Sentences to ponder, MR fact of the day — who leaves on-line comments?

by on March 15, 2016 at 11:26 am in Data Source, Economics, Education, Web/Tech, Weblogs | Permalink

Americans who leave news comments, who read news comments, and who do neither are demographically distinct. News commenters are more male, have lower levels of education, and have lower incomes compared to those who read news comments.

That is from Dr. Natalie (Talia), Jomini Stroud, Cynthia Peacock, and Emily Van Duyn, via the excellent Laura Miller.

Comments are open on this one, people…

1 wheals March 15, 2016 at 11:29 am

Given the usual level of discourse in news comments, I assume there’s no set that does both.

2 BC March 15, 2016 at 5:45 pm

People that do both must have average incomes.

3 @OzzieDollar March 15, 2016 at 11:30 am

Says you.

4 Moreno Klaus March 15, 2016 at 11:33 am

This conclusion will strongly depend on which newspaper/blog the news is being read no? (BTW: in my experience this is also applicable to non-americans)

5 ibaien March 15, 2016 at 11:35 am

better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and remove all doubt.

6 konshtok March 15, 2016 at 3:26 pm

If you have nothing intelligent to add to the conversation leave a generic qoute

7 Mike Jenkins March 15, 2016 at 11:35 am

Huh? I don’t get it.

8 Alain March 15, 2016 at 12:00 pm


9 ricardo March 15, 2016 at 12:01 pm

Nice one.

10 Hadur March 15, 2016 at 11:42 am

Notably, many of the commenters at liberal media outlets like the Washington Post or New York Times are angry conservatives. However, my friend is a reporter at a very right-wing newspaper, and he reports that most of the people who comment on his stories are angry liberals.

Are commenters largely motivated by a desire to yell at their opponents?

11 anon March 15, 2016 at 11:46 am

xkcd captured it all with “someone is wrong on the Internet.”

Of course maybe editorials, op-ed, and letters to the editor were playing a slower version of the game since forever.

12 Drea March 15, 2016 at 11:50 am

According to the survey, they *say* they aren’t motivated by a desire to debate or argue. But the dominant reasons are “Express Opinion”, “Add Information”, “Discuss with others”. I suspect those are not visibly different than “debate and argue”. The presentation at the link has some useful summary graphs.

13 Owen March 15, 2016 at 1:17 pm

Yes this survey is unscientific and bogus. It has the usual critical deficiencies: grossly nonrandom sampling, high non-response rate, self-reported data. online survey, and very broad population conclusions drawn from unreliable data. How do they get away with this stuff (?), but it’s commonplace in this type of alleged research.

14 tjamesjones March 15, 2016 at 1:35 pm

no doubt it’s poor research, but “unscientific” just demonstrates a misunderstanding of where the limits of science are. science is great for chemistry and biology but for most of the world there aren’t repeatable experiments, clear causality or counterfactuals, there’s just a lot of stuff and a lot of opinion, and argument. Argument isn’t scientific – it might be logical, or thorough, or even have some respectable statistical basis, but science it aint.

15 Owen March 15, 2016 at 6:07 pm

One can speculate that mathematics and its subsets of statistics and probability are not genuine scientific disciplines, but it’s clear this survey claims to present an objective measure of its subject.

These researchers explicitly claim truth based upon “a representative probability sample of Americans”. They do not present this published study as personal opinion or mere argumentation.

All major public opinion survey organizations claim a scientific basis for their products, ultimately resting upon probability sampling.

16 anon March 15, 2016 at 11:42 am

Funny. But a big catch-all spanning social media and apps, all the way down to blogs.

I am surprised that as many as half of viewers (in that big catch-all) comment and read … Facebook and Twitter included? That would explain much.

IMO mass comment sites, like those at online newspapers, are the worst.

17 Drea March 15, 2016 at 11:45 am

This was presented at an interesting SXSW panel. My thought was that these are the people who have fewer channels for their voices elsewhere. Other findings mentioned: Comments are *far* heavier on politics articles than any other topic (voice vs. exit, I figure) and the quality can be improved when authors appear (even lightly) in the comments as well (e.g. answering factual questions). One panelist talked about trying a 3-column layout for comments (1 pro, 1 con, 1 factual questions) and also saw improvement in quality. Measures of quality are unclear. I thought The Coral Project ( was doing interesting things.

18 Sam the Sham March 15, 2016 at 2:13 pm

I browse the comments on, here, and then occasionally certain webcomics or econ blogs. I don’t like the “nested” format of comments, that this blog uses, that I think Reddit uses, and much prefer the chronological, linear format of Fark. Perhaps the nested format wouldn’t be so bad if there were a Pro Thread, Con Thread, and Confused Thread or something.

