Learn from the baboons

A primatologist looks at 4chan and reddit, and sees something familiar:

Light from the monitors cast lurid shadows upon their pallid, staring faces as their right hands pumped rhythmically up and down over the F5 key to reload their screens. “I can’t refresh fast enough,” one commenter typed ecstatically, while another announced, “This is the best night of my life!” Many of the men in this online forum attempted to outdo one another by bragging about how many times they had “fapped” that night—a euphemism for masturbation. They went to great lengths to assert their masculinity by insisting how often they had jerked off in front of a screen being watched by other men. Like baboons sitting with their legs spread wide so that passing males could witness their small red phalluses, there was a mixture of sex and status involved in this public display.

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Chocolate brains

The ever-charming Sam Harris has smarmily connected me to Deepak Chopra, so now I’m getting a flood of both smug, superior cluelessness from the Vulcans of Planet Sam, and the spacey vacuous nonsense of the Chopralites. Thanks, Sam! Although, I must say, so far Chopra freaks are doing a better job of actually saying something. Which isn’t saying much.

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VESTIGIAL: Learn what it means!

Vestigial organs are relics, reduced in function or even completely losing a function. Finding a novel function, or an expanded secondary function, does not make such organs non-vestigial.

The appendix in humans, for instance, is a vestigial organ, despite all the insistence by creationists and less-informed scientists that finding expanded local elements of the immune system means it isn’t. An organ is vestigial if it is reduced in size or utility compared to homologous organs in other animals, and another piece of evidence is if it exhibits a wide range of variation that suggests that those differences have no selective component. That you can artificially reduce the size of an appendix by literally cutting it out, with no effect on the individual (other than that they survive a potentially acute and dangerous inflammation) tells us that these are vestigial.

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The trolls feed on your contempt

We had some discussion here a few years ago about implementing some scoring method for comments — there were some proponents who thought it would be a useful way to get community input. I’ve always been dead-set against it. It turns out I have scholarly justification now.

Abi Sutherland discusses a psychology paper at Making Light, which examined the effect of up- and down-voting on large user communities at CNN, IGN, Breitbart (oops, there’s a dollop of poison in the database), and allkpop, a Korean entertainment site. Cheng, Danescu-Niculescu-Mizil, and Leskovec proposed to test a prediction of the operant conditioning model, that peer feedback would lead to a gradual improvement in the quality of posts. That’s not what they saw.

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