This week’s question was asked by a friend.

QUESTION: Why do people say our “fate is in the stars”?

ANSWER: The question refers to astrology. The dictionary defines astrology as the study of the movement and relative position of celestial objects as a means for divining information about human affairs and terrestrial events.

Here is what a website advertisement for horoscope readings says about astrology: “The future is always unknown with risks and other events which are unforeseeable. A horoscope allows one to know or make predictions about the future. It is based on planetary positions to guide the humans, as their behavior is influenced from stellar bodies and their phases. It provides essential tips on likely events so that individuals can decide future courses of action. These predictions using horoscopes are made by astrologers and the science is astrology. The use of horoscopes in predictions dates to at least five thousand years ago. Any individual can use horoscope predictions for a better future and safe ventures in family or business.”

The basis of astrology is simple: a person’s character and destiny can be understood from the positions of the sun, moon and planets at the moment of his or her birth. Interpreting the location of these bodies using a chart called the horoscope, astrologers claim to predict and explain the course of life and help them make decisions.

Astrology arose at a time when humankind’s view of the world was dominated by magic and superstition, when the need to grasp the patterns of nature was often of life-and-death importance. Astrologers believe that the important constellations are the ones the sun passes through during the course of a year. These are the constellations of the zodiac.

Note: Do not confuse astrology with astronomy. Astronomy is a legitimate science, the science that studies celestial objects and phenomena. It applies mathematics, physics and chemistry in an effort to explain the origin of those objects and phenomena and their evolution.

Simply put: astrology doesn’t work. Horoscopes are pure hogwash. Many careful tests have shown that, despite their claims, astrologers really can’t predict anything. A French statistician Michel Gauquelin sent the horoscope for one of the worst mass murderers in French history to 150 people and asked how well it fit them. Ninety-four percent of the subjects said they recognized themselves in the description.

Researcher Geoffrey Dean reversed the astrological readings of 22 subjects, substituting phrases that were the opposite of what the horoscopes actually stated. Yet the subjects in this study said the readings applied to them just as often (95 percent of the time) as people to whom the correct phrases were given. No wonder that astrological predictions are written in the vaguest and most general language possible.

There are psychics and tarot card readers willing to part us from our money. We should not be tied to an ancient fantasy, left over from a time when humans huddled by the campfire, afraid of the night.

Have fun by reading your horoscope in the daily newspaper, but don’t place any stock in it. Do you notice that the horoscope is most often placed on the same page as the comics? Remember that line from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, spoken by Cassius, “Men at some time are masters of their fates. The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves.”

Horoscopes belong in the same category as other frauds such as Bigfoot, aliens among us, perpetual motion machines, cold fusion, water witching, crop circles, and a second shooter on the grassy knoll, to name a few. My horoscope this morning says that I may encounter some push-back on my list of frauds.

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Larry Scheckel is a retired Tomah High School physics teacher.