Some people think astrology is a science – here's why

Jul 02, 2014 by Nick Allum, The Conversation
Your lottery is due, say the zodiac signs on the tarot card. Credit: kvijesh, CC BY-NC-SA

Most people reading this article will have also read their horoscope at least once. Even though scientific studies have never found evidence for the claims astrologers make, some people still think astrology is scientific. We are now beginning to understand why, and people's personalities might have something to do with it.

Astrology columns are widespread and have been around for a surprisingly long time. One of the earliest recorded columnists was 17th century astrologer William Lilly, who was reputed to have predicted the Great Fire of London, albeit 14 years too early.

The idea behind astrology is that stars and planets have some influence on human affairs and terrestrial events. And horoscopes are an astrologer's foretelling of a person's life based on the relative positions of and .

These forecasts are regularly read around the world. According to the Wellcome Trust Monitor Survey, 21% of adults in Britain read their horoscopes "often" or "fairly often".

Undoubtedly many people read their horoscopes just for entertainment value, or as a topic for conversation. But some people attach scientific credence to astrological predictions and regard astrology as a valid way of understanding human behaviour. A surprisingly large quantity of scientific research has been carried out to evaluate the claims of astrology over the past 40 years. There is no evidence to support such claims.

It should then be a cause for concern if citizens make important life decisions based on entirely unreliable astrological predictions. For instance, people may decide for or against a potential marriage partner based on astrological sign. This happens quite often in India. Some may make rash financial decisions based on predicted good fortune.

Reassuringly, it turns out that the number of people in Britain who think that horoscopes are scientific is small. From the Wellcome Trust Monitor survey, we know that less than 10% think horoscopes are "very" or "quite" scientific. And a similar proportion thinks the same across the European Union as a whole.

However, if we ask people whether they think astrology is scientific, we see a different picture. In a Eurobarometer survey of attitudes towards science and technology, a randomly selected half of respondents were asked how scientific they thought astrology was. The other half were asked the same question about horoscopes.

The results shows a surprising disparity in opinion. More than 25% think that astrology is "very scientific" compared to only 7% for horoscopes.

In research I carried out a few years ago, I tested the hypothesis that people get confused between astrology and astronomy, and it is this that could account for widespread apparent belief in the scientific status of astrology. Even well-respected national newspapers have been known to make this mistake.

My survey also asked people how scientific they believed various activities to be. One of these was astronomy. Using a statistical technique known as regression analysis, I discovered, after adjusting for age, gender and education, that people who were particularly likely to think that astronomy was very scientific were also very likely to think the same about astrology. This points to semantic confusion about these terms among the general public.

In the same study, I was interested to look at other explanations for why some Europeans think astrology is scientific and others do not. The first explanation I looked at was people's level of education and their knowledge about science.

If one does not have an adequate understanding, it might be difficult to distinguish between science and pseudoscience. So it turns out to be. When taking a wide range of other factors into account, those who have a university degree and who score highly on a quiz tapping scientific knowledge are less likely to think that astrology is scientific.

In line with previous studies, women are more likely than men to think astrology is scientific, regardless of their level of education and knowledge about science. Those who believe in God or a "spirit of some kind" are also more likely to find astrology a scientifically credible activity.

Take things as they are

The most interesting result, however, is based on an idea proposed more than 50 years ago by the German sociologist Theodore Adorno. In 1952, Adorno carried out a study of a Los Angeles Times astrology column. He is witheringly critical of astrology, dubbing it, with the rest of occultism, a "metaphysic of dunces", suggesting "a climate of semi-erudition is the fertile breeding ground for astrology".

What is particularly interesting, though, is the connection drawn between astrology with authoritarianism, fascism and modern capitalism (remember that this was in the aftermath of WWII and the Holocaust). For Adorno, astrology emphasised conformity and deference to higher authority of some kind. As some researchers put it: "Take things as they are, since you are fated for them anyway". In short, Adorno believed that "astrological ideology" resembles "the mentality of the authoritarian personality".

People high on authoritarianism tend to have blind allegiance to conventional beliefs about right and wrong and have high respect for acknowledged authorities. They are also those who are more favourable towards punishing those who do not subscribe to conventional thinking and aggressive towards those who think differently.

If this hypothesis is correct, then we should see that people who value conformity and obedience will be more likely to give credence to the claims of astrology. In the Eurobarometer survey, there was (by chance) a question that asked people how important they thought "obedience" was as a value that children should learn.

