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Feb 19 2014

Belief in Astrology Goes Up

Chris Mooney reports on a new survey that shows that a higher percentage of Americans believe that astrology is at least somewhat scientific than at any time in more than 30 years. That’s kind of depressing, don’t you think? It feels like a blow to scientific progress to me.

According to data from the National Science Foundation’s just-released 2014 Science and Engineering Indicators study, Americans are moving in Perry’s direction. In particular, the NSF reports that the percentage of Americans who think astrology is “not at all scientific” declined from 62 percent in 2010 to just 55 percent in 2012 (the last year for which data is available). As a result, NSF reports that Americans are apparently less skeptical of astrology than they have been at any time since 1983.

The data on Americans’ astrological beliefs are compiled by NSF but come from a variety of sources; since 2006 they have come from the General Social Survey. Over the years, the GSS and other surveys have asked Americans a recurring question: “Would you say that astrology is very scientific, sort of scientific, or not at all scientific?”

In response, a substantial minority of Americans, ranging from 31 to 45 percent depending on the year, say consider astrology either “very scientific” or “sort of scientific.” That’s bad enough—the NSF report compares it with China, where 92 percent of the public does not believe in horoscopes—but the new evidence suggests we are also moving in the wrong direction. Indeed, the percentage of Americans who say astrology is scientifically bunk has been declining ever since a high point for astrology skepticism in 2004, when it hit 66 percent.

The survey also finds that belief in astrology correlates with a lack of science education, which is hardly surprising.

31 comments

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  1. 1
    jamessweet

    It’s worth noting that the percentage of people who find it “totally scientific” is fairly low, even historically. It’s the people who find it “somewhat scientific” that have grown.

    I’m not sure exactly what that means…

  2. 2
    Cuttlefish

    I thought (can’t remember where) this result was partially explained by the number of people who conflated “astrology” with “astronomy”. Among those who made the distinction properly, extremely few thought astrology was scientific.

  3. 3
    flex

    This came up on Mano’s blog a week ago.

    I encourage you, and apparently Chris Mooney to look at the data, here is the link:

    http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/seind14/content/chapter-7/at07-13.pdf

    The jump occurs at all ages and all educational levels.

    When a result like this crops up, it’s probably more related to a change in the methodology than 3-4% of people across all ages and educational levels in the in the US suddenly changing their opinions within a 2 year span.

    Also note that while the stories say that this is the worst it’s been since 1983, the year 2001 has very comparable numbers to 2012.

  4. 4
    flex

    James Sweet @1, wrote,

    It’s worth noting that the percentage of people who find it “totally scientific” is fairly low, even historically. It’s the people who find it “somewhat scientific” that have grown.

    I’m not seeing that in the raw data. It looks like overall the percentage of people who called it “Very Scientific” went from 6% in 2010 to 10% in 2012. It hasn’t been this high since 1983, although it’s was at 9% in 2001.

    “Totally scientific” is not a category. I didn’t read Mooney’s article, but does he make the claim for “totally scientific” numbers dropping.

  5. 5
    Patrick Monagin

    Here is an article in which the author argues that this is more a case of people not understanding the question. He points out that a lot of people answering that astrology is scientific are really confusing astrology with astronomy. Especially among younger persons.

  6. 6
    Modusoperandi

    Of course more people believe in astrology! What else would you expect with Jupiter in acronical place and Mars, Mercury and Neptune in grand trine?

  7. 7
    Akira MacKenzie

    I’m sure Chris’ next article will be about how astrology is perfectly compatible with science and that strident astronomers are driving people to take horoscopes seriiously. This will result in another big check from his sugar daddies atnthe Templeton Foundation.

  8. 8
    eric

    I’m willing to believe that this jump is due to people confusing astrology with astronomy (per @2 and @5). I would note, however, that that still a failure of science education. A different type of failure, yes, but a failure nonetheless.

  9. 9
    Gretchen

    I’m sure Chris’ next article will be about how astrology is perfectly compatible with science and that strident astronomers are driving people to take horoscopes seriiously. This will result in another big check from his sugar daddies atnthe Templeton Foundation.

    If that doesn’t happen, will you reconsider your apparent belief that accepting money from institutions you find questionable means that a person will say anything for money?

    I thought not.

  10. 10
    Area Man

    Chris Mooney reports on a new survey that shows that a higher percentage of Americans believe that astrology is at least somewhat scientific than at any time in more than 30 years.

    Another way of putting this is that fewer people today believe in astrology than did 30 years ago.

    I had the same problem with this reporting that people above did. It’s unclear whether there is any trend at all or if we’re just seeing noise. The category “sort of scientific” is highly ambiguous and should not be crammed in with “very scientific”. People who answer “sort of”, which is about 3 times as many who answer “very”, could exist anywhere across a wide spectrum of skepticism and credulity.

