My personal favorite is "The plural of anecdote is not data".
Correct. The plural of anecdote is conversation, which is exactly the reason we're here.
I think this one comes down to people misunderstanding the reason we're here in the first place. If you start to notice that the discussion here resembles the sort of conversation you'd have around the watercooler, that's probably has to do with the fact that Hacker News is indeed the internet's watercooler.
Complaining that that seems to be the case and asking people to stop having lively conversation is not really helping anybody. As much as some folks want this to be the Royal Society for Correctly And Properly Dismissing The Ideas Of Other People, it's not.
It's immensely frustrating when someone is discussing a well conducted study showing an interesting result to have another person say "This feels wrong. I had $ANECDOTE, so maybe they researchers are missing $CONCLUSION_FROM_ANECDOTE?", which has been covered in the study and in the HN comments and is just a weird point anyway.
This is true, but there is also the reverse situation - sometimes there is no hard data, in which anecdotes are the nearest thing that we have. I can't help feeling that "the plural of anecdote is not data" should require a link to the relevant data that the parent post had apparently missed. This would be an excellent rebuttal to the anecdote and advance the conversation more than the one-liner...
Most of the conclusions I find in comments on HN, are rarely conclusive. I've always struggled with comments that provide one data point (or better yet, a generalization of data points) that the user declares a conclusion from. I can't tell if I'm just being pessimistic when I detract these poorly thought out conclusions or if they are genuinely good for the discussion.
Because comments probably aren't the best place to talk about conclusive anything: it's a discussion. If you've done the leg work to get something solid it can at least get the discussion it deserves if submitted to HN.
> Hacker News is indeed the internet's watercooler.
A watercooler in a very passive aggressive, argumentative office perhaps. HN should be more like a watercooler, IMO, with more common courtesy and less flamewars (and less devil's-advocate-for-the-sake-of-devil's-advocate). But at the end of the day, the internet is the internet. (Just a side note: I'll still come on HN every day despite this :) )
The water cooler is a place for things like gossip, stupid jokes and discussions of television shows. I hope we don't all begin to assume this is what HN should be, particularly when consequential topics are being discussed (vaccination, etc.)
If I apply a corrosive black salve to my face and I feel that this saved me from cancer and really want to share it as advice, my story actually does nothing to establish self-application of black salve as an advisable practice. It is indeed an anecdote, not data. It should not be taken as data. This is very important, or people will be misled and burn their noses off.
It's also funny because, conceptually, it's not true. By anecdote we tend to mean one observation drawn from some system. If nothing else the anecdote tells you that that outcome has non-zero probability.
One thing that really annoys me about HN is how damn contrarian everyone always tries to be. Responses typically take the most absolute narrow and unforgiving interpretation of any point you are trying to make and subsequently use that to spin a counterpoint.
1) If people agree with the idea they'll probably just nod their head, or upvote. If they disagree it is more likely they'll post something rather than just downvote (people feel the need to explain perhaps why they downvoted)
2) Geeks feel the need to say something contrarian to show how smart they are. It is a way to tell everyone they have a bigger intellectual penis than everyone else.
I honestly think (1) is the real key. I constantly decide not to submit comments when it turns out I've used a bunch of words to just say "I agree", and hit the upvote button instead.
Also, to another of your parent's gripes - if someone only responds to a narrow point, it should be safe to assume they agree with the other, or broader, points, and that's why they didn't respond to those.
But silent agreement and loud disagreement does make it seem like everyone is mad at each other all the time.
Regarding #1, wow. That's a pretty remarkable insight.
Everyone thinks of the karma/reputation feedback mechanism in terms of how it promotes civil discourse, but in this case it's fairly remarkable to think of how it could be biasing the conversation toward a negative tone. Maybe it's usually civil negativity, but it's negative nonetheless. I can see how people would tire of this eventually.
I wonder if there'd be a simple way of limiting the bias? Slashdot's modpoint classes comes to mind, but then that opens a whole host of other problems...
