‘Fuck It, I’m Still an Aquarius’

How a Scientist Shook the Public’s Faith in Horoscopes

Graphic Christopher Olson

The recent news that people’s zodiac signs may have changed due to the slow migration of the constellations in the night sky has conjured up strong feelings of denial, skepticism and disbelief.

The question is, why the hell now?

The irony that’s escaped a great number of people in the wake of this upheaval is that it’s thanks to an astronomer—hereafter known as a scientist—that people are beginning to lose their faith in their daily horoscopes.

If I can’t be an Aquarius anymore, what’s the point in pretending that my selflessness and sociability are character traits prescribed to me by large balls of gas, instead of traits I developed through a combination of genes and random chance?

So how did this finally happen?

Ask any self-proclaimed astronomer about astrology and watch their eyes roll over in their head—it’s the same look you’ll get from an evolutionary biologist after asking them about “intelligent design.”

But rather than make another dead-end attack on the pseudoscience of astrology, what Minnesota astronomer Parke Kunkle did earlier this month in an article in Star Tribune was go along with the gag. He presented what’s already become a well-known fact in astrological circles: that the moon’s gravitational pull on the Earth has knocked the constellations a month out of the cycle that astrologists have been following for thousands of years, which, if you follow logic, means that adjustments would have to be made to the zodiac.

Like wildfire, the Internet spread the news, with supporters of astrology busy putting out the flames, “debunking” Kunkle’s fundamental mistruths, and pointing out that the originator of this nasty business about changing zodiac signs is a credible scientist—a scientist god damn it. Not a “qualified” divination expert in the least.

It’s as if after decades of teaching that the Earth is round to the flat Earth society, the shocking truth of the world’s spherical dimensions was suddenly made apparent.

It’s as if after decades of teaching that the Earth is round to the flat Earth society, the shocking truth of the world’s spherical dimensions was suddenly made apparent by a fellow flat Earther pointing out that, hey, wouldn’t a flat Earth be kind of impractical and stupid?

But maybe that analogy isn’t giving astrology enough credit. Unlike most pseudo-sciences, astrology has had the remarkable ability to reach across the aisle to the unlikeliest of allies: atheists and god-fearing people alike.

The news that all of our horoscopes may be wrong has elicited strong reactions from people because, deep down, everyone knows it doesn’t pass muster. But rather than point out the obvious fallacy behind the concept that the stars, if read like a script, reveal hidden plot points in the scenes of our life to come, Kunkle poisoned the milk from the source by attacking directly our suspension of disbelief.

In one of his most famous stunts ever, professional skeptic James Randi filmed a lecture he gave to a group of high school students wherein he presented each student with a detailed horoscope reportedly tailored to their specific birth dates. Only after asking the class if they believed that their individual horoscope accurately reflected them, to which the clear majority agreed, did he reveal that they had all been duped and that they had all in fact received the exact same readings.

This month, millions of people had the cold water of logic splashed on their faces in the exact same way.

But fuck it. I’m still an Aquarius.

This article originally appeared in Volume 31, Issue 20, published January 25, 2011.