I used this question as a rough and ready indicator of whether a survey respondent was more or less authoritarian in their outlook. And, again, I used regression analysis to see if there was a link between people's answers to this question and what they thought about astrology. In line with Adorno's prediction made in 1953, people who attach high importance to obedience as a value (more authoritarian) are indeed more likely to think that astrology is scientific. This is true regardless of people's age, education, science knowledge, gender and political and religious orientations.

So, on one hand, it seems that horoscopes and astrological predictions are, for most people, just a bit of harmless entertainment. On the other, the tendency to be credulous towards astrology is at least partially explained by what people know about science – but also what kind of personality traits they have. And these factors might prove useful in understanding beliefs about a whole range of pseudoscientific fields.

Explore further: Where is the proof in pseudoscience?

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COCO
1.3 / 5 (12) Jul 03, 2014
I saw the other day Astrology and Alchemy rated as more scientific than the AGW crowd and their bizarre beliefs - everyone pointed to there being evidence of both.
otero
Jul 03, 2014
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otero
Jul 03, 2014
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otero
Jul 03, 2014
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Vietvet
4.7 / 5 (13) Jul 03, 2014
Why do the first four comments have to be idiotic?
otero
Jul 03, 2014
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Uncle Ira
4 / 5 (4) Jul 03, 2014
And the remaining ones oftopic in addition?


@ Socratic-Skippy I think you read the article wrong Cher. It is not about addition. Or subtraction leaving remaining ones either. It's about the astrology which is what some peoples get confused with astronomy.
Technico
1.9 / 5 (9) Jul 04, 2014
Of course, many ballasts (we can say safely well over 99%) are included in contemporary astrology, but we shouldn't throw out the child (embryo?) together with bath water here. After all, 90% of medicine research is wrong as well and the people are still pretty well payed for it and respected there. So what I'm missing here is the complete lack of inquisitive but critical thinking. The plain dismissal of many years standing human experience is not critical, but ignorant stance too - actually as ignorant, as the reading of contemporary horoscopes.
KBK
1 / 5 (11) Jul 05, 2014
The cutting edge of physics says the universe is built out of 'information', thus:

Every single scientifically minded person.. scientists, physicists, and so on....every person/group who has done an *honest/unbiased* in depth study of astrology......has found that it works exactly as advertized.

The more in depth one goes with it, the more accurate it is. A person can train in astrology for 20 years and still not see the final depth of it; it's accuracy and ability to predict increases in scope and subtlety as they learn more and more.

It behaves like quantum statistical averaging. It cannot predict a given thing with finality, but it can predict a statistical leaning, which is all it was ever meant to do.

The depth of astrology is greater than what is in newspapers, making it easy to ridicule (in ignorance).

It is the genesis of all sciences/math/etc - of any kind. It is their origin point and has more depth of knowledge required to understand it, than any other field of inquiry.
JohnGee
4.1 / 5 (7) Jul 05, 2014
Astrology is for arrogant simpletons.
Vietvet
4.5 / 5 (8) Jul 05, 2014
Astrology is for arrogant simpletons.


Astrology is total bullshit but I've known highly competent and educated people that buy into that crap.
cantdrive85
2.3 / 5 (6) Jul 05, 2014
"Most people today still believe, perhaps unconsciously, in the heliocentric universe. ... Every newspaper in the land has a section on astrology, yet few have anything at all on astronomy."
Hannes Alfven
julianpenrod
1.4 / 5 (10) Jul 05, 2014
A compendium of many faults of "science". Notice the emphasis on "regression analysis", as if that is so sophisticated anyone should believe the claims whether they're true or not. "regression" is essentially just comparing two out of a collection of qualities, all others kept the same. But the gullible are entranced by big words and that helps sell a lie. Note the casual but unproved, but definitely bad mouthing, "conclusion" that authoritarian parents should automatically believe astrology. The abuse seen by "science' devotees here and elsewhere shows authoritarianism in raw form. And, remember, the gullible are swayed simply by something being in "the media". All it takes is to squelch all reports of astrology working and play up or lie about "science" working. No source anywhere tells you, for example, that back surgery leaves you so crippled afterward that you can't even clean yourself after going to the bathroom, you need someone to do it for you.
TheGhostofOtto1923
4.4 / 5 (11) Jul 05, 2014
Every single scientifically minded person.. scientists, physicists, and so on....every person/group who has done an *honest/unbiased* in depth study of astrology......has found that it works exactly as advertized
Well it worked fine that is until they discovered all those other planets and minor planets and precession of the equinoxes etc. Ahaahaaahaaaaaaa.

