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Aug 16 2010

Structured guessology and rewriting history to suit astrology

The “debate” on astrology that I’d hoped to foment has finally kicked into… medium gear, I guess, when two new astrologers joined the fray to provide some anecdotes and a few selected “hits” as evidence. Several of the players have claimed that astrology can’t properly be used to predict stuff, and the man who was so keen on debating has pretty much given up on actually talking about the topic and is merely sniping and making specious claims about the Large Hadron Collider.

I really can’t do the comments section of that post justice in a new post off-thread, though I felt the need to direct you to a post from last month by George W, which you may have missed the first time around, regarding the Polaris software mentioned by James Alexander. This software is some sort of rapid means of determining astrological events — a quicker way of calculating the information for a person’s natal chart, basically — which he uses to “reconcile” people’s birth information. Meaning, he takes events from their lives, plops them into the program, with the age of the person involved, and it tells them when they were really born, to the minute. Even if it differs from the birth certificate, or the doctors’ recollections, or the parents’ recollections. Never mind all that obviously errant information — if it conflicts with the program, then obviously the program has given you the TRUE time of birth. Or when you were SUPPOSED to be born. George explains:

With the foreknowledge that astrology is more accurate at calculating birth times then, say, a clock or watch which was invented solely for the purpose of time keeping; Subject A gives a list of significant events from their lives and a list of probable birth times and Polaris extracts the most likely one based on a points system.

How eminently scientific! I can still see how this program could be used to disprove itself though.

Let’s say someone bought the program, gathered birth time information on several individuals using clocks that are accurate to the millisecond, witnessing and documenting firsthand the indisputable birth times. Wait say, 20 years and input events from those individuals lives and a wide range of birth times and voila, the indisputable birth time must surely emerge!

Think any of these astrologers would try this? I doubt it. Not only is rectification a rather small branch of astrology, but it’s evidently rather hotly debated within astrology as well. I say this not because I’ve seen any actual debates, but because astrologers differ grossly in how much influence they ascribe to the very astrology on which they depend for their livelihoods. Take Marina Funk, for example, who says:

Jamie was just trying to answer your question playing in the same ball park. But the point is 75% of astrology does not play in that ball park. 80% of our work is NOT mundane astrology, we do it because people like to see Astrologers try and predict stuff, but really its just us using our intuition guided by the planets. The planets are not dictating what humans are actually going to do, they are just showing the astrological weather.

Get it? You can’t actually predict things using astrology with any degree of efficacy, but we do it anyway because our clients like us doing it. But when we do it, we’re using our own intuitions about the situation, colored by what we assume might happen due to influences of the planets.

This is structured guessology. It’s cold-reading without the malicious intent — or at least I’m assuming it’s without that malice, giving her the benefit of the doubt. She probably even believes she’s doing a kindness for the person by attempting a cold-reading despite her doubts that the planets actually have very much influence.

But, I mean, honestly, why do I keep fighting with them? I mean, what’s the harm of allowing people to go on believing these astrologers are gleaning some deep insights about humanity, then?

Oh, and this is evidently post number 1000. However I suspect the post count also includes drafts that I’ve since scrapped, as it was 998 yesterday and I didn’t post anything. Anyway, hooray for me!

Update: George W points out in the comments that he’s repeatedly offered James Alexander an opportunity to test his Polaris software. He’s written a post following up on that fact, and summarizing the current round’s tactics quite well, as such:

I can summarize the new flavor of the debate like so:

1. Astrology doesn’t need a mechanism. It also apparently doesn’t need to have a quantifiable effect. In fact, it doesn’t seem to need anything other than a 3000 year pedigree and some nifty anecdotes.

2. Astrologers are not responsible to give any evidence to prove that astrology works. Science needs to prove a negative so that astrologers can critique these studies as faulty. Scientific method be damned.

3. Skeptics continually disregard “hits” out of hand. Even if those hits are based on ambiguous guesswork that could be viewed as a “hit” no matter which way the winds blow.

4. Astrologers like to insist that we divulge our personal information rather than subject their “field of study” to any semblance of a scientific assessment.

