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Most of what you read on the internet is written by insane people (2018) (reddit.com)
539 points by zuhayeer 62 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 328 comments

Over the past year I've slowly started to realize this as well. What changed? Working for a company that is publicly known enough for people on HN (and Reddit) to comment about it. It has been hilarious and scary to read comments from people who don't work at the company say completely inaccurate things like they are facts.

In this case, it's easy for me to recognize they are wrong. But what about other topics (or companies) I don't know much about? I have no easy way of recognizing inaccuracies so I default to mostly accepting them. Sadly, you need to be skeptical of almost everything you read even when the person sounds like they know the subject matter.

“Media carries with it a credibility that is totally undeserved. You have all experienced this, in what I call the Murray Gell-Mann Amnesia effect. (I refer to it by this name because I once discussed it with Murray Gell-Mann, and by dropping a famous name I imply greater importance to myself, and to the effect, than it would otherwise have.)

Briefly stated, the Gell-Mann Amnesia effect is as follows. You open the newspaper to an article on some subject you know well. In Murray's case, physics. In mine, show business. You read the article and see the journalist has absolutely no understanding of either the facts or the issues. Often, the article is so wrong it actually presents the story backward—reversing cause and effect. I call these the "wet streets cause rain" stories. Paper's full of them.

In any case, you read with exasperation or amusement the multiple errors in a story, and then turn the page to national or international affairs, and read as if the rest of the newspaper was somehow more accurate about Palestine than the baloney you just read. You turn the page, and forget what you know.

That is the Gell-Mann Amnesia effect. I'd point out it does not operate in other arenas of life. In ordinary life, if somebody consistently exaggerates or lies to you, you soon discount everything they say. In court, there is the legal doctrine of falsus in uno, falsus in omnibus, which means untruthful in one part, untruthful in all. But when it comes to the media, we believe against evidence that it is probably worth our time to read other parts of the paper. When, in fact, it almost certainly isn't. The only possible explanation for our behavior is amnesia.” - Michael Crichton

The problem I see personally is less parts where the media gets easily verifiable things wrong (Generally for any field where experts occur, there are better sources you can personally find.)

The issue is where they report on things that I can’t easily verify. A company I haven’t worked at, how things are going internally in the white house, what X or Y nation-state was caught doing. These are areas where I have no choice but to trust the media, because none of these entities are open enough for me to personally look at them and fact check what is happening. If some entity wants to say the media is treating them unfairly, that’s unfortunate, but unless they’re willing to open up their inner workings to the public I have to default to believing what the media digs up.

That the media otherwise does have a spotty record is troublesome to me. Generally, I think the right course is to find news sources that at least are right more often than not on the things you can verify. But on many things, the media is the only source we have on what they’re doing besides themselves. And while the media is troublesome, trusting that an entity is doing nothing wrong off their own word is even worse.

To combat this, I try to keep reading multiple, disparate sources until enough facts agree, and the coverage converges, to paint a relatively clear picture of the actual facts. What's been interesting to me, since starting to do this, is that some very, very popular stories -- upon which people will hang their entire political self-identification -- never actually converge, at least to my satisfaction.

> The issue is where they report on things that I can’t easily verify. [...]. These are areas where I have no choice but to trust the media,

Why? What's wrong with just not really knowing?

When it comes to governments, how they act impacts my voting preferences. When it comes to companies, how they act impacts who I choose to purchase from and work for. There are certainly wide swaths of information that aren’t relevant to my decision making process, but some things are hard to personally find out but worth knowing.

Well if the issue is something you have to act on then you should know.

Let's say there's talk about a new vaccine - should you take it or not. Or about candidates for some political office. Or about global warming.

I guess you can ignore everything, but if everybody does it's not going to end well.

I think solution for tough to verify info would be for journalists to include something like a methodology section in their reporting.

Due to the vagaries of journalism compared to e.g. chemistry or physics I'm not sure what this would look like in every situation.

Here is an article I came across recently that is a good example of the concept I am trying to explain. I don't think there's any information presented that you have to take the writer's word for: https://urbanmilwaukee.com/2017/05/17/hendricks-not-paying-p...

> These are areas where I have no choice but to trust the media, because none of these entities are open enough for me to personally look at them and fact check what is happening.

Your trust mechanism seems to be fail-open. A very dangerous default config.

People in general aren't particularly credible, for a variety of reasons.

As I've gotten older I like to think that I've gotten better at questioning/doubting anything anyone (with the exception of several close and long term friends and relatives) tells me, especially if it is second hand information.

A lot of this was learned through various 'inconvenient' experiences over the years. Most people don't double check their sources and just parrot out things they've heard. Confidence is not correlated with accuracy.

> Confidence is not correlated with accuracy.

Indeed. Quite possibly the opposite is true i.e. that inaccuracy is correlated with confidence (for second hand reports).

I had similar thoughts and then quit reading news ever since.

Opinion pieces are even worse they are never fact checked.

its a crazy world that we live in

While in a perfect world, we would have factual arguments laid out in opinion pieces. They are merely that, someone's opinions and are even more playground space for self-proclaimed pundits than actual journalism.

I have found interviews and podcast to be a better source now.

'Opinion pieces ... are never fact checked' - did you fact check that?

Yes, i did but a few times that's enough to make up my mind

> I had similar thoughts and then quit reading news ever since.

You didn't. You're commenting on a news article. What you mean is that you quit reading [that|these] specific source(s).

I did not read the article but the title and the top comment here before commenting.

I follow scientists/engineers on youtube thats all to get all the knowledge i need.

Through debunked videos i've come to know the state of current journalism.

Media's credibility comes not from what it gets wrong, but rather that it may have any uncanny ability to say what is right.

The problem is that media is often right and wrong about things that are very far away from me, so I don't really see the win in "getting the scoop" on anything. For example, the NYT is really good at predicting when there's going to be a high-profile WH resignation or firing come up. It's not like I was going to get that information from original research or critical thinking. But again, unless you're a big player, what are you going to do with the inside scoop on world events?

Arguably, if you did really care about these things, then the degree to which any source provides signal is the degree to which you will tolerate noise.

Media's role is not to provide the truth. Their primary role is to make governments and corporations trustworthy and hold them accountable to the world. Nobody holds "the truth", but bits, pieces, opinions may be reported.

Also, authority routinely lie and exhaggerate. If not held accountable, they get away with it too!

The only thing more powerful than speaking Truth, is love.

That’s a sort of idealized version of what most people will think the media is supposed to do at least. But it’s not even close to what they actually do in practice. When it comes to powerful institutions or people, nearly all media outlets are terrible at taking sides. They have one side they will slander ruthlessly on every issue, and another they will fawn over and cover up for. Furthermore, any mission they have to scrutinize will often end up taking a backseat to generating advertising revenue.

There are laws the media must follow. There is a truth they must tell, legally and also the stuff that gets clicks and views is true for it's audience in a salient way.

Authority has the power to control, it's part of the job description and politics resolves the truth of that domain.

Why do you want something 'more powerful' than truth? You just excised yourself from philosophy, religion, god, law, ect in dismissing truth.

We all want 'true' love anyway so the distinction is poor.

I didn't give up on truth, but it's an honest pursuit, not something you find with a click or even pay a dollar for. The people have sole responsibility for truth and love.

I'm surprised Crichton thought Murray Gell-Mann was more famous than he was! I would think the reverse (and the Crichton Amnesia Effect is a great name).

But dropping his own name can ascribe no more importance to himself. Dropping in another famous name, and one from a complete different field no less, ascribes greater credibility than Michael Crichton alone can manage.

Gell-Mann would be more famous if anyone could remember his name... :P

Murray Gell-Mann is more credible.

Great quote - wish I could upvote more than once!

Sadly Wikipedia removed the Gell-Mann Amnesia effect wiki page.


It looks like they merged it into it's author's main page. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gell-Mann_amnesia_effect

As always, the Gell-Mann Amnesia Affectation is in full effect here at HN.

You realize this isn't a piece of serious research, right?

You realize Michael Crichton purposely used Gell-Mann's name knowing it'd lend more weight because he's a "scientist," right?

You do realize Gell-Mann's field has nothing to do with any of the fields that would study this phenonemon if it were anything other than a cocktail party story, right?

If you'd be uncomfortable casually mentioning trickle-down economics as serious national policy, you ought to be just as uncomfortable with your Gell-Mann Amnesia Affectation here.

It's not that complicated a concept and the flavoring of it doesn't matter beyond being a nice story. It's a simple logical conclusion that needs no additional justification. In the end, all of us here have been a victim of that sort of thing and we all probably became aware of it at least once while also completely prepared to make the same mistake at some other time.

> In the end, all of us here have been a victim of that sort of thing and we all probably became aware of it at least once while also completely prepared to make the same mistake at some other time.

At least in the U.S., it's the exact opposite problem that is eating away at democracy.

There are literally tens of millions of people who refuse to believe any story from any news source because they wildly overestimate the corruption of journalism across the board.

Where's the pretentious tag for that phenomenon?

