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Understanding the zodiac

 
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Deb
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Posted: Wed Mar 25, 2015 10:06 am    Post subject: Understanding the zodiac Reply with quote

I have just published an article in response to the BBC's recent reassertion that there should be 13 signs of the zodiac, not 12. (links are in the article).

This story comes around with a new layer of publicity fairly regularly now, so part of the article explains why the BBC has played a heavy hand in confusing the issues, since they first reported it on the Nine o'clock News 20 years ago, (a publicity stunt for one of their astronomy programmes).

Although written in the hope that journalists in the future will have no excuse for not being informed, the article should prove interesting to most astrologers too, in clarifying points that often fail to get attention.

The article is at http://skyscript.co.uk/zodiac.html
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Mark
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Posted: Wed Mar 25, 2015 11:50 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Hi Deb,

I admire your efforts to take on the BBC misinformation campaign. Although I suspect the sceptics behind all this are just using the 13th sign argument as a trojan horse to discredit astrology in general. They dont care if its 12, 13 or 55 signs. It all 'pseudoscience ' whackery to them which needs to be publicly ridiculed rather than seriously debated.

Mark
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Deb
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Posted: Wed Mar 25, 2015 12:43 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Of course you are right - the implication is that astrologers are too dumb to know what they are talking about. Whether the article influences opinion is not my concern, although I hope the article is informative enough in its own right to justify the time I spent on it. My feeling is that these sorts of stories come around too often for the astrological community to not at least put up a sensible, informative explanation of why they are misrepresentative. Whenever I publish anything nowadays my thought is always that I've published what I want to say myself, others can make of it what they will.
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Paul
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Posted: Wed Mar 25, 2015 1:36 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Whatever else, as an astrological community, we now have a good resource, which can be found through appropriate google searches, about how astrologers understand the zodiac, with all these strawman arguments systematically refuted.

It may not change anyone's mind or stop astronomers piggy backing on astrology to promote their books/shows/whatever, but it will mean there's another voice out there. In time, hopefully with more links pointing to it, google will begin to rank that article a bit higher for certain search terms, which at least may make it more difficult for astronomers to keep on doing it.

But if nothing else it at least provides astrologers with a voice too, even if nobody is listening to it.
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pankajdubey



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Posted: Wed Mar 25, 2015 1:50 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Off Topic:

There was a time when in India everyone used to listen to BBC for anything important ,and there was a general feeling that they are a bit mischievous and like needling a bit. It is good to know that they do not discriminate in that habit and do that at home as well :-)

Looks like this topic has become a tag team sport between the Guardian and the BBC.

PD
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Deb
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Posted: Wed Mar 25, 2015 2:01 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Thanks Paul - I made references to the BBC for that reason. It is surprising how they pick up on what articles like this, and hopefully they will note that they are doing themselves no favours by allowing this sort of criticism to be seen for what it is, and will realise that their reputation suffers for it.

Last time I wrote an article about Dara O Briain's silly demonstration of how astrology is rubbish (because it is only the Earth that takes 365 days to go around the Sun) it was picked up an commented on by several influential media sources. It raised the profile of the controversy a lot which did not feel good at the time; but this time around even the skeptics seem to be tiring of trying to attack astrology for stupid reasons. I put a response on the Independent page this morning (noticed a good one by Phillip Graves too), and also noticed that throughout the responses, there was much more of an attitude of criticising the media reports that keep trotting this one out, regardless of what it says about astrology, because it reflects badly on anyone who cares about astronomy too. This comment is what a skeptic had to say:

Quote:
Sure astrology is bunk. But so is this story.

...

A tiny amount of actual research into astrology as it is practiced in the present would have revealed this. Astrologers can be expected to do bad science, but when the supposed rationalists do bad science there is no excuse!

What is worse is that debunking based on strawman arguments ends up muddying the waters (if you'll pardon the mixed metaphor). Those who believe in astrology will note the lie in the debunkment and be reinforced in their belief. It's a lose/lose situation.

Bad science is bad science.


People do read pages like this, and once someone has become informed it is hard to become uninformed. In less than 24 hours the page has been shared 89 times on FB and reached about 17000 people. That is nothing compared to the massive exposure the BBC's page will get (think millions), but it only takes a few people in the right places to recognise that bad education and prejudice is worse than letting people get on with what they sincerely believe in, and then those people have their own influence too.

I realised that as this controversy surfaced over the last few days the Sun is trining Saturn, which is aligned by longitude to two of Ophichus's stars (just throwing that out there).
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Deb
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Posted: Fri Mar 27, 2015 4:03 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

The BBC moves - but so far, only to cover its own tracks.

As a result of numerous complaints on the BBC iWonder Facebook page yesterday, and lots of support for a post I made saying that the basis of their content; that precession of the equinoxes was unknown to Greek astrologers, was easily disproven by reference to the work of scholars (I placed a googlebooks link to one on their page), they have now amended the content of their webpage so that it no longer describes precession as an "unknown phenomenon".

