Sunday, August 3, 2008

Astrology Attack Kit and Your Defense Answers

In 1995 someone named Andrew Fraknoi wrote a column on the astronomy website AstroSociety. He called it the Astrology Defense Kit but it is really an astrology ATTACK kit. I may as well include it here altho I really don’t want to give this troll any further attention than he already has gotten. Then following that are some astrology defense arguments that you can use to protect yourself. Good luck, have fun.

Your Astrology Defense Kit by Andrew Fraknoi
It happens to all of us - astronomers, amateurs, and teachers. We tell someone about our interest in the heavens and quickly get drawn into a debate about astrology. For many of us it's hard to know how to respond politely to someone who takes this ancient superstition seriously.
The revelation that daily schedules in the Reagan White House were arranged and rearranged based on the predictions of a San Francisco astrologer focused new attention on astrology's widespread public acceptance. More than ever, we are likely to face questions about astrology, especially among young people. So here is a quick guide to some of the responses you can make to astrologers' claims.
The Tenets of Astrology
The basis of astrology is disarmingly simple: a person's character and destiny can be understood from the positions of the Sun, Moon, and planets at the moment of his or her birth. Interpreting the location of these bodies using a chart called the horoscope, astrologers claim to predict and explain the course of life and to help people, companies, and nations with decisions of great import.
Implausible as such claims may sound to anyone who knows what and how distant the Sun, Moon, and planets really are, a 1984 Gallup Poll revealed that 55 percent of American teenagers believe in astrology. And every day thousands of people around the world base crucial medical, professional, and personal decisions on advice received from astrologers and astrological publications.
The details of its precise origins are lost in antiquity, but astrology is at least thousands of years old and appears in different forms in many cultures. It arose at a time when humankind's view of the world was dominated by magic and superstition, when the need to grasp the patterns of nature was often of life-and-death importance.
Celestial objects seemed in those days to be either gods, important spirits, or, at the very least, symbols or representatives of divine personages who spent their time tinkering with humans' daily lives. People eagerly searched for heavenly signs of what the gods would do next.
Seen in this context, a system that connected the bright planets and "important" constellations with meaningful life questions was appealing and reassuring. (Astrologers believe that the important constellations are the ones the Sun passes through during the course of a year; they call these the constellations of the zodiac.) And even today, despite so much effort at science education, astrology's appeal for many people has not diminished. For them, thinking of Venus as a cloud-covered desert world as hot as an oven is far less attractive than seeing it as an aid in deciding whom to marry.
Ten Embarrassing Questions
A good way to begin thinking about the astrological perspective is to take a skeptical but good-humored look at the logical consequences of some of its claims. Here are my 10 favorite questions to ask supporters of astrology:
1. What is the likelihood that one-twelfth of the world's population is having the same kind of day?
Proponents of newspaper astrology columns (which appear in more than 1,200 dailies in the United States alone) claim you can learn something about your day by reading one of 12 paragraphs in the morning paper. Simple division shows that this means 400 million people around the world will all have the same kind of day, every single day. Given the need to fill so many bills at once, it is clear why astrological predictions are couched in the vaguest and most general language possible.
2. Why is the moment of birth, rather than conception, crucial for astrology?
Astrology seems scientific to some people because the horoscope is based on an exact datum: the subject's time of birth. When astrology was set up long ago, the moment of birth was considered the magic creation point of life. But today we understand birth as the culmination of nine months of steady development inside the womb. Indeed, scientists now believe that many aspects of a child's personality are set long before birth.
I suspect the reason astrologers still adhere to the moment of birth has little to do with astrological theory. Almost every client knows when he or she was born, but it is difficult (and perhaps embarrassing) to identify a person's moment of conception. To make their predictions seem as personal as possible, astrologers stick with the more easily determined date.
3. If the mother's womb can keep out astrological influences until birth, can we do the same with a cubicle of steak?
