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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With the BBC Food’s collection under threat, here's how to make the most of online recipes

Do a bit of digging, trust your instincts – and always read the comments.

I don’t think John Humphrys is much of a chef. Recently, as his Today co-presenter Mishal Husain was discussing the implications of the BBC’s decision to axe its Food website (since commuted to transportation to the Good Food platform, run by its commercial arm), sharp-eared listeners heard the Humph claim that fewer recipes on the web could only be a good thing. “It would make it easier!” he bellowed in the background. “We wouldn’t have to choose between so many!”

Husain also seemed puzzled as to why anyone would need more than one recipe for spaghetti bolognese – but, as any keen cook knows, you can never have too many different takes on a dish. Just as you wouldn’t want to get all your news from a single source, it would be a sad thing to eat the same bolognese for the rest of your life. Sometimes only a molto autentico version, as laid down by a fierce Italian donna, rich with tradition and chopped liver, will do – and sometimes, though you would never admit it in a national magazine, you crave the comfort of your mum’s spag bol with grated cheddar.

The world wouldn’t starve without BBC Food’s collection but, given that an online search for “spaghetti bolognese recipe” turns up about a million results, it would have been sad to have lost one of the internet’s more trustworthy sources of information. As someone who spends a large part of each week researching and testing recipes, I can assure you that genuinely reliable ones are rarer than decent chips after closing time. But although it is certainly the only place you’ll find the Most Haunted host Yvette Fielding’s kedgeree alongside Heston Blumenthal’s snail porridge, the BBC website is not the only one that is worth your time.

The good thing about newspaper, magazine and other commercial platforms is that most still have just enough budget to ensure that their recipes will have been made at least twice – once by the writer and once for the accompanying photographs – though sadly the days when everyone employed an independent recipe tester are long gone. Such sites also often have sufficient traffic to generate a useful volume of comments. I never make a recipe without scrolling down to see what other people have said about it. Get past the “Can’t wait to make this!” brigade; ignore the annoying people who swap baked beans for lentils and then complain, “This is nothing like dhal”; and there’s usually some sensible advice in there, too.

But what about when you leave the safety of the big boys and venture into the no man’s land of the personal blog? How do you separate the wheat from the chaff and find a recipe that actually works? You can often tell how much work a writer has put in by the level of detail they go into: if they have indicated how many people it serves, or where to find unusual ingredients, suggested possible tweaks and credited their original sources, they have probably made the dish more than once. The photography is another handy clue. You don’t have to be Annie Leibovitz to provide a good idea of what the finished dish ought to look like.

Do a bit of digging as part of your prep. If you like the look of the rest of the site, the author’s tastes will probably chime with your own. And always, always, wherever the recipe is from, read it all the way through, even before you order the shopping. There is nothing more annoying than getting halfway through and then realising that you need a hand blender to finish the dish, just as the first guest arrives.

Above all, trust your instincts. If the cooking time seems far too short, or the salt content ridiculously high, it probably is, so keep an eye on that oven, check that casserole, keep tasting that sauce. As someone who once published a magic mince pie recipe without any sugar, I’m living proof that, occasionally, even the very best of us make mistakes. 

Felicity Cloake is the New Statesman’s food columnist. Her latest book is The A-Z of Eating: a Flavour Map for Adventurous Cooks.

This article first appeared in the 26 May 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The Brexit odd squad