Wired touts astrology as a practice that works

January 7, 2022 • 9:45 am

The other day, when I criticized the op-ed in Scientific American that tarred E. O. Wilson (along with others like Mendel and Darwin) as a “racist”, I added the usual observation: the magazine is getting terminally woke and nonscientific.  One hopes it would regain its former status as a sought-after place for laypeople to learn about science, but that won’t happen until they replace the Editor-in-Chief and/or get a new philosophy.

One commenter, though, suggested that a good replacement for Sci. Am. is Wired.  I haven’t read Wired much, and have no strong feelings about it one way or the other. But this new article—yes, an article, not an op-ed—suggests that Wired, too, may be the victim of woo, and bears watching. Click on the screenshot to read:

It’s the usual modern apologia for astrology, which can’t bring itself to admit that astrology is a “science” that cannot make accurate predictions, and also argues that astrology is much more than just a form of “cold reading” or therapy: the stars and planets really do affect our futures in some way we don’t understand.  Since there is no evidence that tests of astrology, properly conducted, show any ability to predict personality or the future (see below) this is basically Wired magazine’s presentation of woo—without any criticism. It is touting astrology, which victimizes people who pay good morning for nothing.

It’s even worse, for the author is identified this way:

Diana Rose Harper is a professional consulting & teaching astrologer currently living in southern California.

Yes, it works! And it’s historically justified!

ASTROLOGY IS A predictive art. And though many astrologers twist themselves into intellectual knots in an attempt to legitimize astrology within a scientific materialist paradigm—thereby creating a boundary between astrology and less-reputable “fortune-telling,” and avoiding guilt-by-association proximity with swindling “psychics”—there is no mechanistic explanation for how it works. Empirical astrological data, while extant, fails to satisfy the craving for clearly replicable quantitative results. The massively subjective nature of astrological interpretation doesn’t help: Two astrologers can look at the same planetary configuration and come to decidedly different conclusions, and sometimes, they’re both right.

Check out the link for “extant”, implying that there are actual data justifying the use of planetary and celestial positions in helping people. It just goes to the journal for astrologers!

And here’s a historical justification:

Still, rulers of nations and empires have a long history of relying on astrologers as part of the growth and maintenance of power; there’s just as long a history of astrologers being imprisoned (or worse). The ability to predict is precisely what makes astrology so potent, and exactly what brings risk into astrological practice.

There’s no test of the ability to predict that shows it works, and a “long history” proves nothing. There’s a long history of people praying to God and Jesus, but that doesn’t mean either that these figures exist or that prayer works.

Gobbledygook! It works but it requires a combination of stars and empathy!

But the celestial charts are still important!

As Sam Reynolds, an astrologer who started out as a skeptic and has served on the board for the international astrology organization ISAR, points out, even character analysis via the natal chart is essentially a form of thematic forecasting: “By virtue of looking at your character, [astrology] can bespeak what is likely to manifest, what we’re likely dealing with,” an extension of Heraclitus’s dictum that “character is destiny.” Character influences how we navigate the circumstances life throws at us. “Fate has two arms: one of them is yours,” he says. “Astrology is about learning how to work the arm that you can work.”

Working the workable arm of fate is what astrologer, teacher, and CUSP app cofounder Kirah Tabourn does for herself and for her clients. A planning-focused astrologer, Tabourn considers prediction to provide “more grounding in the present by having some idea of the patterning of the future,” including the precious gift of organizing one’s life. “[Astrological timing] helps people feel like there’s some structure, an order to things,” she says. “It helps people make decisions.”

. . .However, knowing that people make choices based on astrology comes with an imperative to be as ethical as possible when translating celestial movements for clients. “Our clients and content consumers are often in a space of putting a lot of weight into what [astrologers] say,” adds Tabourn. “Being really mindful of that power dynamic is super important.”

The downside to the immense meaning-making potential of astrology? It renders the practice vulnerable to misuse by uncareful types with dubious commitment to honorable behavior. An astrologer more concerned with being right or being (in)famous than they are with being helpful runs the very real risk of chasing sensationalism at the expense of integrity. This results in people who use astrology as an excuse to be an ambulance chaser or to create viral, fear-mongering social media content. Astrologers without deliberate training in counseling skills or trauma-informed practice, even those with the very best intentions, run the risk of inadvertently distressing their clients rather than supporting them. Some professional astrological organizations attempt to address these issues through codes of ethics, but because there’s no governing body dictating who can and cannot call themselves an astrologer, such codes are limited in their capacity to reign in practitioners behaving irresponsibly. Additionally, those codes, by their very nature, cannot fully address ethical differences across cultures or generational divides.

