Dr. Brian Cox vs. Astrologers

December 2010

BBC biased

Wonders of the Universe – Youtube

“Astrology is Total Bollocks”

This week, Dr. Brian Cox delivered the Huw Wheldon Memorial lecture on ‘Science: a Challenge to TV orthodoxy.’ “Astrology is total bollocks” is what he said – having yet another dig at astrology and astrologers or astrologists as he incorrectly calls us.

Now I like a good challenge and I don’t have a problem with people who are sceptical about astrology – some of my best friends are, so to speak!
And Brian is welcome to an opinion – it raises discussion and that’s all good. But I wonder why he keeps singling us out. Doth he protest too much?

I think he is a very good and clear speaker and he does a lot to get science back into the picture. His Wonders of the Solar System was fantastic. All the astrologers I know loved it and they love science. We see no clash between the two disciplines.

But there has been much outcry from astrologers and also from the Global Warming camp. And I think justifiably. Not because he has an opinion but because of where and how he does it. And he is NOT scientific and sometimes he is just plain wrong.

Let’s take a look at what he said:
Evidence is more important than opinion – agreed and agreed that many astrologers don’t have this.
He shows a clip from Feynman –  one of his ‘greatest scientists’ who says there are 3 stages to science.
1- guess, 2- compute consequences, 3 experiment and if that disagrees then the theory is wrong.
No issues there. But Feynman also says it doesn’t matter who says it – it’s either right or wrong.  The number of people who believe it also doesn’t matter. For Cox that’s fine except if an astrologer says it apparently. Or if enough scientists say it – that’s means there’s a consensus arrived at by peer review so that’s more truthful.

Hmm peer pressure – I thought as a Pisces 🙂 he might be a bit more creative than that. And with that spark of Aries a bit braver. (Go on Brian – give us your birth time so we can really have a go at you!) Peer pressure resulted in a simple cure for ulcers being denied to sufferers by the scientific community for years. And there are numerous examples of this – more like peer bludgeoning when it comes to some scientists.

There was an interesting statement he refers to in Wonders. Apparently when we get it right – Jupiter does have some kind of influence as we astrologers have always said  (although I think not in the way most scientists try to imagine that) –  we are still wrong. Lucky guess?  Wonder what he thinks about the Moon containing water and silver?  Astrologers have had that association for pretty well ever.  Another lucky guess?

But of course we are so trivial that it is inconsequential.  Apart from the fact that astrologers ( or New Agers as he refers to us) are “undermining the very fabric of our civilisation.” Wow shouldn’t we do something about that? That doesn’t sound too trivial!  What power we have – no wonder scientists want to get rid of us.

Some more comments from the learned doctor.  Astrology is essentially a faith system – now sorry Brian but this IS total bollocks. You really don’t know anything about the body of knowledge – still stuck in the ideas of the wonderful ( but misguidedly outdated views on astrology) Carl Sagan.

Cox raises the issue of the complaint the astrologers raised with the BBC about the episode of Wonders. It stated ‘Astrology must be presented in a balanced way – according to BBC guidelines.’ He settles this quickly by saying, “This is incorrect fortunately”.

Has he read the BBC guidelines?  Astrologers have done a lot to get these altered and the new ones actually do say this – not astrology as such but any subject. So he is just plain wrong here. “Impartiality is at the core of BBC commitment to its audience.” Go figure that one.

And then there is a bit of schizophrenia – I guess Pisces does swim both ways:) – some statements:
“The right to express an opinion is the lifeblood of democracy. If you know little about a subject how are you to make up your mind?  How can your audience truly understand and appreciate something if you skip over necessary information in the misguided cause of simplification. One needs facts and accuracy.
Apparently not if you are Doctor with an impressive scientific record going out on a major television channel seen by millions  You can then truly conclude that astrology is total bollocks without any scientific facts. That helps your viewers make up their minds. Thanks for that.

Let’s face it – it does matter who says what and being a public science guru carries weight and responsibility.  I expected and hoped for more from young, dashing, modern, hip scientists.

I may sound angry but I’m not – it’s sadness that I feel. Astrology can offer a lot and it can and is being tested in a scientific fashion – it’s just not the way many scientists believe in  – that’s scientism –  and often it involves looking for a physical cause. Astrology must be experimented with qualitatively.

What a pity really good scientists rule out working with people with unorthodox views. Thank God for people like Dr Rupert Sheldrake who is taking on the scientific community at their own game. At least he has some gravitas. But we are back in universities so there is some hope.

And as a last comment – if you want a fight Dr Cox – let’s play fair! Give us a right of reply…

Venus and the Moon by Faye

The sky was ours long before it was ever yours! And I would like to see you prove the awe that you and most people feel when you look at a sky like this…

Comments 14

  1. a) understand ‘scientific method’
    b) apply results of a) to astrology
    c) when the scientific method has been applied publish a paper that can be peer reviewed and if it its conclusions are reproduced, independently, by others and do not fail then use this to beat Brian cox over the head, or if you fail agree with him.

    This is how you prove something to be true rather than like/wish/hope/believe something to be true.

    As an added bonus James Randi will give you a million dollars …. a prize which has remained unclaimed for about 20 years for anyone that can prove astrology.

