Astrologers cashing in on stock market uncertainty

Please tell me this is an early April Fool:

Skinner is one of a growing, albeit secretive, network of astrologers who work for seemingly conservative British institutions such as high street banks, City investment funds and retailers. Desperate to avoid financial meltdown and to spot fashions and consumer trends before they start, these institutions have turned to the planets to divine the future.

Great. As if there weren’t enough problems already.

“Most academics distrust astrology and regard it as mumbo-jumbo,” she says. “The thing is, it works. Nobody’s sure how it works, but it does. Most of my clients are business people who are very canny. If it didn’t work for them, why would they use it?”

Maybe because the idea of the ultra-rational businessperson is a pervasive myth? Somebody who works in ‘business’ (whatever this means) is just as vulnerable to logical fallacies as the rest of us. Try watching Question Time – the ‘business’ panelists are regularly the most cringeworthy, and often have rings run around them by debate-trained politicians. Being good at making money doesn’t mean you know how to think.

Hitler, a keen user of astrology, notably failed to take into account Mercury’s influence. He launched the Battle of Britain and planned Operation Sealion – the invasion of Britain – just as Mercury turned retrograde. Both mistakes dealt serious blows to his plans for world domination.

Christ. No other factors involved there. Post-hoc rationalisation, anyone?

While many decry astrology as bunkum, Dr Percy Seymour, an astrophysicist recently retired from Plymouth University, has his own theory of how this inexact science might work. He believes that low-frequency magnetic fields emanating from the sun interact with those of the earth, which in turn affect the functioning of the human brain.

“The magnetic field of the sun can be affected by the movement and position of the planets,” he says. “Having said all that, I don’t believe that the cosmos controls us, but it can influence us.”

It’s a neat theory, but does it stand up to scrutiny?

Well, no. Theory is redundant without an effect to explain, and there’s no evidence of planetary movements affecting anything. The ‘cosmos’ only influences us in as much as, when times get bad, people will turn to anything. I’m sure The Skeptics’ Guide once mentioned a correlation between economic downturns and the popularity of woo, although I can’t find anything to back this up atm. Incidentally, Dr. Percy Seymour has apparently been saying this stuff for a while, and his theories are taken apart here.

Jim Porter (not his real name), chief technical analyst for one of the largest banks in Britain, believes it does. He uses heliocentric astrology to predict the direction of the international financial markets.

Millions of pounds’ worth of commodities, shares and currencies are traded on his command. His decisions may affect the values of your pension and your home, and perhaps decide how long you hold on to your job.

We’re all screwed.

I’m pretty skeptical of the stock market. I’ve yet to be convinced its movements aren’t random (or, at least, chaotic) and inherently unpredictable. Richard Wiseman detailed in Quirkology how the investments of a stock analyst, an astrologer and a five-year-old girl performed over different periods of time – from a week to a year1. The girl won. Random processes are an easy mark for anything that claims to predict the future – the nature of random data means there’ll always be some pattern you can take credit for.

Via Bad Science.

  1. or longer, I’ve lent my copy out so can’t check atm []