With a temporary lull in the usually hectic news cycle, let's take a look at a light-hearted yet highly debated subject that is quite relevant in the media around the world.
When we look at the basic principles of newspapers and journalism, fact and truth are quite prominent in many of the ethical guidelines. Just as doctors swear to not harm their patients, journalism is only relevant as long as journalists do not lie to their readers.
There are many significant procedures, institutionalized constructs in place to hold this ideal in the utmost regard such as fact checkers, editorial oversight and so forth. Even opinion-based pieces such as columns receive flak when the criticism toward the articles stem from factual errors rather than biased approaches.
Yet, a section featured in many newspapers both in Turkey and abroad managed to reach today by flying under the radar. Despite being a relic of the past, it was not abandoned like the numerous faulty practices that people glorified in the past.
If you have not guessed from the title or the introduction, we are talking about weekly horoscopes – a section many newspapers share the reluctance to do away with even in this day and age. Before going into the current situation of astrology though, let us start with its history in media. It is certainly a colorful one after all.
Horoscopes in mainstream media were first seen in any meaningful capacity back in Aug. 24, 1930. An article published in Sunday Express was about horoscope of the newborn Princess Margeret Rose of the British Royal Family. R.H. Naylor, an astrologer of the time, had been invited by the paper. His rise to fame came shortly after his article managed to draw quite a bit of attention. This in turn led to the newspaper commissioning Naylor a section for articles. With some predictions falling close to the mark such as a crash of a passenger airship near Paris led to a weekly column. Thus, began Naylor's and astrology's rise in the mainstream media.
Naylor is also famous for inventing the Sun-sign column. This format became so popular that it was adopted by nearly every newspaper for a time. Its popularity is easy to understand. It provided complex astrological concepts in a simple manner of 12 paragraphs, each dedicated to a single sign. It provided short and clear predictions that could apply to every reader, drawing them in by offering the feeling of getting involved. Not to mention that even if a reader did not know his or her precise time of birth, the birth date alone allowed them entry to the mystical world of astrology.
This format became so popular that even today the majority of the society's only encounter is these 12 sign columns. It passed the language barriers and actual borders, becoming the go to method of using astrology in mainstream media. Turkey is certainly no stranger to it. So much that, even satire news websites such as "Zaytung" uses the format to predict disastrous and humorous fates for their readers.
With the success of the new format evident, newspapers then went on to open phone lines, offering their readers personalized predictions – for a fee of course. These became very profitable and popular, so much that businesses started blocking these phone lines to prevent their employees from calling to get their daily and weekly dose of foreknowledge. Although these phone lines are mostly extinct as far as the newspapers are concerned, astrologers are still continuing on their own.
Yet it is interesting to realize that even though this format brought the greatest popularity to the field since perhaps the Middle Ages, it also became the bane of the astrologers. Many of those who dabble in the field state that the one size fits all nature of these columns also caused great damage to their credibility and gave ammunition to those who think astrology is a sham and superstition. In another words, they think that these columns are the fast food of the astrology.
Regardless, we cannot deny that the astrology is the most widespread pseudoscience today. Ask 10 random people their signs and an overwhelming majority of them will answer with the correct one. And media shares a great portion of responsibility for that result.
Astrology as a pseudoscience
I used the term pseudoscience when it comes to astrology, yet its veracity is one of the most commonly debated subjects today. Considering that the astronomy and astrology shared the same roots in history, causes many astrology believers that the field does not deserved to be called a sham.
Branding astrology as an "ancient" field, they emphasize the lack of knowledge humanity has when it comes to the universe and when it comes to debating its legitimacy. Yet to date, there has been no meaningful evidence that shows astrology can be a legitimate scientific field.
Many of the everyday occasions that you feel as if it coincides with your horoscope can easily be explained with the Forer effect, the "psychological phenomenon whereby individuals give high accuracy ratings to descriptions of their personality that supposedly are tailored specifically to them but that are, in fact, vague and general enough to apply to a wide range of people." It is also a popular method used in cold reading, fortune telling and so forth.
Although this debate warrants longer examination than a single paragraph, our topic today is the media angle of the issue. Therefore, without dragging it any longer, let's call astrology a superstition or a belief.
When you approach the issue with that postulation, you might ask, what if it is based on belief? After all, religions share that trait and we do not hold that against them. So, if astrology has no basis in science than it should get the same benefit of the doubt.
Well that is a reasonable approach and certainly one I would share. But there are certain problems that can be missed without proper focus. Just as with the difference between cults and religions, astrology also has several key differences.
The lack of accountability is one of the main problems. Regulation and oversight is another key issue as there are enough conman preying on the desperate. But on a more societal level is that, belief in horoscopes can easily affect the lives of those who do not. Someone who believes in the astrology can easily allow it to influence their decisions in job interviews to social interactions. And there is no way to tell unless you are explicitly told the reason.
I believe that it is time for the media to leave this relic of the past where it belongs. Even if you publish it without believing it, the credibility of your newspaper lends a credence to these horoscopes which leads to more people buying into it. For a business that deals in facts and truths, the irony of these sections is palpable.
Not only that, but also seeing articles on astrology before or after important cosmic events ranging from eclipses to meteor showers without any warning on its unscientific nature introduces newer generations to a pseudoscience by lending the credibility of the mainstream media. There is no winning in this scenario either. Either we lend credence to astrology by convincing our readers with false information, or we lose our credibility for the readers who are convinced that the astrology is a pseudo-science.
It is time to let the "ancient" field of astrology stay in the ancient times, at least as far as the media is concerned.
Please click to read our informative text prepared pursuant to the Law on the Protection of Personal Data No. 6698 and to get information about the cookies used on our website in accordance with the relevant legislation.
6698 sayılı Kişisel Verilerin Korunması Kanunu uyarınca hazırlanmış aydınlatma metnimizi okumak ve sitemizde ilgili mevzuata uygun olarak kullanılan çerezlerle ilgili bilgi almak için lütfen tıklayınız.