Ever whacked your thumb with a hammer, or wrenched your back after lifting a heavy box, and blamed the full moon? It's a popular notion, but there's no cosmic connection, Austrian government researchers said Tuesday.
Robert Seeberger, a physicist and astronomer at the Ministry of Economic Affairs, said a team of experts analyzed 500,000 industrial accidents in Austria between 2000 and 2004 and found no link to lunar activity.
"The full moon does not unfavorably affect the likelihood of an accident," Seeberger said.
The study, released Tuesday by the General Accident Insurance Office, said that on average there were 415 workplace accidents registered per day. Yet on days when the moon was full, the average actually dipped to 385, though the difference was not statistically significant.
The lunar influence theory dates at least to the first century A.D., when the Roman scholar Pliny the Elder wrote that his observations suggested "the moon produces drowsiness and stupor in those who sleep outside beneath her beams."
Seeberger, who advises the Austrian government on accident prevention, said he and fellow researcher Manfred Huber decided to take a closer look because the full moon theory kept surfacing "again and again."
They also checked for a possible interplay between the rate of accidents and the position of the moon relative to Earth, theorizing that gravity might have some effect in tripping people up at work.
But the moon orbits the planet in almost a perfect circle, and there was also no statistically significant relationship between the accident rate and the moon's closest proximity to Earth.
There were an average 400 accidents on days when the moon nudged closest, the study found, compared to an average 396 per day at other times.
Past studies have differed on whether the full moon affects humans by subtly influencing "biological tides."
A landmark study published in 1984 in the British Medical Journal examined the incidence of crimes reported to police from 1978-82 in three locations in India — one rural, one urban, one industrial — and found a spike in crime on full moon days compared to all other days.
But another study, done in Canada in 1998 by University of Saskatchewan researchers, looked at nearly 250,000 traffic accidents that caused property damage or non-fatal injuries over a nine-year period and found no relationship to the lunar phase.
Most scientists agree that at nearly 239,240 miles away, the moon is simply too distant — and human beings too small — for it to have any significant effect.
"There's no real reason why it should," said D. John Hillier, a professor of astronomy at the University of Pittsburgh who was not involved in the Austria study.
"It's often probably just cases of people remembering that there happened to be a full moon when something occurred," he said. "When nothing special happens, they tend not to notice what the moon is doing. So this selective memory just keeps the legend going."