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Not in Your Stars

Astronomy is science; astrology is superstition, mythology, and pseudoscience. Depending on how surveys ask the question, anywhere from 22 percent to 73 percent of people believe astrology is valid. Horoscopes still appear regularly in newspapers. Over 90 percent of adults know their zodiac sign. It never occurs to some people to question whether horoscopes are valid, and if they do think to ask the question, they may not have the necessary critical thinking skills to find the answer.

Kimberly Blaker has written a delightful new book, Horoscopes: Reality or Trickery?, that encourages readers to ask those questions and gives them the tools to find the answers for themselves. It is aimed at children age 9-13 but is also suitable for adults. It is short, entertaining, easy to read, and is illustrated with cartoons. She begins with her own horoscope and shows how the description seemed to fit her perfectly. Then she asks if there is a scientific explanation for why it seemed so true.

She covers the 5000-year history of astrology, how it was originally used as a guide for when to plant crops and as a source of omens to guide the state, and how zodiac signs and horoscopes were a later development. She goes over the evidence for astrology and shows how it is flawed, based on unreliable testimonials and flawed reasoning. She says, “Scientific studies make it possible to examine a claim and determine its validity.” And then she goes over all the scientific studies that have shown no correlation between astrological bodies and personalities or life events. She points out that the position of the Sun shifts over time and is now off by one whole zodiac sign, and astrologers have not made any adjustments.

She reviews the psychology of how people are misled into thinking their horoscope is accurate for them. In one study, 94 percent of people recognized themselves in the horoscope of a serial killer! People remember the hits and forget the misses, they like to read things that make them feel good about themselves, they are looking for something to help them make decisions, and they react to a self-fulfilling prophecy by changing their behavior so that the prediction comes true.

She asks if there is any harm in believing in astrology and shows that yes, it can be harmful. It can waste money and can lead to poor decisions and illogical thinking.

Horoscopes: Reality or Trickery? (book cover)

Order the book for a child you know! Recommended for ages 9–13 (but also suitable for adults).

In a final chapter, she encourages readers to try a series of fun, informative activities to examine astrology for themselves. They can compare horoscopes from different sources to look for contradictions. They can follow their own horoscopes and tally how many predictions came true versus those that didn’t (“You’re prone to accidents today.” “You’ll get a big surprise.”). They can show a single horoscope to lots of people and tally how many agree that it describes them well. If astrology is valid, only one in 12 should agree, but most horoscopes are so vague that most people can see themselves in them.

Blaker provides a good explanation of how we know astrology doesn’t work and why some people still believe it does. In the process, she teaches valuable lessons in critical thinking. This book is the first in a planned series of Sleuthing for Explanations books from Grove Press. I look forward to seeing more in the series. In this age of fake news, it is vital that we teach critical thinking skills to our children at an early age, and books like this are a perfect way to get the job done.

About the Author

Dr. Harriet Hall, MD, the SkepDoc, is a retired family physician and Air Force Colonel living in Puyallup, WA. She writes about alternative medicine, pseudoscience, quackery, and critical thinking. She is a contributing editor to both Skeptic and Skeptical Inquirer, an advisor to the Quackwatch website, and an editor of sciencebasedmedicine.org, where she writes an article every Tuesday. She is author of Women Aren’t Supposed to Fly: The Memoirs of a Female Flight Surgeon. Her website is SkepDoc.info.

16 Comments

  1. OldNassau67 says:

    “She begins with her own horoscope and shows how the description seemed to fit her perfectly.”
    The question is not that a person’s horoscope fits him perfectly, but whether another person’s horoscope does so also.

  2. K. Kemp says:

    Most horoscopes are generic “good advice.” Eat healthy food. . Get out of the house more. Be careful who you trust. I like to go down the column and see how many of the items would suit me. Usually all of them do.

  3. Brad tittle says:

    After reading Macroscope, by Piers Anthony, I dug into astrology with a vigor. I found all the books I needed and proceeded to do charts for everyone I knew. I read the analysis for each person and they seemed to fit resonably. But then I applied each of them to myself and they also seemed to fit.

