Sunday, 28 August 2011

Astrology for the Scientific

I've no doubt that this sort of thing has been done dozens of times before by people better at it than me. But it's Sunday, and I'm bored.

So, I saw via that there twitter that some people are claiming that astrology effectively predicted Hurricane Irene. I don't know if that means they predicted it would happen in general, or that it would strike land at a specific time, or that it would be a certain intensity or blah blah blah. If they predicted it happening in general, I'm sure meteorologists would have done that with a greater degree of certainty long before anyone consulted the star charts. But that's just me, ever the dismissive cynic.

Astrology in general is believed to have predicted many things, like the September the 11thattacks, Royal Weddings, several wars and lord knows what else. I believe these questionable 'successes' can be explained by what is known in the scientific circles as 'throw enough shit at a wall and some will stick' technique. But I will admit to having a soft spot for astrology, despite what I may have said in the past. I always appreciate creativity, even when it's not something I'd necessarily approve of or agree with. But people love horoscopes and star signs, the thought that our lives are being influenced by something bigger and more powerful than we are is obviously very reassuring to many people (see also; All religions ever). I've even dabbled with writing horoscopes myself before now.

So overall, I feel us sciencey types are missing out with our knee-jerk dismissals of all things astrological. So, to hopefully address this concern, here is a new, revamped star chart for scientists, rationalists, sceptics and the like. What does your star-sign say about cynical old you? Find out*.


(Jan 20th – Feb 18th)

You are a brash and confident seeming, with an outgoing exterior that hides a crippling self-doubt and neurosis that eats away at you and will eventually cause you to blurt out all of your worries and fears in one long stream of consciousness, probably to a nearby commuter who will seriously consider alerting the police about you. Scientifically, you will end up in a discipline that sounds very impressive (e.g. Nuclear Physics, Genetic modification, Germ warfare) but makes people back away slowly when you tell them what is you do, which you will do often. If you end up doing research, you will publish your results anywhere as long is means you're first author. If it's a disreputable or poor-credibility journal, you will tell people that they were the only ones who would publish your data as it's 'too groundbreaking' or 'the establishment don't want people to hear it'. A Plutonius is most likely to be the 'lone maverick' or 'sole dissenting voice' when it comes to controversial theories, and will inevitably cause a public panic or scandal. You assume parties never go on later than 10pm, because that's when everyone has left whenever you go to one.

Likes: Olivia Lee, Heston Blumenthal, Hawaiian Shirts, 9/11 conspiracy theories.

Dislikes: All Bran, poets, the peer review process, JLS.


(Feb 19th – Mar20th)

Numbers are your friends. Even the imaginary ones. Ergo, you have imaginary friends. Your meticulous devotion to the mathematical properties of everyday life mean people are always keen to get your help when dealing with taxes and such, but you don't get invited out for dinner often, as you have an unsettling habit of only ever eating the items on your plate in a specific order, and your tendency to argue over what constitutes an appropriate tip gets quite embarrassing. Every collection of items you own (DVD's, pens, socks, books) adds up to a prime number. You are not consciously aware of this, but would be pleased if you found out. You have no particular style or appearance, but however you look you are always perfectly symmetrical. Animals tend to look at you with suspicion. You will probably have been tested for autism at some point in your life. You don't really see the point in Sudoku, you never even have to fill it in order to solve it. A Paisces is highly likely to be involved in some heavily numerical discipline, and more are entering the financial sector these days as the huge numbers being used constantly excites them in ways they're not keen to tell people about.