I’m curious if there are ways of improving discourse on these message boards. The upvoting/downvoting of Reddit seems like it can turn into an echo chamber pretty quickly (bad discourse)… Fark, despite being pretty Democratic, still has contrarians who, as long as they don’t get banned for rules violations (pr0n, etc) have equal opportunity to speak. Fark has the ability to block certain users, but that’s on an individual basis. If I blocked all Dems, I’d get a Rep echo chamber, and vice versa – but that’s not inherent to the system.

I think there’s some merit to the upvote/downvote system in Reddit, just poorly implemented.

19 Steve Sailer March 15, 2016 at 5:03 pm

Check out the commenting system Ron Unz coded for, where I blog. It isn’t intended to be spectacular looking, but it has some subtle but strong ease of use features that other comments sections should consider.

20 Sam the Sham March 15, 2016 at 7:15 pm

I just visited – I THINK I like it. I won’t really know til I see it in action for a while, but so far so good. Thanks!

Other things in message boards: I THINK that User IDs are good for a community – does Nathan W have any protection if some neo-Nazi starts posting using his name, for example?

Topic Churn – I feel MR goes through topics too quickly for good discussions.

Topic Matter – others have mentioned it, but the higher-minded the subject matter, the less frequently you’ll get the Youtube trolls. That, and the community, are what has me reading MR.

21 Anonymous March 15, 2016 at 11:45 am


22 Andrew March 15, 2016 at 12:22 pm

Wow! Godwin’s Law demonstrated yet again, and in record time, too.

23 Nathan W March 15, 2016 at 12:36 pm

The Nazis will tell you you’re just delusional. But then in the same breath some will berate your stupidity for failing to understand the infestation of inferior people and how this may necessitate violence to remove them and deter other inferiors from coming. Thankfully, they do not seem to aspire to global domination these days (either that or they’re really quiet about it).

Like “Nazis? What Nazis? Trump is a middle of the road guy. Just Loves America”, but when shown videos of Nazis who love Turmp wlil change the topic to how some other group is in fact the REAL Nazis (Clinton, Sanders and Merkel being common candidates, along with their supporters).

24 Cliff March 15, 2016 at 1:13 pm

You’ve just made up a whole world inside your head, haven’t you bro?

25 Nathan W March 15, 2016 at 2:12 pm

After a few dozen interactions like that, it seems to me that I’m not imagining things. It would be a better world if I had to make up stuff like that to say it though. Sadly, not the case.

26 JWatts March 15, 2016 at 2:29 pm

Nathan, you started your post with the statement: “The Nazis will tell you you’re just delusional.”

That’s not a rational thought. There are no Nazis on this forum, outside of your imagination.

27 Nathan W March 15, 2016 at 3:14 pm

JWatts – Do you remember John? Strong shall rule the weak, me being a trator to kith and kin and deserving of death for extending sympathies beyond whites, 100% certain confidence in his genetic superiority, a belief that we are moving towards a period of violence that will enforce all such things as the new and better way …

Harding and Peter Shaeffer would easily fit into brownshirts if history brought us in that direction (I easily believe that both would rather achieve their objectives by peaceful means, however), as well as a very angry guy who’s monicker starts with an “a” and sometimes shows up for posts relating to immigration or race. I don’t think Horhe is a Nazi at all, but I think he would easily don a brownshirt as well if history took us in that direction (I would take his protestation to the contrary at face value, were he to offer it). A few other irregular anonymous commenters as well …

Is there really any point in differentiating between a white/arian supremacist and a Nazi? Really, what’s the difference? With Nazis increasingly openly expressing their views on the streets and at political rallies, for practical purposes, what’s the difference between a Nazi and a Nazi in waiting?

Remember a recent kerfuffle about “anti-white” being a white supremacist buzzword, and in most usages demonstrating over-exposure to to white supremacist propaganda? I’ve had a number of debates like that, including in several other forums, which after pushing and prodding settle more or less half into rabid Nazis and half into merely white individuals who resent affirmative action. The first group issues death threats, the second group calls me racist for supporting social benefits for non-whites.

Also, a while back I was trying to learn about what sorts of insanity are going on in the less respectable parts of the right wing, and met a fair few verifiable Nazis on Faux News comments. Like “kill the Jews, kill the Muslims, kill the blacks, kill the liberals, and also kill the traitors who don’t want to kill Jews/Muslims/blacks/liberals” sort of variant. The full fleged variant of Nazi. They could walk straight into 1943 Germany and feel perfectly at home if they could speak the language.

