Astrology = not quite a dead horse

By Phil Plait | March 17, 2010 8:00 am

Astrology doesn’t work.

Shocker, I know. I’ve written on this topic extensively, but of course astrologers send me email — seriously — saying how their flavor of magic works, or that I wasn’t fair, or that if only I faced the right way and triantrilated my fibbertygibbet, astrology would be correct, despite my article very carefully showing that no matter how you slice it, astrology doesn’t work.

Obviously, astrology’s horse isn’t quite dead yet, so beating it isn’t such a bad idea. My friend Moriel Schottlender wrote up a nice dissection of astrology walking through the steps showing (despite many astrologers’ claims) that gravity clearly is not the force behind astrology. She even includes math.

Of course, those of us in the reality-based Universe knew this, since when tested properly astrology fails tests devised even by astrologers themselves (see my article linked above). So there is no force behind astrology, except that of the human mind to fool itself. Because of that, we’ll always be debunking bunk like this. I guess that’s one thing astronomers and astrologers really do have in common: there will always be work for us.

Comments (105)

  1. Chas, PE SE

    How many bunks must a debunker debunk, if a debunker could debunk bunk?

  2. Robert E

    I knew someone who used to work at a newspaper. If they couldn’t find the horoscope that was suppose to run in that days paper, they’d just randomly grab another one.

  3. IVAN3MAN AT LARGE

    According to Dictionary.com, a flibbertigibbet is “a chattering or flighty, light-headed person.”

  4. Still, astrology should get as much time in science classes as astronomy. Teach the controversy and let the student decide, right?

  5. Erasmussimo

    I wonder if we shouldn’t come up with analogs to astrology based on other sciences? First off, we could revive “bionomy” with detailed predictions of the future based on the conditions of viscera of sacrificed animals. Next we’d turn to “geonomy”, showing how the color patterns on common rocks can be interpreted by skilled professionals to reveal the future. I’d also suggest the new field of “mathonomy”, but the numerologists have beaten me to it. But perhaps we could have a go at “leafonomy” — if the lines on a person’s palm reveal their future, why shouldn’t the lines on a leaf have some useful information? For the more modern-minded, we should develop “packetology”, in which we examine the node paths of emails sent to a person’s email account, divining a pattern in the path taken by the packets as they traverse the net. That path draws a picture that, properly interpreted, reveals deep inner truths about the subject’s psychology.

    And while we’re at it, isn’t it time for an upgrade to Astrology 2.0? After all, we now have information on the proper motions of all sorts of stars — shouldn’t those be factored into the calculation? “Epsilon Cancri controls your tastes in coffee; since it was 3″ east of its current position when you were born, you should buy the Venti Americano at Starbucks this morning. And nail-trimming is indicated by the motion of Rotanev; you should avoid nailclippers today.”

  6. Mike from Tribeca

    Flibbertigibbet was a word heard quite often around my grandparents’ house. If you had ever met them you’d immediately know why.

  7. Eric

    Actually, Astrology works just fine.

    It’s just that it has nothing to do with starts, planets, etc., and everything to do with human psychological and cognitive foibles and biases. Good astrologers are quite adept at exploiting those foibles and making a living.

  8. Jeff

    many of my astronomy students take the class because they get it confused with astrology and even frequently label their research reports and exams “astrology 1002″ ; I do read them a horoscope , but only for the purpose of illustrating the point that (2000 years ago epoch ) , that for e.g., the sun is located in Aries March 21 , and the concept of the ecliptic.

    Early astronomers like Kepler were also astrologers. So astrology does have some use.

  9. Cindy

    She forgot to include the Moon in her calculations.

  10. Jim Cook

    I 100% agree that astrology is bunkum. I did hear one person’s explanation that made me go “huh,” at least. Predicting what may happen due to planets’ positions is not unlike predicting that I’ll be hungry when the clock shows 12:00. The clock didn’t cause it, but it is one way to guess what will be going on.

    I don’t buy it myself, but thought it was a clever argument nonetheless.

  11. Pi-needles

    @ 4. Naked Bunny with a Whip Says:

    Still, astrology should get as much time in science classes as astronomy. Teach the controversy and let the student decide, right?

    Nah, its not “controversial” ie. Biblically based & thus beloved by Religious “Right” nutters enough! ;-)

    Besides even though astrologers aren’t really “experts” they still sound just a bit too much like ‘em for comfort. Got to stand up to those nasty experts y’know! ;-)

  12. Pi-needles

    @7. Jeff Says:

    … Early astronomers like Kepler were also astrologers. So astrology does have some use.

    Wrong tense.

    Astrology *did* have some use once – it kept Medieval astronomers like Kepler paid & helped fund their proper scientific astronomical research. ;-)

    Now not so much.

  13. Sometimes I feel a little remorse that I have high ethical standards and don’t take advantqage of the clear gullibility and woo mindedness of some of these people… You know, that whole fool and money saying applies to them way too easilly. All I have to say to them is, “I was skeptical until I…”

  14. Pi-needles

    … had a lobotomy? ;-)

    Or, (rather more fun if arguably less effective at getting quite that guillible)

    … had X pints /cups / bottles /steins of [insert alcoholic beverage of choice here.] ;-)

  15. JayMetro

    @ 5. Erasmussimo, I’m told by an economist friend that the sub-field of “econometrics” is generally considered to be “the astrology of economics.” Except by the econometricists, of course.

  16. I have a friend who’s heavily into astrology, who read my horoscope once. The results were… scarily convincing; it accurately nailed various significant events in my life, complete with approximate dates, as well as various personality traits. (This was a proper horoscope, mind, not a newspaper horoscope — even astrology buffs laugh at those.)

