American Way 4

James Randi --- Wizard ((no email))
Fri, 9 Dec 1994 09:24:00 -0500


Great balls of fire! Stars, that is. I've provoked lots of
comment by scolding American Way for insulting my -- and
your -- intelligence by running a column by the Easter
Bunny. Sorry, I meant "by an astrologer." The difference
is imperceptible, so I should be forgiven.

A number of readers have had a difficult time accepting and
understanding my anger, and in the tradition of responding
to offered opinion, I must confess that I may have over-
reacted. One reader wrote:

Lighten up! Of course mail volume counts --
it's a good indicator of economic potential,
and the buck is the bottom line.

Well, in defense of my zeal, I will say that this reader has
just made one of my points for me. Questions: Is it proper
for a medical advisor (a doctor) to prescribe -- so long as
it does no physical damage -- an expensive operation or
medication that the patient does not require? Can a grocer
ethically adulterate a product -- without altering it
nutritionally -- just so that it appears more attractive?
Can a TV personality claim divine powers and secretly use
database information to impress and influence paying
clients? (I remind you that in these examples, the vendor
is giving a product, information or advice in return for
money.) If the statement that "the buck is the bottom line"
is true, then the answer to all these questions is
obviously, "Yes!"

Well, I feel strongly that there's a very different bottom
line available to the vendors. And that includes editors
who piously declare that they didn't really mean it, that
they were just having fun with their clients. As in the
American Way way.

The reader goes on to say

Some people are going to believe horoscopes
and other superstitious nonsense, no matter
what you say.

Agreed, of course. The question is, can the reader of a
respectable, slick, prestigious publication be led to
believe that an archaic, thoroughly disproved notion is
actually a legitimate one because well-educated, well-
informed publishers offer it to them as such? I think so.

The reader concludes

You can't blame American Way Magazine, any
more than you can your local newspaper,
for pandering to [the belief in horoscopes],
can you?

No more, agreed. I blame both. I believe that pandering
should not be part of the journalistic profession.

Another reader writes:

. . . I have to admit, when I read your
article, it seemed a bit harsh to me.
. . . In what ways is an astrological
column "dangerous"?

It is dangerous in the same way that any misinformation that
appears to be truth, is dangerous. We have a difficult
enough time discovering the facts of our universe (the
search is called "science") without crippling our young
people -- and that's MY "bottom line" -- with lies made for
fun and profit.

The reader continues:

Please don't get me wrong; I agree that
astrology is irrational and pseudoscientific,
but the boycott (and the use of the word
"danger") seems a bit harsh to me . . .

Forgive me. My comments are based upon long experience,
much exposure to injured intellects, and battle scars from
encounters with authorities who appear to have ignored the
responsibilities that are -- or should be -- part of their
professional lives. Yes, I'm indignant. But I have no
right to ask my readers to share that feeling, and if I've
(doubtlessly) made you wonder about my indignation, I

eppur si muove!

James Randi.


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