Likes: Pub Quiz machines, logic puzzles, Russell Crowe, the Financial Times, Stephen Baxter

Dislikes: Shakespeare, Hollywood sci-fi, Carol Vorderman, the X-factor, train stations


(Mar 21st – Apr 19th)

You are strident and forthright, but not in a way that's helpful to you or your career. Everyone is plotting against you. It's likely that your theory about this is true, but it's more often than not a consequence rather than a cause of your behaviour. You are keen to have a family while keeping your career going, largely just to show people you are capable of that. A Mariecuries may enter any number of scientific fields, but once there they will be very prolific, producing data and forging a reputation at the expense of any personal interaction or social skills. You want people to know your name, and they probably will, but any time they say it it'll be prefaced with the words 'Oh no! It's...', or some variation of this. A Mariecuries will get involved with causes of any sort; as long as they a) agree with them, and b) it'll give them a legitimate excuse to berate people and make themselves better known ('a' can be disregarded if the opportunity for 'b' is big enough). If you have a Mariecurie in your lab or institution they will do the work of 3 people, but you're likely to lose at least twice as many due to sudden resignations.

Likes: Ann Widdecombe, twitter, reputable journals, Simon Pegg, online commenting systems

Dislikes: Lottery winners, Simon Cowell, Anime, Banksy, The Guardian.


(Apr 20th – May 20th)

You have a very wide range of interests and will absorb and retain information very readily. This is usually at the expense of any ability to relay this information to other people in a manner which is in any way interesting or succinct. You think of clothing purely in terms of what offers the best protection from likely environmental conditions, and see food purely as an energy resource. If it ever did occur to you to go to a high-class restaurant, you would expect the prices to be indicative of the amount of consumable mass you will be given. As a Boreus, you will be ideally suited to lecturing, on any subject that has enough information to fill an hours-long monologue. You have no problem with continuous talking and are actually under the impression that people's default expression is one of crushing apathy or semi-consciousness. Invitations to attend meetings or give speeches rapidly decline as you get older. Depending on age, a Boreus is highly likely to be a big fan of Dungeons and Dragons or World of Warcraft (online). Relationships are sustainable only with partners who understand that it is purely just a means of reproducing and providing offspring with a minimal risk environment in which to develop, in order to ensure survival of genetic information, although a committed Boreus will be happy to explain in depth why this instinct is just an evolved tendency that isn't really essential to anyone who will listen (i.e. No-one)

Likes: Ledgers, grain, books with an index section, the dewy decimal system, cottage cheese.

Dislikes: Twitter, theme parks, news bulletins, the colour purple, Michael McIntyre.


(May 21st – Jun 20th)

You are a do-gooder, with helpful intentions that border on the pathological. You will have mastered any and all helpful skills (CPR, Fire safety, Bomb disposal etc.) that you have had the opportunity to learn, and will jump at any chance to put these into practice, even to the extent of assuming minor situations are actually life-threatening so you can spring into action, much to the annoyance of everyone involved. You will most likely be involved in scientific field that has some focus on human health or biology, such as medical doctor, gene therapy, biological research and so on. You will have entered the field 'to help people', as you reflexively tell anyone who has the misfortune to ask you, as they will then be given a 10 minute treatise as to the value of your work in human terms. Your desire to help and be helpful means others will take advantage of your well meaning tendencies, to the point where you become overworked and stressed to far beyond your ability to handle. As a Floreni, you will have several options at this point, but most people opt for either snapping and killing themselves (and many others) in a huge public incident, or resorting to alcohol and narcotics more and more intensely until you find yourself screaming at squirrels in a park for stealing all your marmite (or other spreadable preserve). Any children born to Florenies are likely to experience deep psychological issues after a lifetime of being pampered and experiencing zero risk or challenge.

Likes: ER, Doctor Who, Children in Need, the NHS, fun runs, Vegetables, Red Wine, Aeroplane socks.

Dislikes: House M.D., Scotland, Politicians, the Grand Theft Auto franchise, Secret Santa, Turkish delight.


