We are dismayed to read views expressed by Dr Elizabeth Hurren that seem to endorse the practice of medical astrology. It is disappointing to find an article supporting the use of astrological charts by the NHS expressed by an academic in an Opinion section of the University of Leicester, an institution with a long and successful history of research in astrophysics and space science.
While this article was presented as academic opinion, no evidence was presented in support of statements concerning the application of astrology. This is because the ideas behind astrology are fundamentally wrong. Many of the claims made in the article ignore and are falsified by a wealth of astronomical data, some of which was gathered by instruments designed, built and operated just a short distance across campus from the author’s office.
If we consider the opening sentence: ‘the history of the body has always been a star map.’ This is presented as a statement of fact, but makes no tangible sense. What does it mean? Is the author alluding to evolutionary history, the history of anatomy? In either case the association with star maps is spurious. A star map is a two dimensional projection of a three dimensional reality. It is simply the position of the stars as viewed from Earth at a given point in time. The only association with the history of the body can be the historical use of discredited superstitious medical practices. Vague and ill-defined statements pervade the article and, like a horoscope, we suspect the hope is the reader will find their own meaning in it.
Astrologers believe that the position of the sun, moon and planets as they pass through constellations have an influence on our lives. However, the constellations are just the pictures imagined by our hunter-gatherer ancestors among the crowded majesty of the night sky. While fascinating in their own right, these pictures have no scientific meaning. Stars are vast spheres of gas, nuclear furnaces burning hydrogen and enriching the Universe with heavier elements. They are arranged in galaxies, great structures containing hundreds of billions of stars, and in turn, there are many billions of galaxies. Stars orbit within galaxies, continually moving through space, and so the constellations change over thousands of years: they are transient things. Astrology is ignorant of all of this.
Beneath the veneer of pseudo science the article suggests that medical practice would benefit from a more patient-centric approach. This point may well have merit, but this has nothing to do with astrology. The suggestion that the personal circumstances of patients be taken into account is worthy, but it has nothing to do with astrology. Of the points of note in the article, none have anything to do with astrology. Astrology has not cured any of the world’s diseases or led to any proven medical practices. The reason astrology is not taken seriously is clear and simple: there is absolutely no evidence to support any of its claims.
The article demonstrated a disregard for the scientific method and general scholarly practice. We find it embarrassing to have to respond to such an article in the 21st century. As scientists, we welcome and embrace scholarly debate and understand the context of such debate. We have no strong objection to the relatively harmless horoscope sections of many national newspapers, but when superstition and misinformation masquerade as science then we must object. We think that the suggestion that astrology has any place in modern medical practice is dangerous and without scientific merit. In our view, the publication of this article has done a disservice to our University’s name.
Dr Paul G Abel, Centre for Interdisciplinary Science, University of Leicester
Dr Graham Wynn, Dr Mervyn Roy, Prof Ken Pounds, Prof Andrew King, Prof Steve Milan, Prof Paul O’Brien, Prof Nial Tanvir, Dr Jonathan Nichols, Dr Sarah Casewell, Dr. Matt Burleigh, Dr Mark Wilkinson, Dr Richard Alexander, Dr Steve Baker, Dr Simon Vaughan, Department of Physics and Astronomy, University of Leicester.