Oh My Stars

Oh My Stars


Dear Skeptic, Part Three: The Matthew Currie Astrological Foundation Ten Dollar Challenge!

posted by Matthew Currie
Your ticket to Immortal Skeptic Fame awaits!

Your ticket to Immortal Skeptic Fame awaits!

(Part One is HERE, Part Two is HERE. Please read both carefully before you settle on what name you’d like to call me, because that’s what a scientist would do.)

I’ve had a lot of responses to my two-part series, in which I complained about the poor quality of Critical Thinking presented in The James Randi Educational Foundation’s booklet “Astrology: Science Or Superstition” (which they present as part of a series to encourage “Critical Thinking”). Once I weeded through the obvious ad hominem stuff (no, you’re a poopyhead!) and the detailed responses to the points I actually made in my blog entries (still waiting for that, truth be told), I found a few references to the JREF Million Dollar Challenge. I’m not going to go into detail here about the problems with the JREF Challenge — others have done a much better job of it than I can in the space provided me, and I invite you to read and evaluate those for yourself.

My original point was not to “prove astrology works” — you and I both know that whatever you or I believe, no single blog entry or series of those is likely to change your mind or mine. My original point was is that the vast majority of criticisms I see of astrology are not really based on how astrology is actually done. For example: dismissing the validity of astrology based only on a quick parsing of Sun Sign columns is as accurate and thorough as dismissing modern medicine based only on a look at your family history (Hey, all my grandparents lived into their 90s, so I can smoke, and drink and drive, and eat cheeseburgers, and juggle explosives while taunting bears all day long, because I’ve got genetics on my side, woohoo! Go Science!).

It seems to me that science works best (although I’m sure someone out there will correct me on this) when a neatly contained proposition is subjected to testing. So, let’s do just exactly that. In order to clarify any misunderstandings as to my purpose in criticizing the JREF booklet, I hereby announce The Matthew Currie Foundation Ten Dollar Challenge — based on the JREF Million Dollar Challenge.

***

The Matthew Currie Astrological Foundation (MCAF) (that is, me) will pay the sum of US$10.00 (Ten US Dollars) to any applicant who is able to sufficiently demonstrate and/or provide all of the following:

 

-That he or she is the author or co-author of the JREF booklet “Astrology: Science Or Superstition” (hereinafter referred to as “ASOS”). Proof of this can be provided by written confirmation, paper or electronic, from any member of the JREF Board of Directors.
-That he or she can provide a bibliography of sources used to write ASOS, and that said bibliography include at least one source written by a current professional astrologer and/or a publisher of astrological books, services, or products (unless said source is deceased).
-That he or she will address in a public forum the specific points raised by my blog entry on Beliefnet entitled “Dear Skeptic, Part Two: Please Curb Your Dogma,” including, but not limited to:
        “If it is not okay to refuse to hire someone because of their gender or race, is it okay to refuse to hire them because of their sign?” The applicant will provide at least three actual examples of when this has happened. One of them can be purely anecdotal, if you’d like. I’m not picky.
           “Heliocentrism completely changed our view of the universe and our place in it. It left little room for astrology.” You will be asked to discuss how Heliocentrism changed the practice of astrology and/or how Heliocentrism invalidates astrology.
           “Astrologers do not agree on which planetary positions cause specific traits or experiences.” You will be asked to provide specific examples.
           “Astrologers have only recently recalculated the dates and have added a 13th sign.” You will be required to provide the source for this statement.

another cute kitten

Again, regular readers are thanked for their patience with a kitten. I think that’s something we can all agree on: people love kittens.

The public forum may be in person with witnesses, or (ideally) neutral ground somewhere on the Internet, to be decided by mutual agreement of MCAF and the applicant. Again: I’m not that picky.

Once your application is accepted (and unlike JREF, I will not require a doctor’s note) and the outlined procedures are followed, the applicant will receive a prize of Ten US Dollars, to be sent either via US Mail or electronically within 90 days of successful completion of the Challenge.

See guys? You don’t even have to PROVE anything — other than you wrote the booklet and that you did some honest, legitimate research for it. Easy money!

Now, to further borrow some wording from the JREF Million Dollar Challenge:

If the Prize is awarded, this would not mean that MCAF considers astrology to be invalid, merely that the applicant met the terms and conditions of The Challenge and was able to demonstrate that a basic understanding of astrology was used in the attempted debunking of astrology. However, MCAF will publicly apologize for having so badly misinterpreted ASOS, and hey… that ought to be worth something to you, right? Furthermore, MCAF (unlike JREF) does not claim sole ownership or distribution rights to any or all materials generated by the Challenge. It is the preference of the MCAF that the matter be as open and public as possible.

Also: I’d love to make the prize bigger, but unlike JREF, I do not have a magazine or fundraisers or donation drives or a board of directors or Penn Jillette backing me (which is a shame because overall Penn is pretty awesome). ASOS claims that “hundreds of millions of dollars” (source?) are made in astrology, but I assure you only a very very small percentage of that goes to me. But hey, it’ not like someone is asking all that much of you — just that you stand by your work and respond to the questions it raises, that’s all.

Also: from now on? I love all the comments and such I’m getting on this matter, but again: the intent of the original blog entries was not to “prove astrology” nor to claim any prizes. The original point was to point out the terrible, sloppy reasoning behind JREF’s booklet about astrology. If you can’t stick to that, you are kindly invited to take your Straw Men and crankiness elsewhere. Got that? Thanks for reading.