Typical conversation: “Here’s the word choice that suggests to me that you’re heavily exposed to white supremacist Nazi propaganda”. To which they respond “die scum” or “you just wait to see what’s coming, and your traitorous genes will surely not make it through” or some variants thereof. Some asked for my home address so they could be very nice and kind and send me a “Make America Great Again” hat.

I can’t believe we’re seriously debating whether there are white supremacists on the internet. They’re EVERYWHERE, sometimes in greater numbers than in other places. Maybe you just don’t notice because you don’t debate with them. In engaging with racists, I’ve learned a lot about understanding perceived grievances of lower class whites, but, I’ve definitely run into a fair few flat out Nazis. Like, big difference between “I think I’m better than them” or “it’s unfair, they get benefits and I don’t”, and “if you don’t agree with me you should die”.

28 Nathan W March 15, 2016 at 3:19 pm

Perhaps you’re not delusional, but just willfully blind.

Nazis are real. They are getting bolder with every passing month. Slowly, slowly … you didn’t even notice?

29 JWatts March 15, 2016 at 3:38 pm

“With Nazis increasingly openly expressing their views on the streets and at political rallies, for practical purposes, what’s the difference between a Nazi and a Nazi in waiting? … They’re EVERYWHERE, sometimes in greater numbers than in other places.”

Nathan W, you seem to be slipping into Left wing paranoia. You are seeing Nazis where there clearly aren’t any.

30 Art Deco March 15, 2016 at 4:06 pm

Harding and Peter Shaeffer would easily fit into brownshirts

That’s an idiot libel directed at Peter Schaeffer and “Harding” is never not playing mind-games with other commenters.

31 Peter Schaeffer March 15, 2016 at 4:40 pm


My name has a “c” in it. Peter Shaeffer is a different person. The Grand Dragon of the KKK just endorsed Hillary for President. Does that make Hillary a good person or a bad one? Since this thread is notionally about online comments, you really should read the actual study.

What does it really show? 53.3% of comments are from men, 46.7% are from women. Count me unimpressed. In fact, most of the demographic correlations are minimal. Age is an exception (older people are less engaged online). The income and education linkages are complex. People with a high school education were the most likely to comment (33.6%). However, people with less than a high school education were the least likely to comment (19.9%). People with a college degree were more likely to comment (25.3%) than people who just attended college (21.2%).

People with an income over $75K were the most likely to comment (36.3%) and read comments (54.3%). People in the lowest income group were somewhat less likely to comment (34.9%) and much less likely to read comments frequently (18.8%).

To summarize, the study (even if it is correct) just doesn’t say all that much.

32 Charlie March 15, 2016 at 9:32 pm

Your opportunity costs are too low.

33 Nathan W March 16, 2016 at 1:19 am

“You are seeing Nazis where there clearly aren’t any.”

Besides that fact that you summarily ignored what I just wrote, anything else to add? Just because you ignore neo-Nazis does not mean they do not exist. I KNOW they are out there because I confront them, as I mentioned, about half of the time revealing themselves as angry white men with perceived grievances that could be addressed by things like ending affirmative action, and truly horrific people who endorse violence or even killing any and all who are not like them. I’ve received a fair number of death wishes by these types in a variety of forums after confronting their propaganda, including efforts to ascertain personally identifying information.

I wouldn’t go so far as to peg a percentage. But if you cannot see that they are out there, you are willfully blind.

Nazis are real. Observing that fact is not paranoia, it is an exercise in discussion of reality. While we should steer clear of irrtational hysteria, we should absolutely not refrain from discussing this reality.

PS – sorry about the mis-spelling. Personally, I think the KKK Clinton endorsement was a dirty trick to smear her, and also to blunt concerns about previous Trump endorsements. Smart move, but I highly doubt many people will take it seriously.

34 Dude Man March 15, 2016 at 11:46 am

A Straussian reading of this post is that Tyler Cowen is trying to tell those who comment on his site that they suck.

35 anon March 15, 2016 at 12:22 pm

Yes. But he probably realizes that link & commentary blogs are comments themselves. For that matter, is the study itself original, or is it a comment? 🙂

36 Jeff R. March 15, 2016 at 12:56 pm

That includes you!

37 Thor March 15, 2016 at 1:06 pm

Not so. He is reminding us that we are a cut above the rest, and that we should strive to keep it that way.

38 Urso March 15, 2016 at 1:38 pm

Prof. Cowen hasn’t been shy about expressing his opinion that there are too many comments and that many (most?) are useless.

