Pseudoscience

Astrology Might Be Fun, But It Sure Isn't Science

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What's your sign? Astrology is certainly fun to talk about with a cute young thing across the bar. But when it comes to actually guiding your life choices, beware. Astrology isn't science, and it definitely can't predict your fate.

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How Astrology Works

On its face, astrology sure sounds a lot like astronomy: it's based on the position of the sun relative to certain constellations. The constellations of the Zodiac lie on the ecliptic, or the path that the sun takes across the sky as it's perceived from Earth. The astrological signs were based—originally, anyway—on which constellation the sun was in on the day you were born, which is supposed to predict specific things about your personality and future. In general, astrology says that earthly events are influenced by the movements of the sun, moon, planets, and constellations. Astronomy deals with the movements of those objects, too. Same thing, right?

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Why It Isn't Science

Here's where astrology starts to break down. For something to be considered science, it needs to meet certain criteria. For one thing, it has to be testable. Try this: cut out every horoscope in the astrology section of a newspaper or magazine, making sure to remove the star sign. Then have a group of friends try and find their horoscope. Not easy, is it? Astrological predictions are so general that any one of those horoscopes could probably apply to you. In that way, it's too unspecific to be tested.

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But there are some predictions it makes that can be tested: for example, Leos are supposedly "driven by the desire to be loved and admired." If that were true, people born between July and August should be overrepresented in the celebrity sphere. But they're not. That leads us to another criterion where astrology fails: it doesn't rely on evidence. There's very little peer-reviewed research into astrology, and as the University of California Berkeley's Understanding Science page puts it, "As reflected by the minimal level of research in the field, [astrologers] rarely try to test their arguments in fair ways. In addition, the astrological community largely ignores evidence that contradicts its ideas." Science, according to author Michael Shermer, is about "prediction and falsification." A scientific claim needs to make a testable statement about nature, then be turned over and inside out to determine if it's wrong. Pseudoscientific claims start with the belief that they're right, then are guarded and rationalized to ensure they can't be disproven.

Bonus fact: A popular claim about astrology states that your horoscope is wrong because of precession, or the way that the tilt in the Earth's axis has moved the constellations over thousands of years. In fact, astrologers claim this isn't the case. According to one astrologer, "...constellations are not the same as signs. The Tropical Zodiac is not meant to be aligned with the constellations, therefore the astrologers never had it wrong."

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Should You Trust Your Zodiac Sign?

Here's why astrology isn't really science.

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Key Facts In This Video

  1. Look for a history of similar claims to identify pseudoscience. 01:30

  2. Check the source of a fact or article to identify if it may be pseudoscience. 02:05

  3. Find the original article before believing a new study; secondary stories may have spins on them. 02:42

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