(Jun 21st – Jul 22nd)

You are generally a passive person, one who lets events affect him/her rather than deciding your own course in life. However, when good fortune does come your way, your ability to deal with it and exploit it is minimal so you just make it up as you go along, and end up coming across as, at best, a baffling eccentric or, at worst, a power hungry idiot. Scientifically, you will probably end up in whichever field is most convenient, be it due to parental influence, pre-existing interests or it being a subject taught in a convenient university which accepts you based on the grades you're likely to get. Career progression will be achieved by stepping in for more senior people who leave. A low-level, uninspiring career is likely, except when, as sometimes happens, you stumble upon a new discovery or important finding that will have you achieving notoriety well beyond your competence level. You will either try to coast on this for several years until everyone notices that you've not produced any follow-up work and promptly forget about you, or you will try to make some clever-sounding claims about what your discovery means that will be poorly thought out and annoy everyone else in the field. You will not be shy of commitment in a relationship, as you will desperately need someone to make all the big decisions for you for your own safety. You will also tend to avoid people in your on field as they tend to make you realise the extent to which you've a very poor understanding of what it is you do.

Likes: Public transport, Supernanny, life coaches, CCTV, ready meals.

Dislikes: Elections, audits, assault courses, sushi, delegation, improvised comedy.


(Jul 23rd – Aug 22nd)

You are 'cool'. By which I mean you think you're cool, but go out of your way to show others how cool you are, which is not cool. You are interested in science because it is not as 'square' as it used to be, it features in a lot more films these days and allows you to affect an air of nonchalant superiority when you tell non-scientists what you do (which is probably something cutting edge and/or slightly dangerous, such as nanotechnology or drug development). Your desire to appear cool often clashes with your scientific instincts, such as wearing shades in low-light environments, boasting about your vegetarianism while wearing leather jackets, tweeting about the disgraceful consumerist attitudes of society via an iPhone, and so on. You will embrace all new trends and technologies in order to exploit the brief window where you're more 'ahead' of the rest of the people you know. You will behave similarly in your scientific work, favouring more unlikely and obscure conclusions and theories purely to stand apart from accepted wisdom and get noticed. This will happen, and you'll be labelled a dickhead. You may find yourself working with the media far more than anticipated, but nowhere near as much as you'd truly like.

Likes: Steve Jobs, Night clubs, swords, martial arts, the Sopranos, Thai food.

Dislikes: Carol Vorderman, Nokia phones, the peer-review process, blue cheese, golf, the periodic table.


(Aug 23rd – Sept 22nd)

You have borderline sociopathic tendencies. You're love of science stems from a deep-seated dislike of people in general. You may have had several negative experiences as a young child that led you to develop this loathing for your fellow man, but are unaware that, in a social context, they were largely self-inflicted. You pursue science, most likely in a biological discipline but not always, as it allows you to mentally reduce human beings to a collection of unconscious processes and also makes it somewhat easier for you to kill them if it ever comes to that. You think this will happen. You will probably excel in your scientific career, seeing as you care not for the concern and respect of others and completely lack even the vaguest hint of a social life. This allows you to get a lot of work done and data produced in a much shorter space of time, and this will reflect well on you with regards to people who don't know you and have no contact with you. The idea of a relationship with someone genuinely baffles you. You invariably dress smartly or at least in a standard manner as anything unusual means attention from people, and you don't want that. Not until you can find a suitable place to hide the bodies, anyway.

Likes: Band saws, plagues, private Health care, silence, the X factor.

Dislikes: Jehovah's Witnesses, Telesales, public transport, pubs, the immune system.


(Sept 23rd – Oct 22nd)

You are a somewhat other-worldly creature. Although physically a normal human in appearance and anatomy, mentally you dwell in some other world where the norms are your own. People often ask you if you're stoned or inebriated, you will reassure them at first then become distracted by your own wandering brain again, leaving them none the wiser over all. You care deeply about science as it means you might be able to eventually investigate the wild flights of fancy that occur to you approximately 34 times an hour. You will eventually gravitate towards quantum mechanics, parallel worlds theory, or one of the other sciences which still operates on a largely theoretical basis, so as to not spoil your daydreams with brutal logic and evidence. Your life could end up being a risky one, as although everyone will think of you as harmless of possibly endearing, you do have a concentration problem which means you are more likely to walk in front of buses or fall down manholes. The opposite sex will invariably be drawn to you, but they will eventually express their frustration with your lack of attention to them and leave in a huff. Maybe half the time, you'll notice this has happened.

