Changing Sky - Astrology

The American National Science Foundation recently conducted their annual study of "Science and Technology Indicators." Among other things, it indicated that American students were getting better at math, graduation rates are higher, the number of people with Master's Degrees is increasing, academic research and development is up, and that interest among the general public in science and technology is somewhat higher than it is in Europe, that Americans hold scientists and engineers in fairly high esteem, and that fewer Americans reject Astrology than in previous years.

Now... guess which one of those findings got the most attention in the media? Which of these was decried as a symptom of the Softening of the American Brain? You guessed it. There is a always a subset of the population - that notorious scoundrel, Person A - who is rubbed the wrong way whenever Person B sees evidence for something being true that conflicts with Person A's worldview. This sort of thing is normally the domain of believers in a religion or philosophy or political ideology, but over the years a new group of loudly vocal naysayers has entered the fray - the Professional Skeptics.

Like most people, I don't like to think of myself as being deluded. I know how a microwave oven works, I know the Earth is round, and I don't think the Tooth Fairy took off with my molars when I was a kid. 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.

Some people put a lot of effort into defending their dogmas, and those who object to astrology are no different. I recently wrote a three-part series for Beliefnet in which I pointed out, very clearly and carefully, that the primary reasons skeptics of astrology give as to why astrology can't be "real" are simply Straw Men... misunderstandings or misrepresentations of how astrology is actually done. As of this writing, that series has received over a hundred comments... almost none of which address the actual observations I posted about the James Randi Educational Foundation's deeply-flawed anti-astrology textbook I was commenting on. And as of this writing, no one at JREF has accepted my Ten Dollar Challenge to prove me wrong, so... using their standard of proof... apparently they're wrong and I'm right.

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