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The Question

(Submitted January 03, 1997)

I'm wondering if you have an opinion about whether or not the Moon's phases affect the crime rate. Please write back as soon as you possibly can. If you have no opinion or knowledge on the subject could you please refer me to someone who does.

The Answer

This question is outside of our area of expertise, but we can help you out. Cecil Adams (a popular columnist of the "why does this happen/work?" variety) covers topics such as this in his books The Straight Dope or More of the Straight Dope by Cecil Adams. The gist of his answer (from More of the Straight Dope) is as follows:

Scientists have looked for a correlation between phase of the Moon and such things as murders, violent crime, or births. In particular, many police officers or emergency room personnel have noted a seeming rise in activity in their line of work during full Moons. Scientific studies done to isolate this have, however, shown *no* correlation, contrary to the beliefs of those involved. In other words, the Moon's phase doesn't seem to have any affect on the number of crimes committed and babies born.

So why do people seem to notice an increase in these things around the time of the full Moon? Social scientists speculate it's because people are more likely to notice, and remember, a full Moon, rather than the Moon at other phases. Thus, if a strange murder is committed when the Moon's a crescent, people covering the crime may not remember the phase of the Moon that night. If, however, the Moon is full, a police officer might be more likely to remember the phase of the Moon that night, since the full Moon is bright and very obvious. Thus, crimes, births, and strange occurrences happen all month long, but only those on the full Moon are associated with the Moon's phase when people talk about them.

Andy Ptak and Gail Rohrbach
for the Ask an Astrophysicist team

Questions on this topic are no longer responded to by the "Ask an Astrophysicist" service. See http://imagine.gsfc.nasa.gov/docs/ask_astro/ask_an_astronomer.html for help on other astronomy Q&A services.

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