Reusing Ask MeFi Q&A in a book
January 16, 2009 7:59 AM   Subscribe

Tom Vanderbilt reuses Ask MetaFilter question and answers in his book Traffic

Tom Vanderbilt is apparently MeFi user jgballard. He posted a question in 2005 about how people merge in traffic lanes.

He then excerpted some of the answers in his 2008 book Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us) (official site). Check pp. 4–5, where he writes “I posted an anonymous inquiry on Ask MetaFilter, a Web site one can visit to ask random questions and tap into the ‘hive mind’ of an anonyous audience of overeducated and overopinionated geeks.” MeFi users muckster is quoted (not by name).

I would say Vanderbilt has trouble with the definition of “anonymous,” and also a bit more trouble with attribution. Journalists trolling for material should be up front about what they’re doing.
posted by joeclark to MetaFilter-Related at 7:59 AM (52 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite

This came up last year when the book came out. He said repeatedly in interviews that he asked the question honestly on the site because he was wondering about the answer, and the wide range and strong reactions he got here were what inspired him to turn it into a book (he said it struck a chord with everyone here and he thought readers might follow suit).

I haven't seen the book, so I'm not sure how people are quoted, but if he's quoting in their entirety, yes he should have asked the posters' permission first.

I've had textbook and large publishers request signed permission from me for just including the www.metafilter.com URL in a book before, I'm surprised his publisher didn't formally request the right to reprint comments.
posted by mathowie (staff) at 8:06 AM on January 16, 2009


Hoo-doggy! Mah pitchfork is all sharpened up and rearin' to go. The boy's out back gettin' the torches ready.
posted by chillmost at 8:08 AM on January 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


I think calling us overeducated and overopinionated geeks is really rude; it's also inaccurate. Many of us are undereducated.
posted by sondrialiac at 8:08 AM on January 16, 2009 [19 favorites]


Perhaps you should include instructions in the FAQ about how to cite a metafilter post and or comment.
posted by chillmost at 8:10 AM on January 16, 2009 [3 favorites]


Previously
posted by burnmp3s at 8:10 AM on January 16, 2009


bout how to cite a metafilter post and or comment.
and a complimentary Metafilter Endnote style
posted by dhruva at 8:13 AM on January 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


Hoo-doggy!

I swear to god! Right as I read this there is a rerun of the Beverly Hillbillies running in the background, and Jed said the exact same thing. Weirdness.
posted by timsteil at 8:16 AM on January 16, 2009


Previously. Not to brag, but I'm the one who mentioned the zipper in that thread. In the book he said something like 'some folks feel this wold work in Germany but not in America' or words to that effect.
posted by fixedgear at 8:24 AM on January 16, 2009


the man does ask some interesting questions.
posted by dawson at 8:30 AM on January 16, 2009


Some said the system works... on page 5. I am some. Original context
posted by fixedgear at 8:38 AM on January 16, 2009


the man does ask some interesting questions.

His q:a ratio stinks to high heaven, though.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 8:59 AM on January 16, 2009


J.G. Ballard also posts here, under the name tVanderbilt.
posted by Chrysostom at 9:05 AM on January 16, 2009 [5 favorites]


Perhaps you should include instructions in the FAQ about how to cite a metafilter post and or comment.

Source: Some douches on the internets, 2005
posted by electroboy at 9:06 AM on January 16, 2009 [9 favorites]


"Overeducated?" Really?

I hope I'm not overawesomated.
posted by lucidium at 9:07 AM on January 16, 2009


The guy uses content from here withour proper attribution and his sum total contribution to the site (if you don't count the questions he asks and his comments in his own AskMe threads, which I don't) is ONE comment in someone else's question? Good grief.
posted by orange swan at 9:31 AM on January 16, 2009 [5 favorites]


I think calling us overeducated and overopinionated geeks is really rude; it's also inaccurate. Many of us are undereducated.

Some of us are also underopinionated. I mean, I don't care too much one way or the other, but...
posted by owtytrof at 9:45 AM on January 16, 2009 [2 favorites]


I barely got a bachelor's degree, and my opinions are usually wrong. I hope he quoted me in his book??
posted by matty at 9:50 AM on January 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


Seems kind of weird to ask people a question, and then ridicule them for being overeducated when they answer you.

"Dude, I hired this contractor to build my house, and that motherfucker knew all about all these building codes and shit! What a dork!"
posted by equalpants at 9:56 AM on January 16, 2009 [24 favorites]


Well, authors can quote from any source. The degree of attribution necessary will vary. Traffic uses the modern pop-culture style of straight-up expository writing in chapters, without endnotes or footnotes, followed by a set of explanatory references in an appendix. These are so clumsy they have to copy and paste the original text from the chapter involved just so you can make sense of them; I really don’t think this is a superior or even viable method, since you have no way of knowing that references are really available 400 pages away from where you’re reading.

