When does Robert Cottrell just stop reading? (from the comments)

I considered the question of when one should just stop reading, and here is Robert’s take:

I read full-time to edit The Browser, and I abandon a hundred articles for every one that I finish. I generally stop if I hit “eponymous”, or “toxic”, or “trigger warning”, or “make no mistake”. Summary labelling of anything in an article as “complex” means that the writer does not understand or cannot explain the material. I don’t often read beyond headlines that use the words “surprising”, “secret”, “really”, “not” or “… and why it matters”. Any headline ending in a question mark is a bad sign. I know writers don’t usually write their own headlines, but the headline represents a best effort to say what is useful in the article by a sympathetic person who has been paid to read it.

Robert is one of the best readers I know.


I'd add "mark my words, [prediction]."

I learned the difference between good and bad writing while clerking for a state justice. No, not his writing, but the lawyers who submitted briefs. On the whole, dreadful, the usual mistakes way too many issues raised and way too long. When I went to work at a large firm with a highly regarded appellate practice, I wasn't surprised to learn that the head of the appellate department had a three and twelve rule: no more than three issues and no more than twelve pages. Mark Twain is credited with this quote: "I didn't have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead."

I stop at "open letter to my daughter" or any "open letter."

Did you draft the headline to keep him from reading the post?

Obviously Robert is not a speed reader, which science tells us does not exist. If he was, he'd read all 1000 articles.

Bonus trivia: a "Reader" in Australian uni parlance means a sort of associate professor by US/UK standards. I used to think it meant a good student who is not quite a professor but reads a lot.

Is that what we call lecturer in the US?

Nitpick, but I think you mean the UK. In Australia it goes lecturer/senior lecturer/associate professor/professor at all universities I'm aware of.

Reader is at the same rank as associate prof but more prestigious because of high research standing and is rarely awarded.


For what its worth I lose interest if I read the words "The perfect storm" which Is usually from a CEO copping out, or hear someone talk about "synergies"

Interesting site. Seems borderline criminal to charge fees to see a list of links to other people's work. But hey, go enterprising spirit.

But Robert is "one of the best readers" Tyler knows! (Whatever that means.)

Robert who?

I stop reading when I see the words "Huffington", "NY Times", "Washington Post", "Andrew Sullivan", etc.

Me, too, but add to that list, "news," "information," "opinion," "journal," "study," "research," and "evidence," "etc., etc."


But so long as they inform me that it's "unbiased" or "fair and balanced", I take close notes on the truth and scour the internet for any sources which disagree with the unbiased source, so as to cull any sources which will bias me.

They subvert the "news" to advance their speculations, narratives and opinions. Everybody is entitled to their opinion. You need to understand that opinion is not truth. Plato wrote said that.

The facts (who, what, where, when, how, how many, etc.) belong on page one, two, and so forth. Opinion, propaganda and speculation belong in the editorial pages. Most of the media has it the opposite.

The media is 90% one-sided (censorial), fabrication, omission, distortion, exaggeration (blowing out of proportion minutiae) repeated over and over.

On further consideration, the left's opinions, propaganda, and speculations belong in the funny pages.

Its not so much charging for the links, but charging for the right links.

Its like the old joke:

A man's car is running poorly. He takes to the mechanic, who opens the hood, looks at it, listens puts his head under the car, walks around, for about fifteen minutes. He pulls out his screwdriver and turns a single screw a single rotation. The car starts running fine.

The mechanic hands the bill to the customer. $200.

What?? says the customer? $200 to turn a screw?

The mechanic rewrites the bill: Turning screw, $20. Knowing which screw to turn, $180.

If you want free links, use Google. If you want high quality links, use The Browser (or longreads or longform).

I wonder if anyone who uses the phrase "going forward" has ever said anything worthwhile? It is one of those management-speak terms that means I cease to listen. Perhaps unfairly.

I also should like books that contain the phrase "..... that changed the world". But the conceit is getting to me. I get it that marketing needs to make idiots think that this is a topic worthy of reading. You probably wouldn't be published if you dared to suggest someone who is so dim they need to be convinced of the importance of, say, cod, is probably not your target audience.

Stupid people outnumber smart people by a very large margin. If you don't believe that, you'll be surprised who wins the Presidential election.

I don't know how he could have won. I don't know anybody who voted for him.

I was surprised who won. The last two actually.

I was rather more surprised by the two previous to those.

"Stupid people outnumber smart people by a very large margin."

Ummm, okay.

The smartest 2% of the population has a really hard time getting along with the other 98%.

The people who believe themselves to be the smartest 2% of the population have trouble listening to anyone who disagrees with them.

It must feel good finally to be in the majority.

How do you define "stupid" and "smart"?

If they are "below median" and "above medium", then the number of smart people equals the number of smart people.

If we believe the bell curve thing, the same statement applies for average instead of median.

See Carlo M. Cipolla's "Basic Laws of Human Stupidity" for helpful guidance: the Third (and Golden) Basic Law states: "A stupid person is a person who causes losses to another person or to a group of persons while himself deriving no gain and even possibly incurring losses."

"Zombie". "American dream". "Special". "Founding Fathers". "Social Justice". "Only in America". "Great British". "Nation Building". "Dow Jones".



In any non-technical discussion "modify my/your priors".

Yes, headlines ending in a question mark are a bad sign. Betteridge's law of headlines is an adage that states: "Any headline that ends in a question mark can be answered by the word no." (Wikipedia)

I'm a Browser subscriber. They do a good job of finding a select number of interesting articles, nearly all of which I would not otherwise have seen.

