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That’s Allstate’s Stand. Are you a Virgo?

There are plenty of reasons to encourage critical thinking among people.  There are people who refuse to have their children vaccinated because they have a personal hypothesis – without evidence of any kind – that vaccines cause autism or lower Intelligence Quotients among children.  There are grown parents who don’t seek medical attention for their children because they feel that faith and prayer will cure the child better than modern medicine.  There are even people in this day and age who deny the holocaust ever happened, think the universe is 6,000-years-old, and believe in vampires.  What do all of these people have in common?  A clear lack of critical thinking and a clear lack of regard toward the eminence and implications of evidence.
The worst part of all is how this translates in our society.  We have senators arguing against emissions regulations by quoting from the bible, saying that God won’t let the world end until he’s good and ready.  We have states in the south suggesting prayer to solve their budget crises.  And how many people do you know who are undoing the goodness that is human evolution, and also subjecting themselves to illnesses that humans thought they’d done away with a century ago, by subscribing to raw food diets?  I’m going to talk about one particular instance in which a clear-cut lack of critical thinking could end up costing you money, and probably already has.
Click here to read a rather disturbing study that was performed by the car insurance company Allstate.  The study cited this:
The company said its comparison of 2010 claims data against the revised astrological calendar found Virgos were involved in 211,650 collisions last year, 700 percent more than the 26,833 crashes involving Scorpios, the safest drivers on the zodiac calendar.

Had this just been a mundane study, wherein a reputable insurance company wanted to waste some money to appease the “new age” audience with some unsubstantiated and unproven statistics, that would be one thing.  Had this been a “joke” (damage control), because car insurance companies apparently like to waste money on humor, that would be another as well, but according to other sources, that’s not the case.  In fact, according to Allstate’s own current policies, that’s not the case.  Insurance companies already use matters such as a person’s credit, a person’s sex, and even a person’s personal life to measure the accountability and habits of a person, and the amount they should be paying for insurance. 

A person’s sex and credit score have as much to do with their driving habits as their astrological sign.  Both of these matters were determined by statistics, which mean absolutely nothing in the face of reality.  First thing, statistics do not necessarily suggest correlation, and do not ever stand as evidence for causation.  One could find a hundred statistics by a hundred firms to suggest women are better drivers than men, just as one could find a hundred statistics by a hundred firms to suggest exactly the contrary.  It’s all a matter of the methodology, which in matters of the business world, not the scientific one, is determined by the preordained result.  In fact, let me show you how easy it is to create a false statistic.  I’ll use one of my favorite statistics, which is from the infamous Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, which concludes that global warming is a direct result of the decline in piracy over the course of the last 400 years.
As anyone could tell you, temperatures – though you should never equate climate with weather as they are different things – in 1600 were a yearly average of about 54 degrees F.  In 1998, this number climbed to 58.3 degrees F.  Well, on the other hand, let’s look at piracy.  Though, piracy is on the rise in recent years, it’s too early to make any kind of climactic difference, says my research that I will come up with eventually to fit my conclusions.  According to generally accepted theory, the amount of pirates that rode the high seas in 1600 was close to 7,000 people.  That’s quite a hefty number, especially when compared to 1998’s depressing number of only 120.  Well, let us do some pretty simple math here.  From this research, I can easily conclude that there is a correlation, and I will arbitrarily conclude causation.  And with that, I will conclude that each pirate in the world is worth exactly 0.000625 of a degree.  I would also conclude that, judging by the math there, the world can only actually get 0.075 of a degree warmer, as that would be the increase in temperature caused by the remaining 120 sea-going swashbucklers giving up their day jobs, putting us at an average yearly temperature of 58.375 degrees F.  Wow, I guess I just proved that the polar ice caps are safe from heating as well.  I wonder why they’re still melting then.  Well, they must not be, since I just proved with STATISTICS that they’re not.
I hope I made my point about statistics.  So, now that we’ve proven that statistics, in the world of science, for the most part mean absolutely nothing, at least without proper and open methodology and proper double-blind scientific method.  Now, let’s apply that thinking to the study I mentioned above regarding astrology.  Given that astrology applies to everyone, at least in the sense that everyone has had a sign applied to them by these hacks, we can conclude, beyond a shadow of a doubt that one of the twelve would come out on top of the others.  The chances of a tie happening are pretty small, so someone is going to take home the gold.  My question is this: Why only use Western astrology?  Why not apply Chinese astrology as well?  Is there more evidence for the tenets of Western astrology than Eastern astrology?  Well, let me check.  The following is a list of the empirical evidence collected over the course of the past 2,000 years, that suggests the tenets and claims made by either Western or Eastern astrology are viable and should be taken seriously:
(Insert cricket noises here)
Well, that’s it.  Quite a bit, huh?  So, I guess to this day nobody has managed to prove that the date you were born and the position of the stars above your head or below your feet (on the other side of the world for you anti-heliocentrics out there) has any affect on your life, personality, love-life, future, family life, or driving habits.  In fact, in the long history of astrology, not one person, even those attempting with all of their might to prove this superstition as a legitimate science, has managed to produce anything.  Well, in the scientific world, one would have to say that after thousands of years with no evidence, and all of the actual evidence being completely to the contrary of astrology, it really ought to go the same route as Geocentricity, Craniometry, Phrenology, or any other pseudoscience or pseudo-hypothesis that has been practiced in the last few thousand years of recorded human history.  Why has it not?
Well, why haven’t any of the religious tenets that have since been entirely unproven?  Why haven’t any of the religious tenets that have been disproved through miles of evidence, such as the flood of Noah, the life-spans of biblical characters, the biblical age of the earth, the six-day creation, the Hindu world/elephant/tortoise hypothesis?  Well, because these are all religious factors, and no matter how absurd they are, you just cannot criticize them to the level at which they should be criticized, and thus, without opposition in the PC era, they just slowly absolve themselves of any responsibility to stand on evidence, and become part of the public’s perception of reality.  Granted, reality exists independently of the observer, but that hardly makes a difference when people can’t separate reality from observed reality, because they’ve not been taught the importance of critical thinking.
How many people wake up in the morning, get the paper, and read their horoscopes?  Quite a few, as the field seems to employ a ton of writers.  How many people believe them?  Far too many.  The problem is – let’s say a person’s horoscope says not the leave the house or they’ll be killed – after a person does what their horoscope says and stays in their home, and nothing bad happens to them, you can’t go back in time and prove to them that nothing bad would have happened anyway.  In fact, this may be a trivial matter, but what if something really good would have happened to them that day?  You must think that at least one of the thousands who read the horoscope that morning would have had a much better day had they gone outside.  What if one of them were on their last leg at their job and called in because their horoscope told them to?  Unlikely, yes, but still a matter to think about.  If even one bad thing has ever happened to a person, or one good thing has ever missed a person because of the directions inside of an instructive horoscope, that person has been robbed by pseudo-scientific superstition that has not one leg to stand on in the spectrum of evidence.  It is no different from those who succumbed to muscle problems later in life because of years of seeing a whole other field of charlatan, the chiropractor, who I will certainly touch on in a later blog.
My point in the end is that there is no evidence to show that astrology has any merit at all, and to charge extra money based on a religious chart is nothing more than religious discrimination.  I am a Scorpio.  I share a few of the traits outlined in my vague and common astrological description.  I share a few traits with the predictions made in my birth chart as well – yes, I had one made.  So do most people.  The issue is this: if it were a viable science, then I would share all of the traits described in both my birth chart and my star chart.  All Scorpios would be exactly the same, and every single person born on November 6, 1981 at 4:21 AM (my birthday) would have the same exact same life and personality, according to astrology.  Well, it just so happens an old friend of mine shared my birthday.  An old girlfriend, actually, who was only off by a few hours.  Well, you don’t have to educate me in matters of astrophysics, I know how fast planets move, and I know how fast the earth spins as well, making it appear that stars are moving.  But in the world of astrology, apparently, this doesn’t make much of a difference.  I wonder, then, why that woman and I had nothing in common, and don’t talk today.  You’d think we’d make great bedfellows.
This brings me to another point.  Astrology claims to be the only algorithm necessary for bringing couples together.  Why, then, according to astrologydetails.com am I not only with a woman of an astrological sign that I’m supposed to hate (I’m in an extremely happy relationship, by the way) but according to the same site, the success of your marriage entirely depends of astrology?  I found this note quite interesting:

