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Astrology, Fish, Althouse, and 9/11 Conspiracy Theories.--

Ann Althouse has a good critique of Stanley Fish's op-ed in the New York Times on the University of Wisconsin professor who teaches 9/11 conspiracy theories in class.

Here is Fish:

In short, whether something is an appropriate object of academic study is a matter not of its content — a crackpot theory may have had a history of influence that well rewards scholarly scrutiny — but of its availability to serious analysis. This point was missed by the author of a comment posted to the blog of a University of Wisconsin law professor, Ann Althouse: "When is the University of Wisconsin hiring a professor of astrology?" The question is obviously sarcastic; its intention is to equate the 9/11-inside-job theory with believing in the predictive power of astrology, and to imply that since the university wouldn't think of hiring someone to teach the one, it should have known better than to hire someone to teach the other. . . .

[T]he truth is that it would not be at all outlandish for a university to hire someone to teach astrology — not to profess astrology and recommend it as the basis of decision-making (shades of Nancy Reagan), but to teach the history of its very long career. There is, after all, a good argument for saying that Shakespeare, Chaucer and Dante, among others, cannot be fully understood unless one understands astrology.

The distinction I am making — between studying astrology and proselytizing for it — is crucial and can be generalized; it shows us where the line between the responsible and irresponsible practice of academic freedom should always be drawn. Any idea can be brought into the classroom if the point is to inquire into its structure, history, influence and so forth. But no idea belongs in the classroom if the point of introducing it is to recruit your students for the political agenda it may be thought to imply.

And this is where we come back to Mr. Barrett, who, in addition to being a college lecturer, is a member of a group calling itself Scholars for 9/11 Truth, an organization with the decidedly political agenda of persuading Americans that the Bush administration "not only permitted 9/11 to happen but may even have orchestrated these events."

Is the fact of this group's growing presence on the Internet a reason for studying it in a course on 9/11? Sure. Is the instructor who discusses the group's arguments thereby endorsing them? Not at all. It is perfectly possible to teach a viewpoint without embracing it and urging it. But the moment a professor does embrace and urge it, academic study has ceased and been replaced by partisan advocacy. And that is a moment no college administration should allow to occur. . . .

[A]cademic freedom is just that: the freedom to do an academic job without external interference. It is not the freedom to do other jobs, jobs you are neither trained for nor paid to perform. While there should be no restrictions on what can be taught — no list of interdicted ideas or topics — there should be an absolute restriction on appropriating the scene of teaching for partisan political ideals. Teachers who use the classroom to indoctrinate make the enterprise of higher education vulnerable to its critics and shortchange students in the guise of showing them the true way.

Althouse responds at length. This is just a taste of her argument:

Both Fish and Farrell stress process over substance. It's not a question of what subjects come into the classroom. (They ignore the process point I've made, which is that I doubt that administrators could stick to substance neutrality. Again: picture a teacher of white supremacy.) Farrell emphasizes the process of multiple viewpoints and debate. Fish emphasizes the process of academic inquiry and avoiding proselytizing. He would ask the teacher whether he could set aside "your partisan identity" and not "urge political action."

I wonder how far Fish means to take that. I've heard many law professors over the years say that since everyone is really partisan in some way, it's more honest to come right out and say what your positions are. They would portray Fish's ideal professor as a big sneak, posturing as neutral, but really slipping opinion in everywhere. Is Fish saying that professors who take the open approach are wrongly allowing their "partisan identity" to appear in the classroom? It would be terribly repressive for administrators to forbid that. Maybe Fish only means for the professor to refrain from "urg[ing] political action." If so, he's not saying very much. But Fish thinks he's identified a clear line: . . .

Is that a clear line? The more I look at it, the less clear it seems. It's quite subjective. Each of the last two sentences of his essay contains the phrase if the point is. How are we to tell what the teacher's point really is? A smart person with an agenda knows how to hide it.