This is entirely accurate. Robert Currey’s tactic has been to handwave away any study or meta-analysis on astrology as being “flawed”, even though meta-analysis is a well-established way of gleaning real data from data whose studies were flawed. Meanwhile, he ignore any requests for studies providing any positive evidence of astrology’s validity, exactly as George’s point number two suggests.

Make no mistake. The burden of proof is not on skeptics to DISprove astrology, though there is a number of studies and meta-analyses we have pointed out that show astrology to be no better than chance.

8 comments

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  1. 1
    anonstargazer

    OK – from whatstheharm – one article is about a scam involving a curse, not astrology. The second is about an Indian prediction, in a country where you cannot put a pin between the sidereal astrologer’s, there are that many, not that that means anything, but anyway. The third article is about numerology, not astrology and the last, relates to the individual and her actions, again, no actual astrology or her using astrology for the job at hand as mentioned! So, one out of FOUR links relates to actual astrological prediction hurting an individual, or in this instance, the financial environment of individuals.

  2. 2
    anonstargazer

    Oh and geez, even that Indian article states it was a HOAX and a rumour, with no actual known origin. A rumour based on astrology or some ancient Indian text that was discredited by scientists and leading astrologer’s at the time!

  3. 3
    Jason Thibeault

    The scam about the curse was predicated on the idea that the astrologer had some special knowledge. She identifies as an astrologer, and probably uses astrological principles in her fortune-telling. She played a long con, given cover by “legitimate astrologers”‘ credibility, not that there’s such a thing as a legitimate astrologer.

    The astrologer/numerologist, I agree, should have been put under numerology rather than astrology, but I’m guessing the person was included because of their self-reported astrologer status. That specific scam had nothing to do with astrology, but who knows how many other people were scammed using astrology by that same person?

    The Indian article states that ASTROLOGERS say the ASTROLOGICAL PREDICTION was a hoax, not that the abandonment of the town was a hoax. People uncritically repeated it, despite its source, and eventually abandoned the town, because so many of them believed it. The point is, this greivous harm was predicated on the idea that astrologers have some sort of insight, when they don’t. Whether that “hoax” was agreed-upon by other astrologers later, is a different story.

    And go ahead, find two astrologers today that agree with one another. Do your birth chart with several different astrologers and you’ll get different answers and “insights”. Most of the hits will be no better than cold-readings. That astrologers later disagreed with these predictions is orthogonal.

    I include the “what’s the harm” links because someone once asked me why I bother to fight beliefs that are otherwise harmless. I fight them because the beliefs themselves may be only indirectly harmful, but they provide cover for the really big scam artists like the ones listed in that site.

  4. 4
    George W.

    Congratulations on post #1000!
    I appreciate the plug. You may want to cross post some of my comments from the “smells like funk” thread as they directly concern a challenge I have offered James.
    I want to play his “monkey chess”, but he wants me to discuss the intricacies of “castling” before he’ll come and play.

  5. 5
    George W.

    Oh, and I have a new Daily Horoscope post, though it’s mostly a summation and a reiteration of my challenge to Polaris. You may want to add that too.

  6. 6
    anonstargazer

    These ‘whattheharms’ are not valid and are hoax’s or scams. The curse hoax comes from fraudulent individuals who identify themselves as astrologers, psychics, tarot readers, whatever – and they prey on the vulnerable. They are well worthy of your scorn and attack.

    The Indian article clearly stated that it was a hoax, the people leaving actually relates back to my original comment when you think about it, as India is a country that believes heavily in astrology. Sidereal astrology is actually extremely negative and very doom orientated, which is why western astrology is so popular. However, as the people who believe in astrology were led astray by a RUMOUR, which even scientist’s disclaimed – you can have half a point for that one.

    Seriously, if you are going to use fraudulent scams, which there is a higher proportion who use medical sagas, or banking lies, to entice people in parting with their money – you need a better source. Plus, these stories are about individuals, just like the accounts clerk who is tempted to muddle the books, or the light-fingered cash register operator – thieves and liars are everywhere.

    Yet, you choose to use flimsy articles as a source to fuel your vendetta and yet again, attempt to discredit a website and service you have not even used.