39 Steve Y March 15, 2016 at 11:54 am

Ever since a news comment showed me how to reinvigorate my sex life while making $10,000 a month working from home, I read them all the time. From another comment I put all my savings in an overlooked stock that is going to triple by December, and I won’t have to pay taxes because of a little-known trick. Though I wouldn’t trust the guys selling the pills that make you lose 20 pounds without exercise—that’s a scam.

40 WC Varones March 15, 2016 at 11:56 am

One out of three ain’t bad.

41 Baphomet March 15, 2016 at 12:05 pm

I am not really a commenter, though. Not like you guys.

42 JWatts March 15, 2016 at 12:19 pm

“Americans who leave news comments, who read news comments, and who do neither are demographically distinct. News commenters are more male, have lower levels of education, and have lower incomes compared to those who read news comments.”

Demographically distinct? The numbers indicate there are differences, but they aren’t strikingly different.

Male comment 53% Male read 45% Female comment 47% Female read 55%

What is the margin of error for responses on this survey?

43 8 March 15, 2016 at 12:25 pm

MR is not a news site. Y’all are safe.

44 rayward March 15, 2016 at 12:31 pm

I would point out that there are two categories of comments: comments to blog posts and comments to comments. The latter are far more numerous than the former, not only on this blog but other blogs as well. I’m not sure why. I suppose it depends on the reason for making comments. My view is that this blog is Cowen’s and Tabarrok’s, and they are kind enough to let readers post comments to their blog posts, a (potentially) mutually beneficial exchange that will enrich them and commenters. My view is that comments to comments is a form of trespass, as they often are dialogues between or among commenters, and a contest in who can get in the final word. In the highly unlikely event that my comments may actually influence Cowen or Tabarrok, it’s worth the effort since they are highly regarded economists with an increasing level of influence over public policy. Of course, I will never know if I did influence either of them. In the highly unlikely event I win a debate with another commenter, the only one who may care is my dog because it will make me happy and as a result I will give her biscuits.

45 Nathan W March 15, 2016 at 12:41 pm

You win.

46 rayward March 15, 2016 at 12:44 pm

Carolina sends her thanks.

47 Hazel Meade March 15, 2016 at 1:05 pm

Comments to comments are more common because the probability of receiving a reply is much greater. Original blog authors rarely reply to comments, but commenters on blogs DO reply. So if one is in the mood for a spirited debate, it pays off better to reply to comments, or to write a provocative comment that will generate replies.

48 msgkings March 15, 2016 at 1:11 pm

Exactly. We comment here because we enjoy arguing, and one-upping, and even learning through argument. If you comment here because you think you are affecting anything in the real world, you need a psychiatrist.

49 Urso March 15, 2016 at 1:40 pm

For me, a lot of it comes from the inherent isolation of having a white collar job that involves staring at a screen for 10 hours a day. It’s a convenient place to find someone intelligent to talk to.

50 msgkings March 15, 2016 at 1:48 pm

+1. I don’t mess around in comment sections except here and one other blog. Don’t even read the comments at news sites, the paper discussed above seems right to me.

51 Nathan W March 15, 2016 at 2:20 pm

Say, 2006-2008 I remember learning lots and lots of stuff from a lot of engaged citizens on news commenting sites, particularly in matters of disagreement I think there used to be a very healthy and spirited debate with less partisan colours. But the commenting on the main media outlets has mostly devolved into name calling at best, outrageous lies and misleading innuendo at worst, mostly driven by strong partisan and ideological affiliations. There are still a few insightful people on some main outlets, but they are increasingly rare. I sometimes check to see what kind of propaganda is going around these days though.

Echo chambers have been disastrous for the quality of dialogue online. I think this is the main thing I’ve concluded over the last ten years, and it’s just in the last year or so that this has struck me as patently obvious. People are marching off to a dozen different la la lands, ever more convinced of their virtue, wisdom and amazingness, but truly, ever less in touch with reality. This is not what I thought would come of the internet. I thought everyone would become more informed. Au contraire. We have become more misinformed, for the most part.

52 Hazel Meade March 15, 2016 at 2:59 pm

Agree with both above. I rarely bother with WaPo or NYTimes, and positively avoid CNN or any other major MSM news outlet. In the 3000 comment thread the chance of being able to maintain an intelligent conversation is nil.

Also, from observing the behavior of commenters on such websites, both sides are becoming increasingly disengaged from reality. It reminds me a lot of the early days of the internet, when people would point at some lunatic conspiracy website and go “it’s on the internet! It must be true!” only now, the conspiracy sites are mainstream partisan news sources, and each side has it’s own vast, elaborate conspiracy theory that explains everything and is internally consistent (to themselves). They call this conspiracy theory “history”, and it has nothing to do with actual facts. The left’s version is a bit more sophisticated, but it’s no less about narrative shaping with respect to contemporary debates.