I have actually been studying who believes in astrology. Some indices of conservatism use a belief in astrology as a measure of how conservative a respondent is. Yet Democrats are more likely to believe in astrology than Republicans, with the most conservative subgroup--conservative Republicans--being among the least likely to believe in astrology.

steve k:
Fish may know literary theory, but when he writes on issues outside his specialty he usually falls short. Here he makes an argument everyone already understands (that no subject should be off limits in academia) and have moved beyond. The complaint is not that no one should talk about 9/11 conspiracy theories. The controversy deals with academics who believe crackpot ideas and teach them. (Secondarily, the issue is about the bias of acadmeia, where certain crackpot ideas are allowed and others are chased off campus.)
7.23.2006 1:09pm
frankcross (mail):
I have a completely different perspective. I think the subjects are appropriately taught, but not from a neutral perspective. One might more clinically, neutrally, study why people have certain beliefs. But if you are going to teach the question: Is astrology descriptively accurate? you should teach descriptive reality and take the position that it's not. Neutrality in that context would functionally be an endorsement.
7.23.2006 1:13pm
James Lindgren (mail):
Frank &Steve:

Both great comments!

Jim Lindgren
7.23.2006 1:19pm
Speaking the Obvious:
The link between Democrats and belief in astrology is not hard to comprehend. Astrology is, on average, believed in by less intelligent people. Less intelligent people, on average, have lower incomes. There is a clear relationship become income level and membership in the Democratic vs Republican parties.
7.23.2006 1:22pm
Shangui (mail):
Speaking the Obvious,

Way to be an jerk.

(And note that I'm not a democrat and don't believe in astrology.)

But to get back to the main point...How do people think Christianity should be taught in a college setting. Most (though certainly not all) professors of Religious Studies focusing on Christianity that I have met have been religious believers (and I'm talking about places like Harvard, Yale, etc., not Bob Jones). Is this any less problematic than having people who believe absurd things about 9/11 teaching classes on 9/11 conspiracy theories? The Left Behind books and the culture surrounding them are increasingly a topic of study at universities. Should these be taught the way Frankcross suggests teaching astrology, "you should teach descriptive reality and take the position that it's not"? That works for me on both accounts.
7.23.2006 2:03pm
Ship Erect (mail) (www):
That conservatives are less likely to believe in astrology is fairly obvious to me: conservatives are generally strong believers if not in their culture's traditional religion, then in the power of their culture's traditional religion. Astrology is outside of the prevailing Western religious tradition, like accupuncture or homeopathy in Western medicine.

I don't follow Speaking the Obvious' train of logic: literal Biblical creationism is believed by Americans who have lower incomes (see this USA Today survey), and belief in evolution is correlated with higher incomes. I doubt the vast majority of Biblical literalists are good Democrats.
7.23.2006 2:05pm
Mahan Atma (mail):
Ronald Reagan, anyone?
7.23.2006 2:16pm
frankcross (mail):
Well, I think the lesser belief in astrology among conservative Republicans may be attributable to a greater belief in fundamentalist Christianity. And Shangui, those courses on Christianity are in fact being taught all over America. Certainly natural science courses teach that creationism is wrong and many religion courses question literalism of Biblical interpretation.
7.23.2006 2:35pm
BTD_Venkat (mail) (www):
I have actually been studying who believes in astrology. Some indices of conservatism use a belief in astrology as a measure of how conservative a respondent is. Yet Democrats are more likely to believe in astrology than Republicans, with the most conservative subgroup--conservative Republicans--being among the least likely to believe in astrology.


Reading about your horoscope in the weekly newspaper and calling a 1900 number to hear Cleo tell you what's coming up for the week is far different from more scientific-oriented astrology (see, e.g., here and here).

Efforts to determine a correlation which takes into account these different strands may be more useful than just lumping astrology as a big category together.
7.23.2006 2:36pm
James Lindgren (mail):
Venkat:

What do you mean by "more scientific-oriented astrology"?

The idea that distant stars that make up "constellations" as seen from the earth exert an influence on humans in some direct way seems to me to be a matter of non-scientific faith, not science.
7.23.2006 3:00pm
Bored Lawyer:
Has anyone looked up George W. Bush's horoscope on 9/11/01? I bet that would be a great source for the conspiracy theorists.
7.23.2006 3:07pm
arthur (mail):
Nothing in astrology is as implausible, ludicrous, and incompatible with serious thought, as the purported "miracles" described in the Christian and Jewish bibles. If belief in the Resurrection does not disqualify faculty applicants, belief in astrology certainly should not.
7.23.2006 3:11pm
Dave Hardy (mail) (www):
Has anyone looked up George W. Bush's horoscope on 9/11/01? I bet that would be a great source for the conspiracy theorists.

