Bad astrology

By Phil Plait | June 16, 2010 2:00 pm

Like there’s any other kind!

But after that last bit of nastiness involving astrology, I thought a palate cleanser might be in order. So, I offer to you the utter delightful nonsense that is The Astrology Site, a watering hole on the web so full of fertilizer they should bag it up and sell it to be-droughted nations. Specifically, for reasons beyond understanding, though I suspect related to trying to mock reality, they decided to post a link to my book Bad Astronomy. That book, my first, has a whole chapter slamming astrology to the ground. The astrology site doesn’t have any actual content on the page; it just has a link, a picture, and the text of the blurbs from the book cover.

The comments that were left, though, are highly amusing. The very first one is from an astrology apologist who also think the Moon landings were faked! Ah, these blog posts sometimes write themselves. It reminds me of something I wrote in this post:

I’ve said here before that the path of reality is razor-thin: there’s only one way to be right, but an infinite number of ways to be wrong.

The thing is, that narrow path is like a single, unbroken strand, but each path of unreality leads to every other. If you can chuck reality into the dustbin, then all manners of silliness seem equally plausible. You might think that believing in Santa Claus is a lot sillier than believing in homeopathy, but really they’re the same: they’re both fantasy.

I couldn’t have said it better myself.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Antiscience, Debunking, Skepticism

Comments (48)

  1. Rick W.

    Just shows how “popular” that site is. The article has generated exactly 5 comments since June 10th.

  2. I started reading the comments on that page, but had to stop before I finished the first one.

    As far as the Apollo hoax is concerned he again follows the politically correct route. Insisting that the Apollo Hoax crowd is wrong! Plait relies upon the standard NASA “proofs” to “prove” Apollo was real, instead of looking at the facts of the case objectively. Regardless of Plait’s and NASA’s assurances to the contrary, the fact that today NASA doesn’t even know how to do a moon mission is a strong indication that something was seriously wrong with Apollo at the very least.

    WTF?

  3. Rick W:
    Why don’t BA’s readers post their comments? Be honest, and give the post an honest rating.

    I don’t think asking the readers of an author’s blog to comment on a post about his book is unreasonable. Just follow the same guidelines about civility that you would want them to follow here.

  4. tjm220

    I posted a link back to here but it’s awaiting moderation.

  5. The Other Ian

    The second comment is even better (worse?) than the first. It insists that we really did go to the moon, but then explains that the reason the flag waved is that the astronauts discovered that the moon in fact has an atmosphere and is already inhabited.

    *headdesk*

  6. Todd

    That first comment by G. Estes is a direct copy/paste of his 2005 review of your “Misconceptions…” book – http://www.amazon.com/review/R26IEDJB8G5ANI/ref=cm_cr_rdp_perm

  7. OK – who wrote the poker comment?
    I must know!

    I am almost tempted to look around the site. Because they are willing to put up a book that is debunks them. And that is really open minded. I think.

    But in the end, I decided it was a time sucker, so I just moved back to demand:

    Who wrote the comment on poker?

  8. Chief

    This is good one Phil. Bad Astrology using the same tactics as your Bad Astronomy to get a point across. Fail.

    You take on the general publics “mis” information and slowly and surely make things make sense. Of course astrology will just pile on the bull and hope that the steaming pile will keep the general public from coming to close to see what it is actually covering – ie, money scams.

  9. Hey, you could do a whole series of “Bad” books: Bad Astrology, Bad Agronomy, Bad Entomology, Bad Etymology, Bad Anthropology…

  10. I work at conducting insurance fraud investigations. A few years ago we looked at a woman who was supposedly totally disabled and could not even lift a fork. However, she was working as an astrologer, charging for consultations, and, was totally surprised when she was arrested for fraud. She said she never saw it coming. My investigator had covertly videotaped a sessions, and one of the things she told him was that he was a very honest man. Covert work is the antithesis of honesty.

  11. Brian

    The comments left on that site are taken from the Amazon customer reviews for the Bad Astronomy book. The reviewer in question, G. Estes, has also reviewed other books on Amazon regarding fake Moon landings and 9/11 conspiracies. Therefore, I do not see his views on astrology to be too surprising. Sad…but not surprising

  12. John Paradox

    I have the Internet Archive on my RSS feed, and save all the Moon Hoax videos to be burned to DVD (the menu for it is BA’s photoshopped moon photo with the movie ‘clap board’). I haven’t tried to get some of the other woo that’s posted there, though.
    Also, Captain Disillusion has a new 3-D video (blue/red glasses needed) about the NFL promo videos showing players doing ‘impossible’ things.

    J/P=?

