Saturday, March 12, 2011

A Science Junkie Trawls the Internet

Here's a great article from Andrea Kuszewski in Scientific American:
You can increase your intelligence: 5 ways to maximize your cognitive potential
It's Scientific American! The chances of it being hucksterism are very low!

If you want to skip the explanations and get to specific advice on how to increase your IQ, scroll down to the second half of the article. The basic principles Ms. (Dr?) Kuszewski outlines are:
1. Seek Novelty
2. Challenge Yourself
3. Think Creatively
4. Do Things The Hard Way
5. Network
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I've often idly wondered if, by digging things up and putting them in our museums, we're inadvertently destroying the historical record of our planet for whoever inhabits it thousands of years from now. That is to say, what will archaeologists of the future have left to dig up after we've unearthed (and allowed to decay) everything that was down there originally?

The answer? Lost shipping containers! Anything that gets shipped can potentially be lost, and a lot of shipping containers do fall off their boats and sink. Just think what Easter-egg-like prizes are waiting for future archaeologists on the ocean floor right now--tractor engines! Microwaves! Ikea lamps! Enough Lego to build a life-sized rocket out of!

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How does fire behave in zero gravity?

The short answer? Like this:

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And finally, this is an insightful article about what it takes to create and foster a healthy online community.

The takeaway point for me is the assertion that when you have an invasion of trolls, or a flame war, or simply a toxic, tiresome environment in your comments section, that's not simply the nature of the internet--it's a filter failure.

And me reading this today is serendipitous timing, because I had been thinking about the commenting system on Gawker and its related sites after reading this article in Persephone Magazine.

I like the Gawker sites, and in general I think their filter system works. New users have to earn a "star" from the moderators by leaving comments that are intelligent contributions to the discussion. Until you have your star, your comments are only visible to those who click a link specifically to see the contributions of un-starred commenters.

In this way, the site filters out trolls and weak commenters, and the discussion section is usually pretty entertaining, with fewer people in it who break your brain.

The problem is the Gawker site Jezebel, which is supposed to be a sassy, feminist site for women. In addition to its strong articles, the site has a lot of awesome, eloquent commenters, but it has also accreted a subset of angry, unforgiving people who make reading the comment section so unpleasant that I've simply stopped doing it. I mean, I am a feminist, but I'm also a nice person, and I don't find it fun to see someone buried under a dogpile of vitriol for not toeing a very narrow party line. (I also don't want to dispute the treatment and risk being the person at the bottom of the dogpile. It's just the internet; it ain't worth the heart-ache.)

So how did Jezebel's filter fail? Well, based on this exchange, probably because its filter relies on a set of moderators, and a subset of them were angry, unforgiving people too. The site got the commenters it(s moderators) deserved.

Is it possible to fix the comment section for a site? Probably, but I doubt it's easy. Once a culture has been established in a place (whether that's a local pub or an internet forum), it tends to attract people who like that culture and repel those who don't. Plus, the ones who do like what they've found will self-police to maintain that status quo. We all like having a place to fit in.

Which brings me to say something I should say more often: I'm very thankful for all of you, because I really like the kind of commenters I get on this blog. You're all intelligent, funny, and very kind to one another. Thank you all, very much, for being awesome. :-)

Author website: J. J. DeBenedictis

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