Something like that could make a hilarious article. I did once read an article where they'd pulled the NY Times (I think) astrology columns from the past and run them for, oh, the captain of the Titanic on the day the boat sank, Hitler the day he invaded the USSR and the day he commited suicide, JFK on Nov. 22 1963, etc., etc.

They had the usual advice ... today is a good day for starting something new, you will meet interesting people today, etc.,
7.23.2006 3:22pm
BGates (mail) (www):
Arthur, I'm fascinated by your ability to determine which belif system is more implausible. Can you expand that to some others?

Which is more ludicrous - the Norse pantheon or the Egyptian?
Divining the future by reading tea leaves, or casting lots?
Water sprites or wood sprites?

Have you done some kind of analysis to determine astrology is more plausible than Christianity, or is your aversion to Christianity irrational?
7.23.2006 3:52pm
Perseus (mail):
In speaking of "truth" (whose truth?), an "absolute restriction on appropriating the scene of teaching for partisan political ideals" (how is it possible NOT to appropriate the scene if there is only interpretation?), and drawing a bright "line between the responsible and irresponsible practice of academic freedom" (responsible to whom?), has Fish renounced his postmodernist belief that "language must itself proceed from some ideological vision"? Or is Fish just playing another language game?
7.23.2006 3:58pm
Wallace (mail):
Arthur,

I think you miss a point. Judeo-christian religions regard miracles as aberrations to the natural order, but acknowledge the underlying natural order. Astrology does not regard a planet's influence on personal affairs as supernatural, but natural. If a Christian believed that corporeal resurrection was a natural process, in effect that all dead people will be back in corporeal form in just a few days, that would be a good argument for disqualifiying them from faculty jobs since it clear contradicts empirical reality. However, if christians believe that a corporeal resurrection may have happened once or twice over the entire history of the human race, and then only under strange circumstances which cannot be fully understood, then they pretty much agree with your version of the natural order.
7.23.2006 4:01pm
Ship Erect (mail) (www):
Judeo-christian religions regard miracles as aberrations to the natural order, but acknowledge the underlying natural order.

But to a large number of Christians, the "underlying natural order" is as unknowable and miraculous as the resurrection. To them, scientific discovery of the natural order should be debased to fit the pseudohistory of the Bible. Intelligent design, Noah's flood made dinosaur fossils, etc.
7.23.2006 4:26pm
Jody (mail):
But to a large number of Christians, the "underlying natural order" is as unknowable and miraculous as the resurrection.

News flash: Most of the world is dumb. Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Jew or atheist. That same statement would be equally valid for all sufficiently large sets of believers, whatever the belief.
7.23.2006 4:32pm
Anderson (mail) (www):
Fish writes something sensible for once, &Althouse is all over him for it?

I have an inchoate sense of why the 9/11-conspiracy prof is more of a problem than the Christian prof.

Hypothesis: The kind of person to believe something so against the grain of the society, is less likely able to manifest objectivity.

The Christian prof whose students pose atheistical critiques is less likely to be stung by them. (N.b. that if the Christian is a "minority Christian" of some sect, then his objectivity may be more jeopardized--I'm not saying Christians per se are somehow immune.)
7.23.2006 5:00pm
ReaderY:
A couple of comments

1. Science is very good at explaining what or how, quite poor at explaining why. And yet the nature of the human psyche needs to know why. It asks why questions and seeks tools for answering them, and does not entirely despair of the difficulties involved. It is not clear to me that saying that this behavior is absurd makes it so. Indeed, the emotional content of the put-downs suggests otherwise.

2. We know longer believe that science is capable of predicting precisely what will happen; scientific laws are inexact and only describe the average behavior of large numbers of events most of the time. We might be able to predict an accident rate of a highway, or average casualty rate of a series of battles, given large numbers of data. But we cannot predict who individually will die. Soldiers in foxholes would be rather foolish to look to Science for answers, or for comfort, on the matter. Nor can Science tell us who to marry, or what stories to tell ones children. Life in the experience of an individual human being is lived individual, through events that will never be repeated. It needs ways of thinking that address this aspect of the human condition. The unexplained is a constant in our lives. The reason drug trials have a placebo is that even without the treatment there is often some cure rate, even in incurable diseases.

