Astrology Shakeup: What’s Your New Sign? (FOX News Interview)

I join FOX News host Megyn Kelly (center) and astrologer Constance Stella (right) on America Live.

Today’s horoscope says: Expect some angry emails.

Early this morning I get the call from Lori, my Director at Discovery News, saying, “You’re appearing on FOX this morning!”

My morning-addled brain started wondering why. Was it because of the tech article I wrote about dousing superconductors in wine? Or was it about the Playboy Playmate picture that flew to the moon in 1969? Or had some massive piece of space news broken while I was asleep? Perhaps FOX News needed a space expert to explain some uber-cool cosmic discovery!

Alas, no.

They wanted me to explain an article I nearly didn’t bother writing: “Your Star Sign Just Got Rumbled.”

I nearly didn’t bother writing about this as I didn’t consider it “news.” I just saw a lot of fuss on Twitter about a change in the Zodiac and did some investigating. I won’t go over this non-news event again (you can read my article for the details), but for some reason the fact that astrology is bunk seemed to surprise people.

“I’m so depressed. How do I tell my wife that I’m now a Taurus?” — too funny.

The FOX News chat was fun, but there wasn’t nearly enough time to go into all the gory details. Have a watch, I thought it was quite entertaining. (I’ve heard that this YouTube video might not be available beyond the U.S. — let me know if you have problems.)

The upshot is that astrology isn’t a science. Astronomy is. So when scientists try to find some astronomical link between how the stars can influence our everyday lives — even shape our personalities — we will ultimately be disappointed. This frustration is evident in my article.

Astrologers acknowledge that there is a zodiacal shift — they’d be silly not to, there’s an obvious precession in the Earth’s rotation, or 26,000 year “wobble” — but this shift is in the “sidereal zodiac.” Astrologers have side-stepped this out-of-sync problem by pointing out that they use the “tropical zodiac” which is based on the seasons and not the positions of the constellations — Constance Stella touches on this in the FOX News interview. Hence why everyone getting worked up about a change in their star sign is erroneous. Sure, this fixes the problem, ensuring they keep 12 signs of the zodiac (avoiding the “extra” 13th constellation, the now famous Ophiuchus), but it begs the question: What’s the point in astrology if astrologers don’t care if there’s a drift between the traditional zodiac (written up by Babylonian astrologers 3000 years ago) and today’s corrected zodiac?

(Also, isn’t there another way of predicting future events through the seasons, split into 12 sections? Oh yes, it’s a… calendar.)

I think all this confusion only adds doubt in people’s minds about the validity of modern horoscopes. They are nothing more than fairy tales.

Before I get flamed in the comment boxes about me “trampling” on people’s beliefs and that astrologers have done nothing wrong, consider this. Astrology will always be here so long as people want to hear positive things about their future, regardless of the fact that it’s complete and utter nonsense. Most will call it “entertainment,” while others will spend a fortune getting “detailed forecasts” of junk from the likes of Jonathan Cainer. Where there’s belief in some supernatural “force” (not a real force by the way), there’s money and plenty of modern astrologers who will be able to make a living.

So there you go. A non-news event that culminated in an appearance on national television. While fun, I think I’ll be getting back to the science now…

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Survive 2012 for the Crazy Price of $49.95 (and I mean Crazy)

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I’ve often wondered how doomsayers can monetize their theories of the end of the world. It’s one thing to scare someone, but it’s quite another to get them to willingly hand over a wad of cash. It’s the classic door-step salesman problem: How do you get a homeowner to sign a contract after spending 30 minutes boring him/her to death with the reasons why they really should trust them — sweating in a badly-fitting suit — although they’ve only just met?

As far as I can work out, it seems the best way to profit from this doomsday tripe is to write a book. Apparently, publishers have little concern about what’s printed on the pages. If the cover art looks scary enough, and the numbers 2, 0, 1 and 2 are in bold type, the publication will sell itself. If that doesn’t work, hobble together a YouTube video with depictions of the Earth in flames… and Planet X (because Nibiru is so planet-killin’ cool). Oh, and add narration of some idiot with a superiority complex.

