Richard Dawkins and Rupert Sheldrake in one blog post, brought together by PZ Myers. Now whatever you may think of their respective grasps on truth (and I know where I stand) one thing about both people is their very fine ability to communicate to their respective audiences. Sheldrakians definitely find Dawkins nuts, and Dawkinists repay the compliment, but when both are preaching to their choirs, look out.

Anyway, that is not my point here. My point is to take PZ hisself to task. He says:

You have to propose mechanisms — you need to make hypotheses that can be used to guide tests of the idea. What is the mechanism behind the claimed ability of people to sense who is calling them on the telephone? Having some suggestion about how it works would allow investigators to design experiments that block the effect, or better yet, enhance the effect.

I disagree fundamentally. Way before you need mechanisms, you need a phenomenon. I’ve paid my dues as a CSICOP and all the rest of it, and I know for example, that the gravitational field of the attending midwife exerts a greater gravitational pull on a newborn babe than some far off constellation or even a nearby planet, but the lack of mechanism doesn’t bother true believers, and it isn’t what makes astrology hogwash.

What makes astrology hogwash is the lack of anything substantive to it. I know of no good evidence for any claim at all made by any flavour of astrology.

The first business of any kind of hypothesis testing is to have a hypothesis. If Rupert claims that crossword puzzles are easier to solve later in the day, lets first get two puzzle solvers and set them to it, one morning, one evening, in random order, for a few days and just see whether there's anything to the claim. If there is, OK, I’ll start looking for mechanisms and more evidence. But if there isn’t, why bother looking?

Reactions from around the web


Webmentions allow conversations across the web, based on a web standard. They are a powerful building block for the decentralized social web.

“Ordinary” comments

These are not webmentions, but ordinary old-fashioned comments left by using the form below.