I was very tempted to add a fourth word to that alliterative headline, you know that other B word (hint: it ends in T and has “ullshi” in the middle!) but as this is a new blog I feel that maybe it’s a little early for such bold headlines!
Now, before anyone starts ranting at me for having a go at the seminal Manchester band New Order, this post has nothing to do with their 1983 classic though I will link to the song on YouTube just to keep everyone happy (I highly suggest clicking that link, cranking the volume up, and jumping around the room like a nutter for seven and a half minutes, then come back to read the rest of this post!)
Blue Monday b******t!
If you scanned any of the major news sites today, or glanced at any of the tabloid papers you’ll quite likely to have come across a piece of absolute nonsense on an entirely fictitious phenomenon – Blue Monday.
If idiots like Luke Salkeld, a journalist for the Daily Mail, are to believed (and yes, I’m quite aware that the word idiot is technically redundant if I’m also stating he’s a Daily Mail journalist!) then today (January 21st 2013) is Blue Monday, “the day of the year on which most of us feel at our lowest ebb“.
Of course, Mr Salkeld goes on to back this claim up with official sounding statistics like “79 per cent of us feel that limited hours of daylight has a negative effect on our mood” and cites such a lofty and trustworthy source as a “survey by Anglian Home Improvements” (seriously – that’s his source!), claiming that most of us feel a negative effect on our wellbeing over the winter months, due to reduced daylight… though what that has to do with the specific date of 21st January is anyone’s guess, since the author conveniently forgot to illustrate the connection!
The Blue Monday “formula”
Here’s where trash reporting turns into real pseudoscience – there is a formula for calculating the date of Blue Monday! Before discussing it, here’s the formula:
Looks very technical and official doesn’t it? Well, it does until you start looking at it in more detail. For a start, the values are pretty much nonsensical. W is weather, but there are no units (Temperature? Windspeed? UV index?), d is debt (again no units but I guess we can assume the base monetary unit in the country where the calculation is done), T is time since Christmas (I’m not even going to comment on that one!), Q is apparently the time since failing our new years resolutions, M is “low motivational levels” (again no clue on any sort of units!) and Na is “feeling the need to take action” (again no units, but I’m guessing that one is measured in unicorns-per-meter-squared!). D isn’t even defined in the original source, which was a press release put out by self proclaimed “life coach” Cliff Arnall. (Note: at the time, Arnall was a tutor at the Centre for Lifelong Learning, a Further Education centre attached to Cardiff University. However, The Guardian later printed a statement from the University, distancing themselves from Arnall: “Cardiff University has asked us to point out that Cliff Arnall… was a former part-time tutor at the university but left in February.”)
Now it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realise that is complete and total nonsense. For a start, if it was possible to calculate a date using a formula like this it would be different for everyone since the variables would be specific to the person (how much debt they have for example)
Now you might be wondering why I’m even bothering to comment on this at all, it’s very obviously complete nonsense and I guess it could be argued that it’s “just a bit of fun”. It was probably concocted purely as a PR stunt to get a bit of exposure for the charity which sent out the press release, so what’s the harm right?
But there is harm, because trashy tabloid papers like the Daily Mail are reporting on this as “science”. The hashtag #bluemonday has been trending all day on Twitter, and major online news sources are covering it and taking it seriously. Even big businesses are jumping on the bandwagon, such as the Halifax announcing that they are giving away hundreds of £100 vouchers today to “brighten your day on Blue Monday”
The real problem with all of this, is that some people who don’t have a scientific or mathematical background are likely to see these stories in the paper and take them at face value. That not only misinforms them, but it skews their idea of what science is, and blurs the border between truth and lies.
Thankfully not all the press coverage has been no naive and idiotic. Dean Burnett, who has previously described the formula as “farcical” with “nonsensical measurements” wrote a sarcastic piece in The Guardian today, claiming to have created a formula, based on the Blue Monday equation, for the perfect first date! And scientists such as Ben Goldacre have written publicly scathing comments including that ”Cliff Arnall’s equations … fail even to make mathematical sense on their own terms”
So no, today isn’t the most depressing day of the year, no matter how hard the tabloid journalists may try! We can only hope that people like Luke Salkeld will now go back to commenting on footballer’s salaries, Jordan’s breast implants and the latest winner of Big Brother, and leave science reporting to people with more brain cells than a stuffed iguana! In the meantime, my suggestion if you are feeling down, is to go back and listen to New Order’s Blue Monday again, or if you happen to like feeling depressed then try Joy Division instead!Billy