"Even so," as used in this article advertised on the Browser link:

When a person thinks they are choosing to move a limb, related electrical activity in the brain has already occurred. “The conscious experience of deciding to act, which we usually associate with free will, appears to be an add-on”. Philosophers and theologians argue that brain and mind, not to mention soul, are different things. Even so, advances in neuroscience are weakening our instinctive belief in free will. “Determinism, to one degree or another, is gaining popular currency” (3,700 words)

"Even so" means "I will henceforth ignore the things I just mentioned that speak against the substance or relevance of my thesis."

What are the chances some element of this question is labeled as "complex" in this article? Wouldn't that label likely be accurate in this case?

I used to make a game of never intentionally getting out of bed. I'd just wait until my body did. It worked every morning.

That's funny. Thanks.

Check out John-Dylan Haynes on Google scholar. He's done a huge amount of research that seems to prove what you refer to, at least for simple decisions. What concerns me is the ability to read those decisions before they happen and to aim to influence the decision if it isn't the "right" one. That would be a far greater abrogation of the principle of free will than the research which demonstrates what you say.

It sounds more just like "however".

Complex systems and emergent order are both real and important in our world.

Perhaps he distinguishes between complex and complex.

why eponymous?

I was wondering the same. I have used it once or twice, but I suppose it does smack of bourgeois pretentiousness.

I don't get it. Pretentious, to me, is "utilize", which, as far as I can tell, simply means 'use'.

Eponymous is a perfectly cromulent word.

"Utilize" has different connotations than "use". Actually, I suppose I read "utilize" as "use in the manner of a faceless corporation".

"“Utilize” has different connotations than “use”." It certainly does. It connotes "I am a pompous ass".

Utilize means "to make useful"

"Solve for the equilibrium."

Sorry, Tyler; couldn't resist.

"self recommending"

Interesting throughout.

Jokes on you, that's always the last line when Tyler writes it

I stop when I read "a basis point is one one hundredth of a percent" and "bond prices move in the opposite direction of rates".

What is reading?

Do you mean "reading blogs"...very seldom do you find new information there. But, like candy, you can't stop eating it, but it doesn't give you much nutrition.

Now, if you mean reading journals, long articles, books, papers in your field...now that is reading: it provides nourishments, and you will never stop because that type of nourishment makes your brain grow stronger in 12 different ways.

In other words, I stop reading blogs long before I stop reading books and articles.

And yet here you are, deep in the comments of a blog.

Yeah, but all the comments are fluffy and take up little intellectual space.

It's a vacation from weightier things.

+1 to Hopaulius.

What's wrong with not?

I suspect it's frequently an unnecessary deviation from what saying what is. Orwell in his treatise against bad writing pointed out constructions such as "not unimportant" or "not unattractive."

I find this construction an excellent way to damn by faint praise, but Orwell's view is perhaps not unintelligent.

I don't think that's it. Robert refers to 'not' in a title- some kind of debunking thing, I presume.

Pretty weak tea, but the guy lost me at 'eponymous', which is a word that is not called for often, but when it is, it is the 'mot juste.'

I love Orwell's writing, but there are many practical ways in law to use a double negative. It is especially good when trying to demonstrate a flawed logical argument.

Yeah, he lost me at that one, too. Just imagine...

"President declares, 'Ask not'" Time to stop reading now.

"King Dreams of Day When People Judged Not" Time to stop reading now.

I never stop reading when I strike jargon, cant or bad writing. I've long ago come to terms with that fact that few people whose names don't rhyme with schmabokov will ever live up to my high personal standards of prose. I mean, if I let bad writing grate on me, I never would have gotten two pages into "Black Swan".

Don't many economic journal articles have titles ending in a question mark.

Disliking eponymous is rather peevish, especially when the author uses it appropriately.

I despise the passive voice. It is almost always a sign that the author is trying to hide something.

right wing
left wing

I tend to bail at these words. They have no precise definition today so their use tells me more about the writer than the subject.

"Extreme" and "moderate" similarly.

If it's not being used in purely logical terms, anything about contradictions makes me stop everything.

Liking football and flower arrangement is not a contradiction... it's not even all that unexpected in the larger scheme of things, and does not make you or anyone interesting.

Note to self: summarize and expand on this, write article titled "Is This he Secret to Better Reading? Surprise Yourself With this One Weird Trick."

Fascinating, because if I went by similar rules I would not have read the actual post/comment, nor any of its predecessors.

At best these are general guidelines. As for headlines, I find them to be almost totally worthless in the era of links. These days even the most knowledgeable and dry (to the average reader) article is apt to get the Buzzfeed treatment.

Hard Stops:

The N things you need to know about M. P will shock you.

Y, Explained.

"Any headline ending in a question mark is a bad sign. " Well not always !

"Does the Inertia of a body depend on its energy content ? " A. Einstein Annalen der Physik 18 (1905): 639:641

in German : "Ist die Trägheit eines Körpers von seinem Energieinhalt abhängig? in which Einstein developed an argument for the most famous equation in physics: E = mc2.

Did you add "(from the comments)" to avoid ending your headline with a question mark?

Should we be suspicious of his advice after he writes "not" and then says that he stops reading if the author uses the word, "not"?

"evidence based"

I'm reading Robertson Davies' The Merry Heart right now, and he has something to say on this topic:

I am . . . certainly questioning the quality of the writing which emerges when a writer seizes upon a theme because it is for some reason popular, rather than because he has any strong feelings about it. Very often such writers try to make up for this want of depth of inspiration with a mass of research, which they inert into their books with a shoehorn, and which impresses readers who are awed by bundles of facts. When I red about a novel that it has been 'extensively researched' I take it as a warning signal.

As I wrote the above, I realized that the use of ellipses is a warning sign to me.

When The Browser linked to me I felt like I'd hit the blogging big leagues, assuming there is, or ever was, such a thing.

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