Sunday, 24 January 2010

"Dear Astrology, from Science" (No. 3)

The sudden enthusiasm for what was just a passing idea has led to me churning out more of this bilge, in a series I'm calling The Science Letters, for obvious reasons. First two are here and here, the latest are here.

And on we go...

"Dear Astrology

Hello. It's me, Science. Remember me? We used to work together a lot in the old days, before I went solo? Good times usually, but I'll be honest, it's not something I bring up on my CV these days. I know we haven't really spoken in a while, are you still sore about two of your guys getting executed over the eclipse business? Like I told you at the time, if they'd spent more time listening to me instead of wallowing in the opium dens, they would have seen it coming.
And before you kick off, no, I don't cause eclipses, I just know what they are and when they're coming, me and Maths worked it out long ago. You want to talk to the cause, have a word with my boy Physics. Good luck with that though, he's thoroughly set in his ways. 'You Can'nae change him', as the great man used to say.
(Yes, I'm a Start Trek fan, why does this surprise you?)
How are you anyway? Not been seeing you around much lately. It wasn't too long ago that you and Media were best mates, you were always together. I guess you didn't confuse him like I do, despite your insane claims. But now he's ditched you in favour of psychics and health gurus. He's fickle is media, it's all about image with him. No doubt he'll also throw those hacks to the curb soon, in favour of Chicken-juggling rain makers or people who predict the future by 'reading' the patterns in spilled muesli, or whatever crowd-pleasing gibberish is 'in'. Whore.
Anyway, Astronomy asked me to write to you, largely because people keep getting him and you mixed up. I can see his problem, apart from the similar names and obsession with all things spatial; you guys have nothing in common. Oh, and stereotypically you are both advocated by socially awkward people with weird hair in long coats who speak in bizarre ways. Astronomy insists that that's not how he is any more, any comments on this yourself?
Thing is, I hesitate to have a go at you. We've worked together in the past quite well, and unlike most other pseudosciences you don't seem to have this desire to relentlessly attack me and my lot for having the gall to prefer evidence over wishful thinking. So cheers for that.
So, if you could somehow make it clear that you and astronomy aren't working together, that would be cool. He wants to know how things in Space work; you want people to think that things in space effect how we work. Can't say I agree with that, but then if there are people out there who feel they need the arrangement of celestial bodies to govern how they live their lives then I guess they need all the help they can get, so fair enough.
Of course, this could be a simple oversight. Perhaps you know something I don't, and your predictions are 100% accurate, but your proponents have not taken into account the light-speed factor. The stars we see in the night sky, their light is actually from anywhere between dozens to hundreds of thousands of years in the past. Maybe your predictions are completely true, but for people in the 3rd century? You might want to hook up with History and Archaeology, see if there's something you can work out regarding this.
My main issue is that I've heard people describe Astrology as 'a Science'. And we both know you're not. You don't pay the union dues for a start, but that's by-the-by. Did you ever think about becoming a Science for real? It won't be easy, but should it be a challenge you wish to take up, there are several things you need to do.
Firstly, you need a rational basis for your theories. You contend that the arrangement of bodies in space directly affects what happens in the lives of individual people. Why would this be the case, and by what mechanism could this occur? In actual fact, the equations governing gravity and its effects do suggest that all matter in the universe affects other matter, regardless of distance, so there's something you may want to look into. (Not that this really supports your claims, seeing as a Walnut in a village in Brazil has more noticeable influence over a Mongolian goat herder than stars light years away have over individual people, but it's something to think about).
Secondly, you need to be more specific. 12 star signs limit you to 1 prediction per 500 million people, at least. Yeah, going by those odds, your predictions will be accurate for some people, but you'll be wrong a lot more than you'll be right. Granted, you could select a few of the 'accurate' examples, ignore the rest and say you were right. But why stop there, why not just start selling people water to cure their illness and argue that 2000 years of medicine are wrong?
There's no need to be so limiting these days. You've got the planets to work with, sure, but Astronomy has discovered at least 424 extrasolar planets now, with more coming in all the time. I'm sure he'll let you borrow some. You know what 'happens' when Mars is in Sagittarius, or Venus is occupying Aries, but what about when PSR B1620-26 is passing Capricorn? Or SWEEPS J175853.92-291129.6 is waxing in Pisces? The names aren't as catchy I'll admit, but a couple of nicknames won't hurt. Spread the net wider, play around with it a bit.
Speaking of which, I hope it didn't throw things off too much when I demoted Pluto. I was sorry to see the little guy go too, but there are bigger rocks than him out there and I can't start focusing on the ones I like. Remember what I said about cherry picking the data? Bad boy, naughty now!
This is assuming it did affect you, of course. But if it didn't, that raises interesting questions. Exactly how big does a celestial body need to be in order to 'influence' us? If Pluto can do it, why not the billions of other rocks and comets (in this system alone)? Or do they affect the non-human 'lower' creatures? Another lucrative market, perhaps? Horoscopes for animals.