The two problems can coexist at the same time. I feel this is attributing arguments to a simple concept that it never made.

'Media' isn't the same as 'investigative journalism' (where a lot of fact-checking occurs).

Investigative journalism, I hope so. But general journalism...

I'm afraid I've traveled enough to say petty wars are often reported night-day level of wrong (at least for all the ones I have experienced)

It seems we want to believe we are good, and 'they' are bad, but frankly we don't care either way, so long as we make money

> Investigative journalism, I hope so.

I work for one (not involved in the actual stories) and I can guarantee that the process I've seen is pretty meticulous.

> But general journalism...

There's a separation that needs to be done here as well between news and columns / opinion pieces. News are supposed to answer what's known as Five Ws (Who, What, When, Where, Why), while columns/opinion pieces are rarely expected to be held to same standards, are often inaccurate, and subjective by their nature (they are opinion pieces after all). Unfortunately they're almost always published under the same brand, but usually when I see people complaining about journalism, they don't make that distinction.

That isn't to say news in itself is not biased, because even picking what's newsworthy is a process that relies on bias.

Thanks. I'm sure you're doing clear work, and being precisely truthful about clear topics

My problem is news like: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-55484436

BBC saying 'restore the presidents rule' and 'unity cabinet', but this is the same president whose people said was a dictator and overthrew in the Arab spring

Not following the situation closely, but those five Ws by the BBC look so very strongly in the pocket of arms money and having very little to do with democracy

To the point I would say they are covered in blood, and calling it 'bringing peace.' I wish this was a lone example

I don't read that at all

The paragraph referring to president:

"Yemen has been devastated by a conflict that escalated in 2015, when a Saudi-led coalition of Arab states launched a military operation to defeat the Houthis and restore President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi's rule. "

> Yemen has been devastated

Objectively true

> by a conflict

There are many reasons but the conflict certainly hasn't helped

> when a Saudi-led coalition of Arab states launched a military operation

Is this wrong? There's a wikipedia page on it


> to defeat the Houthis

"the intervention initially consisted of a bombing campaign on Houthi rebels"

> and restore President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi's rule.

Looks like he has declared President of Yemen in 2012. There are many ruthless rulers who are called "President". "President Putin", "President Mugabe", etc


Was this not the aim of the Saudi led coalition?

The next paragraph, which is under the "analysis" part

> Yemen's newly formed "unity cabinet" was always going to have a rocky start. But it clearly did not anticipate this disaster when it announced its arrival would be livestreamed on television.

Is the new government that has been created known as a unity government? Seems yes, the piece further explains

"Mr Saeed's new cabinet was formed in an effort to heal a long-running rift between Saudi-backed government forces and militias loyal to the separatist Southern Transitional Council, supported by the United Arab Emirates.

The two sides are supposed to be allies in the civil war against the Houthi movement, which controls the capital Sanaa and much of north-western Yemen."

Explaining the name "unity cabinet", it seems to be an effort to unify the non-houti sides.

You may not think it's a legitimate government, but it seems to be the one recognised by the international community, whether we like it or not. We recognise all sorts of nasty governments, from Venezuala to North Korea, from Russia to Turkey. I don't see any judgement on which side is "good" or "bad" (or "bad" and "worse" as it may be).

To summarise

Who -- Houti Rebels

What -- attacked an airport

When -- Yesterday

Where -- Aden Airport

Why -- because they are fighting against the internationally recognised government

The BBC has covered the conflict in Yemen a fair amount, here's a story about the background of the rebels.


> I don't read that at all

You + article are completely correct. That is the problem. Since correctness lasts until the final 'why'

Then inverses strongly

How can locals be 'rebels' and the Saudi/UAE led forces be legitimate??


The last BBC link you placed was impressive and accurate. It ends

> The Gulf states and the US appear intent upon denying Ansar Allah international recognition and supporting Mr Hadi's claim to leadership

Gulf states are Sunni, Ansar + Houthi's are Shia. The 'unity' government the BBC refers to is 'unity' because it unites two fractious Sunni governments... Definitely not unity because it unites or represents the people of Yemen!

The war is Sunni countries attacking a Shia people. This bombing is a response to that

The Houthi 'rebels' have held the capital for years. Why are they able to do that in the face of Saudi led bombing campaign? Because they have the support of the people in that area

Nuances yes. But government legitimacy here is I assure you based on how much Gulf states pay for arms, and BBC + ourselves whitewashing the why

> government legitimacy here is I assure you based on how much Gulf states pay for arms

The BBC isn't making any judgement here on who is right and who is wrong, and I think it's unfair to paint people like Lyse Doucet, Darren Conway, Marie Colvin, and other journalists who put their lives on the line to perform journalism in warzones, out as tools of the arms trade because they aren't biased in a way you want.

The entire complaint seems to stem from the BBC using internationally recognised terms to describe the beligerants that the UN uses, and saying this is bias.

If you have a complaint about the UN recognising Yemen as a single country represented by, take it up with your country's ambassador. If you don't think the UN is a legitimate organisation that's fine too, but don't pretend others are biased because they don't agree.

Thankyou my friend. I appreciate your reply

I have lived in Yemen during part of the period of the war. I hope I am not denigrating those who do. That is always a great sacrifice on their part, and they should be honored. So thankyou for doing that and reminding me to the same

But you haven't found bias. It is something that I wish I did not believe, but still do. It is something I didn't believe when told, and only sad experiences changed my mind

Does the BBC have reports like this?


Sure bias and leanings are present everywhere. But bias is maybe the wrong word

Doesn't Chinese news say that China is great, doesn't Russian news say that Russia is great? Should those people believe what they read?

Of course there are differences, but WikiLeaks, Dutch in Congo, UK in Iran, etc, tell us we're good at being evil in the recent past

Have we changed?

In some part yes, I was happy to see this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5wxeeGz5sVk

Upvote from me :)

Sorry. Maybe I replied badly. You've carefully looked at those details, which is good of you; and I replied in an unnuanced way

Probably this is better: https://www.jurist.org/news/2020/09/un-experts-urge-security...

Or: https://www.economist.com/middle-east-and-africa/2020/04/18/...

Short, but I think it's fair to say the BBC is missing the real facts

I used to think similarly to you. Would of believed the article's conclusion, and imagined we were doing good

That we allow naysayers to be fired, is on US.

> I'd point out it does not operate in other arenas of life. In ordinary life, if somebody consistently exaggerates or lies to you, you soon discount everything they say.

Alas, not so sure that part is still true.

[looks back at 2020]

It never was true for some people I know, for example my parents.

My parents have such a bias towards their and their ancestor’s culture/religion, that anything said in favor of it will be believed instantly, and anything critical of it will be met with hostility.

I do not dare point out to them basic falsifiable truths about things such as medicine (e.g. this simple action will cure cancer or reverse male pattern baldness).

My parents are very gullible people. Skeptical about exactly the wrong things, repeatedly wrong year after year, yet ever so trusting of the same bullshit sources and rhetoric, as long as it resonates with their prime belief about the superiority of their culture/religion.

I see this in mainstream US too, with the antivaxxers who got a C in high school biological or 5G crazies who couldn’t pass a physics class.

Once someone has formed an identity around some core assumptions of the world, anything that challenges it will be seen as an attack on one’s ego.

> Once someone has formed an identity around some core assumptions of the world, anything that challenges it will be seen as an attack on one’s ego.

That's hard to escape, and it might well be a quite useful mechanism in many cases, but multiply that by filter bubbles and echo chambers, and it can become difficult for otherwise reasonable people to have conversations about many topics. It happens here too but I would say less than in other parts of the worlds. Here = HN. Worlds = Parallel realities that get created that way ^

Related ;

Beware online "filter bubbles" ( 2011 )


“You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time...” - Abraham Lincoln

I'm inferring from your brackets that you're referring to public figures.

If this is what you intended then I would suggest that they are more media than "ordinary life". If anything, I feel like they further highlight the accuracy of the effect.

Fits my 2020 experience. At the start of 2020 this described perfectly my view of Trump. At the start of 2021 it describes perfectly my view of everyone.

No it does not, Trump is not in your personal life.

When he wrote "state of fear" he had dunning-kruger syndrome

I would argue some media outlets are more reliable than others, as can be established for oneself by looking at their track records and following the money. I think this ^ applies as is to mainstream media in general, pick your flavour, but some organisations are trying to do journalism right. You ought to be careful before defaulting to not believing anything you read. I think using your discretion in selecting trusted sources goes a long way in ensuring some level of information integrity. Add to that a layer of fact-checking resources, using your common sense and trying to read between the lines, and you might end up with a coherent world view that you can use to interface with other people. Getting your propaganda from multiple sides can also add scope to your experience of the world from what other people write about it. That being said, I reckon it's a complex mess ... my $0,02.

I'm a middle-aged, white, cis male heterosexual married father that has started and run companies, hired and managed engineers, make ok money, lean a bit right of center politically, worked for the government, large banks, healthcare and retail and lives in a rural location in the midwest.

