Date: 05-Apr-92 16:34 EDT
By DONALD J. FREDERICK
For AP Special Features
CHICAGO -- More than one-third of American adults believe astrology
has some scientific merit. Nearly one in seven regularly reads horoscope
These numbers, reported in recent studies, sent eyes rolling
heavenward at a session on astrology and other pseudoscience at the
annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of
"Astrology, like alchemy, may have at one time reflected the
scientific inquiry of its time, but has long since departed from the
scientific mainstream into a commercial pseudoscience," says Jon D.
Miller, vice president of the Chicago Academy of Sciences.
Webster's dictionary defines astrology as "a pseudoscience based on
the notion that the positions of the moon, sun and stars affect human
affairs and that one can foretell the future by studying the stars,
John Durant, assistant director of the London Science Museum, came
away from the session convinced that "for those of us concerned with
public understanding of science, it's just important to let people know
that they may be buying a rather false bill of goods."
Who's buying? Statistics show that a lot more women than men in
England, France and the United States take seriously their horoscope, a
daily forecast based on the position of the planets.
Why? One possible reason is that "women in our societies generally
have less control over their own social, occupational and family future
than men do, and this situation generates greater feelings of
insecurity," says Daniel Boy of the University of Paris.
"Belief in astrology would serve to reduce this insecurity
symbolically by offering predictions and readings of the women's
personal destinies," Boy adds.
In the United States, this gender orientation is reflected in
Horoscope magazine's 180,000 readers, more than 80 percent of whom are
female. "Women in general tend to embrace these kinds of philosophical,
psychological self-help tools and methods more than men," says
editor-in-chief Ronnie Grishman.
A surprising number of people with strong religious beliefs are also
attracted to astrology, but many of them aren't affiliated with
traditional denominations, studies have found.
Many astrology enthusiasts ponder their destinies in horoscope
columns published in almost 1,400 daily newspapers. Critics argue that
the starry advice should appear on comics or entertainment pages and
carry warnings that it shouldn't be taken seriously.
Despite the caveats some newspapers carry, Miller has found that as
many as 8 million Americans let their horoscope influence some
decisions, especially on travel. "If people who don't like to fly anyway
can get any kind of encouragement at all to stay home, an astrology
column can be very helpful," he says.
"Newspaper disclaimers haven't done much to dissuade people from
becoming interested in astrology," Robert W. Cooper, executive secretary
of the Tempe, Ariz.-based American Federation of Astrologers, says. The
organization, which claims to have 5,000 members worldwide and
affiliates in 40 countries, emphasizes astrology education programs.
"We don't profess to be fortune tellers," says Cooper. "The
professional astrologer is supposed to give you a look at what you are,
how you are, and give you some potentials. The difference between our
science and a lot of others is that we have many variables and few fixed
Some of the fixed conditions hark back to earliest recorded time,
when astrologers ascribed mystical qualities to the planets, the moon
and the sun, teaching that they affected the destinies of nations and
With the intellectual ferment of the Renaissance, astrology suffered
a setback as the Western world turned to scientific study of nature and
the universe. But astrology has long since recaptured the attention of
Cooper is convinced that "a trend toward specialization and new
computer programs giving more people access to astrology will make the
ancient practice even more popular.
"Today, instead of just sending someone to any astrologer, we ask
about their interest. More and more of our members are becoming
specialists instead of general practitioners. Some concentrate on
financial matters, marital problems and career moves, or even help in
Planetary jargon often leads the public into confusing astrology with
astronomy, the science of the universe.
Peter Pesch, an astronomer at Case Western Reserve University in
Cleveland, remembers the afternoon when someone from a local television
station called to ask if the station's staff astrologer could visit the
"The guy wanted to pose in front of one of our telescopes while
making his predictions," Pesch recalls disdainfully. "We of course
refused. It would be like contacting the Cleveland Clinic and saying we
want to photograph our medicine man dancing and shaking rattles in the