There are times when I just throw up my hands and wonder if civilization is making any progress. One such time took place last night. I was innocently watching the Bears-Vikings game, having given up on the total lunar eclipse about to take place. You see, in Milwaukee, we are getting pummeled with a steady flurry of snow. Enjoying the online coverage in lieu of the real thing, I called up CNN’s lunar eclipse story on my laptop.
Following a rational quotation from U.S. Naval Observatory astronomer Geoff Chester, I kept reading and just about fell out of my chair. CNN.com’s story extensively quoted two astrologers on the meaning and relevance of the eclipse. The story also mentioned the "coincidence" of an eclipse occurring with the solstice, an event that hasn’t happened since 1638. They apparently failed to realize that their science reporting skills also dated from that year.
CNN enthusiastically reported Florida astrologer Brian Hill declaring that eclipses “disrupt vibrations from the Moon, letting people’s intuition work more freely and allowing them to receive information that the logical left brain doesn’t normally get.” With Mercury simultaneously in retrograde, Mr. Hill reminded us, “Now is the time for introspection and reflection.”
A second astrologer added to the growing knowledge base. “Full Moons are times of great stress on the planet,” declared Bob Mulligan, also from Florida, apparently Earth’s new astrology capital. “A lunar eclipse is a Full Moon on steroids; symbolically, it’s a time of letting go of something from the past.”
What has happened to science literacy in the United States? At the same time CNN runs rah-rah clips about how science and technology are critical to the future of the United States, they devolve into promoting nonsense in place of substance. And, of course, it’s not limited to CNN; other news organizations also feature infantile coverage of UFOs, psychic phenomena, and other pseudoscience, lunging for cheap ratings rather than credible reporting. Doesn’t anyone care about knowing the truth about the world and how the universe actually works?
The philosophy of the truth begins with the most primitive technique, intuition (favored by astrologers), which amounts to believing that which someone dreams as premonitions of reality. Not too reliable, believe it or not. Slightly more trustworthy is the authoritarian method — believing what authority figures tell you to believe, whether they be parents, teachers, clergy, or government. The rational methods, computation, analogy, and logic, are far better yet. But the best way to determine what is true is the scientific method — empiricism, which demands observation, experiment, and verification. Whether or not “vibrations” from the Moon are “disrupted” — whatever that means — I can tell you unequivocally that gravity exists.
With television having morphed into entertainment rather than responsible truth, it’s no wonder the United States is raising a new generation of young people who are unprepared for science and technology, just at the time when they are most needed to be *** good at it. Do you hear that faint rumbling sound? It's the rest of the world chuckling at the United States and its lack of scientific knowledge. Although I realize things are far better off than they were several hundred years ago, the opportunity for Americans to be really aware of what is going on around them is largely being squandered.
The next time I check CNN.com, I might expect to find a special report on witches, hobgoblins, elves, unicorns, yeti, dragons, griffins, and wizards. And perhaps a commentary on recent social events from the busy lives of serpents, jackalopes, Romulans, and Klingons. Possibly a “this just in” on the latest developments in the life of Gumby.
At one time, the media actually helped the lives of Americans — helped them to become better informed, smarter, and more capable for the future. Under the current situation, there’s a long road to travel to get back to square one.
Why watch CNN to begin with?
Shocking. I don't know whether it will make you feel any better to know that things aren't much better here in the UK, where an increasing number of people don't seem to know the difference between astonomy and astrology. Also, I'm fairly certain that my 'logical left brain' couldn't be less concerned with my 'intuition', enhanced or not.
There is only ONE news media to watch, if you want the full story
and they don't inject their own thoughts! "FOW NEWS"
I always turn to Fox news for my version of the truth
Welcome to simple-minded America. The vast depth of our knowlege is gleaned from sitting countless hours in front of our television sets watching silly programs that require no thought. That's just the begining. Most of what we do in our daily routine is mentally shallow. Gone is the desire to learn. This is dangerous because an ignorant people will believe anything.
David: Good points. The best thing you can do is keep publishing the best most informative Astronomy magazine the public can buy, and keep reminding us of the falsehoods that abound. You might add a regular feature about the falsehoods promoted by the networks to call attention to the misinformation. A column on space biology would be a good addition too. When I was a kid, astronomy was about out there. Now we realize it begins right here. And the more we learn about it, the stranger our home planet and our star become.
