Bogus Science for PR Purposes


On the Media podcast interviewed Andrew Revkin (@Revkin) this week, in the aftermath of “sensationalistic” media coverage on the polar vortex and “global cooling”: “that tendency in journalists, and of course in audiences, to gravitate toward the dramatic, when it fits a world view, is hard to fight back against.”

According to Revkin, science is all about context (which I reiterate with my recent survey experiment among science communicators). Contextual factors such as previous research, outside evidence, the history of a particular concept (global warming, for example), conflicts of interest, funding sources for a given research study, study limitations, scientific consensus, etc. are extremely important to the interpretation of isolated events and findings. Unfortunately, context seems to be one of the most difficult things for most science journalists to achieve in their coverage. (I believe that science bloggers in fact often do a better job at giving context, provided more lax time and length constraints).

Take the “Blue Monday” effect, seized by the media this January 2014 to whip up some “depressingly cold” news coverage. For example, the Weather Channel’s It's Blue Monday? and the Weather's Making It Worse and CBS Minnesota’s It’s Blue Monday & We’re Not Talking About The Weather. Even Science Daily issued a release on the matter - Blue Monday: Brutal Cold, Short Days, Post-Holiday Letdown Raise Risk of Depression. (Which, by the way, leads me to doubt the quality of Science Daily information even more than I did before).

“And this year, First Monday will be especially blue, due to the added stress of the brutal cold in the forecast, said Loyola University Medical Center psychiatrist Dr. Angelos Halaris, who specializes in treating depression.

‘All these factors will have a cumulative effect,’ Halaris said. ‘We could see an uptick in depression this coming week and for the rest of the month.’”

Dr. Angelos Halaris should know better than to connect scientific results with a most un-scientific concept as Blue Monday. The formula for “the most depressing day of the year” was literally concocted by a man paid to increase post-holiday booking for a travel agency.

The formula for Blue Monday, first “identified” (as this website words it), by Cliff Arnall, is simply a PR hoax.

Screenshot from beatbluemonday.org.uk

Screenshot from beatbluemonday.org.uk

It makes one wonder whether the news content writers targeted by various “Blue Monday” PR messages and campaigns really think a concept is more credible if it’s in the form of a “mathematical” equation. Because, let’s be real, we can come up with a bogus equation to support any crazy idea we want.

And, honestly, shame on the researchers and science writers trying to promote their content by alluding to bogus popular concepts such as Blue Monday. Are we supposed to trust your discussion of depression disorders, environmental stressors, chemical imbalances and light therapy when you associate the science with bogus equations for the most depressing day of the year?

Enjoy the full On The Media podcast here.


One Response to “Bogus Science for PR Purposes”

  1. Kausik Datta Reply | Permalink

    Excellent, Paige! I am going to update my post to point at yours, because you have some US-centric information.

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