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Tuesday, 9 January, 2001, 10:41 GMT
Mad on the Moon

To mark this week's spectacular lunar eclipse, BBC News Online offers a 10-point guide to "moon madness".

1. The word lunacy derives from the Latin for moon, "luna". History is littered with references of madness being linked to cycles of the Earth's closest celestial neighbour.

Suggs, singer with the pop group Madness
Is the Moon responsible for madness?
2. Several studies have tried to get to the bottom of this age-old belief. A 1976 report compared 34,318 crimes against the lunar cycles. It found offences occurred more frequently during a full moon.

3. However, most research has failed to find any firm link between the cycles of the Moon and irrational behaviour. In the United States, a 1983 survey of 361,580 calls for police assistance showed no relationship to the phase of the Moon.

4. English law has not always agreed. The link between the Moon and madness was acknowledged in the 1600s by Sir William Hale - who was later to become chief justice.

BBC sketch show Goodness Gracious Me
"It's my biological tides - honest, mum"
He wrote: "The Moon has great influence in all diseases of the brain, especially dementia." The Lunacy Act of 1842 built on this "logic", and as recently as 1940 a soldier who was charged with murder pleaded "moon madness".

5. Some notable murder cases have been tied to the lunar phases. Of the eight murders committed by New York's infamous "Son of Sam", David Berkowitz, five were during a full moon.

A series of chilling murders by Charles Hyde in the late 1880s - the inspiration for Robert Louis Stevenson's Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde - were committed under a full moon.

6. However, it is not always a full moon that is blamed for murder and mayhem - lunar eclipses can prove more hazardous. In 1974, 16 residents of Phnom Penh, Cambodia, died when soldiers decided a hail of bullets would frighten away the "monkey" eating up the Moon.

Guns about to be fired into the air
Moon monkey beware
7. Those who advocate a link between madness and the Moon will often cite the "biological tides" theory as the basis of their belief. The theory states that since the Moon's gravity pulls on huge bodies of water, causing ocean tides, then it will have an effect on the human body, which is, after all, 80% water.

8. However, scientists point out that any biological tide is swamped by the effect of the beating of our hearts and the heaving of our lungs.

9. Theories about the Moon's influence on animal behaviour are more widely accepted in the scientific world.

Researchers in Bradford correlated 1,621 dog attacks reported between 1997 and 1999 with lunar phases. The results suggested people were twice as likely to be bitten around the time of a full moon.

Police dog in training
"It's still light, you mad mutt"
10. On a lighter note, many gardeners still work to the phases of the Moon, believing that it is best to sow seeds and transplant seedlings only with a waxing, never a waning moon.

The Old Farmer's Almanac says: "Plant flowers and vegetables during the height of the Moon." The theory is said to take advantage of gravity, light and magnetism.

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08 Jan 01 | Sci/Tech
Skywatchers wait for eclipse
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