Opinion: Astrological sign change sparks pointless outcry



Daniel Sprockett

Disbelief and indignation swept across my social network late last week, as news spread of a change in the zodiac. Earlier in the week,The Star Tribune reported that, due to a “wobble” in the earth’s rotational axis, the stars have been slowly creeping out of sync with traditional astrological dates since they were established over two centuries ago.

Astrology is the notion that the position of stars and planets at the time of a person’s birth influences their personality and ultimately their fate. Purveyors of astrology claim that they can use this information to make reliable predictions about a person’s nature and even to foretell their future.?

I’m sure many of you have read your horoscope, but have you ever really paid attention to it? Horoscopes generally give vague advice, and very rarely make any testable predictions. Like fortune cookies, they make such broad statements that they apply equally well to anybody, regardless of the day they were born.

Horoscopes often rely on a psychological phenomenon called the Forer effect. This is when an individual believes that a statement is specifically tailored to them, but, in fact, the statement is so general that it can easily apply to a large number of people.  One example would be telling a college student that they “enjoy the security of familiar places, but are ready to strike it out on their own.” They’re often called “Barnum Statements,” after the famous circus promoter P.T. Barnum’s observation that he had “something for everyone.”

?Scientific studies of astrology have repeatedly shown that astrologers fail at predicting the personality and behavioral traits of people, as well as their futures. But how could they not fail?  When the Babylonians concocted the tenets of astrology thousands of years ago, they envisioned the sky as a great dome, housing planet-gods that had dominion over earthly affairs. They didn’t understand the most fundamental nature of the stars. Those faint points of light in the night sky are actually distant suns, flung far across the unfathomably vast universe. The number of stars they could see amounted to less than one millionth of a percent of the total number of stars in our galaxy alone.

And yet, with all the knowledge we have accumulated over the years, the pseudoscience of astrology continues to flourish. Most major newspapers dedicate space to daily horoscopes, and a recent National Science Foundation survey found that a quarter of Americans believe in astrology. Why is this??

Many reasons exist, but one of the most probable is that astrology lends cosmic significance to our mundane, everyday lives. The notion that our fate is connected to that of the heavens is a comforting thought. But as cosmologist Carl Sagan pointed out in his 1980 TV series “Cosmos,”

we are indeed connected to the stars. With the exception of hydrogen and helium, every atom in the universe was forged in the blast furnaces of dying stars. The carbon making up your body was born in a supernova. We are connected, not in the trivial ways that astrology claims, but in the most significant ways possible. As Sagan was fond of saying: “We are all made of starstuff.”

Daniel Sprockett is a researcher in the KSU Department of Anthropology and a columnist for the Daily Kent Stater. Contact him at [email protected].