Note the emphasis on counseling and empathy. If her astrology “works” (and that has yet to be ascertained), it will surely be due to the “friend/counselor effect”. Talking to anyone who empathizes with you, whether or not they are “paid friends”, is better than doing nothing.

I’ll draw this piece to a merciful close, though Harper says a lot more that one could parse. But why bother; there’s no material way the alignment of stars and planets when you are born could affect your personality or future. Until we think there’s a naturalistic way this could happen, I’ll just end with Hitchens’s Razor: What can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence.

For astrology, as with many species of woo, there is no evidence for it at all, much less “extraordinary” evidence. In this case, Wired is not only “unscientific”, but antiscientific. Let us dismiss it with prejudice!

34 thoughts on “Wired touts astrology as a practice that works

  1. An astrologer more concerned with being right or being (in)famous than they are with being helpful runs the very real risk of chasing sensationalism at the expense of integrity.

    I like how the author juxtaposes “being right” and “being helpful” as opposites. I would have thought the only point of divination was to be right. Of course, an astrologer who was concerned about being right would probably give up after a while, if she were honest. This raises a question, though, how do astrologers track their predictions? Do they have surveys for their marks, I mean “clients,” to get feedback on whether an event actually came to pass? Seems like there should be an app for that. Oh, well. You know who else liked astrology. . . .

    1. > I like how the author juxtaposes “being right” and “being helpful” as opposites.

      I occasionally hear similar discussions from religious apologists. It boils down to ‘If Alice won’t believe that Bob’s truth is right, and Bob won’t believe that Alice’s truth is right, it would be optimally utilitarian for them to believe whatever truth helps them the most and makes them the happiest, regardless as to whether it is right or wrong.’ It is based on a degree of relativism: the idea that if you can’t objectively know what is truly right, but you can still know what makes you happy.

      I look at how much more successful, fulfilled, and happy some Mormons I know are, compared to many of the atheists I know. That doesn’t make me want to believe what Mormons believe. Their success and happiness does not make them factually correct.

    2. Perhaps we should do a scientific analysis between astrology, no astrology, and a chat over a nice cup of tea and a biscuit?

  2. I used to enjoy Wired. It dropped off of my radar in 2005-2010. Most of my tech-adjacent friends dropped it in the same period. It became too commercial; too many articles felt like sponsored reviews and product placements and click bait. I enjoy reading about science and technology, but Wired became driven by tech consumerism. In my understanding, people who liked the old Wired kept reading 2600 (which focuses more on internet backend, cryptography, and white-hat hacking).

    I won’t even comment on the astrology article. I think I’ve found one Wired article in the past five years that I wanted to read.

    1. Yeah, that’s a pretty good summation of the current state of the mag. But it still has enough interesting content that I subscribe.

    1. A unique (surely) fact about Quanta is that it was founded by a man, Jim Simons, who, long before getting great wealth from the hedge fund he created, had made his own major research contributions to science—see e.g. Chern-Simons … , which is important mathematics (but not just mathematics). He also built a mathematics department, at Stony Brook U., into a much more major research institution than it had been IIRC, still as a young man. So I think Quanta in unlikely to go the way of the rags mentioned here. Simons also generously supports math and theoretical physics in a major way e.g. postdocs for promising young researchers.

  3. Two astrologers can look at the same planetary configuration and come to decidedly different conclusions, and sometimes, they’re both right.

    How can anybody write that sentence and still think there’s anything to astrology?

  4. I thought Hitchens’s Razor was “what can be asserted without evidence, can be dismissed without evidence.” It definitely applies here, but the quote in the post sounds a bit more like Carl Sagan’s oft-quoted standard. Of course, again, both apply here, so I have no ACTUAL complaints! I just have a bad habit.

  5. Damn, another fine publication losing its mind, another subscription to cancel.

    It seems to me astrology avoids being embarrassed by its obvious failures is to make predictions so vague that it’s hard to prove them wrong. I just looked up my daily one:
    “Your mind works best when you tend to the needs of the body.”
    Well, that will get me through the day.

  6. “It’s the usual modern apologia for astrology, which can’t bring itself to admit that astrology is a “science” that can [sic] make accurate predictions…”

    Jerry, should that “can” be “cannot”?