53 Lord March 15, 2016 at 12:47 pm

The busy have no time for it. The educated benefit from broader input.

54 Nathan W March 15, 2016 at 12:54 pm

Some groups come to mind. a) People who want to learn about lots of perspectives, or simply enjoy debating/discussing politics/technology/society/etc. b) SJWs who are looking for people to lynch so they can feel good about their morally self righteous and superior selves, c) Social conservatives who are looking for people to attack for their moral failings, so they can feel good about their morally self righteous and superior selves, d) Advocates of diverse special interests or pet issues, from very moderate to extremists of all stripes, sometimes with an explicit objective to direct/attract others towards the appropriate echo chambers, e) Lonely people who get some connection out of the interaction, f) Angry and mean people who have low self esteem and probably a low quality social life and get to feel good about themselves after bashing others down, which makes them feel relatively better about themselves (probably wife beaters, child abusers and animal abusers are highly over-represented in this group), g) People who are really dumb/uneducated, but don’t know it, and hate interacting with real people because real people make them feel dumb/angry, whereas online they can just ignore contrary evidence more easily and convince themselves that they, in fact, are the smart and wise ones, h) Paid for advocates of political interest groups or parties, who use carefully manipulative messages to engage in character assassination against those who present good argumentation on the “wrong” side of the story and who use carefully manipulative messages to promote their own side of the story (usually imbued with invective against the “wrong” people) i) Paid for advocates of national interests who use carefully manipulative messages to engage in character assassination against those who present good argumentation on the “wrong” side of the story and who use carefully manipulative messages to promote their own side of the story (usually imbued with invective against the “wrong” people), j) People who aren’t really assholes or especially horrible people, but for some reason get kicks out of trolling people online, k) Journalists/writers/academics who are looking for ideas and perspectives and occasionally comment to flush out an idea a bit, l) Politicians who are looking for ideas and perspectives and occasionally comment to flush out an idea a bit, m) Security officials, who are looking for immediate signs of threats and trends/memes which may portend of risks, and occasionally comment to flush out a suspect or assess the risk associated with some new propaganda meme, n) Members of the Illuminati (or whatever other equivalent conspiracy you give 0.1% probability to, summing to probability of 1 given how many crazy groups might aspire to rule the world in 100 years time), who toy with people to see what makes them click with a view to perfecting their manipulative brainwashing and mind control techniques in barely noticeable but highly subversive manners – the Pinky and the Brains of the world, as it were, but the patient ones, whether motivated by religion, ideology or lust for raw power, o) Unemployed people and welfare recipients who just have too much time on their hands, p) Akin to people who just like to hear themselves speak, people who get gratification out of seeing their words/opinions pop up somewhere and don’t actually really care much about the rest of it, and simply like the feeling of validation in so doing (and so probably never check back on the angry stream of commentary they leave in their wake), q) People who think they can influence the editorial position of a newspaper by attacking the integrity of the editorial board and journalists.

Must be pretty close to 99% there.

Almost zero Muslims. Strange. You’d think they’d want to defend themselves against various lies, misinformation and misleading generalizations. I’ve only asked one Muslim WHY in person. He expressed paranoia that if he expressed his moderate perspectives that the Salafists would find out who he was and come kill him and/or his family. I’ve only ever met moderate Muslims, but they are VERY silent online. This voice needs to be emboldened and empowered. However, I can understand that they also don’t like being accused of all the world’s evils, much like it’s annoying (understatement) when SJWs accuse you for all the world’s evils.

Doesn’t suprise me that the less educated are more involved. They are more likely to be unemployed or underemployed and simply have more time (explaining why so many people seem to be on the lookout for someone/something to blame for all of society’s ills, and by proxy, to blame for their situation of un/underemployment).

But most especially, it’s definitely NOT a representative cross-section of society. I think moderates tend to be heavily under-represented. Most people I know in the real world are, I think, pretty moderate on most issues, tilting slightly one way or the other on average, but not very extreme about many things. But online you meet a lot of extremist people who occasionally emerge from their respective echo chambers to express to the world how retarded/evil the rest of us are.

In fact, I tend to assume that there are waaay more non-readers than readers of comments. While my first and main interest in commenting is to learn, it concerns me that gullible people may be persuaded to entertain extremism of various types, and I feel obliged to point out the leaps in logic, outright irrationality and sometimes flagrant lying on the part of extremists who use comment boards as a way to promote their cause and gain new recruits by directing them towards extremist “learning” resources online.

