Field of Science

South Dakota legislature declares that astrology can explain global warming

Here in the U.S. we have a never-ending competition among the states to see which one can enact the dumbest laws. This past week, the South Dakota House of Representatives passed a law that tells schoolteachers how to present the evidence for global warming. The lawmakers who wrote the bill clearly don’t believe that global warming is a reality, so they simply created a law to promote their version of reality. Interestingly, they used the same strategy used by creationists in their efforts to ban the teaching of evolution: the “teach the controversy” approach, where you claim you simply want children to hear both sides of the issue. But the part that really got my attention was the law’s claim that “astrological dynamics” are one of the driving forces behind global climate change.

The South Dakota bill, which was passed 36-30 (not all the legislators are idiots; here’s the roll call vote), includes a number of delightful errors, which are worth examining one by one. Let’s start with the most entertaining claim:

That there are a variety of climatological, meteorological, astrological, thermological, cosmological, and ecological dynamics that can effect world weather phenomena and that the significance and interrelativity of these factors is largely speculative.
Wow! The South Dakota legislature has declared, by majority vote, that the ancient pseudoscience of astrology “can effect world weather”! Astrology, of course, is a superstitious belief that the movements of stars and planets can affect our daily lives here on Earth, a belief that has no basis in science. Some people – including, apparently, the South Dakota legislature – still take it seriously, although most view astrological forecasts as light entertainment.

(Perhaps South Dakota was jealous of all the attention that creationists are getting by attempting to legislate the teaching of creationism in other states. Bradford Plumer over at The New Republic thinks this is their attempt to win the “dumbest state in the nation” prize.)

And we mustn’t ignore “thermological” causes. Do the wise SD legislators realize that thermology is the analysis of detailed infrared images of the human body? I suppose all our warm bodies also affect world weather – it must be true, because the SD legislature says so. And “interrelativity”! They must mean “interrelatedness”, but how nice to bring in Einstein’s theory here. I can’t quite grasp how relativity has anything to do with global warming, but I probably don’t know as much physics as the South Dakota legislators.

Now let’s look at a couple more of the new law’s assertions:

WHEREAS, the earth has been cooling for the last eight years despite small increases in anthropogenic carbon dioxide;
This is equivalent to passing a law stating that the earth is flat. Voting on it doesn’t make it true. Even if it were true, legislators have no business passing laws declaring scientific facts – they shouldn’t pass a law declaring that the earth is an oblate spheroid either. In any case, this one is just wrong. Here’s a plot showing global average temperatures for the past century, which make it pretty clear that temperatures having been warmer the past 20 years.

According to NOAA, “seven of the eight warmest years on record have occurred since 2001 and the 10 warmest years have all occurred since 1995.” (Of course, if you think this is all a government conspiracy, you won't believe NOAA.)

Here’s another entertaining quote from the South Dakota bill:

During the Little Climatic Optimum, Erik the Red settled Greenland where they farmed and raised dairy cattle. Today, ninety percent of Greenland is covered by massive ice sheets, in many places more than two miles thick.
Do the lawmakers in South Dakota really think that the enormous Greenland ice sheet formed in just the past thousand years? The best scientific evidence suggests that the ice sheet is over 100,000 years old. Maybe one of the South Dakota lawmakers is a descendant of Erik the Red, and he just wanted to mention his ancestor in the law.

And here is a lovely non sequitur:

WHEREAS, carbon dioxide is not a pollutant but rather a highly beneficial ingredient for all plant life on earth. Many scientists refer to carbon dioxide as "the gas of life."
The “gas of life” – so I guess this means it can’t possibly harm us. A stunning piece of logic. The mind boggles, the room spins about us. Apparently, though, our friends in South Dakota are just following the lead of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, which calls carbon dioxide “earth’s organic fertilizer.” It's funny how CEI, which claims to be dedicated to “limited government,” doesn't seem to mind when the government intrudes in the classroom, as long as it takes the right position.

Finally, let’s look at the opening declaration of the law:

the South Dakota Legislature urges that instruction in the public schools relating to global warming include the following:
(1) That global warming is a scientific theory rather than a proven fact;
This language is identical to that used by creationists in their attempts to undermine the teaching of evolution. Revealing his true agenda, Republican state representative Don Kopp said to the Rapid City (SD) Journal, “If you're going to teach science and there are two sides, you need to teach both, or it's about politics."

Sorry, Mr. Kopp, but no. Any idiot can take an opposing side on any issue – some people think the Earth is flat – but that doesn’t mean we should teach it. For most scientific questions, especially those that we teach to schoolchildren, there is only one well-supported “side.” On the topic of global warming, we should teach the theories that have strong scientific support.

I should admit that the South Dakota Senate, perhaps a bit embarrassed by their House colleagues, passed an amendment (just barely, 17-16) deleting the claims about astrology and thermology in the law. I guess this means that students in South Dakota will never learn the true astrological causes of global warming.

