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The First Thing We Do, Let’s Get Rid of All the Astrologers

Paul DesOrmeaux

Skeptical Briefs Volume 17.2, June 2007

There are fewer than ten newspaper columns dedicated to astronomy, yet, well over 1,000 newspapers carry a daily or weekly horoscope column. As Oscar Wilde wisely observed about journalism: “The public have an insatiable curiosity to know everything, except what is worth knowing.” It’s time to take a stand. I, therefore, propose that newspapers end this practice of printing daily horoscopes and, instead, replace it with news we can actually use, such as flossing tips and beer reviews.

As we creep optimistically into the early and enlightened twenty-first century, it’s time for publishers to acknowledge their seventy-or-so-year lapse of reason and finally admit that horoscopes have as much to do with real journalism as shuffleboard has to do with real sports. Isn’t there something just plain wrong about a newspaper item that’s never been amended in the “Corrections and Clarifications” section? Contrary to what adherents want us to believe, not everyone reads the newspaper’s daily horoscope. Truth be told, I don’t. In our newspaper the horoscope is harbored, logically, on the funny pages to the left of “Dilbert” and above the Bridge column. One would think curiosity would occasionally get the best of me, but I have no more interest in reading my horoscope than reading the microscopic disclaimer accompanying television car commercials.

According to astrological enthusiasts, I’m a Sagittarius because on the day I was born, the sun and moon and planets combined forces to pull, prod, and deep massage my personality into the unique “me.” Apparently I never had a chance. In fact, several years ago, I ended up in surgery to repair a volvulus (my small intestine got twisted up into a knot). The surgeon believed the disorder was likely congenital. Thanks, Jupiter!

Only in the name of exhaustive research did I finally succumb to reading the following horoscope for my sign: “Ease up on your expectations of a new project. Like cakes on the griddle, the first one doesn’t usually turn out so great. Toss it and try again.” Although this was so vague I had no idea what it meant, I did begin to crave pancakes. Maybe it was a subliminal message planted by the IHOP.

A competing newspaper claimed something different about me. Apparently it’s more important which paper you read or to which service you subscribe than the exact moment your obstetrician was calculating your Apgar score.

“What’s the crime?” is one rationalization for printing this hogwash. “It’s only for entertainment purposes.” If it’s only for entertainment purposes, why not reprint The Onion’s version for Sagittarians instead: “You will experience debilitating pain, unspeakable agony, and the loss of all of your hair when a voodoo doll bearing your likeness falls into the hands of a five-year-old girl.” Now that’s entertainment.

To most reasonable people, the horoscope is a waste of valuable newspaper real estate, which could be used for more useful items. Many professional astrologers (by “professional” I mean those who have printed-up business cards) agree; they’re not thrilled with the newspaper horoscope, or sun-sign astrology either, and they believe these brief readings barely scratch the astrological surface.

Since newspaper horoscopes are based only on the sun’s position, card-carrying astrologers claim that it reflects less than 10 percent of a person’s zodiac reading. A true reading requires interpretation of things like houses and a natal chart—something which resembles a Chinese dart board. But since many horoscope readers sooner or later contact an astrologer, why spoil a profitable gig for something as ambiguous as ethics? Let’s face it, the less than 10 percent of an astrological reading based only on the sun-sign probably leads to more than 90 percent of an astrologer’s income, which is probably why you don’t hear them protest too loudly (or at all).

I’m quite sure that newspaper publishers would break out into a cold sweat over the potential backlash that deleting the horoscope column would produce. Convincing the protesters, however, may not be an insurmountable prospect. Since 73 percent of Americans believe in the holy word of a supernatural infinitegenarian, remind them to read their Bible a bit more closely. God actually abhors astrology; he ranks it right up there with reason. According to biblical chatter, man is not allowed to worship the sun, moon and stars, and so astrologers will be summarily swallowed up in flames. I guess the Bible ain’t all bad.

Some might argue I’m infringing on the right of free speech. However, although I generally detest censorship of any kind, the Supreme Court has ruled time and again that although free speech is one of the most cherished guarantees of the Constitution, it doesn’t necessarily protect one from falsely yelling out “Virgo” in a crowded astrology convention.

Granted, this is a tough sell. These aren’t necessarily the best of times for newspapers but for the mental well-being of the country, I’m asking the newspapers to do the right thing. A newspaper can once again start building its credibility and be viewed as something more than a product that can be folded into a hat or used to wrap fish ‘n’ chips. If newspaper horoscopes disappear, just maybe—astrologers, will just fade away. And just maybe—other pseudosciences will follow suit. It’s worth a try, isn’t it? After all, scrapping newspaper horoscopes would be one small step for reason and one giant leap for articles reviewing beer.

Paul DesOrmeaux

Skeptical satirist Paul “Pablo” DesOrmeaux has written a variety of humorous pieces for a number of skeptical publications. He’s also a regular contributor to the Skeptical Inquirer’s “The Last Laugh.” He believes that if we don’t make room for humor and satire in skepticism, our impact will always be restrained, limited, and unintelligently designed.