Tag Archives: Astrology

Debunked: Astrology and Horoscopes


astrology_854_300pxOver 2300 years ago, the Babylonians came up with the idea that the gods lived among the stars and other celestial objects, and were able to impose their will on humanity by controlling the destinies of individuals and nations alike.  The Babylonians divided the sky into 12 “slices”:  which we now know as the signs of the zodiac… Taurus, Pisces, etc.  There are many variations of astrology, but they are all founded upon the idea that celestial objects can influence a person’s personality and destiny.

Today, according to a Gallup poll, 25% of American believes in Astrology.  In this article, we’ll investigate why horoscopes and astrology sometimesappear to be correct by reviewing the concept of subjective validation, the Forer Effect, and Gauquelin’s famous horoscope experiment; we’ll take a look at what an astronomer has to say about astrology;  we’ll review some of the logical issues with astrology; and finally, we’ll take a look at how easy it is to debunk horoscopes yourself.

Subjective Validation and the Forer Effect

crystal_ball_01“Subjective validation” occurs when two unrelated or random events are perceived to be related because a belief, expectancy, or hypothesis demands a relationship. Thus, people find a connection between the perception of their personality and the contents of their horoscope.

The concept of subjective validation was put to the test in 1948 by psychologist Bertram R. Forer.  Forer gave a personality test to each of his students. Afterward, he told his students they were each receiving aunique personality analysis that was based on the test’s results, and to rate their analysis on a scale of 0 (very poor) to 5 (excellent) on how well it applied to themselves.

The analysis presented to the students was as follows:

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.

zodiac-sun-eye_250pxThe trick?  In reality, each student received the exact same analysis:  On average, the rating was 4.26/5(that is, the students found their “personal” analysis to be 85% accurate).  It was only after the ratings were turned in was it revealed that each student had received identical copies assembled by Forer from various horoscopes.

As can be seen from the profile analysis, there are a number of statements that are vague and could apply equally to anyone. These statements later became known as Barnum statements, after P.T. Barnum, who used them in his performances, allegedly stating “there’s a sucker born every minute.”

Later studies have found that subjects give higher accuracy ratings if the following are true:

  • the subject believes that the analysis applies only to him or her (for example, a horoscope)
  • the subject believes in the authority of the evaluator (for example, a psychic)
  • the analysis lists mainly positive traits (for example, most daily horoscopes)

Guaquelin’s Horoscope Experiment

Mass murderer

Dr. Marcel Petiot

In another experiment, the famous French Astrologer, Michael Gauquelin, offered free horoscopes to any reader of Ici Paris, if they would give feedback on the accuracy of his supposedly “individual” analysis. He wanted to scientifically test the profession of astrology. As with Forer’s experiment, there was a trick:  he sent out thousands of copies of the same horoscope to people of various astrological signs – and 94% of the readers replied that his reading was very accurate and insightful.

What they didn’t know was that the horoscope was that of a local mass murderer, Dr. Petiot, who had admitted during his trial that he had killed 63 people.  This is clearly another case of subjective validation where subjects focus on the hits of some general analysis that’s supposed to be unique to them.

An Astronomer’s Opinion

So what does science have to say about astrology?

Continue Reading @ RELATIVELY INTERESTING . . .


Astrology: More like Religion Than Science

By Sharon Hill via The Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (CSI)

I’ve discussed here and here how practitioners of paranormal piffle wish to look scientific. They fail under actual scientific scrutiny but, we have to admit, they are pretty effective at bamboozling the public with a sciencey show.

I came across a news story in Business Insider about an astrologer who was doing mighty well for herself. In times of uncertainty, society tends to turn to anything that will give them a sense of control. Astrologic and psychic advisors seem to fill that role for some people, even professional businesspeople. This astrologer, who thinks quite highly of her craft, had these things to say:

“What I do is scientific. Astrology involves careful methods learned over years and years of training and experience.”

“There are so many things we don’t understand in the world. What if 200 years ago someone had said that these metal barrels in the sky would get us around the world in a few hours? Or that we’d inject ourselves with mold to treat illnesses? People are so skeptical.”

And then I laughed.

Few examples of pseudoscience are more perfect than astrology, which has been studied A LOT, and whose practitioners still cannot demonstrate a root in reality.

Continue Reading @ CSI – – –

Critical thinking is one for the history books

A critical analysis of archeology leads to rejection of astrology, conspiracies, etc.

By via Ars Technica

The world as a whole has become increasingly reliant on science to provide its technology and inform its policy. But rampant conspiracy theories, fake news, and pseudoscience like homeopathy show that the world could use a bit more of the organized skepticism that provides the foundation of science. For that reason, it has often been suggested that an expanded science education program would help cut down on the acceptance of nonsense.