    This is no better than what you claim the astrologer’s are doing. Seriously, when will people learn to live by example instead of throwing stones.

  7. 7
    anonstargazer

    You know what, I feel quite duped here. In your mind, you have the right to pick at random, a website that moves outside of your belief system, use the full names of the business operators, slander/ridicule/defame them in any way that you see fit and not even support your REASON for saving the day with SOLID PROOF.

    Let’s look at this Indian article properly now shall wee, since I deserved caps.

    ****************************

    Thousands of workers have fled India’s largest ship-breaking yard, after rumours predicting large-scale destruction as a result of a peculiar planetary formation.

    More than 60,000 workers have left the port town of Alang, in the belief that the town will be devastated by a cyclone and flooding on Saturday 8 May.

    Leading Indian scientists and astrologers have dismissed the rumour as “nonsense”.

    Nobody quite knows how the rumour began.

    According to one Indian newspaper, the doomsday prediction was published in the April issue of an astrological magazine.

    Some others have pointed to a doomsday prediction in some ancient Indian religious texts.

    Economic devastation

    Whatever the origin of the rumour, it has already had a devastating impact on the economy of a flourishing port township in western India.

    **********************************

    How about you, your cronies and the dripping, abusive sarcasm that borders on impending legal disaster, read your sources properly, learn to debate without insult and find a realistic scenario in which to base your ‘just cause’. Find a true situation where astrology, not the people who believe in hoax’s, rumours, or curses – who do have to take responsibility for their own stupidity – or who have not been told what they WANT to hear – how about you go and find a situation where astrology has hurt people. Seriously, now even astrology is being blamed for superstition and human stupidity?

    When you consider that astrology is far older than the religion you so detest and the science that you so love, you really have nothing. To quote myself earlier on, only two modern day leaders, that we know of, have ever used astrology. There are THOUSANDS of astrologers and even more people in society who are fascinated by the practice – yet, even YOU can only come up with four ridiculous newspaper articles that have no true basis.

    If you fully believe that you have the right to be so opinionated about this and feel it is your due to save the world from evil, fraudulent astrologer’s, who have no other intention than to bend the mind’s of the weak and reduce people to their knees, you are going to have to do better than this because…

    you got nothing!

  8. 8
    Jason Thibeault

    I’m sorry, I was unaware that I was supposed to offer solid proof for an opinion. Especially one as logically derived as, “people claiming astrology is real give cover to scam artists claiming their special knowledge of astrology makes their scam real”.

    Beyond this, I see nothing in this comment but baseless pejoratives. The fact that I consider astrology to be nonsense does not mean I, by extension, sneer, or drip with sarcasm, or that I’m inviting legal disaster by risking the ire of someone who claims special knowledge but provides no real evidence for it.

    Astrology is borne of superstition and human stupidity. I blame superstition and human stupidity for the pain caused people by scam artists. I fight astrology because it is not based in reality, and that it causes real people real harm by providing nonsense input into decision making processes, and by sucking money out of their pockets, and by teaching people that this world operates in a manner grossly different from how it actually appears to operate. That it is a very old practice, older than certain specific religions and older than the science that has shown it to be nonsense, does not make it correct. Geocentrism is older than heliocentrism but that doesn’t mean the sun rotates around the earth.

    And I have to say, I’m worried for you, that you are as foaming-at-the-mouth mad about a single link showing that some people have bought into astrology and certain astrologers’ words, and my assertion that if you don’t fight astrology, you’re tacitly allowing such outrages. I honestly can see no reason to get so incredibly outraged as you are that these events were ascribed to self-professed astrologers, or to make the claims that you are making that my linking that site is somehow proof that this is the only argument I have against astrology. Especially after I have (apparently wastefully) devoted so much time to making proper arguments, arguments I have STILL not yet seen countered with any degree of efficacy.

    I’m sorry that the website did not have more examples of self-professed astrologers hurting people. If I ran it, I would put more of a focus on it, since there are so many people that seem to want to believe in nonsense desperately, and so many people like yourself willing to defend nonsense against skeptics.

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