  13. LSandman24

    @7:

    I think there’s a “Bad Medicine” book out there, but then again I may just be thinking of a Bon Jovi song…

  14. Caleb

    If Phil wrote a bad series. It would have a spot on my bookshelf, with at least one on the coffee table to enlighten fools who visit. Also, if he does make sure they get published in the same form factor.

  15. It is not suprising to find that more than a few astrology buffs also believe the moon landings were faked. To give astrology any credibility means real science has been thrown out the window. On some social networks astrology, 2012, Nibiru, The Illuminati, “chemtrails, and Holocaust denial are standard beliefs and science is viewed as one big conspiracy. You can find many of these on tribe where there are also few islands of sanity:

    http://stupidastrology.tribe.net/?_click_path=Application%5Btribe%5D.Tribe%5Bf7c8891d-6834-4095-917a-686386e149d5%5D#

  16. Isn’t citing someone like that to back your dismissal of astrology kind of like using Glenn Beck as an example of how anyone who believes in “journalism” is a nut bar too? Seriously: I understand what you’re trying to say, but you aren’t going to win anyone over by picking on Straw Men who are already half blown over.

  17. Robert

    you owe me 3 minutes for that….

  18. Hey, if you’re gonna be wrong, be REALLY wrong. And loudly.
    And as a group.

    psst….Santa Claus runs a homeopathy spa on the far side of the moon powered by electromagnetic wind turbines. (Don’t tell NASA.)

  19. Mike

    Everyone in chorus:

    You wrote a book?

  20. LAWRENCE

    Yet another anti-science site. There is a huge backlash against science and reason, people who don’t study any of it seem to have plenty of rocks to throw. While they throw rocks, the US slips further and further into last place. We need a renewed push for science and engineering as we did in the early 1960′s. There is a shortage of engineers, and plenty of big problems to work on!

  21. Brian

    There was indeed a “Bad Medicine”, with the cover done up in the same style as “Bad Astronomy”. At the time I hoped that the publisher was planning a whole series of such books (“Bad Medicine” was also quite enjoyable, and pulled few punches, if memory serves), but apparently two was all they could manage.

    There is Ben Goldacre’s “Bad Science”, which isn’t really the same sort of book, but enjoyable nonetheless.

  22. ‘In flipping through I did find one expletive on page 103 (opening sentence to chapter 11), but the story is funny, so I will just black it out.’

  23. dre

    Sorta OT, but just read an article about how Tori Spelling had a conversation with Farrah Fawcett lately. How’s that you say? Isn’t Farrah dead? Yes, but John Edward facilitated the contact, so you know it’s totally legit. The wackiest part – Tori was trying to communicate with her dead father. Farrah just happened to pick up the… phone… or whatever they use on the other side.

    There you go.

  24. Mig

    I second the demand! Who wrote the poker review?! Cracked me up!

  25. Chris

    I’m curious what is that expletive on page 103?

  26. Pareidolius
  27. Moonchild

    Ok, I have a confession to make. Many years ago, when I was just out of university and needed a job, I wrote the horoscope for a monthly magazine under the pen-name “Moonchild”. I didn’t know anything astrology other than that there were 12 zodiac signs, although to this day I can’t line them up with their corresponding months, except for my own birthday. Still, the fact that I wrote a horoscope for a few years I think qualifies me as an astrology. So…. here is what I learned in practicing this dark art. (Is it a dark art?)
    1. It is not true that horoscopes need to be generic and generalized in order for people to believe them. At one point, to fight the boredom, I started writing highly specific nonsense (“your friends really don’t like your purple hair”). Although even LESS accurate than the generalized stuff, readers seemed to like this more, and could always find some way to connect it to themselves.
    2. If you tell people you write horoscopes, and then they tell you what sign they are, about 90 percent of people will say, “how did you know that??” and they will do this even if you just asked them their sign.
    3. Gullibility knows no bounds. Yes, you knew this already. I was actually shocked when friends and colleagues who knew that I didn’t have the foggiest clue about astrology (I was pretty open about my lack of any knowledge) would stop by to say, “while you say you don’t know anything about astrology, somehow you really seem to peg ME most months….” it was almost as if they wanted me to confess my hidden talent.
    4. you get the same pay for writing 11 horoscopes instead of 12. It is remarkable to me that other professional astrologers have not stumbled upon this time-saver. when I decided to drop Capricorns, we got a lot of letters to the editor complaining, and readership actually went up as a result.
    while I clearly had a promising career in astrology, I finally decided to give it all up and went to law school. a cynical interpretation might be that this was just a modest but consistent career move.

