regarding my OK of possible changes.) I repeat my request for written reasons for your censoring my attempts to make these simple statements to Skeptical Inquirer readers.
At this point, I am not interested in promises regarding future letters column space, since what can one make of Council's word, after its recent clandestine "election" and customary secrecy regarding Abell's upcoming elevation? -- Dennis Rawlins, Associate Editor?
Frazier replied the next day by decreeing that he would allow no more changes. Any announcement of my nonreelection to the Council would have to be carried in Skeptical Inquirer's news column because, he said, it was "irrelevant" in a research report. On February 16 I took Frazier up on his offer and prepared this statement for the news column.
I am resigning from the Skeptical Inquirer Editorial Board (effective on SI publication of this notice) in reaction to the Board's handling of empirical testing (when the results do not come out as expected) as well as (among other matters) the CSICOP Council's surprise December "election" in New York (not even known to some attending Councilors until a fraction of a day before it occurred) -- at which private event it was unanimously decided that I should be "not renominated" (in absentia) and that (after a cosmetic interval) George Abell was to be elevated to Councilor. What this sleight of ballot switch portends for the future scientific level and integrity of the ruling body of CSICOP can be most quickly understood from a careful reading of our [Abell's and my] respective contributions (especially the pre edited versions) in the 1979-80 Winter SI.
The Council wants to make it perfectly clear that Abell's (public) support for -- as against my long-contained (now surfacing) criticism of -- CSICOP's conduct during its four-year involvement in testing Gauquelin's neoastrology, has NOTHING to do with Council's December move. SI readers who wish to believe in this paranormal miracle of acausal synchronicity are urged not to contact me at the below address.
Meanwhile I privately urged that the other Councilors think of rationalism's reputation ahead of their own immediate interests and resign.
On April 10 Frazier reneged: "The resignation letter you asked to be published is not appropriate for publication. Such internal matters are best dealt with by private circulation. (*17) I feel strongly about that."
Although my letter of resignation stated that it became effective only when published, Frazier tossed me off the editorial board anyway -- without giving me notice or cause. Abell was my replacement.
One other dissent has been kept from Skeptical Inquirer readers. The identity of the mystery guest in dissent-space? George Abell! In 1980 Abell hired UCLA grad student Albert Lee to compute the expectation curve for the Gauquelin experiment. According to a May 3, 1980, letter Abell wrote to Gauquelin, Lee's results agreed with Gauquelin's and mine. Thus Abell learned (some years too late) that 17 percent, not 22 percent, is the chance figure after all. Poof goes the Control Test (based upon the hope that Gauquelin's 22-percent Mars Effect results were merely chance level in disguise).
As the truth becomes undeniable, what will CSICOP do? Perhaps as the Smoking Letter (as well as the prospect of total exposure in FATE) is considered, CSICOP may be heard to protest that it was most anxious to get the truth to the public but delayed somewhat in the interests of cautious science -- thereby explaining, of course, things like 10-day refereeing and rushing a Challenge to press to beat a publishing deadline.
EPILOGUEI CAN SUM up by noting that:
CSICOP's idea of internal scandal-preventing is not to eject the culprits but to eject those who expose them. A Watergate analogy would be to throw Sam Ervin out of Congress and keep Nixon as President on his promise not-to-do-it-again.
The foregoing account was drafted between March 26 and May 15, 1980. The great bulk of it, however, was not typed until December 1980 through January 1981 due in part to the press of researches in nonparanormal-related areas of scholarship. I was reminded of CSICOP in October 1980 by three incidents that occurred together and not coincidentally:
(1) I was dropped as a CSICOP Fellow without being informed, much less being told why in writing.
(2) I was attacked (along with Gauquelin) in the most insulting fashion in the letters section of Fall 1980 Skeptical Inquirer by the same Fellow whose mistakes in "Objections to Astrology" began sTARBABY.
(3) The last October event explained Item One -- my ejection from the full Committee. Council announced its annual meeting and press conference for December 12, 1980, at UCLA. The gathering was described as a closed "press seminar," only for Fellows and invitees.
I telegraphed Kurtz on December I to suggest that the neoastrology test be openly debated at the meeting. I received no reply.
Therefore I simply appeared at the meeting, correctly judging that Kurtz wouldn't risk creating a scene by having me ejected bodily before his beloved press corps. I was privately assured that the Gauquelin matter would be discussed at 5:00 P.M. As insurance that it be held, I stood up during the question-and-answer period and mentioned in passing that there would be a 5:00 P.M. hearing concerning sTARBABY and the reasons for my ejection from CSICOP. No Councilor contradicted me.
