How Scientific Is Astrology?


Skeptical stargazers are increasingly rare:

[A] substantial minority of Americans, ranging from 31 to 45 percent depending on the year, say consider astrology either “very scientific” or “sort of scientific.” That’s bad enough—the NSF [National Science Foundation] report compares it with China, where 92 percent of the public does not believe in horoscopes—but the new evidence suggests we are also moving in the wrong direction. Indeed, the percentage of Americans who say astrology is scientifically bunk has been declining ever since a high point for astrology skepticism in 2004, when it hit 66 percent.

The recent increase in astrological credulity was most dramatic among those with less science education and less “factual knowledge,” NSF reported. In the latter group, there was a staggering 17 percentage point decline in how many people were willing to say astrology is unscientific, from 52 percent in 2010 to just 35 percent in 2012. Also apparently to blame are younger Americans, aged 18 to 24, where an actual majority considers astrology at least “sort of” scientific, and those aged 35 to 44. In 2010, 64 percent of this age group considered astrology totally bunk; in 2012, by contrast, only 51 percent did, a 13 percentage point change.

Update from a reader:

Just to let you know: the claim that 40% of Americans believe astrology is scientific is complete bullshit. As I suspected when I saw the result, many confused “astrology” with “astronomy”.  The poll did not explain the difference.  As a professional astronomer, this happens to me quite a bit.  With a cold poll, I am guessing that many people, hearing the word “scientific”, got even more confused.


I had to laugh out loud when I saw the update from the professional astronomer saying that the results of the recent survey were “complete bullshit.”  Once again we see astronomers overreacting in sheer panic at the mere thought that millions and millions of Americans actually use and enjoy astrology.  The horror, the horror! Here are the facts:

1) The professional astronomer should have actually read the study before offering his/her de facto statement of absolute scientific truth. The study is available online for anyone to see (pdf). The astrology survey in question is on page 1729 of the survey.  While the astronomer is correct that people often confuse astrology and astronomy, the drafters of the survey made it very clear that they were specifically referring to astrology. They ask two very pointed, specific questions:

1062. Now, for a new subject. Do you ever read a horoscope or your personal astrology report?

1063. Would you say that astrology is very scientific, sort of scientific, or not at all scientific?

So each interviewee was prompted with detailed astrological language to help prevent the confusion between astronomy and astrology.  The professional astronomer is shooting from the hip (his own opinions), not from the actual facts as stated in the report.

2) “Complete bullshit” would assume that closer to 0% of the population believes in astrology. According to the latest survey from the Pew Research Center’s Religion & Public Life Project, 25% of the American population believes in astrology. The question again was framed in a manner that would allow no confusion between astronomy and astrology. 25% is over 78 million people.  For someone to discount nearly a quarter of our nation’s population is incredibly insulting.  And unscientific.

Previous Dish on horoscopes here, here, and here.