I advocate for a law to require that paid-for commenters should be required to disclose their affiliation. Heavy fines could be used as prize money for people to turn in current or former colleagues and/or employers. I’m not concerned about disclosing the names of people who are paid to do this, rather, the people who pull strings. In a democracy, I think we all deserve to know who is pulling strings (or trying to), but at the same time it is very important to protect anonymity of individual citizens who engage in democratic debate online. No need to hit the poor souls who are paid to troll away, but people/organizations who can afford that can hardly plead poverty when hit with the bill.

55 Thor March 15, 2016 at 1:08 pm

Were you paid by the word? Or is the kind person who usually assists you in cutting down your prolix and repetitive posts taking the day off?

56 Nathan W March 15, 2016 at 2:26 pm

Please be specific if I’m ever repeating myself. I thought it was an interesting question, so I decided to think it through and add my 2c. I can’t imagine that my time was more wasted than yours, despite the brevity of your comment.

I’m not sure whether you belong more in category f) or j). Seriously, wtf is the point of a comment like that?

57 Thor March 15, 2016 at 8:33 pm

Nathan, I apologize for the snark.

I am afraid I don’t fit into your categories. FWIW, like you, I am a Canadian (and — I think — like you, an academic [History]). Like you, I am familiar with ideas and thinkers (and memes) from both the left, right and centre. Like you, I went to a prestigious Canadian University for advanced degrees. But you repetitively lash out at anything you perceive to be right leaning, and apparently wouldn’t know pithy or concise if it reached up and bit you. I shouldn’t have let it bother me. I have research to do and get easily frustrated by seemingly endless posts.

PS — you left out one of the largest groups of commenters, though you know they exist: the SJW crowd, who seek to either hasten their utopias or to compensate for the failure of said utopias to arrive, by commenting.

58 Nathan W March 16, 2016 at 1:27 am

The SJW crowd is the second that I mentioned (b), and for good reason.

I don’t lash out at right leaning stuff. I routinely acknowledge the legitimacy of traditionally conservative economic paradigms in endorsing a balanced treatment of the matter. E.g., “incentives matter, but there’s this reason that intervention can be jusfified due to more nuanced economic reasoning or the existence of social concerns.”

What I oppose is people who try to paint moderates as Marxists, and those who use various forms of strawman argumentation to attack the legitimacy of the other side of the debate. Due to a high frequency of such comments on this board, perhaps that makes me appear as anti-right on this forum. In other forums, I also oppose thinking which is ACTUALLY dogmatically anti-right.

That’s not lashing out, that’s calling BULLSHIT.

59 Jeff R. March 15, 2016 at 1:45 pm


60 Ethan Bernard March 15, 2016 at 2:49 pm

That was fun. What brand of coffee are you drinking?

61 Hazel Meade March 15, 2016 at 1:02 pm

Do blog comments count?

I suspect blog commenters have higher levels of OCD.

62 Rex March 15, 2016 at 1:04 pm

Sounds like the perfect Trump supporter stereotype – interesting

63 JoS. S. Laughon March 15, 2016 at 1:07 pm

My guess is that the kind of people who take the time to make comments on Youtube or a news story are disproportionately outraged. Same thing with Yelp reviews. The person who will go to the effort of logging in is probably pissed about something.

64 anon/portly March 15, 2016 at 1:12 pm

The Ray Lopez effect.

65 Ray Lopez March 15, 2016 at 2:27 pm

I’m in the 1%. But the 0.1% I’ve found don’t even use computers. Maybe nowadays they might use a smart phone to keep in touch with their kids or subordinates, perhaps, but I bet Koch doesn’t even read this site which he sponsors. The rich are like that.

66 Urso March 15, 2016 at 3:27 pm

If I were top .1% I would hope I’d have much better things to do.

67 Kailer March 15, 2016 at 1:33 pm

I only read comments so I can get tips on how to make $500 a day without leaving my house.

68 Doug March 15, 2016 at 1:36 pm

Bipedal land apes, who evolved to live in hunter-gatherer groups of ~200, aren’t properly adapted to an always-on global electronic billion-person network. Color me shocked.

It’s like using a toaster oven to cook a steak. Maybe it’s the only option you got. It kind of works. But damn, it’s not pretty…

69 msgkings March 15, 2016 at 2:27 pm

I read here all the time that evolution didn’t stop 10,000 years ago so why haven’t we land apes evolved to handle it?

Also, are there some sea apes we should know about?

70 JWatts March 15, 2016 at 2:32 pm

“I read here all the time that evolution didn’t stop 10,000 years ago so why haven’t we land apes evolved to handle it?”

The obvious answer is that the “always-on global electronic billion-person network” is less than 25 years old.

