Adam Joinson on the annual conference.
The BPS Annual conference in Cardiff ran across April 1st this year, which prompted The Times to mention our meeting in its leader of that date with the comment that we were ‘always good for a giggle’. But, of the slew of stories to come from the ‘new, improved’ conference this year, giggles were few and far between (unless you count one imaginary story, more of which later).
Part of the reason is that the new format – lots of keynotes and posters – doesn’t tend to encourage newsworthy stories. ‘Established academic restates importance of their own 1972 study’ isn’t a headline you see often, so it’s fair to assume that most of the time keynote addresses don’t make the news. So, not surprisingly, most of the press coverage focused on the posters, which were compressed into a single afternoon on the Friday, making it unlikely that any coverage we did get would stretch across the three days of the conference.
But, despite these problems, there was some excellent coverage of a number of papers from the conference. For instance, David Marchant’s (Hull) poster on thinking about muscles while exercising received extensive coverage in, among others, the Times, Telegraph, Mirror and Independent. Apparently, if you think about your muscle when performing bicep curls, it increases muscle activity. But, if you want to improve performance, you need to think about the end goal when training. For the rest of us, just thinking about doing exercise is probably exhausting enough.
But, assuming that you do manage to summon up the motivation to get to the gym, it’s probably best not to use a satellite navigation (sat-nav) system. Mark Wilson’s research (Manchester Metropolitan University) found that using a sat-nav system leads to significantly more effort  for drivers, and causes more stress. Perhaps not surprisingly the manufacturers of sat-nav devices did not greet the research with universal acclaim. A sat-nav manufacturer interviewed in The Times argued that, unlike a partner, at least a sat-nav system can be switched off. The RAC spokesperson quoted in the Daily Mail accused the psychologists of a ‘Luddite reaction to technological advances’.
More evidence that psychologists are a bunch of technology haters came from the research of Natalie Noret (York St John’s UC) and Ian Rivers (Edinburgh Queen Margaret UC) on bullying, which also received plenty of coverage. According to Noret, 21 per cent of girls, and 15 per cent of boys, have been the victims of ‘cyber bullying’. They also reported that this form of indirect bullying is on the rise.
A certain lack of April Foolery was also noticeable in other work presented at the conference. The findings of Sharon Hichcliff (Sheffield), that 90 per cent of women think that one-night stands are wrong, received almost a full page in the Daily Mail (no surprise there), and also appeared in the Express, Times and Telegraph in some detail.
The Daily Mail also picked up the work of Neil Martin (Middlesex) who reported to the conference that aromatherapy doesn’t alleviate pain or discomfort. The comments to the online version of this story were a treat – one reader noting: ‘The mere fact that yet once more a so-called learned society has rubbished an alternative medicine is a pretty good guide that it is an effective one… In short, listen to patients, not so-called learned researchers, most of whom have an agenda such as protecting its membership and monopoly.’
Finally, we return to the topic of giggles and The Times. One story coming from the conference did have giggle potential – but unfortunately it was make-believe. The Times had been holding part of its front page for a story from the first day of the conference on the psychology of goalkeepers by Dr Richard Mullen (Brunel University). But, according to Simon Barnes in The Times, ‘the good doctor refused to answer questions on the subject and vanished as silently as he had come’. So, instead a full page of The Times contained an imaginary transcript of the symposium session with contributions from various famous ex-goalkeepers, including Camus, Nabokov, Che Guevara and Pope John Paul II.
Increasingly journalists rightly assume that, because the taxpayer funds us, we have a duty to disseminate the results of that funding to an audience beyond our peers. If we abrogate that duty, we risk damaging the reputation of psychology
as a profession.
    Adam Joinson

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