    I cast off that hobby.

    Years later, I went to a new age festival. One of the speakers was a prominent astrologer. He was giving private reading to people. Somehow I managed to be at an adjacent table to one of those readings. He had a big book with him. He listened to the birthdate of the mark and opened his book. I glanced at the page. There was nothing of note on it. It may have just been an encyclopedia. He proceeded to give the analysis.

    He did 0 calculations.

    He didn’t need to do any calculations. The advice he gave the mark wasn’t bad. It wasn’t much of anything. It sounded good though. She went away happy, $50 lighter.

    I didn’t jump up and declare him a charlatan. I got up with my wife and left. I was a little wiser. I have tried to share that wisdom from time to time. The people who laugh at it already had the wisdom. The people who didn’t make excuses for the astrologer. Then there are the folks who just aren’t listening at all.

    Those folks manage to stay alive. That is the most confounding thing.

    But that they stay alive is also science.

  4. Bad Boy Scientist says:

    As an Astronomer and educator, I usually roll my eyes when I read of yet another book debunking Astrology. They’re like warnings on cigarette packs: nice but how many minds have they changed? However, this book is different. First it is aimed at 9-13 year olds which is the perfect age to get excited about the scientific method. This review makes it sound like the book is prepping budding scientists in how to conduct tests. I’ll have to read the book myself to confirm this. Testing ideas takes more than critical thinking skills (else we wouldn’t need to offer Ph.D.s in all the various branches of science – we could do with just one: Critical Thinking). This book sounds good.

    Still, I ask skeptics to please not over-sell the dangers of Astrology. There are many things that lead to bad decisions and can waste money: alcohol, weed, lotteries, TV, the internet, self-help books, lack of sleep. The dangers of Astrology are comparatively minor. (As a STEM professional, I am more worried about the stuff coming from the Academic Left than Astrology – I never hear skeptics tackle that thorny issue.)

    FWIW: One of my favorite tongue-in-cheek warnings against Astrology involved Hitler! Der Fuhrer had Astrologers and the Allies were able to deduce when he felt bold or cautious and used that against him. If he eschewed Astrology and had been more rational he could have won WWII and we’d all be speaking German now. And there would not be any neo-nazis since we’d still have nazis 1.0! Just think of what Astrology has cost the human race!

  5. Judy K says:

    One of the funniest predictions I ever read, although not strictly a horoscope, stated “there will be techtonic (sic) activity this year.” I certainly hope so.

  6. innaiah Narisetti says:

    This book perfectly suits to several countries like India where astrology has become menacingly popular. The message of the book should go into nooks and corners

  7. innaiah Narisetti says:

    This can be published

  8. Jim says:

    While the menu at a Chinese restaurant has a calendar indicating someone is born the year of the ox, monkey or dragon, I suppose one might be raised differently in China based on the year you are born and grow to fit different expectations. That might therefore have more credibility than the whole concept of astrology, where life experiences are less likely affected by one’s “sign .” However, I don’t buy the Chinese restaurant concept either.

  9. Darby IV says:

    Bad Boy Scientist says: “(As a STEM professional, I am more worried about the stuff coming from the Academic Left than Astrology – I never hear skeptics tackle that thorny issue.)”

    Could you provide an example?
    Thanks

  10. Bad Boy Scientist says:

    @Darby,

    Check out the book _Higher Superstition_ by Gross & Levitt – it’s old but still relevant (you can see traces of anti-science in many of their texts).

    Note also their trend of _silencing_ voices on campuses when they disagree.

    Recall, their apologetics for antifa’s violence.

    Also, they were some of the most vocal champions of Political Correctness – and its absurd excesses (rule of thumb – how embarassing for them)

    Some even fear that sociology and psychology have become infected with creeping pseudoscience.

    That should give you a good starting point, as you dig you will see much more to be skeptical about some branches of academia.