Anyway, I was going to let the whole thing slide until I noticed that the book’s prologue had its own set of endnote-like references – some of them including pasted URLs but none of them linking back to Ask MetaFilter. This seemed to fall below any responsible level of attribution as far as I’m concerned.

Plus he shouldn’t have asked the question pseudonymously or without telling us he was writing a book, and should not have called himself or respondents “anonymous.”
posted by joeclark at 10:01 AM on January 16, 2009

Ask MeFi: 41 questions, 5 answers
He seems to value the opinion of "overeducated and overopinionated geeks," just sayin'.
posted by theiconoclast31 at 10:11 AM on January 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


The guy uses content from here withour proper attribution and his sum total contribution to the site (if you don't count the questions he asks and his comments in his own AskMe threads, which I don't) is ONE comment in someone else's question? Good grief.

As opposed to most authors who would just Google it, click on the AskMe link, and then not credit anyone.

But they don't get found out of course.
posted by smackfu at 10:32 AM on January 16, 2009 [2 favorites]


This is why I have never used AskMe.

That, and the fact that I am incredibly stupid and unhelpful.
posted by Johnny Porno at 10:44 AM on January 16, 2009


Thanks dicks, peace out.

my impression of that dude
posted by Divine_Wino at 10:51 AM on January 16, 2009 [3 favorites]


As opposed to most authors who would just Google it, click on the AskMe link, and then not credit anyone.

I do some differences between the two scenarios. Yes, all the MeFi content is very google-able, and people will help themselves to our content. But there's a different standard of behaviour exepcted from a member than there is from someone who is just browsing.
posted by orange swan at 11:00 AM on January 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


I've got a library copy of that book sitting on my desk. Suddenly, I'm a lot less interested in reading it.
posted by box at 11:38 AM on January 16, 2009


Hilariously, one Amazon reviewer complains about how there are too many damn endnotes and attributions.
posted by scody at 11:40 AM on January 16, 2009


Don't try to get on my good side by calling me a geek. I can barely type and have always thought HTML is an abbreviation of hate mail.
posted by Cranberry at 12:23 PM on January 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


Somehow, I don't see the quest for a professionally-respected, MeFi-specific citation format ending well.

Let them eat KKK1

Henderson, It's Raining Florence. You know who else got shot down at the bakery? teh intarwebs: MetaFilter, 2008, lolbutts. http://www.metafilter.com/77452/You-know-who-else-got-shot-down-at-the-bakery#2377529
posted by Mayor West at 12:34 PM on January 16, 2009 [9 favorites]


I'm quoting one sentence from MetaFilter in the U.S. edition of my curses book; I'm pretty sure that's fair use. Plus, I MeMailed loquacious and never heard back from him. Dude, if you don't want your great quote used, drop me a line!
posted by languagehat at 12:58 PM on January 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


We should sue!
posted by graventy at 1:26 PM on January 16, 2009


languagehat, I didn't even know you were interested in term graphics programming libraries.
posted by cortex (staff) at 2:17 PM on January 16, 2009 [5 favorites]


Looks like an interesting read...

[sad trombone]
posted by chugg at 3:26 PM on January 16, 2009


Most of the words that come out of my mouth are quotes from you guys, and I NEVER attribute, thereby making people think I'm cool, and slightly insane.
posted by blue_beetle at 4:40 PM on January 16, 2009


One of the nice things about usenet (peace be upon it) is/was that all messages are copyright the original poster. So if somebody used my words without my permission I could, qua Ynvie Malmsteen, unleash the fucking fury.

Oh, usenet (peace be upon it), I miss you so.
posted by Justinian at 5:21 PM on January 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'm quoting one sentence from MetaFilter in the U.S. edition of my curses book

I really hope it's one of the popeshitting and/or popefelching quotes.
posted by carsonb at 6:13 PM on January 16, 2009


Hey Justinian, check out that tiny little blurb under the search box at the bottom of every MeFi page.
posted by carsonb at 6:14 PM on January 16, 2009


Overeducation ain't all its cracked up to be. Overopinionated on the other hand...
posted by JohnnyGunn at 6:38 PM on January 16, 2009


Somehow, I don't see the quest for a professionally-respected, MeFi-specific citation format ending well.

There is previous art in this area (R. Steady, 2008).
posted by Rock Steady at 7:42 PM on January 16, 2009


Overeducation ain't all its cracked up to be.

