Tag Archives: formulae

“Music is great!” says stereo manufacturer, via paid scientist

Mathematical formula finds the number one song to listen to ‘if you wanna have a good time’

A mathematical formula has been created to discover the number one song that will really make you happy – and it’s not by Pharrell Williams.

Queen’s hit, Don’t Stop Me Now, topped the charts after expert in cognitive neuroscience and emotion, Dr Jacob Jolij, sifted through 126 songs from the last 50 years.

Source: Mirror, 17th September 2015

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Queen’s Don’t Stop Me Now is the top feel-good song of the past 50 years… and a scientific formula has proved it

Despite being released 37 years ago, Queen’s Don’t Stop Me Now still has the ability to lift moods and fill the dance floor.

Now a neuroscientist has confirmed the impact it seems to have on listeners with an equation that shows it is the top feel-good song of the past 50 years.

The 1978 hit has just the right tempo, lyrics and is played in the musical key identified as producing a happy feeling.

Source: Daily Mail, 18th September 2015

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Good old scientists – always working on the important stuff, right? Isn’t it amazing that a university would pay a professional scientist with public funds to spend all his time putting together formulae for things like pop songs? Isn’t that what science is all about and why so many people think it’s not something they should value?

Well, obviously, not quite: as ever with PR formulae, the ‘science’ is likely secondary to the PR, with the body commissioning the research using the legitimacy of a scientist’s reputation to give their advert more credibility. In this case, the scientist is Dr Jacob Jolij and the company dressing up their adverts as science is Alba, the stereo manufacturer:

Dr Jolij concocted the formula in a project with technology brand Alba, whose products are sold by Argos.

A survey by Alba found three quarters of people in Britain use music to lift their mood and 54 per cent use it to motivate themselves.

In stories like these, a quick look at the formula is always worthwhile:

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The equation developed by Dr Jolij requires a combination of positive lyrics (L), a tempo of 150 beats per minute (BPM) and a major third musical key (K) to produce the ultimate feel good song (FGI)

So in essence, a song is a ‘feel good’ song if the lyrics are universally positive, if it has a reasonably fast tempo and if it isn’t in a minor key. I’d be astonished if those were findings that were lead by the ‘research’, rather than a conclusion outlined ahead of time which had a formula clunkily retro-fitted to it to make it seem impressive.

PR stories which use a ‘scientific’ formula as a hook come up from time to time, and I’ve covered plenty on this blog in the past. Whenever such stories arise, it’s worth highlighting that for many people, this is what they see of science: the silly PR puff-pieces that appear in the news, involving no real research and paid for by commercial bodies. These are the stories that carry the reputation of science, and these are the stories which leads some elements of the general public to assume that scientists are out of touch, wasting their time and our money on things are are never going to be important. Just take a look to the comments:

If it was real the "scientist" would have used it to write chart topping hits, and make millions (or billions). Every time I read DM I think of the term 'scientist' or 'expert' with less respect.

Each time a scientist accepts a commission from a PR company to create spurious research in order to push a product, a little of the legitimacy and public trust in science as a whole is cashed in. For my money, it’s a waste.

“Nostalgia really is very fun, you know!” says scientist on behalf of tourist board

Remember that old game you used to play with sticks, bridges and rivers? The media had a lot to say about it recently:

Poohsticks formula prompts list of best places to play

A top engineer has devised a formula to aid budding players of Poohsticks – the game first devised by Winnie the Pooh.

The formula uses area, density and a drag coefficient to help competitors find the perfect twig.

It was written by Dr Rhys Morgan, from the Royal Academy of Engineering, and is to accompany a new book called Poohstickopedia.

Source: BBC, 26th August 2015

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Perfect formula for Pooh sticks

A TOP engineer has finally solved the problem of the perfect wood to play Pooh sticks.

The classic game originates from AA Milne’s children’s stories about Winnie the Pooh.

Players drop sticks from the upstream side of a bridge into the river below and see which appears first on the downstream side.

Now Dr Rhys Morgan, of the Royal Academy of Engineering, has devised a formula for the ideal stick to make players more competitive.