#1 is why I think HN should show up vote counts to the non-authors. I think the tone of HN would seem less negative if we could see how many people actually agreed with the comment everyone else is arguing against.
It may make #2 worse though. People love to argue against the majority, especially geeks, especially on the internet.
It's flattering to oneself to be contrarian; Not only have you already considered what has been presented, you've also thought about it and have a counter-argument. You're cleverer than the author of the article; she still entertains that idea while you have long ago dismissed it.
Thought that's rarely the case. What usually happens is someone will read a clever article, get upset that they didn't come up with it and choose a narrow interpretation or a minor nitpick to attack the piece, thereby making themselves feel better.
Funny. I thought that was my thing. Typing out a disagreement comment, then read it and think: "How will this discussion end? Will any good conclusion come out of it, or will it be mere sword flailing?".
More often than not, I hit back instead of submit.
To actually add something to the conversation (and sadly, to be just a bit contrarian), I hope nobody reads this as "oh darn, I better not take an opposing view for fear of being voted down as contrarian." I actually do like reading respectfully contrarian responses. Not the childish ones you describe, but the ones which have a bit of thought behind them. I think a better term is "devil's advocate."
Yup, seams like only the greater of minds and personalities will acknowledge or even accept inputs from others and ADD to it. The default seams to be distortion along the simple and absolute black & white spectrum and then stating the opposite to be (much more/really) true.
While in certain "communities" this maybe is driven by the profession it self (oh, CS and all its true/false 0/1 domains ;), very seldom "cooperative discussion" is presented as something beneficial... just check most newspaper and tv reports... we get controversy presented as the way to go while the world is clearly much more complex as to be grasped in simple black/white true/false terms.
For single humans tending to such patterns in thinking certain medical conditions are associated with... in our societies looks like we embrace it much more thoughtlessly. All has to be a controversy (Parties, Companies, People)
Yeap, it's a jungle out there. I try not to play games of anyone appearing to cobble a name for themselves by inventing drama. Brinksmanship is most often a lose-lose gambit. Let the argumentative types reveal themselves, for the best course is to laugh at wasted energy and move on to the next task.
Also, anyone that bothers to publicly point out to you a misspelling is someone with too much idle time and not enough decency. One must hope for more cunning and aggressive frenemies so you may be judged accordingly.
 - This isn't Wikipedia, so skip the passive-aggressive comments. If you think something's wrong, explain why.
The reason to post this is not so much thinking the comment is necessarily wrong as that it makes an extraordinary or absolutist claim absent any evidence, which if accepted as fact is going to change the shape of the whole discussion...perhaps appropriately, but the onus is on the person making the claim to support it.
A link to a logical fallacy, such as ad hominem or more pretentiously tu quoque - this isn't a debate team and you don't score points for this.
Considering the requests that if one thinks something is wrong, one should explain why, I'd say that identifying errors in reasoning is quite appropriate; though some of them are so frequent that I just downvote rather than pointing them out yet again. Fallacies of composition are astonishingly frequent, for example.
The "citation needed" thing is pulled out any time people disagree, however, even when the comment is something where a source could be found rapidly using Google. It is not the onus of someone in a friendly discussion to have to anally cite every comment they make that involves some random fact: instead, it should be the onus of every person involved in the discussion to keep an open mind and do some due diligence. If you disagree with the other person's fact, then you bring up your own fact and cite the hell out of it to make it clear how wrong the other person is, you don't just demand citations. The real reason people do this is just because they want to undermine trust in the other person's position without having to do any actual work, and it is a great strategy as no matter how well cited something is, there will always be something, potentially in the citation itself (going one or even two levels out), you can take issue with and scream "citation needed" about.
Shrug. Most of the "citation needed" posts I've seen are in response to comments like "almost all recipients of welfare spend it on smokes and alcohol." There probably doesn't exist any studies that disproves that vague claim. Yet whoever posts it shouldn't be allowed to get away with it, hence "citation needed."
"Shrug. Most of the "citation needed" posts I've seen are in response to comments like "almost all recipients of welfare spend it on smokes and alcohol."
