From Abracadabra to Zombies
reader comments: lunar effects
19 Nov 2002 (full moon)
I recently read your article on the full moon. In your article, I see that nursing homes were mentioned, and that studies show there is no change in behavior in residents. As an RN of twelve years, and after working in a nursing home for seven, I assure you, you are wrong. Or rather, the study is wrong. I have given more Haldol, and anti-psychotics on the eves of full moons than at any other time. I have the charts. Also, the roaming, and noise is at its all time high during a full moon. I don’t know what proof you have, but I have seen this with my own eyes, and I have medical charts to prove it.
19 Nov 2002
Readers of this "phenomenon" can think what they want to but don't criticize those who believe until you have walked in my shoes. I work for a 911 office and also have a father with Alzheimer's disease. We get more crazy and terrible calls around the full moon each month at work than at any other time. My father has a "cycle" just like the moon that he has followed for the past 3-4 years since he was first realized with the disease. The week before the full moon is what I call "hell week" with him. He is much more confused, agitated, clumsy, rebellious, etc etc that week than at any other time of the month. So you can believe what you want, but I still think the full moon has an effect on human beings.
reply: Lauren and Lee raise an important point: What are we to make of the fact that our personal experience contradicts the results of scientifically designed and controlled studies? One response is that of the chiropractor who remarked to Ray Hyman after a chiropractic claim had been falsified in a double-blind controlled study: "You see, that is why we never do double-blind testing anymore. It never works!" Personal experience can be overwhelmingly persuasive, especially if one is unaware of such things as confirmation bias, subjective validation, wishful thinking, the nocebo effect, and self-deception. Lauren knows from personal experience that patients in her nursing home make more noise, roam about more, and require more antipsychotic drugs on full moon nights. Thus, studies that have found no significant correlation between the full moon and behavior in nursing homes must be wrong. She says she "has the charts" to prove it. But the only thing she is likely to have on the charts, I think, would be such things that have to be recorded such as administering Haldol. (How much noise people make is subjective and unlikely to be recorded on any chart.) Lauren should give copies of the charts to an independent investigator to examine. Because it is easy and common to selectively perceive data that fits our preconceived notions, the data must be objectively analyzed to see if significantly more Haldol is given to patients on full moon nights. We shouldn't rely on our impressions and confidence that we've got the data "in the charts."
Lee should also provide copies of the 911 calls over a year's period to an independent investigator to examine. Perhaps her impressions are right, but to eliminate the possibility of bias and selectivity of memory, she should have the data evaluated by someone else.
As for her father with Alzheimer's becoming much more difficult in the week before a full moon, we should sympathize with her plight, but note one important thing. She says it is the week before a full moon that is "hell week." So, it can't be due to the full moon's influence, unless in this case the effect precedes the cause. Her father's behavior may well be cycling, but the cause of the cycling is not likely the moon.
Now, it is possible that all the studies are wrong and Lee and Lauren are right, but what are the odds? Lauren and Lee remind us of how powerful unexamined personal experience can be in persuading us to believe things contrary to evidence gathered much more objectively. They remind us of the power of suggestion and of how easy it is to find confirmation of our beliefs without even realizing that we are being selective in our perceptions and memories. If you believe the full moon makes people behave weirdly, you will have no trouble finding support for your belief. You will notice events that confirm it; you will mention it to others who will reinforce your belief by agreeing with you and providing examples of their own. You will find support for the view in the media every full moon. Police officers will verify it, as will nurses and many others who work in institutions. All the unexamined, unsystematically gathered data supports your view. The systematic and controlled examination of the data contradicts what "everybody knows." Who should you believe? Some unknown scientist or your own eyes? Neither is infallible, but perception without controls for self-deception is the less reliable of the two.
5 Jan 2001
I just read your essay on the full moon and the update at the end of it relates to a humorous story regarding the increase in alcohol consumption.
My first job at the phone company was as a Directory Assistance operator (411). It did not take long for me to believe the full moon effects completely. On a pretty regular basis the weirdo calls would increase to such an extent that "it must be a full moon out there" was just accepted as a fact. Sometimes I would remember to check the sky on my drive home and sure enough: full moon. Of course sometimes I would forget to check. But I still dreaded a full moon if I knew one was coming and assumed a full moon was the cause at other times.
Jump ahead a few years. I get a job as a technician with regular 8-5
hours in a new location that has a bar around the corner that telephone
employees hung out in. I got in the habit of stopping by pretty much every
night after work for a couple of beers and to hang out with my coworkers.
This was a real dive, the kind of joint that had customers at 7am. The
bartender was an old soul and the kind of guy who would kick out any jerk
dumb enough to ask for a drink that had milk in it. One night as I was
reading the paper at the bar I couldn't help but notice the steady parade
of one weirdo after another. The next time Bernie came down to get me
another beer I said "jeez, Bern, lot's of weirdo's out tonight,
huh?". Bernie said "yup". He was a man of few words. I said
"must be a full moon". Bernie said "nah. Check day."
And he walked away. I laughed my ass off for about 10 minutes. Now that
made a lot more sense than my theory.
2 May 2000
In my business (wine), one hot topic is the practice of "biodynamic farming." This is a whole system of agriculture developed by Rudolph Steiner (!) which relies on a combination of homeopathy, astrology, and lunar correlations.
An example of the last is the requirement that pruning of the vines and racking of the wine (jargon for siphoning the wine off its lees into another barrel) take place only under specified phases of the moon. I've patiently explained to gullible winemakers and consumers, using simple math, that the notion of lunar gravitational influence is nonsense. But one often repeated claim in support of biodynamicism's plausibility is that the flow of sap in plants is "well-known" to follow the lunar cycle.
