Review of Tenacious Mars Effect
by H. J. Eysenck

    Title: “The Tenacious Mars Effect”
    Author(s): Suitbert Ertel and Kenneth Irving,
    with a Foreword and an Appendix by Jim Lippard.
    Pub: London: the Urania Trust, 1996. Hardbound; Pps appr. 180;
    Price £9.95 Sterling. ISBN 1 871 989 15 9

This book I would suggest is an indispensable read for all psychologists, as well as for “hard” scientists, philosophers, sociologists, and anyone interested in science. It qualifies for such praise on three grounds. In the first place, it summarizes the available evidence on the so-called “Mars Effect”, i.e. the hypothesis that outstanding sportsmen and women are significantly more likely than other people to be born when Mars is just rising or overhead. The effect is not very large, and of no practical importance, but it is totally unexpected on scientific grounds, and at present at least impossible to explain rationally. As George Abell, and astronomer initially very critical of the phenomenon wrote: “The Mars effect, to be real, would require new physics beyond anything that science can at present understand.” As the book makes clear, the evidence for the Mars effect is now so strong that it seems impossible to deny; hence this is a phenomenon of great scientific importance. It may of course be possible in due course to understand it along traditional lines, but this possibility does not seem to rest on very strong foundations.

What then is the evidence? It was originally produced by Michel Gauquelin, a French psychologist, and his wife Françoise, a statistician. Comparing large samples of sports champions and ordinary people, they found strong and statistically significant evidence in its favour. Publication of their results ran into a storm of criticism, much of it ill-informed and patently prejudiced. I was allowed (as were many scientists interested in the phenomenon) to go over their results, and could find nothing wrong; none of the critics bothered. Three large replication studies were set up by highly critical groups in Belgium, USA and France, in an endeavour to find evidence against Gauquelin; all failed, as this detailed account, which includes re-analyses of all the published data, makes clear. We thus have four independent, large-scale studies, three of them carried out by self-confessed sceptics and enemies of the hypothesis, which give very positive answers to this question: Does the Mars Effect exist? It is difficult to think that it does not; hence the scientific interest in this book.

The second point of interest is in the detailed presentation of the incredible shenanigans to which the three hostile replication groups resorted when to their horror results of their studies turned out favourable to Gauquelin. These accounts really have to be read, savoured and appreciated by anyone who believes that hard scientists are concerned with facts, truth, evidence. Findings are kept secret and not published when results are not as clear as might be desired, for reasons as discussed in this book. The other interest is related to the reception of the message that the Mars effect is a reality by people with a scientific training. Readers are invited to try it out! Just tell your scientific friends what the facts are. They will squirm, put up all sorts of irrational objections, argue that the facts can’t be true -- and finally refuse to look at the facts! Nothing has changed since Aristotelian astronomers refused to look through Galileo’s telescope to see the four moons of Jupiter. This too is an interesting psychological phenomenon we might well investigate.

Let me add that Ertel, who had access to all the data from all these investigations, both published and unpublished, is a well-know psychologist and statistician, completely impartial (he found many errors in Gauquelin’s data, and is critical of several of his findings), and absolutely reliable as far as re-analyses are concerned. He is devoted to objectivity, and translated Gauquelin’s statement that the more famous the sportsman, the greater the Mars effect, into an objective and testable hypothesis. If you do not believe a word I have said, read the book; it will be a revelation. I should perhaps add that as one of the first to come out in favour of Gauquelin, I have been accused of favouring astrology, of having a non-scientific attitude, of believing nonsense. Guilt by association! The evidence for the Mars effect is better than for most of the “facts” you will encounter in your psychology textbooks, and incomparably stronger than that for psychoanalysis; yet Freud figures in all our textbooks, Gauquelin is not mentioned! This may tell us something about psychology as a science.

H.J.Eysenck, Ph.D, D.Sc., Professor Emeritus
Psychology University of London

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