I mean no disrespect to my esteemed colleagues who write sun sign columns, some of whom are readers of this very site and I certainly value their input. But articles like this one are the reason that I wish we could once and for all eliminate these so-called “horoscopes,” which aren’t helpful to readers and don’t advance respect for the astrological art.

A new study of 20 million husbands and wives has concluded that a pick-up ploy linked with the Age of Aquarius is all wet.

According to a University of Manchester report released this week, asking a potential partner “What’s your sign?” offers no more insight into the relationship’s likelihood of success than consulting a Magic 8-Ball. The investigation, which draws from 2001 census data in England and Wales, is thought to be the largest-scale test of astrology ever undertaken.

“If there is even the smallest tendency for Virgos to fancy Capricorns, or for Libras to like Leos, then we should see it in the (marriage) statistics,” says study author David Voas, senior research fellow at the university’s Centre for Census and Survey Research.

Assuming even one set of lovebirds in 1,000 is influenced by the stars, Voas says, favoured combinations of signs would appear an extra 10,000 times in a sample of 10 million couples. But he says the spousal pairings were instead “just what we’d predict on the basis of chance.”

Because there’s disagreement among astrologers about which signs are most compatible, only the lowest common denominator was tested: that is, whether any combination of sun signs — Taurus, Aries, Aquarius, etc. — could be found more or less than would be expected by probability.

Georgia Nicols, probably the best-known astrologer in Canada, says she’s in “total agreement” with the study to the extent that couples are more than the sum of their sun signs.

“It’s not wrong that the sun signs like to hang with each other, but we’re way more complicated than that,” says Nicols, likening such “trite” compatibility concepts to telling a man and woman they’d be a good match simply because they both speak English. “Astrology is quite a serious discipline but almost all that’s written for the average public is pretty light.”

Not every star-gazer, however, is as enthusiastic about the findings. Critics say the study ignores such astrological factors as a person’s moon sign and rising sign in judging compatible partnerships.

“They’re looking at one little piece of a much bigger puzzle and saying, ‘This doesn’t work,’ ” says Catherine Potter, an instructor of astrology at Northern Star College of Mystical Studies in Alberta. “Well, shame on them!”

But Voas says that even if sun signs aren’t the sole determining factor in an astrological love connection, they still figure prominently both in professional charts and in the public imagination. Take, for instance, the popular notion that Taurus is a good match for Virgo or that Capricorn doesn’t jive well with Aries.

“I don’t see a lot of professional astrologers standing up regularly condemning the use of sun signs in that way,” says Voas.

“And yet, when it comes to these difficult (scientific) tests, then they say, ‘That’s extremely superficial, you have to look at the chart,’ and so on. Astrologers like to have it both ways.” [emphasis added]

I think Voas has an excellent point that bears discussion. As astrologers, we have to pay attention to the signal that we’re sending to the public when we write sun sign columns and then try to defend astrology on the basis of looking at the whole chart. Yes, these “horoscopes” are are widely read and make us famous, but are we accomplishing anything worthwhile in presenting sun sign horoscopes as astrological fact?

I teach a workshop about using astrology to heal relationships, and the first point I make is that you can’t judge compatibility based on sun signs.

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