George Claassen

Horoscopes a load of hogwash

2005-07-08 08:59

The Russian astrologist Marina Bai has decided she has had enough. She is suing Nasa because it has with its bombardment of Tempel 1 comet allegedly destroyed her "spiritual rights" and her daily horoscope to predict how the comet would influence earthlings' lives.

The strange and weird thing is not that Bai is seriously believing this to be true, but that many of the people who believe the nonsense she and other astrologers predict about the future, agree with her vision of our cosmological world.

And in this vision there is no place for science and scientific thinking. The vehement and scientifically ignorant reaction to my column last week on the World Summit of Evolution by anti-evolutionists, is a good illustration of this.

The media propagates this 'gobbledegook'

Bai is not alone in propagating a fictional world of gobbledegook to her followers. In fact, the media are important culprits in spreading and establishing ridiculous and absurd notions in all sorts of alternative remedies, conspiracy theories, belief in the paranormal and other unscientific propagations.

Virtually every newspaper in the world carries a daily or weekly look at astrologists' predictions about what will happen to you in the immediate future, the talk radio shows are filled with guests talking about the paranormal and other New Age feel-good philosophies, and television's most popular shows are swindlers talking to the dead.

A week ago I listened with growing chagrin and annoyance to the Afrikaans radio station RSG's weekly health programme, Gesondheid Sonder Grense.

It is presented on Wednesdays by Suzaan Steyn whose journalistic skills definitely do not include a critical thinking faculty.

Steyn interviewed a certain Penni du Plessis, an alternative healer who believes you can use colour remedies to heal people.

In her monthly newsletter (July) Du Plessis writes the following piffle about the energy fields:

"Chakra is a Sanskrit word meaning, 'Wheel or Circle of Light', and refers to one of the seven major energy centres, which spin like wheels through and around the body.

"Each one of these energy centres has a specific purpose in the healthy functioning of our bodies. Each chakra varies in colour, size or shape, rotation or spin, and the amount of energy that is produced by the chakra.

"These characteristics all affect the auric field. The chakra is 'blocked' when the energy flow is restricted - thereby causing disease.

"Five of the major chakras are in alignment with the spine, while the sixth is located between the eyebrows, and the seventh, just above the crown of the head. The size of the chakra is dependent on the individual's personal development."

Science not discussed

Not even one critical question from Steyn. No science was discussed or scientific data was presented to warn the listener that spending your money on these types of alternative remedies, would be a waste.

To seek reassurance for our uncertainties from the sorts of Marina Bai, Penni du Plessis, and thousands of other quacks, palm-readers, astrologers, and psychics who make us believe they are talking to our beloved dead, is not only stupid but also irresponsible.

It may endanger your life or make your hard-earn salary dwindle away in the sandbed prepared by unscientific and irrational thinkers.

Many people believe the absurd stories that visionaries came to their brilliant healing methods after fasting and meditating for several weeks, then began hallucinating and hearing voices giving them "the keys to healing", as Robert Todd Carroll describes the phenomenon of the father of reiki, Mikao Usui (1865-1926).

That reiki has scientifically been proven to be a lot of nonsense, is never said. Readers can read more about this on Carroll's excellent website, www.skepdic.com

Is it just a coincidence that so many "prophets" found their vision after fasting weeks on end? No wonder they had hallucinations, it is just a pity they expect us to believe and defend it.

It is time that the media start fulfilling its duty to society as the provider of information based on facts, not on feel-good therapies.

The absence of science desks at South African newspapers, radio and television stations where trained science editors and reporters ask critical questions on behalf of their readers, listeners and viewers, is undermining science education in a country desperately in need of trained scientists.

  • George Claassen is science editor of Die Burger and teaches science journalism at the graduate school of journalism of the University of Stellenbosch. His book, Geloof, Bygeloof en Ander Wensdenkery - Hoe Vals Hoop en Vrees Mense Mislei (Faith, Superstition and Other Wishful Thoughts - How False Hope and Fear Mislead) will appear shortly at Protea Boekhuis.

    Send your comments to George or discuss this column now in our debating forum.

    Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.

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