Personally, I don't feel that you need to back your assertion up with facts. If I wish to take issue with it, the onus is on me to go and scrape HN to produce the definitive validation or refutation of your claim. Which was Saurik's point, I think.
Sure, when you leave a comment asserting something, you don't need to provide a full bibliography of references, but if someone asks for it (ie, someone follows up with ) then the onus is on you to show that your facts have a basis in reality. I don't see anything wrong with that.
You can't really disprove something which doesn't have any factual basis.
Surely if someone asks for a citation then they need to provide at a minimum some countering anecdotes. Otherwise their "" is even weaker than my anecdote-supported assertion... And if they're going to present countering evidence, why not just do so without the superfluous ""?
> Surely if someone asks for a citation then they need to provide at a minimum some countering anecdotes.
The burden of proof lies with the initial claim AKA Russell's teapot. In a strict academic forum, the person making the claim should provide evidence at the time of making the claim or at least be prepared to defend it with facts.
 is shorthand for "Bold claim. I disagree & very much doubt you can back your claim up.". Which I think is ok. Problems arise if it is used for "I disagree & I like to look smart". That is why I would prefer people use the long form, not cryptic shorthand.
anigbrowl is talking about "[making] an extraordinary or absolutist claim absent any evidence", and you're talking about "even when the comment is something where a source could be found rapidly using Google". These are not comparable cases, and so, I guess I don't see how your comment really addresses anigbrowl's. This is what I see. anigbrowl: there are cases where it's appropriate. You: it shouldn't be used everywhere.
There is this (subjective) notion of relevance. When it's relevant, a simple  communicates a lot more than merely these words.
I guess you and the author are sensitive to different kinds of abuse than I am. What annoys me more are wild claims, and I often go away feeling it's not easy to counter this much reliance on misinformation. I am not very active on HN, and read only about 1% of the threads that make it to the front page. Whenever I saw , I felt it was apt. Also, I did not get the impression that it was passive-aggressive behaviour.
Yes, but on the other hand, fallacious reasoning is rarely the source of disagreement or controversy in a debate. At least in my experience. All you're doing by saying "ad hominem" is shifting the focus to technical delivery of the argument rather than focusing on the real matter of the discussion.
And most people forget that calling something an ad hominem attack does not mean that it's wrong. Most things which get called ad hominem are usually not, in fact -- saying "you are dumb and your arguments is wrong because of X, Y, Z" is different than saying "your argument is wrong because you are dumb" (the latter would be ad hominem, the former is merely an irrelevant statement)
All you're doing by saying "ad hominem" is shifting the focus to technical delivery of the argument rather than focusing on the real matter of the discussion.
I'm not sure I agree. The use of ad hominem is the shift away from the discussion proper. Calling ad hominem (or any logical fallacy) out is merely a recognition of that shift, and could be considered a (weak?) attempt at getting back on topic. When used correctly, that is.
> All you're doing by saying "ad hominem" is shifting the focus to technical delivery of the argument rather than focusing on the real matter of the discussion.
I agree, that looking for logical fallacies in the argument often is a straw man in itself, which is ironic and which is the reason many are skeptical about pointing them out altogether. But in the end you can't abandon logic and talk relying only on intuition and emotions and discarding all reasoning, which would happen if people "rather focus on the matter of discussion than shift focus to technical delivery".
I think you may be confusing HN with some other place. I have literally never seen someone being called dumb or anyone being "proven" wrong for being stupid. Honestly, I think most fallacies pointed out here are fair and especially "ad hominem" which is probably the easiest to grasp. Can you find any counter-examples?
Identifying errors in reasoning isn't the same as explaining why someone is wrong, though. Given the basic definition of an argument as a structure linking premises to a conclusion, a fallacy is simply a flaw in the structure. It doesn't invalidate the premises or the conclusion, only how they relate to one another. So while you're certainly free to attack the structure behind a conclusion, really you're better off attacking the conclusion itself with an argument of your own.