71 msgkings March 15, 2016 at 2:35 pm

OK so 25 years is too short for evolution to work. Is 10,000 years also too short?

72 Nathan W March 15, 2016 at 2:45 pm

The people who are busy making babies instead of debating on the internet are the future. Culture or genes?

73 JWatts March 15, 2016 at 2:56 pm

No, it’s not. Lactose tolerance is thought to date from roughly 8,000 years ago.

But I’m not sure why that matters. The rule of thumb for complex mammalian evolution is 20+ generations. Technological humans will tend to alter their environment far faster than evolutionary pressures can have a discernible effect.

74 msgkings March 15, 2016 at 3:05 pm

Thanks, JWatts, makes sense. But that’s sort of my problem with the HBD stance, technology means humans aren’t evolving the way animals do. Mainly birth control. The ‘fittest’ humans, the ones that could (if they were still animals) have dozens of kids (Tom Brady, Bill Gates, whomever you want to put up as an example of a superior human) don’t do it that way. Technology has also changed the ‘survival’ part of ‘survival of the fittest’.

I’m not saying people are all the same, they obviously aren’t. But saying that doesn’t mean much. Any individual of any group you interact with you deal with on the terms of that individual. Or at least you should. HBD is a parlor game but has no real world application.

75 Nathan W March 15, 2016 at 3:30 pm

“The rule of thumb for complex mammalian evolution is 20+ generations”

There is no such rule of thumb. The only rule of thumb is the average rate of mutation at the base-pair level, and all else depends on the existence of an evolutionary pressure. 20 generations aint squat in evolution. A blink of the eye.

However, the case of lactose tolerance is entirely different. Say … we never really needed lactose tolerance before. There’s a bunch of essentially random mutations existing in the population, none of which have any effect on anything relevant to anything. Then, voila! We realize that we can drink cow’s milk. BUT, pulling a number out of my bum, 75% of the population is mildly lactose intolerant, 15% of the population is highly lactose intolerant, and the remaining 10% are basically not lactose intolerant. All that is needed is some distribution of genes across the population, which will even exist for things that never had previous evolutionary relevance.

Now here’s where all the action happens. Food scarcity arrives for whatever reason. We are equally distributing resources, but you are shitting out everything because you’re lactose intolerant and I’m not. You die, I don’t. Or, if you’re a woman, you don’t even have to die, you just have to be skinny enough that you don’t menstruate in such conditions and you have fewer/no children. I pass on genes, you don’t. Soon soon, the population is largely lactose intolerant.

This is a 100% different story from considering rates of evolution in the face of an evolutionary pressure and the “rule of thumb” average mutation rate of base pairs. Why? Because the mutations all happened already, there was a distribution across the population, and selection was on the basis of an existing diversity of otherwise irrelvant (or not hugely relevant) genes, not on the basis of marginal fitness benefits associated with brand new mutations.

76 Nathan W March 15, 2016 at 3:37 pm

msgkings – I think that’s an appropriate counter-HBD perspective.

“If so, who cares? I plan to treat people like people, end of story, and think you should do the same”.

But then, it often turns to the matter of … why pay welfare to inferior people?

Why so much focus on IQ? Why not investigate the genetic basis of teamwork and interpersonal skills? Most of the world revolves around teamwork and interpersonal skills, not solo inventors et al.

Once you’re talking HBD, you’re almost inevitably getting into a eugenics discussion. I understand the pro-argument very well, but once we abandon the “we’re all human and let’s leave at that” in favour of “your deservingness to live or propagate depends on your genetic qualities” … man, I just cannot see how that leads to a world that anyone would actually want to live in. Culturally speaking.

77 JWatts March 15, 2016 at 3:54 pm

“I’m not saying people are all the same, they obviously aren’t. But saying that doesn’t mean much. Any individual of any group you interact with you deal with on the terms of that individual. Or at least you should. HBD is a parlor game but has no real world application. ”

Well yes, I tend to agree. But the HBD people aren’t, trying to control my life. So, for the most part I don’t care. The only issue where they might have some significant external influence is a desire to reduce third world immigration. However, low skilled immigration isn’t compatible with a large welfare state on economic grounds. So, I happen to agree with the outcome, even though the motives are completely different.

At some point in the future, if the US adopts a more rational immigration model based upon preferencing high skilled immigrants, then I might have a reason to “conflict” with an HBD motivated philosophy. However, that’s purely hypothetical.

Also, I’m completely baffled as to how the original comment is considered an HBD comment?

78 FXKLM March 15, 2016 at 3:47 pm

This is a weirdly common misconception about evolution. There is a big difference between an evolutionary process that, over time, tends to create a species better able to survive and procreate in its environment and saying that evolution leads to a species perfectly adapted to its environment. Evolution is just a tendency for random changes to generally favor positive changes. It’s not an iron law that everything is eventually perfected.

