APn 05/07 1204 Stargazing America Copyright, 1988. The Associated Press. All rights reserv

Master Index Current Directory Index Go to SkepticTank Go to Human Rights activist Keith Henson Go to Scientology cult

Skeptic Tank!

APn 05/07 1204 Stargazing America Copyright, 1988. The Associated Press. All rights reserved. By ROBERT BARR Associated Press Writer NEW YORK (AP) -- Horoscopes aren't as popular as comic strips and obituaries and surveys find few people willing to admit they are guided by the stars, but astrology is firmly rooted in American culture. "Part of it is amusing and a parlor game, but unfortunately some people take it seriously," says Paul Kurtz, chairman of the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal. "If it is the case that the U.S. delayed the INF signing due to astrological predictions, that is serious," Kurtz said. What he was talking about, of course, was the disclosure by former White House Chief of Staff Donald Regan that Nancy Reagan consulted astrologers about her husband's schedule, including the signing of a nuclear arms limitation treaty with the Soviet Union. Her spokeswoman later confirmed that Mrs. Reagan did, indeed, consult astrologers. But the president said he had never based a policy decision on a horoscope. If true, that's just a darn shame, according to Joelle Mahoney, president of the 140-member Astrologers Guild of America. "Using an astrologer, to me, is just one more piece of input for the president to make a decision," she said Friday. To determined skeptics such as Kurtz, astrology is just another instance of what H.L. Mencken once called "the virulence of the national appetite for bogus revelation." A survey of 2,000 adults, conducted last year by the Public Opinion Laboratory of Northern Illinois University, found that two-thirds were regular or occasional readers of horoscopes and 36 percent thought astrology was scientific. However, only 7 percent said they ever adjusted their plans based on their horoscopes. New York Telephone gets a million calls a month -- at 28 cents a call -- for its dial-a-horoscope lines. However, according to company spokesman Steve Marcus, three to four times more callers dial for weather forecasts. The Gallup Poll hasn't asked adults about astrology since 1978, when it found that 29 percent of the respondents said they believed in it. More people expressed belief in such things as extra-sensory perception and deja vu, said Colleen McMurray of the Gallup Organization, but astrology ranked higher than the Loch Ness monster and Bigfoot, with only 13 percent believing in them. Barry Karr, who works with Kurtz's committee, said Gallup polls of children aged 13-17 found that belief in astrology increased from 40 percent in 1978 to 52 percent in 1986. In contrast, the number of those who believed in ESP fell from 67 percent to 46 percent and belief in the Loch Ness monster dropped from 31 percent to 13 percent. In newspaper readership surveys, anywhere from one-fifth to one-half of those surveyed say they read the daily horoscope, said Deanne Termini, executive vice president of Belden Associates of Dallas, a newspaper marketing research firm. It averages out to about one out of three readers, she said, By comparison, obituaries, editorials, comic strips and the "Dear Abby" or "Ann Landers" columns are followed by about 50 percent of newspaper readers, she said, while 20 percent do the crossword and only 5 percent bother with the bridge column. As far as Mrs. Mahoney of the astrology guild is concerned, newspaper horoscopes "are about the worst press that astrology has." "The true science of astrology is quite complex, and there are no two astrological profiles that are the same," she said. Robert W. Cooper, executive-secretary of the American Federation of Astrologers in Tempe, Ariz., takes a kindlier view of newspaper horoscopes, saying they at least serve to interest people in the art. The federation has between 4,000 and 5,000 members, Cooper said, adding that not all are astrologers. He estimated that the number of Americans involved in "serious astrology" is no more than 50,000 -- astrologers and clients included. All in all, Cooper said, the publicity generated by the White House connection made it a good week for astrologers. And he didn't seem at all surprised that it came on the same week the federation was observing the 50th anniversary of its founding -- on May 4, 1938, in Washington, D.C. Cooper and Mrs. Mahoney say astrology can't predict anything. Even with the help of computers, which have cut the time for casting a horoscope from six hours to 20 seconds, Mrs. Mahoney said: "We don't promise anything. We simply view ourselves as map-readers." "We can advise you, for instance, that the aspects in effect make you accident-prone for the coming period," said Cooper. However, he said, astrology can't predict whether an accident will happen. The risk of making predictions was demonstrated last week by Ostaro, the Hindu Astrologer, who volunteered to peer into President Reagan's future for The Associated Press. In addition to predicting Tuesday that Reagan might have some foot and knee injuries next year, Ostaro volunteered a prediction that the Chicago White Sox would beat the New York Yankees that night. The Yankees won. Despite skepticism, astrology has even had its moments in court. In 1985, the California Supreme Court overturned an Azusa city ordinance which banned fortune-telling, astrology, palmistry, tea-leaf reading and other occult arts. The only dissenting justice, Malcolm Lucas, argued that a municipality has the right "to protect its citizens from their own gullibility." But Justice Stanley Mosk wrote for the majority: "When such persons communicate their beliefs to others, they are not acting fraudulently; they are communicating opinions which, however dubious, are unquestionably protected by the Constitution." Mosk noted that many other people "purport to predict the future," including economists, investment counselors, political pollsters, and "clergymen who describe the concept of a hereafter."


E-Mail Fredric L. Rice / The Skeptic Tank