If scientists wrote horoscopes, this is what yours would say

Martha Gill's Irrational Animals column.

A new year, a new set of horoscopes, a renewed chorus from naysayers who fail to see the link between when they were born and what will happen to them next Tuesday. But science says they’re just not looking hard enough. Tiny seasonal variations at your time of birth can affect both your health and your character. Finally - here’s a horoscope based on real medical evidence.

Aries: 21 March – 19 April
You’ve never been that bright, Aries, and medics at Indiana University put this down to a heightened use of pesticides around the time of your birth. You also sometimes feel that you’re sleepwalking through life. Give in to the feeling - it’s just narcolepsy (more likely in those born in March or April).

Taurus: 20 April – 20 May
Oh, Taurus, sometimes you’re on top of the world, other times you just can’t get out of bed. Your friends are confused: what’s going on? Tell them that babies born in May are happier – they first experienced the world in summer. They are also more likely to suffer from seasonal affective disorder; depression hits in the darker months.

Gemini: 21 May – 21 June
Children born at this time are often better behaved and less likely to play truant. Maybe it’s time to let loose a bit, Gemini.

Cancer: 22 June – 22 July
Cancerians, you usually think yourselves lucky – due to low rates of postnatal depression in mothers of summer babies. Your instincts are off, however: you’re at a slightly higher risk of Hodgkin’s lymphoma, according to Danish research from 2003.

Leo: 23 July – 22 August
Your friends tell you you’re just not the maternal type. They’re right: Austrian research finds that those born now grow up to have the fewest children.

Virgo: 23 August – 22 September
You keep telling people you’re big-boned but they don’t believe you. It’s true, though – your mother got more sunlight as her pregnancy progressed and the Vitamin D gave you thick, strong bones. See?

Libra: 23 September – 22 October
Librans, you have the best chance of becoming a professional footballer. You’ll be one of the biggest children in the school year and get picked for the best team early on. Things will progress from there. Hurray for Jupiter in the ascendant or whatever.

Scorpio: 23 October – 21 November
This year is as good a time as any to take up yoga, because you’ll be feeling flexible and energetic, partly because of your low risk of arthritis and multiple sclerosis (as your mother got plenty of sunlight late in her pregnancy).

Sagittarius: 22 November – 21 December
Sagittarians like to live life at the sharp end – December babies are the most likely to become dentists. But take off those plastic gloves and have a rest in the chair: cold temperatures at birth increased your risk of eczema and heart disease.

Capricorn: 22 December – 19 January
Capricornians, you are clever, tall and successful – your mother was pregnant in the summer and ate lots of fruit and vegetables. If you have one flaw, it’s that irritating tendency to have epilepsy, caused by prenatal winter infections.

Aquarius: 20 January – 18 February
This year, you’ll be as clearsighted as ever; low levels of daylight at birth gave you better long-distance vision. Older Aquarians may be feeling under the weather, though – an early lack of Vitamin D has been linked to depression later in life.

Pisces: 19 February – 20 March
Assertive, successful, bossy: there are more CEOs born now than at any other time of the year. Male Pisceans beware: you’re at a marginally higher risk of autism.

The science of horoscopes. Photograph: Getty Images

Martha Gill writes the weekly Irrational Animals column. You can follow her on Twitter here: @Martha_Gill.

This article first appeared in the 14 January 2013 issue of the New Statesman, Dinosaurs vs modernisers

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Politics doesn't just connect us to the past and the future – it's what makes us human

To those people who tell me that they’re not interested in politics, I often say: “But politics is interested in you!”

I have long been haunted by a scene in George Orwell’s great novel Nineteen Eighty-Four. Winston Smith, the hero, is forced to watch propaganda films depicting acts of war and destruction. He is moved by something he sees: a woman trying to protect a child by wrapping her arm around him as they are attacked. It’s a futile gesture. She cannot shield the boy or stop the bullets but she embraces him all the same – before, as Orwell writes, “The helicopter blew them both to pieces.”

For Winston, what Orwell calls the “enveloping, protecting gesture” of the woman’s arm comes to symbolise something profoundly human – an expression of selflessness and of unconditional love in an unforgiving world. Scenes such as this we now witness daily in footage from the besieged eastern Aleppo and other Syrian towns, people in extreme situations showing extraordinary dignity and kindness.

I read Nineteen Eighty-Four for the first time in late adolescence. I’d dropped out of sixth-form college without completing my A-levels and was commuting on a coach from my parents’ house in Hertfordshire to London, where I worked as a junior clerk for the Electricity Council. During this long daily journey – sometimes two hours each way – I started to read seriously for the first time in my life.

I was just getting interested in politics – this was the high tide of the Thatcher years – and Orwell’s portrayal of a dystopian future in which Britain (renamed “Airstrip One”) had become a Soviet-style totalitarian state was bleakly fascinating. Fundamentally the book seemed to me to be about the deep ­human yearning for political change – about the never-ending dream of conserving or creating a better society.

Nineteen Eighty-Four was published in 1949 (Orwell died in January 1950, aged 46), at a time of rationing and austerity in Britain – but also of renewal. Under the leadership of Clement Attlee, Winston Churchill’s deputy in the wartime coalition, the Labour government was laying the foundations of what became the postwar settlement.

The National Health Service and the welfare state were created. Essential industries such as the railways were nationalised. The Town and Country Planning Act was passed, opening the way for the redevelopment of tracts of land. Britain’s independent nuclear deterrent was commissioned. New towns were established – such as Harlow in Essex, where I was born and brought up.

To grow up in Harlow, I now understand, was to be part of a grand experiment. Many of the families I knew there had escaped the bomb-ruined streets of the East End of London. Our lives were socially engineered. Everything we needed was provided by the state – housing, education, health care, libraries, recreational facilities. (One friend described it to me as being like East Ger­many without the Stasi.)

This hadn’t happened by accident. As my father used to say, we owed the quality of our lives to the struggles of those who came before us. The conservative philosopher Edmund Burke described society as a partnership between “those who are living, those who are dead, and those who are to be born” – and I find this idea of an intergenerational social contract persuasive.

Progress, however, isn’t inevitable. There is no guarantee that things will keep getting better. History isn’t linear, but contingent and discontinuous. And these are dark and turbulent new times in which we are living.

A civil war has been raging in Syria for more than five years, transforming much of the Middle East into a theatre of great-power rivalry. Europe has been destabilised by economic and refugee crises and by the emergence of insurgent parties, from the radical left and the radical right. The liberal world order is crumbling. Many millions feel locked out or left behind by globalisation and rapid change.

But we shouldn’t despair. To those people who tell me that they’re not interested in politics, I often say: “But politics is interested in you!”

And part of what it means to be human is to believe in politics and the change that politics can bring, for better and worse.

What, after all, led so many Americans to vote for an anti-establishment populist such as Donald Trump? He has promised to “make America great again” – and enough people believed him or, at least, wanted to believe him to carry him all the way to the White House. They want to believe in something different, something better, in anything better – which, of course, Trump may never deliver.

So politics matters.

The decisions we take collectively as ­humans have consequences. We are social creatures and rational agents, yet we can be dangerously irrational. This is why long-established institutions, as well as the accumulated wisdom of past generations, are so valuable, as Burke understood.

Politics makes us human. It changes our world and ultimately affects who we are and how we live, not just in the here and now, but long into the future.

An edited version of this essay was broadcast as part of the “What Makes Us Human?” series on BBC Radio 2’s “Jeremy Vine” show

Jason Cowley is editor of the New Statesman. He has been the editor of Granta, a senior editor at the Observer and a staff writer at the Times.

This article first appeared in the 01 December 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Age of outrage