Source: Express, 25th August, 2015

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The poohsticks formula that ensures you winnie! Engineer says the perfect stick for the game is thick, dense and as rough as possible

For a Bear of Very Little Brain it may be a little too complicated.

But if Winnie the Pooh were able to get his head round a leading engineer’s work he would find an apparently surefire way of winning at his beloved poohsticks.

Dr Rhys Morgan claims to have found the formula for a perfect stick – which he says should be as thick, dense and rough as possible.

Source: Daily Mail, 26th August, 2015

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A formula for the perfect game of Poohsticks, you say? Sounds legit, Precisely what is this formula?

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So the perfect poohstick is one where the density (in an unspecified unit – kg/mperhaps?), multiplied by the cross-sectional area (in cm2  perhaps?), multiplied by the drag coefficient (in whatever unit that might be measured in).

Which seems odd, as one would have assumed that the lower the drag-coefficient, the faster it would travel in the water, and thus the sooner it would pass the bridge… but an optimally-lower drag coefficient would play havoc with the entire equation. Speaking of which, isn’t it unusual that these three supposedly-crucial parameters (given that no other parameter seems to matter) all have exactly equal importance, unless you get your units mixed up? 

It’s as if this isn’t a real scientific formula at all, but something cooked up as a piece of meaningless PR simply to get the body behind it into the news:

Visit England then compiled a list of the top places around the country to play the classic pastime.

Rebecca Lowe, of VisitEngland, said: “It remains a great way for families to spend time together and enjoy England’s great outdoors – just like Pooh.”

In fact, it’s nothing more than a nostalgia-exploiting attempt by a tourist body to remind us all of the joys of the great British countryside and the rich literary heritage we all share, via the abuse of scientific legitimacy and the minor degradation of the public’s opinion of what it means to be a scientist for a living.

If that weren’t enough, this story took a new twist a few days later, when another body attempted to use the story to secure themselves some positive PR, in a move which backfired terribly:

Don’t lean over, and make sure the bridge is structurally sound: Nanny state spoilsports set out ‘rules’ for a safe game of Poohsticks

Government officials have been branded ‘nanny state spoilsports’ after tweeting out a set of rules for a safe game of Poohsticks – only to delete it minutes later.

The Department for Culture, Media and Sport posted the advice this afternoon but quickly removed it. A follow-up tweet claimed it had been posted in error.

It read: ‘When playing #Poohsticks check bridge sidebarriers are safe height with no large gaps and structurally sound bridges with slow-flowing water.’

Source: Daily Mail, 28th August 2015

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The Department of Culture, Media and Sport really put their foot in it with their nanny-state interference, right?

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Either that, or they lightheartedly decided to jump on the bandwagon of a national puff-piece story during silly-season, and were shamed into retracting things. No, it has to be the first of those, because the government is an interfering nanny-state, isn’t it? At least, that’s the angle of the Daily Mail piece, complete with outraged quote:

Jonathan Isaby, chief executive of the Taxpayers’ Alliance, said the tweets were evidence of the overbearing insistence on over-the-top health and safety measures by the government.

The Taxpayers’ Alliance – the reliable rent-a-gob for all of your small-state needs. On the plus side, at least VisitEngland’s story got twice as much coverage as they’d planned.

So, to recap: a tourism board hires a scientist to create a dodgy faux-formula to invoke some nostalia-bait headlines, the media run with it, a government body decides to bandwagon onto the fun and then an anti-government body decides to bandwagon onto the government’s bandwagoning.

And to think that people are nostalgic for when the media covered real news.

“Children’s bedtime storybooks are important “, says book retailer and holiday company

The last few weeks have been a curious time in children’s bedtime story news. First off we had the Telegraph and the Independent reporting on the bedtime phenomenon that’s scientifically-designed to send your child to sleep in no time:

Bedtime phenomenon: scientist develops book to send children to sleep in minutes

The Rabbit Who Wants To Fall Asleep uses psychological techniques to send children to sleep quickly

For most authors the prospect of their books sending readers to sleep would be horrifying.

But the latest publishing phenomenon which is topping the Amazon charts is a book which promises to do just that, at least for children.

