Thursday, July 07, 2005

Bizarre Russian Lawsuit Triggers Explosion of Media Coverage

I monitor several keywords for astrological news using Google Alerts. This week there have been a huge number of stories featuring the bizarre claim of Marina Bei, a Russian astrologer, who is convinced that the recent "Deep Space" space shot has "ruined the natural balance of the forces of the universe." The Russian courts have allowed her to proceed with a lawsuit against NASA, provoking a predictable media circus replete with the obligatory snide, cynical and dismissive comments about astrology that are unfortunately commonplace in the press.

Ms. Bei claims that her life has been ruined by the experiment, and has been quoted as suggesting that this scientific adventure could spell the end of the world. She has appeared on CNN, was featured on USA Today, and one search I did on "Russian Astrologer Deep Impact" brought back over 90,000 pages, many of them dripping with derision, most of which I agree is well deserved in this particular case.

I cannot judge Bei’s merit as an astrologer as she appears to have no Internet presence and was completely unknown to me until now. She is certainly entitled to her beliefs, even though I strongly disagree with them. But considering her assertions and this bizarre lawsuit, I don’t want her to speak for me, and she does not speak for the astrological community at large.

I don’t speak for the astrological community at large, either. I know there are some people, in unfortunately large numbers, who agree with what appears to be a rather fatalist interpretation of celestial events. However, large numbers, and I hope the majority of astrologers, do not believe that a minor collision between NASA’s experiment and a comet none of us has been tracking until now can have a serious impact on the horoscope of individuals on the planet Earth. What astrological "impact" this may have (pun intended) is likely to be limited to the obvious increase in astronomy and space exploration that will result from NASA’s spectacular success. Or perhaps it reflects an "explosion" of ill-considered media coverage of astrology?

I do feel very comfortable in suggesting that the large majority of mainstream astrologers must be appalled by much of the media coverage of Ms. Bei’s claims. In the articles I have read, in the newscasts I have seen, I have yet to see one reasonable voice speaking for astrology to denounce her lawsuit or ideas. This cannot be because there is a lack of astrologers who are willing to speak out. Rather, I believe it comes from rather single-minded news coverage, from the assumption that we must all have putty in between our ears, and that none of us has much to add to the issues she has raised with her lawsuit. It is taken for granted we must agree with her. But each one of these articles does get the obligatory quote from the local skeptic’s society, or from the designated astronomy expert whose opinion of astrology isn’t colored by any actual or direct knowledge of the subject, or of what astrologers actually believe.

I’m calling on the press to at least make an effort to appear to be unbiased and impartial in news stories on this subject. Leave the opinion pieces to the editorialists and columnists. Get in touch with the local astrological society to get their comments and feedback on the story. Learn what mainstream astrologers actually believe before you report on our beliefs. If you are going to quote the local skeptic, get in touch with a credible local astrologer, and give them a chance to speak. Those who presume to speak for us so often misrepresent us when they have no clue what we actually believe.

For example, I am a practicing astrologer of over 20 years and I do not believe that:
the stars compel our fate (I believe they reflect them)
events can accurately be predicted from astrological charts (I believe that general trends and energies can be foreseen)

  • that death can be predicted from an astrological chart
  • that astrology is a "science" (it is an art form)
  • that an astrological chart controls my life (I still have choices)
  • that newspaper horoscopes are anything more than an entertaining diversion
  • a small impact on a comet millions of miles away means the end of the world or will cause headaches in one astrologer in Russia.

Astrology is a noble and fascinating pursuit, with roots leading back to the formation of modern culture and science. We do have some rather interesting individuals on the fringes of astrology, and I admit there are more than the average number of true characters in the astrological community. I understand why the media finds the wild-eyed, colorful types more interesting than their own local astrologer, quietly practicing in sensible shoes in her small studio. But fair play demands comment from mainstream astrologers, otherwise the public is in danger of assuming (as the media apparently has) that the fringe speaks for the mainstream, and this is demonstrably not the case.