Astrology as a Pseudoscience is Actually Incredibly Harmful

My star sign has no agency over my life

By Reyna Wang

Ear Wax Editor

Since its resurgence as a subculture in the 1960s, astrology has been rising in mainstream popularity. Today, it is nearly impossible to escape its reach on a daily basis. Whether at a party or on Tinder, I’m always hearing about moon signs, birth charts, and astrological compatibility—and I can’t stand it. I know this is an unpopular opinion, but hear me out. As a legitimate system of analysis or as a form of entertainment, astrology is, to me, ineffective and potentially harmful.

There is no debate as to whether astrology is valid as a science. Since the widespread adoption of the scientific method, the scientific community has proven, through double blind tests involving natal charts as well as theoretical studies, that astrology is pseudoscience. I would like to believe that the vast majority of people engage in astrology for entertainment reasons opposed to scientific validity. I think this is true for my immediate circle of peers, but I have come across a fair number of people who do actually believe astrology is based in science. In fact, surveys show that almost half of Americans think that astrology is at least “sort of scientific.” Furthermore, a 2014 study by the National Science Foundation revealed that a disproportionately high number of 18-24 year olds share this opinion and that this number is growing. Despite general scientific advances, a spike in the popularity of astrology in recent years is causing more young people to believe in pseudoscience. This is dangerous given prominence of pseudoscience in American history, which includes the promotion of scientific racism, used to justify chattel slavery and racial segregation. Even today, despite overwhelming agreement within the scientific community, only 62% of Americans believe in evolution and only 48% believe climate change is caused by human activity. Though astrology isn’t nearly as dangerous as scientific racism or climate change denial, the intentional propagation of any particular pseudoscience is likely to increase the potential for pseudoscience to be accepted in general.

Another dimension of this issue is that since its resurgence in modern times, astrology has been marketed almost exclusively to women (as well as other marginalized groups, to a lesser extent). Almost every women’s magazine has a horoscope section while horoscopes are rare in men’s magazines. Up until a few years ago, Huffington Post nested its horoscopes under the “Women’s Voices” section. By doing this, the journalism industry is reinforcing the stereotype that women are not predisposed to engage in “real” science, a bias that is false and can be harmfully internalized.

I recognize that although astrology has no scientific value, it doesn’t necessarily have no value at all. Many people see astrology as spiritual, therapeutic, or just fun, which are all valid reasons to appreciate something. My argument is not that subscribing to astrology weakens the scientific prowess of women. However, even if we disregard scientific credence in astrology, the marketing of astrology to women and other marginalized groups is still problematic because it reinforces in these people the institutionally conditioned perception that they have little power over their lives. Dr. Gad Saad, a professor specializing in marketing and behavioral science, proposes that women are more likely to ascribe to astrology because they are likely to have a more external locus of control, the psychological perception that outside forces primarily influence events and their outcomes. Meanwhile, men are likely to have a more internal locus of control, the perception that one can control events and their outcomes. This makes sense given the oppression of women, which has robbed women of control over who their elected officials are, the types of careers they can have, and their own bodies. Studies have shown that holding higher positions in organizations has been associated with having a more internal locus of control. This makes sense—if you believe you have power over your own success, you are more likely to take steps to achieve it. I can understand the appeal of turning to a system of order that helps us sort out the complexity of ourselves and our futures—seeking patterns in the universe is natural. However, I worry that ascribing your personality and life events to astrological forces, even if just for fun, can subtly train you to believe that things that happen are determined by forces out of your control, a frame of mind that is incongruous with empowerment. Thus, astrology potentially adds to the systematic indoctrination of women to believe that the power to achieve certain kinds of success or to claim certain rights is out of their hands.

The most problematic aspect of astrology comes from the fact that it is a system used to evaluate not only yourself but also those around you. It’s almost mind blowing to me that more people do not draw the connection between astrology and systems of identity that serve as the basis for discrimination, especially when certain signs, such as Gemini, have blatantly negative connotations. Perhaps it’s because dealing with being put in a box is an issue that is so constant and personal for me, having always been an Asian girl surrounded by a white community. When people ask me “What’s your sign?” I cannot help but be reminded of the dreaded question, “What kind of Asian are you?” that I get so often. Both are based on the premise that because I was born some kind of way, people are entitled to categorize and make assumptions about me. Obviously, astrology is not dangerous in the institutional way that racism is, but to make entertainment out of judging people based on assigned identities seems insensitive. Furthermore, people are judged based on the system of astrology even if they do not subscribe to it, which is very symptomatic of Western hegemony and excludes the existence of several other traditions of astrology that originate from around the world. This is probably the most in-depth social analysis of astrology you will ever encounter, but make what you will of it. Just don’t bring up astrology around me.

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