If such powerful forces emanate from the heavens, why are they inhibited before birth by a thin shield of muscle, flesh, and skin? And if they really do and a baby's potential horoscope is unsatisfactory, could we delay the action of the astrological influences by immediately surrounding the newborn with a thin cubicle of steak until the celestial signs are more auspicious?
4. If astrologers are as good as they claim, why aren't they richer?
Some astrologers answer that they cannot predict specific events, only broad trends. Others claim to have the power to foresee large events, but not small ones. But either way astrologers could amass billions by forecasting general stock-market behavior or commodity futures, and thus not have to charge their clients high fees. In October, 1987, how many astrologers actually foresaw Black Monday when the stock market took such a large tumble and warned their clients about it?
5. Are all horoscopes done before the discovery of the three outermost planets incorrect?
Some astrologers claim that the Sun sign (the location of the Sun in the zodiac at the moment of birth), which most newspaper horoscopes use exclusively, is an inadequate guide to the effects of the cosmos. These serious practitioners (generally those who have missed out on the lucrative business of syndicated columns) insist that the influence of all major bodies in the solar system must be taken into account - including the outmost planets Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto, which were not discovered until 1781, 1846, and 1930, respectively.
If that's the case, what happens to the claim many astrologers make that their art has led to accurate predictions for many centuries? Weren't all horoscopes cast before 1930 wrong? And why didn't the inaccuracies in early horoscopes lead astrologers to deduce the presence of Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto long before astronomers discovered them?
6. Shouldn't we condemn astrology as a form of bigotry?
In a civilized society we deplore all systems that judge individuals by sex, skin color, religion, national origin, or other accidents of birth. Yet astrologers boast that they can evaluate people based on another accident of birth - the positions of celestial objects. Isn't refusing to date a Leo or hire a Virgo as bad as refusing to date a Catholic or hire a black person?
7. Why do different schools of astrology disagree so strongly with each other?
Astrologers seem to disagree on the most fundamental issues of their craft: whether to account for the precession of the Earth's axis (see the box below), how many planets and other celestial objects should be included, and - most importantly - which personality traits go with which cosmic phenomena. Read ten different astrology columns, or have a reading done by ten different astrologers, and you will probably get ten different interpretations.
If astrology is a science, as its proponents claim, why are its practitioners not converging on a consensus theory after thousands of years of gathering data and refining its interpretation? Scientific ideas generally converge over time as they are tested against laboratory or other evidence. In contrast, systems based on superstition or personal belief tend to diverge as their practitioners carve out separate niches while jockeying for power, income, or prestige.
8. If the astrological influence is carried by a known force, why do the planets dominate?
If the effects of astrology can be attributed to gravity, tidal forces, or magnetism (each is invoked by a different astrological school), even a beginning physics student can make the calculations necessary to see what really affects a newborn baby. These are worked out for many different cases in Roger Culver and Philip Ianna's book Astrology: True or False (1988, Prometheus Books). For example, the obstetrician who delivers the child turns out to have about six times the gravitational pull of Mars and about two thousand billion times its tidal force. The doctor may have a lot less mass than the red planet, but he or she is a lot closer to the baby!
9. If astrological influence is carried by an unknown force, why is it independent of distance?
All the long-range forces we know in the universe get weaker as objects get farther apart. But, as you might expect in an Earth-centered system made thousands of years ago, astrological influences do not depend on distance at all. The importance of Mars in your horoscope is identical whether the planet is on the same side of the Sun as the Earth or seven times farther away on the other side. A force not dependent on distance would be a revolutionary discovery for science, changing many of our fundamental notions.
10. If astrological influences don't depend on distance, why is there no astrology of stars, galaxies, and quasars?
French astronomer Jean-Claude Pecker has pointed out that it seems very small-minded of astrologers to limit their craft to our solar system. Billions of stupendous bodies all over the universe should add their influence to that of our tiny little Sun, Moon, and planets. Has a client whose horoscope omits the effects of Rigel, the Crab pulsar, and the Andromeda Galaxy really had a complete reading?