3. Embedded in every theory of knowledge is the idea that something going on in our senses corresponds to something going on in the world. Science properly emphasizes externally verifiable sense impressions. But we have, internal unverifiable impressions as well. We have dreams and visions. We see ghosts and spirits. We perceive divine beings as calling on us and giving us answers or visions or stories or laws. We see ourselves as not entirely alone, as surrounded by mysterious and inexplicable being or beings. Or so people who have these experiences tell us. It is not entirely clear to me that it is completely rational to pooh-pooh others experiences merely because one does not share them oneself. Doubtless there would be a natural human tendency, in a world of the blind, to denigrate anyone who had sight as making the whole thing up (although the analogy is imperfect, because ordinary vision is relatively constant and predictable in a way that religious experience is not).

4. There is some scientific evidence that human beings are predisposed to percieve and think religiously. Why shouldn't we rely on, or at least have favorable presumption towards, our predispositions?

5. Which brings up the issue of what constitutes truth. If we are predisposed to think religiously, one possible explanation is that this way of thinking has survival value. How else should we evaluate a way of thinking? What other concept of truth would you propose? Is Truth something impersonal and eternal, seperate and disconnected from those who think a theory, surviving after they die? Isn't this a rather religious way of looking at things?
7.23.2006 5:07pm
frankcross (mail):
I think there is evidence that religion has "survival value" but that doesn't affirm all religion. For example, there is some interesting empirical work suggesting that greater proportions of religious belief in a nation's population is associated with greater economic growth but that more intense religious belief (as measured by weekly church going) is associated with lesser economic growth.

It's hard to see how astrology or creationism or other fundamentalism is associated with survival value, though I find it easy to see how some measure of religious belief might be.
7.23.2006 6:49pm
Ron Hardin (mail) (www):
On astrology, there's the theory that its believers do not believe what its detractors claim they believe.

Two nice fragments of essays touching on it, by Vicki Hearne and Douglas Adams, both excerpted in

http://home.att.net/~rhhardine/vickihearne.astrology.txt

A similar thing happens with religion, where the believers are mostly affirming something other than what the deniers are denying.
7.23.2006 7:20pm
Nothing Rhymes with Orange:
"Scientifically oriented creationism" is an oxymoron.

On teaching crackpot theories: Scientists are not required to teach every "scientific" crackpot theory (astrology or ID) that has a constituency. Teaching such theories detracts from teaching science. Moreover, discussing crackpot theories from a neutral point of view provides credibility to such theories (frankcross got it right). Want to learn about astrology? See a psychic. Want to learn about ID? Visit the Discovery Institute.

One potentially legitimate use of crackpot theories is to distinguish real scientific theories, which can be falsified by objective means, from non-scientific crackpot theories, which cannot be falsified.

On Democrats and astrology: Physical science professors at research universities are heavily democratic and, I would wager, never read horoscopes.

On 9/11 Scholars for Truth: Some of the people affiliated with that group appear to have respectable scientific bona fides (e.g., Steven E. Jones, a physicist from Brigham Young University). The group appears to have raised legitimate scientific questions such as: How did the steel girders in the towers melt, causing the catastrophic collapse, given that the girders should have withstood the heat of the fire? Whether such questions are worth pursuing, is another matter.

Today's horoscope: All astrology is bunk.
7.23.2006 8:32pm
Nothing Rhymes with Orange:
Whoops: I meant "scientifically oriented astrology" Guess I experienced a Freudian slip.
7.23.2006 8:35pm
fishbane (mail):
I'm fascinated at two things.

- A dispute about a professor with a crank theory is transformed into a dig at Democratic supporters for being more likely to believe in astrology (I'm not doubting Jim - I respect him enough to consider him honest, but I do wonder about the data sources).

- I wonder what the results of a study that asked respondants in this thread if they also supported teaching some flavor of Creationism would be.
7.23.2006 10:27pm
r4d20 (mail):

I wonder how far Fish means to take that. I've heard many law professors over the years say that since everyone is really partisan in some way, it's more honest to come right out and say what your positions are. They would portray Fish's ideal professor as a big sneak, posturing as neutral, but really slipping opinion in everywhere.


As if the only two choices were to revel in your biases or be a liar.