  28. Astrofiend

    18. J. Major Says:
    June 16th, 2010 at 4:31 pm

    NASA already know! They’re just keeping it from the public so that the Illuminati have a chance to clandestinely continue with building the New World Order which began with 9/11 and which will end in upheaval in 2012. My astrologer told me. At first I didn’t believe her, but then she offered convincing proof of her abilities in the form of concrete predictions about my week ahead, such as “during this week you might be concerned with an ongoing problem, but chatting to a friend may put things in perspective”, and then “you will perhaps wake up this week feeling moody and irritable, but a kind gesture from a loved one will ease your demeanor”. Amazed by the sheer accuracy of the reading, I promptly renounced science and reason, bought a power crystal and a star chart, got a photo taken of my aura (which contained loads of Orbs – man the dead must love me), rubbed homeopathic mixtures all over my body (which felt, looked and tasted like pure water, so it must have been super-powerful), and then took part in a mass orgy/sacrifice to the Egyptian Sun God.

    True story.

  29. Astrofiend

    27. Moonchild Says:
    June 17th, 2010 at 12:14 am

    I don’t think I’m alone here in saying – AWESOME! Man people are dumb. All scientists should take it upon themselves to get jobs as astrologers, religious leaders, snake-oil salesman, homeopaths, gurus etc so as to funnel money away from the hopelessly stupid. This money can then be donated to education and science. Imagine the magnitude of the windfall!

  30. jcm

    “astrology apologist”? It is the first time that I’ve seen the word “apologist” being used in the context of astrology.

  31. Michel

    Santa a fantasy?

  32. Wayne Robinson

    Another reason for not believing the denialists of the moon landings; I wonder how they explained the experiment David Scott performed when he dropped a hammer and a falcon feather simultaneously from a height of approximately 1.6 metres during the Apollo 15 mission, replicating Gallileo’s thought experiment of dropping a lead weight and a feather in a vacuum:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KDp1tiUsZw8&feature=player_embedded

    They both hit the ground at the same time, and at approximately with the duration assuming one sixth gravity.

    The explanations would have to be; 1. The feather was made out of lead or the landing was staged in a large vacuum chamber. 2. The film had to be slowed down to the appropriate speed at precisely the right time.

  33. Ant

    Oh my god, we are all going to die! Our calendar runs out on 31/12/9999.

    Pope Gregory XIII must have had a vision from god when he introduced the Gregorian calendar and now we are counting down to the end of the world.

    Utter garbage, but I bet astrologer’s could sell this to someone…

  34. Bob_In_Wales

    I think we are all in danger of being a little simplistic here.

    1) Astrology was not originally nonsense. I have seen (if I could remember where) articles pointing out that it is a natural, logical and consistent outgrowth of the pre-scientifice world model. The seasons went in cycles, the stars went in cycles, life went in cycles, everything was one. It wasn’t unreasonable to suggest that one set of cycles could inform you about the others. The problem today is that this model of the world has been shown not to fit the facts. Where astrology falls down tody is that it has hung around long after its theoretical support has been removed – putting it more in a camp with phlogiston than say moon landing hoax belief.

    2) (a) Aspects of our lives do actually reflect temporal data. For example, I have heard it claimed that (i) professional people are more likely to have professional children and (ii) professional people are more likely to plan their families and tend to favour certain times of year. Hence where the distribution of the children of non-professionals is fairly uniform throughout the year that of professionals is not. Hnece a tendency to find profesional people’s birthdays clustering around certain times of year (i.e. star signs!).

    2) (b) When we are born does affect how are lives progress. Examples:
    (i) Where children attend state schools in countries with rigid cut off dates – born before this date in the year you start school this year, born after, you start next year – you see some interesting effects. For example, the older children tend to be the biggest in the class and therefore get picked more for team sports therefore tend to do better. So you see more good sports people from a certain time of year – just after the cut off date. Born one day and you’re the youngest in your class – born the next and you’re the oldest in the year below.
    (ii) Historically, when children were more likely to be breast fed and food supply was more variable through the year the level of nutrition a child got in its first six months depended on what time of year it was born, i.e. how much food it’s mother was getting.
    (iii) Etc.

    Where astrology’s biggest failing for me lies is here: It distracts attention onto how the stars affect our lives (which they don’t) and prevents us from seeing how things like social attitudes, the societal structures we create, exposure to daylight and temperature and how much time we get to spent indoors/outdoors affect how our lives and opportunities go (which they do). Here in the UK for example people have now started to realise how big an effect the school year cut of date has and are discussing changing the system to introduce more flexibility!

    All of which is so much more fascinating and interesting than astrology as well.

  35. Mike

    @32

    Outliers by Malcom Gladwell. You’ll love it.

