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French Panel Pans Astrologer's Ph.D.
17 August 2001 7:00 pm
An interdisciplinary group that battles pseudoscience has joined a chorus of scientists critical of the Ph.D. awarded by the famous Sorbonne University to France's best-known astrologer.
In April, Elizabeth Teissier was awarded a doctorate "with distinction" in sociology for a 900-page opus on the attitude of "postmodern" societies toward astrology (Science, 27 April, p. 635M). Both astronomers and sociologists howled about the award, and the French Association of Scientific Information appointed a group to review the thesis.
Its report, released this month, heaps ridicule on Teissier's thesis, saying it is riddled with errors, misinterpretations of sociological theory, ignorance about astronomy, and "bombastic ... and often incomprehensible" prose. The scientists conclude that her effort is nothing but a brief for astrology and "is not at any point, in any way, a sociology thesis."
Teissier's thesis adviser, Sorbonne sociologist Michel Maffesoli, still defends her work. Maffesoli, who heads the Centre d'Etudes sur l'Actuel et le Quotidien, says the panel's chair, Bernard Lahire, a sociologist at the Ecole Normale Supérieure de Lettres et Sciences Humaines in Lyon, represents only one school of sociology and is not equipped to pass judgment on "what is and what is not sociology." The views of astronomers, he adds, are irrelevant.
But panel member Denis Savoie, a science historian at the Palais de la Découverte in Paris, says he hopes French universities will wake up to the toll that this "disastrous affair" has taken on their credibility.
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