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Defending science authors online - Comments

asyouwere's Avatar Comment 1 by asyouwere

I am naive enough to have never considered that some folks would actually take the time to create fake accounts on Amazon to enhance the appeal of a book or degrade the review of another. Then I read "Kent Hovind" above and cupped my chin with a blinding glimpse of the obvious.

Sun, 11 Sep 2011 12:54:58 UTC | #869352

danconquer's Avatar Comment 2 by danconquer

This is a serious problem with the internet generally and one that is principally caused by the unprecedented level of anonymity that the medium affords humans whilst participating in what remains, essentially, a social activity. No sooner has a really useful website been created and people have quickly set about finding ways to cheat, lie and exploit the system for whatever personal benefit. Tripadvisor suffers from the same problem... What should be a fantastically valuable resource has become significantly corrupted by widespread organised dishonesty.

Personally - as someone who never uses pseudonyms or false avatars online - I don't really understand why anonymity is so common online compared to other mediums where people ordinarily enjoy the recognition of being publicly acknowledged. What are people afraid of? Widespread anonymity also encourages the sort of bad manners and anti-social behaviour which can thrive only because people are not identifiable. While forcing people to identify themselves online is probably too authoritarian, maybe there should be a system whereby people are able to somehow vouch for their internet persona being a bona fide individual (rather than a shill, sock puppet or habitual troll) with the greater authoritative weight that this would bring with it to all their contributions online.

Just thinking out loud really!

Sun, 11 Sep 2011 13:16:03 UTC | #869357

Barry Pearson's Avatar Comment 3 by Barry Pearson

Comment 2 by danconquer :

This is a serious problem with the internet generally and one that is principally caused by the unprecedented level of anonymity that the medium affords humans whilst participating in what remains, essentially, a social activity....

.... Widespread anonymity also encourages the sort of bad manners and anti-social behaviour which can thrive only because people are not identifiable. While forcing people to identify themselves online is probably too authoritarian, maybe there should be a system whereby people are able to somehow vouch for their internet persona being a bona fide individual (rather than a shill, sock puppet or habitual troll) with the greater authoritative weight that this would bring with it to all their contributions online.

I agree.

But I think there can sometimes be good reasons for pseudonyms. I posted for years on one particular topic using the name "John Ward" to separate my views from any implication that they were the views of the company I worked for. I was even concerned that some might think I was leaking sensitive information. (I got into the habit of quoting publicly-available sources as a defence). And worse fates await some people in less tolerant societies.

Is it that anonymity encourages bad behaviour, or that knowing what you say will be linked to us for ever inhibits our natural behaviour? My first drafts typically have undue sarcasm, inappropriate humour, and sloppy grammar and logic.

Sun, 11 Sep 2011 14:00:54 UTC | #869371

aquilacane's Avatar Comment 4 by aquilacane

As rational men and women who actually read books and watch documentaries, I think we're obligated to defend quality works of dedicated scientists and to criticize the works of charlatans.

I'm not for shutting down a persons right to free speech but I will argue that if the books being published have advice or claims revolving around healthcare and that advise is not grounded in scientific fact, then you have a criminal situation and the books should be banned at a level higher that Amazon. If Amazon were to continue selling those books, then you have a case against them. They are in the business of making money, not smart people.

Sun, 11 Sep 2011 16:59:06 UTC | #869417

Eosimias's Avatar Comment 5 by Eosimias

Comment 1 by asyouwere :

I am naive enough to have never considered that some folks would actually take the time to create fake accounts on Amazon to enhance the appeal of a book or degrade the review of another. Then I read "Kent Hovind" above and cupped my chin with a blinding glimpse of the obvious.

It's pretty obvious when you take a close look, isn't it? Hovind's stupid lecture series has received these absolutely glowing reviews from accounts that don't have any other reviews. They seemed to have popped up out of nowhere to praise Hovind and thank him for showing them the truth. One "reviewer" claims that her children have seen the entire 18 hour series 300 hundred times over the course of 5 years. When I pointed out the mathematical unlikelihood of that, she just stuck to her story.

I wrote a negative review for the series (having seen plenty of it on YouTube), and similar sock puppets have popped in to down-vote and criticize it.

Sun, 11 Sep 2011 17:20:33 UTC | #869424

Eosimias's Avatar Comment 6 by Eosimias

Comment 2 by danconquer :

Personally - as someone who never uses pseudonyms or false avatars online - I don't really understand why anonymity is so common online compared to other mediums where people ordinarily enjoy the recognition of being publicly acknowledged. What are people afraid of?

Well I just like making up cool names for myself. Why use my boring old name when I can be Eosimias? I go by LeeHoFooks on Amazon. 10 points if you get the reference. (Google is cheating.)