Likes: Exotic cheese, Futurama, mountaintops, Steve Martin, the Vengaboys.

Dislikes: Census forms, the Peer review process, textbooks, gravity, open manholes.


(Oct 23rd – Nov 21st)

You are the rugged outdoors type. Everything about you says adventure and exploration. You suffer from almost crippling claustrophobia. You will end up pursuing any scientific discipline that allows you to go to places where most people wouldn't go to and have a look around, possibly chopping at bits of it with a comically exaggerated machete. Zoology, geology, anthropology, anything like this gets you going (figuratively and literally). Your preferences mean you may have difficulty dealing with others. You have so many experiences and adventures you wish to tell people about that it's difficult for them to get a word in. Your constant thrill seeking means you will have trouble finding a partner. Some people propose or get married during a bungee jump, you'd probably need to conduct an entire relationship via one. Although an academic career is something you couldn't physically endure, but stories of your escapades will help inspire others into being interested and respecting science, right up to the point where all your good work is undone when you succumb to a hitherto undiscovered and harmless looking poison snail.

Likes: Jungles, adrenalin, arctic explorer ships, barbecues, Bear Grylles.

Dislikes: Desks, suits, mortgages, budget airlines, David Attenborough.


(Nov 22nd – Dec 21st)

Despite your best efforts, you will inevitably end up as the type of scientist that is often regarded as 'ridiculous stereotype'. If you are male, you'll start to develop unruly white hair, a ridiculous moustache at some time around your 21st Birthday, and it will get worse from there. You will discover all your clothes are made from tweed and can be worn over or under a lab coat with little or no bother. You may find yourself starting to speak with an Eastern European lilt for no discernible reason. Regardless of the scientific discipline you are involved with or what level you're at, people will start calling you 'Professor', to the point where you are officially declared one and are given all the associated responsibilities of one. You won't have a clue what you're doing, but it's Ok as everyone will assume you're an eccentric genius. If you are female, the exact same will happen, but instead of a moustache you'll grow shorter, and wear your hair in a bun.

Likes: Tweed, animals, tolerant postgraduates, rats, blackboards, port.

Dislikes: The internet, hip-hop, Starbucks, flamingos, lager.


(Dec 22nd – Jan 19th)

Urrghh. You know what you're like, I see no reason to state it here. Disgusting.


Dislikes: Overly-curious computer repair technicians.

* = I'd say one person at most will conform to these outrageous exaggerations. Happy scienceing!

Email: Humourology (at)

Twitter: @garwboy

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Humourology: A Science-Comedy Podcast

Haven't been writing this much lately, but I do plan to get back to it at some point, I promise. But nonetheless, I've not been completely idle.

I like doing science-themed comedy, it's kinda my thing in the limited area I inhabit. But it's picked up a bit in recent years. I'm not saying this is entirely due to me and my influence, but I have no data to rule this out so I might as well bring up the suggestion and let you ponder it on your own time.

Thing is, the format of Science-themed comedy has now become popular enough where I am to get more people involved in doing it and, perhaps most crucially, to get people along to actually see it happen.

But spreading the science-comedy vibe locally is all well and good, but why not use these here electronic communication systems to broadcast it to any virtual passers-by? So, in honour of the old Science Digestive podcast (on hiatus while Dave is living in Wrexham without Skype), I give you episode 1 of;

Humourology: The scientific stand-up comedy podcast

(WARNING: Adult material)

Covering topics such as environmental law, mathematical harassment, the discovery of antidepressants, the age of the Universe, evolution and Star Wars, this is a veritable mixed bag of geeky delights.