Testing Astrology
Even if we give astrologers the benefit of the doubt on all these questions - accepting that astrological influences may exist outside our current understanding of the universe - there is a devastating final point. Put simply, Astrology doesn't work. Many careful tests have now shown that, despite their claims, astrologers really can't predict anything.
After all, we don't need to know how something works to see whether it works. During the last two decades, while astrologers have somehow always been a little too busy to conduct statistically valid tests of their work, physical and social scientists have done it for them. Let's consider a few representative studies.
Psychologist Bernard Silverman of Michigan State University looked at the birth dates of 2,978 couples who were getting married and 478 who were getting divorced in the state of Michigan. Most astrologers claim they can at least predict which astrological signs will be compatible or incompatible when it comes to personal relationships. Silverman compared such predictions to the actual records and found no correlations. For example "incompatibly signed" men and women got married as frequently as "compatibly signed" ones.
Many astrologers insist that a person's Sun sign is strongly correlated with his or her choice of profession. Indeed, job counseling is an important function of modern astrology. Physicist John McGervey at Case Western Reserve University looked at biographies and birth dates of some 6,000 politicians and 17,000 scientists to see if members of these professions would cluster among certain signs, as astrologers predict. He found the signs of both groups to be distributed completely at random.=09
To overcome the objections of astrologers who feel that the Sun sign alone is not enough for a reading, physicist Shawn Carlson of the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory carried out an ingenious experiment. Groups of volunteers were asked to provide information necessary for casting a full horoscope and to fill out the California Personality Inventory, a standard psychologists' questionnaire that uses just the sorts of broad, general, descriptive terms astrologers use.
A "respected" astrological organization constructed horoscopes for the volunteers, and 28 professional astrologers who had approved the procedure in advance were each sent one horoscope and three personality profiles, one of which belonged to the subject of the horoscope. Their task was to interpret the horoscope and select which of the three profiles it matched.
Although the astrologers had predicted that they would score better than 50 percent correct, their actual score in 116 trials was only 34 percent correct - just what you would expect by guessing! Carlson published his results in the December 5, 1985, issue of Nature, much to the embarrassment of the astrological community.
Other tests show that it hardly matters what a horoscope says, as long as the subject feels the interpretations were done for him or her personally. A few years ago French statistician Michel Gauquelin sent the horoscope for one of the worst mass murderers in French history to 150 people and asked how well it fit them. Ninety-four percent of the subjects said they recognized themselves in the description.
Geoffrey Dean, an Australian researcher who has conducted extensive tests of astrology, reversed the astrological readings of 22 subjects, substituting phrases that were the opposite of what the horoscopes actually stated. Yet the subjects in this study said the readings applied to them just as often (95 percent of the time) as people to whom the correct phrases were given. Apparently, those who seek out astrologers just want guidance, any guidance.
Some time ago astronomers Culver and Ianna tracked the published predictions of well-known astrologers and astrological organizations for five years. Out of more than 3,000 specific predictions (including many about politicians, film stars, and other famous people), only about 10 percent came to pass. Veteran reporters - and probably many people who read or watch the news - could do a good deal better by educated guessing.
If the stars lead astrologers to incorrect predictions 9 times out of 10, they hardly seem like reliable guides for decisions of life and affairs of state. Yet millions of people, including the former First Lady, seem to swear by them.
Clearly, those of us who love astronomy cannot just hope that the public's infatuation with astrology will go away. We must speak out whenever it is useful or appropriate - to discuss the shortcomings of astrology and the shaky ground it is based on. Those of us working with youngsters can use these ideas to develop a healthy skepticism in the students and encourage an interest in the real cosmos - the one of remote worlds and suns that are mercifully unconcerned with the lives and desires of the creatures on planet Earth. Let's not allow another generation of young people to grow up tied to an ancient fantasy, left over from a time when we huddled by the firelight, afraid of the night.
[End of the Fraknoi column]

