Leveraging web-enabled Infomediaries

August 31, 2006 | By | 3 Replies More

To optimize next-generation action-items, it is important to enable leading-edge models to enable one-to-one solutions thereby facilitating aggregate robust portals.  Of course, to benchmark front-end paradigms and thereby embrace user-centric architectures is probably a better way to engineer leading-edge metrics.

If you’re wincing at the above paragraph, please forgive me.  I’m just having a bit of fun, thanks to a site called “Web economy bullshit generator.”  Whenever you press the “make bullshit” button, the site gives you an impressive sounding phrase. This site has many “uses.”  For instance, see the comments to the site:

The Web Bullshit Generator is phenomenal…my resume never looked so good!
—Cory L.

This is a great job interview prep tool and provides fodder to use on chicks at the bar. I’m also going to use this in preparation for my high school reunion.
—Ryan F.

No one could ever fall for such stilted, meaningless and concocted gibberish, right?  Not so fast!  Using big words and proper syntax goes a long way to making something appear meaningful.  For example, the Spring/Summer 1996 issue of Social Text, a leading journal of cultural studies contained an article titled “Transgressing the Boundaries: Toward a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity.” The author was Alan Sokal, a real life physicist at New York University.  As indicated here, in an article by the Skeptical Inquirer’s Martin Gardner:

[Sokal’s] paper included thirteen pages of impressive endnotes and nine pages of references.”  But Sokal had actually submitted these 13 pages of deliberately concocted gibberish to see whether the journal would publish it. 

You can read more about the content of the Sokal article here. For example:

Sokal opened his parody with a strong attack on the belief that there is “an external world whose properties are independent of any human individual and indeed of humanity as a whole.” Science, he continued, cannot establish genuine knowledge, even tentative knowledge, by using a “so-called” scientific method.

“Physical reality . . . is at bottom a social and linguistic construct,” Sokal maintained in the next paragraph. In his Lingua Franca confessional he comments: “Not our theories of physical reality, mind you, but the reality itself. Fair enough: Anyone who believes the laws of physics are mere social conventions is invited to try transgressing those conventions from the windows of my apartment (I live on the twenty-first floor).”

After Sokal revealed that his article was pure gibberish, what was the reaction of the editors of Social Text, the people who made the decision to publish the article as serious social commentary?

Stanley Aronowitz, cofounder of the journal, is a Marxist sociologist. He branded Sokal “ill-read and half-educated.” Andrew Ross, another leftist and the editor responsible for putting together the special issue, said he and the other editors thought Sokal’s piece “a little hokey” and “sophomoric.” Why then did they publish it? Because they checked on Sokal and found he had good credentials as a scientist.

Perhaps, the publication of Sokal’s article is a worthy illustration of a common problem.  When we deem someone smart, we are tempted to give him or her a free pass regarding things they say.  When we deem people incompetent, we predetermine that things they say will not be worth considering.  We categorically tune them out.

Our media is driven by this heuristic: judge the words by the gloss we give to the speaker.  After all, it a lot cheaper and easier to prejudge people than to seriously consider what they are saying.  Many of us (encouraged by the media) spend far too much time sizing up whether public figures are “good” or “bad,” then pidgeonholing their prounouncements uncritically.  

To properly evaluate what people say is truly hard work.  But smart people sometimes say dumb things and incompetent people often blurt out blatant truth.  To the extent that we prejudge statements based on our assessment of the character of the speaker, we do so at our own risk.  This is a lesson for conservatives and liberals alike.  It is also the story of a “dangerous intersection”: the coming-together of sincere truth-gathering with the limited attentional capacities of human animals.

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Category: American Culture, Communication, Language, Psychology Cognition

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

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  1. Erika Price says:

    The publishers may have also suffered from hindsight bias: "We knew all along that it seemed unprofessional."

    You make a very apt observation. I think otherwise intelligent, discerning people sometimes commit the logical fallacy of using an ad hominem attack of the messenger as a valid criticism of their message. If we could disregard the majority of humans as "stupid and incompetent", and consider them mentally worthless, we could have a government based on meritocracy. But human reason and intelligence has greater complexity than "smart vs. stupid", so it makes sense to avoid pidgeonholing individuals on how bright we percieve them.

  2. hogiemo says:

    OK, I've pressed the "make bullshit" button.

    Saddam Hussein helped al Qaeda do 9/11.

    There are wmd in Iraq.

    Democrats are "soft" on terrorism.

    It's OK to torture.

    We're only spying on the enemies of America.

    Gee, it works!

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