Featuring contributions from Bruce Etherington, Ted Shiress, Piers Stanger, Bob Ramsey, Chris Chopping and Trevor J Williams, I'll be producing more of these whenever the opportunity arises.

Enjoy, or not.

Twitter: @garwboy

Email: humourology (at)

Sunday, 7 August 2011

The Crappiest Day of the Year

Some people would say I'm not the most sociable person in the world. This may sound odd for someone who voluntarily does stand-up comedy and public speaking about science on a regular basis, but may sound about right for someone who prefers to communicate in text form via electronic mediums. Your interpretation is your own, enjoy it.

But I can see the point of people who would consider me unsociable, as outside of ones where I'm there to perform a specific task or duty, you won't often find me in situations where I would interact with other people in a social situation. It's not that I don't like people, although there are some people I don't like, obviously, and other people I do like. That's normal, isn't it? It's more to do with contexts and environments.

I like to think I'm my own person, I know what I like and what I don't like, and I seek out the former and avoid the latter. And one of the things I really don't like is what I term 'enforced fun'. You won't see me at the big festivals, night clubs, town centres on a Friday, raves, crazy parties or anything like that. Lots of people go to these things because they actively enjoy them, and more power to them. But I don't, so I avoid them. If I did attend these things for some reason, no doubt I'd be considered a killjoy for not enjoying myself like everyone else no doubt would be.

I'm not a killjoy though. I have no problem with other people's joy, certainly not to the extent that I'd want to kill it. I'm not one to commit homicide on an abstract concept, I never signed up for the war on terror for this reason. I just avoid things that I don't. Like most people do, if I'm not mistaken.

I'm indifferent to live music, not brave enough to experiment with narcotics and am actively repulsed by even slightly dirty toilets, so the big festivals would be a massive waste of unhygienic time for me. I don't like dancing, loud noises, overpriced drinks or inhaling the hormonal sweat of strangers, so night clubs have never done it for me. Some people might take genuine pleasure from them and that's cool, but for me there are limited returns on standing in a corner of an overcrowded dark sauna, clutching the only warm lager I'm able/willing to afford while an inebriated stranger bellows in my ear and is still unable to make himself heard (it's never a 'herself', I'm not someone who has ever known the experience of random women talking to him). As fun as that sounds, it get tiresome after 3 hours. And as unreasonable as it sounds, town centres on weekends are out, as I've always had a bizarre aversion to having my face repeatedly smashed into a paving slab by an enraged steroid abuser in a Ben Sherman shirt. I've always been picky like that, so sue me.

I'm being facetious about that last one, of course. Plenty of people go to a city centre on a weekend and never curb stomp anyone. But I was asked to meet up with a comedy mate of mine recently in Cardiff City centre on a Friday night. I never see him usually, so I agreed, and it was quite a bizarre experience for me. I've not been out in central Cardiff on a weekend for many years, and it was refreshing to discover that this wasn't an oversight on my part. I just don't get it, the appeal of getting hideously pissed as quickly as possible with similarly dressed strangers. Nobody got violent while I was there, but then I left before 10.30, so maybe they were waiting for me to go in case I told the police or something. Everyone was giving me a wide birth though, which surprised me. I'm not the most physically intimidating specimen, and with my nerd jacket, glasses and 'keep libel laws out of science' badges, I don't think people saw me as a violent lunatic waiting to lash out. I guess if I was I could be using some reverse psychology thing, but most people didn't seem sober enough to be worried about such unlikely leaps of logic.