There is a third option: be as honest and objective as possible and let your audience judge. Be honest about your biases, honest about the facts.
7.23.2006 11:06pm
Average Joe (mail):
I did not read the comment about astrology as being a "dig" a Democrats at all. The subject of astrology was brought up in the quoted comment from the Althouse blog and it happened to be something that Prof. Lindgren has been studying. To those who know such things, his comment about astrology and politics is not in any way gratuitous. Belief in astrology has been used in surveys of political attitudes as a marker for conservative/fascist/authoritarian beliefs. Perhaps the most famous example of this use is the "F scale" used in the book The Authoritarain Personality by memebers of the Frankfort school. Personally, most of the believers in astrology that I have met have been "New Agers" and almost all of them have had (sometimes quite eccentric) left-leaning political beliefs, so Prof. Lindgren's statements certainly ring true to me. In any case, his statements contradict a belief in the connection between astrology and politics that has been used in at least 50 years of research, and therefore are interesting to me and probably to many other VC readers.
7.23.2006 11:19pm
James Lindgren (mail):
Average Joe,

Thanks. Yes, exactly.

Both the F-Scale and the Wilson C-scale, which the Jost meta-analysis used as conservatism measures use a belief in astrology to indicate how conservative someone is. Yet no representative sample of the general public that I have located has ever found either conservatives or Republicans to be significantly more likely to believe in astrology than the rest of the public. The same thing generally holds for other superstitions, outside of traditional Christian beliefs in miracles, heaven, hell, angels, etc.

The use of "conservatism" measures that tend to identify moderate Democrats as "conservatives" leads to many errors and false conclusions in the scholarly conservatism literature.

Jim Lindgren
7.24.2006 12:45am
Nothing Rhymes with Orange:
Bit of a digression:

Putting aside the Wisconsin Prof's theory that Bush et al. orchestrated 9/11 (which sounds preposterous), has anyone actually examined the "thermite" theory of the WTC collapse proposed by Prof Jones (a BYU physicist). The theory is not obviously a farce and appears grounded in sound physical principles.

Keeping in mind that elements of most conspiracy theories sound good (and that life is too short to disprove all of them), does anyone out there know why the physical principles of Jone's "thermite" theory ought to be summarily dismissed?

This is, after all, a Conspiracy.

http://www.physics.byu.edu/research/energy/htm7.html
7.24.2006 2:05am
fishbane (mail):
Goodness, now I'm interested in where my reply went.
7.24.2006 5:09am
big dirigible (mail) (www):
You guys are too much. News Flash - Social Darwinism is alive and well in the VC comments section!

"Less intelligent people, on average, have lower incomes."

Piffle. Consider the average lawyer and the average physicist.
7.24.2006 9:54am
big dirigible (mail) (www):
"Some indices of conservatism use a belief in astrology as a measure of how conservative a respondent is."

Which indices are those? On the face of it, the statement is just plain weird, to the point of suspicion that it's a bigoted jab at conservatives - a smear by association. "Those conservatives are so dumb they believe in astrology," etc.

Now for the anecdotal case - all fans of astrology I know are fruitcakes, and nearly all fruitcakes I know are liberal (note for the militantly unreflective re elementary logic - I did not just write that the liberals I know are fruitcakes).

Any study of the subject is off on the wrong foot, though, if a caricature of "astrology" is the starting point. "The idea that distant stars that make up 'constellations' as seen from the earth exert an influence on humans in some direct way seems to me to be a matter of non-scientific faith, not science" is a summary of perhaps the most primitive Sunday Supplement brand of astrology. Classical astrology (as I understand it - I studied astronomy in my student days, not astrology) is concerned with correlations, not causations. If the sidereal universe is a big piece of clockwork, assembled by a creator who gave it a kick start and then retired from human affairs (a not-unreasonable summary of the Newtonian universe, and one which intelligent contemporary mystics such as Blake found anathema), then phenomena easily observed in one place (the sky) might correlate with events on earth. Hence, observation of the sky might yield information about daily life. No, it's not a good theory, but it's better than the oversimplified version.

Note also that astrology is not concerned with the stars or the constellations beyond their use as a yardstick to locate the sun and the nearer planets
7.24.2006 10:18am
Third Party Beneficiary (mail):
"The link between Democrats and belief in astrology is not hard to comprehend. Astrology is, on average, believed in by less intelligent people."