If this amazing marketing ploy isn’t upsetting enough people, build a website. Besides, if you fill that site with enough text, you’re bound to hit all the doom keywords and have a flood of Google search traffic. Hell, if this is the case, you can supplement the future royalties of your best-selling novel with some juicy advertising revenue. Yeah, that will work.

Oh yes, and sell fridge magnets (really).

However, all these ploys (including the awfully flawed “How to Survive 2012″ YouTube clips) aren’t a patch on what I’ve just seen: a “I Will Save Your Life In 2012 If You Buy My Book” website.

A screenshot of the "2012 Official Countdown" website.

A screenshot of the 2012 Official Countdown website.

It’s one of those classic “I can show you how to earn $5000/hour” set-ups. One long page, filled with text that takes a whole evening to read. This particular site is called the “2012 Official Countdown” and the URL is http://www.2012officialcountdown.com (I won’t link to it). A screenshot of the top of the page can be seen to the right.

So how do I know this is a scam? You mean apart from the transparent desperation to tell you that the government is lying to the world? The insane statements that “well-meaning experts” have got it all wrong (those silly scientists)? Or is it the the complete overuse of bold type, red type, yellow highlights and claims that they are the only ones that know the “truth”?

Actually, I can look past all that crap, and skip to one key detail that suggests to me that the author has an even looser grasp on reality than all the other crackpots I’ve encountered (thank you Greg for pointing this peach out):

Mr. Sayer is a respected Internet scholar with a concentration on the topics of history, spirituality and exposing untruths.

So Mr Sayer is, in fact, a guy that spends all his time on the Internet? You mean he’s a graduate of Google University? Poor guy, he must be a little warped. Oh, no, actually he’s more than a little warped:

There is one thing that remains completely undisputed by anyone who is truly informed…

“Every Major Religion… Minor Religions You’ve Never Heard Of… Non-Religious Spiritualists… And Even Atheists And Agnostics Agree…”

In 2012… something will happen.

What?

Aaaah… that’s the issue in dispute. That’s the issue that is causing all the debate.

And that’s where you’re having the most trouble deciding what is fact… and what is pure Hollywood fiction.

Hi. My name is J. Michael Sayer. And… I have the answer.

Unfortunately, the superiority complex is strong in this one. Mr Sayer is a self-professed “Internet scholar” who “has the answer.” The answer to what? Well, something bad is going to happen in 2012! No, really? Really. What’s more, he presents his material like a true soothsayer on a mission. People are pleading for his help! He has the answer! He helps people by telling them the answer! (After clicking on the PayPal button.)

I’ll be honest, I felt a legion of braincells die as I read through the story that ensues. For some reason “James” decides to chronicle the events of Hurricane Katrina and how we can prepare for a similar catastrophe in 2012 if we read his book. But the book is just a re-hash of all the old theories that have come before (as I outlined in No Doomsday in 2012) — ancient civilizations/prophets predict doomsday in 2012 etc. Even though the Mayans never predicted doom when their Long Count calendar ran out, and Nostradamus never accurately predicted what he was going to have for dinner, let alone the events that would happen hundreds of years after his death. In short, it’s all total rubbish.

Plus, there’s Planet X. Only this time, the planet killer is hiding behind the Sun, waiting to strike! Isn’t the Planet X theory dead and buried already?

The one thing that really ticks me off however, are questions like, “How much is it worth to you to have the peace of mind you need for your family?” Apparently, the package James is offering is “worth” (it seems you can put a price on bullshit these days) $7,850. Why? That’s because he’s put 157 hours of “research” into this package (so it looks like he charges $50/hour for his Internet surfing expertise). But wait! He doesn’t want to sell it for $7,850.

We both agree a mere $1,000.00 to change everything about your life and the future lives of your family members. That’s a bargain.

But he’s not even selling it for $1,000! What a guy. A hero.

You won’t pay $99… $89… or even $79. This price cutting is getting crazy.

Oh James, you’re making me cry. You’re such a crazy, crazy guy!

After some more nonsense about throwing in an mp3, another book, and a little piece of his soul, James is flogging this whole kit for $49.95. Amazing, right?

