Blue Monday bullshit competition

Two weeks today will be the annual ‘Blue Monday‘ bullshit festival, where Cliff Arnall and his “formula” are wheeled out in an attempt to make us believe that it tells us about the most depressing day of the year. However, Mind Hacks is running a competition that may prove a useful antedote and you can enter.

To be fair, the day is usually quite depressing, but only because we have to put up with the usual rubbish masquerading as science in the media.

The whole idea is still being pushed by a PR agency, but rather disappointingly, the respected UK charity the Mental Health Foundation have seemingly shelled out hard cash for [see update below] the dubious pleasure of using the opportunity to try and promote mental well-being.

Promoting mental health is, of course, a fantastic idea, but using utter gibberish and pseudoscience to do so is like trying to promote a healthy diet by telling people that apples are particularly bad for us on certain days.

So, to help cheer us all up we want you to come up with a formula that describes what total bullshit these formulas are.

Be creative. As with the original formula, don’t feel you have to be chained by the laws of maths, or even logic.

The most creative entry will win a prize. Sent to you where ever you are in the world.

Be careful not to say nasty things about Mr Arnall himself, rumour has it has he a tendency to threaten legal action against people who say things that could be interpreted as casting aspersions on him directly, although it would be perfectly acceptable to point out that his formula is utter nonsense.

You can either include your entry as a comment to this post, post them to your own blog and send us a link, or email me directly via this web form.

Not only will you be helping the public understanding of science through sarcasm, you could win a prize and get featured on Mind Hacks.

We will print the best entries a few days before the date itself.

The game is afoot!

UPDATE Green Communications commented on a later entry to say that the Mental Health Foundation has not paid for this publicity campaign and that it is being completed on a non-commercial basis.

12 Comments

  1. M_I_K_3
    Posted January 5, 2009 at 7:44 pm | Permalink

    Here is my entry…
    No Scientific basis (S) + Random Factors (F)
    Divided By
    Need to Make Money (M) x Ability to fool the public (Af) or as an equation (S + F)/M x Af

  2. Posted January 5, 2009 at 9:04 pm | Permalink

    Unhappiness = [(D+CC+M+G)/(P+T)]^B
    D = Hours of Darkness in the day
    CC = Credit Card debt in ¬£1000′s
    M = Mince Pies Consumed over Christmas
    G = Hours Spent with Grandma
    P = Value of Presents Recieved in ¬£100′s
    T = Hours spent watching Sinbad movies
    B = Badger quotient*
    For help calculating the badger quotient, please send a cheque for £500 to Mr Arnall at Pseudoscience Enterprises.
    There’s more of this nonsense here:
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/magazine/7238637.stm
    Garth Sundem has written a whole book about this apparently. Needless to say I tore the ridiculousness apart in a comment, which was sadly not published.
    Tom

  3. nyqkonly
    Posted January 6, 2009 at 7:04 am | Permalink

    BS equations measured on a 0 to 1 scale where 1 is utter BS.
    BS value = 1- 1/(a^(p-a)*m^(q-m))
    p=total number of values, parameters and variables
    q=total number of arithmetic operators/symbols
    a=total number of meaningful values, parameters etc with some reasonable theoretical/empirical basis
    m=total number of appropriate operators symbols acting on the values counted in ‘a’ that aren’t simply pointless or violate basic dimensional sense
    when p=a and q=m the value is zero

  4. torea
    Posted January 6, 2009 at 7:37 am | Permalink

    I propose:
    R = ((E.T+B)/(S+1))^(M-P)
    with
    R: eyes Rolling speed,
    E: highly subjective Emotional terms,
    T: author’s job Title fanciness,
    B: time since the last Bullshit read in the news,
    S: Scientific evidence (with a +1 as the probability of having S=0 is high),
    M: number of Marketing stunts related,
    P: number of Peer-reviewed articles related.
    I would have put some fancy mathematical expressions like logarithm or greek letters but I guess the impact is greater when the formula stays simple..

  5. Farzaneh Sarafraz
    Posted January 6, 2009 at 9:53 am | Permalink

    NOT IN COMPETITION.
    I added a section “Criticism” to the Wikipedia article on Blue Monday.
    There will probably be a dispute, so I am asking everyone to have an eye on the article.
    I also made a currently empty link to Vaughan’s entry. Are you “notable” enough to have a Wikipedia article, Vaughan? ;)

  6. Posted January 6, 2009 at 11:12 am | Permalink

    I doubt I’m notable enough to warrant a phone book entry to be honest!
    However, the Wikipedia article already had substantial criticism and references but I notice that they were all recently deleted by anonymous user with the IP address 82.109.35.114.
    Which, if you do a reverse DNS lookup, turns out to be an IP address of PR agency Green Communications who ‘own’ Blue Monday.
    Bless ‘em.

