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The Full Moon Effect

Many emergency workers or ER personnel will tell you that the full moon has an effect on their business. A web search will produce stories where police or EMT's are quoted in newspapers or on television. The TV show "ER" even mentions it in a episode. I have also heard EMS instructors talk of this in class, as through it were just another health factor to consider.

Despite of the fact that you can find many apocryphal or anecdotal stories attributing car accidents or murders, etc. to full moons,
any serious study of the myth concludes that there is no correlation.

But don't take my word for it.

Here is an article from National Geographic.com

"'My own opinion is that the case for full moon effects has not been made,' said Ivan Kelly, a Canadian psychologist at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. Kelly has published 15 papers on the topic and reviewed more than 50 others, including one that covered some 200 studies. He concludes that there is not strong evidence of an effect."

A very good piece written by "Cecil Adams" says:

"There have been lots of studies over the years, some of which have purported to show that there really is such a thing as a "lunar effect." For example, one study claimed that an unusual number of traffic accidents occurred during the evenings right around the full and new moons (Templer, Veleber, and Brooner, 1982). But later researchers showed that during the time period studied, a disproportionate number of full and new moons fell on weekends, when traffic accidents are always higher."

"That's pretty much been the story with all lunar-effect claims--when you look at them closely, they fall apart. Another study of homicides in Dade County, Florida (Lieber and Sherin, 1972) claimed to have found there was an upsurge in killings in the 24 hours before and after the full moon. Other researchers, however, found that the Dade County researchers had used dubious statistical methods. When the figures were reevaluated using proper methods, the alleged pattern disappeared."
- http://www.straightdope.com/classics/a2_337.html
(Please read the entire article.)

There might be several explanations of why this belief persists.

If an emergency worker has a busy night he, or she, may also look up and see what is perceived as a "full moon". Of course it may not be a true full moon but that often does not stop this person from drawing some conclusion.
The error in drawing a conclusion with this comes in many forms.

But what about the stories?

It is easy to find apocryphal stories that seem to indicate that there is a correlation between the moon and crime, or other human behavior. Here is one such story, which is quoted on Wikipedia to support the "phenomena":

In the story above, the police, apparently did not attempt to look for other reasons why there were several (three) crimes that night. They just looked up and decided that the moon was the cause. Were they saying they have crimes sprees every 29 1/2 days?* One has to wonder what they would have said, had a reporter asked that question. But if their observation is correct, shouldn't they plan for this occurrence and have a few extra people on duty that time each month? Do you think that they pay overtime once a month? In truth, they act as though incidents, or evenings, like this were rare and not happening 12-13 times a year. Which is it? Perhaps we shouldn't accept this as a valid scientific conclusion. Most stories, supporting the cause and affect of the moon, are as easy as this to discount.

*Note: The real lunar cycle is 29.53 days. If this weren't true, and it was 28 days, the full moon would fall on the same day of the week, forever.

Emergency Room workers are often quick to blame the full moon on a busy night. This is especially true if the chief complaints are unusual. One does not have to work in an ER very long to hear someone say, "It must be a full moon." Everyone will laugh but seldom will someone actually check to see if it is a full moon or not. Nevertheless the moon gets the credit.

Do your own research, but do it right.

Go to your logbook or computer and look at all the full moon dates. Are all of them busy and unusual? Of the ones that are busy or weird, how many can be explained by other factors, i.e. weekends, holidays, paydays, etc.? But don’t stop there. To do a fair and accurate comparison you need to look at all busy nights and see what percentage of them occurred on full moons. Then you need to look at all weekends and see what percentage of them were full moons and which were not. Then you probably need to compare every day of the week to every day that was or wasn't a full moon. There are still probably several other factors that must be considered and a host of comparisons made to be able to draw a conclusion. A large time period sample is also needed. A year is the minimum. Several years is better.

Here is a website that allows you to put in any date and tell what phase the moon was in on that exact day.

If your department produces an annual report you may be easily able see when your busiest days are. If you are like many departments you will see that early Sunday mornings are your busiest hours for MVAs.

I would like to believe it that the moon causes a predictable effect on human nature, however, there is no evidence to support it.

Other very good sites on the subject.





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