In Defence of Blue Monday

January 16, 2012 by
Filed under: Social Brain 

Before you say it, I know today is NOT, by any reliable measure, the most depressing day of the year. I also agree with the witty insight that insofar as it is, it is mostly because people irritate you by telling you it is.

However, another reason it might be the most depressing day of the year is because you have to endure the diatribes laying into people who hear ‘science’ and automatically think the idea is underpinned by rigorous research. This morning I read tweets by Tim Harford of the FT, Claudia Hammond of the BBC and read the following Guardian piece  saying as much. I agreed with them on content, but on balance, I felt troubled by the glee with which these commentators pointed out that there was no good scientific basis for the claim that today is ‘Blue Monday’.

For example Tim Harford Tweeted:

“Thought for the day on Radio 4 began “Scientists have shown that today is the most depressing day of the year”…….which translated means “I don’t know what a scientist is, or what science is, and I never check my facts before appearing on Radio 4″”

Isn’t that just rude? Did the speaker really believe the ‘Scientists’? Does saying they have ‘shown’ something assume they have given proof for something or that it is incontrovertibly true? No, it is just a narrative prop to develop some ideas. It is not supposed to be a scientific axiom, and I doubt that people who refer to Blue Monday think of it as such.

Can’t we relax about this? The one thing I fear more than pseudo-science is zealous para-science of the kind that Jonathan Ree described at the RSA- the kind of language and tone that says: ‘science knows best, and we are the best at knowing science’.

Obviously the formula for Blue Monday is pseudoscience…but isn’t it also quite funny? The formula links weather, time since Christmas, debt, failure to follow up on resolutions etc into a recipe for misery…. It’s a kind of joke, but I think a largely benign one. And doesn’t it have some kind of cultural value?

Clearly we need to protect the integrity of science…but is people saying “apparently this is the most depressing day of the year” such a bad thing?

On the one hand you want the public to respect science, and become more familiar with conventional scientific methods and criterion for truth claims. You also want the public to develop a good nose for pseudo-science. But on the other hand you don’t want to make Science sound elitist, or a remote and alien authority that takes itself too seriously.

Overall I would say, on this wonderful day, if you have to lay into something, please leave Blue Monday alone…

Comments

  • http://twitter.com/CJAMcMahon Ciarán Mc Mahon

    The problem is not with ‘science’ but that it treats depression as a transitory, weather-based condition. 

  • Jonathanrowson

    Thanks Ciaran.  I agree that the bigger issue is the trivialisation of mental health, but I wonder if that is related to the media’s uncritical veneration of science and scientists. Rather than engage with the complexities of personal experience, it is easier to write about a bogus formula backed by the honorific term ‘science’….If we had a more mature relationship to science, we would probably have a more considerate and nunanced relationship to mental health too.