The Rabbit Who Wants To Fall Asleep, has been created by Swedish behavioural psychologist and linguist Carl-Johan Forssen Ehrlin and is currently outselling Harper Lee’s Go Set A Watchman and Paula Hawkins The Girl on The Train.

Source: Telegraph, 15th August 2015

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The Rabbit Who Wants to Fall Asleep: Psychologist develops bedtime book to send children to sleep in minutes

The book has shot to the top of Amazon’s best sellers list after being embraced by parents

Every parent of a young child will be familiar with the daily struggle of trying to coax an energetic child into going to sleep.

A psychologist has claimed that he may finally have the answer to the age old problem and has developed a new book scientifically designed to send children to sleep within minutes.

Since going on sale, The Rabbit Who Wants to Fall Asleep has rocketed to the top of Amazon’s best sellers list.

Source: Independent, 15th August 2015

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And of course, by ‘scientifically designed’ we mean put together by a scientist willing to lend his name to a promotional exercise for an international book retailer:

The book was publishes using Amazon’s CreateSpace system.

Alison Forrestal, Director of Books and Entertainment Media, Amazon UK said: “This book has been a word of mouth phenomenon. Carl-Johan took the opportunity to independently publish and has now reached parents and children all over the UK.

“This is the first time an independent author has taken the number one position in our print books chart and ‘The Rabbit Who Wants To Fall Asleep’ is currently outselling big releases like The Girl on a Train and Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman. It’s a great achievement and we, like many families across the UK, hope there are many more books to come.”

If that weren’t odd enough, a fortnight later the Daily Mail and the Telegraph (again) ran a follow-up, this time crediting science with having derived the formula for the perfect bedtime story:

Recipe for perfect bedtime story: Ideal tale lasts eight and a half minutes and includes a dragon, a princess, a wizard and a fairy, research reveals

The perfect bedtime story lasts eight-and-a-half minutes and includes a dragon, a princess, a wizard and a fairy, research reveals.

And such knowledge might just come in handy because the survey also found that parents spend a total of one week a year trying to get their children to go to sleep.

While the ideal story lasting eight minutes and 36 seconds might have traditional elements, such as the backdrop of a castle, the hero should carry a thoroughly modern mobile phone as well as a magic wand.

Source: Daily Mail, 28th August 2015

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The secrets of the perfect bedtime story revealed

The ideal bed time story should be just 8.6 minutes long, feature a dragon, a fairy and a wizard and be set in a castle, new research has revealed

Many a parent has melded the literary greats with the themes of Hollywood blockbusters to create bedtime stories to tell their young ones.

But now the formula for the ultimate bedtime tale has been revealed for the first time.

A new study of 2,000 parents and their children has shown that the ideal story should last just 8.6 minutes long.

Source: Telegraph, 27th August 2015

Yet more bedtime science! I’m not sure when the world became awash with experts in the field of children sleeping, but August 2015 will truly go down as a landmark date for great advances in this particularly niche science. Either that or it will be noted for the time that one company jumped on the back of a PR push by another company, and science got taken along for the ride.

So who came up with the recipe for the ‘perfect bedtime story’? We know it wasn’t noted ‘storytelling expert’ Alex Charalambous, who has this to say:

Story-telling expert Alex Charalambous said: “As your child prepares to go back to school after the holidays, it’s a good idea to establish a steady bedtime routine that includes reading a story. As the research shows, the familiarity of a classic tale draws children in and the happy ending makes for a pleasant night’s sleep.

It seems an odd point to start from in bringing up, a propos of nothing, preparation to go back to school after holidays, and the importance of routine. What does that have to do with the perfect bedtime story? Well, as it turns out, everything:

The study, by holiday camp company Butlin’s, as part of their new ‘Just for Tots’ breaks, highlighted how difficult mums and dads find getting their children to sleep when they start school again following the summer break.

This is a PR campaign by Butlin’s – in fact we can see it all over their website.

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What have bedtime routines and bedtime stories got to do with a holiday company like Butlin’s? The answer, of course, is that their ‘Just For Tots’ holiday range includes bedtime stories for your child, all the way through the holidays, so you don’t have to worry about establishing a new post-holiday routine.