  11. Barbara Harwood says:

    I seem to recall reading the astrology page in a newspaper one time that seemed to suggest that everybody in all sings should go out and have a good time. I ten turned to the entertainment page to see what they were advertising.
    To people who are into astrology, it seems that any suggestion that you do not believe in it suggests that you are typical of your sign. I could never figure out how one twelfth of the people in the world could all have the same experiences. Even if broken down into everybody born on exactly the same day, hour, and minute, it is about as believable as having Santga Claus come down the chimney in every house in the world at the same time
    There is another school of thought. We like to hear good things about ourselves. Each sign, supposedly, has a negative aspect.
    As far as making decisions is concerned, some people seem t think that buying a lottery ticket after a very lucky escape of some sort will continue to bring good luck. This is the same flawed thinking that a gambler uses after a big win, which inevitably leads to the loss of the winnings and more.

  12. Bob Sidethink Pease says:

    to repeat myself every 29 years:

    Astrology is a religion.
    It has dogma, liturgy and clergy

    It is the last refuge for the philosophically desperate

    It is centered on the belief that the Christian calendar is the center of time

    it is anti-scientific by any definition of the term

    The constellation Ophiucus is not included but it is there since the shift has moved a whole “sign” since the Christian era
    to quote the Philosopher Butthead
    “it sucks more thanything COULD suck ”

    the only thing I have to say to asstrologist folks is
    “sounds cool to me,,, What about them Broncks !! ”

    Dr S,

    (spoken like a true TauroAries)

  13. Edward Gibbons says:

    Now I lay my head on the chopping block on Tower Hill – where the less exalted were relieved that thing on their shoulders.

    Many more believe in the superstitious belief called religion with it’s supernatural and fantastic occurrences than believe in astrology. Consider how astrology and, say, Christianity are intertwined. It can’t be just a coinkydinky. Twelve zodiac signs, nominally. Twelve apostles, twelve minor prophets in the old testament, many more examples (Patheos, Christian Crier). Not to mention the twelve days of Christmas. Not sure which borrowed from the other, but astrology is earlier than Christianity, perhaps not earlier than Judaism? At least with astrology there are actually stars and constellations up there to enjoy and dream about. None of these beliefs and articles of ‘faith’ are science, nor is sociology, psyco-cology, rune stones. Science is physics, micro biology, geology. And, No – have not read a horoscope in decades, or attended ‘services’ in least the same span.

  14. innaiah Narisetti says:

    Teach astronomy with comparitive table of astrology. That will give clear idea as to which one is unscientific and which one is scientific. Students will know and follow the truth.

  15. awc says:

    I have been a subscriber to skeptic and the proponents of critical thinking for a considerable time. Many of the arguments are tried and true, redundant. Those in opposition to the facts have such a weak footing in science in order to have a meaningful debate requires a two year education in astrophysics, philosophy of science and the scientific method (hyperbole granted). Really, they are literally observing the universe through a different lense.

    Demonstrating how wrong someone is only entrenches them appling confirmation bias.

    You need to appeal to the emotional need being met by the belief in order to have change perspective. Replace the fictional fulfillment with something grounded in reality, fact and truth. This requires considerable more investment than reading a 5 min blog article, single book, 30 min conversation or 1 hour YouTube debate. In addition assumes the party is receptive to enlightenment.

    Anyway, I find a lot of the articles like this obvious and pedestrian.

    Cheers fellow skeptic evangelicals.
    Awc

  16. W. Corvi says:

    I appreciate that this is aimed at kids who are trying to figure out what is real and what is fantasy. When I was about 10, I was very interested in astronomy. My older brother bought a horoscope from some vending machine; I wanted to study and understand it. Unfortunately, due to the sign not being a whole month, he’d bought the wrong one (he was born Dec 29). When he claimed it fit him perfectly, so therefore it works, I started to question the whole thing.

    What isn’t reasoned in cannot be reasoned out. We must start before it gets in.

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