Claire Fallon of Ardgowan School asks :-

How can people tell what is going to happen in your stars?

Bernard Howard, a scientist and member of the New Zealand Skeptics which investigates claims of the paranormal, responded.

Before we set out to explain anything, we must make sure that there is something to be explained. Many careful surveys of people's characteristics, for example personality, atheletic ability, skillful muscianship, etc, have shown no correlation with their so-called `star signs'. Nor does this sign have any relation with events in people's lives.

Stars, and even the nearest planets, are an enormous distance away. The law of gravity shows that the obstetrician at your mother's bedside had a greater gravitational effect on your birth than the heaviest planet.

Civilisations in various parts of the world have independently developed different astrological systems. Comparisons show these to be mutually inconsistent, ie they cannot all be true.

Many horoscopes are strings of vague, positive generalisations, which people will really believe about themselves. For example, `You have a need for others to like and admire you', and `Your apparent self-control hides an inner feeling of insecurity'. This acceptance is well-known to psycologists, who call it the `Barnum Effect', after the nineteenth century American showman. A horoscope cast for one of France's worst mass-murderers was sent to many people, asking how well it fitted them. Ninety-four percent recognised themselves in the description.

When researchers studied the predictions of well-known American astrologers, less than ten percent out of 3000 were hits. Who would want to rely on advice that is wrong nine times out of ten?