I was at my first Edinburgh Fringe show of this year last night, a talk on astrology which was part of a series of critical thinking events run by the Edinburgh Skeptics in the aptly named Banshee Labyrinth.
Miss Twist, Edinburgh Skeptics poster girl and all-round sparkly-dressed attention seeker, regaled the audience with a talk on Why Astrology Works (Or Doesn’t).
Skepticism is the refusal to accept information as given, and insists on analysing it and investigating whether or not its claims can be verified empirically, something Twist embraces with abandon. It could be easy to write off astrology as unquantifiable bollocks, but that would be to the detriment of what skepticism truly means. Not to mention, it would also have made the talk about five seconds long. Instead, taking in the entire history of Western astrology from Egyptian and Babylonian divination to constellation drift, each aspect of astrology was examined and dismissed via research, historical examples and thought experiments, each demonstrating that the ethereal definitions governing astrology’s application have no measurable consistency with the forces the stars and planets would exert upon a person when they are born, nor any discernible influence on personality or fate. “When someone is born, the midwife has more of a gravitational pull on the baby than Jupiter,” it was eloquently explained.
The arguments towards the validity of astrology were also brought up, and it was demonstrated that they have a habit of being good examples of scientific Bullshit Bingo, such as ad hominems, the No True Scotsman and burden of proof fallacies, or appeal to tradition. If there had ever been any recorded examples of astrological predictions having verifiable results they would gave been included, but numerous cited scientific analyses determined them no more reliable than guesswork.
Not your average dry academic, Twist also found opportune moments to incorporate Star Wars, Battle Of The Planets, Time Bandits (“Seriously, I fucking love that film”) and Dr Evil in the course of the rationalisations, an eerily accurate impersonation of the latter even being utilised for at least half a page of statistical presentation. There were a few walk outs during the not overlong running time, likely a result of some people expecting stand up comedy, and at least one real-life astrologer apparently disgusted with the dismissive rationalisation. Well, we were warned at the start via paraphrasing the memetically mutated ski instructor from an episode of South Park that, “If you believe in astrology, you’re going to have a bad time.” Anyway, it’s a fairly safe generalisation that if your quest to enlighten people doesn’t result in insulting what some might believe to be true, you’re not trying hard enough.
Miss Twist sporadically speaks her brains here.