No News is Not Good News

I’m getting a little tired of supposed ‘news’ articles that are effectively just press releases for a new book. Take today’s Daily Telegraph article;

Revealed: sex hormone plan to feminise Hitler

The story is perfectly accurate – there was such a plan, and supposedly an actual attempt to carry it out, unlike other apparently crackpot wartime schemes. However, it has not been ‘revealed’ by this new book. It was actually, for reals, really revealed by the chap who actually did it – Stanley Lovell in his ‘Of Spies & Strategems‘ (1963); nearly fifty bleedin’ years ago.

It’s hardly long-buried either, having appeared many times since in ‘The Search for the Manchurian Candidate‘ (p.16, 1979), ‘HEISENBERG’S WAR: The Secret History of the German Bomb‘ (1993), ‘The Book Of Lists: The Original Compendium of Curious Information‘ (2009), and even earlier this very year in ‘The Spymaster Who Created the OSS and Modern American Espionage‘ (2011). There’s even an article in the same damn newspaper that mentions it in 2006. These are just the examples I could find in 20mins worth of Googling; something that a journalist ought to be used to.

The headline should actually read;

‘Mentioned in new book – long-known plan to feminise Hitler’.

Needless to say, this wouldn’t sell as many books – or newspapers. I have no bone to pick with the author here – he’s done his job by writing what I’m sure is a very interesting book, and his  publisher is simply doing theirs – to market it. It’s the journalists who need to stop presenting every fact in the world as shiny and new.


Astrology wins World War 2!!!

© – check out lost more strips here

Or not, as the case…is. I had expected today’s peddlers of pseudoscientific lifestyle bullshit to be over the moon (haha) to hear that the British Special Operations Executive had employed an astrologer in an effort to get inside Hitler’s noggin. But it seems that the astrologer in question, Louis de Wohl, is rejected even by his own. The excellent Bad Astronomer blog has some nice quotes on the guy. Nonetheless, it’s still being used to make mileage for the astrology movement in general terms – see here for a comment by celebrity planetary pontificator Jonathan Cainer, who focuses on the root claim that Hitler used astrologers. We’ll come to that later. The SOE story came to light as the UK National Archives released a new batch of WW2 records earlier this month. An interesting historical curio, to be sure, but its implications for the validity and credibility of astrology are for me summed up by this report.

As the BBC reported, the security services, MI5 and 6, were dumbfounded that other branches of the authorities appeared to be swallowing De Wohl’s line. They pointed out his dismal hit-rate with predictions. In fact SOE was entirely cynical about the exercise. Wohl’s handlers concluded that if Hitler was working from the astrological “playbook”, as it were, another astrologer ought to be able to provide some insight into the choices he was making. As Major Gilbert Lennox put it;

“It is entirely irrelevant whether we ourselves regard astrological advice as valuable or scientific or as useless nonsense. All that matters is that Hitler follows its rules”.

Unfortunately for SOE, there were two serious problems with their approach. Firstly, though Hitler was interested in things occult and supernatural, there’s no evidence beyond contemporary rumour, that he did in fact retain an astrologer or base his decision-making upon the ‘findings’ of that pseudoscience. He was, thankfully, able to make questionable and ill-advised choices without the intervention of such red herrings. The oft-made claim that Karl Ernst Krafft was Hitler’s personal astrologer is a stretch, to say the least. If anything, he was retained by Rudolf Hess, not Hitler, and had originally been employed for reasons of psychological warfare (which would not require any actual validity to the subject in question, just that its employment might confuse and worry the enemy). Elements of the Nazi leadership seem to have “kept an open mind” to the possibility of useful intel deriving from such sources, but this optimism didn’t last long and Krafft met with the same end as many unfortunates under the Nazi regime.

The other fatal flaw in the SOE plan was to assume any kind of internal consistency in astrology as a ‘field’. Had they analysed the claims made on its behalf, they would have seen that a prediction by one astrologist (in this case Hitler’s), would not reliably be replicated by another. This is partly because astrological pronouncements are largely arbitrary, and partly because (like cold reading statements) they can apply to anyone given enough subjective validation. See Derren Brown’s experiment demonstrating this effect.

In other words, the British government were scammed by an astrologer, just as members of the public are today on a daily basis. Authorities are not immune from failures in critical thinking, and have on occasion been suckered in other areas of pseudoscience and the paranormal. I for one would prefer that my tax-pounds are NOT put toward such research, given the total lack of scientific basis from which to begin. Leave that to these guys, or take Psychic Bob‘s free and insightful predictions.