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Commentary By Heather Mac Donald

Why Is The New York Times Taking Astrology Seriously?

Culture Culture & Society

Here’s what the feminization of the news room looks like: The New York Times — that self-appointed scourge of fake news and the alleged war on science — has published a fawning article about astrology in its news pages. “Leaning on the Stars to Make Sense of the World,” by Alexandra S. Levine, treats Times’ readers to heaping doses of astrological mumbo jumbo: “Saturn’s move from a fire sign to an earth sign next month.” It respectfully conveys astrologers’ hilariously self-important evaluations of their “profession”: “‘It’s so important that we give quality literature, quality interpretation, quality astronomy and astrology,’” says the astrology columnist for Harper’s Bazaar. The article never once asks the obvious questions, including: What is the theory behind astral influence? Do stars emit some physical force, wave, particle, or gravitational field that affects events on earth, and if so, has it been measured? What is astrologers’ ex post facto batting average — how do their daily newspaper predictions stand up? Have they predicted major events with anything other than random success?

The closest that Ms. Levine gets to skepticism is the following: “for a craft so often criticized for being nonscientific and, in some cases, fraudulent, horoscopes still cover the pages and websites of publications in New York and across the globe.”

“Anyone who is willing for an instant to credit the claims of astral influence is a walking demonstration of the tragic failure of science education. ”

“In some cases fraudulent?” When are horoscopes ever not fraudulent, in the Times’ view? Anyone who is willing for an instant to credit the claims of astral influence is a walking demonstration of the tragic failure of science education. One of the greatest accomplishments of Western civilization is the development of the scientific method and the scientific disposition, which entail the development of falsifiable hypotheses about the world and the unwillingness to take unverified and untheorized claims about the world as truth, simply because someone states that they are true. But Ms. Levine writes throughout her piece as if astrology were a real activity: “There is no formal schooling to be an interpreter of the stars.” Leaving aside the assumption that the stars are actually being interpreted, what would “formal schooling” in a fraud look like?

Ms. Levine likewise assumes that astrologers are actually doing something real when she recounts the “professional” activities of the New York Daily News’ astrologer. “He has used astrology,” she writes, “to help him interpret news of three hurricanes, Harvey Weinstein, North Korea, the mass shooting in Las Vegas and the attack in Lower Manhattan.” The astrologer, Eric Francis Coppolino, says that he tries really hard to “avoid rationalization.” Truly avoiding rationalization would wipe about the field, of course, by requiring falsifiable predictions before the fact. But what Mr. Coppolino means by “avoiding rationalization” is something else: not fully shifting responsibility from human agents to the stars. “‘We’re not here to blame the planets,’” he tells Ms. Levine, “‘but rather, to take some guidance and use this technique for an expanded perspective’” — whatever that means.

Ms. Levine does not bother talking to an astronomer about how stars could actually influence human events. The only skeptic she approaches is . . . another astrologer! It turns out that astrology is a dog-eat-dog world in which the fraudsters routinely snipe at each others’ qualifications. John Marchesella, president of the New York City chapter of the National Council for Geocosmic Research (an astrology association), dismisses horoscope writing as “amateur” compared to the grounded offerings of “professional” astrology. No examples of the difference between “amateur” and “professional” astrology are provided.

The day after the New York Times informed its readers about the “professional” world of astrology, it ran a front-page story about ICE agents’ alleged reign of terror in Atlanta, Ga., under the Trump administration. This reign of terror consists in targeted enforcement raids against individuals like an illegal Mexican who has been deported twice, served time in prison, convicted of two domestic-violence incidents, and charged with rape which he plea-bargained down to a lesser crime. The number of illegal alien law-breakers in Atlanta is so high that one is booked into a county jail every few hours, reports the Times. The Times notes with dismay that illegal aliens are being arrested for driving without insurance and without a license. Apparently Times reporters would not mind if their car were totaled by an uninsured driver. A reporter for the Spanish-language newspaper Mundo Hispanico sends out Facebook alerts of sightings of ICE agents so that illegal aliens can evade the law. Yet we are supposed to believe that it is the Trump administration that poses a threat to the rule of law.

Females have always been the biggest consumers of spiritual hoaxes such as astrology, crystals, séances, and other metaphysical claims about the world that rest simply on assertion rather than scientific proof. If a credulous article on astrology can get through the editorial process at an increasingly female-dominated Times, we can expect that political reporting will grow even more unmoored from reality at the Times and other outlets experiencing a similar demographic shift.

This piece originally appeared on National Review Online


Heather Mac Donald is the Thomas W. Smith fellow at the Manhattan Institute, contributing editor at City Journal, and the author of The War on Cops. This piece was adapted from City Journal.

This piece originally appeared in National Review Online