Can astrology predict which business is appropriate

Nonsense astrology: every second Austrian is guided by horoscopes

The man didn't like to leave anything to chance. Instead of bowing to the whims of fate, former American President Ronald Reagan preferred to prepare for it in good time. So First Lady Nancy had direct lines from the White House and Camp David to astrologer Joan Quigley. Press conferences, flights and even a meeting with Mikhail Gorbachev were planned according to astrological criteria.

Austria's Minister of Infrastructure does not seem to deny a certain power to the stars either: Hubert Gorbach has a zodiac ring that his uncle forged on those nights when Gorbach's astrological birth star constellation was in the sky.

Not only decision-makers from politics demonstrate a penchant for astrology, literally translated to astronomy, which is now part of the para- or pseudosciences. The “Woman in Business”, a sub-organization of the Austrian Chamber of Commerce, invites you to a networking meeting for budding “business astrologers” these days. And managers like Interio boss Janet Kath admit to paying attention to their zodiac signs when accepting new employees.

Overall, according to the ISSP study, almost half of the people in Austria believe that the zodiac signs have an influence on the course of life. In this regard, the Latvians are in the top European field with 60 percent, the Irish are the most skeptical, from whom only 17 percent can gain astrological statements. Other countries are even institutionalizing astrology: since autumn 2001 there have been institutes for astrology at Indian state universities - precisely at the instigation of the then Minister of Science and under protest from the Indian Academy of Sciences.

Investment in the future. In any case, business is flourishing with the uncertain future: At the turn of the year in particular, many people study all the detailed horoscopes in newspapers that provide forecasts for the next twelve months - or even have individual predictions made. In Germany alone, where around 6,000 astrologers work, people put around 150 million euros on the table every year to find out what the stars are announcing.

The lights in the sky have been associated with divine powers for thousands of years. For the Sumerians, an early culture of Mesopotamia, the character for God meant “to be high up” and represented a star. One of the oldest surviving horoscopes dates from April 4, 263 BC. It prophesies to a man from Babylon that the wealth he had in youth will no longer be there in old age. His days would seem long to him, and his wife would enter into affairs with other men.

Bad properties were often blamed on the stars: an unfavorable position of Venus and Saturn would make people lewd, unchaste, alcoholic and godless, warned the astronomer Claudius Ptolemy from Alexandria (100 to 178). Vettius Valens recommended that the Romans use the daily horoscope to find the right time for all activities. Plotinus (205 to 270), on the other hand, emphasized, like today's astrologers, that a horoscope does not represent an unchangeable fate, but only a disposition that can be influenced by the commitment of the individual. On the other hand, it was said 500 years ago that the planet Saturn and all children born under its influence would be “hairy, annoying, old and cold, limping, smelly, shapeless”.

The Swiss psychologist Carl Gustav Jung argued more differently in his analysis of the astrological way of thinking. Instead of speculating about the mysterious effects of the cosmos, one must bear in mind that people have apparently always projected their wishes and hopes, myths and earthly riddles into the sky. For that fraction of astrologers who still postulate actual cosmic influences on the earth to this day, astrophysicists have long calculated that sometimes alleged effects such as the gravity of distant planets cannot possibly be of importance.

No evidence. But not only physics has scrutinized the statements of the astrologers often, numerous researchers have also approached the subject with empirical methods, always with the same result: nothing to it. The British astrologer Charles Carter predicted as early as 1925 that statistical instruments would soon prove that celestial bodies indicate or even cause changes in our lives. But decades later, there is now a long series of studies that have not found a connection between date of birth and character. It doesn't matter that some of these analyzes, such as a work published in 2006 by the psychologist Peter Hartmann from the Danish University of Aarhus, are insufficiently meaningful from an astrological point of view, as they either state the place of birth - and thus the ascendant - or the time of birth take into account exactly.

The Viennese psychologist Andreas Hergovich presents and evaluates numerous scientific studies in a book *). Conversely, some of them clearly show how incorrect astrologers' methodology can lead to incorrect conclusions. For example, the simultaneity of two events and their significant statistical correlation does not yet mean that they are causally related to one another. The decline in storks in Burgenland over the past few decades, for example, ran parallel to the decline in births there. Still, hardly anyone would seriously claim that these two phenomena have anything to do with each other.

Comparable with this was the question of why an above-average number of 16,000 British officers were born in the zodiac signs Leo to Scorpio. The explanation is probably not due to the fact that people of these zodiac signs are particularly suitable for the military. Rather, the fathers of the officers, often members of the military themselves and correspondingly absent, had shown themselves to be particularly fertile during the Christmas vacation, which triggered a baby boom around September.

Lunar cycles. The result of an investigation of official German traffic accident data from 1964 to 1986, which was carried out in 2002 and recorded an average of 967 accidents per day, was ultimately similarly profane. During these 23 years there were 285 full moon cycles, and there was a reduction in the number of accidents exactly at the full moon and an accident maximum exactly one day before the new moon. Although the differences were only a few percent, they were statistically flawlessly verifiable. The explanation lay in the moon-dependent holidays: Easter Sunday is always the Sunday that follows the first full moon in spring. Several other festive days depend on its date, on which drunk drivers are often on the road and the holiday season leads to increased traffic density. If this period was not taken into account, no influence of the moon phase on the accident frequency could be determined.