It turns out the reason I was making people steer clear of me was how I was looking at them. Whereas most people were looking at each other in one of several familiar, acceptable ways ('potential conquest', 'potential rival', 'alcohol supplier' etc.), I was apparently looking at people as a scientist would look at a rat in a maze; with an unnerving level of calculating scrutiny. Most people, quite fairly, are put off by this. I understand, I didn't mean to do it, I just couldn't help myself from thinking 'why are you doing this? What's your motivation? What pleasure do you obtain from this environment and why?' When I get curious after a few beers, I have trouble preventing myself from adopting my 'amoral scientist' expression, which makes people think I'm on the verge of whipping out a scalpel to cut out their eyeball so I can attach it to the monstrous chimera I'm creating in my attic. Hence, I don't really belong in these places. So I avoid them.

It all boils down to the fact that I really resent being told to enjoy myself when I'm clearly not in a situation where that is likely to happen. When you're in a social gathering context, whatever it may be, there is an expectation to enjoy yourself in the same manner as everyone else, and it's hard to do that against your will, to the point where I actively resent it. Charlie Brooker has a brilliant rant about parties, and I have to agree with him to some extent. Parties are fine if they're just allowed to happen organically, but it's the 'instigators of fun' I can't abide. People who have scheduled games, party pieces, name cards and the like, just to make people talk and engage with each other to enhance the 'fun', rather than just treat people like adults and let them engage with others in a manner which suits them (or, more importantly, allow them to actively avoid engaging with the obvious dickhead that every party is seemingly legally obliged to include). It's probably a holdover from children's parties, but children are more energetic and less adapted to social norms, so games and the like helps them interact and focuses them while the parents can crack open the illicit wine without their dear offspring noticing. But these things don't always translate well to the adult world.

I went to a social once where the fun instigators had spent so long meticulously planning people's enjoyment that they had lost all sense of logic and reason. When you arrived, you were assigned a name badge. On the badge was a famous person or character that matched your gender. Mine said 'Kenickie'. Apparently the aim of this was that you had to seek out the other half of your 'famous couple' amongst the other guests. I was expected to go and find a woman wearing a badge with 'Rizzo' on it, and then… it was never established what I was meant to do then. Talk to her? Re-enact some scenes from Grease? Consummate our fictional relationship? This was never confirmed. And I don't even see how this works as an interaction catalyst. I am not a fan of Grease so my knowledge of it is limited, so exactly what conversational aides can be derived from this approach? Apart from "I see you are the opposite gender to me", or "I see you have been randomly assigned a fiction character that is associated with the one I have been assigned", what exactly is there to be said about this connection? But you could tell the organisers were so concerned with making people interact they didn't give any thought to the rationale beyond this. One guy had a badge that labelled him as 'Jim Corr'. Not sure if he's part of a famous 'couple' per se. I left when I saw a miserable looking girl with a badge that said 'Maxine Carr'. She didn't know where her counterpart was and seemed to be in no hurry to find out. I was him I'd have just turned and left as soon as they gave me my badge, and no doubt he did just that.

Overall, I don't like anyone who would look at you and decide that you aren't happy enough, and decides they must interfere until your enjoyment levels meet their personal standards. I'd wager most people feel this way.

All of this preamble is just a roundabout way of saying that's why I think the 'Happiest day of the year' doesn't get nearly as much press as the 'most depressing day of the year'. Don't get me wrong, it get's far too much (i.e. some), but the most depressing day seems to get a lot more widespread attention than the happy one. Admittedly, I base this purely on the fact that no media sources have ever asked me to comment on it. As opposed to my regular humiliations when getting involved with the most depressing day. Believe me, I've had more than my fair share of dealings with that car-crash of nonsensical pseudoscience. Nobody has ever contacted me from the media to comment on the happiest day. Except for via twitter that is, I had people nudging me (metaphorically) to point out that that yesterday was the happiest day of the year (according to the BBC even! Got no link for that though).

