A lot of things that seem to make sense are just plain wrong. The Greek philosopher Aristotle, for example, thought that it made perfect sense to assume that men had more teeth than women. He was married twice, but he never thought to look and check his assumption.

Checking your beliefs against reality lies at the core of science, but it has been a long time coming, and in some quarters is still yet to come. I pointed out in my book “Weighing the Soul” that I, like most scientists (though not all – think Richard Dawkins!), have no problems with beliefs that help people to make sense of the world, even though there is no way that they can be checked against reality. Where I do have a problem, and where we all should have a problem, is in people holding on to beliefs that are not only checkable, but have repeatedly been checked and found to be unverifiable.

One particular case is astrology. The physicist Shawn Carlson carried out a double-blind test in 1985, using experimental procedures designed by astrologers themselves. Of course, it produce a null result –but many people continue to believe (hope?) that there is “something in it”, and keep looking for flaws in the experiments of Carlson and others. But there aren’t any – see http://skeptico.blogs.com/skeptico/2009/08/shawn-carlson-astrology-test-nature-suitbert-ertel-reappraisal.html.

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