Elena Scotti/FUSION

Comprehensive Psychology, a peer-reviewed scientific journal, published a paper last week that seemed to maybe, possibly, in a very small way lend support to certain astrological principles. It doesn’t. But it is an example of how messy things get when an academic is accused of believing in the power of the zodiac.

The paper, written by Mark Hamilton and titled “Astrology as a culturally transmitted heuristic scheme for understanding seasonality effects: a response to Genovese,” is a response to a paper written by Jeremy Genovese, titled “A failed demonstration of sun sign astrology.” That, in turn, is a response to a paper titled “Favored zodiac for celebrity births,” penned by Miah Adel, Saiyeeda Hossain, and Hannah Johnson. So the Hamilton paper wasn’t a defense of astrology, but a takedown of a paper debunking another paper that apparently defended astrology.

A very tangled web. So let’s untangle, shall we?

Defending astrology?

We’ll start with the initial paper: “Favored Zodiac For Celebrity Births,” published in the Journal of Social Sciences in 2013. The study, led by Adel, was co-authored by two high school students, and concluded that “Aquarius turned out to be the zodiac when most of the celebrities are born.”

Findings from Adel's paper.

The group looked at different sample sizes of celebrities—including authors, sports icon, singers, actors, and scientists—and examined whether there is a statistically significant relationship between their fame and their zodiac sign. The researchers plucked the famous, and their dates of birth, from Wikipedia. Basically, it’s the type of study that you would expect from high school students, with professor-grade guidance.

Findings from Adel's paper.

Genovese, an associate professor at Cleveland State University, noticed the paper when it was published. “I’ve always been interested in unusual ideas… I read a lot of papers on the paranormal, psychic phenomenon and so forth.” he told Fusion in a phone interview. Genovese approached the study as though it was intended to help legitimize astrology. “At minimum,” he said, “the paper could be taken as an argument for astrology.”

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This is where things get tricky. Genovese’s response to the paper “A failed demonstration of sun sign astrology,” assumes that Adel’s ultimate goal was to prove that astrology is a scientifically sound field of study (to be clear, it is not). That’s a pretty serious accusation to lob at a professor who teaches physics, astronomy, environmental science and more at the University of Arkansas and earned a PhD in astrophysics. “[Genovese] totally misunderstood my study,” Adel told Fusion in a phone interview. Still, Adel stands by his conclusions—not as a means of proving astrology right, but as a provable observation.

The plot thickens

Enter Hamilton, a communications professor at the University of Connecticut. “ I was a reviewer for Genovese's manuscript when it was under review at Comparative Psychology,” Hamilton told Fusion in an email, explaining how he first became aware of Genovese’s paper. He added: “Genovese appeared to suspect that Adel was a secret astrologer, advocating for it as a belief system.”

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Hamilton backs Adel’s findings, arguing that Genovese’s takedown was in some parts wrong, in some parts irrelevant. Ultimately, he said, “The results of my re-analysis of the Adel et al data confirm the effect they observed of sun sign on celebrity.”

But that doesn’t mean Hamilton supports astrology—he just believes it is a culturally relevant way to organize seasons. And there is scientific support for the notion that birth-seasons affect personality, said Hamilton: “There [are] many studies linking season of birth (including relative age in school) to personality and behavior. So these are well-established in the social sciences.”

That, however, is a separate topic. And it’s not astrology, but it’s something zodiac enthusiasts could get into.

Both Adel and Genovese told Fusion that they may respond to the criticism—Adel to Genovese, and Genovese to Hamilton—over the summer, when they're not bogged down by work. We hope their stars align.

Danielle Wiener-Bronner is a news reporter.