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Astrology

Posted: Sun Jan 29, 2012 9:30 pm UTC
by Kow
I've been debating my friend on the truth or myth of astrology. My stance is that it's a load of horse crap but I'm having difficulty actually convincing her of that. I use arguments like how the procession of the earth means that our zodiac signs (by her metric, I know that some schools actually use this procession) are incorrect and that she's not actually the sign that she seems to match so well to and that confirmation bias often makes it seem like the predictions are accurate. I want to show her a study showing no correlation between birth month and personality but I can't seem to find one with my weak google-fu skills.

Does anyone know of a study that does this or some good arguments against astrology?

Re: Astrology

Posted: Sun Jan 29, 2012 9:56 pm UTC
by yurell
Get a very good astrological chart for her. If she agrees with it, point out that you used a completely different date of birth, or to grab several descriptions and ask her to find which is the one that describes her birth date (downside is, of course, her beliefs will likely be lent credence if she guesses right). Astrologers rely on vague terminology and subtle cues in order to make their 'predictions', even if you ignore the issues with regard to precession of the Zodiac and the change from the Julian to Gregorian calendars.

Here's a study I found via wikipedia citation link, although I don't know if it's accessible to everyone, so I'll copy the abstract here.
Spoiler:
Abstract: Many astrologers attribute a successful birth-chart reading to what
they call intuition or psychic ability, where the birth chart acts like a crystal ball.
As in shamanism, they relate consciousness to a transcendent reality that, if true,
might require a re-assessment of present biological theories of consciousness. In
Western countries roughly 1 person in 10,000 is practising or seriously studying
astrology, so their total number is substantial. Many tests of astrologers have
been made since the 1950s but only recently has a coherent review been possible.
A large-scale test of persons born less than five minutes apart found no hint of
the similarities predicted by astrology. Meta-analysis of more than forty controlled studies suggests that astrologers are unable to perform significantly
better than chance even on the more basic tasks such as predicting extraversion.
More specifically, astrologers who claim to use psychic ability perform no better
than those who do not. The possibility that astrology might be relevant to consciousness and psi is not denied, but such influences, if they exist in astrology,
would seem to be very weak or very rare.


While they conclude in the vague manner of science, the important lines are:
"Meta-analysis of more than forty controlled studies suggests that astrologers are unable to perform significantly better than chance even on the more basic tasks such as predicting extraversion.
More specifically, astrologers who claim to use psychic ability perform no better than those who do not."




I think the important thing is to ask her if she accepts the notion that if astrology can be used to make verifiable predictions, testing these predictions casts doubt on the legitimacy of astrology if they do not do better than chance. If she does accept that, you can likely have a reasoned discussion about it, and with evidence you'll likely eventually convince her. If not, the problem you're having is that she doesn't accept the reasoning behind what is essentially the scientific method, and so won't accept using it against astrology.

Trying to convince her that logic and evidence is the way to go will take a long time if she doesn't already believe it, even ignoring astrology completely for now, because it requires a large change in global outlook (obligatory Randi Foundation link). People are, essentially, the sum of their beliefs (I often hear "we are the weight of our convictions") and this is true; as such, you will never convince anyone outright by telling them that all their beliefs are wrong. Instead you need to show them that logic is a better way to do things in that you can find out what's real through empirical testing. The video link explains it much better and eloquently than I.

I hope this helps you! I tend to be a bit incoherent in my pre-coffee state I'm afraid.

Edit: If her school doesn't take into account precession, do they take account of the calendar change from Julian to Gregorian? Because that will be a major difference since you'd be talking about completely different days.

Re: Astrology

Posted: Sun Jan 29, 2012 10:09 pm UTC
by Kow
Hah. I was just about to post that study myself having just found it. The part I find most telling is the section about Time Twins which starts on page 187. It shows that the correlation due to birth time and location proximity is 0.00% +/- 0.03%.

I'll try the "do you think this makes testable predictions?" approach with her and hopefully I can explain how her personality matching up with her birth sign is just a statistical probability due to the law of large numbers. We'd been debating over text messages which isn't very conducive to addressing every point, but we'll be moving our discussion to a more immediate communication method of instant messaging.