Do Ronald and Nancy Reagan prove or disprove this statement (or is it explained by the fact that Ronald Reagan was a Democrat first and then switched to being a Republican later in life)?
7.24.2006 11:44am
James Kabala (mail):
Dave Hardy: The New York Times has done many blameworthy things over the years, but I believe publishing an astrology column is not one of them (It certainly does not so today; I can't say for certain whether it did in the past.)
7.24.2006 11:49am
Steve:
My only legal experience with astrology came during an NASD arbitration hearing I handled. The plaintiffs had bought some crazy tech stock, watched it increase in value by a factor of 10, then watched it go all the way back down. They claimed that they had told the broker to sell the stock in April 2000, just before the dot-com crash; the broker denied it.

As fate would have it, one of the corroborating witnesses listed on the claimants' witness list was an astrologer. The claimants' lawyer told me with a straight face that the claimants were all Indian, that astrology was taken very seriously in their culture, and that the astrologer would testify she had advised them all to sell their stock in early April 2000 because something bad was about to happen.

You don't see this every day in the practice of law. In my heart, I was practically begging the claimants to call the astrologer, both because it would be fun and because I felt it would make their case look entirely silly in the eyes of a sophisticated arbitration panel. Sadly, they ended up going with other witnesses and never calling the astrologer.

After wrapping up the hearing, I was having lunch with my associate and the broker. "My only regret is that they didn't call the astrologer," I said with a laugh. "What a hoot that would have been, to try and convince the panel that their horoscope said to sell the stock right before the crash!"

The broker, who was also Indian, looked up from his meal. "My sister told me the same thing," he said quietly.

"Excuse me?"

"My sister, she is very serious about astrology. March 2000, she said things looked very bad for the next month, I should sell my investments. But... I didn't believe her."

Looking back, I still don't know what to make of this story, other than that maybe his sister should have been the broker instead.
7.24.2006 12:08pm
Anon1ms (mail):
This is a stupid argument. I'm in my sixth decade of life and I cannot recall ever having met someone who believed in astrology. I've known people who read their horoscope, but I also know people who read "Mother Goose and Grimm," and they don't believe that dogs can talk.

I'm sure there must be some people who plan their actions around astrology, but they would have to be such an exceedingly small percentage of the population as to be of no consequence in any argument -- pro or con.
7.24.2006 1:24pm
Jam (mail):
I wonder what was in the horoscope for all those people in the airplanes and buildings? Were all of them of the same sign?
7.24.2006 2:01pm
byomtov (mail):
In my heart, I was practically begging the claimants to call the astrologer, both because it would be fun and because I felt it would make their case look entirely silly in the eyes of a sophisticated arbitration panel. Sadly, they ended up going with other witnesses and never calling the astrologer.

But suppose the claimants could demonstrate that they believed strongly in astrology, and that the astrologer had advised them to sell? Wouldn't that support their claim that they had given sell orders, whatever the panel thought about the validity of astrology as a guide to investment?

After all, the argument was about what they did, not about how good their reasons were.
7.24.2006 2:05pm
Cold Warrior:
Don't forget that all those "Left Behind" types -- I don't have survey data, but it's certainly no reach to suggest that they are disproportionately "conservative" --endorse an apocalyptic vision that draws heavily from astrology.

To be blunt:

Democrats are more likely to believe in astrology of the feel-good New Agey persuasion. Republicans are more likely to believe in astrology of the apocalyptic Left Behind persuasion.
7.24.2006 2:20pm
Caliban Darklock:
When you say "believe in astrology", do you mean "believe that the planets control our destinies" or "believe that a professional astrologer frequently makes shockingly accurate predictions"?

There is a very big difference between the two, because one of them is clearly insane.

I was a professional astrologer for a couple years, it being pretty much the only "mainstream" career path for someone with a degree in occult science, and that only if you take a pretty liberal view of "mainstream".

Much of a professional astrologer's ability to make a prediction is the "cold-reading" technique. I may look at your chart and see that you have an indicator that you will be wealthy, and another indicator that you will be unhappy. I then look at you and decide how I'm going to paint that picture. Depending on what you wear, your general attitude, and what you have told me since we started the reading, I could say "you have achieved wealth, but you will later suffer for it", or "you have endured much unhappiness to achieve wealth", or "you will achieve wealth but it will not bring you happiness".

The accuracy of the prediction is controlled more by this process than it is by the planets.
7.24.2006 2:22pm
Colin (mail):
"because one both of them is are clearly insane."