  7. Nathe
    Posted January 6, 2009 at 10:36 pm | Permalink

    I have the answer using the original formula. Move to Australia and come work with me.
    W(weather)- it’s summer here and the sun is shining! Happy Happy Joy Joy!
    D(debt) – constant although they mention the distance to the next pay cheque. I get paid on the 15th of each month.
    T(time since christmas) – contstant unless you are not a christmas participant (other religion/belief)
    Q(time since failing NY resolutions)- dont make them. The right time to make a resolution is when you really want to do it not because of a date
    M(low motivational levels)- depression aside, why? The new year can if you want to bring a clean start, again, if you are ready
    Na(feeling need to take action)- Um, I always have this feeling!

  8. torea
    Posted January 7, 2009 at 1:32 am | Permalink

    I just realized a problem in my formula: it works only if M>P.
    The quick fix is: if P>M then R represents the robustness of the work.

  9. Steve Anderson
    Posted January 8, 2009 at 3:03 pm | Permalink

    Looking at the ‘equation’ again for the first time in a while (I’m one of the first links if you Google for Cliff Arnall – he took exception to me describing him as being full of shit last year) I noticed something wonderful. If your motivational levels are zero, you end up dividing by zero, resulting in infinite misery.
    I’m revisiting the equation for a fourth anniversary bullshit blogging occasion. Yay!

