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

ELLIE FOREMAN-PECK FOR NEW STATESMAN
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Craig Oliver, Cameron's attack dog, finally bites

A new book reveals the spiteful after life of Downing Street's unlikely spin doctor.

It must be hard being a spin doctor: always in the shadows but always on-message. The murky control that the role requires might explain why David Cameron’s former director of communications Craig Oliver has rushed out his political memoirs so soon after his boss left Downing Street. Now that he has been freed from the shackles of power, Oliver has chosen to expose the bitterness that lingers among those on the losing side in the EU referendum.

The book, which is aptly titled Unleashing Demons, made headlines with its revelation that Cameron felt “badly let down” by Theresa May during the campaign, and that some in the Remain camp regarded the then home secretary as an “enemy agent”. It makes for gripping reading – yet seems uncharacteristically provocative in style for a man who eschewed the sweary spin doctor stereotype, instead advising Cameron to “be Zen” while Tory civil war raged during the Brexit campaign.

It may be not only politicians who find the book a tough read. Oliver’s visceral account of his side’s defeat on 24 June includes a description of how he staggered in a daze down Whitehall until he retched “harder than I have done in my life. Nothing comes up. I retch again – so hard, it feels as if I’ll turn inside out.”

It’s easy to see why losing hit Oliver – who was knighted in Cameron’s resignation honours list – so hard. Arguably, this was the first time the 47-year-old father-of-three had ever failed at anything. The son of a former police chief constable, he grew up in Scotland, went to a state school and studied English at St Andrews University. He then became a broadcast journalist, holding senior posts at the BBC, ITV and Channel 4.

When the former News of the World editor Andy Coulson resigned as No 10’s communications director in January 2011 because of unceasing references in the press to his alleged involvement in the phone-hacking scandal, Oliver was not the obvious replacement. But he was seen as a scandal-free BBC pen-pusher who exuded calm authority, and that won him the job. The Cameron administration, tainted by its association with the Murdoch media empire, needed somebody uncontroversial who could blend into the background.

It wasn’t just Oliver’s relative blandness that recommended him. At the BBC, he had made his name revamping the corporation’s flagship News at Ten by identifying the news angles that would resonate with Middle England. The Conservatives then put this skill to very good use during their 2015 election campaign. His broadcast expertise also qualified him to sharpen up the then prime minister’s image.

Oliver’s own sense of style, however, was widely ridiculed when he showed up for his first week at Downing Street looking every inch the metropolitan media male with a trendy man bag and expensive Beats by Dre headphones, iPad in hand.

His apparent lack of political affiliation caused a stir at Westminster. Political hacks were perplexed by his anti-spin attitude. His style was the antithesis of the attack-dog mode popularised by Alastair Campbell and Damian McBride in the New Labour years. As Robert Peston told the Daily Mail: “Despite working closely with Oliver for three years, I had no clue about his politics or that he was interested in politics.” Five years on, critics still cast aspersions and question his commitment to the Conservative cause.

Oliver survived despite early wobbles. The most sinister of these was the allegation that in 2012 he tried to prevent the Daily Telegraph publishing a story about expenses claimed by the then culture secretary, Maria Miller, using her links to the Leveson inquiry as leverage – an accusation that Downing Street denied. Nevertheless, he became indispensable to Cameron, one of a handful of trusted advisers always at the prime minister’s side.

Newspapers grumbled about Oliver’s preference for broadcast and social media over print. “He’s made it clear he [Oliver] doesn’t give a s*** about us, so I don’t really give a s*** about him,” a veteran correspondent from a national newspaper told Politico.

Yet that approach was why he was hired. There was the occasional gaffe, including the clumsy shot of a stern-looking Cameron, apparently on the phone to President Obama discussing Putin’s incursion into Ukraine, which was widely mocked on Twitter. But overall, reducing Downing Street’s dependence on print media worked: Scotland voted against independence in 2014 and the Tories won a majority in the 2015 general election.

Then came Brexit, a blow to the whole Cameroon inner circle. In his rush to set the record straight and defend Cameron’s legacy – as well as his own – Oliver has finally broken free of the toned-down, straight-guy persona he perfected in power. His memoir is spiteful and melodramatic, like something straight from the mouth of Malcolm Tucker in The Thick of It. Perhaps, with this vengeful encore to his mild political career, the unlikely spin doctor has finally fulfilled his potential. 

This article first appeared in the 29 September 2016 issue of the New Statesman, May’s new Tories