But a study done with undergrads at North Carolina State University suggests that a class on scientific research methods doesn’t do much good. Instead, a class dedicated to critical analysis of nonsense in archeology was far more effective at getting students to reject a variety of pseudoscience and conspiracy theories. And it worked even better when the students got their own debunking project.

The study, done by Anne Collins McLaughlin and Alicia McGill, lumps together things like belief in astrology, conspiracy theories, and ancient aliens, calling them “epistemically unwarranted.” Surveys show they’re widely popular; nearly half the US population thinks astrology is either somewhat or very scientific, and the number has gone up over time.

You might think that education, especially in the sciences, could help reverse this trend, but McLaughlin and McGill have some depressing news for you. Rejection of epistemically unwarranted ideas doesn’t correlate with scientific knowledge, and college students tend to have as much trouble coming to grips with reality as anyone else.

Continue Reading @ Ars Technica – – –

Joe Rogan and Neil deGrasse Tyson on Flat Earth and Conspiracy Theories

Joe and Neil discuss a wide variety of topics, including the flat earth conspiracy theory.

Earth Day Festival 2014: How was the Woo?

by The Locke via The Soap Box

Last Sunday, April 26, I went down to my town’s annual Earth Day Festival to check out everything that was there, just like I do every year.

Last year I was appalled by the amount of pseudoscience and alternative medicine woo mixed in with all of the legitimate booths and displays promoting legitimate environmental causes and advice [read about it here] to the point where they pretty much overshadowed what the Earth Day festival was suppose to be about.

The worst offender last year of course was a booth promoting Anti-GMO conspiracy theories.

Fortunately that person wasn’t back this year, but still there were people back again promoting the same woo, including the Astrology and Tarot Card reader from last year  .  .  .


.  .  .  and the chiropractors from last year are back as well  .  .  .


.  .  .  but I have some new ones for this year, starting with this one:


Now I admit at first glance this one wasn’t that bad, even through it had nothing to do with environmentalism.

Creating art can help relax a person and cut down on stress. That’s the good part about what’s being presented there.

Then there’s the woo.

They also promote past life regression and trauma healing, clearing of curses, negative spirits, and other stuff of the like, and how to protect yourself from such things, all while using nature and spiritual energy.

In other words instead of addressing any real things that can cause stress in a person’s life, they’re just claiming that it’s supernatural forces, and use “techniques” they claim to get from Shamanism to “cleanse” a person of these supernatural forces.

The next offender of promoters of woo that I saw there was  .  .  .

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Synchronicity: Definition & Meaning

By Benjamin Radford via LiveScience

image descriptionAmazing coincidences happen all the time — but are they simply the product of random chance, or do they convey some hidden meaning? The answer may depend on whether you believe in synchronicity.

The term synchronicity was coined by Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung (1875-1961). Jung had a strong belief in a wide variety of paranormal phenomenon, including psychic powers, astrology, alchemy, predictive dreams, UFOs and telekinesis (moving objects with the mind). He was also obsessed with numerology — the belief that certain numbers have special cosmic significance, and can predict important life events.

A flock of birds inspired Carl Jung's theory that everything in the universe is intimately connected.

A flock of birds inspired Carl Jung’s theory that everything in the universe is intimately connected.

Jung’s concept of synchronicity is complicated and poorly defined, but can be boiled down to describing “meaningful coincidences.” The concept of synchronicity came to Jung during a period of mental illness in the early 1900s. Jung became convinced that everything in the universe is intimately connected, and that suggested to him that there must exist a collective unconscious of humankind. This implied to him that events happening all over the world at the same time must be connected in some unknown way.

In his book “137: Jung, Pauli, and the Pursuit of a Scientific Obsession,” Arthur I. Miller gives an example of synchronicity; one of his patients “told Jung that when her mother and grandmother died, on each occasion a flock of birds gathered outside the window of the room.” The woman’s husband, who had symptoms of heart problems, went out to see a doctor and “on his way back the man collapsed in the street. Shortly after he had set off to see the specialist a large flock of birds had alighted on the house. His wife immediately recognized this as a sign of her husband’s impending death.”

Is synchronicity real?

There is, of course, a more prosaic explanation for curious coincidence: birds are very common, and simply by random chance a flock will appear near people who are soon to die — just as they appear daily around millions of people who are not soon to die.

Confirmation bias: Selective thinking whereby one tends to notice and to look for what confirms one's beliefs, and to ignore, not look for, or undervalue the relevance of what contradicts one's beliefs.

Confirmation bias: Selective thinking whereby one tends to notice and to look for what confirms one’s beliefs, and to ignore, not look for, or undervalue the relevance of what contradicts one’s beliefs.

