Astrology is real. So is homeopathy.

Hold on. Before you light the torches or prepare your pithy comments, read on.

I mean it. Astrology is real. So is homeopathy–and by this I mean homeopathic remedies, not homeopathic practitioners (they’re also real, but it’s a different argument).

Real

What do I mean by real?

  • The fields produce real income. Astrology columnists get paid, as do some folks who call themselves astrologers. People take homeopathic remedies and pay good money for them. Hell, there are even peer-reviewed journals, including one (Homeopathy) published by Elsevier, so it must be real. (The journal is only $277/year for institutional print access. Quite a bargain by Elsevier terms. I’d suggest offering your entire print budget at a homeopathic strengthening level, say 200C. Oh, look it up.)
  • The fields have real effects on some people. People who believe in astrologers’ forecasts and astrology columns will have their lives affected by those forecasts. People who take homeopathic remedies that they believe work are likely to find that their symptoms improve in anywhere from 10% to 90% of cases.

How real can you get? The field makes money and changes people’s lives.

Scientifically meaningful

Oh, well, that’s an entirely different thing, in’it?

Do I believe astrology and homeopathy are scientifically meaningful? Not so much. (Not at all, if you must know.)

I think they fall into the same realm as Santa Claus and a fair number of other concepts: Useful under some circumstances…and only dangerous if you spend money on them that you can’t really afford or, much more commonly, if you substitute them for things like effort (for astrology) and medicine/sound health practices (for homeopathic remedies).

Incidentally, if you do believe (or know someone who believes) that a given homeopathic remedy (at 12C or higher) is working, in the absence of the homeopathic practitioner, I have a money-saving suggestion once you’ve gone through the initial bottle:

My local supermarket sells a superb general-purpose homeopathic remedy that should work exactly as well, once it’s poured into the same bottle with the same label and the same assumptions. Around here, you can get the general-purpose remedy for about thirty-five cents a gallon, if you bring your own containers, or maybe $1 a gallon if you need a container. You may find that your supermarket has big machines over in one corner that will fill your containers with this general-purpose remedy. (Do be cautious: Under the wrong conditions, this general-purpose remedy is one of the most universal solvents known, and many people have died through excessive and inappropriate consumption.)

Why do I separate homeopathic remedies, especially those you can buy over the counter such as one that’s apparently dynamite for flu and uses duck liver at 200C, from homeopathic practitioners? Because the practitioners are looking at the whole patient and almost certainly offering appropriate advice, and I have no reason to believe that the advice they offer isn’t in many cases effective. Whether the effectiveness of that advice has anything whatsoever to do with the liquids or pills they provide….ah, that’s another question.


Update: I forgot my other tip, one for believers in astrology. You can get an equally valid individualized forecast in almost any American city of any size–delivered in an edible wrapper after a good meal. Just go to most any Chinese restaurant (except maybe the fanciest ones). I can assure you that what the throw in free at the end of the meal is as good as anything in the astrology column.

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