Since you're at a University with an agro department and you've got
an updated section on Lunar Effects, perhaps you might know whom to ask to
verify if this is true or not? The biodynamics guys have quite a following
among some VERY prestigious producers and I'd like nothing better than to
introduce more light and less "everybody knows that..." into
reply: You must have me confused with someone else. I'm not at a university and Sacramento City College does not have an agricultural department. I do, however, live in a city (Davis, CA) which has a university with an agricultural department. They also have viticulture and oenology departments. My experience in this area comes from frequent visits over the past twenty years to wineries in the Napa and Sonoma Valleys and the Sierra foothills. I've had my ear bent by a lot of winemakers and winemaker helpers but none have mentioned lunar cycles, much less the "flow of sap in plants." Of course, I may not have been listening very carefully due to the intensity of my concentration on their product.
Frankly, if they make good wine, I don't care if they use astrology or consult James Van Praagh for advice.
2 May 2000
First, comments that come to mind on the purported association of menstruation, fertility, and the lunar cycle:
In us human females, the menses are the period of lowest fertility - logically enough, as it is when the uterine lining that would sustain the developing embryo is shed. Ovulation, during which equally logically fertilization can occur, generally happens roughly mid-way in the menstrual cycle, or between periods of menses rather than concurrently. This isn't invariably the case, as some I've known who've tried to rely on various calendrical methods of birth control have found, but on average it is.
Ergo, whether or not onset of menses could occur synchronistically with the full moon (something that in roughly 33 years of experience I've somehow failed to notice), it would not usually be associated with peak fertility.
In some other mammals, blood-tinged vaginal discharges do occur just prior to peak fertility; these are not, however, menses (so far as I'm aware, menses do not occur in other mammals, the uterine lining digressing and being reabsorbed). At a guess, this may be more roughly analogous to the increase in vaginal discharges, which may or may contain minute quantities of blood, that usually occur when a woman ovulates.
As a side note, the article linked to the discussion on lunar
effects describing the human menstrual cycle <http://www.fwhc.org/moon.htm>
includes the highly questionable statement: "PMS and menstrual
cramping are not diseases, but rather, symptoms of poor nutrition."
So far as I'm aware - having looked into it periodically on PubMed and
elsewhere - studies have yet to establish any clear link between
nutritional factors and either of these phenomena of the menstrual cycle.
To date the only nutritional supplementation that has shown consistent
significant results in medical studies would seem to be calcium
supplementation, which appears to reduce the symptoms of mild to moderate
PMS. Other widely-touted nutritional strategies, ranging from restriction
of "stimulating" substances and foods to supplementation with
Vitamin B-6 and evening primrose oil, have so far not panned out in
double-blind studies, with results being conflicting and inconclusive.
reply: the above nutritional recommendations represent the views of the letter writer only.
28 Apr 2000
On reading your entry entitled "full moon and lunar effects", I recalled an article by Cecil Adams that appeared in his _Straight Dope_ column some years ago. The article was entitled "What's the link between the moon and menstruation?"; an on-line transcription of the article is available on _The Straight Dope_'s website, at http://www.straightdope.com/columns/990924.html .
One clause in Cecil Adams's article caught my attention; he said, "studies have found the average menstrual period is 29 days and change," not 28 days as is traditionally reported. Unfortunately, he doesn't say WHICH studies have found this, so it's not going to be easy for me to go back and verify this claim in the peer-reviewed literature.
I've also heard of a study (again without a name or journal
reference!) in which volunteer women were placed in rooms that separated
from each other (so that they wouldn't be exposed to one another's
pheromones), and whose only light source was natural outdoor light (e.g.
sunlight and moonlight). This study allegedly found that, after a while,
all of the women's menstrual cycles were synchronized with the moonlight.
The hypothesis is that ever since we humans learned to harness fire, our artificial
light sources pretty much wash out any moonlight or lack-of-moonlight we
might experience at night; but before we learned to create artificial
light at night, moonlit nights were much safer from predators, and
therefore a better choice for mating in than moonless nights. The popular
notion that moonlight is "romantic" may be a vestige of this.
Roger M. Wilcox
reply: It is pretty romantic to think that our pre-hominid ancestors mated mainly at night under the light of the full moon. I wonder if they consulted their astrological charts before coupling?
19 Apr 2000
I read a science fiction story once which included a character from an alien species where all the members aged at the same rate. So, barring accidents, their life span was known practically down to the day. Because of this, the members of this race uniformly held their time to be unquestionably their most valuable asset. As a sub-plot to the main story, one of the members of this race, a scientist, was to be executed by his own people. The crime was that as a youth, this scientist had fudged data in trying to prove a theory. The punishment was to have the amount of time others had to waste uncovering his lie and getting back on track cut from the end of his own life. (i.e. He was to be executed the same number of years before the known end of his life that others wasted because of his impropriety.)
I think of this story when I read about things like the German researchers' study on drunk-driving and the lunar cycle. How much more quickly might we go forward if it weren't for the hoards of misguided (if not devious) individuals who continually try to support the unsupportable. It's one thing to waste one's own time, but uncounted resources, including your own, must be committed to answering their shoddy "research" if we're to keep the lights burning in this demon-haunted world.
I gain a lot of useful information from your website that I could never find the time to research on my own. I just wanted to let you know that many of us appreciate your efforts. I'm not at all sure you hear that enough. Keep up the good work.
reply: Thanks for the kind words, Karl. Not everyone shares your opinion, however. Soon after receiving your comments, I received the following unsigned e-mail:
Everyone is entitled to their "opinions"; however, to be so inconsiderate as to spread your "opinions" world-wide is an absolute disrespect for mankind.
No mincing words here.