So, the other week I got into a minor flame war (more of a potshot skirmish really) with an astrologer on twitter (full disclosure: I started it ;). It all started over the remarks Brian Cox (scientist, rock star, all-around cool dude) made on his most excellent Wonders of The Solar System television program. Clip after the jump.
Now, naturally, you, my skeptically minded, non-mush-for-brains readers, will have regarded that as exactly the type of offhand comment a scientist might make. I would go as far as saying that scientist ought to be making MORE comments like this in the public sphere. People need to realize that we live in the real world, and the way we come to know things about it is through the bias-correcting, empirical process of science. Naturally, this little bit of debunking has caused those whose livelihood is bunk to have a little fit. Dr. Cox tweeted this hilarious bit of codswallop, an attempt at refuting the latest (read: known for 1500+ years) news that HORROR OF HORRORS the Earth precesses, making astrology signs based on the sidereal position change with time.
Now, telling me that THIS is the reason that astrology is bunk is like telling me the reason bloodletting doesn’t work is because we used the wrong color of bowl to catch the stuff. Astrology has to be the stupidest, most pig-ignorant pseudoscience to still be believed in the 20th century. But, believed in it still is. Even beyond the total lack of plausibility, inconsistency among practitioners, and ridiculous post-hoc justifications, the thing that tells us that astrology is rubbish is ultimately the empirical evidence. Every well-designed experiment has shown that astrologers have the predictive power of cylindrical metal currency rotation.
So, I replied to the person criticizing Dr. Cox. And she asked me what my scientific evidence was. So I responded with a link to a Nature paper. Now, this is a double blinded study with a sample size of 256 people, using professional astrologers, published in a peer-reviewed journal with one of the highest Impact Factors. This isn’t some rinky-dink skeptic’s group (no offense to skeptic’s groups, I love what you guys do). And this isn’t the only result like it. There are dozens of papers like this, and every one I could find that actually ran a properly set up experiment showed astrology DOES NOT WORK.
So, what does our dear astrologer reply with? A study I missed perhaps? A rebuttal by a scientist or statistician showing errors in the methodology? No, of course not. Like the good woo-head she was, she replied with the most deliciously ironic bit of projection I have ever heard: “That is a very flawed test I can show you several actually but then you will say they are flawed! No proof will convince you!” What. The. Fuck. She just dismisses the study out of hand (also, nice run on sentence. I see she paid as much attention in English class as she did in science.) with absolutely no justification. And, to top it off, she then goes on to accuse me of doing what she just did! Without mentioning any studies! That last sentence, though, is just icing on the cake. When a believer in nonsense of one form or another is confronted with the fact that there is no proof for their pet belief, the only way to deal with it is to give up, and convince yourself that the search for evidence is a lost cause. No astrologers of the world, the problem isn’t that no proof will convince me, it is that no proof has convinced you.