The appearance of synchronicity is the result of a well-known psychological phenomenon called confirmation bias (sometimes described as remembering the hits and forgetting the misses); we much more easily notice and remember things that confirm our beliefs than those that do not. The human brain is very good at making connections and seeing designs in ambiguous stimuli and random patterns.

If Jung’s patient came to believe that a flock of birds meant that death was imminent, she would start noticing flocks of birds, and remember the times when they coincided with a loved one’s death. But she would not likely notice or remember the countless times when flocks of birds appeared over people who lived for years or decades longer. Put another way, a person dying when a flock of birds is present is an event; a person not dying when a flock of birds is present is a non-event, and therefore not something anyone pays attention to. This is the result of normal human perceptual and memory biases, not some mysterious cosmic synchronicity.

It’s easy to see why synchronicity has mass appeal; it provides meaning and order in an otherwise random universe. One famous (and more modern) example of synchronicity is  .  .  .

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More and More Americans Think Astrology Is Science

By via Mother Jones

astrology_854_250px“I believe in a lot of astrology.” So commented pop megastar Katy Perry in a recent GQ interview. She also said she sees everything through a “spiritual lens”…and that she believes in aliens.

According to data from the National Science Foundation’s just-released 2014 Science and Engineering Indicators study, Americans are moving in Perry’s direction. In particular, the NSF reports that the percentage of Americans who think astrology is “not at all scientific” declined from 62 percent in 2010 to just 55 percent in 2012 (the last year for which data is available). As a result, NSF reports that Americans are apparently less skeptical of astrology than they have been at any time since 1983.


The data on Americans’ astrological beliefs are compiled by NSF but come from a variety of sources; since 2006 they have come from the General Social Survey. Over the years, the GSS and other surveys have asked Americans a recurring question: “Would you say that astrology is very scientific, sort of scientific, or not at all scientific?”

In response, a substantial minority of Americans, ranging from 31 to 45 percent depending on the year, say consider astrology either “very scientific” or “sort of scientific.” That’s bad enough—the NSF report compares it with China, where 92 percent of the public does not believe in horoscopes—but the new evidence suggests we are also moving in the wrong direction. Indeed, the percentage of Americans who say astrology is scientifically bunk has been declining ever since a high point for astrology skepticism in 2004, when it hit 66 percent.

The recent increase in astrological credulity was most dramatic among those with less science education and less “factual knowledge,” NSF reported. In the latter group, there was a staggering 17 percentage point decline in how many people were willing to say astrology is unscientific, from 52 percent in 2010 to just 35 percent in 2012. Also apparently to blame are younger Americans, aged 18 to 24, where an actual majority considers astrology at least “sort of” scientific, and those aged 35 to 44. In 2010, 64 percent of this age group considered astrology totally bunk; in 2012, by contrast, only 51 percent did, a 13 percentage point change.

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Where is the Proof in Pseudoscience? (Op-Ed)

H/T: (Skeptic Wars)

By Peter Ellerton via LiveScience

homeopathy 803_250pxThe word “pseudoscience” is used to describe something that is portrayed as scientific but fails to meet scientific criteria.

This misrepresentation occurs because actual science has creditability (which is to say it works), and pseudoscience attempts to ride on the back of this credibility without subjecting itself to the hard intellectual scrutiny that real science demands.

A good example of pseudoscience is homoeopathy, which presents the façade of a science-based medical practice but fails to adhere to scientific methodology.

Other things typically branded pseudoscience include astrology, young-Earth creationism, iridology, neuro-linguistic programming and water divining, to name but a few.

What’s the difference?

science 824_200pxKey distinctions between science and pseudoscience are often lost in discussion, and sometimes this makes the public acceptance of scientific findings harder than it should be.

For example, those who think the plural of anecdote is data may not appreciate why this is not scientific (indeed, it can have a proper role to play as a signpost for research).

Other misconceptions about science include what the definition of a theory is, what it means to prove something, how statistics should be used and the nature of evidence and falsification.

Because of these misconceptions, and the confusion they cause, it is sometimes useful to discuss science and pseudoscience in a way that focuses less on operational details and more on the broader functions of science.

What is knowledge?

 John Dewey Credit: Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.

John Dewey
Credit: Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.

The first and highest level at which science can be distinguished from pseudoscience involves how an area of study grows in knowledge and utility.

The philosopher John Dewey in his Theory of Inquiry said that we understand knowledge as that which is “so settled that it is available as a resource in further inquiry”.

This is an excellent description of how we come to “know” something in science. It shows how existing knowledge can be used to form new hypotheses, develop new theories and hence create new knowledge.

It is characteristic of science that our knowledge, so expressed, has grown enormously over the last few centuries, guided by the reality check of experimentation.

In short, the new knowledge works and is useful in finding more knowledge that also works.