    Of course, I know why. It’s because the whole process self-selects for results. My life is full of significant events, so if a date is picked at random chances are there’ll be an event nearby. And the personality markers are all so vague that they’re *bound* to match. But that doesn’t make the whole effect any less impressive. It appeals to the abbreviated logic that we call intuition.

    So it’s not sufficient to debunk the science — pointless anyway, as most proper astrologers don’t believe in anything as measurable as gravitational effects — you also need to persuade people to disregard their own common sense and to use rigorous logic and analysis instead; and that’s much, much harder, because you don’t actually need rigorous logic and analysis in everyday life, so nobody learns it.

  17. Even astrologers know it doesn’t work. That’s why they have to put that disclaimer, “for entertainment only” at the bottom of the horoscope.

  18. Gary Ansorge

    I have to say I don’t care for the upgrade in the links. When I click on BadAstronomy I want to go there straight away, not get directed to a page I have to search through to find my favorite BadAstronomer.

    Astrology is a fine example of Carl Jungs synchronicity(“Synchronicity is the experience of two or more events that are apparently causally unrelated occurring together in a meaningful manner. To count as synchronicity, the events should be unlikely to occur together by chance.).

    ,,,or, as Jerry GArcia used to say “Sometimes,,s##t happens,,,”,,,but that doesn’t mean one CAUSES the other.

    What we really need to understand is WHY humans have such a strong predisposition to believing in things that have no connection to our physical reality.

    In dreams I can fly but that doesn’t mean I’m going to jump off the Golden Gate Bridge,,,no matter what my astrology chart says (“Today, Libran, is a good day to fly.”)

    GAry 7

  19. Jamey

    Ok, admitted, correlation does not imply causality. Now – here’s a thought as to how astrology might have gotten a foothold, and it starts with an analogy. It’s a well established fact that temperature during incubation affects the gender of alligators. The environment in general, in fact, affects our hormonal balance and general metabolism (see Seasonal Affective Disorder).

    Now, while the planets themselves do not have any affect, they acted as markers for periods of the year when Earth-bound environmental factors had *some* – probably fairly limited – effect on the embryo through its effects on the mother.

    Of course, as we’ve modernized and become more creatures of climate-controlled buildings, even those previous effects have become essentially nil.

    Note: these environmental factors aren’t necessarily as easy as daily or annual – we don’t have nearly enough hard weather data (and what we have is rather… poor, honestly) – to tease out low-level long-term cycles. After all, we know the Sun is a variable star – at least as much as the sunspot cycle, and quite obviously on other cycles than that (which is why we launched the helioseismology satellite a few weeks back.)

  20. eigenvector

    While I am totally on-board with “astrology, a crock of BS,” you are omitting the one thing, in my case at least, but most likely in many another guy’s case, which makes astrology true: my wife says it is and that’s that! ;-) Keep up the good work, Jim

  21. Erasmussimo

    The genesis of astrology is obvious. Early civilization depended heavily upon the development of calendars, which served well as approximate weather predictors. The calendar-maker dictated when to plant and when to harvest. Thus, the annual cycle was paramount to early civilizations. Now throw in the correlation between the lunar cycle and the menstrual cycle. Gee, if we could just figure out the role of the other astronomical cycles, we’d have everything nailed down!

    Shouldn’t astrology include Uranus, Neptune, Pluto, comets, meteor showers, and asteroids? “Hmm, you were born on the night of the delta Aquarids. You should be a hydrologist.”

  22. Messier Tidy Upper

    @7. Jeff Says:

    many of my astronomy students take the class because they get it confused with astrology and even frequently label their research reports and exams “astrology 1002″ ..

    I’ll never forget reading some years ago now in my city’s main (only) newspaper of the time when according to the paper’s headline :

    Astrologers discover a new pulsar :roll:

    Sigh. I wish I were kidding there – but I’m not. :-(

    @ 18. eigenvector :

    For a second there, I thought your tag was Eiger (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eiger ) -vector which I guess would be very steep! It would also have me wondering about your face too! ;-)

  23. squirrelelite

    Perhaps I’m being a bit lazy here, but as a fellow user of Facebook, it irritates me when I get daily comments from some of my Facebook “friends” about their daily horoscope reading.

    Is there a good astronomy Facebook app that I could use to shine a small bit of light into the darkness?

  24. Floyd

    19: Heh.
    Point 1: My birthday happens to be the night the Geminid meteor shower appears, but I’m definitely not a twin. I do go out and watch the meteor shower when weather permits.

    Point 2:I own a small Celestron telescope, and am sometimes asked by friends if I’m an astrologer. People really don’t know the difference.

    Incidentally, the Weather Underground website (http://wunderground.com) does have an astronomy page for the use of very amateur astronomers like myself.

  25. Jason

    There might be something to astrology. I have a feeling, without any evidence, that the time of year that you are born affects your development. There are a number of development phases that babies go through. I imagine the timing of these phases fit a bell curve for babies born on the same day. Imagine during the language development phase that it’s winter. During winter kids are bundled up more, making it hard for them to hear or respond to stimulus. So these kids might be more likely to have less developed language skills. Just a thought…

  26. Jim Ernst

    I’m the father of twin daughters, born in the same minute (via C-section). Their personalities are very different, and their fortunes have been quite different as well.

    I’m not sure what else needs to be said

  27. Oh, you…you…scientists!

    When will you ever learn that astrology operates via mysterious means that cannot be measured by your science! Hence, it is pointless to “debunk” or to “defraudulify” those who practice its arcane wisdoms, which are so much more wise (and arcane) than your self-admitted “theories.”

    Stick to your computers and, well, pretty much every other piece of modern instrumentation, and leave astrology to the experts!

    //extracting tongue from between molars

  28. Messier Tidy Upper

    ^ Not canines then? ;-)

    The accompanying advert to the right here says :

    “Click here for free compatibility hororscopes.”

    Of course. :roll:
    (Ow! My irony gland is aching.)