  10. andy green
    Posted January 13, 2009 at 8:52 pm | Permalink

    My name is Andy Green. I am a partner with GREEN communications and it was me who created the name ‘Blue Monday’ to link it with the existing story about the ‘most depressing day of the year’ inspired by the formula devised by Cliff Arnall.
    My colleague has already been in touch with you to set the record straight on some serious inaccuracies in your blog.
    I am now adding my contribution.
    It is a pity your respect for hard scientific facts has not been carried through in your post about ‘Blue Monday’. The dictionary defines ‘bullshit’ as containing misleading, or false language and statements. A simple phone call or e mail to Beat Blue Monday campaign, the source of your story, would have enabled you to avoid a number of significant false statements.
    We respect anyone advancing the cause of scientific understanding but you seem more intent on pursuing a personal, school playground, or ‘Lord of the Flies’-like, vendetta on the psychologist Cliff Arnall.
    Fact: You originally claim the Mental Health Foundation has shelled out ‘hard cash’ to be linked with the ‘Blue Monday’ campaign. This was totally not true. GREEN communications, the public relations company behind the current Blue Monday campaign, approached the charity to be a beneficiary, completely free of charge. After my colleague contacted you, I now see this detail has, at least, been amended.
    As a result of the Blue Monday campaign, an outstanding charity which has to compete with thousands of other worthy causes, would receive welcome name and brand exposure, as well as specific publicity about its own mental health guide. If fully capitalised-upon, the campaign could also be a significant long-term fund-raiser vehicle for the charity, again where all funds generated would go to the charity.
    Fact: Blue Monday is not ‘owned’ by anyone. In the same way ‘Valentines Day’ or ‘Pancake Day’ are owned by anyone. The idea for ‘the most depressing day of the year story’ was not even originally conceived by GREEN communications. Rather the company recognised an opportunity to do some good in the world by harnessing its professional skills in public relations. Beat Blue Monday is a completely non-commercial enterprise. We do it because we think it is a good thing to do.
    Fact: There has been a paradigm shift in the ‘most depressing day of the year story’. The story was originally put out by a London based public relations agency for their travel client in 2005. When it discovered the story was not going to be used in subsequent years, GREEN communications picked up the opportunity (after clearing it with the agency concerned and Cliff Arnall) and since 2006 has run the ‘Beat Blue Monday’ campaign. Note, the story as it stands now is not about the day being ‘scientifically proven’ but rather the formula representing the ‘symbolic day’ of being ‘the most depressing day of they year.’ The criticism levelled against the Blue Monday campaign relates to the earlier incarnation of the campaign.
    Fact: Read up on memes. You will discover these are self-replicating vehicles of communication. What GREEN communications recognized was the ‘most depressing day of the year’ story was a meme, already in the infosphere. Through its involvement GREEN has harnessed this meme, branded it with the name ‘Blue Monday’ and directed this body of information towards achieving a social and cultural good (as determined by our liberal, humanist values, for any post-modernists out there.)
    Fact: I too share concerns about the need to expand understanding and engagement with science. We have generations who leave the education system with the barest scientific knowledge. As a result, real important issues such as climate change, or the seeming lack of any real debate about a new generation of nuclear power stations, are inadequately addressed.
    The real problem here is not the likes of Cliff Arnall somehow taking up valuable media space which the scientific community would otherwise receive.
    Science gets the reputation it deserves with limited media exposure, partially through the difficulty in understanding of some of its subject matter to non-scientific audiences. More fundamental, and fix-able, is that the scientific community has not invested in telling its story as thorough and effective as possible, sometimes being too hidebound by logic, and failing to recognize the potency of emotion in communications, and the reality of memes.
    The Blue Monday campaign does not seek to claim to be addressing real issues for the scientific community in the world. If you are sincere scientists, as opposed to the snide variety, why not focus on real issues and spend your valuable time addressing these?
    Opinion: Having met Mr. Arnall, where he gives up his time for Blue Monday at no cost, and in his professional career has helped hundreds of people with depression and addictive behaviour problems, I am of the opinion that he is a thoroughly decent human being.
    He is however, guilty: of agreeing with us that his information for ‘the most depressing day of the year story’ can be directed to achieving a social good.
    Nothing could be further from the truth of the image of Cliff somehow raking in lots of corporate gold from this venture. Over the four years of ‘the most depressing day of the year’ story he has probably earned less than £1,700 – and has not been paid a penny by GREEN communications.
    Cliff is understandably concerned, now that his children are using the Internet, they don’t come across unfounded and malicious references to their father, such as one post suggesting he should be ‘shot through the face with a crossbow’. Any right minded person would act to protect their reputation in such instances.
    You have invited contributions of new formulas. You might want to consider this one:
    G+O+O²+D = Beat Blue Monday
    S+N+I+D+E
    where
    G = Desire to create good to make the world a better place
    O = Available meme and publicity skills
    O² = Public and media receptiveness
    D = Failing to address real issues for the scientific community in the world
    S = Highly intelligent individuals
    N = Too much time on their hands
    I = Inadequate fact-checking
    D = Failing to address real issues for the scientific community in the world
    E = Propensity to pick on easy targets
    In the spirit of your invitation to be creative, maybe the English language could be enriched by a new term, distinct from ‘bullshit’ called ‘snideshit’: a term to describe negative opinions, containing misleading or false statements, used, like children in a playground, to pick on an easy-to-hit victim. I am too gracious to suggest the term should be applied to anyone involved in this debate.
    So, where do we go from here?
    I have a strong suspicion the interests of balance and fair reporting might be subsumed in your subsequent journalist coverage about Blue Monday. You have the easy option to write a one-sided editorial in your column, which gives you a platform to score easy points.
    However, rather than have an on-line slanging match, where it easy to posture and hide behind the facelessness of the Internet, I would really welcome an open, off-line meeting. (I am sure I could get Cliff Arnall to take part as well)
    As the Martini ad used to say ‘anytime, anyplace, anywhere’ – where we would have a genuine open discussion on any questions you care to raise about what ‘Blue Monday’ is, and represents. It could even be extended it to a wider debate of how can science meet the challenge of getting the reputation it deserves.
    Taking part in such an open meeting gives you the chance to prove yourself not as a group of ‘snide scientists’, but willing to take part in a real, open discussion to explore how can ‘good science’ be communicated.
    That approach may be old school, but will avoid the depressing prospect not of Blue Monday itself on January 19th, but of a worthwhile initiative being undermined by your talent, which if focussed on more worthwhile ends, could achieve some better good for the world at large, while also helping the cause of scientific understanding.

  11. Posted January 14, 2009 at 4:47 pm | Permalink

    Formula for the amount of satisfaction obtained by Sir Michael Philip “Mick” Jagger from those products advertisers claim will to provide him with satisfaction.
    Sat_total (Mick) = (Sat_radio (useless information)+Sat_tv (shirt whiteness) x δ(his cigarette brand, my cigarette brand)) x Const.
    Where
    Sat (X) is the amount of satisfaction attributable to X,
    δ (x,y) is the standard kronecker delta function
    and Const = 0.
    Latex code:
    $Sat_{Total}\left(Mick\right)=\left(Sat_{Radio}\left(useless\, information\right)+Sat_{TV}\left(shirt\, whiteness\right)\times\delta\left(his\, cigarette\, brand,my\, cigarette\, brand\right)\right)\times0$

  12. Michael Grayer
    Posted January 29, 2009 at 10:50 am | Permalink

    Einstein’s General Bullshit Formula:
    5 = 2 + 2


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