No progress made

Contrast this with homeopathy, a field that has generated no discernible growth in knowledge or practice. While the use of modern scientific language may make it sound more impressive, there is no corresponding increase in knowledge linked to effectiveness. The field has flat-lined.

At this level of understanding, science produces growth, pseudoscience does not.

To understand this lack of growth we move to a lower, more detailed level, in which we are concerned with one of the primary goals of science: to provide causal explanations of phenomena.

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Asteroid astrology

by via Skeptophilia

I’ve written more than once about astrology, a slice of woo-woo that has never failed to impress me as the most completely ridiculous model on the market for explaining how the world works.  I mean, really.  Try to state the definition of astrology in one sentence, and you come up with something like the following:

The idea that your personal fate, and the course of global events, are controlled by the apparent movement of the Sun and planets relative to bunches of stars that are at varying (but extreme) distances from the Earth, patterns which some highly nearsighted ancient Greeks thought looked vaguely like scorpions and rams and lions and weird mythical creatures like “sea-goats.”

It definitely falls into the “how could that possibly work?” department, a question that is usually answered with vague verbiage about vibrations and energies and cosmic resonances.

But like I said, all of that is old territory, here at Skeptophilia.  But yesterday, thanks to a loyal reader and frequent contributor, I found out something that I didn’t know about astrology; lately, astrologers have been including the asteroids in their chart-drawing and fortune-telling.

Don’t believe me?  Listen to this lady, Kim Falconer,  who tells us that we should consider the asteroids in our astrological calculations — but only use the ones we want.  There are too many asteroids, she said, to track them all; “Use the asteroids that have personal meaning to you.”

Falconer is right about one thing; there are a great many asteroids out there.  Astronomers currently think there are between 1.1 and 1.9 million asteroids in the belt between Mars and Jupiter alone, and that’s not counting the ones in erratic or elliptical orbits.  So it would be a lot to track, but it would have the advantage of keeping the astrologers busy for a long time.

As far as which ones to track, though — this is where Falconer’s recommendations get even funnier,  because she says we should pay attention to the names of the asteroids.  Concerned about money?  Check out where the asteroids “Abundantia” and “Fortuna” are.  Concerned about love?  Find “Eros” and “Aphrodite.”  And I’m thinking; where does she think these names come from?  All of them were named by earthly astronomers, more or less at random.  I mean, it’s not like the names have anything to do with the actual objects.  For example, here’s a photograph of Eros:

Eros [image courtesy of NASA and the Wikimedia Commons]

[image courtesy of NASA and the Wikimedia Commons]

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Billions and Billions of Planets and Stars, Twelve Personalities

By Kyle Hill via The Committee for Skeptical Inquiry – CSI

astrology_854_300pxYou are not special, the stars and planets decided that at your birth. You are not a beautiful or unique snowflake, as Tyler Durden might say. In fact, all your complexities and quirks, your desires and passions, everything you have done or will do fits neatly into what looks like a twelve-slice pie chart laden with calligraphy. A snowflake you are not if astrology were true.

Despite what your mother may have told you, if astrology were true there would be at least hundreds of thousands of people who share in your uniqueness. Indeed, if astrologers could determine your personality and future from your hour and date of birth, there would be 8,760 different combinations available. With 7.1 billion people on the planet this means around 810,000 people would each receive your exact horoscope, your wisdom from the wandering planets above, your future. Human psychology may be broken up into general personality traits, but astrology breaks up human life into less possible variations than the combinations of a 2x2x2 Rubik’s Cube.

If astrology were true, society would fracture. Over time we would learn what days of the year gave rise to what kinds of people. Like parents who want their children to become professional hockey players, mothers would calculate conception and birthing times in order to give their son or daughter a particular star sign. Pharmaceutical companies would make a killing developing the drugs that allowed mothers to delay and control births more effectively. Being born into a specific astrological sign would create grand social rifts. Different schools would spring up as they did for different religions in twentieth century Ireland. Potential mates would need not only good looks but also descendants who shared the same sign. Libras and Aries would be the modern Capulets and Montagues.

Studies would be undertaken to establish the psychology determined by stars and planets. The zodiac would replace Myers Briggs. Modern descriptions of psychopathy would include “being a Gemini” as a defining symptom. The Diagnostic and Statistics Manual cites Mercury as much as it does brain chemistry in a world where astrology is true.

Political parties would also incorporate star signs. Candidates run on the basis of how compatible they are with Cancers and Leos—perhaps key demographics. The Speaker of the House would need to be in the astrological 10th House. And when faraway stars eventually shift enough to change star signs, revolutions follow. A new type of human would enter the mix every few centuries. The status quo would be forever challenged by the whims of gravity.

MORE . . .

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