> Given the basic definition of an argument as a structure linking premises to a conclusion, a fallacy is simply a flaw in the structure. It doesn't invalidate the premises or the conclusion, only how they relate to one another.
True, and there's a name for that logical error -- it's the "fallacy fallacy" or "argument from fallacy", the error of assuming that, because there's a fallacy in one's argument, therefore the conclusion must be wrong.
> So while you're certainly free to attack the structure behind a conclusion, really you're better off attacking the conclusion itself with an argument of your own.
Yes. On the other hand, such a reply may serve to strengthen or clarify an argument, and is therefore sometimes appropriate.
The biggest problem with Hacker News comments -- actually, make that all comments -- is fundamental: the sort of people that leave comments are (more often than not) people that want something, ANYTHING, to say, not people that have something to say.
I think the karma system can also be a contributor to this. Any comment you make has the chance to get a few upvotes, regardless of how little it contributes to the conversation. So people just spam comments to get a few points here and there.
This phenomena can be seen in forums without karma also but i think in places with karma it is usually worse, worst offenders being digg and reddit where everybody tries to make a silly joke as those are easy points.
A better algotithm calculating the karma as an average over all your comments maybe could help..
I have mixed feelings about karma. It's nice to have filters that bring (mostly) better comments to the top, but I think it results in more silenced voices than it does posts-for-karma's-sake.
It's validating to get a few upvotes, but more than that it's disheartening to spend time on a comment and recieve no feedback whatsoever.
I'm an outgoing person, but I find myself shying away from commenting on HN for that reason. Admittedly, I don't usually have some brilliant insight, but it does make it harder to feel like part of the community.
It might also be interesting to rate-limit commenters (perhaps based on their previous upvotes per comment).
If you are new to HN, you may only post one comment per week.
The "better" (as measured by karma) your comments are, the more comments per week you may post.
This might make commenters consider whether their comment is really so important that they sacrifice another opportunity to comment in the future.
The "average" (on your user page, seemingly over your last few comments) seems to matter more for how high your posts appear. I've found myself deliberately not replying when someone makes an interesting reply to a comment of mine a few days afterwards, because posting that reply brings my average down. Which is definitely a bug.
I don't think that's a problem. I think that's by design. Internet forums are similar to bars where people gather to hang out and talk about common interests. There are other outlets where the people that have something to say can say it.
Somehow I think your comment applies to TV, radio and writers. The signal-to-noise ratio is getting worse and worse I think (as a side note, I thing signal-to-noise is also one of the frequent HN comments :D)
Cliches get to be cliches because they're a good idea that everyone wants to reuse. And recycle. Until they're familiar and then over-familiar.
The top-rating issue is simply symptomatic of the lack of insight of many of the folks clicking the little arrows over their first morning cup of coffee. News delivers a brief stimulus; commentary even briefer: the spasmodic twitch of the mousing fingertip merely signals the assent (or dissent) of the mayfly mind.
I think the worst is is when the top rated comment is a correction or contradiction of a peripheral assertion in the original article that fails to address the broader implications of the original article.
Though I acknowledge this is a really tough pattern to battle since it's much easier to be certain a quick factual correction provides concrete value than it is to assess a reply with a complicated or nuanced argument. And there is nothing wrong with comments that make a factual correction, it just leads to poor results at the top of the discussion page.
There's nothing wrong with useful critique or argument. But as others have said it's very easy to dash off a very quick rebuttal of a minor point in an article, ignoring the main thrust of whatever the article is about.
When I've read six pages of interesting and useful article it's depressing to see the top voted comment on HN is about a footnote on page 4 with little relevance to anything interesting.
Sometimes refutation comments are good and valuable though.
In general the decisive factor in the value of a comment is what I will call the "lebowski rule". If a comment contains a statement of someone's opinion and nothing more it is rarely worthwhile.
By way of illustration, this comment would fit that criterion up to this point.
