PR’s pseudo science is depressing

It’s that time of year again – when the media are encouraged by public relations pseudo science stories to recycle that old chestnut, “” 

Apparently 22 January is “Blue Monday” according to pseudo-psychologist, Dr Cliff Arnalls, whose formula “considers debt, time elapsed since Christmas, failing New Year’s resolutions & low motivation at work”   Last year, the “doctor” claimed to be from Cardiff University, but my research reveals he was a part-time tutor in the Lifelong Learning Centre which co-ordinates adult education in Wales – a post he no longer holds.  So why does he have any credibility with either public relations practitioners or the media?

Equally questionable is the use of research published as “hard news” by PR practitioners.  For example, that from “safe driving specialists” ,  (which also cites Arnall’s dubious formula as a media hook). 

Apparently “48 per cent of drivers in Britain experience symptoms, including lethargy and sadness or depression, they blame on the time of year.  Of these, one in ten admits their driving suffers as a result, with speeding and losing concentration the most common side effect.” 

That actually means that more than half of those polled (which I won’t extrapolate to generalise to all drivers in Britain) do not experience such symptoms – and the driving ability of 95% of respondents is not affected.

And, if you can survive Monday without being too depressed, watch out for Professor  CBE (who holds lots of honorary psychology degrees and visiting professorships).  He’ll soon be pushing “” (the first Monday in February, last year sponsored by Sky Travel) – following on from his “shocking” research for Microsoft this month that revealed employees waste time at work.

My own degree was a BSc in Psychology – and I have a lot of respect for the profession – but these ridiculous surveys and pseudo-scientific balderdash don’t do any favours for psychologists, public relations practitioners or the media.

UPDATE: I’ve just noticed that Green Communications is promoting Blue Monday with the Samaritans . I have a lot of respect for Andy Green’s creativity as well as the job this charity does – but I’m still sorry to see questionable science used to interest the media.

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Heather Yaxley

Heather Yaxley is passionate about PR - teaching the CIPR qualifications, lecturing part-time at Bournemouth University and running the Motor Industry Public Affairs Association (MIPAA). I'm undertaking a PhD looking at Career Strategies in PR. I love sharing ideas and knowledge - connecting news and views by blogging on public relations and educational developments, especially relating to accelerated and active learning. I'm also a published author, qualified trainer and experienced consultant.

9 thoughts on “PR’s pseudo science is depressing”

  1. Surely it is more the fault of the media. The only reason PR firms do it is because you know it is almost guaranteed coverage. Regional editors in the University of Sunderland’s media relations survey said one of their top hates was spurious surveys with tenuous regional links. Yet a quick search of their papers reveal they all use them.

  2. Yes, I think it’s a load of nonsense as well. If you tell people they are expected to feel depressed on a certain day, then they probably will . I should have thought people are much more likely to feel low immediately after Xmas and anyone who has had any counselling experience knows that Xmas itself is a bad time for those who are not surrounded by loving relatives and friends. No chance of taking an illicit sickie in Italy, by the way, for as soon as you call in sick, your employers send the doc round!
    As for the Cardiff dr, though, we’ve all been known to beef up our CVs a little – haven’t we?

  3. Stuart – interesting point on media responsibility. In the motor industry the media frequently complain about time spent out of office on launches, too many events in the diary etc – but never turn down an exotic “freebie” trip. Psychologists might accuse PRs of being enablers in supporting the media in their bad practices – maybe I’ll do a quick survey, dust off my degree and get onto PR Week with the story!!

    Welshcakes – how about “resume exaggeration” as a medical condition?

  4. I wrote a feature recently that was supposed to coincide nicely with the Samaritans Edinburgh branch open day. It did, however, appear in a later editon. But, the point is, if Green Commiunications use blue monday to get the Samaritans a bit more publicity then is that not good if it helps boost volunteer numbers? I’d like to see the press releases to see if they actually highlight this chronic shortage.

  5. Jill – click on the link to Green Communications in my Update on the post and you’ll see their plans. It certainly may help gain some mentions of the Samaritans, and you can’t always be over-serious when talking about issues that affect such charities. However, I’m not sure the aim here is to boost volunteer numbers. I’m sure that could have been built in as one of the pieces of advice – ie to think of others and get involved by volunteering, such as for the Samaritans. I’ll suggest it to Andy Green.

  6. I think it would be good for him to highlight the fact that it’s not just endless telephone calls with distressed people. The Samaritans email and text people too. I didn’t know that until I looked into it. And, the angle of my story: Who helps the Samaritans? My piece was about the help that’s available for volunteers after a particilarly fraught phone call for instance. That’s worth highlighting without frightening people I think.

  7. “Resumé [sorry, I’m a French teacher – I just cannot leave out the accent!] exaggeration” sums it up nicely.

    I do, of course, believe that all the wonderful work the Samaritans and similar organisations do should be highlighted during this and any other week. But the nature of their work should not be simplified [I’m not suggesting for a moment that you or your other commenters are doing so]; it’s difficult and hard work and I admire all who can do it.

  8. Thanks for the accent.

    I agree entirely that PR practitioners should take more care when working with/for charities not to simplify their work. I advocate having real strategic objectives that would take an issue, such as how to attract more volunteers for the Samaritans, and developing the campaign around that to deliver measurable results. To be fair to Green Communications, they are using Blue Monday as a hook and plan to raise money for the charity, which again is a valid objective.

  9. Jill – your example as a journalist shows the value of good “bread and butter” media relations. Negotiating a feature article that highlights a clear issue of relevance to the charity and showing how it cares for volunteers, is great. Also, you are now an informed advocate and able to share your knowledge beyond the immediate column inches.

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