Press and Pop Culture

Why Fear Astrology?

A recent “The Morning” Newsletter from the NY Times suggested seven podcasts about science for those “trying to learn more about the wonders of science.” Among other pressing wonders of science, these podcasts will let us know “whether there’s any scientific basis to astrology.” Why is the press, science popularizers, and many scholars, whether scientists or not, so fascinated by “astrology” and its relationship to “science.”[1]

“The Morning” newsletter from the NY Times notes the podcast questioning the scientific basis of astrology.

If we follow the newsletter’s link to the article, we see that the sixth podcast is “Science Vs.” This myth-busting podcast, we are told, will help us combat the “systemic anti-science movement” by “fact-checking falsehoods and delivering the truth in entertaining and authoritative style.” Astrology is paradigmatic, it seems, of the broader systemic anti-science movement, so much so that the author highlights the podcast that tackles the question: “Is there any scientific basis to astrology?”[2]

NY Times article about science podcasts highlights the episode of “Science Vs” that refutes any scientific basis for astrology.

Given prominence afforded astrology, I was surprised to see that you have to scroll back through the episodes to September 3, 2020 to find “Astrology: Are Gemini’s the Worst?” Hmm. I can’t say that’s a promising title for a podcast that is supposed to take on “fads, trends, and the opinionated mob to find out what’s fact, what’s not, and what’s somewhere in between.” I suspect this episode is going to reduce astrology to some pop-psychology version of sun-sign self-help and relationship advice. The two experts on the show, a professor of astronomy and a professor of communications, only exacerbate my concerns.

Why, I wonder, does astrology elicit such curiosity or anxiety or discomfort? Of the many other shows the NY Times author could have highlighted, why astrology instead of equally interesting episodes on supervolcanoes or orgasms or magic mushrooms?[3] Maybe, once I’ve listened to the episode, I’ll understand. Or maybe not.

  1. I enclosed “astrology” in quotation marks because most people lambasting astrology and people deemed foolish enough to believe in it do little to understand what they are attacking. Their attacks tend to reveal that they in fact know little or nothing about astrology. “Science” is also in quotation marks because these same people tend not to define science either. It’s all rather sloppy. I should add, I am not defending astrology (or “astrology”) as a science but rather drawing attention to the prevalence of people invoking some specter of astrology as the quintessential non-science.  ↵

  2. This seems to be a version of Betteridge’s Law of Headlines because clearly the author expects her enlightened reader to answer this question with a resounding “no.”  ↵

  3. Yes, I realize the author also highlighted the vaguely conspiracy theory episode about the CIA planting a virus in Cuba, and the episode about lab-grown meat, but pride of place was given to astrology, and astrology was singled out in the newsletter.  ↵