What you've described is something I experience in almost every facet of my life. I'm so blandly stereotypical it hurts yet somehow the rampant generalizations that are used to describe me, my values and my motivations are so hilariously wrong the vast majority of time that I don't even bother to argue because there's nothing to even work with as a ground truth.

The most recent reality check I've had is this year when I finally started using Twitter. I loaded up on folks in my industry only to be blindsided with a barrage of insanity. Honestly think that 75% of the people in my feed in serious need of a wellness check. I can't imagine the damage being done to young folks observing the behavior of adults on that platform.

>The most recent reality check I've had is this year when I finally started using Twitter. I loaded up on folks in my industry only to be blindsided with a barrage of insanity.

They created a platform that optimizes for trolling, insanity and outrage porn because it's the cheapest way of inducing engagement. It's hardly a reality check.

A reality check would be going to a conference and realizing that twitter isn't a representation of the general public.

> A reality check would be going to a conference and realizing that twitter isn't a representation of the general public.

An interesting counter(? corollary? Neither?) to that is when you go to a conference and the SAME INSANE PEOPLE from Twitter are there, acting as one would consider "normal".

I don't know what to think about the immense gulf between how we as a species behave behind a screen vs face to face. And how we also react to others doing it.

I had this lesson 25 years ago. The nicest person I knew at my school was an immense asshole online. It wasn't even the anonymousness of it - it was to fellow classmates that knew who he was.

Speculation - You need to be asshole some times in real life, or you become passive aggressive and take it out somewhere else.

>I don't know what to think about the immense gulf between how we as a species behave behind a screen vs face to face.

"Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth - Oscar Wilde."

Looking at 4chan as an example, although in theory masked the discussions defaults to a specific and recognizable tone and specific ways of argumenting or joking.

Giving a mask gives you a new contextual facet of a person, but hardly the truth. Few are those who can even know the truth about themselves. I don't know if I do.

Perhaps it's more like give someone a mask and they will tell you their psychosis. Is the disinhibited mind properly functioning any more than a drunk person is their real self or a disinhibited muscle contributes the most to a person's presence?

Don’t even get me started on conferences, there are a centerpiece of the controversy. I never got into the conference groove because I always had to pay my own way and never wanted to turn down an opportunity to bill some hours.

Trump rallies are sort of like a real-life depiction of Twitter

I'm so blandly stereotypical it hurts yet somehow the rampant generalizations that are used to describe me, my values and my motivations are so hilariously wrong the vast majority of time

Maybe you are not so blandly stereotypical after all? Your mini bio doesn't sound bland at all. Maybe you fit the formal criteria for group membership (in the group you describe), but aren't an average exemplar? Maybe people in general tend to think of themselves as more typical than they are? Or maybe that's true especially for guys in the group you describe? That would certainly explain political rhetoric talking to regular Joes who aren't so regular anymore.

Also probably true: the group you describe is so large that the variation within it is large, and stereotypes have little predictive predictive power for individual members.


The likelyhood of being average in all dimensions plummets with an increase in dimensions.

Well yeah, as you add more ways to be different, you're more likely to be different.

Same - and although I've been able to resist it so far, it's so tempting to retort, well fuck you too. I can see why people get pulled towards the extremes. The reasonable (in my case progressive stand point) is not good enough for the extremists.

I had the same experience you described, except, in my case, it was Facebook.

People in my industry who I have known for 20+ years dedicated 100% of their online presence to spewing out and promoting such incredible hate-filled garbage that I was in shock.

Otherwise intelligent educated people got sucked into amazing resonant chambers of hatred. It was beyond belief.

I finally unfriended everyone on FB but about a dozen close family members. This was an experience I don’t care to repeat.

>the people in my feed in serious need of a wellness check.

Like, uuh, the president of the United States?

Why would he be in my feed?


I get what you are saying, but those "good old days" often ignored or downright humiliated men who were not cis, not heterosexual, not married, or childfree. There are all sorts of people under the sun.

to me it is more exciting that there is a whole population that can be more productive in our society just because the rest of us use a few adjective or pronouns. that's massive leverage with very low overhead, I like it.

I hope you're being sarcastic.

I was not being sarcastic. It is how I reconciled the otherwise jarring societal changes where its not clear who exactly has the consensus on a new concept and who to listen to.

My conclusion is that what is asked is so low effort that it is inconsequential for cisgender people and improves the quality of life for people that felt marginalized and increases their productivity.

Why does that bother you so much? Language changes to fit needs. Always has, always will.

>The most recent reality check I've had is this year when I finally started using Twitter. I loaded up on folks in my industry only to be blindsided with a barrage of insanity. Honestly think that 75% of the people in my feed in serious need of a wellness check. I can't imagine the damage being done to young folks observing the behavior of adults on that platform.

Twitter/Reddit are always, Always, ALWAYS wrong about everything.[1]

... and thank God for that.

As one whose political and cultural beliefs are, like yours, mostly opposite that of Twitter/Reddit's as a whole, the sites' existence (including subreddits like /r/politics, /r/news, and /r/worldnews) is gratifying and validating.

If the mass of Redditards/Twitter users agreed with my opinions I'd carefully reexamine every one of them.

As bloodraven42 wrote in response to a pretty cringe-inducing example of a Redditard (who was agreeing with an even more cringe-inducing example (http://np.reddit.com/r/AskReddit/comments/urodq/british_guy_...)):

>Please note the fact that you've gotten this impression from "reading Reddit". I assure you, reading Reddit gives you about as accurate a portrayal of reality as reading North Korean "news". Did you know Kim Jong Il is literally a God?

As Anal_Justice_League added:

>So wait, your world view comes from reading Reddit?

>Do I even have to explain how catastrophically stupid that is?

And as 1foryes said in another thread (https://np.reddit.com/r/canada/comments/be2p5a/cbc_predicts_...): >But fortunately, reddit does not represent reality. If it did, the ice caps would have melted years ago and we'd all be fighting in WW6.

[1] Except bacon

I have no idea what you're saying or what your point is, because your post is a jumbled mess. I'm not saying this to attack you.

We can translate that to pretty much anything that we hear/read/watch second-hand from any source (including the news media). I grew up in a South Asian country and came to the US in early 2000 for college. Before then, I listened to BBC, RFA and VOA religiously and thought what they report there about my country is the truth (we were ruled by the military regime back then and most of the population assume everything the government said is a lie. An example in which people were already desensitized to disregard the government--the military government broadcast a public health service announcements after 8pm news everyday and those includes things like not using too much oil in the food for fear of heart disease. The general public would assume the government cannot import sufficient amount of edible oil from abroad--because of economic sanctions--so they are discouraging everyone to use less oil in cooking!).

But when I came to the US and started to learn who is feeding these news to the VOA, RFA, etc. and how these people and organizations (including the UN orgs) got funding, I realize not everything that I read is true. This became very apparent when I read news about my country (reported by NYT and other reputable media outlets) that are too simplistic and one-sided. Then I stopped reading news altogether since 2016 and quit FB.

That was the best decision ever and nowadays I only use Reddit to follow very specific subreddits (just sports, aww and funny). People are very opinionated about things that they have not experienced, and with online anonymity, people can sprout baseless stuff and easily buy into believing things that are simply not true.

Everything I said here applies to HN as well. There are a lot of very poorly-informed-but-opinionated users here just like everywhere on the internet.

I've noticed this regarding companies I've worked at too. When it involves any knowledge that wouldn't be available to the public, people on HN spout plausible-sounding theories as though they're fact, but they actually have no basis in reality. "Turned out Company X was having trouble monetizing Feature Y so they've decided to pivot and adopt a new marketing strategy which is why customer support now takes so long to respond if you're not on an enterprise tier." And for other random companies that stuff sounds perfectly plausible, but every time I've been in a position to fact-check against deep personal knowledge of the company in question, it's been total BS. Just wild speculation presented with an air of authority.

One reason I strongly dislike forums with voting mechanisms is that they tend to reward and reinforce speculation presented with an air of authority.


Do you think it is just speculation presented as fact? Or do people really believe what they are saying?

Even within a company I am very sceptical of narrative. The root cause of something can be quite different to what is presented, which can be different to what people believe privately. We are all biased after all.

I don't think people are purposely trying to mislead, I think they're just connecting the dots with whatever low-quality sources are available to them: old Tech Crunch articles, press releases, company blog posts, remarks from coworkers/friends who've gotten sales outreach, etc. And making some kind of narrative out of them which feels believable. Often logical inferences to draw, but ultimately just wrong/irrelevant.

Every color science and/or accessibility thread trends towards quoting and reinforcing the same gentleman who has blotted out the sun by writing extremely long (and informative!) explanations of color theory on several sites, in service of an extremely flawed conclusion that is fixed by an hour of Mathematica and experience with actual color science.

Now after reading all of the above, I'm painfully aware that I have no idea whether what you just said is true or random BS. :(

Hah, very good ;)

I am betting BS

Can you post links to either the HN threads or color theory sites that you feel are reinforcing the flawed conclusions?

Or even better, some explanations that are more correct, or a reveal of the common flaws?

