SkepticismTech

Astrology says HODL! your bitcoins

In case it needs to be said, let me open with a plea for you not to listen to astrologers or astrology apps, and for you not to buy bitcoin unless you like your wild gambling to come with an unnecessary contribution to global warming. And with that out of the way, let me get to the actual post.

Just over a year ago, or early infinite March 2020, I wrote a post about how the New York Times published a fluff piece on how astrology was not getting creamed by astrologers’ complete failure to predict a global pandemic. (how-is-astrology-still-a-thing-when-it-fails-to-predict-a-pandemic) Since then I’m sure they’ve added more astrology fluff, but this time I’m going to yell at the Washington Post and their article “Can astrology make sense of cryptocurrency?

That’s just part of the title. The full title references a specific TikTok astrologer and her one million followers. Yes, my fellow olds, there are of course TikTok astrologers. And of course some of them combine telling you that astrology says today is not a good day for asking for a promotion, with talking about how tomorrow might be a good time to buy bitcoin. They are emphatically not giving financial advice though. You see, they are just mentioning how fascinating it is that bitcoin’s natal chart indicates this would be a good time to buy, or how interesting it is that bitcoin historically ebbs and flows with the moon and that they have had success short term trading those flows with the bitcoins they aren’t furiously hodling. They’re not recommending you do the same, mind you. But isn’t it interesting?

Why does the Washington Post do this? Presumably because people keep clicking on these articles and reading them, so this time I’m not including a single link. If you’ve decided this is an investment game you need to get in on (in which case: what the fuck is the matter with you!?) or you just have to rage read, you can easily find it by googling the title I’ve given you. But I think you shouldn’t. It’s just the same vapid “balanced” article published by a “quality” publication like the Washington Post whenever commenting on something batshit that is “trending” according to their limited analysis of social media.

Personal Angle – Check! The whole article rests on this one TikTok astrologer and her one million followers. Is one million followers a lot for astrology TikTok? How much of her astrology is focused on bitcoin? The article doesn’t say, but my brief sojourn onto her TikTok profile indicates Bitcoin is only a small part of it, and though she has a million followers the most popular videos only have a few thousand likes.

The article also spends more time focusing on personal details, like how she’s not really into TikTok herself and that she started off making money off astrology giving “readings to drunk kids” at parties, than it does on justifying an article on bitcoin astrology. She apparently seriously studied astrology as a teenager, which is almost a given since she is now 22 and the article rounds off with her aspirational goal of someday having a Wikipedia page as the founder of a company. You see, she “really, really want[s] to create lasting structures in decentralized finance and A.I.

No judgement – Check! The article is a judgement free zone. It uses three (short) paragraphs on telling the story of how her reading of bitcoin’s natal chart predicted a momentary drop in price on Jan. 11th, then one describing the phony “I’m not offering financial advice” small print, and then a brief one on a failed prediction. Then, instead of pointing out how useless this makes her predictions, it jumps to describing the “history” of Financial Astrology. I.e. that it’s existed for a long time, not that it has always been absolute bullshit. (Caveat! There is something to be said for Financial Astrology in that sometimes enough people believe in it to move a stock, and if you can predict that before anyone else you could make some money. But if enough people do that … well …)

False balance – Check! Where a tabloid might have just made this an advertisement for bitcoin, bitcoin astrology and this TikTok-er, the Washington Post of course includes a real financial planner who gets to mention things like “confirmation bias”, before the journalist, who could have taken this opportunity to emphasize reality, swings back to the the personal interest angle and tells us our TikTok astrologer “isn’t too concerned about converting naysayers” and the more experienced Financial Astrologer gets a second appearance with “Astrology has always been more of an esoteric kind of initiate, secret knowledge. It really never was for the masses.” And the average reader of the article is now perfectly informed and can make up their own mind, right?

I’m just reporting a trend – Check! The fig leaf for this promotional article on a Bitcoin(!) Astrologer(!) is that she is popular, and that she is part of the “Mainstreaming of Astrology”. How can the Washington Post not write about this? What is the “Mainstreaming of Astrology” you ask? And for once this article backs its nonsense up with a link! Is it to a peer reviewed study on the varying popularity of Astrology? No! It’s to a November 2019 Washington Post article titled “How app culture turned astrology into a modern obsession“. Does that article report some real stats? Nope, I could have written a very similar post about that shitty article too. Personal angle? The journalist herself. No judgement? Astrology is just fun, isn’t it, and also profound and I check four apps every day. False balance? This professor says it’s the Barnum effect, but it’s just for fun, isn’t it, and also almost like therapy. It’s a trend! Or so say the app download numbers and the companies making money off these apps.