  29. CoolHandl

    With astrology and psychics, what is the point of having them tell you things about yourself? If you have the tools to assess the accuracy of such information, then you have the tools to obtain it in the first place.

    And, what is the point of divining the future? If the prediction is inaccurate, it is useless. If it is accurate, then you can either change the outcome or you can’t. If you can’t change the outcome, than the prediction is unnecessary, because you have only to wait, and therefore useless. If you can change the outcome, then whether the prediction matches the outcome or not, you are left with the problem of determining whether the oracle was right, or full of beans and choices determined the outcome. That is pretty close to useless.

    Of course science predicts things too, but always under the proviso that choices, actions and measurements affect outcome, and with a burden of proof and explanation. Scientific predictions are pretty much forced to demonstrate usefulness.

  30. I once got arrested for triantrilating my fibbertygibbet in public.

  31. tphtwpe

    Yesterday, the horoscope for my sign was “This would be a bad day to make your boss mad.” What kind of horoscope is that? You don’t need special powers to predict that. ANY day is a bad day to make your boss mad.

  32. BradPhysicsPhD

    The accuracy of astrology is inversely proportional to the amount of money you spend on it.

  33. Jeff

    Gary: “,,,or, as Jerry GArcia used to say “Sometimes,,s##t happens,,,”,,,but that doesn’t mean one CAUSES the other”

    This is why astrology cannot qualify as a science, one requirement of a scientific theory is that is has LAWLIKE statements that relate the effects to a cause in a way that can be tested. Does astrology do this? Not the part of astrology that makes predictions about human life, only to the limited extent that they can predict the location of celestial objects in the zodiac at particular times, but astronomers are really their source for this.

  34. @26. CoolHandl,

    If you become aware of the future, doesn’t that change the future by providing you with information about the future?

    Therefore astrology disproves determinism.

    OTOH, since astrology is nonsense, that proves determinism.

    Wait! Now I am starting to draw idiotic conclusions, that are on the level of concluding that astrology works.

    Maybe Bill Engvall is the only accurate astrologer. However, I don’t know if he ever said, If you believe in astrology, here’s your sign.

  35. @11. Larian LeQuella,

    Sometimes I feel a little remorse that I have high ethical standards and don’t take advantage of the clear gullibility and woo mindedness of some of these people… You know, that whole fool and money saying applies to them way too easily. All I have to say to them is, “I was skeptical until I…”

    Maybe you should use the Emo Phillips approach.

    He found a $100 bill on the ground.

    He wondered if he should return it. He considered that he should follow the Golden Rule.

    He should treat others the same way that he would want to be treated. He decided that, under the same circumstances, he would want to be taught a lesson. ;-)

  36. John Paradox

    RE: confusing Astronomy with astrology.
    I regularly watch NUMB3RS (actually, record and burn to DVD), and in one episode, Peter MacNichol’s character (Prof. Larry Fleinhardt) is with a recurring ‘conspiracy theory expert’, who refers to Larry as ‘astrology guy’, with a muted response ‘Astronomy’.

    J/P=?

  37. Minos

    Astrologers are always discriminating against me as an Ophiucus, anyway.

  38. jcm

    I suppose the couch hass more (gravitational) influence on you than α Scorpii (Antares).

    slightly off topic:

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dana-ullman/do-antibiotics-make-peopl_b_491808.html

  39. Michael Swanson

    1. Chas, PE SE Says:

    “How many bunks must a debunker debunk, if a debunker could debunk bunk?”

    Answer: ∞

  40. BradPhysicsPhD: I tried to figure out how accurate my predictions were based on your assertion, but the only way I could make the equation work was as follows:

    accuracyX * moneyspentY = Z

    where Z = 0

  41. JMW

    @15 Thomas…”for entertainment only…”. IMHO, that’s put there by the newspaper’s lawyers so that people who take astrology seriously won’t be able to sue the newspaper when the predictions don’t pan out.

    Sadly.

  42. Jamey

    @Minos – Maybe, if we got a more sensible calendar (13 months of 28 days each, plus 1-2 days that don’t count as part of a week or month) we’d have room for Ophiucus in the Zodiac!

  43. Clio

    So … I’m not sure why this matters? Or why we have all this condescension? I mean, I’m aware that Jay Gatsby wasn’t a real person, but I don’t think I’m an idiot for rereading The Great Gatsby every summer and feeling like it has something to say about life in New York. So is it so horrible to wander past Rob Brezny and get a little shot of positive energy for the week?

  44. Doug

    Hey, that article links back to the BA blog!

    “Phil Plait, “The Bad Astronomer”, has a great analysis of Astrology that goes over all the above…”

    Error: recursion depth exceeded

  45. Bahdum (aka Richard)

    Taurus = bull
    tauroid = bull droppings from the sky.

    e.g., “This newspaper horoscope just told me I was gonna have an awesome day but I lost my job, my house burned down, and my dog ran away to my ex’s. Stupid horoscope is just a tauroid.”

    Or, “My wife tried to get me to see an astrologer. I told her astrology is just tauroidal…but not precisely in that term.”

  46. Gary

    If asked what your sign is give a random answer. When I do this people usually say something like; “oh I just knew it.”

  47. Matt T

    OK, I don’t have much to add, but since astrology has been kinda mentioned here… can you BA commenters help me with a minor dilemma, please?

    I, like the BA himself, am considering getting some skin ink. The only thing I’m sure I will always want on me is something related to my kids (they’ll always be my kids, right?). So I’ve been considering getting their birthdates, along with their astological symbols. Not that I believe in astrology and, in fact, I’m well aware that their (western) sun signs are shifted from the actual constellation anyway. But I like a lot of the symbolism and artwork related to astrology. I’ve made starcharts for friends because it combines actual astronomy with, as I see it, art.