    One of my disappointments from reading Kary Mullis’s book was learning that he believed in astrology. I guess that pales in comparison to his HIV/AIDS skepticism, but still.

  7. It goes without saying that Astrology has followed knitting, bird-watching, and Academia in regard to one contemporary fashion craze: see
    https://www.the-numinous.com/2019/06/25/why-is-mainstream-astrology-so-white/ . Sample quote in this essay: “You can’t have Astrology without the Astrologer—and so it’s important to have a diversity of voices and backgrounds represented.” Unlike conventional academic departments, Astrology has not yet issued the official self-flagellation for its past history of systemic oppression. Presumably, the alignment of the planets is not auspicious for the formation of an Astrology DEI Committee.

  8. It’s interesting that the most helpful astrologers are ones who DON’T actually base their analysis on planets and stars but, as you suggest, is simply good at reading their customers. Perhaps WIRED should publish a counter to this article: “Is ‘Irresponsible’ Astrology Even Better?”

    1. I fail to see how astrologers (esp. in newspapers) may think they know something about their customers, then claim to base predictions on birth dates (which surely they do not know), and give quite different, surely often contradicting, predictions for people with differing birth dates.

      I suppose this applies less to ‘personal astrologers’, but they’d surely have to hope any customers suspecting nonsense do not collaborate with each other and discover how the predictions they got quite clearly have nothing to do with birth date.

      It seems so obvious to me that this, apart from being read in papers purely for (harmless?) entertainment, is just another scam-artist—conspiracy-theorist—slimy-big-lie-politician pile of horseshit. The “reading their customers” is entirely to do with determining gullibilities, little else.

  9. As a measure of when astrology became a commonplace thing, what newspaper first ran an astrology column and when? (Is Wm Randolph Hearst partly to blame?)

  10. I suppose that’s admirable…

    You are more optimistic/gracious than I. I look at an astrologer giving discounts as just another scam. Quote some extraordinarily high price, talk to the mark, figure out what they are willing to pay, and then lower your fee to that amount. They feel like they’ve gotten a deal and you’ve been able to take all the money they were willing to part with.

    I’m not fond of private universities doing something similar, either. Scholarships are a fine idea, but when everyone has one and practically nobody is paying the “on paper” price, then the Uni is basically just using the same scam as above; calculating the maximum a family can pay, and charging them that.

  11. Astrology is just a part of ancient Grecian Ways of Knowing. It needs to be taught in schools along with science.

    1. But the Greek philosophers are pretty much the epitome for “western thought”. Which is now evil.

      Hey maybe you’ve come up with a way to make astrology unpopular: point out that it was invented by “the pale stale males dominating early western civilization.”

  12. Perhaps their desire to cover astrology reflects a change in the readership. Maybe there is an uptick of readers who like astrology. This may be related to the decimating IQ of western populations that has been shown in recent studies.

  13. For what it’s worth the Australian Skeptics completed a big review of predictions (including Astrology) in the media and published their results. To summarise:

    11% ‘Accurate’
    15% ‘Pretty obvious would happen at the time the prediction was made’
    19% ‘So vague it could be linked to just about anything.’
    2% ‘No idea’
    53% ‘Flat out wrong’

    Here’s a link to the in-depth article published in ‘The Skeptic’ magazine.

    https://www.skeptics.com.au/wp-content/uploads/magazine/The%20Skeptic%20Volume%2041%20(2021)%20No%204%20(Cover).pdf

  14. Everytime I’ve seen or heard of astrology, since I was a child, I’ve always been amazed at how toweringly stupid it actually is and find it almost impossible to believe anybody takes it seriously. I can’t handle that possibility emotionally. It is even more barking mad than the Iron Age fairy tales which themselves are hilarious.
    Thank goodness I live in a small bubble of sanity.

    D.A.
    Bubble, NYC

  15. There’s one sense in which astrology works pretty well. Those who set themselves up as ‘experts’ in the field often seem to be able to make a rather lucrative living from it. But then I guess people get rich selling snake oil too. There’s rather a large market for woo.

  16. Well, I have a subscription to Wired, but I did not read the aforementioned article. I am extremely sensitive to politics in articles on science, so if I do find that on Wired I won’t be paying for it again. Thanks!

  17. Here’s my 100% accurate daily horoscope for all signs: “The stars and planets will not affect your life in any way”.

  18. This article brings to mind the 1987 David Mamet grifter-noir film, House of Games. Had the great good fortune to find it on Bell TV just the other night.

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