November 25, 2007

Aftermath of Conservapedia / Homosexual page statistics prank

Here's the readership statistics on my debunking of the Conservapedia Homosexuality story. From my site logs:

Distinct IP's - 4199 update - 2316, plus a few hundred from various BB syndicated feeds
unknown - 504 blog comment - 389 ("pharyngula") blog comment - 126 - 89

It speaks for itself. There's nothing more for me to say that I haven't already said too many times :-(.

Interestingly, the Conservapedia people seem very unconcerned with the prank. It's a good reminder of how there can be very little overlap between groups. While bloggers were hyping and hyperventilating over it, the site's main discussion page is not full of drama. One amusing comment about a jump in (real) site traffic, directly under a short section about the statistics page issue, has:

Looking at the [site traffic rank] spike, I'm wondering if there was any specific coverage of Conservapedia that brought all the traffic here - has anyone seen or heard of anything of the like? Or did we just have a very lucky day? Well, all the hard work put into Conservapedia was more than mere "luck", of course. :)

Why, yes, there has been some specific coverage recently which would drive traffic, I think it's something newfangled called "flogs".

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in statistics | on November 25, 2007 11:59 PM (Infothought permalink)
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Why don't you expand your recurring argument to show more than just stats for your blog. If you want to show evidence for something, you can't just use your own blog as proof, because obviously everyone can write a blog post no one will read, that doesn't serve as evidence for any trend (though of course 4,199 unique IPs is not little at all, but I'm just following what I think is the argument you implied).

Posted by: Philipp Lenssen at November 26, 2007 12:15 PM

Philipp, it's a well-known argument. Look up a post from a few years ago by Clay Shirky on Power Law, which popularized the mathematical issue in the blog world.

Note it doesn't matter, since the deceptive marketers have better PR and successful emotional manipulation (hence why it's an issue in the first place :-( ).

What I'm doing here is examining particular examples.

I really should stop :-(.

Posted by: Seth Finkelstein at November 26, 2007 12:41 PM

Ugh. I took a bad stab at coming up with similar statistics in the New Gatekeepers series years back and got zinged for it. It's tough.

Here's the words I was looking for back then: the confection spreads easier than the correction. (does that not roll off the tongue?) Shankar Vedantam wrote about this in the Washington Post a few months back, and got some bit of press on:

"The experiments by Weaver, Schwarz and others illustrate another basic property of the mind -- it is not good at remembering when and where a person first learned something. People are not good at keeping track of which information came from credible sources and which came from less trustworthy ones, or even remembering that some information came from the same untrustworthy source over and over again. Even if a person recognizes which sources are credible and which are not, repeated assertions and denials can have the effect of making the information more accessible in memory and thereby making it feel true, said Schwarz."

And here we are in the mythosphere...

Posted by: Jon Garfunkel at November 26, 2007 09:34 PM

Don't stop, Seth! this was interesting... D.

Posted by: Delia at November 26, 2007 11:33 PM

> Even if a person recognizes which sources
> are credible and which are not, repeated
> assertions and denials can have the effect
> of making the information more accessible
> in memory and thereby making it feel true

Yes, and even discussing something can have the effect of dilluting it. Though that seems to be in-tune with the journalistic guideline to always present two sides of the story.

Let's say for instance there would be a constant debate in media whether or not red bananas live on the moon, hiding from our telescopes. Newspapers would always quote someone from the Cult of Red Bananas who'd say it's true, as well as a scientist who say there is no scientific basis for this red banana theory. This discussion alone would probably leave many people (not all!) to think, "Oh well, it's one of those undecided things that COULD be true. Probably 40% true or something..." Start polling people for the red bananas theory now, and you might find surprsing results, I guess (it's just a guess though).

This discussion in media then has two effects: first, it can dillute what's actually happening (e.g. "is waterboarding torture?") and, if the topic at hand is not important, it can distract from what is really important (e.g. "Should Paris Hilton party less?").

Posted by: Philipp Lenssen at November 27, 2007 06:05 AM

Philipp-- Yes, good point. Paul Krugman snided at the press back on the eve of the 2000 election that a typical headline would read: "Shape of the Planet: Both Sides Have a Point." (did he know that his fellow columnist was going to create a new Flat Earth society?

Here's to the words of that forgotten press critic who wrote:

"Bending over backwards to report both sides of the story is preferable to bending over forwards to report only one."

Posted by: Jon Garfunkel at November 27, 2007 11:37 PM

Yes. And just to add, as soon as you accept the proposition of just WHAT the discussion is about, you already accepted a side of the overall subject -- because you've been pushed into certain limits of the discussion. Take these hypothetical headlines each presenting, in seemingly neutral fashion, two sides of the story:

"Waterboarding: Some Say It's Good for Minor Crimes, Others Say It Should Be Reserved for Top Terrorists Only"

"Waterboarding of Top Terrorists: Is It Torture Or Not?"

"Waterboarding Torture: Is It illegal? Some Say It Is, Others Say It's Not"

"Illegal Waterboarding Torture: What Punishment Should Responsible Leaders Be Receiving For Having Allowed It? Some Argue Jail, Others Argue Death Penalty Appropriate"

Posted by: Philipp Lenssen at November 29, 2007 07:49 AM

Posted by: Philipp Lenssen at November 30, 2007 07:23 PM

Wow, those statistics are very impressive. That one post gets more traffic than my entire blog. lol

Posted by: Austin at December 14, 2007 11:47 AM