    So what do you think: should I get my kids’ signs? Or would that be indelibly etching antiscientific twaddle into my shoulderblades?

  48. Gary

    What I like to say to people who believe in astrology is; how would you feel if you found your ideal job, one for which you are perfectly experienced for, and the employers at the interview asked what your star sign is, but then told you they are looking for a different sign for the role, would you think that was fair? That always gives them pause for thought.

  49. Chris A.

    The horse is most decidedly not dead, and still very much in need of further flagellation. Witness the fad of feng shui. “What,” you might ask, “does feng shui have to do with astrology (other than the fact that both are pseudoscientific codswallop)?” Answer: One determines what is “good” or “bad” feng shui, in part, by finding your personal “kua” (or “gua”) number, which is calculated using the year of your birth in the Chinese calendar. Since the year of your birth is really just an indication of which lap the Earth was on in its annual circumnavigation of our local glowing ball o’ plasma, and the start and end of each lap (in the Chinese tradition) is determined by the phase of the Moon…ta-da: It’s astrology!

    Let the beatings continue until this “ancient form of claptrap” (to quote Randi) is dead, dead, dead.

  50. Harvi

    As an astronomer who does lots of dance, it seems the dance community is rife with people who believe astrology. It really does make my head spin.

    Last week, one of the fellow students in dance class said, “There’s lots of knee problems this week. The Moon is in Capricorn and that signifies knee problems.” I got out my iPhone with the Stargazer app and said, “No, the Moon is in Sagittarius.” She argued with me about where the Moon was. gah!

    The week before, it was “oh, people are being crazy, it must be the Full Moon.” Nope, the Moon was several days past full. And the same again this week – when it’s New Moon!

    And many people say, “well, I’m such a Gemini” or whatever as if it’s an excuse for being argumentative/flighty/etc.

  51. Chris A.

    Interesting, too, that astrology was originally used to explain everything from human misfortunes to earthquakes and the weather. But, as science has become able to discover the physical causes of more and more previously-mysterious phenomena, the predictive realm of astrology has dwindled to “tendencies” that can influence (or not) human behavior and chance happenings. Remind anyone of the “god of the gaps” argument?

    As scientists, let’s keep closing the gaps until astrology and its ilk are squeezed to death like the pimples on the face of reason that they are.

  52. Brian Too

    I always recommend going to a good Astrologer when you need your Astrols balanced and rotated!

  53. John

    Skeptics don’t understand the entertainment and utility of arbitrary advice any more than people who believe in astrology do.

    One side misses the point, the other is painfully deluded.

    How long before the skeptics want to ban prophylactics because recreational sex has no purpose?

  54. John

    Recreational sex doesn’t work.

    Shocker, I know. I’ve written on this topic extensively, but of course recreational copulators send me email — seriously — saying how their flavor of recreational sex works, or that I wasn’t fair, or that if only I faced the right way and triantrilated my fibbertygibbet, recreational sex would be correct, despite my article very carefully showing that no matter how you slice it, recreational sex doesn’t produce babies.

    —– see what I mean, it’s scary, and only a matter of time………

  55. Cairnos

    Erasmussimo @19 said “The genesis of astrology is obvious. Early civilization depended heavily upon the development of calendars, which served well as approximate weather predictors.”

    You are making a classic mistake of seeking logical correlations between events. This works well unless humans are involved in which case you need to adda dash of cynicism. Yes, calendars were important and created a class of old folk who could tell people when to do certain things. Then this class discovered that if thye took it a bit further and started making stuff up they could get folk to do almost anything and pay for the priviledge as well (To determine if now is a good time for your daughter to wed I will need to examine the entrails of a pig, oh and make sure it’s your best one, don’t worry about having to take it home afterwards I’ll dispose of it)

  56. @Jeff,

    We had the opposite problem last summer. We wanted to enroll our son in a summer program about astronomy, but the listing said “Astrology.” Luckily, the description (and a quick call to the school) confirmed that it was about the planets (in a scientific way) and not about what “sign” you are. It was partly funny and partly scary that a university would make such a mistake in their brochure!

  57. Leander

    “Because of that, we’ll always be debunking bunk like this.”

    So debunking astrology is what being an astronomer is all about ? Quite a job description for all those kids spending years of hard study and training to explain the universe…they will spend their time explaining away false explanations ? Or is that just something you found joy in ? Explaining away, instead of explaining ? Don’t limit those young minds and their motives…

  58. I feel sorry for you astronomers. I’ve read Phil’s books, and I know that there are basically three kinds of “negative” response to the statement, “I’m an astronomer/astronomy major.” They are:

    1. “I hated astronomy!”
    2. “Oh! Is that like astrology?”
    3. “I hated astrology!”

    By contrast when I started studying chemistry, I started to receive one of two negative responses (okay maybe just one):

    1. “I hated chemistry!”
    2. “Wow. You must be smart!” (Meh, maybe. I’m also very absent-minded and don’t need people overestimating my cognitive skills. They might- *shudder*… trust me with something. EDITED TO ADD: Don’t tell future prospective employers that. As far as you all know I’ve got the whole package up there. There, I’ve sworn the Internet to secrecy.)

  59. Filias Cupio

    The argument in that article isn’t going to convince anyone except a very few waverers. “Ah, but all that other stuff is constantly moving around relative to you, the planets consistently act from the same (but slowly moving) direction. If you integrate it all out, the planets dominate.” “But is isn’t gravity that does it, it is the disturbance the planets cause in the Force” or whatever.

    At least for me, the way to go is blinded experiments. Get astrologers to make readings for 100 people (who don’t know much astrology). Give each person their reading plus 9 other random ones (not letting them know which is theirs). Get them to rate the accuracy of the readings. (I know such experiments have been done.)

    But then, I’m just sceptical because I’m a Capricorn.