Now, here is a suggested defense for those questions, written by a real astrologer -- His name is Jack Fertig but he goes by the handle STARJACK.

1. What is the likelihood that one-twelfth of the world's population is having the same kind of day?

That depends on how broadly you describe "the same kind of day". You seem to be referring to Sun Sign astrology that attempts to describes daily experience solely by sun sign. This is astrology at its lowest common denominator, even when those newspaper columns are written by qualified astrologers. Few of them are. A complete horoscope is much more personalized, considering the position of the Sun, Moon, and planets calculated to the minute of a degree at the moment of birth and from the perspective of the birthplace.
2. Why is the moment of birth, rather than conception, crucial for astrology?

Because, as we've seen from thousands of years of empirical observation, it works.

The time of birth is identifiable, and marks the beginning of life as an autonomous human being - unlike the moment of conception, which is rarely identifiable. (And as for when a zygote becomes a viable life form, this is a question that has gone back and forth on the whole question of abortion. Nobody has a clear answer, and it seems to be a philosophical, rather than a scientific, question about the very nature and meaning of the beginning of life.)

3. If the mother's womb can keep out astrological influences until birth, can we do the same with a cubicle of steak?

If a cubicle of steak could be devised to provide full life support so that the individual inside had no need for independent breath, food, elimination, cleaning, etc. that might be an interesting experiment. But then a person living in such a vegetative state would not be able to make the choices or have the experiences that astrology is used to help with.

Actually the research of Michel Gauquelin shows astrological patterns within families. (I've seen this in my own work, and other astrologers see it regularly, but unlike our "anecdotal experience" Gauquelin has applied scientific standards of statistical methodology.) He sees this as suggesting that astrological influences may trigger the birth, so the child may well be susceptible to astrological influences in the womb well before birth.

4. If astrologers are as good as they claim, why aren't they richer?

Many of us began the study of astrology as a spiritual pursuit rather than a commercial one. The field is predominant with people who consider philosophical and spiritual wealth far more important than money. Still, most of us are indeed richer than we would be without astrology, both financially and philosophically. There are many branches of astrology and very few astrologers use astrology for financial investments - usually because skills and interests lie in other fields. Some astrologers can see that they have no chart for making money, but may help those who do. As J. P. Morgan said: "Millionaires don't use astrologers. Billionaires do."
5. Are all horoscopes done before the discovery of the three outermost planets incorrect?

Was astronomy incorrect before the Hubble Telescope? Every body of knowledge that is worth anything is constantly expanding, gaining new information, re-evaluating old theories in light of new evidence. Certainly horoscopes including the three outermost planets contain more information.

6. Shouldn't we condemn astrology as a form of bigotry? Isn't refusing to date a Leo or hire a Virgo as bad as refusing to date a Catholic or hire a black person?

Bigotry is pre-judging a person by skin color, religion, gender, sexual orientation, national origin, or other factors that have nothing to do with the substance of his/her character. Astrology is a manner of assessing the substance of his/her character. A simplistic approach -- i.e. Aquarians are good people, Scorpios are evil -- is indeed a form of bigotry. A full chart analysis could actually help people into the jobs where they would be most satisfied and productive. (I might want a Virgo for an accountant, but not if s/he has a Sun-Neptune conjunction in the 6th house on the apex of a t-square between Jupiter and Mars -- although that person might make an excellent EMT.)
As for whom you choose to date, that's a highly personal matter. If you don't want to date Catholics, I'm one RC who won't snap your mackerel, but respect your right to choose your dates as you wish. Now Fraknoi is going from telling us how we should think to how we should love.

Moreover he repeats the same questions ad nauseum and ignores the answers. This is as narrow-minded a prejudice as any form of religious bigotry. Besides which, it is the opposite of science.

7. Why do different schools of astrology disagree so strongly with each other?

There are disagreements within any discipline of knowledge. Within a large group of astronomers there will also be disagreements. It is this writer's opinion, though, that those sciences which have been supported by universities, governments, and large corporations have had the great opportunities and funding to test more fully many theories, some of which have been proven wrong, some right, some still in contention. Astrologers have no such support and rely more on personal, indeed, anecdotal experience. Also as a field where there is no established consistent code of credentials and protocols there is inevitably more variation of thought. Some of us regard this diversity as a great opportunity; some consider it a gateway to sloppy research, theorizing, and interpretation.

8. If the astrological influence is carried by a known force, why do the planets dominate?

Astrological influence is not carried by a known force. If it were, the scientific community would have no choice but to accept its validity.

9. If astrological influence is carried by an unknown force, why is it independent of distance?

How can one judge the properties of an unknown force?

10. If astrological influences don't depend on distance, why is there no astrology of stars, galaxies, and quasars?

There is, although it is practiced by a small minority of astrologers. But more to the point, we don't know to what extent distance is or is not a factor in astrological influence. I subscribe to the theory that astrology deals exclusively with influences of our Sun, Moon, and the planets, an interactive matrix of influences entirely within our solar system. The stars of the zodiac are only markers -- relatively unmoving guides against which we can measure planetary, solar, and lunar motion.

Post Script - Reviewing these questions one can easily see that they have no scientific basis, that they are intended to bait rather than to investigate. They are reflective of a narrow mind trying to ridicule what it does not understand, rather than making the scientific admission of humble ignorance as a starting point in the pursuit of knowledge. That anybody would pose such questions in the name of science should embarrass real scientists.

Thank you, Starjack, and now back to our regularly scheduled programming, already in progress.

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