Scientists discount full moon's influence on events

By CINDY CLAYTON, The Virginian-Pilot
© August 26, 2004


Blame Hurricane Charley on the full moon. Two full moons, to be exact.

Legend has it that when there are two full moons in the same month, severe weather will occur the following month.

The notion that two full moons in July, on the 2nd and 31st, could have caused a hurricane is rooted in myth and mystery – and is something that scientists have been studying for years.

And while some of the devoutly superstitious see bad luck in the full moon’s once-a-month brightness, others believe it brings good fortune.

So when the full moon returns on Sunday, it could be a good time to cut your hair so that it grows back faster and thicker. Good fortune could befall farmers who harvest crops. An early birth could await expectant mothers.

You may swear that the moon is a factor in your fortune, but scientists will say otherwise.

“I think it’s because it’s really ingrained in our psyche,’’ said Eric Chudler, a neuroscientist and associate research professor at the University of Washington in Seattle. “When you look at the studies that have been done, and you use statistics to analyze that, in almost every study there’s almost no correlation between when those events occurred and the full moon.’’

The July 2 moon was a case in point for Tracy Stevens, a Chesapeake animal control officer. Her shift wasn’t typical; it was less busy than most Friday nights. The full moon that night, it seemed, couldn’t counteract the fact that the Fridays before holidays are a bit slower, said Stevens, who had spied the full moon on the calendar but wasn’t alarmed.

“I honestly don’t pay attention to that,’’ she said.

In fact, a look at the animal bureau’s statistics shows that, on average, calls from residents don’t increase drastically on full-moon nights.

So why do people still believe a full moon unleashes chaos?

“I think one reason why it persists is a lot of people just remember things that occur during a full moon,’’ Chudler said. “People like to put some meaning to it to make sense of something that’s bizarre.”

Some emergency room doctors and nurses blame the full moon for a crush of patients.

“The research I’ve read out there doesn’t substantiate it,’’ said Nelda Booker, clinical manager of the emergency department at Sentara Bayside Hospital in Virginia Beach. “Although, sometimes they do stick in your mind together.’’

The scientist in Chudler likes to stick to how things work together – or don’t.

“Correlation doesn’t mean causation,’’ Chudler said. “That is, just because two things correlate and you can show a relationship between the two, it doesn’t mean that one thing causes another.’’

So is it really nothing more than superstition? “Probably,’’ said Drema Baker, a Wiccan. “There’s also that whole story of vampires and werewolves coming out on a full moon. In that kind of story, the full moon brings out, mythically, the worst in these people.’’

There’s nothing scientific about it, Baker said.

“There are not even any tales in Wicca that talk about that sort of thing,’’ she said.

Wiccans, who describe themselves as witches, follow the cycles of the moon and the sun in their own religious practice, Baker said.

A new moon is the time to start projects or to make a new beginning. Full moons are for certain kinds of magic.

“When the moon is at its fullest, then your energy is at its highest,’’ Baker said.

While Baker was growing up, her mother cut her hair during full moons. The practice began with an interest in folklore, not Wicca, Baker said.

“I still do it,’’ she said, “probably because she just did it that way.’’

Reach Cindy Clayton at 222-5201 or