A Whole New Meaning to a ‘Case of the Mondays’

“Blue Mondays” are a sham but Porn Mondays are real.

National Journal
Lucia Graves
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Lucia Graves
Jan. 13, 2014, 10:34 a.m.

Last week, if you were read­ing the apo­ca­lyptic re­port­ing on the so-called po­lar vor­tex, thun­der­snow, and gen­er­al end times in Amer­ica, you prob­ably happened upon a story or two about “Blue Monday,” sup­posedly the most de­press­ing day of the year.

“You’ve fin­ished all the mince pies, the weath­er is ter­rible, Christ­mas ended up be­ing hor­ribly ex­pens­ive and most of us are back to the daily grind,” wrote Sam Webb in the Daily Mail. “So it wouldn’t come as a sur­prise if you star­ted to feel down in the dumps.” There is even a for­mula for Blue Monday (where “w” is weath­er, “d” is debt, “T” is time since Christ­mas, “Q” is time since fail­ing on New Year’s res­ol­u­tions, “M” is mo­tiv­a­tion­al levels, and “Na” is the feel­ing of a need to take ac­tion).

The story was writ­ten up in dozens of pub­lic­a­tions, an oc­cur­rence that’s be­come something of an an­nu­al tra­di­tion since the for­mula was first made up in 2005. It was pushed in a pub­li­city cam­paign by Sky Travel, an ef­fort to get their brand in­to the me­dia in Janu­ary, when people are most likely to start think­ing about book­ing their va­ca­tions for the year.

Ben Gol­dacre, who writes the blog Bad Sci­ence, has been cru­sad­ing against the faux for­mula for years, but he hasn’t quite man­aged to nix the per­en­ni­al cov­er­age. One of the reas­ons, as he told NPR‘s “On The Me­dia” re­cently, is be­cause the ed­it­ors in charge of most news­rooms don’t know the first thing about sci­ence. “They tend to have a good un­der­stand­ing of polit­ics, eco­nom­ics, his­tory, maybe sports,” he said, “but they don’t feel sci­ence in their belly, they have no in­terest in it, and so these sort of silly stor­ies are very easy for PR com­pan­ies to get in­to the me­dia.”

Sky Travel‘s find­ings have been widely con­tra­dicted. One study in Ontario found peaks of sui­cide in spring and au­tumn. A study in Aus­tralia re­por­ted sui­cides are highest in early sum­mer. But that won’t stop re­port­ers from writ­ing up the nar­rat­ive every time Janu­ary rolls around.

The propensity of the me­dia to base a nar­rat­ive on such evid­ence is something An­drew Re­vkin, who writes the Dot Earth blog for the New York Times, has termed “single-study syn­drome;” we saw it again last week with the cov­er­age of “Porn Monday,” sup­posedly the day of the week when people are most likely to look at porn — at least on the site Pornhub.com.

As Will Oremus noted in Slate, the site has done an in­geni­ous job of par­lay­ing its in­tern­al traffic stats in­to “an on­go­ing orgy of main­stream pub­li­city.” A quick Google news search re­veals half a dozen stor­ies about who’s watch­ing porn and why, of­ten with some peg to a ma­jor news event.

A post in The Guard­i­an dis­cusses porn trends in the United King­dom while a post in Poli­cyM­ic fo­cused on “5 Sur­pris­ing Trends in Amer­ic­ans’ Porn Habits.” A story in The Wash­ing­ton Post ob­served that traffic on Pornhub spiked on Jan. 7 and 8, at the height of last week’s po­lar vor­tex. All this simply be­cause Pornhub re­por­ted that on its blog “Pornhub In­sights.”

The site is well aware that its in­tern­al traffic data is con­tent gold for click-savvy journ­al­ists and there’s no doubt that, like the push­ers of Blue Monday, the com­pany is us­ing the in­form­a­tion as a way to get free pub­li­city.

And yet … the pur­vey­ors of Porn Monday have clear journ­al­ist­ic-high ground: the data, while trivi­al and prob­ably un­deserving of cov­er­age, is ac­cur­ate.

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