79 Nathan W March 16, 2016 at 1:53 am

I would add to that that the enviromental conditions (including society/culture) which constitute the basis of evolutionary pressures are themselves a constantly moving target, further muddying the “perfection” sort of view.

80 Meets March 15, 2016 at 1:37 pm

We are usually trolls on the dark triad spectrum characterized by narcisissm, Machiavellianism, and psychopathy.

81 Sam the Sham March 15, 2016 at 1:50 pm


82 anonymous March 15, 2016 at 1:51 pm

A more interesting breakdown would have been site based. This study doesn’t look at the differences you get in comments between different outlets: the youtube comments section is not the ars technica comment section is not the hotair comments section is not the comments section. There is a particular culture and demographic surrounding each one.

A “good” comments section can provide a lot of things: information, nuance, reflection. A “bad” comments section is the most wretched hive of scum and villainy you shall find. It’s less interesting to look at comments and commenters as a whole than it is to look at sites with a successful comments section and the particular commentariat that the outlet owner desires.

83 M March 15, 2016 at 2:10 pm

Aka, the proverbial “bloke down the pub” who sets the world to rights is now online…

The male bias and low education bias would probably be explained by net commentators tending to be a bit more nonconformist by disposition (which generally means lower education, since education is all about striving within the proscribed course set for you by society), since they’re generally responding critically or imaginatively to a post, and probably more happy firing off an opinion without really checking or thinking about it too hard (non-commentators are a bit more cagey and image conscious, I’d think – more the people who don’t want to venture an opinion for fear of embarrassment and value preserving social status over testing their opinion in public). It’s a bias towards greater social risk taking and towards less status protection instinct (doesn’t mean they / we aren’t wrong 99% of the time).

84 Nathan W March 15, 2016 at 2:40 pm

Even in anonymity, I think the psycholgoy of risk taking and image can be relevant. Unless you’re in an echo chamber and testing basically conformist ideas (a new and amazing argument for why the other guys are such scum and why the in-group is so amazing, say, or how virtuous is the battle being fought by the in-group), it’s basically quite likely that new ideas will be attacked from many angles (all too often in ad hominem manner – anonymity doesn’t bring out the best in people …).

In fact, this is a really good thing if you actually want to test ideas that cross your mind, because you’ll understand how different kinds of people react and sometimes even get a good critique or new information.

What I don’t understand is how it seems to lead so many adults back to grade school level interactions, responding to stuff they don’t like with stuff like “you’re STUUPID” or “you’re a LOOOSER”. I always feel sorry for these people on reflection, because you must be in a pretty bad state to get anything out of that kind of interaction. Other more advanced variants on such themes basically reflect the quasi-brainwashed state of some individuals upon exiting the echo chambers, I think.

85 Jim March 15, 2016 at 5:41 pm

Poor dumb white male reporting in.

86 Thiago Ribeiro March 15, 2016 at 7:44 pm

Americans tendo to be highly opinionated and stubborn, hence their behavior online. Commenting becomes the continuation of war by other means, and commenters feel free to dehumanize, stereotype, insult and lecture people different from them, even if they know nothing about them. The Trumps and Clintons and Bushes! are just a sad outward manifestation of something broken in America’s spirit itself. A gentler America would be a saner America. To be frank, I must say I think the root cause is insecurity: terrorism and economic woes. White Americans (Blacks can’t idealize their forefathers’ circumstances– they can at most idealize their reactions, specially the Civil Rights struggle) think their prospects (and their children’s) are not as good as they would have been a few decades ago. A Trump Administration may be able to allay their fears throught nationalist economic policies and an anti-immigration stance. A stronger America would be a more responsible one, and this is in everyone’s legitimate interest for America remains the “indispensable nation”.

87 B. Reynolds March 16, 2016 at 11:05 am

Makes sense. If I took the time I spent reading blogs and news and instead spent that on improving myself, I’d probably be better off too.

88 GoneWithTheWind March 16, 2016 at 1:51 pm

Interesting. A cabal of five women have determined that the commentors are more likely to be male and of low education and pay. Hmmm. No hidden agenda there. I think in general political comments that do not originate from within the political hierarchy come from people who are not happy with the article. Sure there is a sprinkling of kudos and butt kissing but mostly from people who think that the system is screwing them. And they would be men, with a poorer education and low pay…

89 Thiago Ribeiro March 16, 2016 at 3:57 pm

So the “cabal” is right.

Comments on this entry are closed.

Previous post:

Next post: