What’s the Harm?

A couple years ago I was explaining how ridiculous astrology is to my girlfriend at the time and after all my trying to explain about how the plural of anecdote is not evidence and that the arrangement of the stars cannot possibly influence one’s fate or personality (having astrology buffs try to guess my sign based on my personality is a fun hobby of mine), her final argument for being a believer or at least following it is “what’s the harm?” I didn’t really have a tangible specific answer.

Now that I have an mp3 player I’ve been catching up on all the podcasts I’ve been accumulating over the past couple of years. Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe, NPR Science Fridays, and CBC’s Quirks & Quarks to name a few. Rebecca Watson from SGU mentioned whatstheharm.net and now finally I have an answer to the above question.  The website says:

Not all information is created equal. Some of it is correct. Some of it is incorrect. Some of it is carefully balanced. Some of it is heavily biased. Some of it is just plain crazy.

It is vital in the midst of this deluge that each of us be able to sort through all of this, keeping the useful information and discarding the rest. This requires the skill of critical thinking. Unfortunately, this is a skill that is often neglected in schools.

They have stats and figures and links to news stories. Of course, as a critical thinker I have to ask where they get their figures and what is the bias of the reporters who write the stories they link to. That’s part of the process. Nevertheless, the stats don’t seem unreasonable and the stories like

astrological prediction of a planetary alignment that would cause a devastating cyclone, over 60,000 workers fled [Alang, India] in fear. This caused the ship-breaking yard there to shut down at a loss of up to $60 million


Myanmar’s General Ne Win’s astrologer and numerologist told him his lucky number was 9 and he would live to be 90 if he was surrounded by 9s. He reissued the currency in multiples of 9 causing mayhem and new insurgencies.

are tragically hilarious.

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