Mike Adams fails again: astrology edition

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Dec. 13 2010 7:00 AM

Mike Adams fails again: astrology edition

Mike Adams, who goes by the nom de guerre Health Ranger, can politely be described as an antiscience propagandist. If there's no evidence for it, he'll believe it: naturopathy, antivax, alt-med fluffery, you name it. He runs the website Natural News, which has an extremely high density of nonsense per electron. Normally I wouldn't care about someone like him, but he has a substantial following, and he also promotes a lot of alt-med material that is clearly anti-science and therefore potentially dangerous; even if the stuff he sells doesn't directly make you sick, people who buy into that mindset may avoid scientifically-based (that is, real) medicine, which can make them sicker or even be fatal.

And he recently decided to widen his circle of silliness, this time promoting astrology. Yes, astrology, one of the most thoroughly debunked beliefs of all time. And it's not just that he promotes astrology, it's that he's so amazingly wrong while doing it.

Phil Plait Phil Plait

Phil Plait writes Slate’s Bad Astronomy blog and is an astronomer, public speaker, science evangelizer, and author of Death From the Skies!  

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In his article about this, he makes a bold claim:

Skeptics must be further bewildered by the new research published in Nature Neuroscience and conducted at Vanderbilt University which unintentionally provides scientific support for the fundamental principle of astrology -- namely, that the position of the planets at your time of birth influences your personality.

I would certainly be bewildered by that... if Adams weren't completely wrong that this has to do with astrology. What's actually bewildering is how someone can so completely miss the point.

The study, published in the journal Nature, was in fact done by neuroscientists who were looking at the behavior of mice. The paper is online, and although it's very technical, the results are laid clear in one key line: "These results indicate that there is an environmental imprinting of the mammalian circadian clock and its response to subsequent seasonal change under seasonal light cycles."

In other words, the seasonal light cycle (the change in the length of daylight over the course of the year: longer periods of daylight in summer, shorter in winter) can affect the natural biological rhythms of mice (and therefore, one assumes, potentially other mammals including humans). It's known that this is true for the day/night (aka circadian) cycle, but this study shows it varies as the length of daylight varies with season, too.

But note the key result: this depends on seasonal variations of light. Look as hard as you might for mention of planetary positions in the paper, and you won't find it. In fact, if the Sun and the Earth were the only two objects in the entire Universe -- and the Earth's axis were tilted with respect to its orbit as it is now -- you'd get seasons, and seasonal changes in the length of daylight.

So the result from this scientific research has nothing at all to do with planets, let alone any principles of astrology, as well it shouldn't: astrology is bull. Still, after grossly and obviously misrepresenting the results of the research paper, Adams goes on, trying to conflate astronomy and astrology, saying they are both misrepresented to people. He's almost correct there, but still misses the mark. He compares the way tabloid astrology (that is, the kind you see in a newspaper column) is described to the models of the solar system used in diagrams (where the Sun and planet sizes and distance are not to scale). This is total baloney: that kind of solar system diagram is known not to be accurate, but is used just to get a sense of the system. I don't like that kind of diagram much either, but the reality is the solar system is so big and planets so small that it's impossible to show the true scale on anything smaller than a football field.

However, those diagrams are based on the the truth and reality of the solar system, on astronomy as a science. Since astrology is utterly wrong from its basic assumptions to its applications, any comparison to astronomy is just plain silly.

I'm not surprised, though, that Adams would so shrilly use the Nature paper to misrepresent the results and use it to try to bludgeon skeptics; he has a history of ignoring reality... and of reacting badly when this is pointed out to him.

But then, this is just one more arrow in the quiver of antireality used by people like Mike Adams. You'll note that his site is basically one massive advertisement for his "natural" products which he claims can help or cure all manners of ills, including cancer and AIDS. That's what led skeptic and actual medical doctor Steve Novella to call Mike Adams "a dangerous conspiracy-mongering crank".

It’s always a good idea to keep yourself abreast of what these people are like. The alt-med movement talks a good game about the evil of Big Pharma and Western Medicine, and also claim they want to help people out of the goodness of their hearts… but when you actually get a glimpse of what’s in their hearts, well, it’s not exactly rainbows and unicorns.

Tip o' the orbital plane to Glenn McQ



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