Part 1: Why do astrologers even want to test astrology?

September 1, 2010

Following discussions over at Richard Rockley’s Skeptico and Jason Thibeault’s Lazy Canuck blogs, I want to look a bit more closely at astrology. Both those guys have done a first-rate job of explaining flaws in the arguments of numerous astrologers. I want to look at a few other issues surrounding astrology’s claims to legitimacy.

I’ll briefly consider why astrologers want to test astrology, and how they go about it, and then look later at the implications for astrologers (not scientists) if  astrology were suddenly to be vindicated. I’ll break it up into two parts.

Part 1. Why do astrologers even want to test astrology?

A randomly chosen birthchart has, of course, the same chance of being accurate as a person’s “actual” birthchart. For astrologers, that’s not necessarily a bad thing — as long as the degree of accuracy is acceptable for their (and their clients’) purposes. They could just admit that relating it to the birth date and the stars is just a marketing ploy, like “your personalised friendship-band” or whatever, and not take it all so seriously.

They could even argue that this “universal” nature of birthcharts is evidence that it’s a pretty good description of the human psyche. Birthcharts, and the masses of complex information they generate — however they may be chosen — could simply be used as a resource to dip into for vivid depictions of inner and outer challenges and situations.

Strangely however, astrologers claim that the mythological gods of the ancients really are embodied by the actual physical planets, and are to be considered as real astronomical phenomena. Further, they claim that these old gods influence human behaviour in the most extraordinary ways. Somehow, acting over the immense distances of space, they are able to affect human physiology and brain function, (as well as social events and geological catastrophes, to name but a few).

Pushing it further still, they assert that for some inexplicable reason this influence suddenly peaks at the moment of birth, and then recedes immediately afterwards, having left an indelible astrological fingerprint on the personality and lifetime events of the individual, to a degree which is still decisive when compared with influences of heredity, culture and upbringing.

So taken are they with these bizarre ideas, that they boldly stir up the hornet’s nest of scientific enquiry, and then (like all good pseudo-scientists) complain when they get stung.

They don’t seem to realise what a herculean task they have set themselves. Every test of astrology is effectively a one-off attempt at proving an entire, highly complex theoretical system, which itself is supposed to measure even more complex and multifaceted phenomena, the very existence of which they have not even taken the time to establish.

Wow. Take a few deep breaths, and try again to jump up to the moon.

They like to argue that science has been wrong before, and point to examples where someone was disbelieved and ridiculed, only to be eventually vindicated. But nowhere in the entire history of science has there ever been a case where an entire fully developed theoretical system simultaneously overturned  several entire scientific disciplines in one hit, and thereafter slotted, fully developed into place at the top.

Even speculating about the circumstances in which such a thing might occur, it is inconceivable that it could happen with such a lazy, narrow-minded bunch of under-prepared, ignorant loons who don’t even have the foggiest about the science they think they are on the cusp of overturning.

Astrology has not gone through the centuries of painstaking research and refinement that the disciplines it rejects and wishes to overturn have done. They don’t even seem to have undertaken the most rudimentary pre-testing themselves. A simple informal test that controls for things like false positives, post hoc explanations, chance hits, etc, etc, would surely be easily within the resources of even the most modest astrologer. It would save them a lot of embarrassment, and save researchers a lot of time. But instead they prefer to chance their arm and hope for miraculous one-off results which they could then claim as “proof”.

No wonder they hang on the results of each test as if it might establish their beliefs once and for all.

No wonder they take each failed test as a slap in the face. They deserve it.

Next up, Part two: What would it mean for astrologers if astrology were to be suddenly proven true?

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  1. [...] on from Part 1, and from recent discussions where skeptics have been kindly encouraging astrologers to raise their [...]

  2. You make an excellent point, here. There probably have been big leaps here or there by a genius of the early enlightenment, but we’ve got enough of the basics down, it seems unlikely there are going to be revelations that come in one big package like that. Most science I’m aware of these days is about unraveling complex systems (like the human brain) to figure out extremely fine details and nuances. Neurologists have to very carefully tweak one thing at a time just to see what happens next.

    The scientific community is slowly building a detailed prediction machine called a theory that we can use to make educated guesses about how different things will affect a brain and its behavior. It’s not perfect, but it’s steadily been getting more accurate and precise as the neurologists tinker with it.

    Somehow, astrologers want us to believe they’ve already got their own intricate prediction machine that can give accurate information about someone’s personality. They haven’t tested the individual parts. No two astrologers can agree on how to interpret the instruction manual. It turns out this prediction machine was a hand-me-down from their great-great-great-great-grandfather who lived before most people knew it was the brain that did the thinking. And, of course, all the predictions that come out so far are about as accurate as random chance and the Forer effect would expect. I wouldn’t hold my breath for those predictions to suddenly start becoming consistently accurate.

  3. I had to look up the “Forer effect”, and it’s an important phenomenon, so I’ll add a link –


    “The Forer effect refers to the tendency of people to rate sets of statements as highly accurate for them personally even though the statements could apply to many people.”

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