Feeds

People more drunk at weekends, researchers discover

It's science, Jim, but not as we know it

Beginner's guide to SSL certificates

It's open season on Wikipedia these days. The project's culture of hatred for experts and expertise has become the subject of widespread ridicule. Nick Carr christened it "the cult of the amateur".

But what has academia done for us lately? Here's a study from the University of Amsterdam to ponder.

New Scientist reports that researchers for Professor Maarten de Rijke at the Informatics Institute have been recording words used by bloggers, in an attempt to find interesting or unusual patterns. What revelations did the team's MoodViews software unearth?

The team discovered that the LiveJournal label "drunk" becomes increasingly popular each weekend. And around Valentine's Day, "there is spike in the numbers of bloggers who use the labels 'loved' or 'flirty', but also an increase in the number who report feeling 'lonely'."

It gets better.

The team also noticed that on the weekend of the publication of the most recent Harry Potter book, bloggers used "words like 'Harry', 'Potter', 'shop' and 'book'," PhD student Gilad Mishne reveals.

This work really should put the Nobel Prize Committee on Red Alert. Alongside the existing scientific prizes for Chemistry, Physics and Physiology and Medicine, the Laureate Committee should design a new category for the "Bleeding Obvious", or the "Dying Ridiculous". [Perhaps Mishne can get together with the WSJ's elite research squad and see what they can't discover together.]

More seriously, let's look at what this episode teaches us.

Two things are immediately obvious: Mishne's study was considered worthy of academic funding, and it was considered worthy of an article in a popular science magazine.

Wired sub editors smuggle through a spoof (February 2000)

The study doesn't tell us anything we didn't know before: unless you're surprised by the revelation that people get more drunk at weekends, or people talk about Harry Potter books more when a new Harry Potter book goes on sale. The study is really considered funding-worthy and newsworthy because of what's unsaid - the implication that the aggregation of internet chatter will reveal some new epistemological truth.

Alas, as marketers have already discovered to their cost, the deeply unrepresentative composition of internet enthusiasts means that no such conclusions can be drawn. An agency that market-tested a campaign with bloggers and received an enthusiastic response, came to grief when it flopped with the real public. One only need look at the rise and fall of the Howard Dean campaign to see how steep these delusions are, and how quickly they disintegrate on contact with the wider world. Many more similar and expensive mistakes will be repeated in the years to come.

This belief, that there's a "collective conscious" out there we haven't spotted yet because we haven't been looking hard enough (or haven't had fast enough computers), underpins a lot of the sillier technology evangelism today. It should be considered right alongside attempts to teach religious cosmologies on a schools' scientific curricula as part of the same phenomenon. Who can blame the creationists, or supporters of "Intelligent Design", for trying to push their agenda into schools, when you can earn a living doing much the same thing at a grown-up University?

But it also highlights a profound crisis in academia, which isn't simply limited to science.

The traditional model of scientific enquiry is to make empirical observations on the world, and then find a mechanistic explanation that's reproducible and in some way new. (We oversimply crudely - Kuhn's Structure of Scientific Revolutions for example finds many worthwhile contradictions with this view - but bear with us). By contrast, research like this finds nothing we don't already know, which ought to disqualify it from the label research. Unless one is suffering from an acute case of Asperger's, every conclusion here can be explained by psychology, sociology or economics - at a level so basic that a child has no difficulty understanding. So this isn't so much an example of science, but an example of pseudo-science trying to elbow aside other disciplines.

Or maybe there's a much simpler underlying explanation.

Mishne's previous publication, the delightfully titled Leave a Reply: An Analysis of Weblog Comments was conducted with an internet marketing company employee. Mishne has interned at the company, BuzzMetrics, himself. Perhaps the answer is that corporate sponsorship is now so pervasive in academia that what results in place of scientific research are these worthless little tracts of technology puffery. And it's so subtle, that it's only when we come across a real clunker like this, that we notice. ®

Security for virtualized datacentres

More from The Register

next story
Facebook pays INFINITELY MORE UK corp tax than in 2012
Thanks for the £3k, Zuck. Doh! you're IN CREDIT. Guess not
Google Glassholes are UNDATEABLE – HP exec
You need an emotional connection, says touchy-feely MD... We can do that
Just don't blame Bono! Apple iTunes music sales PLUMMET
Cupertino revenue hit by cheapo downloads, says report
US court SHUTS DOWN 'scammers posing as Microsoft, Facebook support staff'
Netizens allegedly duped into paying for bogus tech advice
Feds seek potential 'second Snowden' gov doc leaker – report
Hang on, Ed wasn't here when we compiled THIS document
Verizon bankrolls tech news site, bans tech's biggest stories
No agenda here. Just don't ever mention Net neutrality or spying, ok?
NATO declares WAR on Google Glass, mounts attack alongside MPAA
Yes, the National Association of Theater Owners is quite upset
prev story

Whitepapers

Choosing cloud Backup services
Demystify how you can address your data protection needs in your small- to medium-sized business and select the best online backup service to meet your needs.
A strategic approach to identity relationship management
ForgeRock commissioned Forrester to evaluate companies’ IAM practices and requirements when it comes to customer-facing scenarios versus employee-facing ones.
Reg Reader Research: SaaS based Email and Office Productivity Tools
Read this Reg reader report which provides advice and guidance for SMBs towards the use of SaaS based email and Office productivity tools.
Intelligent flash storage arrays
Tegile Intelligent Storage Arrays with IntelliFlash helps IT boost storage utilization and effciency while delivering unmatched storage savings and performance.
Protecting against web application threats using SSL
SSL encryption can protect server‐to‐server communications, client devices, cloud resources, and other endpoints in order to help prevent the risk of data loss and losing customer trust.