I immediately thought my old nemesis Cliff Arnall had been up to his old tricks (well, trick). But no. He does have another laughable equation to pinpoint the happiest day (apparently coughed up like a media-friendly hairball at the behest of Walls, makers of sausages and ice cream and other things that benefit from people being cheerful enough to have barbecues), but it's in mid-June according to him. So August 6th is the happiest day of the year not according to Cliff Arnall, but Nectar Card. It's always someone shamelessly corporate who comes up with these things, weirdly enough. When the Cochrane collaboration makes a claim like this, then maybe I'll pay attention. However, rather than a nonsensical equation pulled out of the mind-arse of a shameless quack (meaning Cliff Arnall, just to clarify) this claim is, seemingly, based on a slightly more logical principle of just asking people when they're at their happiest. 30% of people say Saturdays, 20% of people say August (I'm really hoping these figures were based on separate questions in order to suggest some sort of useable specificity, but I'm not holding my breath), so overall Saturday in August is the happiest day of the year. Although, last I checked, August had at least 4 Saturdays, so why this one in particular? That's not revealed in the article I could be bothered to read.

It's at least a somewhat logical approach. When are people happiest? Ask them. But there are still myriad problems with this approach. People may say they're happiest in August and on Saturdays, but it doesn't automatically mean that an August Saturday is the happiest day of the year. Someone's favourite foods may be cheesecake and pizza. This does not mean a cheesecake topped pizza is logically their favourite food. Happiness is not a metric measurement that can be added and multiplied in this manner. Happiness is such a nebulous, hard to quantify term (like depression) that any efforts to pin it down to specific date and time like they've done quickly become meaningless.

Also, to suggest that there are predictable regularly occurring external factors that affect people's moods to the extent where the majority of the population are in the same emotional state is, to put it mildly, bollocks. This is seriously underestimating the complexity and variability in the lives, routines and events in the lives of a typical human being. The only figures that can reliably be said to predict depression in large swathes of the population are the ones churned out my the stock markets lately. That, or the viewing figures of Top Gear, but to each their own of course.

I bring this up as, at a recent Winchester Skeptics in the Pub talk I did (and it's a great night if you're nearby, please go to it), a guy in the audience, I believe his name is Ben, suggested you could determine the most depressing day of the year (I do rant about it considerably in my talk) by surveying the self-assessed mood levels of a significantly large group of people over a year. This is probably true, but there are several issues with this that mean it would not produce any useful results.

Firstly, you'd need a subject group big enough to provide decent statistical power and a reasonable cross-section of the population in general. Anything less means you'd have to narrow the focus of your investigation, i.e. The happiest day of the year for University students/pensioners/parents/unemployed/men-who-wear-those-really-low-cut-vests-for-some-undoubtedly-alarming-reason. Then you'd need everyone to agree on and use some universal mood ranking self-assessment scheme. It's no use collating all this data if some people rank their happiness on a scale of 1-10, some use percentages of maximum happiness, others go for a 'not at all - moderately - extremely' ranking of happiness. You can't just mash all these different measurements together and derive some sort of consistent conclusion from it, you'd end up making a complete Arnall of yourself!

Also, you'd need to get your subjects to measure their daily happiness levels for a whole year, not just ask them which day was the most/least happy for them. That would be just as reliable as flat out guesswork, which is what it essentially is. So, after all that, if you have a sufficiently large group of people reporting their happiness levels (or whatever) using the same system of measurement for a whole year, you could run the numbers and, quite possibly, you'd end up with one day that scores higher than all the others (or lower, if you're measuring depression). So you could feasibly say that this particular day is the happiest/most depressing of that year. Whether this day's score would deviate significantly from the norm for the year (or month, or quarter, you'd expect some ups-and-downs during holiday periods or bad weather periods etc. so it might be valid to take them into account), I'm unable to say. But given a large enough group of people, I'd say it would be highly unlikely that enough would feel depressed at the same time to make a dent in the measurements to that extent. But I deliberately said the happiest/most depressing day of THAT year, because that's all it would be.