So what can we do about these bullshit articles? Well, we can try not to rage read them. The New York Times and the Washington Post only care about the number of clicks they get, not whether you read them with joy or anger. Although you can join me in yelling at the Washington Post about it and hope clicks aren’t the only thing they care about. I’m sending them a link to this post and telling them this is why I’m considering cancelling my subscription.

NB! Just before you go I’m going to include what the Washington Post journalist spends a whole little paragraph on towards the end, before he flips back to fluffery. Rolling Stone had an article on this TikTok-er back in February, mentioning her bitcoin focus, but being a lot more critical, if not on the absurdities of astrology, then on this TikTok-er’s history of shitty behavior, including credible allegations of outright stealing astrology and crypto content from other, currently less popular, creators, including BIPOC creators, mocking the concept of gender fluidity and nonbinary gender, and comparing eating meat to the holocaust. Rolling Stone published a long article about this. Washington Post included a paragraph and the sentence “for which she later apologized“. Go read the Rolling Stone article. It’s not perfect either, but it’s a lot better than what the Washington Post chose to publish.

Bjørnar

Bjørnar used to be a CompSci-major high school teacher in Norway, but has now followed his American wife's career to Boston, Cincinnati and finally Chapel Hill. When not writing for Skepchick he gives his actual-scientist wife programming advice, works as a tutor, updates rusty programming skills and tries to decide what to be when he grows up.

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10 Comments

  1. Thank you for writing this, Bjørnar.
    I spotted the WaPo when it was published, and was appalled enough to send them a letter to the editor about it. Didn’t get a response.
    Your “there is something to be said for Financial Astrology” point deserves more elaboration. Ms. Altman has a million
    TikTok followers, so her prophecies become self-fulfilling. This sets up a major grift. She can say on TikTok that the value of Bitcoins will go up on June 28 because the Moon is in Sagittarius, and it will indeed go up because her followers will buy into it. However, she can buy, say, $100,000 worth of Bitcoin just before publishing her prediction. Then sell off after the rubes follow her advice, and use the profit to buy a yacht or move it into a Cayman Islands bank account. A couple of weeks later, she can predict that the Bitcoin will go down on July 13 because Mercury is in Cancer. When it goes down, she can buy more Bitcoin, and repeat the process. Voila, totally unregulated insider trading.
    P.S. When I viewed your article this morning, an astrology ad was displayed. That’s how widespread this crap is.

    1. Thanks for the positive feedback.

      And yeah, it’s even easier to exploit the potential waves caused by financial astrology if you are the astrologer, but I’m unsure how many of her one million followers follow her for bitcoin-investment advice, so who knows how much influence she really has.

      As for the ad, I believe Rebecca will do what she can to keep the woo ads off the page when notified of them, but it’s a bit of a whack-a-mole game.

  2. Rebecca
    Re water witches. Are you kidding? The article is not at all friendly to dowagers. It if fact says several times that there is no scientific basis for the practice. I think you completely misread the article. Read it again. Please.
    A fan
    Alan Church

    1. You have definitely posted this comment on the wrong article, but I cannot for the life of me figure out what article you are responding to. And that’s after Mary figured out dowagers should have been dowsers.

    2. I see now that it was referring to a video that hadn’t gone up on this site yet. And you are wrong. Although the article does include scientists saying that dowsing is crap, it is overall full of false balance, which tips it in the direction of being pro-dowsing.

      The journalist doesn’t state that dowsing is crap, just that the scientists say it is. It doesn’t mention that dowsing has been tested “extensively” and always fails to live up to the dowsers’ claims. It doesn’t, unlike Rebecca’s video, mention what is actually going on. And it lets the dowser have the last word.

      Is it a complete homage to dowsing? No. But it still falls way short of what could be considered a fair treatment that gives an uninformed reader a reasonable idea of what is going on.

    1. I stopped reading the Times completely, not that the Washington Post is all that much better, but so far the frequency of “nope, not reading that person’s dreck again” articles is lower.

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