It’s about this time of year when the issue of post-Christmas gloom tends to rear its head. Last year I wrote that a psychologist had devised a formula indicating January 24th to be the most miserable day of the year. I regarded the whole thing as harmless fun and looking back at my post I see that I at least questioned its purpose and whether it was just some tongue-in-cheek thing picked up by the media. I was therefore more than a little surprised to hear this same information being regurgitated on a major news channel just a few days ago, and reported as though it was fact.
In a world of fast-paced information and communication it perhaps isn’t so surprising that we rely heavily on the media to report what’s right. We don’t have the time, inclination or skills to sift every bit of blurb that spews out of the media monster, so we rely on people paid to do the job to act as a filter and ensure an appropriate bias is offered. Despite this we know they frequently get things wrong, or misrepresent issues, which is pretty much the same thing in my book. Errors will always occur of course, but these errors are usually offset by the fact that good journalism still provides some of the best insights and revelations around. Note however I use the term good journalism.
Then again we have lazy journalism and the so-called Blue Monday is a case in point. Blue Monday is the catchy term used by the media. It's a spin-off from the daft formula I’ve just mentioned. This is the formula that clumps together things like the weather, the amount of debt we owe, the time since Christmas, and more besides and gives each meaningless part a letter which ends up looking (oh dear) like a 'proper' scientific formula 1/8W+(D-d)3/8xTQ MxNA.
Now something closer to the truth – I think. According to Dr. Dean Burnett, a lecturer at Cardiff University in Wales, the formula was originally conjured up for a travel firm. It was, he says, created by Dr. Cliff Arnall, “who briefly taught some psychology-related evening classes at the University’s adult education center.” Even Dr. Arnall has since admitted the formula is meaningless, but it seems the creature now has a life of its own; it has grown legs and has started to run!
Meanwhile, poor Dr. Burnett, a neuroscience doctor who teaches psychiatry, reports that he’s, “often contacted by well-meaning media types” for his views on the Blue Monday issue. His experiences from this point seem mixed to say the least. He has the lived experience of a person of science who tries in vain to point out the facts only to find they have sometimes disappeared in the editing process. So, while Blue Monday has about the same scientific credibility as a spell from a Harry Potter book, the message isn’t getting through.
I don’t know Dr. Burnett, but I do feel for him. Last January his article, Blue Monday: a depressing day of pseudoscience and humiliation was published in the Guardian newspaper. His closing paragraph says it all:
“every year I dread it all coming back up: the very public loss of my scientific credibility. The experience is so degrading and the memories so embarrassing that it's gotten to the point where, for me, the third Monday in January really is the most depressing day of the year.”
So, come on media-types, we know the original story stems from an academic who really should know better, but give Dr. Burnett a break. He's trying to set the record straight for something he was never responsible for in the first place. Publishing the facts must surely be better your own credibility in the long term?