Imagine for a moment that you’re a young high school student living in some charming little midwest town, for instance, Toledo, Ohio. One day, you’re called to the office of the vocational guidance counselor. You sit down at his cluttered desk as he picks up a sheaf of papers, clears his throat and says, “Well, April, I see by your name and by your admission papers that you were actually born in the month of April. Have you ever thought of pursuing a career as a dictator?”

So, is April’s vocational guidance counselor:

  1. Completely insane?
  2. A zany prankster?
  3. Using a 2011 British research report to give vocational guidance?

If you chose “c” you win a free subscription to my weekly newsletter. Here’s the back story: Using data from the latest census report, a team of British researchers from the Office for National Statistics analyzed the birth months of people in 19 different occupational categories using data from the British census. Lo and behold, they found a statistical correlation between career choice and birth month. They even linked birth month to length of life, health conditions and intelligence. Apparently, the study provoked a bit of controversy because it can no longer be found on their website, otherwise I would provide a link.

But here is a sampling of careers and tendencies:

January: physicians and debt collectors

February: artists, traffic wardens, prone to narcolepsy

March: pilots and musicians

April: fairly even spread of professions, dictators

May: politicians

June: chief executives, Nobel peace prize winners

July: bricklayers, train drivers and artists

August: bricklayers and U.S. presidents

September: pro athletes, physicists

October: fairly even spread of professions, good longevity

November: fairly even spread of professions, as well as serial killers and schizophrenics

December: dentists and messiahs

Being born in April myself, I’m not sure how I feel about a career as a dictator. So far at least, I don’t think I’m well suited to the job, although I have frequently noticed that people don’t actually like me as much as I think they like me, which is probably a standard to a dictator. Of course, the people I really feel sorry for are born in July: bricklayer or president Or worse yet how about November: schizophrenic or serial killer? Yikes!

Now, in a sane world nobody would have done this kind of research and if they had, nobody would care. But that’s not what happened. Jumping quickly into this extremely weird fray, Oxford University neuroscientist Russell Foster responded, “I am not giving voice to astrology – it’s nonsense – but we are not immune to seasonal interference.”

Which at least proves that just because you’re an Oxford University neuroscientist doesn’t mean you’re smart. To me, what’s odd is that after first establishing to his fellow scientists that he’s not soft on astrology (you can almost hear them cheering, ‘Well played!’), he goes on to say: “These are small effects, but they are very, very clear. It seems absurd that the month in which you are born can affect life changes, but how long you live, how tall you are, how well you do at school, your body mass index as an adult, your morning-versus-evening preference and how likely you are to develop a range of diseases are all correlated to some extent with the time of year in which you emerge from the womb.”

So … if the month you’re born in has this powerful of an impact, could it be possible that drilling down into the actual time and place of birth have some potential value? Nonsense, he says!

My own perspective is that this kind of “research” does nobody any good. Not only could I not find the sampling size, but the spread of occupations seems downright bizarre. And once again it demonstrates that scientists like Foster are engaging in the kind of bad thinking that scientists are supposed to avoid. So let’s be clear at this point: this study says nothing about astrology. Nothing. (Though in the weeks to come, I’ll highlight some astrological research with dogs that is pretty amazing.) However, it does say something about how hard it is to make objective statements about human beings. And the danger of bad research. Bricklayer, president, serial killer, dictator are not occupations and they certainly cannot be categorized in any credible way. Which is good because it means our imaginary Toledo, Ohio high school student, April, will never have that awkward conversation with her vocational guidance counselor. Though I have no doubt she would make an awesome dictator!