Just a minor edit.
7.24.2006 2:37pm
Jam (mail):
There is a guy who is in the business of debunking from "faith healers" to "pal readers."

He had a classromm full fo college students (if memory serves me right) and told them that the paper in front of them had their "horoscope reading." He told them not to discuss the contents but if the "readings" were accurate. They all were amazed how accurate the "readings" were, with respect to their life.

Then the shoe dropped. ALL, all of the "readings" contained exactly the same text.

There is a lot of meaning behind the "cold reading" statement.

Christians and Jews are forbidden to engage in astrology and other means of divination. They are a form of idolatry.
7.24.2006 2:42pm
Steve:
But suppose the claimants could demonstrate that they believed strongly in astrology, and that the astrologer had advised them to sell? Wouldn't that support their claim that they had given sell orders, whatever the panel thought about the validity of astrology as a guide to investment?

In theory, yes. In practice, I simply didn't think the panel would buy such a "silly" explanation. After all, if the panel found the claimants to be credible when they said they believed in astrology, they'd probably find the claimants to be credible when they said they placed an order to sell the stock, and I'd be screwed anyway. But if the panel was in doubt about who to believe, I didn't see the astrology theory as likely to make the claimants more credible.
7.24.2006 3:40pm
orson23 (mail):
testing
7.24.2006 7:08pm
orson23 (mail):
(link)
Nothing Rhymes with Orange (above) observes and asks:
"has anyone actually examined the 'thermite' theory of the WTC collapse proposed by Prof Jones (a BYU physicist)....[D]oes anyone out there know why the physical principles of Jone's 'thermite' theory ought to be summarily dismissed?"

To answer your digression, my understanding is that Jones bases his claim of evidence of thermite explosives from the examination of single small piece of I-beam WTC steel given to him by government authorities. The trouble is two-fold: first, the constituent elements of thermite include aluminum and steel - elements that one would expect to find in steel cut up through welding, whether inflicted by post-collapse engineers or during the original construction. Second, what are the chances that any random piece of the WTC would have genuine evidence of extranious explosives impact? Very slim! The controlled demo theory requires its selective - not general - use. Thus, the theory actually gains no traction through Jones' "evidence.'

What the theory actually requires is more extensive, systematic testing, but no credible authority believes there's any worth in putting the resources to do job without witnesses coming forward claiming they saw explosives installed or credible people atesting to doing the installation itself.

At this point, we have arrived where the entire "Scholars for 9/11 Truth" claim breaks down in the face of counterfactual tests. As the Watergate scandal showed us, when a conspiracy requires more than a half-dozen particpants - which this one certainly does - the probability of public exposure increases exponentially! Just waving ones hand and claiming "they killed the witnesses" puts the theory into the laughing gas ozone: too implausible to entertain unless you are already clinically paranoid!

To save only a smidgen of plausibility, the theory needs piles of bodies. Where are they? At this point one has an interesting a bold hypothesis qualified so many times but lacking any real physical evidence, Occam's razor requires its rejection and acceptance of the conventional one in order to satisfy any claim to be "scientific." The conspiracy theory - like others - needs far too many auxillary hypotheses in to order to survive reality testing.

Since proponents of one conspiracy tend to hold others, one might ask if this is also true of Barrett - the Islamic religion teacher at UW-Madison. Does he? Indeed, a recent biographical piece linked to by Ann Althouse finds Barrett mesmerized by Kennedy assassination conspiracy theories, based on his youthful exposure to the Zapruder film. Score one for Oliver stone!
7.24.2006 7:40pm
Pamela (mail):
orson23: Your claim that the need for so many participants would, from a practical point of view, rule out the *conspiracy theory*, but you forget that we know of a device that can, in effect, rewrite the memories of those who were involved, enabling them to truthfully claim that they know of no conspiracy. Remember the movie 'Men in Black'? That device they use is NOT just a convenient movie-plot item; it's a prototype of the actual device used by the government to change all manner of 'inconvenient' memories! Just ask the conspiracy theorists!
TeeHee :)

Go ahead--PROVE I'm wrong!

Bwahahaha!
7.24.2006 9:03pm
Frank Drackmann (mail):
I wonder what JFKs horoscope said the morning of Nov 22, 1963? "Avoid driving under tall buildings in Dallas today"?? probably not.
7.24.2006 10:16pm