    Also, good catch by flex@3 — a sudden jump across all demographic groups since the last survey just two years prior screams sampling error. A sudden, culture-wide shift in opinion that transcends gender, age, and education seems rather unlikely.

  11. 11
    abb3w

    If you really want to look at the data, it looks to be from the GSS-2012 survey, variable ASTROSCI. You can play with that over at the Berkeley SDA.

    @3, flex

    When a result like this crops up, it’s probably more related to a change in the methodology than 3-4% of people across all ages and educational levels in the in the US suddenly changing their opinions within a 2 year span.

    Possibly; but it’s not clear whether there has been any such change in NORC’s GSS methodology. The NORC documentation does not indicate anything obvious, at least.

    In addition, they seem unlikely to be affected by the rise of cell phones, as their survey is still done by in-person at-home interviews.

    @5, Patrick Monagin

    Here is an article in which the author argues that this is more a case of people not understanding the question.

    Supporting that, the effect appears nil for WORDSUM scores above 8 — those with vocabulary skills best able to understand the question.

    Contrariwise, this does not explain the change — why are more people having understanding the question than in the past? WORDSUM is primarily used as a proxy for intelligence g — it may just be that the stupid are increasingly growing more willfully ignorant.

  12. 12
    lldayo

    I’m actually more confused on how a country, China, only has 8% of the population believing in astrology but from everything I know about their culture seems to believe in luck more than most others.

  13. 13
    davefitz

    I do like how the initial ad at the top of this article was for a super accurate horoscope.

  14. 14
    Area Man

    I’m actually more confused on how a country, China, only has 8% of the population believing in astrology but from everything I know about their culture seems to believe in luck more than most others.

    The question as phrased it had to do with horoscopes. I don’t know for sure, but while the Chinese have their own well-developed form of astrology, my guess is that daily horoscopes are a Western import and not part of their tradition.

  15. 15
    heddle

    Akira MacKenzie,

    I’m sure Chris’ next article will be about how astrology is perfectly compatible with science and that strident astronomers are driving people to take horoscopes seriiously. This will result in another big check from his sugar daddies atnthe Templeton Foundation.

    What a asinine statement. The group of atheists that have “accommodationist tests of orthodoxy” are jackasses. Mooney does a lot of good writing on science–he’s good for science. But alas he is outside the circle of orthodoxy, which has a radius of about a Planck length.

    Be careful. The lidless eye might someday see you stepping outside the boundary.

  16. 16
    heddle

    Quote error–the first paragraph I’m sure Chris… in #15 should be blockquoted.

  17. 17
    anubisprime

    Well the more their innate incredulity of the natural world is stretched into Astrology the fewer left to sing praises to jeebus!

    OK it swaps one delusion for another but exposes them to other aspects of deity which are not Christian in taste or format…the inevitable erosion of one deity worship for polytheistic principles is, I suggest easier to debunk.

    If that is what the survey attempts to claim, which really is far from certain.

  18. 18
    flex

    abb3w @11 wrote,

    If you really want to look at the data, it looks to be from the GSS-2012 survey, variable ASTROSCI.

    Yeah. After I wrote the comment I realized that calling it raw data was a mistake. What I referenced was the compiled data in the appendixes. My mistake and I apologize for it.

    Thanks for the additional link.

  19. 19
    cry4turtles

    Bill Nye to the rescue!

  20. 20
    d.c.wilson

    I’d like someone to do a survey to see if there is any correlation to be belief in astrology and belief in creationism.

  21. 21
    democommie

    “In addition, they seem unlikely to be affected by the rise of cell phones, as their survey is still done by in-person at-home interviews.”

    Not across ALL demographics then. People with cellphones, expeshly young people with cellphones, are not comfortable being interviewed in their homes–if they’re ever in them.

    As for objectivity. Taking money from the Templeton Foundations is not, in and of itself, wrong, but it immediately calls into question the credibility of the taker. Neal DeGrass Tyson took their coin and I no longer pay a lot of attention to him. Not saying he’s not smart, I’m saying I don’t trust him to be objective.

    The last time my union struck against Verizon, the Boston Teamsters were happy to loan us their sound system on an 40′ flatbed. All we had to do was embrace them, publicly, as union brothers. I lost most of the respect I had for our union’s reps that day.

  22. 22
    democommie

    Fuck! I just read the newspaper and I am informed by my “Star Guide” that I should not have gotten into an argument with anyone, at anytime after 3:00 PM, EST, today. SHIT!!

  23. 23
    heddle

    d.c.wilson #20,

    I’d like someone to do a survey to see if there is any correlation to be belief in astrology and belief in creationism.

    Yes–that would be fascinating.

    dc #22,

    Fuck! I just read the newspaper and I am informed by my “Star Guide” that I should not have gotten into an argument with anyone, at anytime after 3:00 PM, EST, today. SHIT!!