This method would give you a report of how people felt in response to events and circumstances that happened that year. Any other year, it would be fantastically unlikely that the same things would happen in exactly the same manner. And even if they did, people would be somewhat desensitised to them now, so the ratings would still be different. The idea of a basic equation that can effectively predict all the variables that affect the mood of THE ENTIRE POPULATION is so ridiculous and unbelievable that it was bound to end up in the Daily Mail

Overall, I think the Most Depressing day bullshit seems to have got more media traction than the happiest day bullshit because it offers a get-out clause, as it means the media are saying 'you feel depressed? It's not your fault, it's due to factors beyond your control'. Ironically, I'd wager people are cheered up by this notion as it removes responsibility for a depressing situation and possibly offers hope for improvement. Also ironically, the 'happiest day' is quite annoying, it suggests that if you aren't happy then there's something wrong with you. It's like a fun instigator for the whole population, and we know what I think of that sort.

So yeah, the media or bogus scientists can't tell you which day of the year is the happiest/saddest for you, you can only tell them. And if they ask, tell them to mind their damn business. They won't ask though, they'll just hack your phone if they want to find something out.

And to close, some important points on Cliff Arnall, the main man who seems to have initiated this whole best/worst day debacle we have to go through every pissing year.

  • Cliff Arnall is often described as a Cardiff University Psychologist. He is not. Cardiff University has a top-ranking psychology school, it's actually a world leader in the field and often ranks in the top of listings concerned with these things. To be a Cardiff University Psychologist you have to be a member of the psychology school, conduct research there and preferably get it published in reputable journals. This is something some people have done (e.g. Myself), but Cliff Arnall has not. He does apparently have a psychology qualification (a very broad term, but will give him the benefit of a doubt there), and he did teach once (for a few months) at the Cardiff Centre for Lifelong Learning, which is essentially evening classes for adults. Nothing wrong with that, but it doesn't mean he's a Cardiff University Psychologist. It's been alleged that the Cardiff University PR department are happy with this state of affairs as it means they get free publicity. Possibly some are, but all the members of the department I know would like to put a bounty on Cliff Arnall's head, so I'm guessing they'd rather he stopped doing this.
  • Cliff Arnall is apparently not a research psychologist or sociologist as his output would suggest, but a 'life coach'. I'm not a fan of this field. Fair enough if you are, and no doubt there are plenty of life coaches out there who have nothing but good intentions and a desire to help people, but to me it's always seemed a bit self-limiting. The very concept means people in need of a life coach (for whatever reason) are going to end up in a submissive position. They've employed a life coach to begin with, which suggests that they feel they are incapable of making their own decisions, and even if a life coach does everything to boost their confidence and get them back on track, the whole concept can be boiled down to someone vulnerable paying a stranger to tell them what to do in their own daily lives, which is about as personal and invasive as it gets outside of reality TV (not that there's much
    difference). Even if the life coached does end up feeling better, they will always know it was thanks to the interference of a 'superior', a powerful message that they should always obey others and be a good little peon in order to remain happy. Their lives are not really their own, it's external factors that make the difference. Cliff Arnall is a life coach, and he is famous for telling people when they should be happy/sad. Adds up somewhat, now.
  • Cliff Arnall has 3 children. This was mentioned in the article I read about him, apropos of nothing. I can't see how this fact has any bearing on anything to do with his work, but I'm restating it here in case there's something important I'm missing.
  • I have never met Cliff Arnall. Odds are he's a perfectly nice guy who's figured out how to make money from a relentlessly shallow and gullible mainstream media. And he's undoubtedly doing a lot better than I am. But his actions have caused me ire and humiliation on several occasions, so I shall continue to lay into him on my own blog until I see a decent reason not to.

Lastly, apologies to any regular readers wondering where this blog has gotten do. Had an insanely busy time of it in July. But now I'm fully employed as a Psychiatry tutor, so have a reliable schedule and will hopefully have a lot of interesting brain-related things to talk about in the coming months

Email: humourology (at)

Twitter: @garwboy

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