The largest Astrology convention in years, with 1500 attendees, just took place in Denver Colorado. My first reaction to reading this news story was – there are still astrologers? I mean, that’s old-school nonsense. Aren’t we done debunking astrology yet?
Seriously, I know there are still astrologers – pseudosciences being “unsinkable rubber ducks.” There are still some loons promoting phrenology, for Pete’s sake. But for skeptics, astrology is the definition of – been there, done that, bought the “Virgos don’t believe in astrology” T-shirt. Alas, even while the Hubble telescope is taking gorgeous pictures of distant galaxies, and NASA announcing they found a recent supernova remnant in our own galaxy – some losers still want to believe that the distant stars are magically tied to the fate of individual people on earth.
Recent polls indicate that belief is astrology is somewhere between 25-29% in the US. About 28% of Americans do not know that the Earth revolves bout the sun – a very similar figure. So about a quarter of our population are hopelessly scientifically illiterate. Belief in astrology is lower than belief in ghosts or UFO’s, which are about 34%.
Statements made by various astrologers attending the conference show that they are living in fantasy land, or at least have mastered the art of BS. One of the focuses of the conference was predicting the upcoming presidential election from astrological divination. This was very brave, given that the field has almost certainly narrowed down to two. By coincidence, next door there was the annual coin flipping convention. It would have been slightly more impressive if they had assembled to predict the president one year ago when there was still an open field of contenders.
These astrologers appear to be of the flavor that require exact birth times in order to perform “accurate” readings. Therefore one of the main attractions was the revealing of the exact birth times of the presidential hopefuls. Conference attendee Joni Patri said of getting McCain’s birth time:
All the astrologers are like, “Wow.” As an astrologer getting his birth time, that’s everything.
When I read this I was like, “seriously – your, like, totally deluding yourselves.” The idea is that an exact birth time is required because what matter is which stars were on the horizon at the time of birth. Astrologers give themselves an arbitrary 4 minutes of wiggle room, because 4 minutes correlates to about 1 minute of arc of the rotation of the Earth. Requiring exact birth times is absurd on multiple levels.
First – where does all the historical information about astrology come from? Astrologers claim that their craft is evidence based. Well, then historically how did astrologers determine birth time in order to figure out what constellations meant what? Do they really think that Yorik, Medieval Astrologer had clients who knew their birth times? Before modern accurate clocks I think this would have been difficult.
Even today it is unlikely that most people would know their birth time reliably to within 4 minutes. The time of birth is typically recorded by a nurse, when she thinks about it (which is usually some 10-15 minutes after the actual birth), and based upon the clock in the room which has unknown accuracy. During delivery most people in the room have other things to concern themselves about, and recording time of birth is often an afterthought. There are therefore multiple sources of error.
This is saying nothing of the basic idea that there is some magic to the moment of birth – were you not alive and interacting with the world prior to being born? Or that there is some magic to the relative position of the Earth to the distant stars.
But fear not – the science of astrology marches on. Now there is “birth time astrology.” That’s right, rediscovered from “ancient sanskrit scripts of astrology” is the “mathematical” technique of using astrology to determine your exact birth time down to the very second you took your first breath. That’s the wonderful thing about magic – you can just use magic to fix any problems with the original magic so that everything works out in recursive goodness.
Some more musings from fantasy land:
Ackerman and others insist their profession’s work is as accurate, if not more so, than many polls. They note pollsters wrongly predicted Obama winning New Hampshire’s Democratic primary.
“With astrology, I guess, there’s just more to it,” Ackerman said.
It’s easy to “insist,” and no one would doubt the limitations of polling data. But, uh, how about some evidence that astrologers did any better? How about some evidence that astrology is anything more than random guessing, cold reading, and bad hairdo’s.
But my favorite quote from Ackerman is the following:
“It’s funny how in this age of reason, we’ve gotten unreasonable. We have gotten out of touch with our own natural rhythms of heaven and earth.”
An astrologer talking about “reason” is like a lawyer talking about ethics (OK, cheap shot, I know), or a homeopath talking about scientific plausibility, or Dick Cheney talking about hunting safety, or Ben Stein talking about the need for better education.
Of course, I am only skeptical of astrology because at the moment the doctor slapped my newborn ass, Betelgeuse was ascending and Io was in transit while belching forth its sulfuric fury, thereby influencing the fourth house of Ganymede, which everyone knows is the seat of sarcasm. See, I can make up random crap too.