Astrology and science an examination of the evidence

For the purposes of this article, I'm going to explain why astrology does you no good — and why putting any credence into your sign or horoscope is not just misguided, but potentially harmful. Equally as frustrating is the news that it's at its highest level since The NSF uses this survey as a kind of metric for "the public's capacity to distinguish science from pseudoscience. Demographically speaking, and in the words of Chris Mooney , much of the blame belongs to "younger Americans, aged 18 to 24, where an actual majority considers astrology at least 'sort of' scientific, and those aged 35 to Other surveys have shown that women are more drawn to astrology than men.

But as York University sociologist Julia Hemphill tells io9, there's more to this statistic than meets the eye: women are specifically targeted by the popular media. Hemphill says it's reasonable to question the degree to which women are ultimately deterred from learning about and engaging in genuine science — particularly when they're aggressively offered pseudoscience in its stead.

Astrology also gives rise to uncritical thinking. Astronomer Phil Plait puts it best when he says that. The more we teach people to simply accept anecdotal stories, hearsay, cherry-picked data picking out what supports your claims but ignoring what doesn't , and, frankly, out-and-out lies, the harder it gets for people to think clearly. If you cannot think clearly, you cannot function as a human being. I cannot stress this enough. Uncritical thinking is tearing this world to pieces, and while astrology may not be at the heart of that, it has its role.

More conceptually, belief in astrology implies a belief in cosmological predestination; it's a form of determinism — but a completely fictitious one at that. In the original Cosmos , Carl Sagan argued that astrology continues to survive and thrive because.

I. Primary sources

It pretends to satisfy our longing to feel personally connected with the Universe. Astrology suggests a dangerous fatalism. If our lives are controlled by a set of traffic signals in the sky, why try to change anything? Indeed, astrology works hand-in-hand with sentiments suggesting that the events in our lives are a "matter of destiny" and that certain things are just "meant to be.


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Astrology is also bad for us and our interpersonal relationships. Because it tells us to pre-judge people according to their astrological signs, it basically makes us complete assholes. As Benjamin Radford noted in Discovery News , it's not dissimilar to racism:. Both astrology and racial stereotypes are based on a framework of belief that basically says: "Without even meeting you, I believe something about you. I can expect this particular sort of behavior or trait stubbornness, laziness, arrogance, etc.

When an astrologer finds out a person's astrological sign, he or she will bring to that experience a pre-existing list of assumptions prejudices about that person's behavior, personality and character. In both cases, the prejudices will cause people to seek out and confirm their expectations.

Which brings up an excellent point: people who subscribe to astrology are often victims of an observational selection effect, a cognitive bias in which we observe those traits we've been primed to notice, while remaining blind to other characteristics. This causes us to assess people the way we either want to perceive them, or the way we expect to perceive them.

500 Years Ago, Geocentrism & Astrology Would have Fit NAS definition of “Theory”!

Either way, it's typically a skewed — and biased — impression. Horoscopes work the same way. They're often crafted to work in tandem with our supposed "personality types," and the observational selection effect does the rest. Though perhaps I'm giving the horoscope writers too much credit; their daily "predictions" are often so vague and open-ended that they could apply to anybody at any given time.

It's also important to note that astrology is also potentially harmful to our sense of self. If we feel that we're supposed to behave or feel a certain way, it could run in conflict with our "natural" or ingrained predispositions. Can astrologers match charts to owners? In astrology books they do it all the time. To date a total of 54 studies have made this test using a total of astrologers and birth charts.

For these astrologers many of them among the world's best astrology performed no better than tossing a coin. Astrologers fail to match charts to owners better than chance. Here the results expected by chance were determined by picking matches at random for each of the 54 studies and repeating 10, times. The difference between the For astrologers this is bad news, which they dismiss in various ways. They say the tests were unduly difficult or were run by people ignorant of astrology in fact many were run by astrologers. They say you cannot test astrology which if true would mean they could never know anything about it.

Or they see the bad news as proof of astrology's subtlety, so it is right even when it is wrong ditto. But once again research comes to the rescue with an ingenious test that avoids any need to match charts with owners. How well do astrologers agree on what a given birth chart indicates? To date a total of 28 studies have put this to the test using a total of astrologers and birth charts.

Typically each test looked at how well 5 to 30 astrologers agreed on what a given chart indicated about its owner. Their average agreement was dismal -- better than tossing a coin but nowhere near the minimum acceptable, see figure below. Again many of these astrologers were among the world's best. Astrologers fail to usefully agree on what a chart means. The average agreement among astrologers was The next question is obvious. If astrologers cannot usefully agree on what a birth chart indicates, how can they know that astrology works?

Indeed, why should anyone bother with astrology in the first place? It is here that we need to ask what is meant by "astrology works". What is meant by "astrology works"? One of the key inspirations of recent research has been to recognise that astrology, however defined, delivers statements that like statements generally can contain 1 factual information such as "you have red hair", and 2 personal meaning such as "you are here to fulfil your destiny".

As shown below, the distinction between facts and meaning helps to explain why astrology can be seen to work even when it doesn't. At one extreme are people who seek only personal meaning. For them astrology works if it provides meaning. Here "it works" means "it is meaningful.

At the other extreme are people who seek only factual proof. For them astrology needs to be true. Here "it works" means "it delivers results beyond those explained by non-astrological factors", of which more later.

In between are people who see astrology as meaningful but grounded in the kind of factual statements "Leos are generous" that fill astrology books. This allows research findings to be welcomed if positive "it confirms astrology! But it does not end there.

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How to convince yourself that astrology works Linda Goodman says Leos are warm, generous, independent, and dislike being told what to do. So you ask one hundred Leos if this is true.

Sun and Moon conjunction in the 9th house of astrology

Ninety say yes, the rest say it depends but generally yes. Cautiously you press on. Astrologers say a Mars-Neptune conjunction signifies a person who is idealistic and concerned with values such as consideration for others.

Vedic astrology and all that

So you ask one hundred people with a Mars-Neptune conjunction if they are idealistic. Ninety-five say yes. Still cautious, you have your birth chart read. The astrologer tells you things she could not possibly have known, like you have a sense of humour and you sometimes worry about money. Amazingly, everything fits.