Blue Monday, ‘Green Communications’
Blue Monday. Have you heard of the idea? Popular story goes something like this. Dr Cliff Arnall of Cardiff University came up with a Clever Mathematical Formula to find the Most Miserable Day of the Year. Various charities have used this to raise funds and public awareness of mental health, helpfully aided by a lovely PR company doing this out of the goodness of their heart.
Problem is, none of that is actually true. The formula itself was entirely fabricated by a PR company, for no better reason than to sell holidays.
So who is Cliff Arnall? Well, he is approximately as qualified as I am to speak on mental health with any scientific authority, which is to say none at all. His rather strange website lists his qualifications as a 2:1 & Masters in Research Methods from Reading uni, alongside such wonderful things as a pop quiz for self-diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder, containing items such as ‘good looking?’ – I’m fairly sure that’s not in the DSM or ICD. I’m really quite disappointed with the level of media fact checking on this one, even Bad Science has called him ‘Dr’ quite regularly. He’s also nothing to do with Cardiff uni’s excellent Psychology department, except for having taught a few evening classes in the building & in other places around Wales on what appear to be standard A level psychology topics.
Cliff Arnall does something explicitly forbidden by the British Psychological Society when he lists ‘Member of the BPS’ amongst his qualifications. However, he’s a ‘Member of the Delphinium Society UK’, which obviously makes him an excellent person to trust with your sanity.
Green Communications, headed by Mr Andy Green, is the PR company who have been pushing ‘Blue Monday’ for the last few years, since the PR agency who originally made up the formula to sell ice-cream dropped it. Following an argument with Andy Green in the comments of badscience.net, and several other blogs where he was unprofessionally rude, I was invited to meet at the offices of Green Communications in Wakefield. Why an expert in ‘crisis communications’ and ‘social media’ would only talk if someone physically turned up to their meatspace office I am not certain, but then Andy Green also appears to be responsible for ‘the most incompetent wikipedia edit ever‘.
I’m not planning to take over from Jeremy Paxman any time soon, it’s the first time I’ve interviewed someone (never mind an experienced PR professional), and the unedited version is a bit over an hour and somewhat rambling. Feel free to skip the first ten minutes, it’s pretty much Mr Green introducing himself, but it does get more interesting further in. Particular highlights include finding that the only money Green Comms knows they have raised is from their own office party, where everyone was made to wear blue hawaiian lei, and an admission that there isn’t any level of research evidence which would stop Green running the story.
Other bloggers have been doing a very good job of covering ‘Blue Monday’ for several years – I’d particularly recommend Dr Petra (who was legally threatened by Cliff Arnall over her coverage of this), Mind Hacks, Irregular Shed on the nonsense maths, and of course Bad Science.
Note that the interview is from Febuary last year – this year’s nonsense from Green Communications is disappointingly unchanged, despite what Mr Green suggested in the interview. Green Comms have also used ridiculous quotes from Cliff Arnall to promote their new PR campaign, Twixtmas:
‘If you are a regular whinger or moaner about the weather or minor ailments STOP! It is boring and you are boring. Other people do not care about your latest skin disorder. If you have ‘got the flu’ and you are standing up telling someone else: you haven’t got flu. Stop moaning.’ ‘If you’re feeling brave turn to your friends or family, look them in the eye (either one) as sincerely as you can and say: “You know, I’m OK as I am”. If they start laughing say: “Thank you for listening you are a beautiful person”‘.
This is particularly disappointing since I emailed Andy Green in early December, when he was asking for suggestions about ‘Twixtmas’, pointing out that the Cliff Arnall quotes already on the site were utter nonsense.
364 days ’till Blue Monday 2011. I’m already slightly down in the dumps just thinking about it.