Read Color Appearance Models 3rd Edition by Fairchild, it covers __everything__.

I think someday soon I'll be communicating about this more widely, we'll see though

On the other hand, I've worked for companies that are in the press and sometimes the external viewpoint helps counteract the kool-aid.

I've also worked at companies where wikipedia has more accurate and detailed information than the internal wikis.

So maybe some of those insane people have - expertise and perspective.

Now not all. A lot of press is fawning. And nowadays, maybe due to algorithmic feedback, a lot of stuff is sort of fake controversial.

You make a good point and I do agree. Also at any bigger company, no one person's experience is completely representative. It depends on the person, manager, team, org, etc. There's no way any one person could know everything about a company.

But my comment wasn't really about cultural or org issues (which can be much more subjective); it was more about specific facts that are binary. I'll read people say something like "x company is rewriting everything in Go because Rails is slow" when it's not true at all.

One person is enough to change or make new facts about the company too.

That's interesting how an internal wiki could be less accurate than Wikipedia, how big were these discrepancies?

It kind of makes sense - wikipedia has rules about sourcing, and lots of eyes on it. Your company's internal wiki is internal documentation that is probably nobody's job to update and has pages in it last edited 10 years ago by people who have long since quit.

>On the other hand, I've worked for companies that are in the press and sometimes the external viewpoint helps counteract the kool-aid.

The idea that the drones in a company know more about the company than the public is laughable. Unless you have your own office you do not know what the company's goals actually are.

I’ve worked for two companies now that are high-profile HN fodder. Discussions of both of them have been complete batshit—from the technical engineering to the business decisions, and everything in between.

I will never understand why it’s so hard for people to realize and admit when they don’t know what they’re talking about.

One thing that helped me was when I was taught how to answer questions in a legal context. (Patent deposition.) Every answer has two parts: the answer to the question is the second part, to be preceded by your confidence in the answer. “I believe,” “I think,” or just plain “I don’t know,” and so on. Ever since then I’ve just habitually asked myself, “do I actually know this, or do I just think this, and on what basis?”

Do this enough and you’ll be surprised at how little you actually know.

Especially about what goes on inside companies you’ve never worked for.

Good point. A quote from Michael J Straczynski : “The truth is a three edged sword : your opinion, my opinion and the truth.”

It's much broader than just public perception of companies. A lot of stuff that passes off as information is actually entertainment.

For example, news about some new nutrition study typically don't involve any of the hard scientific line of inquiry that actual science work entails (e.g. critically thinking about potential methology flaws, for example.)

Reading about some politician slipping out a gaffe says nothing about what is happening in terms of law making (and nuances are often lost in translation when an article does talk about new laws). Etc.

A lot of articles are filled with rethoric and/or "real life" stories that don't really have a direct impact on the reader other than to elicit some form of emotional response. Contrast to actual educational material that is denser and drier, and can make a real impact in the reader's future when studied properly.

The fish is the last to know it lives in water.

Often companies deal with their own staff very differently to how they treat their customers or their competition. The average Oracle developers probably has no inkling of how Oracle screws over their customers with onerous licensing, for example.

Insiders that aren't in very senior management positions may not even be aware of the high-level decisions being made by their company. You often hear stories of employees being completely blind-sided when scandals or corruption are revealed.

Similarly, I've noticed that employees tend to make excuses for their company's behaviour, casually dismissing bad behaviour that isn't so easy to ignore for everyone else. This is tribalism at its finest.

Lastly, you hear rationalisations galore from people in senior management positions, carefully avoiding any mention of the real motivations for their bad behaviour. These lies are especially important when they speak to internal staff, especially staff they're screwing over.

As a random example, I worked at a large company recently where they essentially fired their entire IT department and replaced them with an outsourcer that charged half as much. I was an outside consultant working for senior management, so I got to see the real inside story. The staff were deliberately kept in the dark, and even outright lied to.

The real reason for the whole thing was that outsourcers cycle employees through every three months on temporary working visas, avoiding income taxes and essentially all mandatory payments such as worker's compensation. The whole thing was a huge tax dodge.

I read an article in a newspaper calling this out. The article was mostly true, but I guarantee you that 99% of the people at the company would have never known any of this.

Being an insider only gives you really detailed information about your own team, perhaps a dozen people. If you're at a FAANG, this might be 0.01% of the company at large...

"Too many people have opinions on things they know nothing about. And the more ignorant they are, the more opinions they have"

- Dr. Hildern at Camp McCarran.

Great quote from a fictional game (Fallout) character.

It's easy to see things black and white when you're not well informed.

When you're the expert, it's all about tradeoffs, and every decision or opinion always needs to be balanced out.

It's sobering, to put it mildly.

    It has been hilarious and scary to read comments from people 
    who don't work at the company say completely inaccurate things
    like they are facts.
In the early days of the Internet, there was this widespread naivete that the truth would win. People generally wanted the truth, right? And this "global information superhighway" would act as sort of a de facto peer review. We wouldn't always get things right, but overall it would surely be a win for "the truth" or at least, for reasoned opinions.

Or so we thought. How naive we were.

> It has been hilarious and scary to read comments from people who don't work at the company say completely inaccurate things like they are facts.

Sounds more like stupidity than insanity. People do this to express an uninformed opinion with unearned authority because that opinion and any resulting agreement are more valuable than facts and boring predictable conclusions.

I used to think this too, but when I look at the COVID and lockdown opinions of my facebook friends, they greatly differ, but their intelligence doesn't differ that much.

I know people as intelligent as me, to have complete opposite opinions. My first reaction was that they are stupid, but I actually know they are pretty smart.

It's easy to dismiss someone elses opinion as stupid, but it's really hard when you know it's not actually the case.

With the COVID situation, I concluded that there are more authoritative, "follow the rules" people, and more rebel, "we hate the rules" people. Thanks to covid I have a clear view who of my contacts belong to which group. Most of them are intelligent.

Intelligence have often less to do with rationality and objectivity, which can be used as facade to hide the biases.

"Intelligence" is a complex and multidimensional thing.

Writing, math, human interactions, art, etc. These each require different sorts of intelligence. The dominant view on "intelligence" these days is something along these lines.


Those eight categories are perhaps a bit insufficient and arbitrary, but surely the overall notion rings true -- we have all known "smart" people who excelled in some of those areas while failing at others.

Sifting through the available information (and disinformation) and reaching a rational conclusion on something like COVID involves multiple axes of intelligence.

It requires a (somewhat rare? apparently?) combination of a base level of scientific literacy, and perhaps some interpersonal skills because sifting through the misinformation requires an understanding of various parties' motivations. As well as perhaps a few others.

That is not the same thing. I doubt your friends are claiming to be some sort of insider expert and then imposing that expertise upon others like a hammer, which is entirely different than just being disagreeable.

Well, the rebels claimed that the covid tests were crap, numbers were being exagerated, government took the opportunity for more control, lockdowns are not necesarry, experts were short sighted idiots, thanked the anti-vaxers for not making vaccinations obligatory, gave everyone shit for not taking the streets and fighting authority.

Then the lawful people claimed extreme situations require extreme measures, experts know best, high numbers are because stupid people don't follow the rules, etc.

That still doesn’t sound like claims of expertise. Worse, it doesn’t even sound original. I suspect they were parroting nonsense they heard from somewhere else. Sure, when called out that sounds stupid too, but it isn’t quite the same thing.

Older friends lament that you used to be able to have perfectly good conversations arguing about trivial questions of fact. Now there's always some asshole with a smartphone to look up the right answer and ruin the fun.

It helps to look at HN the same way. It's not about the truth, it's about enjoying the conversation.

I never got this.

If your question could be answered by googling, its not really an interesting question.

Meaning of life -> interesting question

What is the capital of Canada? -> who cares, and if you did care why would you want to debate it instead of looking it up? [Its just an example, i am Canadian and obviously know what the answer is]

Using a search engine requires skill. Asking a good question does as well. The saying is, "the most stupid question is the one you haven't asked". However it omits one should put in effort to do their own research. That effort is somewhat arbitrary. It doesn't equal using Google (I generally don't even use Google search engine), nor does it require success in using Google. A good basis is the ability to do research; I believe the emphasis should lie there. And it needs to be taught before university (which is 18+ age).

Being able to do proper research is all well and good, but is not needed to determine the "trivial questions of fact" that the parent was talking about.

"whats the capital of south africa?" is more interesting!

Now everyone thinks they’re geniuses too just because they can google random facts. You should talk faster than they can type just to keep having fun at their expense. Also, if you talk long enough chances are very good that you’ll find something they’re unable to easily google it. Most people are still lazy thinkers anyways.

That's what HN is... bullshitting claims that are too expensive to disprove even with time to research.

You’re certainly enjoying the conversation! /s

I hate when people confidently bluff and confidently spread untruths. He had fun, but world is slightly more unscientific sue to that.

The same happened to me after I started at a company than HN hated and realized that it’s much different inside that the picture painted here. I became really skeptical of any big claims about other big corps too.

