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Astrology letter

I haven’t sent it, but this is what I have:

Critical thinking is an important skill. The job of a newspaper is to support such a skill by providing us with factual information and arguments so we can have an informed and rational view of the world. This makes me wonder: why does the Chronicle and nearly every other newspaper in this country publish horoscopes?

Astrology is an affront to critical thinking. Studies, such as the one published in Nature in 1985, have shown that astrologers are consistently no better than chance at describing someone’s personality. Studies have also shown that people born a couple minutes apart do not share the similarities predicted by astrology. What’s worse are the defenses of astrology. Your horoscope predicted something that came true? Vague predictions, subjective validation, and chance explain that. Another one: science doesn’t know everything; or, some famous scientist was ridiculed, but his work is now accepted by scientists the world over. Both are true, but they are misdirections, rather than arguments. Science may not know everything, but that’s different than saying science can’t know everything. There should be a reason scientific study fails to detect the effects of astrology. And of course, for every scientist whose ideas were dismissed and later accepted, there are hundreds of crackpots who were dismissed for good reason. There’s also: it’s just entertainment. That may be true, but around a third of the population believes in astrology. Hundreds of millions of dollars are spent on it a year. Couldn’t that money be better spent? Should newspapers really promote things that are demonstrably false, just because some people are entertained by it? Their placement, normally next to the comics, games, and vacuous self-help columns, doesn’t change that fact.

Critical thinking is as important as ever, with books that promote snake-oil cures to serious illnesses topping bestseller lists, pushes to insert Intelligent Design (an idea on the same level as astrology) into our schools, and local legislators labeling serious criticism as “hate.” Why not take a small step in favor of rational thinking and stop publishing horoscopes?

Categories: Skepticism
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