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Daily Fail. Again.

March 12, 2011
The Moon and Earth

Over at the RDFRS site they’ve reposted a blog by Ben Goldacre about the Daily Mail’s inability to distinguish between science and complete bollocks.  Just hours after the incredibly destructive earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan, causing untold damage and loss of life, the Daily Mail publishes a story that spins out an observation about the moon’s orbit, garnishes it with a large dollop of crap and presents it as science.  Tasteless doesn’t even begin to describe it.

I won’t give the Mail the satisfaction of linking to their hare-brained story, so I’ll summarise it here.  It goes like this: the moon’s orbit will reach perigee (closest point to the Earth) on 19 March 2011.  This event coincides with a full moon, something that only happens every few years and is apparently called a ‘supermoon’.  So much for the facts.  The story goes on to tell us that astrologers believe that this positioning of the moon is responsible for the earthquake off Japan (and Christchurch by the way) and there will be more such events as the ‘supermoon’ interacts with the Earth.  The explanation for all of this is, basically, you know, gravity.  And stuff.  This is another example of what I was talking about in an earlier blog on astrology.  Further down the article, a long way from the headline, some actual scientists refute the claims and point out the true facts.  Too little, too late and the final word goes to the astrologers.

Apparently “others on the Internet” have also predicted natural disasters caused by the ‘supermoon’.  Nobody “on the Internet” appears able to offer a rational explanation or, crucially, any evidence for the claims.  The whole thing seems to be based on a ‘post hoc ergo propter hoc’ logical fallacy:

“The moon is close to the Earth.  It’s a full moon. Some stuff is happening.”

“Therefore the stuff is caused by the moon.”

Bollocks.  The moon is going to be about as close as it ever gets to the Earth on 19 March but the actual effect of that relative closeness is negligble.  There is no correlation between the moon at perigee and natural disasters.  That is a fact.

The whole thing makes me a little bit sick.  The Daily Mail has jumped on some bullshit claims by some bullshit artists, taken a huge leap in the dark and spun this story out of whole cloth.  It is tasteless and downright wrong that they should have done so as a response to such a terrible tragedy for a whole nation.  I, unlike Ben Goldacre, am not actually surprised though.  I have seen enough stories in the Mail over the years about what does or doesn’t cause cancer to realise that they’ll happily use other people’s misery to fill their misbegotten rag.

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