A blog about science, medicine, media and the ramblings of Irish hack....

Friday, June 17, 2011

Happiness is..... measured in units of 1/K apparently...

 Good news everyone! A formula by the evident polymath Cliff Arnall PROVES today is the happiest day of the year. The story has been published in several publications which ostensibly purport to be newspapers, so it must be true right? Arnall's modesty is endearing - “Whether it’s a sunny day, a childhood memory, or something as effortless as eating a delicious ice cream, I wanted my formula to prove the key to happiness can really be that simple.”  This is incredible, and opens up all sorts of new avenues for research. In much the same way as Max Planck didn't realise the paradigm shifting implications of his quantisation of energy levels, Arnall does not yet see the true importance of his work. So let's get to work immediately!

A formula for happiness so important it by-passed peer review!

Let's get to work immediately. First thing to do is ascertain just what are the units of happiness ? Dr. Arnall must have accidentally overlooked this part, but no worries, we can do a swift dimensional analysis and calculate them for ourselves! But what exact units do you measure being outdoors, in nature, or engaging in social activity in ? Or childhood memories ? Or harder still, holiday expectation ? Perhaps Dr Arnall overlooked a few things. It's not a problem - we'll assume that being outdoors and in nature are binary conditions, so either 0 or 1. Social interaction is given by a cardinal number of people you interact with. Childhood memories is a constant depending on your memories types - 1 for good memories, 0 for no memories, -1 for bad memories. Temperature is measured in Kelvin, but holiday expectation isn't as clear. However, for the formula to work the units on the bottom of the equation must match so we'll assume is the anticipated summer temperature. Plugging all this in leads us to finding number one.

FINDING NUMBER 1 - The units of happiness or K^-1, or 1/K.

The units are clearly inverse temperature units, or 1 / Kelvin. However, the new unit needs a proper title. A friend suggested happiness is measured in puppies so 1 puppy = 1 K^-1. This stunning piece of science leads to a staggering counter intuitive finding

FINDING NUMBER 2 - Happiness is INVERSELY proportional to temperature

The hotter it is, the unhappier we are. As temperature approaches absolute zero we become infinitely happy.

Fascinating. But the most useful application of the scale is that it allows us to compare expected happiness values! So let's take a few scenarios and contrast them to see the staggering predictive power of the formula. Let's take a simple case, and make some basic assumptions about the temperatures etc..remember to use units of Kelvin,  as using Centigrade of Fahrenheit will mess up the final answer. 

 So going for a hike with some friends is approximately a centipuppy of happiness. What about fighting the Vietnam war with a platoon of 57 men ? 

This just proves what we've suspected all along but could never prove... torching a village is Vietnam is ten times happier than going on a nature hike! And even better, being executed in a soviet Gulag is even happier again!

Of course the more astute reader (or any reader with more brain activity than a starfish) will have noticed this formula is total nonsense, and indeed Ben Goldacre has written before about this very media whore / insult to science.   This particualar serving of tripe was written and reguritated to increase sales of Walls ice-cream. On one hand, it's quite amusing that some people actually believe this but in reality it does a greater dis-service to real science by implying to the public that this passes for real research. This has the net effect of clouding what science is really about and gives the impression that the majority of scientific pursuit is whimsical and out of touch. The reality is quite the opposite but to be fair, the papers that run this kind of tripe tend to be the same that open articles with lines like "Boffins believe..." or "Eggheads have discovered...." which already makes it clear what kind of attitude they have to science, reasoning that it's some irrevelant archaic and arcane practice rather than a system of understanding everyone can get something from.

I'm taking bets the Daily Star will run this again next year though...

1 comment:

  1. Oh thank you ! That made me so happy , ( a whole puppiesworth , in fact ).


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