Astro-Databank:Handbook chapter 01

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1. What to Look For in Data Collections

The three most important things to look for in a data collection are source notes, corrections, and biographies. Of the three, good source notes are the most important. Source notes tell you where the data collector found the birth time.

Quoting another astrologer or a magazine is not a source, it is a reference.

When a reference is given to an astrologer or magazine, there is no way to tell whether or not the datum is accurate or highly controversial. Some people quote Rodden, Taglilatelo or AstroDatabank as a source thinking that these references mean "accurate." Not at all. When given as a reference in data citations, "Rodden," "Taglilatelo" or "AstroDatabank" simply mean accurate source notes; the data itself may be in any classification. It's never enough to say "I got this data from Pat Taglilatelo" (or Lois Rodden or any person's name or website) without knowing where that person obtained the data. Naming the reference tells you nothing about the quality of the data. The quote could be for "Dirty Data."

For example, there are four contending birth times for Boris Yeltsin all claiming to be from his mother. Without a source from an approved collector that gives complete documentation, there is no way to tell whether the data is accurate or just speculative. Source identification such as birth certificate, birth records, biography, family records, newspaper accounts, etc. are essential. Source notes should also include the original time signature plus the date style if applicable because these are often in dispute. This is extremely important in data for historic figures.

After many years of data collecting, Lois Rodden developed a coding scheme to easily identify the reliability of data based on the data source. Keep in mind that many people misuse or misunderstand the system. Whether correctly applied or not, the Rodden Rating alone is never a substitute for the complete source notes. Let's review the ratings and their corresponding sources:

Rodden Rating Source
AA From birth certificate or other birth record. This is the top rating suggesting highest level of accuracy.
A From memory (usually the individual's or a parent's); from news reports.
B From biography or autobiography.
C Use with caution: original source is not known, or the data have been rectified.
DD "Dirty Data"; the origin is muddy enough to suggest that the time is probably not accurate; the source is unreliable; there are two or more times.
X Date without time.
XX The date itself is in question or there are two or more variations of the date.

Click here for more information about the Rodden rating system.

Note that the ratings are ranked in order of "accuracy" but "accuracy" in data collection is a relative term. An AA rating simply means that the accuracy is the highest we can get. Data rated AA are the most reliable for research and study because the information comes from a birth certificate or birth record. This rating does not mean that the data is accurate in an absolute sense of the word. So despite the fact that the authorities in some times and places have rounded the data up or down to the nearest 15 minutes, the data are the most accurate we have available to us and are rated AA.

If this practice gives you palpitations, just think of how accurate even a current-day "accurate" birth time of 10:03 AM is. Since our way of recording time depends on one or more humans, and clocks are mechanical methods of measurement, there is room for error. The clock used may be slow or fast, the recorder might mistakenly write "PM" instead of "AM" or the transcriber may misread the handwriting. There are often issues of time changes, time zone changes, and calendar changes. In addition, there is no standard for recording the exact moment of birth—is it crowning, first breath, cutting the umbilical cord or other.

What I would like you to think about is that data "accuracy" is really data reliability. AA-rated data are still better for research and study than B-rated, and B-rated data are far more reliable than "DD"-rated. But the best advice I can give with regard to data collection and this issue of "accuracy" is three-fold:

  • "Consider the source!" Know the source of your data, as far back as you can trace it to the original birth record. Lois and I have included all available source information in the source notes that accompany each entry in AstroDatabank. Read these source notes for information about how we arrived at the Rodden Rating for any particular entry and judge for yourself how "accurate" a birth time really is. Remember that data without an original source is to be considered suspect.
  • Keep in mind that, in data collection, accuracy is a relative term, a measure of reliability, not an absolute. I recognize that those of you who want "exactness" for studies of critical degrees or other techniques are probably twitching with anxiety but in the words of a colleague, "It is what it is."
  • Every collection contains some measure of error. Since data are always volatile, it is important to make sure that you purchase the corrections to data collections as they are a sincere attempt by the collector to reach the community with their updated information. If you own AstroDatabank versions 3 or 4 you can easily download corrections to your program by using the "web update" feature under "Tools" in the taskbar.

After source notes and corrections, look for good biographies. Biographies are handy to have next to charts for immediate comparison. More and more biographical information is available on the web. At the same time, it is also becoming increasingly difficult to judge the quality of information on the web because it is so easy for misinformation to be posted and then copied by other web masters compiling biographies. Be sure to take into account the quality of the source for biographical information as well as for birth data.

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