What makes religionists and other looneys like julian so nervous about studies such as this is the fact that todays religions all have their roots in asstrology. Jesus for instance is a sungod.
https://www.youtu...-BcN8u8Q

-Predicting the future, talking to spirits, wish-granting, raising the dead, curing lepers etc is all voodoo magic except when performed by your own god and his designated representatives, in which case it is entirely real and holy and good. And entirely dependable if you are truly faithful.
https://www.youtu...U-DislkI
TheGhostofOtto1923
3.8 / 5 (5) Jul 05, 2014
Oh I forgot one important link
https://www.youtu...6XxYbbIc

-Walt disney did more to gut-shoot religion than anyone else by glamorizing pagan fairy tales and giving animals souls. Of course he did nothing to alleviate the spiritualist meme itself.

Consider that we grew up spending most of our time passively observing people who were only pretending to interact with each other, faking emotions, resolving complex social issues in between commercials and within the period of a half an hour or so.

How is this any different from expecting god to resolve these things for us? Is this the best way to wean the world off religion, or only the best available to us at the present?
Nik_2213
5 / 5 (10) Jul 05, 2014
Once upon a time, my employer ran a monthly news-letter. In addition to the usual pablums and exhortations, it had a column on folk with interesting hobbies / interests.

I was co-opted for a piece on amateur astronomy. Wasn't my best work, as I had to dumb it down even more than usual.

Still, when the 'layout' arrived, each mention of 'astronomy' had morphed to 'astrology'. I was livid. When I quizzed the purblind Copy Editor, I discovered she'd gone with Word's auto-correcting speil-chequer. And, literally, she could not see the harm. 'They're the same, aren't they ?'

After I *politely* explained the distinction, she agreed to correct the document and send out a new 'layout' for my approval.

You may imagine my language when another 'astrological' version arrived. Yes, she'd corrected the document. But, amendments went via the Senior Copy Editor's desk, where *his* speil-chequer switched it back...

Weep.

Third time lucky, though.
axemaster
5 / 5 (6) Jul 05, 2014
Nik, that's bizarre, what on earth is wrong with their spell-checkers? Man, I can only imagine how frustrating that must have been for you!
EWH
1 / 5 (5) Jul 05, 2014
Not a supporter of astrology, but to say that it hasn't been supported by studies is wrong. Those studies that showed support may have been due to bad methodology or chance correlations, but there have been some. See for example the controversy at: http://en.wikiped...s_effect .

Another contributor to the popular belief in some scientific support for astrology may be the astronomical habit of continuing to refer to the imaginary constellations, particularly the zodiacal signs, rather than using coordinates. Also, there really are some slight differences in personalities according to birth time-of-year. School year cutoffs affect whether one is six months ahead or six months behind the average age in beginning school, which affects sports aptitude. I have heard there are slight variations in schizophrenia prevalence by birth month as well, perhaps due to low marternal vitamin D.
antigoracle
1 / 5 (8) Jul 06, 2014
Why do the first four comments have to be idiotic?
--vietvet
They were intended for idiots like you.
Vietvet
4.5 / 5 (8) Jul 06, 2014
Why do the first four comments have to be idiotic?
--vietvet
They were intended for idiots like you.


So you believe in astrology, why am I not surprised?
Sinister1812
5 / 5 (5) Jul 06, 2014
Some people think astrology is a science


Because that's what their star signs told them. That's why!
antigoracle
1 / 5 (6) Jul 06, 2014
Why do the first four comments have to be idiotic?
--vietvet
They were intended for idiots like you.


So you believe in astrology, why am I not surprised?

I must admit, the fact that idiots like you exist, has forced me to rethink the absurd and unthinkable.
otero
Jul 06, 2014
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otero
Jul 06, 2014
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otero
Jul 06, 2014
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otero
Jul 06, 2014
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TheGhostofOtto1923
4.6 / 5 (9) Jul 06, 2014
So zephyr are you a libra or a Sagittarius? Or a cancer maybe? (Yeah that's it) And if you had been born 1000s of years ago when asstrology was invented would you have been influenced by the same forces as you were when you were born recently?

No, because precession has moved those constellations and reoriented those forces. If there are indeed forces within the solar system at work affecting our mood they have nothing to do with asstrology whose concepts and definitions do not change with the precession.

It is similar to the difference between deism and theism. There may well be a deist god out there somewhere but it has nothing to do with the god of circumcisions and pork-shunners and rabbit cuds and missionary positions. THAT god doesn't exist.