Sun, 11 Sep 2011 17:22:35 UTC | #869426

Eosimias's Avatar Comment 7 by Eosimias

Comment 4 by aquilacane :

I'm not for shutting down a persons right to free speech but I will argue that if the books being published have advice or claims revolving around healthcare and that advise is not grounded in scientific fact, then you have a criminal situation and the books should be banned at a level higher that Amazon. If Amazon were to continue selling those books, then you have a case against them. They are in the business of making money, not smart people.

I agree, but legal action isn't likely to go anywhere.

It's weird -- if someone were to practice medicine without a license, they'd get in some serious legal trouble. But you can write a book, say... telling parents not to vaccinate their children, and you're in the clear (making money, no less)!

They hide behind free speech. What I'm advocating is turning free speech against them.

Sun, 11 Sep 2011 17:26:25 UTC | #869428

Steve Hanson's Avatar Comment 8 by Steve Hanson

@danconquer

I don't mind being open here, but not everywhere. Case in point, there is a website for a local news station, WWMT (www.wwmt.com). In the past couple of days, they switched over to a system where you had to use a Facebook account to comment on their (poorly written) articles. Previously, everyone had (if they so chose, and pretty much everyone did) pseudonyms. For all of us there, the whole point was the back and forth we had (as opposed to reading the, like I said, poorly written articles). When people are anonymous they tend to be more honest, and that can make conversations more interesting. It also allows the crazies to come out. Absolutely everyone protested against their decision when they announced it, and I have very rarely seen any comments when going back to check. For some, they simply wanted nothing to do with Facebook. For others, the idea of those same crazy people being able to cyberstalk the other users was enough to make them leave (some people have names that are far less common than my own...even if you were to know the city I'm living in, there are several other people with my same exact name, and some around the same age...not so for many other people). Being anonymous has its advantages and disadvantages. I think the, unless we're talking about stuff that actually matters, being anonymous on the internet is generally a good thing (even if the occasional forum causes me to continuing losing "faith" in humanity).

Sun, 11 Sep 2011 19:50:32 UTC | #869453

Stevehill's Avatar Comment 9 by Stevehill

Only a fool takes Amazon "reviews" even half seriously. A respected literary critic for a major mainstream media outlet, perhaps. A self-selected bunch including the author' best mates, and his or hers ideological enemies? Forget it.

I've never been influenced by an Amazon review, and have hardly ever read one.

I quite like the practice in e.g. Waterstones (UK) where their own staff write little notes saying why they, personally, liked a book and chose to recommend it. And they are probably still working in the shop if you want to come back and say why you disagree!

In only slightly related vein, I regularly use a site which is all about pro-am sound recording. We all ask each others' advice about new bits of kit, software etc and the very able moderators are pretty good at taking out the stupidly prejudicial stuff. So that's a site I'd mostly trust before spending my money.

But no-one's going to do your thinking for you whether on the internet or anywhere else... and if you let them, you deserve what you get.

P.S. - here's a good story about why a mainstream academic historian's worst critic on Amazon was his wife.

Sun, 11 Sep 2011 20:14:53 UTC | #869457

bachfiend's Avatar Comment 10 by bachfiend

Personally, I like the Amazon 1 star reviews. I don't take much note of the 5 star reviews or the average. I don't want to know what's good about the book. I want to know what's bad about it. So I read the lowest reviews first, and also the other reviews written by the reviewer (if the reviewer gives 5 stars to dingbat crazy Apologetics books I know to discount the review immediately), and also comments on the review.

I adopted this policy after buying 'Big Brain', based on the 5 star ratings, and reading about Boskop Man in the first two chapters. Boskop Man? It was then that I read the 1 star reviews and read that the authors had used a 50 year anthropological hypothesis about large brained humans, now discounted as just being humans in a population at the larger end of the bell curve, not a discrete population. So I never finished the book.

In my Amazon reviews, my rating system is:

5 stars. Very good, will read again.

4 stars. Very good, may read again, at least in parts.

3 stars. Good, worth reading, but probably won't reread.

2 stars. Found it difficult to finish.

1 star. Wish I'd never heard of this book.

So, in my rating, 3 stars is a 'pass' mark, making the book worth the true cost of the book, the time needed to read it. I never rate books on the cost.

Sun, 11 Sep 2011 21:31:55 UTC | #869482

Starcrash's Avatar Comment 11 by Starcrash

Didn't we have a conversation about this topic recently? I've written funny comments denigrating the bible and other Christian products on that site, and it would be hypocritical of me to wag a finger at people who do it to Dawkins.