  2. Hello Richard

    Thanks for posting a reply but unfortunately it doesn’t really have anything to do with the post which was not about whether astrology was true or not. I don’t even think that astrology is true – as that would be a meaningless statement. You would first need to define astrology ( nigh on impossible and many good minds have tried) in order to test truth.
    I also don’t want to beat Brian Cox over the head – I love his work and he is more than entitled to his opinion. The post was about astrologers having a right to reply on national TV and about the BBC going against their own rules. And of course Prof Cox himself being unscientific.

    Your comments have been given many times – old news for astrologers as is Randi – if you want to see what his true colours are, read the dialogue between him and astrologers. So I am not interested in a long discussion that has been had many times.
    However I would like it if astrologers ( me included) could be treated with respect. So I would like to address what I see as personal attacks from an anonymous poster. So to your point a.
    I have a science degree which included maths and statistics. My Masters also included a paper on scientific research methods. So I think I am qualified to ‘understand scientific method’
    b. Has been done many times mostly with quantitative research.
    c. Has been done often and in different ways over thousands of years in books and lately in papers ( Astrology back in the Universities). However perhaps unfortunately our peers are also often astrologers which of course are deemed ‘unscientific’, even although no scientist has probably studied any of our work.

    I am not trying to prove astrology is true – that is indeed probably impossible ( and as I said meaningless) but that doesn’t mean it’s not a good tool or as good a model ( which in my view is what it is) as any other. You can also study scientifically whether it ‘works’ and gives interesting results which is what I have done in the past. I am a strong advocate of this and will continue to promote better research into astrological theories.

  3. Astrology was developed on the belief that stars lay on a single plane. The ancients had no comprehension of the vastness of space or that the constellations they created included stars separated by hundreds of millions of light years. Why waste your precious ephemeral life on a mind-bogglingly complex system whose very foundation is erroneous? Science is easier and more true.

  4. Hi birdeisen
    The bit about the ancients is simply untrue as is the foundation statement. I enjoy “wasting my ephemeral life” on what is indeed a complex system. A choice that I made and expect others to respect. I would also disagree that science is easier – noone understands quantum physics – even great physicists can’t get their heads around it. And black holes stay stubbornly difficult to understand.
    Modern astrologers are going back to the ancients as they had an amazing understanding of the skies. Many of us are taking in the whole sky and using constellations and fixed stars (which incidentally astrologers have used for centuries) in ‘Visual Astrology’ which at a guess you haven’t studied.

  5. Nobody denies that good astrologers have a deep understanding of how our solar system moves. The mistake astrologers make is to expect that this underlying knowledge allows them to make further claims of knowledge, based on these movements, which are unfounded and unproveable.

    This is why astrology is not entitled to balance from the BBC. Balance requires 2 things of equal weight. Astrology does not have equal weight with science because it is not science. Until you can subject astrology to the scientific method, and your arguments for why not seem spurious, then it is a belief system and nothing more.

  6. Hi BLB
    I am amazed how much this topic is in the news- interesting in itself. I think like any other group of people we are allowed to have opinions and make claims – scientists make claims all the time on the basis of knowledge which is later found wanting. As I have said many times astrological theories have many times been looked at with scientific principles but, I agree, not enough which is now being addressed in universities. Saying astrology is a belief system is like saying biology is a belief system. It’s meaningless. Like all ‘ologies’ it refers to a study which is just as valid as anything else. The basic principle which you could call a belief is that we are connected to our universe in some way.

    But again that’s missing my argument. In their own guidelines BBC have these principles. My point is that they should adhere to what they promise.

  7. “Simply untrue.” Really. The Ptolemaic cosmology on which modern astrology rests is based on the ancient belief that the earth was at the center of the solar system, surrounded first by those few planets that could be seen with the naked eye, and encased in a dome of stars. Ptolemy’s system was mind-bogglingly complex because of the erroneous belief that the earth was the center, and astrology is mind-bogglingly complex because it contorts itself to ignore every advance in cosmology since Kepler.

  8. Hi birdeisenThanks for your comments.There was a lot of astrology that used the whole sky before the Greeks. Babylonians and Egyptians were also looking at the whole sky for meaning. You are indeed correct that the Greeks with their passion (or I might say obsession?) for order divided up the zodiac in nice neat parts. Indeed since Kepler we know more about where we are although I have my suspicions about some of the ancients ( yes I know unscientific statement). But astrology looks at the world from the earth, so a geocentric model is not all that weird even if we know that we are not the centre of the universe. The way we use astrology has moved on a bit from Ptolemy. It has evolved to take account of many things including the outer planets, the fact that Ceres along with Pluto is a dwarf planet to name a couple. You are right in that there are still astrologers who use traditional techniques and don’t use the outer planets. I disagree with this too. There are as many opinions inside the astrological community as there are in the scientific community. But just because we use the tropical zodiac doesn’t mean the study of astrology is null and void. But I realise that is an argument raging elsewhere. And actually I don’t find astrology mind-boggling complex to use. Why it might work is another question altogether. I have my theories about this involving morphic fields but this is perhaps not the forum for this. (My paper on this is online.)

  9. Thank you for sharing your perspective on the challenges faced by astrologers in the scientific community. Your insights are appreciated.

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