Yet another analysis has come out to kill the idea that hospital admissions and human birth rates are greater during the full moon than at other times. More than one analysis of such data shows conclusively that the moon has no correlation with these conditions. But, it’s such a widespread belief, I’m not sure another study will matter. A UCLA astronomer has published the piece in the journal Nursing Research.
“It must be a full moon” is a common refrain when things appear more hectic than usual.
The moon is even blamed when things get crazy at hospital emergency rooms or birth wards. “Some nurses ascribe the apparent chaos to the moon, but dozens of studies show that the belief is unfounded,” said Jean-Luc Margot, a UCLA professor of planetary astronomy.
Of course, the moon does not influence the timing of human births or hospital admissions, according to new research by Margot that confirms what scientists have known for decades. The study illustrates how intelligent and otherwise reasonable people develop strong beliefs that, to put it politely, are not aligned with reality.
The moon is also ERRONEOUS correlated to all sorts of events such as increased rates of accidents, violent behavior, and criminal activity as well as outcomes for surgery and treatments, menstruation and depression. The belief is strongly ingrained in culture but the data is CONCLUSIVE. There is no controversy here. Margot found that a 2004 study in a nursing journal that suggested that the full moon influenced the number of hospital admissions in Spain was flawed in multiple ways and that there was no relation to the lunar cycle.
His paper is available here.
Roman, Soriano, Fuentes, Galvez, and Fernandez (2004) suggested that the number of hospital admissions related to gastrointestinal bleeding was somehow influenced by the phases of the Earth’s moon. Specifically, the authors claimed that the rate of hospital admissions to their bleeding unit is higher during the full moon than at other times. Their report contains a number of methodological and statistical flaws that invalidate their conclusions. Reanalysis of their data with proper procedures shows no evidence that the full moon influences the rate of hospital admissions, a result that is consistent with numerous peer-reviewed studies and meta-analyses. A review of the literature shows that birth rates are also uncorrelated to lunar phases.
Margot feels it’s imperative that we squash bogus beliefs because they can cause harm. We should be making decisions based on reality, not myths.
While I sought to dispel myths about the moon, I was also motivated by the fact that questionable beliefs are at the root of many of society’s worst problems. Could the lessons learned about flawed beliefs related to the moon be applied to a broader context?
He noted all the things that were wrong with the 2004 study including basic problems with the authors’ understanding of the lunar cycle so that the data collection procedure biased the results. The authors also missed an important consideration regarding days of the week. There were also problems with statistical tests that revealed the effect was too small and could be accounted for by other factors besides the lunar cycle.
There is no physical mechanism for a full moon effect – the moon is not closer, a gravity difference is not at play, people are not large water bodies like oceans that can be affected by the moon’s pull. And there are no electromagnetic or other crazy rays that radiate from the full moon during this time either. But confirmation bias is a strong factor in what people remember. The 2004 study proposed the lunar tides’ effect on blood as a possible explanation. This does not even work out mathematically and is clearly shown to be false. So, the paper was really a terrible study. Unfortunately, Margot had a hard time finding a publisher to rebut the bad study which is still out there misinforming health professionals.
When people off-handedly make such a comment “Must be a full moon!” you can be the stereotypical skeptic, check your phone app, and tell them, “Nope, waning gibbous”. That’ll show em’. But, seriously, it is important to point out in some way that believing in nonsense may seem harmless but it can be applied to other situations that we can’t foresee that can be detrimental to society.
Required reading: The Moon Was Full and Nothing Happened – CSI.