    Once an astrology-believer looked me up in her book of combined eastern/western astrology. According to my Chinese birth year and zodiacal sign, I’m a god of charisma and sartorial perfection. Boy did they get that wrong.

  60. Explaining away, instead of explaining ? Don’t limit those young minds and their motives…

    Leander gets a prize in the “Greatest Stretch in an Attempt to Find Something to Bitch About” category.

    For the record, some people’s minds aren’t limited to just one enterprise. I, for example, can deride woo-woo wannabes and recite Homer at the same time.

    D’oh!

  61. csrster

    I was born on the day of the Great Alaska Good Friday Earthquake of 1964. So while I don’t believe in astrology I’m open to the idea of portents. I just haven’t manifested myself yet.

  62. MarkW

    John at #53 and #54:

    If you think recreational sex has no purpose, you’re doing it wrong. :D

    Hint: It’s the religious nutters that think sex is only for making babies, not us.

  63. Todd

    I see you’ve had another slow news day… You can’t debunk something when it’s obvious you don’t have a clue what you’re talking about.

    Gravity indeed… No one who knows anything about real astrology claims gravity is involved.

    The real fools are all you people who waste so much time “debunking” astrology. If it does work, you look like idiots. If it doesn’t work you still look like idiots because then you’re wasting all this time arguing about something that doesn’t matter.

  64. None of my horoscopes I’ve ever looked at have been correct.

    My aunt was born about a week prior to me, we’re the same sign, but she’s a completely different personality than I am. The only thing we share is that we’re equally easily distracted. She’s selfish and egotistical, I strive for selflessness. The world MUST revolve around her, I could care less if you paid any attention to me.

    Astrology is a crock. The only purpose it has is for making me laugh at how badly it fails. Besides, what’s special about the planets and the constellations of the Zodiac? Why can’t I have some special link to… say, Titan. Titan is bigger than our moon, plus it has an atmosphere. It’s bigger than Pluto. Why doesn’t Titan have an effect on me, astrologically?

    (Other objects bigger than Pluto: Ganymede, Callisto, Io, the Moon, Europa, Triton, and Eris)

  65. Matt T

    @Harvi (#50): My sister worked in theater… similar experiences. She once asked me for my take on the claim by a friend of hers that there were tensions and arguments because Mercury was retrograde (causing communication difficulties, you see). My answer: hmm, the probability that the closest planet to the sun is retrograde = pretty high; the probability that theater people are arguing = 1 – epsilon. Conclusion: likely thing is likely. Yay astrology!

    @Cairnos (#55): Not necessarily. Ptolemy makes Erasmussimo’s argument quite explicitly (if knowing everything about the state of the heavens can make you predict the weather, why couldn’t you also predict a person’s personality?). I guess you can argue that that was the “official” reason, and the real reason was to scam people and make money. But I’d argue that initially it was generally a genuine attempt to forecast. Now *why* did people want to be able to forecast…? That’s where your cynicism of human nature can apply.

    @The Chemist (#58): Math major here. I hear ya. I got your #1 and #2, plus a special #3 for math and art history majors: “what are you going to do with that?” Oh, I dunno… expand my mind, learn logical patterns of thought, understand the fundamental language in which the very fabric of the universe is written! Graaargh! Um, sorry, I mean… become a math teacher?

  66. Neil Haggath

    #22 Messier Tidier Upper:
    Newspapers always make stupid mistakes like confusing astronomy and astrology. Years ago, my local ( in the UK ) astronomical society worked with the local council to establish a public observatory. The opening ceremony was performed by Professor Sir Arnold Wolfendale, who at the time was Astronomer Royal.
    When the retards of our local paper reported on this, they referred to us as “Cleveland and Darlington Astrological Society, and Sir Arnold as “the Astrologer Royal”!!!!
    Their phones never stopped the next day…

  67. Amy F.

    @The Chemist: As an astronomer, I’ll tell you I have *NEVER* received a negative response to telling people what I do. Even if they do sometimes confuse it with astrology, they are still pretty much universally fascinated and want to know more.

    Just sayin’. :)

  68. Neil Haggath

    Of course, it isn’t necessary to know how something is supposed to work, in order to prove that it doesn’t! Astrology consistently fails statistical experiments, in which its “success” rate is invariably shown to be exactly the same as that of random guessing – thereby proving that it doesn’t work, end of.
    But given that its “believers” frequently bring up the idiotic “gravitational influence of the planets” argument, this article is a brilliant demolition. Those who support that ridiculous so-called “theory” always make the same mistake – that of thinking that one object “exerts a gravitational pull on” another.
    One of Britain’s best-known astrologers, Russell Grant – a man for whom such words as “imbecile”, “doofus”, “goofball” or even “retard” really don’t go far enough! – once came out with this on TV, claiming that “the Moon exerts a gravitational pull on the water in the Earth’s oceans, so it must have some effect on the fluids in the body!” – completely missing the point that gravitational force is mutual, and proportional to the product of both masses.
    For years, I’ve been making the point that the people and machines in the delivery room exert more gravitational force on a baby at the moment of birth than the planets, but I’ve never got around to doing the maths in detail. Glad to see that someone has made such an excellent job of it!

  69. @54 recreational sex is not suppose to produce babies. The purpose of sex is whatever we choose. As a gay man reproduction is the not even in the picture for me. We need not justify the pursuit of pleasure. Recreational sex is something that anyone can have at will and with total impunity. Consenting adults do not have to answer to anybody for our sex lives. This is especially true of solo sex which should be encouraged from a young age. To hell with social control of our sex lives.

  70. Todd

    A good astrologer doesn’t say anything about gravity. Amatuer astrologer’s and debunkers of all shapes and sizes do that.

    @Neil Haggath To say that “Astrology consistently fails statistical experiments” is just flat-out untrue. Astrology has passed statistical experiments more than once and it has even been shown (at least once that I know of) that so-called “scientist” conducting these experiments have not been above fudging the results when they don’t get the answers they are expecting.