Comment 4 by aquilacane :

I'm not for shutting down a persons right to free speech but I will argue that if the books being published have advice or claims revolving around healthcare and that advise is not grounded in scientific fact, then you have a criminal situation and the books should be banned at a level higher that Amazon. If Amazon were to continue selling those books, then you have a case against them. They are in the business of making money, not smart people.

Look, aquilacane, you and I agree that the Christians are wrong, but I think we have radically different views of "free speech". Take the good with the bad, allow people to disagree with you publicly, and recognize that there's no crime against claims "not grounded in scientific fact". When you start talking about banning books, you're no longer talking about free speech.

Sun, 11 Sep 2011 22:31:52 UTC | #869494

Eosimias's Avatar Comment 12 by Eosimias

Comment 11 by Starcrash :

I've written funny comments denigrating the bible and other Christian products on that site, and it would be hypocritical of me to wag a finger at people who do it to Dawkins.

What I'm saying is that the rational should have a voice on the website, as the irrational aren't too shy to have theirs.

Sun, 11 Sep 2011 22:50:12 UTC | #869497

Robert Howard's Avatar Comment 13 by Robert Howard

Comment 11 by Starcrash

Didn't we have a conversation about this topic recently? I've written funny comments denigrating the bible and other Christian products on that site.....

Massively confident of you. I've always tended to leave it up to other people to decide if what I might have said is funny or not. The self-assuredness you obviously possess has alway eluded me. You're not American by any chance, are you?

Sun, 11 Sep 2011 22:51:02 UTC | #869498

Starcrash's Avatar Comment 14 by Starcrash

Comment 13 by Robert Howard :

Comment 11 by Starcrash

Didn't we have a conversation about this topic recently? I've written funny comments denigrating the bible and other Christian products on that site.....

Massively confident of you. I've always tended to leave it up to other people to decide if what I might have said is funny or not. The self-assuredness you obviously possess has alway eluded me. You're not American by any chance, are you?

I am American, but I don't see the above comment as confident or self-assured. The difference between "funny comments" and "comments written with the express intention of being funny" is a lot of words that aren't necessary enough to earn their stay. I could also stereotype your home country based on the pretension that I personally see in your attack, but that wouldn't be very fair, would it?

Mon, 12 Sep 2011 17:36:30 UTC | #869873

(R)evolutionist's Avatar Comment 15 by (R)evolutionist

First off: I Like Pseudonyms because they give you the opportunity to point out characteristics of yourself which are relevant to the community that reads your posts and which define you. In my opinion it isn't useful for people on this forum to know that my name is Philipp. When I call myself a (R)evolutionist I can show that I am convinced of Darwins Theory and also willing to break the dogmas that prevent religious people from recognizing it's sheer simplicity and beauty. ((R)evolutionist is also probably easier to remember).

Furthermore: I'm unsure whether the OP is talking about taking legal action or simply writing our own reviews and voting ourselves to protect the good books and abandon the bad ones. Legal action against books does always remind me of past religious leaders who burned 'godless' scientific books. I think that the only action that is worth taking consists in bringing professional reviews to Amazon, giving the customers the opportunity to read serious and justified criticism and praise. Those rewievs will make all the puppet- comments look stupid AND give the customers a basis of knowledge from which they can decide by themselves. Posting those reviews under ones real name will make them more personal which in this case will be exactly the information the "Amazon-Customer-Community" needs to end up saying: "Look, it's a non offensive, fact-based review from a person who obviously knows what he's doing, while neither beeing offensive nor beeing ashamed to speak his mind. Might buy that one."

Mon, 12 Sep 2011 21:21:19 UTC | #869972

Alan4discussion's Avatar Comment 16 by Alan4discussion

Writing reviews, is like writing references. They reflect the perceptions of the reviewer as much as the perceptions of the reviewed. Incredulity and ignorance will often be obvious in comments, and to some extent will give an accurate reflection. A post-graduate work in most sciences will be totally unintelligible to those who were science duffers at school.

The internet is however, cluttered with the speculative ramblings of the bigoted ignorant on many scientific topics, and that is a problem for those seeking basic knowledge, before having the perception to sort out the garbage.

Wed, 14 Sep 2011 09:58:00 UTC | #870700

Eosimias's Avatar Comment 17 by Eosimias

Comment 15 by (R)evolutionist :

I'm unsure whether the OP is talking about taking legal action or simply writing our own reviews and voting ourselves to protect the good books and abandon the bad ones

Simply writing our own reviews.

Wed, 14 Sep 2011 16:58:33 UTC | #870839

Schrodinger's Cat's Avatar Comment 18 by Schrodinger's Cat

I have a relative who recently published a book....and all 7 Amazon reviews are by friends and family. In fact the only reason I did not join in is that I have not read the book ( even though I am mentioned in it ).

