It seems that even German efficiency cannot spare some Austrians from the vacuous pseudoscience that is astrology. Normally I do not concern myself with this junk, but normally people are not as stupid as the Austrian firm mentioned in the Daily Mail.
Astrology comes in two main flavours, Western Astrology and Eastern Astrology. For the purposes of this post I will focus on Western Astrology. Firstly it is the type of astrology used by the Austrian company to recruit staff and secondly, it is the system with which I am more familiar.
Western astrology is the type of astrology used to cast the horoscope you read in your daily newspaper. Almost everyone in the western world knows their “sun sign”, this is sign which the sun occupied at the time of our birth (aka our “star sign”). Thus if you are a Gemini the sun was moving through Gemini when you were born.
In ancient Mesopotamia (c. 4000BC) the wise men needed a systematic way to keep track of time. This was essential for tracking the seasons to maximise the yield at harvest time. Their best guide was the monthly lunar cycle and the annual cycles of various stars.
Their observations allowed the Mesopotamians to plan their agriculture, but also took on a religious significance. The Mesopotamians worshiped the planets as deities and also began to use their movements for divination purposes. The rise of mathematics combined with the study of astronomy and the use of divination eventually led to the development of astrology as we know it today.
In the past 6000 years astrology has become an incredibly popular phenomenon. Millions of people read their horoscopes on a daily basis, truly believing that the motions of the planets can have a direct influence on their lives. Astrology has become a complex esoteric art form, astrologers follow complex looping charts to forecast someone’s fortune, yet nobody really seems to understand what is going on. This can be beautifully illustrated by picking up and reading your horoscope in two different newspapers or magazines on the same day. Popular horoscopes are vague and contradictory and it is a wonder that the practice has persisted for so long.
Here I would like to digress for a moment to point out a glaring error made by astrologers in the late nineteenth century. This is the charming story of the little planet that wasn’t; Vulcan. The story of Vulcan is one of the triumph of science over superstition.
Of particular interest to me is the way in which astrologers reacted to the discovery of Uranus, Neptune and Pluto. Surely if the planets have an effect on the lives of people, then astrologers would have detected unaccounted for influences before the astronomers discovered these planets through calculation and observation?
As noted in the CSICOP article linked above, Linda Goodman felt that she should point out that planets have no effect on our lives until they are discovered by astronomers. Right.
OK, back to the issue at hand, does astrology reliably predict human behavior and can a person’s star sign be used as a criterion for employment?
The short answer is “No”. Studies have repeatedly failed to show a statistically significant correlation between star sign and any cognitive, behavioral or physical trait. The Astronomy Society of the Pacific (ASP) has an excellent article which summarizes the most reliable studies in this area.
By far the most convincing is a comprehensive study of “time twins” which utterly destroyed the central principles of astrology when it proved that people born within minutes of each other did not share traits (such as IQ, sports ability or any other trait which astrologers claim to be able to predict) to any significant degree.
I fully understand wanting to staff your office with people most suited to a specific position. No employer in his right mind would employ me for a position in sales, I would have trouble selling a heater to an Eskimo, but this is not a function of my star sign, it’s a result of my personality.
To actively recruit staff based on a concept as baseless as astrological star sign is just plain stupid.
For more on the scientific inadequacies of astrology please click through to the wikipedia page on the subject.