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If you think that seems a far-fetched hook for a national news story, let the obligatory spokesperson quote clear things up for you:

Dermot King, managing director of Butlin’s which commissioned the research, added: “With our dedicated Just for Tots breaks we already aim to cater for the under-fives in every way possible, whilst ensuring parents can spend as much time with their children without any added stresses.

“To make sure bedtime is as much of an event as the rest of the day, we’re lending out these clever story boxes on resort, giving parents the tools to engage their little ones fully at bedtime, and ensure they nod off in preparation for another action filled day.”

And that, boys and girls, is how if you wish really hard on the right star you can turn your self-serving advert into national news. Good night.

“There’s an ideal way to make pancakes!” says frying pan retailer

You know those boffins? You know the ones, those zany, crazy nerdo-types who have this bafflingly-square obsession with boiling down the world into mathematical formulae and scientific squiggles? Those ones that absolutely definitely exist and aren’t just a marketing construct from a PR industry hell-bent on conferring a forced legitimacy onto the worthless and vacuous façades they manage to hide their adverts behind?

You know those ones? Them? Well, they struck again on Pancake Tuesday:

Flipping clever! Formula for the perfect pancake revealed by maths boffins (but we’ll still end up with ours stuck to the ceiling)

If you are one of the thousands of Britons planning to flip a pancake or two on Shrove Day tomorrow then your work just got made a whole lot easier.. or harder, depending on your grasp of science.

The formula for the perfect pancake mix has been revealed as 100 – [10L – 7F + C(k – C) + T(m – T)]/(S – E), and was developed by mathematicians at the University of Wolverhampton.

Source: Daily Mail, 11 February 2013

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Well, University of Wolverhampton, I’m glad you decided to spontaneously study what it would take to come up with the perfect pancake, and I’m glad the answer was such a simple and common-sensival – yet scientific-looking – formula. 

Retailer Debenhams unveiled the mathematical formula for the perfect pancake – claiming in the process to be able to eliminate sub-standard crepes across kitchens forever.

…or not. In fact, this was a simple press release from a department store, timed to make headlines around pancake day.

Even more revealing is the fact that this isn’t even a new piece of formulaic nonsense, with both the Telegraph and the Daily Mail running the exact same formula back on Shrove Tuesday 2009:

Formula for perfect pancake unveiled by scientists

Dr Ruth Fairclough, a mathematics professor, has cooked up a complicated formula for the perfect pancake – just in time for Shrove Tuesday.

Dr Fairclough, a lecturer of mathematics and statistics at Wolverhampton University, has plotted the pancake’s creation down to the last detail.

She says the frying pan’s temperature is one of the most important parts, together with the preparation of the tasty batter.

However, the secret recipe in full is: 100 – [10L – 7F + C(k – C) + T(m – T)]/(S – E) with the closer you get to a 100 – the better the pancake.

Source: Daily Telegraph, 24 February 2009

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At the time, this important piece of cutting-edge research was released on behalf of supermarket chain ASDA:

Meanwhile Asda has seen a 13 fold increase in the number Non Stick Aluminium Frying Pan – perfect for Pancake Day.

While the formula may be relatively legitimate, it’s also almost certainly woefully simplistic and derived not so much on lengthy research, but more likely derived from their being a space in the press release that ASDA pimped around universities looking for someone willing to insert some scientific-looking numbers and letters. 

So, four years later, why would Debenham’s pretend they’d just found a formula for the perfect pancake?

Lizzie Singleton (Spokesperson for Debenham’s): ‘Coupled with the right frying pan, following this formula will result in perfect pancakes all round!’

‘Simplifying the science behind this formula, our customers can have perfect pancakes tonight.

‘The golden rules seem to be to have a good pan at 377 degrees, have zero lumps in the mixture, and leave the batter to stand for 30 minutes before cooking, making sure the pancakes are eaten straight away – that seems simple enough.

Or to put it another way, as taken from the press release:

The Jamie Oliver Tefal pancake pan is available exclusively at Debenhams in all stores nationwide and online at Debenhams.com priced at £30.