Fox News as a form of truth? Sure, climate change deniers are preferable to astrologer peddlers.
yes, and i ran into one that almost made me .... well, get upset out loud...
earlier this year, i got to watch a series of skits put on be each of the classes where my grandson goes to school. most were clever and amusing, even down to the tiny kids, but one of the young classes did a skit about the moon, and one of the lines in their rhyming story was, and i quote... "the mood doesn't have any gravity."
and these kids will go WHERE to be "unlearned" of those "facts"????
Your explanation of how we accept truth is somewhat lacking. Because there are many things we accept as truth that can't really be examined by the scientific method. Things such as your assumption in this article that learning is better than simply being entertained. While you could examine the results of this with scientific method and do observations of what happens in differenct environments, you still come down to saying that having a country that has good math people in it is better than not. Well better in what way? You end up making value judgments. While we hold value judgments as deeply true they are in many ways based on intuition or culture (not usually on scientific method). So for the long list of things we hold to be deep truths: the value of love, the value of family, the value of country, the value of freedom, the value of a life well lived and what these words mean, the scientific method does not have very much to same about them but we hold these truths to be self evident.
Astronomy and astrology were the same discipline until the past few hundred years. While astrology cannot be proven through experimentation, it still holds much metaphorical truth and beauty. It bugs me when astrologers try to make astrology sound more "scientific" than it is. But it also bugs me when astronomers get outraged that anybody is still interested in astrology.
Just as our appreciation of the constellations is enhanced by knowing their associated myths, so our appreciation of the movements of the sun, moon, and planets through the sky can be enhanced through considering them from a geocentric (i.e. astrological) perspective. The turning of the seasons through a year has a definite arc of rising and declining energy. The waxing and waning of the moon from new to full and back to new does give a certain rhythm to our emotional lives, a rhythm that was much more evident before the historically very recent introduction of artificial lighting. There's also value in comprehending our ancestors' understanding of the movement of the planets. Even though we now understand retrograde movement in terms of two planets orbiting the sun, it's still pretty amazing to see a planet slow to a stop against the zodiac and then start moving backward!
Contemporary astronomy and classical astrology are just different ways of understanding the same observed phenomena. Appreciating astrology as metaphor can enrich our understanding of the historical development of astronomy. I don't think there's too much danger that people are going to stop studying astronomy or any other science simply because an astrologer (or a religious mystic, or a poet) is interviewed on television. A little more tolerance for diversity would go a long way.
Excellent post David. We live in an age of reason and science where we should be thinking rationally and logically. Not enough people are taking the time to learn how to think. That's why all this mysticism and superstition survives from our ancestors. You must be able to apply critical thinking. We've explained away so much of this nonsense allready thru science. To many People look for simple solutions and explanations, and when they get one like through the media they assume it's the truth and don't question its's source or validity. Until then we will be stuck in the past, and we will never advance as a species.
I've been thinking about why it upsets me when an astronomer has a knee-jerk hissy fit at the mention of astrology.
Firstly, it's disrespectful of our ancestors, on whose shoulders we're standing. If they hadn't observed the skies and developed theories, we wouldn't have the foundation for our current understanding of the cosmos. Secondly, mocking our ancestors' understanding of the universe makes the unwarranted assumption that all of our current theories are correct. Just like our ancestors, we're doing the best we can. But certainly some of our current theories are just plain wrong, and will be disproven by future generations -- assuming we survive.
And, thirdly and most importantly, prideful scorn is a big turnoff to people who might otherwise be interested in astronomy, but who have committed the mortal sin of knowing their sun sign, or finding emotional significance in a lunar eclipse. You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar. It's much better public outreach to acknowledge the valid points in astrology, and to build from there to describe contemporary astronomical understanding of the phenomenon under consideration, e.g. a lunar eclipse.
There is no need to make interest in astrology an automatic barrier to welcome in the astronomy community.
It's like King Julien (king of the Lemur's in the classic movie "Madagascar 2") says, "...It's nothing personal, we're just better than you".
Now, I was just having fun with the above comment.
I don't know much about astrology other than horoscopes in my local paper. And I must say that I have no good opinion about those.
However, big heads may give pause regarding what truth is. Remember that "Planetary Nebula" were once embraced by the scientific community as planets that were forming, instead of stars exploding. The scientific method may have even been employed to come to that conclusion!