Having also worked for companies that HN hates, of course it's much different on the inside. Nobody twiddles their mustache and cackles when they make decisions that screw people over. They find ways to make it sound benevolent and positive.

Keep at it! Big/impactful companies are great places to learn, and I don't want to tell you what to think. But your views on topics like benign intents and unintended consequences might change after you see enough of them firsthand.

>Nobody twiddles their mustache and cackles when they make decisions that screw people over

Well. Oracle.

Nah, that’s more like shrugging. “Mhh, this number here says that screwing X we’ll make a few more dollars. <shrugs> Ah well, that’s how the cookie crumbles.” <goes ahead screwing X>

Yeah but Oracle generally only screws over companies who either can afford it easily or have used expensive external "consultants" to help make the decision, both have a low sympathy vote from me.

Yeah but they get their tentacles into government as well where it impacts all of us.

> Big/impactful companies are great places to learn

Is it really? I always learned the most at tiny companies.

Well, a company doesn't have to be big to be impactful. What's important in my experience is a productive environment which can foster the occasional side project.

This is actually something that I've struggled a bit with, because it feels like the most interesting and educational jobs are the ones that involve more than 40hrs/week.

Sometimes I wish that I could find a 20hr/week role with the potential to make big positive improvements in peoples' lives. But there are always other groups trying to do the same thing, and they're never happy to stop at part-time.

the alternative is that the company or you found a way to rationalise or reframe the very same behaviour in a way that makes it appear positive, after all as the saying goes your paycheck literally depends on you believing that very fact.

Genuinely awful organisations always have people on the inside who are very convinced everything said about them is an injustice, but that can very easily be tribalism. I mean Zuckerberg and many Facebook employees claimed that Facebook influencing elections is a ridiculous proposal. If that's the kind of thing that working at the place does to you I think we can safely discount the opinion of insiders.

not to forget this gem: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ELgAZH-Wb44

Facebook? Riot? Microsoft? SoftBank?

Do hn hate those? Maybe facebook has a lot of haters these days. Last time i heard someone bash on microsoft, slashdot was still big. On the whole i think hacker news tends to be pretty positive to big tech.

> On the whole i think hacker news tends to be pretty positive to big tech.

Perhaps to a fault, the same applies to the CCP Bots you see here posting anytime anyone questions China: you have people here with self-interest guiding their words and creating rationalizations like those above stating how erroneous 'the media' and 'outsiders' portray them in a bad light and that some how they are poorly informed and thus their views are nothing more than unsubstantiated conjecture.

But one needs to only look at the recent behavior of Apple riots in India and Amazon exploiting warehouse workers and firing them during COVID due to reasonable concerns--like lack of PPE and distancing/hygiene/prevention methods.

Its so commonplace and thus very easy to realize that if these massive monoliths, who benefit from very skewed tax, legal and labur laws, are not going to put Human Rights/Labor Laws before Profit or Market Share even during a Global pandemic, then they never will: and Governments on a whole are either/or both complicit as they ignorant on their business models making legislation solutions entirely moot. And I'm not even going to mentioned Google as this rebuttal would never end.

But nothing changes those objective truths regardless of how much you may want to sugarcoat things, and the fact that so many here still think FAANG is the end all and be all of Tech shows just how misguided if not entirely indoctrinated (from within or otherwise) they really are and how easily they are bought off with the illusion of prestige, a meaningless title and an often over bloated salary and by extension a sense of self worth for the things they've actually bring to the World often, most notably: Social media that creates discord and division and devices that promote further dependence on self-infatuated naval gazing while our Environment and hapless languish in mines and suffer ever greater exploitation, and these businesses make them increasingly more within the closed source, planned obsolesce paradigm business model. Not to mention the depression and suicide these addictive things are meant to create in a sort of intention span casino addiction model.

So, no, I don't think what you're saying is true, and what you are referring to is told with very obvious biases.

People should be critical of these exploitative and frankly often unnecessary and cancerous business models, the problem is that they wield so much power and money they simply destroy any competition they may have had in the past, assuming they didn't acquire them and we get less choices due to these monopolistic practices.

I think it was Chamath that said it best when he describes what banks and big tech excel at that most the Industries can't as the 'intellectual lobotomization' of a generation(s) best minds as they spend(t) their talents and drive to often pointless (facebook) and often nefarious ends (credit default swaps, naked short selling/high frequency trading algorithms etc...).

So you spend several paragraphs talking about how big tech is evil, and hn is full of sheeple who trade their morals for $$$ and status, etc. Then you say:

> So, no, I don't think what you're saying is true, and what you are referring to is told with very obvious biases.

So i am confused, do you agree with me that HN goes easy on big tech, or not? Because your argument seems to be the opposite of your conclusion.

> So i am confused, do you agree with me that HN goes easy on big tech, or not? Because your argument seems to be the opposite of your conclusion.

Ok, let me make it clear: I agree with your quoted response, but I disagree with the substance and the narrative of your view from which it is told. It's very obviously a skewed perception from someone who frankly takes a very poor view of the overall health of what Big Tech has created to the detriment of us all. If you really think Microsoft is any less despised now, than it was back then now you are out of touch entirely as they are the epitome of the panopticon business model that colludes with Military and Intelligence agencies for contracts [0].

And just so it clear, a lot of people on HN do not work for FAANG, YC funds many startups that challenge those business models after all; so many here have no desire to work there, myself included.

What I take issue with is with the over-glorification of the 'intellectual lobotimization' and what are clearly very intelligent and talented people and the motivation(s) and consequences behind them and the acceptance of it as a casual dismissal of it with statements like 'well, I didn't see any of that when I was there.'

Of course you didn't, and that's the point about FAANG: things are purposely compartmentalized, isolated, and people there are kept content with infantile based distractions and financial incentives so much that they lose touch with reality entirely while within it.

You see this within Military and Intelligence agencies as well but that differs in that it is undertaken with some sort of perverse cult-like fraternal code of conduct and unquestionable loyalty to the State instead. The guy maintaining the bomber's engines is in a different department as the guy working on the engineering of the weapons and guidance systems on those 'smart weapons,' who is also in a different department than the guy piloting the plane that ultimately drops said weapons that kills everyone in a remote village, but that system doesn't warrant the rampant diffusion of responsibility for the death of countless innocent people who are deemed 'collateral damage' in the end, are they? They're all responsible.

And as seen in the military (Snowden, Manning), as well as in FAANG, should someone decide to even mention some obvious truths about these places in an attempt to make progress no less, they instantly get crucified: James Damore. And other activist Googlers [1] who dare to speak up and instantly become persona non-grata in a way to contain the PR backlash and distract from the nefarious acts of said perpetrator.

0: https://www.nbcnews.com/tech/tech-news/thousands-contracts-h...

1: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2019/dec/17/fifth-google...

Uber or AirBnB maybe?

Also, commonly, Google, but many Googlers on HN aren't afraid to reveal their affiliation.

No one puts baby in a corner.

I'd guess that it's Amazon

I had a similar experience at a bigco that had a minor controversy on HN/Reddit a while back. In this case I was literally able to look at relevant source code and internal documents. Many of the comments were wildly inaccurate and conspiratorial, although there were a couple voices of reason mixed in.

I've gone through that a few times and it's bittersweet. On one hand, it's gratifying to see that my colleagues aren't as immoral or incompetent as xxYoloSwag420xx on reddit claims they are. On the other hand it's frustrating not being able to debunk their blatant bullshit that's been upvoted by a thousand people (which means it's probably been seen by 10,000 people who take it at face value).

I've had exactly the same revelation about traditional media a few years back.

I listen to talk-only radio a lot, they have some of the best experts in the country supposedly, a lot of famous names.

And then they talk about some topic I am familiar with (like Polish army modernization or computer science) and they spew bullshit for 1 hour with 100% confidence and there's 10 people in the studio who I'm sure know it's bullshit but they say nothing.

It's surreal. It means they don't even spend 5 minutes on the most basic research before a 1 hour debate.

I used to read editorials on Slate.com, the articles seemed interesting and discussed topics I didn't know much about. I did that until I read an article about something I did know something about, and I realized they were getting everything wrong. And I realized that they were just taking a devil's advocate position about everything and writing things that were contrary to how things are, presumably to get clicks.

People aren’t psychologically equipped to handle this kind of dishonesty. We evolved to deal with small groups. People would either be forced into honesty by socialization or reputational fears, or they’d be exiled or executed.

Now, you just go on Twitter and virtue signal about some nonsense idpol stuff while robbing everyone blind, and the people will love you.

I have had the exact same experience with my most recent employer. They certainly didn't do everything right, but, generally, it seems they are quick to acknowledge and fix their mistakes, and, certainly they try to be as ethical as possible internally. This company is pretty universally hated across the internet, yet, in the 2 years I was there, I didn't see even a tenth as much unethical or otherwise bad behavior there as I did from Facebook, for instance. Surprisingly, relatively few people outside of a techie / HN-type bubble seem to hate Facebook.

I have experienced exactly this.