Re: Astrology

Posted: Mon Jan 30, 2012 7:08 am UTC
by mercutio_stencil
I just like to talk about Eris; some forms of astrology take in to account Pluto, but none that I've seen have touched on the newest addition to our solar system. If Pluto is powerful enough to exert influence on our lives, than surely Eris is just as potent. Ceres should have some flow too, but no astrologer noticed a discrepancy between the persons sign and the orbits of the known planets, and saw fit to include a hypothetical "Planet X'.

Re: Astrology

Posted: Mon Jan 30, 2012 7:15 am UTC
by yurell
mercutio_stencil wrote:I just like to talk about Eris; some forms of astrology take in to account Pluto, but none that I've seen have touched on the newest addition to our solar system. If Pluto is powerful enough to exert influence on our lives, than surely Eris is just as potent. Ceres should have some flow too, but no astrologer noticed a discrepancy between the persons sign and the orbits of the known planets, and saw fit to include a hypothetical "Planet X'.


Given that you don't know by what mechanism these bodies (supposedly) influence people, how can you know that Eris would be as powerful as Pluto? It's pretty clearly mass- and distance-independent when you compare the (supposed) effects of the sun, Jupiter, Mercury and groups of stars light years away. Given that, I'm not sure how that argument will convince anyone who isn't already in the 'astrology is BS' camp.

On that note, though, my astrophysics lecturer suggested trying to convince astrologers to pay for a nice new space-borne gamma-ray telescope, trying to sell it on the fact it would let them see energy from the stars. :twisted:

Re: Astrology

Posted: Mon Jan 30, 2012 7:23 am UTC
by Proginoskes
I can never find my horoscope in the paper. You see, I'm a Cetus (the Whale).

Re: Astrology

Posted: Mon Jan 30, 2012 10:01 am UTC
by mfb
yurell wrote:Get a very good astrological chart for her. If she agrees with it, point out that you used a completely different date of birth, or to grab several descriptions and ask her to find which is the one that describes her birth date (downside is, of course, her beliefs will likely be lent credence if she guesses right).

In addition, show her the study of the professor which presented his students "personal" descriptions based on their time of birth. The students mainly agreed that the description is good - and afterwards, the professor revealed that all got the same text. I don't know the name of the study, but I think it is a nice way to show her how likely it is that a random astrology "prediction" fits to her.

The best thing is to induce doubts - let her find out as much as possible herself, if you come directly with "astrology is BS, here, take science" it is likely that she will not follow you.

Re: Astrology

Posted: Mon Jan 30, 2012 12:28 pm UTC
by userxp
mfb wrote:In addition, show her the study of the professor which presented his students "personal" descriptions based on their time of birth. The students mainly agreed that the description is good - and afterwards, the professor revealed that all got the same text. I don't know the name of the study, but I think it is a nice way to show her how likely it is that a random astrology "prediction" fits to her.


That's the Forer effect:
Bertram R. Forer wrote:You have a great need for other people to like and admire you. You have a tendency to be critical of yourself. You have a great deal of unused capacity which you have not turned to your advantage. While you have some personality weaknesses, you are generally able to compensate for them. Disciplined and self-controlled outside, you tend to be worrisome and insecure inside. At times you have serious doubts as to whether you have made the right decision or done the right thing. You prefer a certain amount of change and variety and become dissatisfied when hemmed in by restrictions and limitations. You pride yourself as an independent thinker and do not accept others' statements without satisfactory proof. You have found it unwise to be too frank in revealing yourself to others. At times you are extroverted, affable, sociable, while at other times you are introverted, wary, reserved. Some of your aspirations tend to be pretty unrealistic. Security is one of your major goals in life.

Re: Astrology

Posted: Mon Jan 30, 2012 1:30 pm UTC
by Copper Bezel

Re: Astrology

Posted: Mon Jan 30, 2012 2:46 pm UTC
by mfb
userxp wrote:That's the Forer effect:

Thanks.

In addition, it might be useful to show some of these things to show how unreliable the intuition can be sometimes.