I think I’ve crossed some threshold

Either that, or advertising is becoming increasingly desperate. Every morning now I get dozens of emails from “company representatives” telling me they have wonderful opportunities to partner with some ad agency or other by putting their custom ads on Freethoughtblogs, or Pharyngula, or my YouTube channel (the latter is odd, I’m a very tiny fish in that sea, hardly worth bothering with). I ignore them all. It isn’t happening. The frequency of these requests keep going up, and I don’t understand it.

Either I’m far more popular than I think — my general experience with the internet is that I get far more hatred than appreciation — or capitalism is broke and is scrabbling for every penny they can find. My ego favors the former, but my intellect is hoping it’s the latter.

Oh, relatedly: I’m getting a lot of first-time commenters asking to be approved. It’s the same dilemma, hoping that it’s because they really like me, but suspecting that it’s just trolls trying to sneak in so they can vomit up more hatred. I approve them anyway, because honestly, being the janitor and cleaning up the foulness the trolls throw around is both satisfying and trivially easy.


  1. lanir says

    Advertisers are convinced that just getting their name into your head is good. And they’ve convinced anyone with money to spend and a product to sell that this is so. This idea gets reinforced because they assume it’s true and they don’t go out of business.

    Now think about all the ways they get feedback that respecting you as an ad partner or as a consumer works for them. If you come up with even one example, I’ll be a little surprised.

    If they could rent an 8 year old to follow you around for a few minutes every day saying “Neener, neener, I’m not touching you… By the way, ProductName!”, they would. (okay, it’s not quite that bad… but honestly it’s close enough)

  2. Reginald Selkirk says

    Are these legit advertisers, or just another kind of scam? We seem to have created a society in which sociopaths and scammers are rewarded with very little risk. We should change that.

  3. bcw bcw says

    You realize you do make it sound like we should invent troll identities to entertain you. I’m thinking: “the Earth’s not flat, we live on the inside of a big sphere” is good. Now “spiders are really mini-drones sent by the gubmint to spy on us” would get your attention (it bit of a rip-off of “bird’s aren’t real, though.) Maybe “Jesus controls evolution through NFT’s” would be good. The important thing is to be really persistent and intense and bring it up in every thread, no matter how irrelevant.

  4. says

    They seem to be legit. They’re not offering me a $100 million dollars, just some fraction of a cent for CPM.

    I just ignore them, don’t even respond.

  5. Susan Montgomery says

    “…cleaning up the foulness the trolls throw around is both satisfying and…”

    Glad I could help ;)

  6. says

    I think you may be seeing the early gust-front of the collapse of the click-marketing economy. It’s basically a scam – not quite a ponzi scheme – but the marketing systems and frameworks have been morphing and re-positioning so fast that it’s basically impossible for anyone to make an objective assessment of whether or not it’s effective. A couple years ago I tried to answer the question “do click-ads work?” which turned out to be harder to answer than I could come up with anything that convinced me one way or another. But, for example, it used to be embedded ads, and that’s still the norm, but even those annoy prospective customers so the advertising economy shifted to “influencers” (paid shills) and went covert. The shift from banner ads to influencers threw up so much dust that it’s basically possible for some people to say “it works great!” while others say it doesn’t. A lot depends on the market goods. If you’re selling Tshirts or gym shoes you can get a huge bump from an influencer but that doesn’t work as well for hard drives.

    Here’s a fun thing to ask a marketing person, “when you tell me that influencer marketing works much better are you also saying that you admit that banner ads don’t work very well?”

    There’s a theory I ascribe to, that the internet marketing economy is a shell game because it only actually works for two companies and a handful of similar companies. Google, for one. Then Amazon, Ebay, and a few others. The reason those marketing economies have value is because when you go to shop on amazon, you are there to shop and ads aimed at you actually work. If you put “20tb hdd sata” in the search bar, there’s a damn good chance you are searching for a 20tb hard drive – let’s feed up some sponsored links. But it’s not “ads” its sponsored links and in amazon’s case it’s self-dealing because it’s all just links back into its own market. All of the rest of the internet ad market could peel off and fall into a hole and nobody’d notice except for the ad companies. Unfortunately, since their livelihood consists of putting annoying shit in people’s faces, they aren’t going to stop because they own a lot of annoying shit and you should pay attention to it because you don’t want them to starve, do you?

    The code language marketers use to say “the water is coming in over the gunwale” is “targeted marketing.” When they are saying they need more targeted marketing what they are saying is that they have figured out that, when I enter “Neil Young old man” in a youtube search bar, I am not ready to buy a Volvo. But they still have to hit me with the Volvo ad because their value proposition depends not on the ad influencing sales, but on the slight probability that I’ll consider buying a Volvo – I’m just kidding – I’d take one if someone threw me one but I’d just sell it.

    Anyway, what I think you are hearing is the dying screams of the bottom-feeders of the banner ad economy. Unfortunately there has been so much money spent on the banner ad economy that it can’t be allowed to die. That whining is the sound of capitalism making markets better, y’all.

  7. PaulBC says

    I gauge the heat of the job market by how many cold emails I get from recruiters and how much they sound like stalkers. For all that, I am pretty sure if a lot of them had bothered to do the arithmetic, they’d realize they’re better off recruiting someone a lot younger, who will do the same job for less money, work harder, and be happier about it. (I know, that’s age discrimination but I don’t think they even looked.) It’s also a giveaway if they are “impressed by [my] experience at [some place I never worked]”. So I don’t take it much more seriously than the emails I used to get for wholesale machine parts from Chinese manufacturers some time in the mid-00s. In fact I miss those. They were at least a little mysterious. Emails are cheap and people cast a wide net even if it’s not a total scam.

