(Not) the most depressing day of the year

According to MSNBC, which has journalistic : apparently today, January 24, is “statistically” the most depressing day of the year. I love the “model” that Dr. Cliff Arnall (a “specialist in seasonal disorders” at the University of Cardiff, Wales) devised to calculate this phenomenon:

bunch of crap

I decided to try this formula out, but I quickly ran into a few snags. Being a reasonably intelligent person, I’ve filled in the blanks using Google and a little induction.

So first I tried to substitute for W, or weather. But what is the correct unit? One could postulate that the intended value is temperature in Celsius, so that yields (today) about -5 C. Then take my debts and subtract my salary. Let’s say that I have about $10,000 in student loan debts, about $5,000 in car loans, and $300,000 in mortgage. Leaving out credit cards for a second, that’s $315,000 for big D. And of course right now little d is 0. So the second term is $315,000. So we add that to W… and get -5 C + $315,000, since you can’t add temperatures and dollars.

But hey, just for kicks: let’s postulate that one unit of Celsius is worth $24.84. Why? Because for every degree Fahrenheit ((°F – 32)*5/9 = C) you lower the temperature in your home, you save 2-3% of your total heating bill; so for each unit of Celsius, you should realize 5/9 * 2.5% = 1.38% of your total heating bill. And with oil prices the way they are, my total heating bill this year will be about $1800, so that’s $24.84 per degree Celsius. So on a day like today, with the temperature at -5 C, W is -$124.20, meaning that the first term is $314,875.80. Do these numbers make you wish for a recommended finance site yet? Don’t worry you are not alone. Let’s keep going.

(Of course, this calculation would be totally different if you lived in a part of the country that was fueled by gas, or had a bigger house, or if the price of oil should fall through the floor. But as long as we’re going along with this ridiculous steaming pile of horseshit hypothesis, we’ll continue pulling numbers out of our asses working with the conditions at hand.

So then. The next term in the equation is time since Christmas. Now, it’s been 30 days since St. Nick dropped off his presents. Except in the Ukrainian tradition it’s only been 13 days since Christmas was celebrated (on January 7). So assuming we’re not Ukrainian for a second, we substitute 30 for T, and get 9,446,274 dollar days for the product of the first two terms.

Now we get to Q, or time since failed quit attempt. This one, frankly, is a poser. I haven’t tried to quit anything recently and haven’t had any failures accordingly. But let’s say for the sake of argument that I pledged not to be a smartass yesterday, so my Q would be 1 day (since I’m failing to uphold that pledge in spades in this post). So multiplying that, we get 9,446,274 dollars days squared.

At this point, I should confess that I’m concerned about the units and where they’re all going to go.

The last two numbers are even worse. M is supposed to be low motivation levels and NA the need to take action. You know, I’m feeling pretty damned unmotivated right now, since neither of those numbers shows any signs of having the right dimensions to solve our quandry. Ideally, between the two terms in the denominator, you would see a combination of units like (dollars days squared divided by depression index), so that you would end up with depression index in the numerator when you worked everything through. Instead, you’ll end up with dollars days squared divided by motivation and need. Does that sound like depression to you?

Don’t forget that the formula predicts you’ll be substantially less depressed today if you’re Ukrainian. Or that your depression will increase, all other things being equal, until it reaches a maximum on December 24. Or January 6, if you’re … you get the drift.

The point? This weekend, there was a conference at the Berkman Center on Blogging, Journalism and Credibility. If you were to take this one piece of “journalism” from MSNBC, you’d find it fails every possible credibility test: the formula is impossible to interpret or verify, and there is no context (other than a few quotes from PR spokesmen and a random physician) in which to judge Arnall’s credibility. A link to a paper, a biography, or something would be helpful to allow people to judge the truth for themselves.

But I guess it was too much for them to Google him and find his instructor’s bio at Cardiff, which states that he is a “health psychologist specializing in confidence building and stress management.” Hmm. Yes, I feel more confident already.