The rest of the content remains as it was - so basically, the have removed the fundamental premise of their argument, whilst retaining their argument. I have informed them that I cam contacting the IAU to obtain confirmation that it is correct for an educational website to claim "the astronomical zodiac actually has 13 star signs".
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james_m



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Posted: Fri Mar 27, 2015 7:09 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

deb, i admire you for doing this.. the misrepresentation of astrology in the media is unfortunate, but i have come to expect it. i am glad there are some people like yourself that are unwilling to accept it. another thing i have come to accept is the dishonesty of the media.. i might be mistaken, but i think the general view on much of the media these days is how lousy they are in actually covering anything newsworthy in a neutral and relatively unbiased manner.. it is just the opposite no matter whether they are covering astrology or pretty well anything. thanks for doing this and good luck in your efforts to make some positive changes.. i see it as a real uphill battle..
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Deb
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Posted: Fri Mar 27, 2015 8:29 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Thanks for the comments James, and I understand exactly how you feel and why.
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Eric L



Joined: 23 Feb 2014
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Location: New York

Posted: Sat Mar 28, 2015 12:05 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Is it already time for this old chestnut of the armchair skeptics to come back out? It seems like almost yesterday everybody I knew was alarmed that they had the "wrong" sign. I used it as what they call a "teachable moment," with a little speech about how all astrologers have known about precession for millennia and why most Western astrologers use the tropical zodiac. This usually segues into an explanation of how horoscope columns use "sun signs" and that a full astrological analysis is far more detailed and personal. I find that most of the people I discuss this with come away more interested in astrology than when they started, and frankly if I did professional consultations I'd probably use the opportunity to drum up some business!

I love the article. It's more thorough than my ad hoc explanations, and next time my acquaintances begin going through what I call "Ophiuchus shock" I'll be sure to share it.
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Southern Cross



Joined: 10 Jan 2014
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Posted: Sun Mar 29, 2015 9:38 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Deb: great article and thanks for all the work you do. Thumbs up
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Therese Hamilton



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Posted: Tue Mar 31, 2015 8:38 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Deb, a lot of work and research went into your article. With the many technical points and attractive helpful illustrations, it's more than an article. It's material for a hard copy booklet that might be made widely available and even sold through Amazon.

I think if you took copies to the AFA conference here in the states in April, all the copies would quickly disappear into the eager hands of astrologers, many copies to be passed on to friends and clients. I dearly wish I could attend the Cosmic Clock conference and personally meet you, Chris, and Ben Dykes, but circumstances don't allow the trip at this time.
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waybread



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Posted: Thu Apr 16, 2015 4:26 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I like this article a lot, and hope it gets wider circulation. It so clearly demonstrates that thoughtful astrologers are not just a bunch of superstitious dummies.

In response to the excerpt from the comment by the "skeptic" I would argue that astrology is not "bad science" or "bad astronomy" any more than the disciplines of history or English literature are "bad science." Knowledge also comfortably fits into respected yet non-scientific fields like the humanities and fine arts.

Astrology fits into an interdisciplinary field called cultural astronomy or sometimes ethnoastronomy, which studies astronomical knowledge systems of various cultures. The focus here is not on modern laboratory science as the template against which other knowledge systems are to be measured (and found wanting,) but simply to understand what these alternative knowledge systems were like and how they functioned within their societies.

For example, it would make no sense to say that the unassimilated Pawnee people of the American Great Plains practiced "bad science" with their star lore. They didn't practice astronomy as we understand the term today, but nevertheless were serious observers of the heavens.

Moreover, a lot of academic research on the history of science increasingly acknowledges "alternative" knowledge systems that nevertheless made signal contributions to the knowledge system that we define as science today.

Just as a footnote to the article, the Babylonians switched from using constellations to locate planets to signs by around 400 BCE, and probably earlier, as an easier means of tracking eclipses and planetary positions, given their sexagesimal (base 60) system of arithmetic (from which we get our 360-degree circle, compass bearings, and map coordinates.)

The Babylonian system was sidereal, so they weren't concerned with precession, even though this was a big problem for the ancient Egyptians and Greeks.

A good source on Babylonian astronomy/astrology is Francesca Rochberg, 2004, The Heavenly Writing: Divination, Horoscopy, and Astronomy in Mesopotamian Culture, Cambridge University Press. This senior professor at UC-Berkeley demonstrates that we have to understand knowledge in the terms of the people who developed it, not according to some post-hoc science template.
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Hsn1983



Joined: 11 Mar 2015
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Posted: Thu Apr 16, 2015 1:19 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

The article is outstanding and makes so much sense
However what confuses me is the lunar Arabian parts and planetary positions in the night sky and how they relate to the positions mentioned in astrology websites such as astrotheme.com where I get my daily forecast from. For example I see Saturn next to the 17th lunar part in first face of scorpio but according to astrological websites it is in 4 sagittarius, and the moon as well in Pisces 26 but seen in Aquarius. How do I know the lunar parts positions now? Does Aries first lunar part , sheratan, starts in 0 degrees Aries in astrotheme.com calendar or in 15 degrees Pisces which is a different part visible in the sky?

Please clarify this point to me so I can know where the lunar parts are exactly
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Donna Chang



Joined: 24 Feb 2012
Posts: 94
Location: San Francisco

Posted: Sun Apr 19, 2015 10:10 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Dear Deb,

This article is exceptional. Your writing style is clear, succinct, rich and natural.
You have the rare ability to explain without condescension.

Unlike so many of us, I am so glad you remain in the arena and continue to fight the good fight.
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