The Sciences

Friday the 13th--A Semi-Embarrassing Blast from the Past

The IntersectionBy Chris MooneyJan 13, 2006 6:23 AM

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This Friday the 13th, I'll be sleeping in, then getting some work done, and hopefully taking it easy in the evening. It wasn't always so. Back in college I used to party on these days, making a point of floutting all kinds of hoary old superstitions, and (at least theoretically) buying myself an eternity of bad luck in the process.

I remember one "superstition bash" in my college dorm room where people were dancing, then we suddenly turned on the lights and I shattered a mirror. Gutsy, huh?

Another time, we set up a huge ladder in the middle of the Yale campus, and tried to see whether people would walk under it or around it on their way to classes. This was actually something of an interesting social experiment: You wouldn't have believed how many otherwise smart Yalies were unwilling to walk under a ladder. I was sorely disappointed, to say the least, in my fellow classmates.

Of course, maybe they just thought I was weird and didn't want to be involved in my little demonstration.

The goal of all this merriment was to poke fun at so-called friggatriskaidekaphobes: Those who fear Friday the 13th. It's a long and hallowed skeptic tradition. It's also a really sly PR move: Using a day that people still fear (at least a little bit) to make the point that there's no good reason to be superstitious--thereby striking a blow for rationality and the Enlightenment, and having a good time in the process. The media always lapped it up.

For this reason, I imagine there will be some Friday the 13th bashes going on around the country today. But as for myself, I'm retired. Sure, it's amusing to make fun of superstitions. But nowadays I'm convinced there are bigger fish to fry in the course of defending science and reason--like the anti-evolutionists. Like the Bush administration.

Anyway--and because I just know you were wondering--I never really did experience any of the bad luck that I called down upon my head with my various anti-superstition antics. Still, I must admit that I've been a happier and more balanced person since I stopped my somewhat over-zealous college era crusading against superstition.

But there's nothing paranormal about that. Hopefully, it's just a sign that I grew up.

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