The exhibition was first held at Glasgow Science Centre from
Friday 13th-17th February 2004, and repeated Friday
13th-15th August 2004. It also ran at Thinktank Science
Museum from Friday 13th-15th May 2005.
At both venues the Superstition Challenge proved
extremely popular and resulted in the biggest media event
science centre and museum, second only to their
The exhibition challenged visitors to boldly ignore deeply
held superstitions about bad luck. It encouraged
participants to walk under a ladder, smash a mirror, open an
umbrella indoors, step on a pavement crack, etc.
the interactive exhibition was a planetarium show explaining
how astrology differs from astronomy; and a live science
show about luck, scepticism and rational thinking. The
coffee shop even served 'misfortune' cookies.
are the in-house publicity posters from the two venues, with
more detailed information available here:
is a post I submitted to various mailing lists after the
first Superstition Challenge in February 2004; which
prompted a number of science centres and museums around the
world to run their own event in August 2004.
- Science Fact or Fiction?
Glasgow Science Centre
Fri 13th - 17th February 2004
I've always wanted to do this. I first heard of such a
'Superstition Bash' in 1997, put on by CSICOP (Committee
for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the
Paranormal) in the USA. The idea has caught on with
similar groups around the world - not only because it's an
entertaining way of poking fun at superstitions, but also
because it provides the media with a great story for
Happily, that's exactly what happened in Scotland over the
February mid-term schools break. Our superstition event
received extensive coverage on national morning
television, Scottish TV news, BBC Radio Scotland and Clyde
1, as well as several newspapers. My marketing colleagues
have described it as the largest media event for us second
only to the science centre's opening three years ago.
What's more, we're apparently the first science centre in
the world to host such an event.
Photos of the event are available here:
I'm just delighted to have promoted sceptical thinking
(something sorely needed today) with thousands of our
visitors over five busy days. We tried to accomplish this
in six ways:
(a) Superstition Challenge - a trail consisting
of 13 superstitions that supposedly bring bad luck if
disregarded. Visitors were encouraged to deliberately
ignore them or do the exact opposite (eg. smash a small
mirror; walk under a ladder; mix red & white flowers;
ignore a single magpie; open an umbrella, etc). They
received a certificate to celebrate their courage, and
were asked to leave feedback.
(b) "Do You Feel Lucky?" science show - an
entertaining live performance dealing with Dr Richard
Wiseman's four principles of luck. Activities included a
member of the audience winning a £5 coin; a powerful
'psychic' feat demonstrated (and revealed to be a trick,
without the explanation); a large mirror smashed with a
sledgehammer; and a mass umbrella opening - all in an
attempt to invoke copious 'bad luck'.
(c) "What's Your Sign?" - live planetarium show
about astrology. How did astrology originate? How accurate
is the concept after 3500 years? What will happen to
astrology when we colonise other planets? Included is a
fun astrology horoscope with 13 signs.
(d) Fascinating Facts (taken from Richard
Wiseman's research) - for visitors to read while queuing
at the ticket desk eg. did you know that Scotland is the
most superstitious country in Britain (46% of the
population) - compared with England (42%), Wales (41%) and
Northern Ireland (40%)?
(e) "Mystery Investigators" handout
(www.mysteryinvestigators.com) - available throughout, and
included articles about "13"; the Loch Ness Monster;
astrology; as well as an Origami star activity.
(f) Coffee & 'misfortune' cookie special - in
our restaurant, with biscuits in the shape of number 13.
Over the five days the science centre received
approximately 1200 visitors per day – and at least 60%
attempted the Superstition Challenge (unfortunately we
only had 540 small mirrors for smashing, and had to limit
these to one per family). In total around 500 people
attended the science show and about 200 the planetarium
We ended up enjoying the greatest success with this event,
even though we tried to call down all the bad luck in the
world! I believe this topic is popular because it is a
very human story, all about our deepest fears and private
thoughts. The reactions of visitors were fascinating to
watch - some thought we were totally mad, while others
were delighted to publicly demonstrate their disregard for
superstitions. We saw more than one spat between
disagreeing partners! And it was something refreshingly
different for our staff, who particularly enjoyed the
media attention, on-the-spot radio interviews, etc
It works, and we're definitely going to run it again (in
fact, we've already started stockpiling old mirrors).
Why don't you try it?
Please contact me if you're interested, and I'll share
with you all the information I can. The next Friday 13th
is in August 2004.
Mario Di Maggio
Staff Scientist: Planetarium
Glasgow Science Centre
success of the Superstition Challenge encouraged
science centres around the world to host similar events