Similarly, the discipline based on the influence of stars and planets which are not where they are supposed to be, is a sham. But so is chiropracty and look how successful that is.
otero
Jul 06, 2014
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otero
Jul 06, 2014
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otero
Jul 06, 2014
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Dr_toad
Jul 06, 2014
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otero
Jul 06, 2014
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TheGhostofOtto1923
3.7 / 5 (6) Jul 06, 2014
I don't understand, what did you actually want to tell here. The astrology doesn't predict, WHEN some event on the sky will happen
Let me talk slowly. Astrologers_use_stars_to_predict_yor_future. Okay so far? They use formulae devised 1000s of years ago. Those formulae no longer apply because the stars have moved because_of_precession. But asstrologers continue to use them anyway.

"Over the past two-and-a-half millennia, this wobble has caused the intersection point between the celestial equator and the ecliptic to move west along the ecliptic by 36 degrees, or almost exactly one-tenth of the way around. This means that the signs have slipped one-tenth—or almost one whole month... You will most likely find that once precession is taken into account, your zodiac sign is different. And if you were born between November 29 and December 17, your sign is actually one you never saw in the newspaper."

-So even though your sign is cancer, its not. See?
Protoplasmix
4.2 / 5 (5) Jul 06, 2014
So I'm afraid, you're completely confused with historical matter here - and all people who upvoted you are apparently confused as well.

I don't think so, ortero. Ghost is on the mark. The Judeo-Christian religion is an 'astrotheological literary hybrid'. It's hijacked Egyptian astrology from over 5000 years ago. Interesting to note that the current 'year of the world' ('Anno Mundi' in Latin) using the Hebrew calendar is AM 5774.

If the new age (Aquarius) doesn't get here sooner, these insane religious wars, where all sides are financed by same the global central banks, are liable to be the end of us.

The link provided by Ghost is a small excerpt from the award winning Zeitgeist Film Series: http://zeitgeistmovie.com/ (excerpt is from "Zeitgeist: The Movie") and it quite thoroughly puts things in perspective.
Requiem
5 / 5 (3) Jul 06, 2014
Haha. Zephyr is also an astrologist. Funny, but not surprising.
otero
Jul 06, 2014
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Uncle Ira
4 / 5 (4) Jul 06, 2014
Astrologers_use_stars_to_predict_yor_future
It depends. For example, the vedian ganita considers the geometry of planets only and such a predictions could have some physical meaning. The astrology based on location of stars seems nonsensical for me.


Where you at Socratic-Skippy? Cher you starting to sound like you have been hanging out at the thunder-gods-mythology-plasma-space-magnet-creations site in your spare time. You are getting more weird all the time. You aren't going to be joining up with Nazis too are you? If you do I will have to let you go podna.
JohnGee
5 / 5 (7) Jul 06, 2014
"Most people today still believe, perhaps unconsciously, in the heliocentric universe. ... Every newspaper in the land has a section on astrology, yet few have anything at all on astronomy."
Hannes Alfven
-Cantdrive55

That was Carl Sagan you dolt.
Protoplasmix
5 / 5 (1) Jul 06, 2014
Is this the best way to wean the world off religion, or only the best available to us at the present?

Can't prove it (yet) but I think it's a matter of entropy. The most predacious species on the planet (or in the 'biosphere') makes a nonlinear evolutionary transition from the lower "animalistic intelligence" to the higher or more potent "abstract intelligence". That's defining intelligence as a force exerted by an organism(s) which results in a broader or greater range of options (or fewer constraints) over a suitable interval of time: F = T del S_tau (not my eq. and I may be misapplying it—still working on it. Here's the TED talk where I saw it: http://www.ted.co...lligence ).

Back on topic: http://www.youtub...ature=kp
Sinister1812
5 / 5 (3) Jul 07, 2014
Astrology is right up there with the rest of the psychic rubbish, like fortunes and tarot cards.
cantdrive85
1 / 5 (4) Jul 07, 2014
"Most people today still believe, perhaps unconsciously, in the heliocentric universe. ... Every newspaper in the land has a section on astrology, yet few have anything at all on astronomy."
Hannes Alfven
-Cantdrive55

That was Carl Sagan you dolt.

