Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Horoscope Hogwash


During the recession many people are finding it increasingly difficult to find a good secure job, where it is an employers market and many candidates are interviewed before companies select their ideal employee. But imagine that not only are you being judged on your academic ability, skills, previous employment, references but also your star sign?

In China many companies are now using horoscopes to help choose their ideal candidates1, often leaving many otherwise ideal candidates out of work. This may seem unlikely but it is a growing trend in China, where even university positions are requiring certain star signs which are deemed more desirable. One stated that “Scorpios had strong personalities and were moody, while Virgos were hugely critical and did not stay in one job for long”, but how could one 12th of the population ( or 8.3% ) which all share the same star sign just by chance, be seen as all the same? Obviously, star signs are designed to pick up on general characteristics in everyone, because the people who write them want them to fit as many people as possible. They have to have something that most people within that group can relate to, and that needs to be broad when the group involved is one 12th of the population, including both men and women, all age groups and all levels of society. Everyone is moody from time to time, everyone can be critical. But to say that everyone born between two arbitrary dates are especially moody or critical is just silly and statistically impossible, because there is no correlation between a person’s date of birth and their personality. The reason horoscopes seem to be accurate is because they use a variety of different techniques which are more commonly used in Cold Reading, like Barnum statements 2. These involve the subject making vague statements fit their situation, forgetting anything that was inaccurate and only remembering the accurate statements within the horoscope, this makes the horoscope seem like it is very accurate to your life specifically, even though in reality you could have been given any star signs horoscope for any month of any year, and due to the general and vague nature of the statements it would seem very accurate.

Horoscopes claim to work on the premise that at the moment of birth, the child is influenced by the gravitational pull of the stars in their current position in relation to the earth. Astrologers claim to be able to determine the personality of the child, just using information about its time of birth. This was tested by Shawn Carlson in a blind trial, where 28 astrologers were given information about the births of 100 children and given 100 personality profiles, and were asked to match the birth details with the personality. The studies findings were published in Nature in 1985 3, with the conclusion that the astrologers performed no better than chance, “clearly refuting the astrological hypothesis”.

So why are employers in China seeking to use a method with no scientific basis? Well, the same reason why many employers in the UK and USA previously consulted Graphologists to analyze a candidate’s handwriting, it is simply because deciding on a new employee is a difficult process, and training them is costly and time consuming. Managers have huge pressures on them to find the best person for the job, and by using Graphologists or Astrologers or any other pseudoscientific method, they are deferring the responsibility to someone else, and then if the employee turns out to be unsuitable then they can blame the astrologer, who will just brush it off with a vague statement like ‘mixed messages’ or ‘the stars were not clear’. It is understandable that companies would want to try anything to get great staff, in order to increase profits and productivity, and high levels of applicants’ only increases this selection pressure. It is important that both the public and companies should be made aware of the fact that graphology and other equally silly techniques have no evidence that they work and at best are a waste of time and should not be tolerated as part of a selection process, as candidates should be selected on their merits and abilities, and not on something arbitrary, often completely random and out of their control.

1. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/china/8914984/China-job-ads-discriminate-against-Scorpio-and-Virgo.html

E Markham (2011). Horoscope Hogwash Blogspot

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