At 5:00 Kurtz stood up and, instead of announcing the promised discussion, adjourned the press conference.
Twice bit, thrice shy. In anticipation I had with me four pages of XeroXed exposE9 material. After a few minutes' abortive attempts to have Randi and others honor their promise, I simply distributed the material to everyone in the room, including the two or three press persons who had been sufficiently interested in CSICOP to show up.
Phil Klass, looking unwell, rushed over to growl through clenched jaw, "You're sick!" He said that after all this time I should drop it, in effect using the cover-up's long success as a justification for its perpetuation.
The Council then retired to a private meeting. Over Kurtz's protest I just walked into the meeting. Kurtz then tried to preannounce a five-minute limit to a Gauquelin discussion. I never got five minutes of straight narrative. It was a free-for-all orgy of fantasy, with Councilors interrupting so often that they interrupted each other's interruptions.
The Council agreed there was not the slightest connection between my unique expulsion and my equally unique insistence on honest reporting of sTARBABY. It was just that I had behaved rudely.
I pointed out that before Kurtz tried suppressing me, beginning in September 1978, I was patient and gentle, a trusting chump.
My request that offenses justifying expulsion be specified brought on the Morganisms. Kurtz could come up with only two pre-September 1978 claims:
(1) A letter I had written on February 6, 1978, to the University of Toronto regarding an astrology conference to be held there the next month. Supposedly I had put pressure on the university to cancel the meeting. I refuted this phony charge by reading from a Xerox copy of the letter, which made it clear I was objecting only to the grossly unbalanced composition of the proposed panel (which certainly would have disgraced the university); in fact I had encouraged the invitation of a broad selection of experts on both sides, hoping for a meaningful confrontation. Kurtz then referred to an alleged phone call I made to the university president. The only catch is that I never phoned the president of the University of Toronto.
(2) Then Kurtz seriously attempted to define my other excommunicable offense as my proposal that the American Association for the Advancement of Science reevaluate the Parapsychological Association's affiliation with it! The other Councilors in attendance were too astonished to comment. (Kurtz and Frazier had themselves published this proposal in my article in Fall-Winter 1977 Skeptical Inquirer.)
Obviously it was a hoked-up scenario. When I asked, a Councilor admitted that kicking me off the Council had not even been discussed until just a week before the December 1978 press conference, where Council feared I would expose sTARBABY. Indeed, only 10 minutes previously Council had attempted again to suppress my public dissent at the press conference we had just left.
There were other moments of humor. Phil Klass claimed he didn't understand the neoastrology dispute, reviving the alibi first heard early in 1979.1 asked then why Frazier had chosen Klass as one of CSICOP's instant referees and why Klass had in fact written one of the five private referee reports. Incredibly, Klass denied having done so! I instantly produced and circulated a Xerox copy of this nonexistent report. As it began passing around the table, Klass said that he had recommended against publishing the package. Those who were reading his report, dated September 10, 1979, learned the very opposite. I knew the refereeing had been pro forma but I wasn't prepared for such obliging confirmation .
The bottom line is:
Every one of the Councilors who say they know something about the sTARBABY knows that it was a disaster. Yet Skeptical Inquirer readers are given to believe nothing went wrong.
The last word Frazier allowed to appear was a letter from Lawrence Jerome (Fall 1980, page 85) in which CSICOP offered congratulations to itself for its Gauquelin project.
Notes of "sTARBABY" by Dennis Rawlins(*1) CSICOP began as an offshoot of the American Humanist assosiation. In 1978, after a year of not telling AHA anything of the ongoing legal proceedings, CSICOP seperately incorporated.
(*3) I had not begun keeping count of the number of Gauquelin-related papers of mine Kurtz had rejected. In retrospect it is obvious that his reason was that all of them dissented from the KZA party line on Gauquelin. The only paper of mine Kurtz had published was also the only one that did not discuss Gauquelin; it was on ESP (July-August 1976 Humanist); thus in Kurtz's Humanist this astronomer was allowed to discuss matters psychological -- but not astronomical!
(*4) I don't even know how many Councilors saw
it after publication until questions were raised about its
honesty. For example, athough I was on the Humanist mailing
list, no copy came to my address.