  8. Susan Montgomery says

    We likely hit end-stage capitalism with the 70’s stagflation. Economics isn’t immune to thermodynamics and there was no more expansion to be had. Reaganomics, credit expansion and the rest were all desperate attempts to hide that.

  9. says

    Susan Montgomery@#8:
    We likely hit end-stage capitalism with the 70’s stagflation. Economics isn’t immune to thermodynamics and there was no more expansion to be had.

    Now that’s a scary idea. Are you saying that the capitalists aren’t trying to expand China into an open market out of the goodness of their heartses?

  10. PaulBC says

    @8 So far this looks nothing like the 70s. Yes, inflation is higher than in recent years but the job market is hot and GDP exceeded expectations in 2021. There are a number of things that could go wrong, particularly as the Fed raises rates, but it’s glib to compare it to stagflation.

    Paul Krugman has made some overoptimistic predictions lately, but his basic point is that stagflation requires an expectation of persistent inflation, so workers demand raises and companies raise prices to pay for them. We are simply not at that point, not even close. People are complaining about inflation, but few expect it to last.

  11. leerudolph says

    I assume you (PZ), and all the other academics who comment here, get invitations to attend scamferences (often in fields ludicrously far from one’s expertise and/or interests) and submit papers to predatory journals (or journal-like objects) several times a week. I certainly do.

  12. robro says

    How many calls a day do you get to extend your car warranty? I’m guessing I average 1.5 a day, which means some days I’m getting 3 or 4 calls to cover the days I don’t get any calls. They must spend huge amounts of money of this because I usually block the phone number so they are calling from yet another number.

  13. says

    “Either I’m far more popular than I think”

    PZ, I been following your blog since I was in college and that was almost 20 years ago.

  14. Pierre Le Fou says

    I didn’t know there was an approval process for commenting here…

    I’ve been reading you for probably 15 years, PZ. Even before National Geographic and Seed Media. I rarely comment, but I read other people’s comments. In the early days I was afraid my posts would get hidden because you’d realize I’m from Montreal and you’d think I’m the Depeche Mode guy (don’t remember his name, but he was a lot of trouble).

  15. PaulBC says

    Ray Ceeya@13 I think you’re unclear on the concept of “popularity.” A few hundred (?) dedicated fans over 20 years is something to be proud of, but it doesn’t pay in clicks.

  16. whheydt says

    Re: robro @ #12…
    I hear you on that one. I’ve been semi-tempted to pick up on one of the “extended warranty” calls and ask about extending the warranty on my 1968 Dodge van….

    On the more general topic, there is an article on The Register (UK IT news site with a vicious sense of humor) about the Dutch Data Protection people ordering a major on-line ad clearing house and its client to delete all personal data they’ve collected on the grounds that their collection methods violated various parts of the European GDPR. The article is here https://www.theregister.com/2022/02/02/europe_iab_decision/

  17. Reginald Selkirk says

    @11- I certainly do. For some reason I get invited to such conferences about materials science, although I am a biologist.
    @12 – I no longer answer m phone unless I recognize the caller. If it’s legit they can always leave a message.

  18. Ridana says

    About 90% of the calls I get are from dead air. I don’t understand this. If they’re going to call me, I’d think they’d be there when I pick up, instead of waiting 5 or 10 seconds (or even longer) before the robo-playback or rarely a live person responds. In the latter case, the sound of the boiler room in the background is my cue to hang up, so I’d expect them to have better control over their sound isolation.

    The ones that do get through are 1) cops wanting a donation for some slush fund, 2) flippers wanting to buy my house (those are usually live), 3) home improvement outfits “in my neighborhood, and a distant 4) car warranty. None of these are any fun to play with, not like the scammers trying to alert me to a Windows virus on my Mac. Maybe with April around the corner I’ll get some fake IRS threats again. At least those were kind of novel.

    Where did all the obscene callers go to? I kinda miss them since they were so easy to rattle. I had one for about a year that every few weeks would just leave samples of random music on my machine (when I still had one), which was puzzling but at least different. Sometimes rock, sometimes classical, or country…all kinds of genres. If there was a message to it all, I never broke the code.

  19. says

    “my general experience with the internet is that I get far more hatred than appreciation ” Thats exactly why they are interested. A few years back I toured the office of a large circulation tabloid owned by Sith Lord Murdoch. Someone asked the editor why they published so many hit pieces about Muslims when there were plenty of good news stories about the local Muslim community. His response was the 50% of the paper was advertising and their profit came from advertising revenue not from the actual sales of the paper but that you cant’ sell advertising without selling the paper and bad news about Muslims sells papers. There you have it. Hate is profitable.

  20. Chakat Firepaw says

    @ Ridana#19

    About 90% of the calls I get are from dead air. I don’t understand this. If they’re going to call me, I’d think they’d be there when I pick up, instead of waiting 5 or 10 seconds (or even longer) before the robo-playback or rarely a live person responds.

    Those dead air calls are typically because the scammers are at the limit of how many ‘live air’ calls they can handle at once. For obvious reasons, they don’t want their scamming personnel/systems to be sitting idle so they call people faster than they can actually handle them so that they don’t lose scamming time to unanswered phones.

    Mind you, this also means that they don’t have spare time to simply absorb someone practicing their acting.

  21. DanDare says

    I’m getting blackmail spam, trying to get me to pay crypto.
    At first it was they would tell everyone what porn sites I visit. Then later it was the threat of hacking my computer. Now its them sending me emails with my email address in the “from” field to prove they have control of my accounts.
    The moral difference between this and all the internet spam and cold calls? Not much.

  22. John Morales says


    Those dead air calls are typically because the scammers are at the limit of how many ‘live air’ calls they can handle at once.

    Nah. They’re checking whether the number is a valid and live one.

    If you pick up, they know it fits both criteria and it gets validated for future use.