Astrology Primer and Correlation

Someone close to me recently asked for a list of readings on astrology that supported my current stance that astrology has no scientific basis. I’ve compiled the following list of sources that I think best tackles the claims of astrology.

The Astronomical Society of the Pacific has a great article here for talking with someone who believes in astrology. It’s a good overview and it deals with forces, correlation and causation.

Phil Plait of Bad Astronomy fame has a good rundown here that focuses strongly on how there is very little support for an active astrological force acting on human personalities.

The Skepdic entry provides some great background on the history of astrology and provides more compelling arguments against astrology. Read it here.

Finally, for a great and thorough accounting of a large study on astrology I recommend this paper by Geoffry Dean and Ivan W. Kelly (you’ll need Reader). Try to read the whole thing as it is a great example of a well done study.

I think these articles do a great job of illustrating the lack of a viable astrological mechanism. The Dean and Kelly study shows how there is no correlation between astrological signs and personality traits.

There is another rationalization that comes into effect when a person is confronted with these data. Often they will accept that astrology doesn’t work for everyone, but state that, for them, it has accurately described people and personalities in their life. Anecdotale Evidence and Confirmation Bias are worth exploring in this argument. However, I would like to delve into an arguement closely related to the Gambler’s Fallacy.

Often a person will say that they don’t believe an astrological force is actively affecting personalities, but that astrological signs and personality traits are strongly correlated. If this is true, there must be another force affecting both the star signs and personality traits independantly. We have yet to discover any such force. The other option is that there is no force acting on both star signs and personality traits, yet they are still strongly corellated. I’ve already linked to an article that soundly shows that on a large scale personality traits and birth time is not correllated, but a person who believes in astrology may still claim that this has been true FOR THEM. At this point we need to carefully examine the premises.

If you admit that there is no known or probable force acting on personalities then all you have is correlation and any decision based off of the correlation is trivial. For example: if every Taurus Trish has ever met has been overtly stubborn and we accept that this is strictly correlation and no astrological force caused these people to be stubborn, there is no logical reason to believe the next Taurus Trish meets will be overtly stubborn. Basing a prediction off of data that is independent and not related is worthless.

Another example: if every time Rick goes the the doctor it has rained and we accept that this is strictly correlation and no force has caused both Rick’s visit and the rain, any prediction that it will rain next time Rick goes to the doctor is worthless. Final example: if every time Janet flips a coin and yells, “Slayer!” the coin has landed heads-up and we accept that this is correlation and that the yelling of “Slayer!” does not cause the coin to land heads-up, any prediction that the coin will lands heads-up the next time Janet yells “Slayer!” is worthless. The coin is still going to land heads-ups half of the time, regardless of Janets love of heavy metal. Remember, predictions based off of strictly correlation are worthless when we have no evidence that the two events are causally related.

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2 Responses to Astrology Primer and Correlation

  1. Conspirama says:

    Astrology Primer and Correlation…

    Someone close to me recently asked for a list of readings on astrology that supported my current stance that astrology has no scientific basis. I’ve compiled the following list of sources that I think best tackles the claims of ……

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