Ummm, I think you need to work on you facts.

http://www.plasma...asma.pdf

Dolt say what?
Protoplasmix
5 / 5 (4) Jul 07, 2014
"I don't believe in astrology; I'm a Sagittarius and we're skeptical." – Arthur C. Clarke

"The only function of economic forecasting is to make astrology look respectable." – John Kenneth Galbraith
TheGhostofOtto1923
4 / 5 (4) Jul 07, 2014
I don't think so, ortero. Ghost is on the mark. The Judeo-Christian religion is an 'astrotheological literary hybrid'. It's hijacked Egyptian astrology from over 5000 years ago. Interesting to note that the current 'year of the world' ('Anno Mundi' in Latin) using the Hebrew calendar is AM 5774
"9 What has been will be again,
what has been done will be done again;
there is nothing new under the sun." Ecc1

-There is a lot of wisdom in the bible but none of it has anything to do with nonexistent souls. The state-sponsored religions are the result of directed evolution - keeping what works and discarding what doesn't. Intelligent design.

People dealt with the natural elements every day and sought to influence them. Of course they would want new religions to offer the same benefits as the old. Sun worship, as zeitgeist noted, was the first religion. The cross is the zodiac.

More evidence that these religions are all brilliant fabrications.
Captain Stumpy
5 / 5 (4) Jul 07, 2014
Ummm, I think you need to work on you facts.

http://www.plasma...asma.pdf

Dolt say what?
and you need to put a reference that is NOT to a KNOWN PSEUDOSCIENCE SITE
they are out there... find one
it only takes a few seconds...
posting a link to a known PSEUDOSCIENCE site to support your claim is like asking a pedophile to babysit your kids.... it is stupid and makes NO SENSE at all unless you are TROLLING, that is...

cantdrive85
1 / 5 (4) Jul 08, 2014
Ummm, I think you need to work on you facts.

http://www.plasma...asma.pdf

Dolt say what?
and you need to put a reference that is NOT to a KNOWN PSEUDOSCIENCE SITE
they are out there... find one
it only takes a few seconds...
posting a link to a known PSEUDOSCIENCE site to support your claim is like asking a pedophile to babysit your kids.... it is stupid and makes NO SENSE at all unless you are TROLLING, that is...


Don't worry Captain Stupid, I have no intention of asking you to watch my kid.
yep
1 / 5 (5) Jul 09, 2014
Captain, you might want to read what your commenting about otherwise you end up looking like a stalker troll without a clue, cause you just choked the chicken on that one hehehe

The ancients were very proficient with their astronomy and astrology.
https://www.youtu...xkh6ZiNU
cantdrive85
1 / 5 (4) Jul 10, 2014
Captain, you might want to read what your commenting about otherwise you end up looking like a stalker troll without a clue, cause you just choked the chicken on that one hehehe


Did I hear someone say "stalker troll without a clue"? yep, you got that on the money! As a matter of fact I think he has my 'recent activity' page bookmarked;

https://sciencex....5/?v=act

No matter what type of article, he is but a few minutes behind...
Captain Stumpy
5 / 5 (4) Jul 10, 2014
cause you just choked the chicken on that one
@yep/cantdrive wannabe
in what manner? He linked to a known PSEUDOSCIENCE SITE... there are hundreds of other links that show who said the comment, and I do not say that he is WRONG, do I. No. because I know who said it... but as I have said to cd since I've been here: if it is legit, you can find a legit site to link to for proof
and I personally don't give a rat's ass about the ancients astrology. ASTROLOGY is pseudoscience
No matter what type of article, he is but a few minutes behind
@cd
TROLL COMMENT
just because we have the same interest is no reason to assume I follow you. I will NEVER hesitate to point out your pseudoscience on ANY thread... nor downvote you just because you are TROLLING either.
I 1starred you above because you used a pseudoscience link as proof, not because you were incorrect. you could have used a hundred other sites.

you/yep cling to your pseudoscience like religious acolytes
monks- but stupid ones
cantdrive85
1 / 5 (2) Jul 10, 2014
TADA! There he is STALKING again.
Captain Stumpy
5 / 5 (4) Jul 10, 2014
TADA! There he is STALKING again.
@cant think
nope. sorry spark boy.. I guess your spark got retarded, huh?
http://phys.org/commented/

you believe in EU pseudoscience and your explanations are nothing more than pseudoscience wrapped in conspiracy with a serious long term dunk in blatant stupidity

unless you look like Reese Witherspoon in Legally Blonde, then I would rather never see your stupid face again...
feel free to stop posting here on PO and go to another site. THat would be the proof, wouldn't it.
if you go away.... then I guarantee that you will not see me follow you

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