Another source of error lies in previous astrological knowledge of test subjects. Astrology skeptics puzzled for years why a study by Jeff Mayo from 1978 on 2,318 people clearly showed that people of the zodiac signs Aries, Gemini, Leo, Libra, Sagittarius and Aquarius are significantly more extroverted than people of the six other zodiac signs. In the meantime it has been shown that this personality difference between zodiac signs can only be demonstrated in people who believe in astrology: Since they know about the alleged properties of their birth sign, they also present themselves more in this way.

A particularly interesting case is a study from 1978 which, with correctly applied statistics, showed that four days after the full moon there was a significant accumulation of admissions to psychiatric clinics. This is because other studies have not been able to confirm this. Scientists came to the conclusion that it was apparently a so-called alpha error. This describes the fact that sometimes things can be statistically "proven" that do not even exist. In fact, every significant result is given a mathematical error rate, usually 0.05 (five percent) or 0.01 (one percent). 0.05 means that about every 20th study mistakenly sees an effect even though none is present. And such an erroneously visible moon effect is likely to have occurred in that study from 1978, especially since all other studies indicate no such effect.

Of course, those studies whose data is intentionally or unconsciously selected or even manipulated are particularly unpleasant. The French psychologist Michel Gauquelin was originally a critic of astrology himself, but claimed in the 1950s that based on the birth dates of 576 doctors, it was clear that doctors were born above average when Mars or Saturn had just risen or were at the peak of their daily orbit. In later years, he substantiated his theory of planetary temperaments based on this with data from more than 20,000 people, whereby other experts found no errors in his analyzes, but they were also unable to repeat them. It was not until the beginning of the 1990s that the French Committee for the Study of Paranormal Phenomena succeeded in proving Gauquelin's dubious handling of his data: Obviously, he always preferred precisely those data sets that supported his theses.

Time twins. Geoffrey Dean and Ivan Kelly, in turn, examined 2101 volunteers born between March 3 and March 9, 1958 for 110 personality traits in 2003. According to astrological doctrine, people who were born in the same place at almost the same point in time (so-called "time twins") should have similar personalities. The more than a thousand time twin pairs, however, had as many or few similarities as two people with any time of birth. In the meantime it has also been found that astrologers fail when they are supposed to assign natal charts to a specific person.

Another study by Geoffrey Dean found that astrologers' hit rate in personality assessments was identical to the rate of guesswork. 45 astrologers misjudged people's personality using the natal chart as often as 45 other astrologers who simply had to guess without knowing the horoscopes. Incidentally, two of the 160 natal charts were submitted twice, although a number of astrologers did not notice this - and each rated one and the same horoscope completely differently.

In studies, prophecies at the turn of the year also performed very poorly. Sometimes they contained completely arbitrary statements (“The situation in Iraq remains critical”), sometimes extremely vague statements (“There will be a tragedy in the Middle East”), but also a myriad of predictions that have just not occurred.

"From an empirical point of view, the astrology company has completely failed," says author Hergovic. When faced with such results, astrologers often speak of ill-conceived studies and ambiguous horoscopes. It is also argued that it is actually not primarily about predicting the future, but about empathetic help in life. However, the question arises as to why this should be done using cosmic planetary constellations. By the way, many astrologers generally reject reviews of astrological methods, since horoscopes “cannot be repeated and are therefore not accessible to statistics”.

Cosmic influences. Ronald Weinberger, astronomer at the Institute for Astro and Particle Physics at the University of Innsbruck, does not believe in astrological predictions. "Why do astrologers of all things use birth for the horoscope and not procreation?" Asks Weinberger. In any case, it is extremely implausible that a few balls of rock, ice and gas should shape the personality of an infant over a distance of several hundred million kilometers. But what bothers him most is the argument that astrology does not need justification, it is just right. "Just because many people, including academics, believe in something, it doesn't have to be right by a long way."

The fact that many people still have the feeling that horoscopes are not infrequently correct is partly due to so-called “Barnum statements”, to practically every formulation such as: “Sometimes you doubt whether you did the right thing.” Such sentences are named after the former ringmaster Phineas Taylor Barnum, whose success lay in "having something for everyone in the program".

As early as 1948, the US psychologist B. R. Forer presented his students with an alleged personality test. However, he ignored their answers and gave everyone an identical "evaluation", which was fabricated from typical horoscope texts. The students consistently found the “description of their personality” to be “very good” or “good”. An experiment by the TV station ZDF in 1997 ran similarly: more than 200 interested people were sent a horoscope text by an alleged "astro research group" that had once been created for a murderer born in 1879. 74 percent of the people found their character “correctly described”, 15 percent were downright enthusiastic: “Perfect, everything is correct!” “Empirical studies show that you could take any date of birth and people are still impressed by the horoscope,” he says German sociologist of religion Edgar Wunder.

In the face of existential threats such as crop failures or floods, people will of course have always asked about the causes. Wasn't there a bright star in the sky days before? The lights in the sky, which always took on new constellations, offered an inexhaustible source of possibilities to connect earthly events with cosmic observations. Just as deeply anchored in us is the desire to recognize the opportunities in our own life at the right moment and not let them slip by carelessly. The stars should help where one's life needs orientation.

It is of course suppressed that horoscopes can actually explain everything. The psychologists Hans Jürgen Eysenck and David Nias demonstrated this in 1984 using Ludwig van Beethoven's natal chart (December 16, 1770, 1:20 p.m.). They could either prove that Beethoven was musical, brilliant and irritable and led a disordered family life, or that he was an absolutely unmusical guy who at least enjoyed a peaceful, orderly private life.

By Robert Buchacher and Gerhard Hertenberger
Collaboration: Ulrike Moser