It occurs to me that young-Earth creationism and astrology are very similar (it’s occurred to creationists as well). Both have no evidence to support them, have tons of evidence against them, and have people who adhere to them like zealots despite this, pushing these ideas on others.
Sadly, some of these people are in the government.
In Oklahoma, two state lawmakers are creating (haha) legislation that will basically attack the teaching of evolution:
Sen. Josh Brecheen, R-Coalgate, and Rep. Sally Kern, R-Oklahoma City, have filed legislation designed to undermine the teaching of a fundamental of modern science, the theory of evolution.
Kern’s House Bill 1551, called the Scientific Education and Academic Freedom Act, says students cannot be penalized for subscribing "to a particular position on scientific theories."
So this is saying you can’t grade a student down for giving the wrong answer in science class. Remember when school was about learning stuff?
This type of thing is very dangerous for students, because then they can claim they don’t have to learn anything that is against their religious belief. Well, I suppose they don’t have to learn anything in that case, but then they should fail the class. Seems pretty straightforward.
I imagine that a lot of folks who read my blog have already seen this, but just in case: go read Carl Sagan and his fully armed spaceship of the imagination. One panel is here, and the rest is really funny.
And if you don’t understand the last two panels, this might help.
[This will, I hope, be my last post about astrology for a while. Until and unless, at least, some other nontroversy pops up.]
I post a link to this article without comment, except to say: well done.
But most astrologers reject Kunkle’s claims, convinced that the science of astronomy, and the methodological naturalism it uses to derive facts from detailed observation and reliable mathematical models, can’t say anything about who should marry whom or what lottery numbers they should play.
"You’re right, we can’t do that," said each and every astronomer reached for comment. "That’s not the point."
Tip o’ the equinoctial precession to Jason Goodbody.
The wonderful website Information is Beautiful does terrific work taking interesting data and turning into easy-to-grasp information. They recently turned their attention to astrology — guess why — and did something truly cool: made a word cloud of the most commonly used terms in horoscopes. The sample was pretty big, comprising 22,000 horoscopes taken from Yahoo (which itself got them from astrology.com). Here’s what they found:
Heh. Note that the common words appear over and over again in all the horoscopes despite the sign. Feel, keep, life, sure, energy, better, and of course love… you see these in all the signs. Why, it’s almost as if the signs make no difference!
And what I found more interesting is what you don’t see: words with significantly different descriptive power. If different signs tend to describe different personalities, why don’t I see unique words like angry, powerful, extroverted, introverted, and so on? They scraped the most commonly used unique words for every sign, and they’re really not very predictive (scroll down to the Word Analysis 2 section on the Information Is Beautiful page to see). Again, it’s almost as if astrology isn’t really terribly descriptive of different people.
Sometimes, I’m not even sure where to begin with something.
OK. So this afternoon I see on Twitter that the word "zodiac" is trending, meaning lots of people are talking about it (as I write this it still is). Right, that happens sometimes, and sometimes I’ll post a snarky response. But I also see the word "Ophiuchus" trending, and I think, what?
Then I get an email from BABloggee Kevin Jung saying he heard some DJs on a radio program talking about how astronomers have "rearranged the zodiac". Even before I read another sentence I pretty much know what’s going on. Happily, Kevin found the source of all this: an article in Minnesota’s Star Tribune. And it all falls into place.
OK, first, let’s get this out of the way:
Got it? Good.
Great, so what’s with this new story? Basically, the Star Tribune talked to an astronomer and an astronomy teacher in the area, who (correctly) poo-pooed astrology. The astronomer mentioned that the signs of the zodiac have shifted since they were first invented thousands of years ago. This is true, because the Earth’s axis wobbles over time, which has the effect of shifting the positions of the zodiacal constellations in the sky, or, more accurately, the time of the year the Sun passes through them. So it used to be that if you were born on March 22, you were an Aries… if you went by the original timing of when the Sun was in Aries. But now, millennia later, the Sun is actually in Pisces on that date. And it won’t be much longer before it’s in Aquarius in late March (hence "the dawning of the Age of Aquarius", in case you’re my age and a hippy or a 5th Dimension fan).