    For example, in 1985 Shawn Carlson published a study in “Nature” (Volume 318) claiming to have proven once and for all that astrology was a sham. The critics used to be quick to point to this study whenever they wanted to prove astrology a sham. However, in “Journal of Scientific Exploration” (vol. 23:2) Suitbert Ertel found serious flaws in the study’s analysis. Ertel discovered that when Calson’s data was analyzed correctly and fairly (something most scientist seem unable to do when “studying” this subject) Carlson’s data actually supports astrology.

    Ertel, in his peer-reviewed reappraisal of Carlson’s study, finds the Carlson study to be flawed in test design, test power, effect size, and sample size. The design of the study violates the demands of fairness, Ertel says, and even Carlson’s own stated protocol.

    The accepted analysis of a three-choice format (which Carlson chose to use for his study), as Ertel cites from a standard textbook, is to calculate the proportion of combined first and second choices against the third choice. Carlson initially states his intention to do this but then disregards this method for no given reason. Re-analysis of the published data by using the standard procedure shows that the astrologers correctly matched CPI profiles to natal charts better than would be expected by chance with marginal significance (p = .054). This positive result, Ertel found, was replicable with even better results (p = .04) for the astrologers’ ten-point rating of profiles fit to birth charts, a test that Carlson had requested of the astrologers but the significance of which had eluded him in the end.

    There is another article on the subject in the journal “Correlation” Volume 26 (1) 2008 that found the results to be pro-astrology.

    You can read more about this particular issue in the Journals noted above or at the following URLs…

    http://www.einnews.com/pr-news/36002-famous-test-of-astrology-is-seriously-flawed

    http://www.astronlp.com/Carlson%20Astrology%20Experiments.html

  71. Gary Ansorge

    69. Gary:

    Big brained critters seem to be almost universally oriented toward sexual pleasure. Dolphins have no inhibitions toward interspecies sex. Bonobo females introduce their own young to sex, until they reach reproductive age(Chimp pedophilia).

    Only humans appear to have sexual prohibitions based upon the mandates of an invisible/undetectable old fart in the sky.

    I think we worry too much about dying and retribution.

    Gary 7
    PS: Gary. How did you manage to make your posting number so,,,appropriate?

  72. PS: Gary. How did you manage to make your posting number so,,,appropriate?
    :D

  73. @ Todd #63:

    See Kuhnigget #27

  74. Todd

    I think it says a lot about this blog that my responses take forever to get through moderation while responses about dolphin sex which have nothing to do with the topic at hand and were posted after my response sail through moderation before mine.

  75. Todd

    @kuhnigget #73

    See Todd #70

  76. Gary Ansorge

    73. Todd:

    SO? From where are you posting? As in real estate and retail business, location, location, location is everything.

    I’m in Georgia, USA.

    Or maybe you were just born under a slow sign,,,

    Gary 7

  77. Ah, I see. It’s the evil moderator.

    Got it.

    But seriously, if it’s not gravity, and it’s not some force beyond the ken of science, what, Todd, exactly is it that makes astrology “work”?

  78. Todd

    @kuhnigget #77

    Typical for a “skeptic” you resort to mockery. The only one “born under a slow sign” is the moderator who *still* hasn’t released my post.

    The plain fact is post #70 still hasn’t cleared moderation (and probably won’t) because I dared to quote actual scientific journals and studies that found support for astrology’s validity.

    As for how it works… I don’t know and it doesn’t really matter.

    Just as we don’t know the “how” of magnets (Science still cannot adequately explain magnetism, especially when you get down to the atomic level or smaller), we don’t know the “how” of astrology either. That doesn’t stop us from using magnetics and certainly shouldn’t stop us from using astrology.

  79. Todd, any comment that includes links will be held up. It’s how the site keeps spammers from posting junk.

    I look forward to seeing the articles you link to. Just be prepared to engage in some actual debate, okay? Because I’m telling you now, if you haven’t figured it out already, the regulars on the good doctor’s blog don’t back away from argument. Some of us don’t back away from mockery, either, if it’s called for.

    So, as soon as your post gets through, I’ll give your articles a read. And if you want to avoid delays in the future, just add a few spaces or (dots) in the url, and that will allow your post to go live without moderation.

  80. Todd

    @kuhnigget #79

    Ok, I didn’t realize that. I guess I owe the moderator an apology…. Sorry Mr/Miss Moderator.

    Thanks for pointing that out to me kuhnigget.

  81. Jeff

    TechyDad: Sorry the university blundered on the name of course. This happens because “the left hand never knows what the right hand is doing”, the professors who actually teach the class would never make this mistake, but the people doing the data entry for the college don’t know astrology from astronomy necessarily (nor science from pseudo science) and they can make mistakes.

  82. rob

    Phil: ha! i knew it! typical opinion for a (YOUR ASTROLOGICAL SIGN HERE). you and all the other (YOUR ASTROLOGICAL SIGN HERE) are all the same. you’re all “evidence this” and “science based that.”

  83. This discussion is kind of like the one with evolution…we shouldn’t even humor them, much less try to engage them in serious debate about the merits or lack there of astrology.

  84. Todd

    @G. W. #83

    Of course, you’re right, I probably shouldn’t even humor them. :)

  85. TheBlackCat

    So, Todd, I assume you are going to address Phil’s own debunking he linked to at the beginning of the blog post, including the issues with time twins, extrasolar planets and non-planetary bodies in our own solar system, the reduction of force with distance, inconsistency in horoscopes, and precession?

    Also, why didn’t astrologers notice that two or three planets were missing? Surely if uranus, neptune, and pluto were useful in making horoscopes as astrologers have claimed since their discoveries, astrologers should have noticed their predictions were off and realized they were missing important contributing factors. Why didn’t they identify the planets before science did?

