Monday, January 23, 2006

Uphill Battle

A lot of people have basic misconceptions about astronomy and science in general. Many seek out information, whether it be by reading magazines and newspapers, watching science programs on TV, or attending talks, like the symposium on religion, intelligent design, and evolution that I attended last night. The majority of Americans may be scientifically illiterate, but sometimes I think it's not due to an unwillingness to learn, but rather lack of ability to filter out the crap.

Case in point - this last weekend, the USA Today Weekend Magazine supplement, which appears in many papers nationally, published an article on how the newly discovered possible tenth planet "Xena" might affect your horoscope. Not tongue-in-cheek. Devoid of sarcasm. And listed under the subject heading "Science". So let's say John Doe wakes up on a Sunday morning and decides to educate himself in current events in science, so he opened up his newspaper, and pulled out this article. Didn't he do his part? Didn't he try?

Or he could sign up for a class at his local community college and walk into a room where a mousy mid-thirties chick attempts to debunk astrology as the pseudoscience it is. Who carries more sway - the nationally syndicated newspaper or me? I'm not claiming that this has happened, but rather use this example to illustrate my point. Misconceptions are being perpetuated by what we consider to be legitimate information sources. Sigh. I guess this is why I do what I do.

10 comments:

Greg van Eekhout said...

I wouldn't say you're mousy.

Dr. Lisa said...

D'aw...thanks, dude.

Charly said...

So you ACTUALLY mean that Xena wont affect my astrological sign?

Dr. Lisa said...

Bad padawan! Bad!

Aaron said...

USA Today is notoriously populist and shallow. I'd go with a cute PhD any day.

Dr. Lisa said...

'Tis sad that "populist" implies "shallow", but I know what you're saying. And I'm sure my feminine wiles don't go far in the classroom.

Jackie M. said...

What about all the extrasolar planets? Do I have to take those into account when I try to calculate my horoscope? What about the rest of the Kuiper belt objects? Dear god... that'll involve math, won't it?

Do you actually try to address astrology in class? (Do you know about the 13 constellations of the zodiac? Turns out my husband is an Ophiucus, not Sagittarius... he smiled like he'd won the lottery for three days after he found out.)

Dr. Lisa said...

Jackie, I cannot tell you how bummed I am that I am NOT an Ophiuchus. And several students each semester get disturbed by the 13th sign.

I think it goes underestimated how many people identify themselves strongly with an astrological sign. I didn't get any tears this semester, but I received many skeptical looks.

Jackie M. said...

Tears because the Sun wasn't actually in their constellation on their birth date? Because the Sun was actually one sign over, and they don't know what to do with that? Or because they received the double whammy of winning the Ophiucus lottery?

Yeah, it's strange... one of my best friends is intelligent, well-educated, and big-time into astrology. My entire life she's been telling me that I equivocate and contradict everybody (including myself) because I'm a Libra. Libra, Libra, that's soooo Libra. And I've crapped all over it every single time it's come up, like the good little astronomer I am.

But it was a weird feeling just the same to learn that no, I'm not a Libra... the Sun was in Virgo on the day I was born. Virgo, practically Leo! What a rip-off, I want my money back...

Dr. Lisa said...

Ha! I've known lots of students who claimed just to enjoy astrology for fun, but it's interesting to see that they cling to this image of themselves. Especially amongst young women. "But Dr. Lisa, I have so many of the attributes of a Virgo!" Of course you do, and so does everyone else on the planet.