However, I will explain my reasoning which will hopefully rescue it. In the internet age most people are aware of the variety of opinions on a topic, especially the most obvious pro/anti points on a given topic. What can often happen on sites like reddit or HN is that the first comment that espouses a well-known opinion then becomes effectively an impromptu poll. This breaks the link + comments model though because the opinion of the link is inherent in the link itself so a post voicing unadorned agreement would be easily recognized as valueless and thus generally not created or voted up. Whereas the contrarian opinion has no representation and thus becomes the proxy poll for disagreement. The problem is that people voting for/against place their votes differently, either for the link or for the most popular "middlebrow dismissal" comment. But because these are two separate beasts they can't compete against each other directly. Which is why you get the behavior of highly upvoted rejection comments, since that is effectively a reflection of the controversy around the subject. Even though that rarely improves the level of discussion.
In contrast, a more thoroughly thought out refutation which follows through lines of reasoning and evidence will be more likely to contribute to both the disemination of new knowledge to readers as well as higher quality discussions.
Additionally, the mere attempt to try to improve the quality of a comment through fleshing it out will lead to a higher rate of abandonment of less worthwhile posts.
P.S. Here is one area where I think the HN software doesn't help, because it encourages shorter, more quickly written posts which tends to favor the exploration of shallower depths of thought.
I understand this is a place for serious debate and constructive criticism, but sometimes it's more uptight than getting interviewed at a border control.
I visit and get value from it, but this article is spot on. Well, I still think  is relevant sometimes, in the case of a legitimate/interesting (or maybe questionable) citation that would produce more value with the citation. (But sometimes it goes like this "The sky is blue")
One way to interpret it as passive aggressive is if its merely an attempt to steer the argument in the direction of the fallacy of appeal toward authority. (abortion is wrong) (citation needed?) (my bible) (I'm not Christian) (holy way begins)
Another way is just a psuedo-politeness. (... and applying ohms law aka power = voltage / current ...) (citation needed?) (quick google search results in ...whoops)
It does make perfect sense for situations where the literature is lacking. Yesterdays discussion of ultra minimal RISC architectures is a good example. So, seriously, the linked to paper only has three references? And I've read two and don't have access to the third? In the grand history of bored programmers daydreaming about turing tarpits I'm somehow familiar with 2/3 of all written articles yet never heard of the remaining 1/3 until yesterday? Citation needed. There's got to be more academic articles than listed. Just looking at the turing tarpit section along of various esolang sites...
(abortion is wrong) (citation needed?) (my bible) (I'm not Christian) (holy way begins)
Perhaps for some. For me it's clear that I've encountered someone whose worldview is fundamentally transrational and further discussion isn't necessary.
My purpose isn't to change the person's mind but to understand it. And if that understanding leads me to the conclusion that they're not worth wasting time in discussion, so be it. What's frustrating is when someone drops some vaguely provocative hint of something without giving a sense of what underlies it. Knowing the source of the bullshit is helpful.
It does make perfect sense for situations where the literature is lacking.
Also for where the person posting has a specific instance or reference in mind but cannot be assed to provide it. Again, my experience is that discussions with such people tend to be pretty unproductive. I only wish H/N had the ability present on, say, Reddit, to tag people as idiots. I've similarly created "idiot", "troll", "denialist", and "libertardian" circles on G+ simply to keep tabs of who's not worth engaging with (or noting to others that their conversation will likely be unproductive).
Probably intent. The problem with uncited bold claims is that they can derail entire threads if not nipped in the bud immediately.
I understand that HN is not a debate team, but I don't think it's asking all that much for people to cite sources on something that's likely to be controversial.
It's a politeness thing, really. If you're making claims about something or other, link to WP, or Google, or somewhere out of consideration for your fellow reader. It doesn't take that much longer and significantly contributes to a discussion.
Meanwhile, not doing it in this troll-filled place called the internet tends to make people wonder A, why you didn't bother, and B, what kind of fast one you're trying to pull. Debate is adversarial, after all.
The  is a quick and simple way to shift the onus back onto the OP where it belongs, and also serves to warn people who maybe didn't read the comment all too closely that shenanigans may be afoot. And often times that's all you get, because a distressingly high portion of people won't reply when challenged in this manner.