16 comments:

  1. ... cosmological, and ecological dynamics that can *affect world weather...

    Not exactly the biggest error in the legislation.

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  2. Hello Mr. Salzburg:

    Thank you for your essay on South Dakota & Astrology.

    My name is Michael Zizis. I am a Toronto practising astrologer with decades in the business.

    When we judge, a person or a thing, we become blind to it.

    If inductive logic is a science then Darwin was a scientist. Maybe observation of reoccurring phenomena can't give you insight. Maybe cultural astronomy should be scourged, and its proponents burned to death.

    I suspect you are a busy man — so I will cut to the chase.

    Liz Greene British Astrologer - predicted to the week exactly when Soviet communism would fail in 1989.

    I got my clients out of the tech boom of 1999/ 2000 just before the bubble burst in April May. I was correct within one day.

    Arch Crawford after strong initial skepticism, and a loathing of the craft made many millions of dollars investing through astrology.

    Michel Gauquelin http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michel_Gauquelin physicist made it his life's mission to destroy astrology; his father was an astrologer. He ended up vindicating astrology and made important contributions to the research of it. For his pains he got thrown out of the Sorbonne.

    If your argument against astrology is crap astrologers, I assure you there are no crap journalists or crap reporters or crap public commentators. If it is your wish to hide behind the little god of opinion that many worship, then feel free to dump this heartfelt letter. Pat Robertson said that the Haitians deserved their fate, making a pact with the devil:

    http://www.cnn.com/2010/US/01/13/haiti.pat.robertson/index.html

    - that is an opinion.


    If you love the wolfpack mentality {because whoever is in power is right, and after all you are a guy — with absolutely no need for a self examined life: that's for fairies & faggots} , then understand that every wolf behind the leader is following an asshole.

    If you have the courage to face your demons here is a simple suggestion: make a list of people who love you hate you, and are indifferent to you — along with their birthdays. A strong pattern will emerge.

    In all sincerity Mr. Salzburg, I mean you no harm. Just choose carefully who and what to hate. Kepler and Copernicus practised astrology.

    If you would like to know more about astrology's beginning in observing agrarian cycles, practised by brilliant men and women farmers of the Mesopotamian plains, to insure their children wouldn't starve, I will be only to glad to help you with it. These were practical and ingenious people who did things for practical reasons.

    If your argument is about free will vs., predestination: only information confers freedom.

    You can choose anger. That's a judgement that blinds you. It's a good drug in the short term. And lastly, Mr Salzburg, do you believe in Spanish?

    Astrology isn't a belief system, it's a language. It's gifted and complex codification is just one brilliant organising principle. Astrology is a tool with which to get amazing things done. Do You hate your wrench and your fork and your knife, and Mom's eye glasses?

    with sincere regards,

    Michael Zizis

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  3. is that last comment a joke? it has to be. either that or he is from south dakota.

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  4. This new law makes me ashamed to be from south dakota =(

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  5. Michael - under the off chance you're serious:

    This law doesn't rule on the efficacy of astrology, nor does the article. The article simply points out what the law says:

    (It says that) Astrologers cause Global Warming. (among other things)

    Do you? Or would you (at best) predict it?

    ReplyDelete
  6. First a definition of astrological:

    1.the study that assumes and attempts to interpret the influence of the heavenly bodies on human affairs.
    2.Obsolete. the science of astronomy.

    While the second is obsolete, the first definition has nothing to do with astrology, and one could argue global warming is a human affair.

    Second, your impressive graphic shows a decline starting in what looks to be 2002 on all three charts (that's 8 years in case you can't count that high), and while commentary doesn't belong in bills, I see no reason SD shouldn't put it in the bills they write if the US congress is going to put it in the bills they write.

    If you haven't been paying attention to the news the fact that all the raw data that was collected is gone means these studies are no longer scientific in nature, but are instead conjecture based off of possibly erroneous data. If the original data for measuring the mass of an electron has been disposed of we might still be wrong. (As it was it took over a decade to figure out the data was wrong to begin with.) Considering the studies done by the UN took the Sun out as a possible warming influence on the Earth I think it is safe to say that many of the climate change studies have cherry picked data. It is not longer science if you pick your data to prove your hypothesis. Finally, all those who push global warming are making huge profits from it, introducing an incentive to falsify data and prove things that aren't true. So far the Earth is 1 degree warmer on average.

    Greenland wasn't always completely covered in ice, and Leaf didn't wander around the North Pole. Saying there is no ice in Texas doesn't mean there isn't any in Wisconsin.

    Your examples are uninformed, your allegations aren't even remotely researched, your article reads like a five year old trying to convince his parents to let him drive. While I don't agree with this SD bill, your arguments are more a reason they SHOULD make a bill like this rather than why they should not.

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  7. Must have meant Astronomy... but they certainly 'Palined' that one up.

