Are astrology and face/palm reading valid?
- A National Science Foundation survey has reported that 58% of young Americans (ages 18-24) believe that astrology is scientific.
- Palm reading has historical roots in India, before spreading to China, Tibet, Persia, Mesopotamia, Egypt, Ancient Greece, and eventually Europe.
- The Barnum Effect, also known as the Forer Effect, is the common psychological phenomenon of believing that personality descriptions apply more specifically to oneself than to others, despite being general enough to apply to everyone.
- In an effort to provide insurance companies with quick and reliable methods of predicting life expectancy, researchers compared palm “lifelines” of cadavers to their age of death; however, no basis for reliable prediction could be found.
- Facial features have been shown to help accurately predict traits related to extroversion, physical health, agreeableness, and neuroticism.
- In the US, the horoscope industry generates over $2 billion in revenue a year.
Divination arts such as astrology, chiromancy (palm reading), and physiognomy (face reading) have been utilized for thousands of years, and continue to have many modern-day adherents. Interpreting the positions of celestial bodies or the appearance of lines and features on the face or palms has revealed practical information to people who needed guidance in everything from when to go into battle to who would be the best person to marry. But how valid are these modalities? It all depends on who you ask.
A scientist would dismiss these applications as being pseudoscientific because they do not adhere to standards of the scientific method. However, practitioners of these arts—at least the good ones—are rigorously trained and regularly hone their skills through practical application. There is no more dubious audience than the general public, and readers regularly submit to trial by fire at every New Age fair they engage in.
Skeptics of divination arts routinely reference studies that seemingly prove the shortcomings of relying on such methods to predict the future or reveal character traits. And yet anecdotal evidence consistently supports their validity. It would be rather condescending to dismiss the experiences and beliefs of so many people who swear that these systems work.
But in analyzing the soundness of any discipline, one must ensure the integrity of its practitioners. Unfortunately, the face reader who suggests that a client undergo plastic surgery is grouped together with the reader who offers more practical and soulful advice. For this reason, divination arts will unfortunately always be maligned— to the detriment of earnest, wisdom-seeking clientele.
On a scale of fortune cookie to scientific theory, how valid are the predictions of astrologers, palmists, and face readers? Despite resurgent popularity, their fortunes fail to describe personality or predict behavior any better than the slips of wisdom often tossed in with Chinese takeout. Astrologers and physiognomists (those who study physical appearance to discern personality traits - i.e.: palmists and face readers) don’t come to conclusions through the scientific method. In science, a prediction is tested and must prove demonstrably better than random chance. Methodologies that appear empirical but don’t meet scientific standards of falsifiability or predictability are loosely termed “pseudoscience.”
Controlled tests routinely reject pseudoscientific ideas. Research dismisses correlations between palm lines and life spans. Astrologers tasked with matching star charts to personality assessments fare no better than non-astrologers. Longitudinal studies of thousands of individuals have debunked links between astronomic activity, birth dates and times, personality, and life outcomes. Unlike celestial charts, facial features can signal certain personality traits with varying reliability. These insights aren't discovered through superstitious traditions but through the sciences of astronomy, social psychology and anthropology.
The prerogative to consult fortunetellers imbues them with unwarranted credibility and influence. Discrimination in employment or housing based on astrological signs is legal. The pressure to offer astrology courses in science departments at universities threatens the integrity of scientific scholarship. In Thailand, face reading has such influence in society that plastic surgery is promoted to improve one’s fortune. The physiognomical assertion that physical features are accurate indicators of character is precarious, and when taken literally can rationalize prejudice. Fundamentally, exalting pseudoscience is an abdication of social responsibility.