Do you like pancakes? Then Debenham’s say they can sell you the pan to make the perfect pancake! It’s enough to make you flip…

“Scientists find the formula for the perfect pint!” says pub chain who paid those scientists

What factors go into creating the perfect beer? It’s an age-old question, if you believe The Sun and the Daily Mail, who both declared the search for the ultimate tipple was over, after scientists (or ‘Beer Boffins’ according to The Sun) discovered the formula to creating the perfect pint:

How to pour the perfect pint: Scientists devise complex formula for ale lovers (though following it after you’ve had a few could be tricky)

Scientists claim to have cracked the code of every drinker’s dreams – what makes a perfect pint.

Based on surroundings, music volume and the number of drinking partners, researchers have devised a formula that can calculate what makes a perfect pint for any given individual.

The equation also takes into account the availability of snacks, the ambient room temperature, and the number of days until you are required back at work.

Source: Daily Mail, 19 October 2012

Scientists discover formula for the perfect pint… And they had supped around 1,000 drinks along the way!

BEER boffins reckon they’ve finally discovered the secret of the perfect pint

For centuries, Brits have debated what it is about a favourite tipple that makes it stand out from the rest. Now experts reckon they have finally cracked it – after asking 1,000 volunteers around the country to take part in a mass survey for brewers Taylor Walker.

The result is a mathematical formula that takes into account everything from pub ambience to the time of day and what snacks are available in your local boozer at the time you consume the pint.

Source: The Sun, 19 October 2012

So far, so good – and the formula produced certainly looks like science: 

E = -(0.62T2 + 39.2W2 + 62.4P2) + (21.8T + 184.4W + 395.4P + 94.5M – 90.25V) + 50(S + F + 6.4)*

But what does this actually mean? Handily we’re provided a helpful key:

T = The ambient temperature in degrees Celsius 

W = The number of days until you are required back at work

P = The number of people with whom you are drinking 

M = Related to your mood whilst drinking the pint 

V = Related to the volume of the music being played

S and F are related to the availability of snacks and food.

Decoding the formula, we can see that the ‘beer boffins’ have concluded that the perfect pint occurs when a drinker is in pub is of ambient temperature with snacks available, where the music isn’t too loud, with lots of people around (but not too many), at a time when the drinker has a large number of days until having to go back to work.

Those beer boffins, how DO they do it?

Still, that said, just because the formula matches what we might come up with ourselves with a moment to think about it, doesn’t make it false, right? Well, no – but it might make it irrelevant, especially if the source was less than genuine…

The complex formula was devised after researchers polled 1,000 volunteers from up and down the country on what conditions they preferred when drinking their pint.

Dr David Lewis, who calculated the formula at Mindlab on behalf of pub chain Taylor Walker, said: ‘Following all of our research we developed a formula for the perfect pint.

In fact, the formula was commissioned by a pub chain – presumably to then declare that they not only know how to make the perfect pint, but that a pint in their pub is scientifically guaranteed to be the perfect pint.

As for the survey of 1,000 volunteers from up and down the country – the article certainly makes it sound like these volunteers had to visit many pubs, sample many drinks and really put themselves through their paces before offering their opinions, doesn’t it? After all, as The Sun declared:

…and they had supped around 1,000 drinks along the way!

So what was the research methodology carried out by these scientists? It was… an online poll via friends of the site OnePoll:

So much for volunteers, and so much for legitimate research.

And what of Dr David Lewis, the scientist behind the research? What role do they, and their so-called ‘Mindlab‘ play? How much legitimacy do we have there?

At Mindlab International we provide cutting-edge insight into the behaviour of individuals in a wide range of situations.

Our proprietary Neurometrix2 technology will allow you to make better informed business decisions, improve sales and enhance brand efficiency.

In other words, Mindlab may be scientists, but they’re very clearly also a brand and market research company, masquerading behind the banner of scientific legitimacy. And they have form – from this year in the Daily Mail alone:

The point here is clear – while the formula Mindlab were paid by a brewery to come up with may describe reality, and may fit in with what we know, that doesn’t make it real science. When the source is so clearly commercially-motivated, and the goal is to achieve publicity, discussing the merits of the research is to be taken in by the smoke and mirrors of the trick. The only story here is that Taylor Walker and Mindlab wanted to get headlines, and they succeeded.