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  8. @Michael Zizis

    Science is built upon observable and repeatable phenomenon. Your pseudo-scientific rambling rant above is just another twisting of facts made by proponents of astrology and has no legs upon which to stand.

    Both "predictions" by Liz Greene and yourself required nothing more than astute observation of economic and social influences. The fact that you landed on an "exact day" is nothing more than coincidence. There were literally tens of millions of people predicting both the fall of the Soviet Union and the bursting of the tech bubble in the late 1990's. So someone got it right to the day through sheer coincidence. Whoopdeedoo.

    Also, touting success is easy when you conveniently leave out your "success rate" and don't provide externally verifiable credentials supporting your claims. It's also easy when you use red herrings and subtle ad hominem attacks to divert attention from the point that astrology has no validity. To accuse the author of following assholes is nothing more than a cheap and fallacious argument.

    Bottom line, Michael - Astrology is not a "language" or an "art" and is certainly not a science. Show me objective, observable, and repeatable proof that you can understand and predict the course of human events by the positions of the stars and planets and then you will have made progress. Show me a success rate significantly higher than what one would get through random chance.

    Stop using pop psychology to make intelligent-sounding points and prove your case.

    I don't have to prove astrology doesn't work. You have to prove that it does. And until you do, it has no place in my life and certainly no place in our laws.

    Ball's in your court, bub.

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  9. @ Mr. Zizi.

    TL;DR

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  10. Astrology, of course, is a superstitious belief that the movements of stars and planets can affect our daily lives here on Earth, a belief that has no basis in science.

    All life comes from the Sun. Superstition? The tides and other cycles are caused by the moon. Pseudoscience?

    Considering the massive ways that the stars and planets DO affect our lives directly, is it really all that unimaginable that, Mars or Aries affect war or Venus affects love or Saturn death? Does science even remotely understand any of those things war, love or death? Does your science understand the forces of gravity of cosmic bodies? Ha! It doesn't even understand ~plain old~ gravity.

    Don't judge those things you don't understand and you might learn something.

    ReplyDelete
  11. @Anonymous (3/18/10 9:12pm)

    You can't be serious. The fact that all of us, as Carl Sagan said, "are the stuff of stars" is an observable phenomenon, verified through repeated and independent observations. Just so with the lunar influences on tide and female menstruation, among other things.

    Again, the burden of proof is on you to prove an objectively observable and repeated phenomenon regarding human affairs in the fashion you describe above.

    Prove to us skeptics that there is an unknown "force" that exerts influence on humans behaviors that comes from some alignment of the stars and planets at the time of a person's birth. That's all I ask, Anonymous. Just prove it through objective and repeatable observations.

    You know what? I'm going to play your game of logical fallacies (that you probably aren't even aware you are playing).

    We can't objectively define "beauty," can we? And yet we don't think that beauty has anything to do with the stars and planets. Maybe a person is beautiful because their parents had a lot of positive karma?

    Oh crap - NOW I have to prove that KARMA exists before I can prove that beauty is caused by Karma.

    Oh wait - I can't even do that until i define "beauty" either can I?

    Well, it's still all true. You can't prove it isn't rue, so it must be true.

    That, anonymous, is how ridiculous your arguments sound. I'm using the same logical fallacies you use.

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  12. In fairness, that was the first version of the bill. This is the bill that was passed by the legislature:

    http://legis.state.sd.us/sessions/2010/Bill.aspx?File=HCR1009ENR.htm

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  13. Weather changes, that's what it does.

    Maybe the only source of heat in the solar system is the cause...

    ReplyDelete
  14. God save us from IGNORANCE and the LOVE OF IT.

    ReplyDelete
  15. "Science is rubbish " so say people who use the internet to post their crazy woo woo ideas, drive cars, fly in jets,use electricity, etc etc.
    Do you go to a crystal healer when unwell, no , you go to someone who practices medecine,a science,they may prescribe antibiotics or any of a whole range of drugs produced by....science
    Astrology !! what a joke , one 12th of the worlds population may make a mistake today, may meet with an accident etc etc.
    Superstition used to take money from the gullible and you have the cheek to shout out loud about it ... lmao.

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  16. Knowledge in any discipline has evolved over a period of time. Today , cure is not there for many ailments, so can we say,medical knowledge is useless.

    In astronomy, also, number of planets especially sedna, has been discovered in 2004. sedna is now one of the most important planets in lifescape astrology.

    constructive criticism is to test and disprove lifescape astrology. especially say this month is breast cancer month. can any one disprove the combination given for breast cancer in lifescape astrology at lifescapeastrology.com . if some one proves that this combination is not giving nearly 100 percent correlation, i would remove this article, and think seriously about whole thing again.

    let us not dwell in the past shortcomings of western or hindu astrology, as future generation is going to laugh at skeptics of astrology, as commentators who comment without knowing the subject.

    rakesh singhal

    ReplyDelete

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