    Ha! I am reminded of alleged Neils Bohr comment when it was noted that he had a horseshoe over his door. When asked if a great scientist such as he thought it would really bring him luck, he replied “Of course not, but I hear it works even if you don’t believe it!”

  24. 24
    Area Man

    I’d like someone to do a survey to see if there is any correlation to be belief in astrology and belief in creationism.

    That’s easy enough to check with the GSS. Go to the link provided @11 above, put ASTROSCI for row and EVOLVED1 for column.

    Yes, there’s a correlation. People more likely to believe in astrology are more likely to be creationists (according to the wording of the question). But it’s not very strong.

  25. 25
    Chris

    @Heddle.

    “Be careful. The lidless eye might someday see you stepping outside the boundary.”

    That is some serious weapons grade projection.

    But you’re right, groups that have tests for Orthodoxy, particularly groups that have regular schisms creating hundreds of separate ideologies while trying to put the same “name tag” on themselves deserve nothing but spite.

    Yep.

  26. 26
    heddle

    Chris Adam-Connor,

    But you’re right, groups that have tests for Orthodoxy, particularly groups that have regular schisms creating hundreds of separate ideologies while trying to put the same “name tag” on themselves deserve nothing but spite.

    Is that like: {Accomodationists, Dictionary Atheists, A+ers, pitters, Gnu Atheists, SJW, etc?} Is that what you are talking about? Please clarify.

  27. 27
    anubisprime

    Area Man @ 24

    Yes, there’s a correlation. People more likely to believe in astrology are more likely to be creationists (according to the wording of the question). But it’s not very strong.

    I would imagine that is difficult to quantify really.

    Creationists tend to the literal nonsense about their god and more likely to be fundy…they are not that curious about rival spirituality, which they assume is the devil’s work, and certainly nothing with a scientific basis cos that would be in direct contravention of their hero and his rules and regulations.

    Seems it is only the apologists and the head honchos that contend there is a compatibility there, mainly to avoid being laughed at, and the rank and file tend to scoot beneath the claim cos science is not their thing and besides the theology of their cult belongs in the head honchos hands…their role is to do what they are told and pay the piper.

    Those that are ‘Creationists’ and interested in Astrology are, I assume, folks that like spiritual tales, probably no idea about depth but would buy any crappola cos on the surface it looks all woo and mysterious and greater supernatural powers.

    Next year they are as likely to be Buddhist or even Pagan…they are not exactly the most stable in pure ‘belief’ but are hooked on ‘belief’ for the fix they need.

    The same that are more likely to get into conspiracy theories, like moon landings and 9/11 and suffer paranoia of government…

    It is an interesting thought though.
    If Astrology is truly on the up the strangle hold of the jeebus rangers is weakening.
    They are haemorrhaging members anyway and seems the fish barrel, where they snaggle fresh meat for their delusion, is not offering the same takes as it traditionally used to.

    They are withering on the vine.

  28. 28
    democommie

    “Is that like: {Accomodationists, Dictionary Atheists, A+ers, pitters, Gnu Atheists, SJW, etc?} Is that what you are talking about? Please clarify.’

    I don’t think that there are anywhere near a hundred different flavors of atheism. There are approximately umpty thousands of strains of various religions.

    I think Chris Adams-Connor pot-meet-kettle comment is apt.

  29. 29
    democommie

    “Chris Adam-Connor’s pot-meet-kettle comment is apt.”

  30. 30
    Area Man

    @27

    Keep in mind that the GSS attempts to make a representative survey of every dunderhead out there, most of whom don’t know or care much about creationism or astrology. They see these questions and answer according to basic cultural prejudices. The creationists you run across on the net are {shudder} comparatively well informed and actually take some interest in theology, which is often hostile to the hippie-dippy spiritualism of astrology.

  31. 31
    abb3w

    @21, democommie

    People with cellphones, expeshly young people with cellphones, are not comfortable being interviewed in their homes–if they’re ever in them.

    NORC’s methodology includes procedures that attempt to mitigate that.

    @24, Area Man

    That’s easy enough to check with the GSS. Go to the link provided @11 above, put ASTROSCI for row and EVOLVED1 for column. Yes, there’s a correlation. People more likely to believe in astrology are more likely to be creationists (according to the wording of the question). But it’s not very strong.

    Further complicating it, the correlation for ASTROSCI and EVOLVED (another variant of the question) is weakly in the other direction, if you aggregate the 2006-2012 data. The effect is weak enough that it may well be a jellybean.

    @27, anubisprime

    I would imagine that is difficult to quantify really.

    Not really difficult to quantify; while the link first takes you to the frequencies/crosstabs option, the SDA also includes tools for computing basic Pearson’s correlation strengths and logit/probit regressions.

    Difficult to untangle any causation underlying (non)correlation, yes — for much the reasons you give. Some forms of indoctrination in one kind of lunacy can help insulate against accepting other competing forms of lunacy.

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