Why Panic Over Astrology?

I am also a professional astrologer, and to a small subset of the general public, this makes me a kook or an idiot - despite my providing valuable guidance and insight to a lot of people who, by and large, are not kooks or idiots either.

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The lesson here, I believe, is that Skepticism starts with an urge to find the Truth (which is admirable) but often devolves into the same kind of blinkered dogmatism that so many of the people Skeptics deride have fallen into.

That dogmatism extends beyond JREF. Michael Shermer, founder of The Skeptics Society (which publishes Skeptic Magazine) was involved with a television program in 1999 called Exploring The Unknown that attempted a quick debunking of astrology. He invited Vedic Astrologer Jeffrey Armstrong to test his skills with a group of people he had never met before, to see if Armstrong could tell anything about them based just on their date, time, place of birth, and gender. Instead of an easy take-down of a phony faith healer or of someone pulling stings at a seance to make the tablecloth move, Shermer got something he didn't expect: evidence that astrology -- which people have been getting results with for thousands of years -- actually works. The astrologer clearly beat the standard you'd expect from random chance, with an accuracy rate of 92 percent.

Shermer's conclusion? "While skeptics will explain the results of our study as due to chance and wishful interpretation, believers will see them as further proof that the stars and planets directly influence our lives." In other words: I can't see past my dogma, even when someone I don't believe in meets my standards. Skeptics are fond of quoting Carl Sagan's line that "extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof." One of their reasons for liking this quote so much is, I believe, that it allows for the unstated subtext that "if there's evidence for anything I don't want to believe in, I can ask for something 'extraordinary' and move the goalposts."

Pisces Constellation


Shermer also said that he wanted to test Armstrong further, changing the conditions of the test to take advantage of what is called The Forer Effect: which is, as Wikipedia says, is "the observation that individuals will give high accuracy ratings to descriptions of their personality that supposedly are tailored specifically for them, but are in fact vague and general enough to apply to a wide range of people."

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Matthew Currie
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