I take reviews with a pinch of salt. Some are informative and useful. Some are written by die-hard fans who would never say a bad word even if the book came out on loo paper. And some are die hard opponents who would never say a good word even if the book was printed on gold leaf, came with a free Porsche, and contained a free front row seat to the next World Cup.

The review system sucks. But then, so do half the books on Amazon.

Sat, 17 Sep 2011 15:21:50 UTC | #871932

Helga Vieirch's Avatar Comment 19 by Helga Vieirch

What about this example? i was scathing in my review of a much-raised book on economics, and I did this in a published paper, on-line, despite the misgivings of the editorial staff. You can judge for yourselves, and beat me up if you feel I went too far. But it was not, obviously, done in an anonymous way.

The book: Reisman, G 1996. Capitalism: a treatise on economics. Ottawa, Illinois: Jameson Books

This book is advertised as: “Simply put, Capitalism: A Treatise on Economics is the philosophically and intellectually strongest book in the defense of laissez- faire capitalism that can be found anywhere in the world at the present time. It is state of the art in economic theory and political philosophy.”http://www.capitalism.net/#Top

Here is what Reisman says in his first chapter: "Economics has been defined in a variety of ways. In the nineteenth century it was typically defined as the science of wealth or of exchangeable wealth. In the twentieth century, it has typically been defined as the science that studies the allocation of scarce means among competing ends... I define economics as the science that studies the production of wealth under a system of division of labor, that is, under a system in which the individual lives by producing, or helping to produce, just one thing or at most a very few things, and is supplied by the labor of others for the far greater part of his needs. The justification of this definition will become increasingly clear as the contents of this book unfold."

So he starts right in redefining economics as the study of capitalism -- and capitalism as a society in which most people are wage slaves.

Here is an example of Reisman's further reasoning:

"...As Chapter 4 of this book will show, the production of wealth vitally depends on the division of labor. The division of labor is an essential characteristic of every advanced economic system. It underlies practically all of the gains we ascribe to technological progress and the use of improved tools and machinery; its existence is indispensable for a high and rising productivity of labor, that is, output per unit of labor. By the same token, its absence is a leading characteristic of every backward economic system. It is the division of labor which introduces a degree of complexity into economic life that makes necessary the existence of a special science of economics. For the division of labor entails economic phenomena existing on a scale in space and time that makes it impossible to comprehend them by means of personal observation and experience alone. Economic life under a system of division of labor can be comprehended only by means of an organized body of knowledge that proceeds by deductive reasoning from elementary principles. This, of course, is the work of the science of economics. The division of labor is thus the essential fact that necessitates the existence of the subject of economics." I direct your attention to that line in the middle: "economic life... can be comprehended only... by deductive reasoning from elementary principles... the science of economics."

Deductive reasoning from elementary principles? Where did the part about induction and formation and testing of a hypothesis get lost? Elementary principles???

This is not science, it is philosophy. So maybe this is not the part where there is any science; perhaps he will get to it later? So we press on…

"Despite its vital importance, the division of labor, as a country's dominant form of productive organization -that is, a division-of-labor society - is a relatively recent phenomenon in history. It goes back no further than eighteenth-century Britain. Even today it is limited to little more than the United States, the former British dominions, the countries of Western Europe, and Japan. The dominant form of productive organization in most of the world - in the vast interiors of Asia, Africa, and most of Latin America - and everywhere for most of history, has been the largely self-sufficient production of farm families and, before that, of tribes of nomads or hunters."

"Largely self-sufficient production of farm families" meaning what? Each family lived in its own little world and there was no society? No trade? No exchange? Don’t we have evidence of long distance trade from 10,000 years ago!? We have evidence of empires, nation states, and complex societies existing before the eighteenth century!! In fact, astonishingly, we have overwhelming evidence of division of labor from ALL human economies, including "tribes of nomads or hunters

But then we get to the next bit of Reisman's book and here we find this absolutely incredible statement:

"What makes the science of economics necessary and important is the fact that while human life and well-being depend on the production of wealth, and the production of wealth depends on the division of labor, the division of labor does not exist or function automatically. Its functioning crucially depends on the laws and institutions countries adopt. "

Does not function automatically? So how did the "country" come into existence before the wealth that makes human life possible?

Thu, 27 Oct 2011 17:26:36 UTC | #884600

Helga Vieirch's Avatar Comment 20 by Helga Vieirch

What? No economists on this forum who want to beat me up for this? How can this be?

Thu, 03 Nov 2011 18:22:29 UTC | #887019