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Thursday, June 18, 1998 Published at 06:18 GMT 07:18 UK


Skill not the stars

Recent reports in Britain's newspapers suggest that some footballers are so desperate to win the World Cup that they've hired astrologers to look to the stars on their behalf. But our Science Correspondent, David Whitehouse, says players should keep their eye on the ball, not the stars.

Unless you live on the Moon, you cannot fail to have noticed that the World Cup is taking place in France. For the fans, it's a no-holds barred battle between opposing sides. But for footballers, team managers and many businesses a lot rests on a successful World Cup.

Why then am I not surprised that there are reports that before the tournament some footballers and teams consulted an astrologer?

I will say this now so that you know where I stand on astrology. It is a hoax. There is not the slightest bit of serious scientific evidence that it works despite what some people will tell you. I have met many astrologers over the years and concluded that most of them aren't paddling with both oars in the water.

You only have to look at the world of astrology to see that it's anarchy. So many different beliefs, so many contradictory theories and ways to draw a horoscope. They could not all be right. In fact none of them are.

Then of course there is the ultimate get-out clause written into the fine print of every horoscope. It is only a guide to the future, nothing more, say the astrologers. What actually happens, they add, may bear no relation to the prediction. That's good for them because it never does. Studies have shown that horoscopes are no more accurate than guesswork.

If they did work why did no astrologer predict the dramatic death of Diana, Princess of Wales last year? Why has no serious astrologer risked his or her reputation and said who will win this World Cup?

On the other hand, if it is rubbish why do so many believe in it? The latest surveys indicate that belief in astrology is on the increase. In the United States, one quarter of all adults asked said they believed that "there was something in it."

The astrology business is a big one. There are far more astrologers than there are astronomers and most newspapers and general magazines have an astrology column. Why, I wonder, are they printed without any disclaimer as to their accuracy?

Many people who should know better use astrologers. When they were in charge of the United States Ronald and Nancy Reagan consulted one in private and public matters. There is a type of astrologer for everyone, for presidents, corporate bankers and now footballers.

But does it matter? Yes. Astrology is not just a harmless bit of fun, a trivial entertainment. It cannot be because so many people believe it has validity.

It has not. It is a superstition we once had when we knew far less about our world and the universe. We now know better.

When we are born the positions of the planets is irrelevant. The gravitational effects of the doctors and nurses around the mother are far more important. Why hasn't anyone looked into the idea that our personalities depend upon how many people were around us when we were born?

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