    The inner rocky planets are more similar to asteroids and to our moon than they are to the gas giants and pluto, while pluto is more similar to other trans-neptunian objects like eris and comets than it is to either the gas giants or the inner rocky planets. If it is a matter of size, there are two moons larger than the planet Mercury, and the sun dwarfs all the other objects in the solar system combined. So why are planets included but not the sun, moons, asteroids, and trans-neptunian objects besides Pluto?

  86. Nathan

    So.. I like astrology, as a process. for me its like meditation. I won’t attempt to vouch for its veracity. I know that it is as reliable as any form of divination. But I have found that the process of divination. Done properly, isn’t so much about telling oneself the future, as it is picking apart all the myriad variables that affect us daily and attempting to find a pattern that we previously hadn’t recognized. In this they’re all pretty much equal. Runes, astrology, tarot, I-ching, are all common in this. This shouldn’t be laughed at or bunked into nonexistence. It can be incredibly helpful, as a form of meditation, to help you detach yourself from a situation and look at it more clearly. The important thing, then, is to try to keep yourself from getting too caught up in the “fortune telling” aspects of the various divinations, and use them more as a tool to accomplish a specific task. Just like any other tool, or mathematical equation we develop. At least, that’s my two cents. You are all free to call me kook, and ignore me completely if you wish

  87. TheBlackCat

    @Nathan: So in other words you are just using them as a random idea generator? I have found computer software is much better for that sort of thing, personally.

  88. TheBlackCat

    @ Nathan: so in other words you are just using divination as a random idea generator?

  89. @ Nathan:

    It seems as if you are using “astrology” as some sort of ritualistic mantra, i.e. you are redefining it. If you redefine it, you can pretty much call the shots as far as whether it “works” or not, since it’s all dependent upon your own definition. I could pretty much say eating marshmallows covered in peanut butter also “works” for me, but it says nothing about the reality of marshmallows and peanut butter actually exerting an influencing force upon animate or inanimate objects.

    I suspect that very few proponents of astrology as it is typically defined share your own interpretation of it. It is in that regard that it is quite safe to say, “Astrology is bunk.”

    Tho I’m still waiting for Todd’s “scientific” articles. Perhaps he’d be so kind as to repost them, but with the links doctored so as to avoid moderation.

  90. Todd

    Repost of #70

    —-

    A good astrologer doesn’t say anything about gravity. Amatuer astrologer’s and debunkers of all shapes and sizes do that.

    @Neil Haggath To say that “Astrology consistently fails statistical experiments” is just flat-out untrue. Astrology has passed statistical experiments more than once and it has even been shown (at least once that I know of) that so-called “scientist” conducting these experiments have not been above fudging the results when they don’t get the answers they are expecting.

    For example, in 1985 Shawn Carlson published a study in “Nature” (Volume 318) claiming to have proven once and for all that astrology was a sham. The critics used to be quick to point to this study whenever they wanted to prove astrology a sham. However, in “Journal of Scientific Exploration” (vol. 23:2) Suitbert Ertel found serious flaws in the study’s analysis. Ertel discovered that when Calson’s data was analyzed correctly and fairly (something most scientist seem unable to do when “studying” this subject) Carlson’s data actually supports astrology.

    Ertel, in his peer-reviewed reappraisal of Carlson’s study, finds the Carlson study to be flawed in test design, test power, effect size, and sample size. The design of the study violates the demands of fairness, Ertel says, and even Carlson’s own stated protocol.

    The accepted analysis of a three-choice format (which Carlson chose to use for his study), as Ertel cites from a standard textbook, is to calculate the proportion of combined first and second choices against the third choice. Carlson initially states his intention to do this but then disregards this method for no given reason. Re-analysis of the published data by using the standard procedure shows that the astrologers correctly matched CPI profiles to natal charts better than would be expected by chance with marginal significance (p = .054). This positive result, Ertel found, was replicable with even better results (p = .04) for the astrologers’ ten-point rating of profiles fit to birth charts, a test that Carlson had requested of the astrologers but the significance of which had eluded him in the end.

    There is another article on the subject in the journal “Correlation” Volume 26 (1) 2008 that found the results to be pro-astrology.

    You can read more about this particular issue in the Journals noted above or at the following URLs…

    http://www. einnews. com/pr-news/36002-famous-test-of-astrology-is-seriously-flawed

    http://www. astronlp. com/Carlson%20Astrology%20Experiments.html

  91. Considering the difference in the Western astrological tables and the reality of the skies and calendar, I don’t think you can even say that any supposed astrological truth was related to gravity. Jupiter’s not where the table says it is, anyway, it’s 1.5 months ahead. (or however much off everything is, now. Probably varies by the body in question.)

    So at most you’re down to seasonal effects. Does being born in the middle of the winter affect someone differently than being born in the summer? And does that effect matter more when closer to the poles?

    And how much charting of Jupiter in retrograde noise is in there, even were there a measurable effect?

  92. Thanks, Todd.

    Tho, BTW…when extensively quoting from other people, it’s best to add an attribution to your comment. Your paragraphs above are taken almost verbatim from “astrologist” Kenneth McRitchie’s website.

    Be that as it may, in regards to the articles you are referencing:

    It would seem that psychologist Suitbert Ertel’s critique of the one Nature article is well-founded. Evidently the author of the Nature study did have a flawed analysis. However, Ertel’s counter did not verify astrological claims, but rather negated the study in question’s conclusion. Ertel himself said:

    “The results are regarded as insufficient to deem astrology as empirically verified,” Ertel warns, “but they are sufficient to regard Carlson’s negative verdict on astrology as untenable.”

    Note the difference. One questioned study 25 years ago does not validate astrology. Ertel did not present an alternate study that did, nor, I believe, has anyone else. I may be wrong there, however, as I can’t seem to access that “Correlation” journal, so perhaps you could post an online link to that and prove me wrong.

    Cheerios!

  93. TheBlackCat

    @Tom: Great, so you found one study may not have been as conclusive as originally thought (according to an article published in a bottom-tier journal dedicated to promoting pseudoscience with questionable peer review at best and a history of posting extremely dubious research). That doesn’t help with all of the other studies, nor do you actually provide any research that supports astrology as kuhnigget points out.

    But at least now you only have 90 more studies to disprove, good luck:
    http://www.rudolfhsmit.nl/d-rese2.htm

    Are you going to address Phil’s take-down of astronomy (which does not even mention the study you cited), or my additional questions?

  94. TheBlackCat

    I meant “take down of astrology” of course

  95. Cairnos

    @ 86

    They truly wise astrologers did notice they were mising and ovre a lengthy period of observation determined what and where they must be and learned to detremine their exact influence. Of course once you’ve worked out how to truly predict the future you don’t just give it away. No they’re biding thier time in thier mountaintop retreats/observatories safe in the knowledge that WE SHALL INHERIT, IT HAS BEEN SEEN…..oh, I meant THEY shall inherit of course…ahem

  96. Gary Ansorge

    96. Cairnos:

    That’s a hoot!

    As my father used to say, “If my crystal ball worked as well in forward gear as it does in reverse, I’d be a very rich man.”

    ,,,and he was born nearly a century ago. People are no smarter today than in days past. We just have a lot more information to play with but the tool to understand that is unchanged. So, how come HE knew prophecy was bunk? Ya think maybe he just OBSERVED it didn’t work?

    ,,,and he was not a scientist. He was a craftsman who kept his eyes open and learned from what he saw. Astrologers seem unable to do that.

    GAry 7

  97. Jeff

    Nathan: “So.. I like astrology, as a process. for me its like meditation. I won’t attempt to vouch for its veracity. I know that it is as reliable as any form of divination. But I have found that the process of divination. Done properly, isn’t so much about telling oneself the future, as it is picking apart all the myriad variables that affect us daily and attempting to find a pattern that we previously hadn’t recognized. In this they’re all pretty much equal. Runes, astrology, tarot, I-ching, are all common in this. This shouldn’t be laughed at or bunked into nonexistence. It can be incredibly helpful, as a form of meditation, to help you detach yourself from a situation and look at it more clearly. The important thing, then, is to try to keep yourself from getting too caught up in the “fortune telling” aspects of the various divinations, and use them more as a tool to accomplish a specific task. Just like any other tool, or mathematical equation we develop. At least, that’s my two cents. You are all free to call me kook, and ignore me completely if you wish”

    I don’t call you a kook. I have no objection to people introducing astrology into college as long as it isn’t included in the science curriculum, same with creationism, creation science, and intelligent design. I agree with Jim Fetzer: “Render unto god what is god’s, but also render unto Darwin what is Darwin’s”. In other words, these subjects like UFOs, astrology, and creationism have their adherents and there is nothing dangerous about this . What is dangerous is when they try to railroad school boards into including these on equal terms with the likes of astronomy and evolutionary science. That is the real problem.

    See , one major test of what is or isn’t science is: does it have lawlike statements with which you can derive the data set from the explanatory hypotheses. This provides mechanisms that can be tested, and even make predictions. These pseudosciences don’t even come close to doing so.

  98. Ben

    Yeah, astrology:

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/fyngyrz/4385980960/

    …and that’s all I have to say about that.

  99. @ Ben:

    Q: What sign was I born under?
    A: No Parking.

    Nyuk nyuk nyuk.

  100. ND
  101. I had a friend that bought some Tarot cards and wanted to do a reading. They had me shuffle the cards and dealt them out and then looked up all the meanings in a little handbook and that seemed to make them content. 3 weeks later they asked to have another go at it. So I took the deck, shuffled the cards thoroughly again, and they dealt them out.
    But they don’t deal out *all* the cards. You take a bunch (I think it was 21) and discard the rest. The amazing thing was that I got the identical selection of cards, with all in the same position except for 2 which were transposed.
    We were both shocked. He because, in his eyes, it validated the spirit-world mumbo jumbo. I was shocked because the probability of getting the same cards and configuration to that degree was about the same as me sprouting wings out of the top of my head and flying off.

    I still never find any validation of superstition in coincidence.

  102. Ann

    One has to laugh at all the comments that show such a lack of understanding of what is being “de-bunked” supposedly.

    Astrology is not a science. It is an intuitive art even if it is based on the science of astronomy, as well as a little bit of math for determining aspects. It takes much more time studying it than a college degree to get to any genuine level of expertise… and even then, there is always more to learn.

    Even astrologers realize and understand deeply that the planets are NOT causal. And, it merely shows a glaring assumption to accuse them of thinking they are.

    So, it isn’t astrology that you need to disprove per se, in order to successfully “de-bunk” astrology.
    What you need to disprove or de-bunk or what ever you want to call it, is Jungian synchronicity.

    Btw… no, I’m not an astrologer… but I do know enough about it to see that only a couple of the comments so far show an indication of having actually done any self-investigation on the subject.

    *and “going to astrologers or reading sun sign columns is NOT self-investigation… unless you consider McDonald’s and cheez whiz good quality food.

NEW ON DISCOVER
OPEN
CITIZEN SCIENCE
ADVERTISEMENT

Discover's Newsletter

Sign up to get the latest science news delivered weekly right to your inbox!

ADVERTISEMENT

See More

ADVERTISEMENT
Collapse bottom bar
+

Login to your Account

X
E-mail address:
Password:
Remember me
Forgot your password?
No problem. Click here to have it e-mailed to you.

Not Registered Yet?

Register now for FREE. Registration only takes a few minutes to complete. Register now »