I worked for a company who is highly covered in tech news. The most popular stories and themes knew almost nothing about the reality of we were doing. Maybe one in five voices was correct. It was totally disheartening to the point that I completely stopped reading any related topic. Way off base.

To this day, I am frustrated by misinformation about the work we did. The internet (and general knowledge) is not intelligent.

To counterpoint, what did you or the company do to set things straight?

We spent months that were planned for developing new features ripping out features that didn't perform well enough.

The intent was good: bring the new shiny to people with older hardware. The result was poor: people with older hardware thought we were deliberately slowing them down.

I understand. Relationship management is a tough nut to crack. I know few companies who tick all the boxes. Discord is usually great with its splash screen what they are doing at the moment.

When general media has some report about my specific field, they're usually filled with nonsense, then I realized the only logical conclusion is that other fields face exactly the same problem, it's just that I couldn't identify the bullshit in them.

I got that like 15 years ago.

> It has been hilarious and scary to read comments from people who don't work at the company say completely inaccurate things like they are facts.

That's true with everything. Everyone has their own way to feel superior to everyone else, and for a lot of people, that superiority comes from knowledge, real or imagined.

I treat nearly every comment online like they are a user who is actively trying to deceive me and it's sad.

I do something like this when a comment provokes an emotional reaction the fits with current societal trends.

I literally ask myself "What if this comment is an echo of a troll?"

I don't impute bad faith to the individual, but that they too may have been seduced by the power of easy emotions.

Same here especially after watching the CGP Grey video on anger.

Or you just trust people who qualify their statements, moderate they views, and have balanced and nuanced opinions.

What were some of the inaccurate things said by the HN/Reddit crowd?

Look no further than this comment thread. HN (and Reddit) is filled with conspiratorial rants about journalism and the news media. This is not to dismiss valid media criticism but the vast majority of posts on HN make laughably inaccurate assumptions about the news business.

What's one inaccurate assumption (that stands out among others) about the news business the HN crowd has made in 2020?

I always wondered how do Google, MS, FB, {popular_game e.g Riot Games/CDPR} and so on employees feel when they read that bullshit

As someone who worked for a company that's widely hated on the internet (I'm talking front page of HN-level hate), my reaction was always to sigh and let our PR people handle it. I deliberately stayed out of any discussions involving my former employer.

You see a bunch of blatantly wrong things about countries as well that would be obvious for anyone who lived there. As a uncontroversial example, Winnie the Pooh clearly isn't banned in China, given how much merchandise is manufactured there. The "ghost cities" that were reported in about in China a few years are largely populated. They were empty at the time because they were new.

Case in point: Palantir. People would rather spread bizarre FUD they hear in the media than face the fact that they just don't know how much good Palantir does.

I got nothing against Palantir (disclosure: I'm a shareholder) but you do have to acknowledge that people have very different definitions of "good" that factor into their opinions.

Some people find that bringing technology into the government is of course good, others are vehemently against agencies like ICE or the military industrial complex.

What good does Palantir do? I'd be quite interested to hear about it.

They have a surprising number of humanitarian projects. For example, they're partnering with the World Food Programme to optimize food distribution.

That might be a corporate form of moral self licensing.


Don't know much about them, but they do appear to support/do the development of pyls (python language server)

Do they build Autobahns too

Certainly more good than news media taking an occasional drive-by shit on them will admit. It behooves people who still read the news to develop a healthy skepticism about motivated negative coverage.

The problem is that the masses are not equipped to separate fabrication from reality. It often takes hours of research to actually get to the bottom of a story. Nowhere is this more prevalent and hideous than in US politics. Media outlets, under cover of constitutional protection lie with impunity, consequences be damned. All they care about is hitting resonance and feeding it. It is hard to estimate the damage they have caused this nation.

In some cases discovering the truth has a time element as well. I remember a very specific case from the 2016 elections that drove this point home for me.

I was watching CNN. They featured this story about a black church that had been burned down and the phrase “Vote Trump” spray painted on the side. The network pounded on this story for a week or so. They painted Trump as the racist instigator who inspired someone to do this.

None of this made sense for me. Unless crazy, a supporter of any political candidate would know that burning down a church would not be a net positive for their candidate. Something was wrong, yet it was impossible to discover at that time.

I was so puzzled that I set a calendar reminder to look into the story a few months later.

Sure enough, three months later they arrested the guy who did it. Who was he? A member of the church. Yes, a black man. Why did he do it? Because he had a problem with the pastor. Why did he spray paint “Vote Trump”? Because he thought that would send investigators in a different direction.

Do you think CNN devoted a week’s worth of 24/7 coverage to correct the absolute falsehoods they spread? Of course not! They could not care less! Millions of people walked away from a one week carpet bombing campaign across most of the media with lies upon lies pounded into their heads.

This one event truly changed my views. I started to research everything. I can say that in nearly 100% of the stories I look into the media lied with impunity.

While I don’t consider myself a Trump supporter, I started to understand what the man was dealing with. He has had to endure this for four years. This is a horrific violation of the trust and privileges granted to the media by the US constitution.

Some might be OK with this because they dislike Trump. That is a terribly myopic position to adopt. Today the media attacks those you dislike, yet nothing in life is constant. Tomorrow, whenever that may be, the tables might change...sadly that’s when people finally realize that a principled unbiased position in favor of truth and justice is the only one that can protect everyone.

The real world is usually more dynamic, maleable and workable than the internet has you believe too.

If you believed the internet, you would believe you can only ever use the best parts in the perfect configuration for almost everything. Be it metalwork, mountain biking, computing, drones or any other hobby regularly discussed online.

The reality is you can make do with in so many different ways that if you can't afford the best you can still have oodles of fun on cheaper equipment. Half the fun is learning all this "expertise" the internet has on your own.

Can't afford a Bridgeport mill? Buy something cheaper and work around the edge cases. Can't afford a full suspension bike? Get a hardtail and have tonnes of fun.

Someone is always quick to add in the caveats, but guess what, a new rider doesn't give a shit that he can't send 8ft drops on his hard tail. There are hours of fun on the bike ahead, none of it sending 8ft drops. The new hobby machinist isn't bothered that they can't mill titanium, they are just stoked to be getting started.

Expanding on the rule I've heard is when starting, buy the cheapest thing that won't kill/discourage you, and use it until you break it or you explicitly understand the limitations, so that you know what to buy and what qualities to look for.

I rarely am disappointed by this. When I started learning piano, I got a 100 dollar midi controller and connected it to my ipad or computer. It let me know that I wanted a quality digital piano as my next step.

Agree on this being a good strategy. It also does a good job of covering the case where you learn that you aren't actually that interested in X, or are only interested enough to get a particular task done.

This is such an underrated comment. I find so much of this “right way” thing to just be cliquish gate keeping.

even if I can afford it, I usually find it more satisfying to work my way up through tiers of equipment for {insert hobby}. it's hard to appreciate what makes the high-end stuff nice if you haven't tried the low- and mid-range first.

I made a rule-of-thumb checklist for this sort of thing:

-Is the advice primarily based on every more finely delineated consumption? (e.g. the bikes or mills you mentioned) Then you can safely ignore it as the users responding are well past the diminishing returns curve in their obsession

-Are there any bits of advice that seem to pop up across various sources? → investigate and think about their validity

-What are the main "things I wish I knew before starting" that keep popping up? → investigate and think

Agreed. Funny thing is that even if you're aware of this it can affect you. I noticed this recently when I spent a bit of time watching 3D printing videos to find a solution to a small problem. When I was done watching this video I felt like I absolutely had to buy this much more expensive printer to get any decent results, which was completely false.

The author notes by the use of insane he means different, but is it really that unique for a person to post online or are we just seeing a pattern where there is none.

Books are written by insane people, on average person does not write a book.

Rock climbers are insane people, very few people rock climb so why listen to safety tips the 0.2% of the population who do. They are not normal people from a statical standpoint.

On average a person does not do any one spicific thing.

Everyone online has contributed to the internet, everyone has written something and everyone has excersised.

I've seen this brought up before that only 2-3% of redditors contribute, like it's a bad thing or a unique thing. That number it's way higher than books, tv, radio any form of convenientional media.

I think these examples still support the broader hypothesis that creators are outliers and not representative of everybody else. Normal people don’t write books. Reading only books and not talking to normal people will give you a skewed impression of reality.

Even that statement "creators are outliers" doesn't really seem supported by the evidence from the article. Seems just as plausible that most people create in a singular or small set of domains, but consume from a much broader set.

I mean, sure, only .2% of visitors contribute to Wikipedia, but that's because Wikipedia has huge general applicability. I bet the 99.8% of non-contributors also includes the guy that streams on Twitch 12 hours a day, or folks who moderate Reddit forums, or lots of book authors.

Far from being "outliers", could be that most people just focus their creative pursuits on one thing.

Everyone creates, and most people write, a book isn't so different than a dairy or a blog. You could say TicToc creators are not normal people or Pinterest submitters, but I think the only time we see a cross section that does not represent the general population is when there is a high barrier to entry.

