In Defense of Astrology

Oh dear, the skeptics are at it again. Turns out someone got ahold of James Randi’s birth data and cast his chart, proclaiming him to be a great skeptic. OK, great. Well, it turns out they used the wrong birthdate, then recast the chart using the correct data again – and again found that he is a great skeptic. So now they’re all crowing about how Astrology is Officially Dead, because this one guy made a mistake and cast the wrong chart.

Their argument is that because the astrologer found that “Randi makes a great skeptic” both with the erroneous and correct birth dates, and because the astrologer knew of Randi beforehand, he’s just making up a bunch of B.S. to fit the chart to the person. It’s a pretty common line of skepticism toward astrology – that the practicioners are charlatans, out to make a buck – but really, it doesn’t hold up, because 1) who isn’t out to make a buck and 2) not everyone who studies astrology makes money off of it. Most of us never will. And yeah, casting the chart of a celebrity is a common practice, but not really useful for prediction – since yes, we do generally know a lot about celebrities. However, prediction isn’t really the goal of astrology. Astrology is the practice of paying attention to the rhythms of our solar system, for knowing which planets you see at night, when Venus is the Evening Star, and when Mercury is passing close to the Earth. There’s also a very interesting body of work on interpreting personality in the context of the planets’ places at birth – but it’s not science. Let me say that again. It’s not science. Repeat after me: Astrology is NOT sceince.

Got it? Awesome.

Every so often, some “scientists” publish a study that fails to find statistical predictive power by “astrological” methods, or an astrological study is mocked for claiming to be scientific – and it gets torn to shreds by the skeptical hordes. They take it as proof that Astrology is Dead, and that Reason Has Triumphed. Speaking as someone who comes from the skeptic community, though, I think they’re being hypocrites about what they accept as data – depending on what subject they’re talking about. When it’s a study that refutes astrology – and there have been many – they don’t bother to look at experimental methods, wonder what kinds of questions were asked, or statistical methods. True scientists read studies critically – they look for conflicts of interest in funding, for weird statistical methods, for proper controls. For sample sizes, and for biases. Turns out, the vast majority of studies that have “disproved” astrology have had problems with at least a few of these. And I’m sure this is a topic I’ll get into more at a later date.

Astrology defies scientific study because it exists outside our current model of science. But that doesn’t mean that it’s not a very real phenomenon! Unless you have a fully explanatory theory of quantum physics that completely rules out the possibility of perturbation by gravitational fields or sychronization of biological events by light cues… if you don’t “believe in” (read: understand even a little bit) astrology, don’t belittle those who are attempting to do so.

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