Astrology: A Real Class Act

Scientists and skeptics have long pointed to the fact that there is no science in Astrology. Au contraire mon amis.

A recent doctorial thesis shows that there are topics to be studied in astrology. They just don’t have anything to do with – well – astrology.

Katja Furthmann, newly baked PhD, is a linguist and devoted her time and effort into exploring the language used in those clever little newspaper horoscopes.

From the Berlin Paper,

Over the course of two years, Furthmann read some 3,000 horoscopes [poor dear] in German newspapers and magazines as part of her doctoral research at the University of Greifswald in eastern Germany. Her doctoral thesis, a 550-page tome called “The Stars Don’t Lie: A linguistic analysis of published horoscopes” … has been named the winner of the Commerzbank Foundation prize at the university.

“I love reading horoscopes,” Furthmann said. She studied them for her masters, and decided to continue focusing on them for her doctorate. “I don’t believe in horoscopes, but I’m fascinated by how they manage to be both very general and very specific at the same time,” said Furthmann, whose degree combined German, communications, and British studies.

In her thesis, Furthmann shows how horoscopes are written to be relevant to their target reader. “The texts are written in such a way that they are relevant to a huge number of people as well as to the individual,” she said.

During a presentation of her work, Furthmann pointed [German] out that there are 7 ingredients to a ‘good’ press – scope.

  1. Generics (Not just for medication anymore)
    This is best achieved using things like: but; on the other hand; as well; even though. An example might be “You are very thrifty but have a tendency to splurge occasionally.” Always mix your assertions with opposites.
  2. Use “Umbrella Terms”
    The use of terms with either abstract meanings or multiple definitions allows a broad acceptance of the information being presented. For example you might say something like “You have great depth” which can be taken to mean your education, your faith, to your propensity to always let McDonalds SuperSize you.
  3. The Theory of Relativity
    When describing a characteristic, always use terms that soften or diminish the term. Thus, instead of using always you need to use sometimes. “New”, “slowly,” “often,” “quickly,” “slowly,” “occasionally” are all words that make horoscope writers hearts beat just a little faster. How slow is slowly? Faster than it sometimes is.
  4. General and timeless truths
    Adages or proverbs are excellent for vague explanations. “The early bird gets the worm.” “There is a time and place for everything” work just as well as statements that can’t be proven. “You have a secret admirer.” or “We think you are a military combatant but we can’t tell you why because it’s classified and you can’t get clearance.”
  5. Specify the Unspecific
    Using phrases and metaphors can fill empty meaning with deeper significance; things like “Reach for the stars” or “Life can be a path filled with loss and success.” You can fill your horoscope with the meaning and weight of the ages without having left the comfort of your chair. Remember life is like the weather (it changes), , a party (from pass the beer to I can’t believe you drank that!), an adventure (now where did I put that map?), a road (why don’t you just stop and ask for directions). Metaphors – yeah. Metaphors are good.
  6. Pseudoscience is nice.
    Talk about stars and houses, ascents and descents, angles. Show that you know the names of not only constellations but planets. The odd angle tossed in for good measure works well. And don’t worry about whether any of the information is true or false, no one will check your work. Something like “Mars ascending in the third house of Leo could mean conflict. Especially since the elithiotetic angle to Jupiter is 26°, you need to be particularly careful in the coming weeks.”
  7. Promote Closeness and individual involvement
    Speak directly to the reader. This means YOU. It suggests both a direct understanding of the reader and personal insight to that individual’s world. Depending on the demographic, try to use the appropriate vocabulary and/or slang (Note: I will not attempt an example here because any endeavour would point out just how hopelessly out of date my knowledge of English slang really is.)

None of these techniques will come as a major surprise to those who look at horoscopes. Write your own for fun and profit – um – fun. Look here’s one. The Horoscope of the Seven Elements.

Your sign points to
your having a knack for organisation. Sometimes however, because of your specific nature, this skill can be more or less developed. If you haven’t discovered your talents yet, keep trying. Perhaps success is waiting just around the corner.

The famous astrologer Aesop said, “Slow and steady wins the race.” You need to take your time and carefully choose your route through the straits you are navigating. Sometimes the waters merely appear deep and calm when the danger is closer than you think. But remember, even if your boat seems to be floundering now, the worst storm will pass and bring a bright new morning.

Due to the aphelesic coverage of the sixth partition of Saturn combined with an unusually high rate of orbital alignment, your star will be rising in the near future. Keep on trying, success is just around the corner.

Did I miss anything? Oh, yeah. I don’t have any demographic data on my readership.

Perhaps the more disturbing part of the study isn’t that the stars don’t seem to be able to tell us about our future. No. Furthmann found out something even more troubling.

According to the study, horoscopes in magazines and newspapers are devoted to predicting the future based on the demographic models of their readership. No real mystery there. But the way they adapt the texts is interesting.

The horoscopes are far more likely to play down risk and investment in publications directed at lower income brackets. High risk and increased consumption are more likely to be aimed at those readers who could afford it.

Thus, where a newspaper designed for the working class might recommend putting off that big investment, the lifestyle magazine will encourage taking that extra time out and spending a little more on yourself. A manager magazine will encourage taking charge having self confidence.

I see a whole new area of research opening up here. The conspiracy theorists can now look at this and proclaim that horoscopes are a plot by the New World Order to keep the lower classes in their places. The Illuminati are using this to keep the innocent in slavery. I see it all so clearly now. Of course how could I have been so foolish. * forehead slap *

For anyone willing to make a donation to the JREF archives and probably make this woman’s week, look at trying to order Katja Furthmann: „Die Sterne lügen nicht. Eine linguistische Analyse der Textsorte Pressehoroskop.” 1. Auflage 2006, 546 Pg with 42 ill., Bound. 67,90 € [D]. ISBN 3-89971-323-0; unipress. [German]

But remember. The take home lesson here is, no matter where they are to be found, it has been scientifically proven that horoscopes are a real class act.

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4 comments so far

  1. klaus on

    Good point – there’s actually a good deal of science involved with woo; just generally not the kind they claim (and some even believe) it’s all about. Kewl post!

  2. […] over the Skeptics Circle #56: The Credulity of the Masses featuring an excellent post – Astrology – A Real Class Act. In this post, Eclectics Anonymous overviews Katja Furthmann’s PhD work titled, The Stars […]

  3. red on

    i agree with you. and that our present mainstream western science has yet to comprehend the creativity and methodologies of the east and that including astrology.

  4. Howie Schwartz on

    Astrology is the ancient practice and study of the stars and planets. Its history goes back to Babylonian times. Astrology is not the same as astronomy. Astronomy studies only the science of the planets, stars and universe.

    horoscope, astrology


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