Bad Moon Rising: The Myth of the Full Moon


But Rotton writes that Lieber "neglected to tell readers that [his team] performed 48 tests of significance in all. Not divulging this information is like a gambler failing to tell us how many times a coin was tossed before three heads came up."

Lieber did not return calls for comment from ABC News to his Florida home over the weekend.

The University of Washington's Chudler has been studying the lunar effect phenomenon for years and has concluded that there are a number of reasons why some studies appear to show a connection between full moons and some forms of human madness or calamity. Either the studies tested a few people over a short period of time, didn't analyze their data with proper statistical tests or did not take into account when a full moon occurred on a weekend or holiday — a statistically significant factor in altering people's behavior, he said. Some studies include full moon behaviors that occur a few days before and after a full moon, while others concentrate on only a single day.

Correlation vs. Causation

Chudler explained why it would be virtually impossible to scientifically prove a direct cause-and-effect relationship between full moons and human behavior.

"The one thing to realize about all these studies [that support a connection] is that correlation does not mean causation," he told ABC News. "Even if a [research] paper showed a correlation, which most do not, it wouldn't mean the moon caused the behavior." He said the only way to prove causation would be to put a human on another planet.

"To show causation, we would have to perform an experiment and control all the factors except for the moon," Chudler said. "So, for example, you would take someone to a place with no full moons like on another planet and then compare the behavior to someone in the exact situation where the moon is full."

On an award-winning neuroscience Web site for schoolchildren, Chudler explained the difference between correlation and causation this way: "If you looked for a relationship between the number of points scored by a basketball team and the number of books checked out of a library on different days, you might find a significant relationship. This doesn't mean the score of the basketball game caused people to check out library books or that checking out library books caused the basketball team to score more points. The reason why these two activities vary in a similar fashion is completely unknown and untested. It just happens that the two measurements vary in a related fashion."

Superstitions Persist

Dr. David Mandell of the Children's Hospital in Pittsburgh and some colleagues studied existing data on health-care myths and did a 2005 study of area nurses. He said he found that 69 percent of surgical nurses in his study believed that a full moon led to more chaos — and patients that night.

"It is unbelievable how many nurses in southwest Pennsylvania believed in the superstitions [surrounding the full moon]," he told ABC News. But he said that it's simply part of the culture of medicine.

"In any high-stress, fast-paced field like medicine, superstitions run rampant when you feel a loss of control. This is especially true of emergency environments [because] you never know what will walk in. You need some way to explain the unpredictability of your environment," he said. "It passes on from senior to junior people in hospitals — like old times telling it to new residents coming in."

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