Astrology Up Close

I recently appeared on the TV show William Shatner’s Weird or What?, episode on Premonitions.  Unusual for me, this time I played the straight man, against astrologer Dr. Turi, who is said to have predicted the 9-11 attacks, Hurricaine Katrina, the Colombia Shuttle disaster, and others with “uncanny accuracy.” I said he makes lot of predictions that don’t turn out, and calls attention to the few that look best.

I didn’t know it when I was filmed, but Dr. Turi agreed to demonstrate his ability, my making “specific predictions” a week in advance. He opened an envelope on camera containing this text:

These predictions will mature within 48 hours centering on the date of January 23.

  • 1 Expect news with earthquake above 6.0 and/or nukes (Japan/ring of fire)
  • 2 Expect nature devastating forces (volcano/tsunami or tornadoes)
  • 3 Expect scientific news from the cosmos and/or NASA
  • 4 Expect shocking news and very large explosions in the Middle East.
  • 5 Expect shocking news with satellites, airlines or airplanes
  • 6 Expect shocking news involving nukes
  • 7 Key words are “shocking news, explosions, surprises, on these days Jan …

He says he feels vindicated, because of the five predictions he gave, four came to pass. (Yeah, I count six too.) There were two quakes over 6.0, a tornado killed people in the US, NASA announced a big solar flare, and 150 were killed in an explosion in the Mideast.

I’d guess that if we applied these very same predictions to all the weeks in the last year, with the same flexibility of interpretation, we’d see a similar accuracy. In most weeks, NASA has press releases, there are earthquakes and tornados somewhere, something blows up in the Mideast, and airplanes have problems. Of course I’ll not bother to do such an evaluation – it is his job to set up careful evaluations of his abilities, if he wants us to believe them.

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  • Simon Halliday

    On the earthquakes, you can check the incidence of them here: http://www.iris.edu/hq/ Over the past 30 days, it looks like there have been three 6+ magnitude quakes in the past 3 or so weeks, so statistically he’s probably quite likely to strike gold with that ‘specific prediction’. Were he to be _actually_ specific, he would have to give a location, a date and an actual magnitude (with error bars, which we could permit him). 

  • Anon

    There are over 130 6.0+ earthquakes per year.

    This dude is hilarious.

  • Robert Koslover

    So… after the fact, do you now believe that your appearance on that show: (a) benefited the public, (b) benefited you, (c) both, or (d) neither?

  • http://www.facebook.com/yudkowsky Eliezer Yudkowsky

    Silly TV show.  Guy needs to produce 2 different predictions, and a blind judge has to say which was true of 2 different weeks.

  • Martin-2

    “it is his job to set up careful evaluations of his abilities, if he wants us to believe them.”

    Surely he gets more people to believe in his “abilities” by doing no such thing.