Posted by: Lister | August 10, 2007

The Enemies Of Reason

And another from James Randi.

Richard Dawkins has a new TV series out, investigating unsupported beliefs. The Enemies Of Reason — Channel 4 Aug 13th

Dawkins is horrified that 25% of the British public has some belief in astrology – more than in any one established religion – and that more newspaper column inches are devoted to horoscopes than to science.

I find it hard to believe both those stats. I would meet more people who believe in astrology if the first were true.

For Dawkins, of course, science is a religion, at least in the sense that it is something he fiercely believes in, a belief system that insists its dogma stand up to rigorous “double blind” experimental testing and rejects anything that fails. Those who refuse to put their beliefs to any test, he suggests, do so because they instinctively know they will fail. He gives short shrift to the astrologer Neil Spencer’s refusal to explain his “art” beyond claiming it to be a “deep dark mystery”. He has more sympathy, though only just, for a group of dowsers attempting to find one canister containing water amid 11 containing sand.

The results are no better than the law of averages – or pure guesswork – leaving one woman close to tears, devastated by the apparent disappearance of her powers.

“I don’t enjoy dashing people’s lifetime careers, but if their careers are based on claims that are simply wrong . . .” he lets the sentence tail off, implying a good dashing is what they deserve.

[…] The medium who found Dawkins’s father on the far side

When Dawkins consulted a medium who has appeared on daytime television and charges £50 for instant phone readings she said she could hear or see his father “on the other side”.

He did his best not to look surprised as she continued: “I’m aware of your father stood right behind you. “On a spiritual level he wasn’t the most openest man with his thoughts and his feelings. Ummm, I kind of want to say that I do love you and I do care – but that wouldn’t have been his character.” (Or that of many middle-class father figures of his generation, a sceptic might have said.)

But Dawkins let her continue. “I’m aware that you don’t have you dad’s photograph out” – it was true, he didn’t – “so I’m a little bit concerned why. So I’m going to ask you: why don’t you have it out?” Dawkins had a bombshell ready: “Well, he might be aware that I don’t have it out because he comes to the house about once a week.” “Oh, he’s still here,” she said, adding after a few seconds: “I don’t feel it’s working.”

“Is that because you thought my father is dead and discovered that he’s still alive?”

“No, nothing to do with that. I don’t know.”

She commented later: “As a clairvoyant you’re only as good as the client.”




  1. A 1996 Gallup poll backs up the first stat.

    When working out how many people believe in astrology, a great deal depends on how the question is put. In the 1996 Gallup Poll, 25% said that they believe that the position of the stars and planets affect people’s lives. However, research conducted amongst a sample of students in England by Sue Blackmore and Marianne Seebold found that 100% know their star sign, 70% read their horoscopes regularly and 85% agree that the description of their birth sign describes their personality (Blackmore, Susan and Seebold, Marianne, ‘The Effect of Horoscopes on Women’s Relationships’, Correlation, Vol. 19 no 2, Winter 2000-1, pp. 14-23).

    That leaves counting up the column inches of science and astrology.

  2. Regarding the bit in bold, above, here’s an article on the Forer Effect

    The Forer effect refers to the tendency of people to rate sets of statements as highly accurate for them personally even though the statements could apply to many people.

    Psychologist Bertram R. Forer found that people tend to accept vague and general personality descriptions as uniquely applicable to themselves without realizing that the same description could be applied to just about anyone. Consider the following as if it were given to you as an evaluation of your personality. […]

    With thanks to Beady at JREF

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: