Science

Science or Pseudoscience?

The other day, nsetzer sent me a link to a new study suggesting a possible link between being born in April and having a higher risk of suicide. He was concerned with a possible correlation/causation mix-up that could lead to astrologers declaring victory.

It does seem fishy. It immediately reminded me of another study done last year by the infinitely entertaining Dr. Richard Wiseman, suggesting that people born in spring are actually happier and therefore less likey to fall prey to depression. Huh.

So I put off writing about this, because I’m afraid I just don’t have the science (of psychology) chops or access to the studies required to make up my mind in the slightest. It is definitely within the realm of believability that our first few months out of the womb can impact the way we grow up — the question is, how much? Obviously, the time of year we’re born can’t come close to giving us the kind of information that astrologers pull out of their asses, but there is a chance it could result in certain seasonal trends. These two seemingly contradictory studies show that it’s not nearly as cut and dry as the pseudoscientists would have us believe.

On a side note, I came across this quote from one Carol Watkins, MD, while Googling around:

In 1997, more adolescents died from suicide than AIDS, cancer, heart disease, birth defects and lung disease. 

That is surely one of the most useless scare-mongering statistics I’ve ever read in my life. In other news, more adolescents died in 1998 from shark attacks than colon cancer, Alzheimer’s, herpes, paragliding, bestiality, shuffleboard, and spontaneous combustion COMBINED.

Now, I’m off to hop on a train to Maine for a day of partying with fellow skeptics. For those of you in New England, we do this kind of thing a lot so let me know if you want to get involved in the next meet-up.

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca leads a team of skeptical female activists at Skepchick.org. She travels around the world delivering entertaining talks on science, atheism, feminism, and skepticism. There is currently an asteroid orbiting the sun with her name on it. You can follow her every fascinating move on Twitter or on Google+.

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5 Comments

  1. exarch
    May 6, 2006 at 7:31 am —

    It doesn't sound far fetched that there might be a difference between kids born in spring and learning to walk during the cold winter months, having to spend all their time inside, and kids born in the fall being able to learn to walk outside in the garden, enjoying the sun.

    Then again, the idea that having to learn to walk around a scalding hot radiator and a prickly, fragile, glass ornament covered X-mas tree would be something that affects your psyche in such a way that you are still affected by it several decades later definitely seems absurd at first glance.

  2. May 6, 2006 at 3:15 pm —

    Does this apply to people in New Zealand too, or do the suicide rates rise in September?

    Something to do with geography?

    So many questions, so little time and bad studies.

  3. Tessa K
    May 7, 2006 at 8:47 am —

    What country was the study done in? Wiseman is from the UK, so I can see why being born in the winter (which can last nearly five months) might dispose you to be gloomy. Maybe it's to do with light levels in the early months. It would be interesting to compare figures from countries that have winters with those who have a pretty steady level of light and temperature.

  4. exarch
    May 7, 2006 at 1:44 pm —

    Is that why there's so many drunks in Finland?

    (j/k)

  5. May 10, 2006 at 8:08 am —

    I'm sure that where you are born has more of an effect than when you are born. Those of us, for instance, born in dentist's chairs during our moms' wisdom tooth extractions, are simply screwed. I don't even know why I'm still here, what with all the attempts to rinse-n-spit myself to death.

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