So that takes care of the shifting zodiac constellations bit. What about Ophiuchus?
Mike Adams, who goes by the nom de guerre Health Ranger, can politely be described as an antiscience propagandist. If there’s no evidence for it, he’ll believe it: naturopathy, antivax, alt-med fluffery, you name it. He runs the website Natural News, which has an extremely high density of nonsense per electron. Normally I wouldn’t care about someone like him, but he has a substantial following, and he also promotes a lot of alt-med material that is clearly anti-science and therefore potentially dangerous; even if the stuff he sells doesn’t directly make you sick, people who buy into that mindset may avoid scientifically-based (that is, real) medicine, which can make them sicker or even be fatal.
And he recently decided to widen his circle of silliness, this time promoting astrology. Yes, astrology, one of the most thoroughly debunked beliefs of all time. And it’s not just that he promotes astrology, it’s that he’s so amazingly wrong while doing it.
In his article about this, he makes a bold claim:
Skeptics must be further bewildered by the new research published in Nature Neuroscience and conducted at Vanderbilt University which unintentionally provides scientific support for the fundamental principle of astrology — namely, that the position of the planets at your time of birth influences your personality.
I would certainly be bewildered by that… if Adams weren’t completely wrong that this has to do with astrology. What’s actually bewildering is how someone can so completely miss the point.
My friend Lourdes Cahuich is a professor, educator, and all-around astronomy promoter. Concerned over the prevalence of astrology in the Hispanic community, she translated my entire astrology debunking into Spanish. That’s quite a feat, since as you’d expect I had a lot to say!
It was long enough to break into three parts:
I’m always happy to see science and reality spread around, and since they are cross-culture, translating things like this may do some real good. Lourdes is indefatigable about such things, and may very well bring about cultural change in Mexico all on her own.
Gracias, Lourdes! And if any readers are Spanish speakers, please feel free to spread those links to your friends!
Related posts (involving Lourdes):
Speaking of comics to mock pseudoscience… today’s Calamities of Nature pretty much nails it. Not much to add here.
Tip o’ the ecliptic to Scott Romanowski.
I have not yet seen "Wonders of the Solar System", because it hasn’t aired in America yet. It’s a BBC astronomy documentary hosted by my friend Brian Cox, and from what I have heard is an extraordinary event. I can’t wait to see it.
Some folks, though, have a different opinion. Brian, like me, is an outspoken skeptic, and will brook no nonsense. In one episode of the show, he said, "…astrology is a load of rubbish."
This is, of course, completely accurate. Astrology has no mechanism, no predictability, and no physical way of working. When tested even using its own standards it fails miserably.
Astrology doesn’t work, and anyone telling you otherwise is selling something.
Just as obviously, those people who are selling something have taken umbrage at Brian’s impolitic uttering of truth. They have started a Facebook page where they can get together and reinforce their silliness, make fun of Brian, and grossly misrepresent science. My favorite bit is this, in the page description:
His careless assertion was unresearched, unsubstantiated and unscientific. Has he done any empirical studies? Has he explored his birth chart? Can he cite any scientific studies disproving astrology that are not fundamentally flawed? Of course not. I have certainly never seen him at an astrology conference or read anything written by him about astrology. Cox is simply not qualified to speak on astrology and his comments amount to no more than prejudice.
Yes. Brian, a PhD physicist with decades of training in the scientific method, research, analysis, logic, and critical thinking, who has written a book on relativity and works at CERN on the Large Hadron Collider, is not qualified to speak on astrology. Heh.
By the way, astrologers: in the link above I do cite scientific studies that are not flawed and show astrology to be nonsense, just as they trash flawed studies that support astrology. I have explored birth charts and found them to be nothing more than tarot cards/Ouija boards/tea leaves/cold reading tools. I have seen empirical studies, and they all show astrology = nonsense.
And "prejudice"? No, it’s not prejudice. You just assume that because we disagree with you. But I’ve studied astrology, and I conclude that it’s garbage. That’s not prejudice. That’s reality.
And don’t forget:
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.