"Virgo: On Sunday, you will face challenges in the form of next doors cat, which will again attempt to encroach on your territory. An irritable Cancer, a bad sign for romance with Virgos, will reject your advances when you try to hump his leg. Avoid chicken bones as these will lead to bowel upsets. Be wary of worms"

There you go, easy. The point is, the more data you have, the more accurate the predictions you could make (and before you think to argue this, don't bring up Meteorology, he does his best, and you try to make better predictions of a system which is the embodiment of chaos!). The more accurate the predictions, the more credible you could be. I'll admit that accurate Horoscopes would be quite unnerving for people; I tried them out myself a few times. But still, credibility or crowd pleasing? The choice is yours. And if you were more accurate, I'm sure Astronomy wouldn't mind being mistaken for you so much.

Fond regards

Science (BA hons)

P.S. Please spare me the jokes about how 'you knew this was coming'. If I'd got the reply before I sent this, then I'd believe you.

Email: Humourology (at)
Twitter: @garwboy


Dave Steele said...

And even more so, due to the earth's rotation (this time on, not about it's axis), the current signs of the zodiac used aren't even correct based on the original system set-up. One of them (I can't remember which) gets swapped with a new one and everyone else moves on a sign. All nonsense of course but even the nonsense is wrong within its own framework!

Chellie said...

Sorry to say it, but it seems as though Science isn't much of a friend to Grammar or Spelling. Please have someone proofread your work.


Hannes Bongard said...

Der kosmische Mensch:

Dean Burnett, Neuroscientist said...

Thanks Chellie/'English'

Run it through a spell checker, hope it reads a bit better now. Believe it or not, I don't spend long at all writing this guff.
Finding someone to proof read this would be a bigger waste of time than writing it in the first place.

Manic Expressive said...

On the upside, your nemesis Astrology does give me something interesting to read in the trashy tabloid magazines my wife buys.

Moss said...


By the way, what entertprise you’re mentioning by «Start Trek»?

But seriously: great stuff, man. Please give us more of that, please, please, please!

Oh, and welcome in my daily blog reading routine.

outerhoard said...

Of course, Pluto never was demoted, only reclassified, and didn't "go" anywhere. Moreover, this reclassification did not /reduce/ the size of the solar system, but rather /expanded/ it, by bringing into public consciousness the countless bodies out there that are not planets (in particular the Kuiper Belt).

I feel confident that Science would see it this way, so the bit about being sorry to see Pluto go strikes me as out of character.

Karen Terry said...

Love the letters!

Just wanted to clarify something Astrology doesn't really divide everyone into 12 categories. If you were to get an "accurate" horoscope it would take into account a more more from your birth chart than just your sun sign. There is essentially a different birth chart every four minutes.

So the horoscopes you see in magazines and stuff like that even by astrology's standards aren't accurate for the majority of people in that sign.

Just wanna see science be fair, even if those working against it aren't :)

Srivathsa said...

Excellent article, and the gibberish reply letter doesnt surprise me.

I am from India (thankfully living elsewhere, in the USA, now), where I had to put up with "life based on ancient-wisdom" gibberish. That unfortunate thing is that it envelops you from the start, and you need to first realize that you need to escape from it, and THEN escape from it. But by that time, lots of life-damaging and even life-destroying events would have taken place.

I wish I could get my mom to read such articles and start doing some critical thinking. She's not into reading, but does piggyback on my watching science programs on TV. Maybe.. someday I will get her to watch a debunk-astrology program on TV.

sduford said...

Unfortunately the spell checker doesn't catch misused words.

It should be "things in space affect", not effect. Effect is a thing, affect is an action verb.

David B said...

Found these pieces at

You are picking up some fans there:)

David B

The year 2012 said...

Dear science,



The year 2012 and Iran's nascent nuclear weapons program

Kai said...

Dear Science,

Reading your letter was most worrying to me as I have noted you refer to your good friend Physics and Astronomy again.

We have spoken many times about how these are part of you, and this sudden fallback makes me think that you have not been taking the pills I have prescribed to you regarding your schizophrenia.

They truly are for your own good and I would like you to continue the treatment regularly.


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Anonymous said...

Lets face it anyone can be an expert in astrology. Its the dumb mans science. You can make it up as you go along. Its easier than trying to understand calculus/chaos theory/or any of the other disciplines. If scientist would get off of there fannies and start speaking in a language that we peons could understand maybe they would get more recognition in newspapers etc.
I remember once trying to understand what Einstiens theory of relativity was about...I read numerous books on it and thought it was way to difficult. Then I read a 60 page or so book by einstien...and when i got through with it I understood it completely. So instead of lamblasting astrology give us lessons on what you know.

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