Moonshine and Moonshine

I like to spend this time of day catching up on my news. One of the sites I visit is my customized BBC homepage where I have the science and nature articles placed right in the center of the page where it’s the first thing that catches my eye. So I learn a few things about finding an exoplanet only twice the size of the Earth, I read about finding n-propyl cyanide in space, and then I scroll down to the extended selection of science and nature articles and see an article asking if the lunar cycles affect the taste of wine.

In a good mood after having enjoyed learning a thing or two new about the way the universe works, I don’t immediately sniff out the fact that it’s woo woo because I’ve come to trust this newsource for interesting stories, but after the first few paragraphs I start banging my head against the desk. Back in the 1950s, some German woman published a calendar based on the theory that the position of the moon and the stars effects the way wine tastes and that some days were more favourable for tasting great wine than others. I don’t think that it can be described any better than this:

Her theory is that wine is a living organism that responds to the Moon’s rhythms in the same way that some people believe humans do. The so-called “lunar effect” has been widely dismissed as pseudo-science but its followers think that as the Moon exerts such a huge impact on the tides, it must follow that it affects the water in the human body and therefore human behaviour.

The article then goes on to state that the idea is not as “eccentric as it sounds” because “all wine experts tend to agree” on wine tasting differently based on the lunar cycle.

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that those wine experts don’t know much about astronomy or physics. You can look up the formula, but gravitational influence is determined by the mass of the two objects multiplied together and divided by the distance sqaured. So, the more massive object is more influenced by a source of gravity. I haven’t seen any pictures of the German woman, but I’m willing to bet that she’s really not that massive. I mean, it’s the Earth’s oceans we’re comparing here.

You’ve also gotta love the reason why David Motion is now a believer in this:

“We tried eight wines on Tuesday, which was a leaf day and then the same wines again on Thursday, which was a fruit day. And it was totally conclusive.

“It wasn’t that the wine tasted bad on the Tuesday but it was much more expressive on the Thursday. It was more exuberant and on-song. It was like the heavens opened, the clouds parted and the wine just expressed itself.”

Wow, didn’t they do a great job trying to isolate variables? And didn’t they go through rigorous double blind proceedure? And isn’t that just the most objective way to measure this?

The article finally gives the last word to an expert who actually seems to know a thing or two about science and sums this up in better words than I think I could manage:

But Jamie Goode, a wine scientist and author of online magazine wineanorak, thinks too much is made of planetary alignments and the lunar calendar.

“But I’m not going to say it’s absolute nonsense. Wine tastes different on different days but the differences are not that huge and the differences are more about atmospheric pressure.

“And we are part of the equation when it comes to tasting wine. We are not measuring devices. The taste of the wine is something we generate in response to the wine.”

People taste wine with expectations, and part of that could be the knowledge that it is a “good” day for wine, he says. Mood also influences

Don’t get me wrong. I always enjoy reading about a new pseudoscience. It gives me some amount of mental exercise in skepticism. I can’t tell you how much of this was tongue-in-cheek, but this definitely comes across more as astrology than astronomy.


2 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Al on April 21, 2009 at 5:57 pm

    Wine tasting is 90% pretention anyway … 😉

  2. Thanks for sharing.. your way to writing is elite!

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