There is a phrase in Icelandic, "ad ganga med bok I maganum", everyone gives birth to a book. Literally, everyone "has a book in their stomach". One in 10 Icelanders will publish one, so in that society it's stastically normal to publish a book. But in any society it's normal to create and publishing is just one out of thousands of ways to do something everyone does.

Thanks, came here to underline the very same, with quote FTA:

> Edit: I guess my tone-projection is off. A lot of people seem to be put-off by my usage of the word "insane." I intended that as tongue-in-cheek and did not mean to imply that any of them literally have diagnosable mental illnesses. I have a lot of respect for all of the individuals I listed and they seem like nice people, I was just trying to make a point about how unusual their behavior is.

The post is about 'how unusual their behavior is' not about 'their (in)sanity'. In hindsight a questionable use of terms, given the author's profession, but I appreciate the edit.

I remember reading about a study to try to find the statistically average soldier.

I seem to recall that after doing hundreds of measurements on thousands of soldiers they found that there was too much variation. None of the soldiers was average in all measurements.

Edit: here's a link


From the comments:

"Creation has always been the province of outliers. Has every creator--from Grady Harp all the way back to God--been insane?"

It’s also perspective. People usually underestimate what doing a little bit of something daily actually accumulates to in a given year. Before you know it, you hit certain thresholds. It can appear overwhelming at first glance to most of us, but it’s really just a total sum of daily progress.

The perspective on this can be the shallow assessment that something is insane, or the wisdom to know it was discipline. Take your pick.

I’ve realized after building a small amount of competency in 2-3 narrow fields over the years how wrong most people are about those same topics online. Since becoming aware of this several years ago I’ve slowly limited my surfing to higher quality sites such as this one. I’ve always wondered how many completely incorrect beliefs I have about the world due to the compulsive surfing/reading of my younger years.

I don't think HN is a higher quality site in the sense you are referring to here. At least not recently.

You will see some well grounded, expert opinions here down-voted into oblivion simply because they clash with the mental picture of a number of HN users.

As much as I love HN it is slowly sliding into reddit-ism.

You will also see entire threads of people confidently stating utter speculation as if it's fact. HN is well-moderated and has high information density compared to most subreddits, but that doesn't mean the information is correct. What you see on HN is that both correct and incorrect comments tend to adopt the same academic affect in their writing. If you're not fairly familiar with the subject at hand, it's hard to tell who knows what they're talking about because it all sounds coherent and reasonable.

If you really want a lark, read the typical HN subthread on a topic involving trading, finance or economics. It's like watching the YouTube-educated spar with the Wikipedia-educated. Commenters with real world experience are downvoted just as often as they're upvoted when they try to earnestly correct mundane misconceptions.

Likewise you can't have a bug bounty story on HN without someone repeating the farce that web app vulns have some sort of shadowy black market. There is invariably a comment near the top claiming the security researcher could have received so much more money by selling it to criminals. It is amazing that something so wrong gets repeatedly so carelessly and easily.

These are a substantial number of people here who think they can confidently talk about anything if they just deconstruct it to first principles and treat it like something else they know about.

I think this is the main thing, which is that the quality of the discussion really depends on the topic. As a post-doc in astronomy, I'm happy to report that the quality of HN discussion on astro-related submissions tends to be quite good[1]. The top level posts tend to be either be broad-level questions that get some good replies or "fun facts". This probably has to do with most folks being interested in space but not really having strong opinions, leading to cordial comment sections and a decent supply of actual astronomy experts on HN.

Now, for things like finance, markets, politics, etc. like you're getting at, those are a different store. I've been baffled that some political and finance posts have devolved to threads worse than Reddit... Maybe some subs have become homogeneous enough that they don't generate quite the same conflict?

[1] About once a year there's a Dark Matter related post that usually brings out a very critical set of responses. That and Dark Energy are just things you need a lot of investigation into the evidence of because, like Quantum Mechanics, they are just weird and don't make sense to the uninitiated.

I mean, people have been saying this basically since the site began:




(I didn't find these, they're linked in the site guidelines.)

Because Reddit is a moving target. At any given time HN is of a similar quality to Reddit-as-of-three-years-ago and declining towards Reddit-as-of-now.

I’ve been on HN for many years and don’t notice this decline. Could it be that those who observe a decline in quality simply have gotten more sensitive to low quality posts with age?

It's possible, but I do sometimes look back at comment sections from years ago, and the change seems very real.

Reddit has always been a few steps ahead of HN in its slide toward redditism, but I agree with GP that it feels like there is more disagreement-downvoting and replies that add nothing to the conversation. Not to the same degree as Reddit, but I think on both sites we’re just witnessing the eternal September as they become less self-selective niche sites and more like mainstream social media.

I'm aware of that. It's just that it got much worse recently.

You joined recently, not sure how you've got any ability to say it's gotten worse 'recently.' Unless you are referring to the past 10 months or so where there was one or two things that might have impacted the discourse a bit.

HN still is the place it's always been. You have more data now, perhaps, but fundamentally it hasn't really changed. People continue to upvote and downvote in roughly the same ways, and they are used to agree and disagree just as they always have been.

We might have different definitions of "recently", but I've been here 7 years in total: 3 years lurking, and 4 years as a user.

You should not assume people keep their original account(s).

I have been active since 2009 here.

Sites with "high quality" content are only high quality in very specific areas, and are not devoid of noise. HN is good for getting quality information from insiders and experts in various elite fields (particularly technology related). Reddit is good for DIY stuff and special interest groups for personal things (finance, healthy living, repairs, building things, etc).

But of course the content of each site tends to go far outside its areas of competence, which is where moderation is needed (otherwise they turn into 4chan or youtube). You get a feel for the bullshit after being on the site awhile, and once you're well tuned to it you see it everywhere (the "this site has gone downhill" effect).

> Reddit is good for DIY stuff and special interest groups for personal things

If you say so. I used to Reddit heavily, but all the topics I followed definitely started trending into the "crazy people" territory. For instance, personal audio and mechanical keyboards. At one point, the "average" person could get on there and find a good price-per-peformance recommendation.

Now, those subs are taken over by the elites for whom money doesn't matter. I mean, it's neat that someone spent $2,000 building a custom-PCB'd, custom-switched, custom-capped keyboard -- and boy, those pics sure are sexy -- but there are only so many of those posts I can take until I realized that no one was talking about the range I can afford any more.

Reddit exists now as the worlds largest porn hub, with a very, very thin veneer over the top for respectability. If I google something specific -- like a question about a video game -- I specifically add "-site:reddit.com" because 1) 9 times out of 10, there's actually no answer, and 2) it takes a few clicks and many seconds to get TO the answer, because of their horrendous web site.

And, yes, I'm bitter, and bag on Reddit whenever I can.

The culture changed, reddit just follows. I still miss the thoughtful discussion of difficult ontological questions in the popular culture around 2017-2018. Soon we will be discussing rhe expectional mechanical keyboards, and then some time after that the tasteful keyboards, and then some time after that the sexy keyboards. It goes on, consistency is not rewarded as the wave of cultural interest moves on.

Is it, though? Maybe there’s been some regression to the mean as the readership has grown, but Reddit is pretty much intolerable drivel these days. There’s no comparison. dang and his team have done some heroic work to keep a high quality of content here.

I agree dang and co are doing awesome work trying to maintain some minimal expected level of discourse here, however they are unable to do anything against mass down-voting of perfectly valid comments from people who actually know what they are talking about.

The Reddit experience depends, to an extreme and absolute degree, upon the moderators and culture of the specific subreddit. Each subreddit is almost literally its own independent kingdom.

Saying anything about the quality of "Reddit" as a whole is very much like saying something about the quality of bars, or messageboards, or knitting clubs as a whole.

I upvoted you because you’re right and I’m wrong, which is the most un-Reddit thing I’ll do all day.

> You will see some well grounded, expert opinions here down-voted into oblivion simply because they clash with the mental picture of a number of HN users.

I don't agree. I read HN constantly.

As far as I see, the areas where downvotes tend to occur are where they skew to opinion, or have some tidings to politics. In other areas, HN comments are generally high quality, and have a high signal-to-noise ratio.

I wouldn't also correlate expert opinions being downvoted as just because it would "clash with the mental picture of a number of HN users". That's a false correlation.

Well, if I were to talk about addiction and the "opioid crisis", I would most likely be down-voted (happened before) even though what I would say would be supported by tons of evidence. When I bother, I just recommend a credible book instead that talks about it and supports it with lots of evidence.

Actually, I am going to suggest it here just now because it is a great book and I would like more people to have a more accurate view on addiction: https://global.oup.com/academic/product/addiction-and-choice... (Addiction and Choice: Rethinking the relationship by Nick Heather and Gabriel Segal). It is from 2016, but most people's views on addiction is more than a few decades old, and all things considered, it is still fairly recent and all recent studies support these views. Please, if you are interested in addiction, have a read. :) It will get you up to date with it, and dispel lots of misconceptions that are still in the head of laymen.

Sociology, demographic and history are all pretty bad when they appear here.