The type and location of the best wedding couples in astrology and reception site, officiate and other service personnel are also influenced by the residence of the daily Astrological Sun. The brides and grooms Natal Sun signs may also be used. Although the sign that the Sun resides in on the wedding day is the most significant, the other signs play their role in assisting with the preparations. Each will have some influence in the areas that they govern. Using the energies of the Astrological Bridal Zodiac can result in the bridal couples quest to plan a unique fairy tale best wedding couples in astrology.

I guess your overall algorithm is based in the position of planets on the date of your birth, but the basis of a successful marriage is not communication, compatibility, happiness, sex, or anything else that we crazy scientists have thought for hundreds of years.  Apparently, invisible and undetectable energies must travel through just the right places and just the right times, with the assistance of the sun, you know, the giant burning hydrogen ball in the sky with a mass of about about 2×1030 kilograms that provides us all of our world sustenance by continuing to be a giant burning ball of gas, cares about your wedding, and even dictates your future.  Are you getting chills yet?  Because I am!  What is the evidence to support this?  NOTHING!  In fact, no link has ever been made between the time of day, nor the time of year, of a wedding ceremony that showed the success of the marriage is contingent on that whatsoever.  In fact, considering that marriages fail all the time, from weddings performed at all times of day and times of year, would certainly point to the contrary: There is no correlation at all.  I won’t even get into the other signs “assisting with the preparations” part.  We’ll leave that for Silvia Brown to try to explain in one of her monthly, ghost-written books.
In the end, I would have to say that this study was a wash, and the statistics mean nothing.  Whether it was a misguided appeasement of the “spiritual” crowd, or a “joke,” is completely irrelevant.  And as I’ve shown, the statistics in this astrology exercise have exactly the same amount of merit as the statistics that increase a male’s car insurance over a woman’s car insurance.  They mean nothing.  At least no more than would statistics that would figure out a relationship between the time of day a person usually eats dinner, and the likelihood of that person being murdered, raped, raped again, then thrown into a burning pit of fire, ash, and ancient crystals that, together, would form a mythical symbol that would call upon the giant Cthulhu to drive the world into permanent insanity.  You know, on the other hand, I’d kind of like to read that study.  I’ll mail it to Allstate so that they can use it to determine life insurance rates.
Thanks for reading,
C. Allen Thompson
The Smiling Skeptic

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