By the time I ran the third Superstition Challenge at
Thinktank Science Museum in May 2005 (once again resulting in
outstanding media interest), I was becoming quite disillusioned
with the whole thing.
Naturally I was delighted with the praise I received from
management colleagues (who were greatly impressed by the
publicity generated); and yes, I was happy to be promoting
scepticism and rational thinking (issues close to my heart) in
such a high-profile way.
Yet the exceptional level of interest demonstrated by the
media for the Superstition Challenge - compared to the
level of interest demonstrated for my planetarium shows or
temporary exhibitions in general - was actually quite
I mean, really? On a regular basis my colleagues and I created
and put on outstanding shows and exhibitions about the Universe,
life on Earth, the origin of humans and the fate of our planet.
Most such temporary exhibitions are expensive and involve
tremendous amounts of work. Yet trying to persuade the media to
report on such superb attractions, is literally like pulling
Yet something simple and inane like a bunch of groundless
superstitions results in a media extravaganza?!
It's all very disheartening when you think about it.
A reminder, I guess, that life can indeed be very random. The
things that matter don't always receive the attention they
Interestingly, speaking of randomness, in August 2004, after
delivering my second Superstition Challenge, I attended
an Edinburgh Fringe Festival performance by comedienne Lucy
Porter called Lady Luck, after which I wrote this on
If I didn’t know better …
… I would believe I'm an
inherently lucky person, benefiting from a mysterious
universal force sprinkling “luck” on my life.
For instance, in August 2004 I attended an entertaining
performance called "Lady Luck" by comedienne Lucy Porter at
Edinburgh’s Fringe Festival (see article below). As it turned
out, my friend and I ended up enjoying the show for reasons
quite different to those of the rest of the audience.
Before I continue, I need to explain that when it comes to
luck, superstition, astrology and other pseudoscience; I am a
proactive sceptic! To date, there is absolutely no evidence
supporting such beliefs (even though it would be the easiest
thing in the world to demonstrate proof). One of my personal
passions is to enlighten people regarding such erroneous
thinking. For example, as a science museum professional, I
recently delivered a successful and entertaining public
programme called "Superstition - Science Fact or Fantasy?"
). Among other things, visitors are encouraged to deliberately
disregard potentially malevolent superstitions; witness an
apparent “psychic feat”; and discover the shortcomings of
astrology. All of these activities are designed to promote
healthy rational thought. This event has caught on with other
science museums, and is now regularly hosted every time Friday
13th comes around.
In fact, one reason why I enjoyed Lucy Porter’s show so much
was because in her performance she did exactly what we do in
our exhibition – smashed a mirror; walked under a ladder;
opened an umbrella indoors; spilled salt (lots of it!); and
much more. She also successfully weaved into her show what
investigators have discovered about ‘good luck’ and how our
life attitudes actually influence our personal quota of
‘luck’. Lucy Porter did all this in a wonderful comical
manner, something we science educators can learn a lot from.
Interestingly, at the end of her performance Lucy held a lucky
draw to determine who in the audience was blessed with good
luck - and out of approximately 160 people, guess who won the
I did - even though I was likely the most sceptical,
non-believing person in the entire theatre!
The bizarre thing is, I am in fact the 'luckiest' person I
know! I've won a brand new motor car before, and I win
occasional raffles (although nothing big on the Lottery yet,
just a few small prizes). And with Lucy Porter's lucky draw, I
have to admit I felt great anticipation in the build-up, as I
realised winning this particular draw would be the greatest of
Strange isn't it?
However, I still don't believe in ‘luck’. It IS all mere
co-incidence. Lucy Porter ended her show by saying the exact
After which a bright light
appeared above me, and I was sprinkled with glitter.
Mario Di Maggio
And finally, as further proof that randomness works both ways