Partly because there's no such thing.
posted by orange swan at 8:53 PM on January 16, 2009


I have that book. I didn't finish it because, you know, traffic zzzz

His references to metafilter are mostly in the intro, then after that it's pretty much traffic zzzz

Also, merge late, bitches.
posted by disclaimer at 10:30 PM on January 16, 2009


I drive into NYC daily. I am stuck in all sorts of traffic daily. I vary my routes and have all sorts of alternative ways. I have never read this cat's book, but I have spent a lot of time thinking about traffic. A real lot. After years of commuting and analyzing traffic I can say one thing for sure. Traffic sucks.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 10:39 PM on January 16, 2009


People like to talk about "Meta Filter" because it sounds like "Maltese Falcon".
posted by bru at 11:24 PM on January 16, 2009


I think he also wrote Survival City, which I kinda liked. Also, over-opinionated seems like a fair call (but then again, it is Ask Metafilter). Overeducated? No such thing.

And in any case, if he's such a douchbag, why the hell would you care what he thinks?
posted by Ritchie at 2:37 AM on January 17, 2009


Hey Justinian, check out that tiny little blurb under the search box at the bottom of every MeFi page.

I see it, I guess I just don't believe it in practice.
posted by Justinian at 11:28 AM on January 17, 2009


It's true. In fact, it's just a nice reminder -- I think that under current copyright law, you'd have a copyright in your posts even without any explicit notice.
posted by grobstein at 12:06 PM on January 17, 2009


I see it, I guess I just don't believe it in practice.

But usenet gained your trust? Wtf?
posted by odinsdream at 1:29 PM on January 17, 2009


Well, if my posts to Metafilter are copyright to me then I could require Matt to remove whichever posts I desire from the server at any time. As could anyone else. That would be completely unworkable.

Of course I suppose the counterargument is that Matt isn't required to allow me an account at all, so anybody who decides to be a dick in that way could have their account terminated and all their posts removed which would be quicker and easier than going around erasing individual posts.
posted by Justinian at 1:38 PM on January 17, 2009


No, one can own a copyright subject to a license granted to another party. The best interpretation of IP rights in MeFi posts is probably this: you own the copyright in all your posts, but you have given Matt an implicit right to publish them on MeFi (perhaps forever). So Matt can continue to serve them on MeFi, but all the other exclusive rights that are part of the copyright bundle are retained by you -- Matt can't make t-shirts of your posts, or put them in his book, or whatever.
posted by grobstein at 1:51 PM on January 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


Ok, here's my particular pedantic sticking point: he says it's an "anonymous" hive mind of dorks, blah blah.

You can ASK a question anonymously, but you can't ANSWER anonymously. Therefore, we are, as a hive, NOT anonymous. Perhaps this was his cunning way of covering up his lack of attribution - "But they're anonymous dorks! I'm not just going to attribute this to 'anonymous dork on internet, 2009.'"

However, that's exactly what he *should* do. I've written papers and cited internet sources. I could tell him how you do it. Or perhaps he should ask another anonymous AskMe. "Dear dorks: I wrote this book and I used the opinion of some overopinionated dude. Should I attribute it? He's overeducated as well, should I bother? I figure he's just never gonna find out, so I'm leaning towards just skipping it."

grapefruitmoon - "Attributing Sources: You're Doing It Wrong" - MetaTalk - http://metatalk.metafilter.com - January 17, 2009
posted by grapefruitmoon at 1:57 PM on January 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


Matt can't make t-shirts of your posts, or put them in his book, or whatever.

Aha!

Step 1: Lure Matt into making T-shirts
Step 2: ???
Step 3: PROFIT!
posted by Justinian at 2:18 PM on January 17, 2009


Well, if my posts to Metafilter are copyright to me then I could require Matt to remove whichever posts I desire from the server at any time. As could anyone else. That would be completely unworkable.

I don't think you understand copyright, then. When you click the POST button, you're submitting your work to the site, to be posted. Your intent to post it caused you to press the post button. It doesn't make the work any less yours, and your rights are retained as far as other use goes.

If you don't understand how it works, that doesn't mean it doesn't work. It says right there on the bottom... all posts copyright original authors. Case closed.
posted by odinsdream at 7:13 PM on January 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


Copyright, meh. What's more important and interesting to me is the spirit of the law. If he's going to go to the trouble to explain the hive mind, provide that characterization of allegedly over-educated geeks, and most importantly, actually solicit information, not just stumble across it...it would kill him to note user names?
posted by desuetude at 7:52 PM on January 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


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