ANnything that requires empathy for different demographics too. (Like old people.)

As long as they are still readable, and not hidden, it can be reconciled.

When things start ‘disappearing’, that makes it much more difficult to contrast.

I have been on HN long enough to know that points != facts.

But, yeah, I have noticed lots of downvotes for people stating facts or their own personal observations.

Quality in HN has always been in a pendulum. It swings between Reddit and comes back to old HN or better. I think it goes in waves, maybe new users, or maybe it's the weather affecting people mentally.

Supplement your HN with Blind.

I personally find Blind to be a low quality, young demographic driven community with egotistical folks obsessed with money.

Was your experience different?

What is 'blind'? Can't google it.

The blind that fits the given description is a social network / app where you can register with a company email but are otherwise anonymous, so that you can post anonymously with people from your company.

A lot of people (at least where I work) are disgruntled there. I get the feeling they joined because they were unhappy and want to vent about the company anonymously, but with people who know what they're talking about. Maybe I'm just projecting though.

> register with a company email

> you can post anonymously

These two don't square. Your anonymity clearly depends on the site not being hacked.

There are possible implementations where it could be done, e.g. they don't store your email address after registry or they only store the hash - which I hope they've done. There are also possible mitigations from the user's side, e.g. when registering send the verification email to an alias that is a list of people so that you are not uniquely identified by it.

One strange thing I noticed on HN is that some of my most upvoted posts are in area outside my field of expertise. I do everything I can to fact check myself, but I'm sure I have been wrong several times and there are people more qualified than me to answer.

And some of my posts that are well within my field of expertise stay at zero.

When I get downvoted it is usually when I post an unpopular opinion, but rarely as a result of being wrong.

All this to say that while HN is, I think, one of the best communities, it doesn't mean you should leave your guard down. I'd say it is even more insidious here because you won't find easily debunked bullshit, no flat earthers here. Falsehoods here are to be subtle enough to go unnoticed by an educated mind, and you are not guaranteed to be corrected by a real expert.

My least popular comments are also comments I have made with hard won experience in my field.

My not-very-humble guess is that it is two fold: One, if you only have a shallow understanding of something, it is easy to dismiss things as wrong if they don't align with your understanding so far. Two, if you do have a deep understanding of a topic but different experiences in the field, you may have really strong opinions in a different direction.

Disappointingly they are also usually the least discussed comments of mine and I rarely figure out why they were downvoted.

Can you link to some of your "hard won experience" comments? Now I'm curious about them.

In my case, I work for a large pharmaceutical. Many of the driving forces behind drug development or healthcare decisions arise in business priorities, practices, and regulations that are complex and unintuitive to outsiders. Unless I reinforce my POV with explanation of why and how these subterranean forces drive outcomes, I'm likely to find myself downvoted — presumably because readers discount my perspective as insufficiently plausible or wrong outright, perhaps because I haven't offered enough explanation. But since longwinded explication of arcane background minutiae is tiresome to write and for others to read, so I often demur to the detriment of my score.

You’ll read pretty wildly off comments on this site about certain topics.

For instance, it’s gotten better over time but effectively anytime you see comments about how the markets work on HN it will be filled with inaccuracies.

Poker is another topic where people wildly overestimate their knowledge but can sometimes present their incorrect ideas in a reasonably coherent way that allows them to be upvoted by other people who also aren't experts. At the bottom of every HN thread about poker you'll find a couple people who actually know what they're talking about shouting into the void, "wait, that's not actually how that works..." before they give up and wander off.

Across all my HN comments I've found there is an optimum level of detail where it sounds like you know what you're talking about, beyond which is too complicated to get many upvotes. The exception is occasionally on HN you get an undisputed expert on something to come in and set the record straight.

My personal favorite: Any topic involving airplanes will involve 99% of the people sounding very confidant and very very wrong.

Believe me, there are worse topics.

The best way to get yelled at or down-voted on HN is having a basic understanding of how EU regulations and the EU legislative process work.

That is actually a topic I hardly see discussed here. And one that would be interesting to see a factual discussion about. Seems to me that perceived conceptions about it are behind Brexit.

I have no knowledge of nuclear sea vessels but the sheer number of comments and the certainty implied makes me suspicious on that topic.

I don’t know about that, but I’m absolutely certain the bicycle shed needs to be green.

If you think discussions on markets are bad, try philosophy, especially political philosophy, or sociology. I don't often comment on "very wrong" comments because they're unlikely to get anywhere.

I've found that for all HN detests conformity, more often than not it tends to be a certain kind of perceived conformity, and more often, what is seen as conformity in startup culture. What is often missed in my (honestly) humble opinion, is that this counter-conformity rests squarely in the larger conformity!

I definitely agree. Whenever you try to have a discussion that goes against some sacred assumptions, which happens very often when talking about sociology or (political) philosophy, or non-liberal politics in general, no matter how respectfully or qualifiedly you make your point it's almost certain your interlocutors will not engage productively.

And indeed, because these assumptions are not even known to be assumptions, it's not even visible to the reader that this is a case of conformity.

Interestingly, I've noticed that these modes of conformity often come in temporal waves, in that at different times of the day you get downvoted - or receive less constructive discussion - for differing subjects. I should try to make a more involved analysis eventually.

The timing thing probably has to do with when people get off work or aren't prepping meals.

I had this intuition too, but time zones, breaks, procrastination, variation in meal prep + time zones very likely cancel it out.

It's not simply the amplitude changing, but the sign of comments too - it can go from neutral to upvoted to downvoted and back, so simple patterns in activity can't quite explain it.

To be fair I’m not sure the economists know either, and some of them have even admitted to that.

I’m in bed and on my phone and too lazy to search for an exact link, but for a quick example I can give you the international government-bond market which the theory said that its price should have not ever fallen below zero. At some point in 2019 I think bonds worth $17 trillion (40% of the market if I’m not mistaken) were priced below that zero threshold.

Don't even bother reading anything biology related from here. 1/100 commenters have anything more than a high school biology background, and chances are the article at hand is 5 paragraphs of boilerplate overstatement anyway.

Same. I was working on some personal projects that are not of a technical nature. There was a lot of information and discussions on the internet about it, but it was all incredibly wrong and written with great confidence by people who had zero authority on the topic. I ended up hiring professionals to help and I got my money's worth. My conclusion is the internet is mostly marketing and entertainment aside from a few very specific corners.

> I’ve always wondered how many completely incorrect beliefs I have about the world due to the compulsive surfing/reading of my younger years.

A good rule of thumb, if maybe excessively defensive, is the more strongly held a belief the more likely it is to be wrong. Reality has a nasty habit of being moderate, murky and uncertain. An extremist moderate might be on the right political track, I suppose.

One of the fun parts of being an engineer is that they have to interact with the real world and the theoretical one and learn just how many stupid practical details blow apart theoretically pure ideas.

I wholeheartedly agree. I would add that it is very difficult to tell when to break away from that rule of thumb thus a good decision making is a never ending struggle with a self doubt and a leap of faith.

I think HN is lower quality than Reddit because it's harder to spot who doesn't know what they're talking about. On Reddit the clowns have bad grammar and don't even attempt to substantiate their beliefs. On HN the clowns have flowing prose, a Stanford degree and immaculate clown makeup.

Also how a majority of the world lives on the average wrong understanding of things. I guess society is not about precision efficiency.

There's no guarantee that what you describe as higher quality sites offer much better views of the world.

What are those 2-3 fields? What are some of the things people say that are wrong about those topics?

I’m sure you’ve had the experience of being downvoted for being right but with unpleasant news.

I don't feel like this really changes much with competency due to Dunning Krugerand competency being a near limitless spectrum.

How many times have you come in to hacker news and read someone's complaint about x where "someone" is an expert with a decade of experience in the field only to have someone else chime in with the "well actually, I'm the creator of that project and..."

Unrelated, but the missing space between Kruger and "and" had me go down the rabbit hole of trying to piece together what your comment had to do with Bitcoin. Dunning-Krugerrand is used in certain circles to refer to the crypto coin, in a somewhat tongue-in-cheek fashion.

That plus GP’s username made me laugh

That’s why I deleted my Reddit account.

It's an interesting spin on the 1% of people actually post thing. How many people actually create, and create and share in general though. Since I got into art and sharing it people tell me they also create but don't share it online anywhere. People might want to participate but don't for whatever reason.

The internet does also give a equal megaphone to everyone. Actual crazy things can sound reasonable. The act if down and upvoting on reddit is also similar. 4 or 5 downvotes, which in reality is only 4 or 5 people can bury a thought, essentially censoring it and makes it seem more unpopular then it is. It was only unpopular to those 4 or 5 readers.

The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man. — George Bernard Shaw

In the end I think we underestimate the insanity of “normal“ people. What is considered normal is a pretty subjective question and prone to change.

Everyone in the world is crazy except for me and thee, and I'm not to sure about thee - one of my Dad's favourite sayings.

"Men are so necessarily mad, that not to be mad would amount to another form of madness." — Pascal

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