The New York Times has an ongoing soft spot for astrology, but not everyone there has drunk the Kool-Aid

March 21, 2019 • 10:00 am

by Greg Mayer

After Jerry posted about the recent New York Times piece touting astrology and its harmlessness, I came across some good news, and some bad news. First, the good news: some of the Times‘ writers continue to be able to exercise their critical faculties. In a piece, “#MAGA Church“,  about a loony, apocalyptic church in New Jersey, Sam Kestenbaum writes the following about its pastor, Jonathan Cahn:

He devoured the writings of Nostradamus, the Virginia psychic Edgar Cayce and far-out conspiracy theories about ancient astronauts. Mr. Cahn soon stumbled on “The Late Great Planet Earth,” the 1970s best-seller that argued doomsday prophecies of the Bible were playing out with events like the Cold War and Israel’s Six-Day War. Mr. Cahn bought the book thinking it was about UFOs; instead he was given a crash-course in Christian eschatology.

It’s a longish piece, and you should take a look at the whole thing. It’s a great example of how fascination with woo, and the inability to reason about it, can lead further and further down the epistemological rabbit hole. If the only harm that comes of this is one person’s derangement, it’s harm enough, but this church is leading a whole flock of people– and their money– into a warren of woo, not to mention what those people might do.

The bad news is that the piece critiqued by Jerry is not a one off. I did a search at the Times’ website for “astrology”, and the results were intriguing, verging on appalling. The first 9 results were all supportive of astrology; and all had appeared since since July 2017. Many treated astrology as a “he said, she said” affair, which is bad enough, but often the astrology critic was a token. If a respected news outlet treated climate change, evolution, or gravity this way, we’d all be rightly outraged. (This search did not catch the latest astrology article on which Jerry posted; I’m not sure why.) The 10th astrology result was from 2011, an article about a race horse named Astrology.

The astrology articles are in a number of sections: “New York”, “Asia Pacific”, “Style” (2), “Arts” (2), “Sunday Review”, and (!!!!) “The Learning Network” (2). They are all by different authors, except for two by Amanda Hess. One of Hess’s pieces is not so bad, but in the other she suggests “online mysticism is filling a legitimate need”, and favorably compares the amount of “woo-woo crazy” in Goop vagina jade eggs to flat Earthism! She’s a little concerned that people are making money off of all this, but concludes that “retreating into the mystical internet feels like a quite rational move”. The diversity of authors and sections suggest there is not a particular editor who has a thing for astrology; rather, impairment of the critical faculties has seeped through many parts of the paper. The author of another Times article, not picked up in the “top 10” of the search, suggests that some people believe that criticism of astrology is misogynistic. (I hasten to add that there is no indication that the author of this piece concurs– she is reporting, not advocating.) But the Times is not merely avoiding criticism of astrology (perhaps to ward off the woke); it keeps bringing it up when there’s no evident impetus to do so.

I also noted that all 5 “NYT Picks” of readers’ comments on the piece critiqued by Jerry are pro-astrology. Here’s a sample of what the Times‘ editors found worth reading:

As to Mercury, when it is out of phase, being a Gemini whose ruling planet happens to be Mercury, it helps for whatever it’s worth to be aware when it comes and goes.

Yeah. Whatever it’s worth. My critical comment, to the effect, “Why did you publish this?” did not make it past the Times‘ moderators. I’m not sure why, as many commenters (including some WEIT readers, alerted no doubt by Jerry’s post!) said much the same thing.

The Times is clearly not all bad, and remains an essential news source, but I’ve been wondering lately if I should at least try out a subscription to the Washington Post to see how it’s doing.

(Links to the top ten search results, in order of their listing, are below the fold.)

And, for completeness, “Astrology Will Run in the Preakness.

25 thoughts on “The New York Times has an ongoing soft spot for astrology, but not everyone there has drunk the Kool-Aid

  1. Yet another example of the Regressive Left’s double standards: criticizing woo or anti-science beliefs among the (usually christian) Right, while tolerating or even promoting similar levels of it when it adheres to SJW dogma or is found among among their pets — moslems, ‘historically oppressed’ or ‘colonized peoples’, et al.

  2. I think people who go to J-school tend not to combine it with a general science course & people interested in science journalism enrol in “Science Journalism” degrees. Thus I bet most newspaper desks are underserved by critical thinkers.

    Or – it’s my impression that journalists are predominantly artsy types who don’t know the diff between GMO & PLO & think “chemicals” in fud is baaad.

    Am I wrong? It’s just my impressions.

  3. My first thought was that this is just an attempt by the NY Times, conscious or unconscious, to be inclusive. Even though I hear that the paper is doing well relative to other papers, it probably can’t afford to alienate those that believe, or at least enjoy, astrology.

    My second thought was that if people into astrology actually read the Times, then at least they are staying somewhat in contact with the real world and that’s a good thing.

    Third, a newspaper does have a responsibility to inform and guide people toward the truth. On the other hand, astrology is pretty much a religion and/or recreation. As such, it is not the NYT’s responsibility to come out against it. Instead, it is more their responsibility to tell the world about what some people believe.

    Finally, I was thinking in Pinker mode that perhaps astrology was gradually disappearing and that our impression that it was still a big thing was due to the usual set of biases. Instead, googling for “astrology popularity”, I found lots of articles suggesting millennials are embracing it. I did not research it so the reporters may be suffering from the same biases.

  4. In January of 2017, an Asstrology website announced the following: “The many Women’s Marches around the world – and particularly in the United States – this past weekend had strong support from the skies. Most obviously and directly, the Scorpio Moon was in a grand trine with Vesta in the sign of Cancer and Venus, Mars, and Chiron in Pisces (actually, in the lead-up to the marches on Friday, the Moon was also trine to Pallas Athene in Pisces).” Maybe the ideological tendencies of more than one NYT editor align with the planets in Pisces.

    1. Cor blimey. I wouldn’t mind being in a grand trine with Vesta. Consenting adults only, of course.

  5. Newspapers spend a lot of money to track what items in their papers are the most read and most popular. Astrology is near the top of the list of those items. I think their decision is strictly marketing and money. They want to appeal to their subscribers and sell papers. It is all about income and revenue.

    I also agree that reporters and journalists are not that well informed or intelligent. Above average but not in the top echelons as is per profession goes.

    Sad state of affairs.

      1. There are a lot of bad products on the market and a lot of bad ideas being passed around.

        Undending fight both against them and against becoming discouraged or cynical.

  6. Are all the stars of zodiac signs in the Local Neighborhood? I think that’s the term… or at least our own galaxy?

    1. Stars in constellations tend to be the nearer ones since they also tend to be the brightest but I think many (most?) are not.

      “Table 1 tells us Orion’s stars lie at distances ranging from 243 to 1360 light years.”

      What’s considered the local neighborhood probably depends on who you ask. One website said, “The Solar Neighborhood is the stars within about 15 light years of the Sun.”

    2. All are in the Milky Way and relatively close by unless very luminous, like Antares in Scorpio which is about 600 light years away. That is nothing in a galaxy over 100,000 light years across. We can’t see individual stars outside our galaxy or even in distant parts of our galaxy without a telescope. The universe is so huge!

  7. For serious news I prefer the Wall Street Journal. Its editorial page is conservative, but so what? Its news reporting is first rate. Somehow, Rudolph Murdoch has managed not to ruin it yet.

  8. I prefer the Onion’s astrology page – the predictions are much more entertaining, and at least as likely to come true.

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