Astrology drives me crazy

Of all the pervasive superstitious traditions, the most popular has to be astrology; I can’t think of one American or Canadian newspaper that doesn’t have a section devoted to this nonsense. Like an immature religion, astrology makes a series of bold claims which have been shown, time and time again, to be based on nothing more than fantasy. That hasn’t stopped millions of suckers, however, from believing the positions of planets during their birth somehow affects their personalities and lives.

From the moment of its inception, there have been hard nosed skeptics who rightly objected to the fanciful claims of astrology. Muslims scholars in the 11th century rejected it on scientific grounds (lucky bastards). Early objections to this pseudoscience included the very legitimate question of “why don’t twins share the same horoscope”, which has since been “explained” by the ever increasing complexity of this stupid idea. And yet, the one thing that still eludes them is actually attempting to prove astrology has any predictive power.

Enter science, which has put astrology to the test countless times and found it no better than chance at determining any aspects of a person’s personality and future. It turns out there is a well understood phenomenon that explains why some people think their own horoscopes say something specific about them: it’s called the “Forer Effect“. In the late 1940’s, psychologist Bertram Forer gave his students a personality test, asking them to rank how accurate it was on a scale of 0 to 5 (5 being excellent, 0 being poor). Each student was actually given the same generic analysis:

You have a great need for other people to like and admire you. You have a tendency to be critical of yourself. You have a great deal of unused capacity which you have not turned to your advantage. While you have some personality weaknesses, you are generally able to compensate for them. Disciplined and self-controlled outside, you tend to be worrisome and insecure inside. At times you have serious doubts as to whether you have made the right decision or done the right thing. You prefer a certain amount of change and variety and become dissatisfied when hemmed in by restrictions and limitations. You pride yourself as an independent thinker and do not accept others’ statements without satisfactory proof. You have found it unwise to be too frank in revealing yourself to others. At times you are extroverted, affable, sociable, while at other times you are introverted, wary, reserved. Some of your aspirations tend to be pretty unrealistic. Security is one of your major goals in life.

The average rating was 4.26, which does more to explain how astrology works than any idiotic model astrologers purport to use. All the mystery and wonder of this pseudoscience died a long time ago when it was replaced by the science of astronomy. The last true scientist to claim to be both was Kepler, who eventually had to abandon his superstitious beliefs in favor of observational science.

Despite being bitch-slapped by science repeatedly, this bullshit persists. How many times have I heard some ignoramus tell me the alignment of planets was somehow going to affect my life? Astrology is simple enough to debunk, and yet people continue to believe in it. How can we hope to fight the evils of superstition when we can’t even be rid of this kind of nonsense? Did you ever get the feeling sometimes the battle for rationality is already lost? I’m still waiting for my horoscope to say “your futile quest to fight superstition will be met with abject failure”.

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Comments (4)

  • avatar

    John K

    “I can’t think of one American or Canadian newspaper that doesn’t have a section devoted to this nonsense”

    Actually, neither of the only two papers I read have a “Horoscope” section: the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal.

    I mean, there is too much of it, given. But it’s not ‘everywhere’.

  • avatar

    Joel

    If I’m in a social setting or on a date where I’m talking to someone new and he or she asks me what my sign is, they immediately drop a few pegs in my opinion. I have yet to hear from someone just how the alignment of heavenly bodies affects us. I usually get an answer like, “it’s all energy.” which also makes me nauseous.

  • avatar

    Jeffrey

    Well, of COURSE you would say that, you’re a Pisces! (Sorry, couldn’t help myself). Astrology bugs me for many of the same reasons. It’s the easiest thing to debunk, but like a persistant shit stain, it doesn’t go away no matter how hard you scrub.

  • avatar

    Jacob Fortin

    ^ Joel, you don’t even want to know how many dates I went on where I argued how much bullshit Astrology really is.

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