To block or not to block: that is the question.

funny-graphs-untitled2

The internet is a wonderful place to find information on just about any topic you can imagine and few you can’t. From the latest scientific study to the grumpiest cat, from insightful commentary to rule 34: the internet has it all. The problem is that not everyone is rational, logical, nor well informed, and they still have internet connections and the ability to make webpages and comment on social media.

As someone who tries to share science and knowledge with people, I love to engage and discuss topics. If I can help someone understand or learn something about a complex topic, then I feel like I’ve accomplished something. The more science communicators out there doing the same thing, the slightly better the world becomes. This better understanding leads to better decisions, better ideas, better inventions, better cat photos.

The problem is that not everyone appreciates being told that they are mythtaken or wrong. Others are adamant that they aren’t wrong. People will argue against the overwhelming scientific evidence on topics like climate change (real, man-made, we need to do something about it), genetic modification (breeding technique, cool innovation that is more precise and has great potential), modern medicine (seriously!?!), evolution (as solid a theory as gravity), and even the shape of the Earth (yes, flat-Earthers still exist). This anti-science nonsense is thankfully on the losing team, they just aren’t playing with a full deck.

It is these science deniers that are the most frustrating to deal with on social media and the internet. There is no evidence you can show them that won’t be dismissed – often as a conspiracy – and there is no rationality to their arguments. But they can also be very convincing to people who don’t know enough about a topic, which is how myths get started. And that is dangerous, once myths are started they are very hard to get rid of. So it is actually important to make sure that the science deniers aren’t existing in an echo chamber, which the internet has facilitated to some extent – I’m looking at you Alex Jones, Mike Adams and Joseph Mercola!

These science deniers can be a menacing drain of time, effort and inner calm. The easiest way to deal with them would be to block them, excise the wound, possibly burn the evidence of their existence. But then the science deniers have won. Their echo chamber is just that little bit more echo-y. But the echo chamber is going to keep echoing regardless, as discussed above. But won’t somebody think of the children!

I really hate blocking people on social media. The science denier drivel may pollute my newsfeeds, but blocking them also leaves me open to my own echo chamber. Sure, I might think I’m good at picking good information from bad, but if my thinking is never challenged, how can I be confident I’m not falling for confirmation bias? I guess this is the Catch 22 of the modern age, but with more cats.

Advertisements

Why are books abandoned?

Goodreads survey

This is a great breakdown of why readers give up on reading and which books are the biggest culprits. I largely agree with most of the sentiments and books listed. It is very interesting to me that “slow and boring” is the #1 reason people abandon a book. Not just #1, it is number two and three as well, as the next reason had less than half the polling. I’ll offer a few comments on each part of the infographic.

Top Five most abandoned:

Casual Vacancy by JK Rowling – This is no surprise really. I’ve heard it is a particularly dark book and the remark that people were expecting it to be more like Harry Potter shows that no-one read the blurb.

Fifty Shades of Grey by EL James – Who’d have thought that Twilight fan-fiction would be poorly written?

Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson – When you have a trilogy that could have been edited down to a single book there are bound to be a few readers, like me, who think this ‘thriller’ is slow going.

I haven’t read or heard of anything to do with the other two on the list.

Top Five most abandoned classics:

Catch-22 by Joseph Heller – When people don’t get it then of course they will abandon it. One of the rejection letters for Catch-22 said, “I haven’t the foggiest idea about what the man is trying to say…Apparently the author intends it to be funny – possibly even satire – but it is really not funny on any intellectual level.”

Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien – I can see why some people wouldn’t like this book. While I loved it, there are unnecessary characters, events, chapters, scenes, language use… Okay, it’s long and waffly.

Ulysses by James Joyce – At a thousand pages, unless you like an abridged, tiny text, 600 page version, this was never going to be an easy read.

Moby Dick by Herman Melville – I read this when I was in primary school. It made my brain hurt. Very hard to read and spent a long time between the interesting scenes.

Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand – Great doorstop, selfish drivel to read.

Reasons for and against abandoning:

It really doesn’t surprise me that the reason most people give up reading a book is that it is boring and slow (46.4%). What does surprise me is that the reason people keep reading a book is not because people are enjoying the book but that they like to finish a book regardless (36.6%). Clearly too many people are reading books that they don’t like. Given the popular books, like the already mentioned Stieg Larsson and EL James, it shouldn’t be surprising. I’ve read instruction manuals with more action than The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.

I remember working out roughly how many more books I could read in my life. I have averaged reading roughly 100 books per year for the last few years. Now excluding a major accident or the zombie apocalypse, I should be able to continue this average until I die peacefully in my car travelling the wrong way down the freeway at age 90. That means I can only read another 5,500 books in my life! There are more than 8,500 books published every year in Australia, so my chances of reading all the great books I’d like to are slim. We really don’t have time to waste on bad books.