  36. Jeff

    The only possible mechanism for astrology is gravity and the gravitational attraction of a paperclip on people is about that of Mars , so maybe we should build an astrology around colors of paper clips. We could associate anything and say one causes the other, but it is only a reflection of mankind’s own ideas, obviously since astrology grew up long before any forces were even known.

    I taught ten thousand students and I don’t have confidence that science/technology have been understood by most. I have no confidence that mankind will continue to advance technologically speaking, there is far too small a percentage of people who know how to reason scientifically. Take it for what it’s worth, but I’ve been there and that’s my opinion .

  37. Ren

    I actually decided to poke around a little bit and a lot of the comments are anti-astrology, such as “Astrology is nothing more than superstitious nonsense.” In fact, most of the comments on the post I was looking at were anti-astrology… I am very confused by this site. It seems to strongly support astrology, but then says things like this: http://theastrologysite.com/whats-your-opinion-on-astrologyhoroscopes#respond

  38. Matt T

    @Bob_In_Wales (32)
    The difference is that nobody (sane) defends phlogiston anymore. Or claims that lightning really is because Zeus is feeling grumpy. (Or is it Thor?)

    I think a lot of astronomers (when they get dragged into commenting on astrology) do a good job of crediting astrology for its initial contributions — ie back when it was joined at the hip with astronomy — but also debunking modern astrology as unscientific waffle. Personally I think that’s a good approach.

  39. Wait a sec, did you just imply that the moon landings weren’t faked? Wait’ll the Soviet Union hears about this!

  40. Ray

    “You might think that believing in Santa Claus is a lot sillier than believing in homeopathy, but really they’re the same: they’re both fantasy.”

    Phil, Santa does not appreciate being dissed as a fantasy. You’ve just bought a couple of years of nothing but coal in your stocking, young man.

    I don’t see how anyone can claim Santa isn’t real. We’ve all seen him. I’ve never seen a homeopath. QED

  41. Autumn

    Ray, the fact that you’ve never seen a homeopath is proof of their ubiquity.
    Santa, being seen in large concentrations, is not nearly as powerful.

  42. I don’t see what is so up with the Astrology hating. Astrology is pretty much noting that people born at certain times in certain locations tend to have certain similar personalities. I have never done a scientific study on it, but to me it isn’t worth it. I view Astrology much like entertainment. It is fun and whimsical, but I don’t make life choices from it.

    Now, if there is so much Astrology hating going on, where is all the Battlestar Galactica hating that should be taking place? The fighter craft in space physics is so completely wrong. Yet, people watch the show and not hate it. Why? because that is entertainment. It is flashy and sleek, but not much basis in reality. Just enjoy it and have fun.

    Let people have their fun. Two days have been spent on bashing Astrology. Bash real crackpots like the anti-vax crowd if you need to put someone down. Or, talk about something neat like the possibility of gene therapy showing progress in the fight against both cancer and HIV or that the remains of the Hayabusa arrived in Tokyo with the first fragments from an asteroid.

  43. Keith (the first one)

    It’s simple John. No one (well except maybe a few uber geeks) use Battlestar Galactica as a means of making life choices. However, even though you view it as entertainment, many people use it to make real life decisions. Even world leaders have been known to use this nonsense to run not only their lives but all their countrymen.

    Battlestar knows it’s entertainment. Astrology doesn’t.

  44. Astrofiend

    42. John Says:
    June 17th, 2010 at 12:37 pm

    SciFi shows aren’t sold as truth. Astrology is. Even though most people rightly take it with a grain of salt, it’s practitioners either claim it as truthful and actively try to convince people to base their life decisions around it. What may not be harmful to a reader of some women’s mag looking for some light entertainment may be very harmful to someone who believes, is told that “today is an opportune time to take a risk; financial fortune will come your way this week” and subsequently bets all their cash at the track. As scientists and skeptics, we feel that turning a critical eye on those claims is warranted.

    Beyond that, mocking obviously ridiculous belief systems is MY entertainment when I feel like it.

  45. Charlie in Dayton

    …I tried…I really did…I went to the site’s homepage and started to scroll through what was there, but after thirty seconds or so, my stomach started to revolt at an overdose of drivel…what a load of bovine fecal material…

  46. Calli Arcale

    John @ 42:
    If you want some hating on bad space physics, go to Phil’s old site; that’s where he’s got his Bad Astronomy movie and TV reviews, discussing the bad astronomy in movies as a jumping-off point for discussing *good* astronomy.

    http://www.badastronomy.com/index.html

  47. Interesting to see lack of semantic web in this site (WEB 3.0).
    There are some horoscope and astrology related ads.Google things people interested in astrology are reading this :P

  48. Stu

    @41

    Everyone knows that homeopaths are much more effective when they exist only in tiny quantities!

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