What is amazing is that I actually read that entire page and I’m not dribbling. This is 100% pure-home-grown bullshit, a scam. And I can call it a scam because absolutely none of what he is promoting is provable, and every theory presented can be debunked with real science. Unfortunately, this is the most brazen attempt yet to screw people out of their money. Although I’m fairly sure most people will see the page and know it’s a con, some will see it as a lifeline, unfortunately.

Another very unfortunate thing is that I found this page via a Google Ad on Astroengine.com. It’s now blocked, but I suspect we’ll be seeing more and more of these websites pop up the closer we get to December 21st, 2012.

For more detail about the science behind the pseudo-science of the 2012 doomsday theories, read the whole No Doomsday in 2012 series

“Science Knows It Doesn’t Know Everything… Otherwise It Would Stop.”

I love this video.

Dara O’Brian, Irish comedian, says it the way it is, and as Phil Plait said, “I sometimes think that comedians wield more skeptical leverage than bloggers.” This is true, but it’s up to us bloggers to post cool snippets from skeptical comedian sets and have a good giggle. So here’s the hilarious O’Brian, slamming crackpots across the board (beware the NSFW language):

Source: Bad Astronomy

How Do You Spot Science Abuse in the Social Media Soup?

Heads should be held in shame...

Heads should be held in shame...

You know the drill, we’ve all been there.

There you are, minding your own business, participating in the Web 2.0 phenomenon, scanning through the webpages on one of the countless social media sites. And then you see them, like coffee stains on your white upholstery, pages that seem a little out of place. One entry tells you that the world is coming to an end. Another tells you that the Illuminati have built a base on Pluto (with the obligatory IT’S A PLANET!!! comment underneath). Oh, and there’s another, claiming that a comet, twice the size of Jupiter is actually Planet X… and it’s coming right for us!

Of course, our common-sense neurons usually kick in, telling us that the author of the article is either a) nuts, b) an idiot, c) flying at half-mast or d) a troll. In which case, we are able to flex our social media muscles by burying, down-thumbing, down-arrowing, reporting or ignoring the offender.

There we go, social media in practice. One BIG victory for online democracy!

However, sometimes it’s not that simple. What if the author seems to be bona fide? What if the author is a so called “expert”? Say if the article uses some real science to explain their hopelessly flawed theory?

I may have been trawling around the dregs of the doomsday theory ilk for the past year, but the following list applies to pretty much any daft conspiracy theory or outrageous science claim, intended to misinform, scare or cause an online headache as you voyage through the increasingly accessible social media…
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Doomsday in 2012: Science-Lite

Doomsday = Fear = Money

Doomsday = Fear = Money

Something pretty cool has just happened over at that “2012 Comet” doomsday site (I won’t link to it, I can’t stomach sending any traffic to it, but here’s my Universe Today article about the subject).

I’ve had equal measures of praise and criticism for my most recent “No Doomsday in 2012″ article. Most of the praise came in the form of: “I’m really glad you addressed the 2012 comet scenario, those ads were p***ing me off!“. However, it did get criticised for chasing after a “small website” with “very little written on it” which “obviously confuses” what a comet is and what Planet X is.

However, this “small website” (which actually receives an awful lot more traffic than Astroengine.com), has decided to comment on my views on the subject. And you know what? I think it has enhanced their content ten-fold.

Here’s my reply
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Can Gravitational Waves be Used for Evil?

Theoretical gravitational waves generated after a black hole collision. Can we surf them?

Theoretical gravitational waves generated after a black hole collision. Can we surf them?

Gravitational waves are a theoretical consequence of a propagating energy disturbance through space-time. They are predicted by Einstein’s general relativity equations, and astrophysicists are going to great pains to try to detect the faint signature from the passage of these waves through local space. Unfortunately, even though millions of dollars have been spent on international experiments, the gravitational wave remains in equation form; there is little (direct) evidence to support their existence.

However, this doesn’t stop the US military from worrying about them and commissioned a 40-page report into whether high frequency gravitational waves could be used by an enemy. Excuse me? Gravitational waves… as a weapon?
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