Yours in Ganesh,

Matthew Currie
Founder, CEO, COO, Chief Cook And Bottle Washer,
MCAF



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  • Anonymous

    well done, good work, thank you

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  • Anonymous

    I have offered the Amazing Randi the following.
    Present me with a list of the bonafide birthdate/time & place of 50 or so of the following two groups.
    1. Women who have won beauty contests, have children and are married and are expressly not homosexual.
    2. Men who have served in the military service, consider themselves athletes, have children and are married and are expressly not homosexual.
    I will – using only the birthdata of these individuals – separate them into the original two groups.
    The probability of any one individual belonging to the group is 50%. However, the probability of correctly “guessing” this group membership is a power function of 2 to the number involved less the number incorrect.
    Hence, 100% correct would be a staggering improbability, but even 90% would be amazing, Randi.
    Now isn’t this a better test than interviewing a bunch of people who were coached about denying their typical Sun sign traits before their interview ?
    Oh, and if I get any of these “guesses” wrong, I reserve the right to determine whether there was some hanky panky with the selection of the people in this set – particularly as to the criterion of selection.
    Thanks.
    Michael

  • http://Internationalsoccer Colin Cecil

    Further point of agreement – the more we know, the easier it is to be jerks to each other!

  • http://Internationalsoccer Colin Cecil

    mcurrie – it’s my understanding that astrologers vary on their interpretation and fundamental concepts, but that’s my recollection based on prior reading and not one that I can back up with references (have four day old twins so don’t have too much free time for research at the moment!) so won’t make that assertion at this point.

    I fully agree that it is not necessary to understand a mechanism to propose an effect – as one of the other commenters stated science does not currently have an explanation for the mechanism for gravity but that does not prevent intricate calculations to be performed based on the effect of gravity to allow vehicles to be landed on Mars.

    Where I disagree with you is the intent behind the terms of the JREF challenge – are they moving targets intending to making it impossible to win, or are they intended to set clear and definable terms by which the test can be judged? I won’t deny that Randi can be a prickly character to deal with at times, but given the number of lines of BS he has been fed over the years I forgive him a degree of shortness with challengers who don’t get to the point.

    I consider myself a skeptic with a huge desire to learn and to be surprised by the universe. There are many beliefs that are asserted without the proponents being willing to put their beliefs to a definable test, and whilst there is no burden on the proponents to demonstrate their beliefs people like myself will not give credence to their beliefs. As Carl Sagan stated “extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof”. Predicting personality traits based on birth information seems an extraordinary claim no matter how many centuries it had been done

  • http://matthewtheastrologer.com/ mcurrie

    Actually, Colin, the question about hiring based on astrology reminds me of the question as to whether a person can or should be denied medical insurance because of a genetic predisposition toward something expensive to treat… or if someone has a genetic tendency to alcoholism (or a family history of it)>

    Clearly, the more knowledge humans have, the more ways they’ll find to be a jerk with it. :)

  • http://matthewtheastrologer.com/ mcurrie

    Thanks for the example Colin. I had heard of that one before and had forgotten. It’ a shame you aren’t one of the authors of the JREF booklet… you’d be on your way to being $10 dollars richer. :)

    As for the idea that astrologers predictions vary widely from one to the other, do you have any sources that suggest that? And again, it’s my contention that not understanding the mechanism doesn’t invalidate the effect: lodestones were used long before anyone figured out “electromagnetism.”

  • http://Internationalsoccer Colin Cecil

    Further thought – if astrology does work then surely a person’s sign *should* be a valid reason not to hire someone and the proponents of astrology should not be treating these stories as an embarrassment but rather a practical application of astrology? Fortunately we’ve generally moved beyond racial and gender stereotyping, but the point of astrology is that insight into a person’s character can be gained from their birth date,time, location and so forth. If that showed an inclination towards dishonesty wouldn’t that be a valid concern for a police department?

    My personal experience is that people see astrology (whether newspaper horoscopes or professional astrologers) as harmless fun but get indignant when important decisions are taken on the basis of astrology. The desire to refute that astrology can be put to practical uses seems peculiar at best

  • http://Internationalsoccer Colin Cecil

    Setting aside some of the hyperbole surrounding this case the underlying statement is that the French soccer coach included astrology in his decision making, so a very definite possibility that athletes were denied a chance to play in the greatest event of their lives based on the coaches belief. Should count for one non-anecdotal example.
    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/sport/football/teams/england/2295526/Raymond-Domenech-looks-to-the-stars.html

  • Anonymous

    “explain the mechanism by which astrology influences people”

    why it’s called gravastrology. its this force that causes planets to effect people. it works on love.

    (Science’s mechanisms always contain an unexplained phenomenon to make them work like gravity, magnetism, and my favorites strong force and weak force. sure, Science has gotten good at prediction, but explaining things? that’s best left to the philosophers and poets.)

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  • http://matthewtheastrologer.com/ mcurrie

    If it’s true that astrological predictions vary widely from one astrologer to the next, shouldn’t the booklet in question have provided a source for that information? I’m not familiar with any proper studies that have tested that assertion. If the booklet had named one, we’d have a basis for discussion.

  • Anonymous

    And besides, who are ‘we’ exactly and what do ‘we’ ‘know’ about science?

  • Anonymous

    Because… science is what you believe in, right? It’s your belief system.

  • Anonymous

    You never addressed the most important points in the JREF pamphlet. Namely, astrological predictions vary widely from one astrologer to the next, and that astrologers can not explain the mechanism by which astrology influences people. Compare several published astrologers for the same period, and you will wind very different reports that disagree. At minimum, many astrologers are wrong on a regular basis, because their predictions are so different. Also, Just how does Astrology work? I have an open mind, I am willing to listen, but you need to provide me some kind of explanation that is not totally out of step with what we know about science for me to call you anything other than a fraud.

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