Monday, 11 January 2010

The most depressing gibberish of the year.

Hi all. Long time no see.
In case you weren't aware of it, next Monday is the 'most depressing day of the year'. Or to put it another way, it really isn't, but a professional codswallop merchant worked it out using 'actual math' a few years ago, and the media have regurgitated it ever since around this time, like some awful hairball of garbage with the faint whiff of science.
Forgive the overly-descriptive language, but it's become something of a personal issue of mine. No doubt I've mentioned it before in this blog, but I think it bares repeating, and that certainly seems to be the media's approach.

For 2 years running now, due to my dual role in the Science-Comedy worlds, local media people have come to me asking for an 'explanation' as to why it's the most depressing day and what people can do about it.
The first time was a puff piece for a local paper, where they asked me to explain how it works and what people can do to cheer themselves up. My detailed explanation about why it isn't was cut in favour of me saying 'just go out' in a variety of ways, coupled with 'cheerful' pictures of me looking like a knock-off Doctor Who after too many e-numbers.
The following year, the Regional news team approached me with the same idea. I thought this would be a good way to make amends and clarify my position, and decided that I'd do it. What it ended up being was a 10 second clip on the evening news, of me saying 'cheer up' again and telling painful jokes while the journalist interviewed me on my couch, having arranged us in a position which could only be described as homoerotic.
Not sure if anyone else will be approached in your areas by media types with similar intentions, but here's a brief list of things worth knowing (if you don't already) if they do come a knocking.

- The Equation behind the most depressing day of the year was invented by Dr Cliff Arnill, and was paid to do so by a travel company (Thompson's I think, but don;t hold me to that) in order to encourage people to take winter breaks.

- I don't know what Dr Cliff Arnill's qualifications really are, but he bills himself as a Cardiff University researcher (like what I was until recently). He did briefly teach an adult learning class at the University, but is certainly not a researcher there, nor was he ever. The fact that he claims he is makes me suspicious as to his actual scientific credentials, and the Cardiff University media dept. have asked me to stress that he is not affiliated with them in any way

- He gets paid money by said Travel firm every time the equation is mentioned in the media, so even criticising it will benefit him.

- The equation, as you can probably tell if you look it up, is based completely on guesswork and bizarre logic, so is of no actual use at all, and I am told there is much research to completely contradict the idea that Winter is 'more depressing' in general. But in it's defence, it does look all Sciencey.

I say all this just to share the benefits of my painful experience. I felt it was good that the mainstream media took an interest in an aspect of 'science', but my feeble efforts to correct their misconceptions were completely ignored. If you are scientist of any sort and are asked to 'comment' on this non-story wherever you are, I'd bet Diamonds to toenail clippings that they already have the story/article/feature planned out and are asking someone in the science-based field to comment purely to lend it credibility. Unless they give you final say on the finished item, which would be incredibly unusual, I'd advise everyone to leave it alone
The media will keep flogging this never-was-alive-to-begin-with Horse whatever we do, no doubt, but we don't have to donate our credibility to it too.

P.S. Other people may have experiences with this issue that are the polar opposite to mine, this is just my two-pence worth. Not that I got paid even that much for my contributions...

Dean Burnett, PhD
Twitter: @garwboy

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