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 []

Astrotravel

I was listening to Radio 2 this afternoon when the waste of bandwidth that is the weekly astrology segment started. Russell Grant wittered on as usual and I wasn’t paying much attention until he mentioned that he’d been asked his advice on whether a person should move to the Orkney Isles. He said:

I had to look up the astrotravel […] and it’s a Leo place is Orkney, and it’s a good place to live or work.

Places have star signs now? How does that work? Are there any places – like here, presumably – with a sign that say they’re a bad place to live and work? Astrotravel?! Actually, I don’t think I want to know. It’ll just wind me up. Except I’m intrigued.

Skeptico

I very much like the Skeptico blog as it does a great job of annihilating pseudoscience. A couple of recent posts that I thought were excellent:

  • In June 2000, an astrologer said ‘avoid terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001’. No trickery – she really said that before the event. Can you guess how she did it?.
  • A wide-ranging study that aimed to compare cases of autism with exposure to MMR recently published its results. 28,000 children were watched, and in results directly applicable to the number of autism cases and the amount of exposure in the US, no link was found. Nothing. Of course, this doesn’t please crazy people, who say that doesn’t prove there is no link. I’m going to write to them about the dragon in my garage. Full details.

Astronomy / Astrology

BBC1 just now: “This is an amateur astrologer’s telescope”.

No. No it’s not. It’s not and it’s not and it’s not. It’s not. I’m extremely skeptical that astrologers have ever used telescopes.

Astrology = system of divination that uses the position of the planets, moon and sun in the twelve Zodiac positions at the moment of one’s birth to gain knowledge of the future; bullshit
Astronomy = the study of celestial bodies and the universe as a whole; wonderful

‘course, I can see how people mix up the words, which is probably what happened. There must be a clever way of remembering, like stationery / stationary’s ‘e for envelopes’.

Hmmm. All I can come up with is:

Astrology has ‘log’ in it. Logs are brown, and so is shit.

Well, it works for remembering which colour a plug’s live wire is…You think that’d make it into textbooks?

Update:

Other suggestions:

L for Lies (by Ed)
L for Libra