Excerpt: 'Myths, Lies and Downright Stupidity'

But the media don't pay much attention to that. Not running out of oil is not a very interesting story.

MYTH: A full moon makes people crazy.

TRUTH: I was crazy enough to report that.

We media people routinely and mindlessly corroborate myths about science and nature. People already believe that a full moon influences people in weird, negative ways, and reporters are quick to confirm it. Here are samples of what the clueless media has said about the full moon:

"The moon's effects are legendary . . . Few of us can escape the power of the moon."-Hugh Downs, 20/20, November 8, 1984. "Spokane County sheriff's deputies have no need to check their lunar tables to know when it's a full moon out there."-Spokesman-Review, October 19, 2005. "A Florida researcher studied murders in Dade County, and found more murders were committed during full moons than any other time. So tonight, watch out."-John Stossel

Yes, I confess: I actually said that on Good Morning America years ago. The Dade County study seemed plausible-people might drink, party, and therefore murder more people when the moon was full. It was only much later that I discovered the study was flawed. Michael Shermer, editor of Skeptic magazine, embarrassed me by explaining that "Researchers went back, reanalyzed the data, and discovered that there's nothing unusual going on."

Shermer said thirty-six other studies prove there is no full-moon effect, but people still believe there is one because our memories play tricks on us. Our brains look for patterns, and when we find one, it sticks. We remember something unusual that happened on a full moon.

"We don't remember the unusual things that happen on all the other times because we're not looking for them," Shermer told me. "These things go on all the time, and there's no full moon, they're not looking for it, they don't remember it. We remember the hits, we forget the misses." (See also Chapter 9, The Power of Belief.)

Next time you see the "more violence during full moon" headline-get the shovel. MYTH: We're drowning in garbage!

TRUTH: There's plenty of room.

"New York City produces 20,000 tons of solid waste every day and the Sanitation Department is running out of places to put it. It argues in a new report that the only place left is the sky."-The New York Times, April 21, 1984. "We're going to be drowning in garbage."-William K. Reilly (former EPA administrator), from Newsday, February 1, 1989. "A World Drowning in Litter."-BBC News, March 4, 2002.

This myth got jump-started with a real-life incident that took on a life of its own. In 1987, a barge full of New York trash was supposed to be shipped to a landfill in Louisiana. But on the way to Louisiana, the shipper tried to save money by dumping his trash in North Carolina. Suspicious local officials turned him away, and called the media. The complaints of "We don't want New York's garbage!" got so much publicity that by the time the "garbage barge" reached its original destination, the Louisiana dump wouldn't accept it anymore. That brought more publicity.

Television news crews rushed to the scene. Before you could say "Fabricate a crisis to raise money," activists around the country had added "the garbage crisis" to their agenda. Said Cynthia Pollock of the Worldwatch Institute, "We are now approaching an emergency situation!" That got more publicity.

But it wasn't true.

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