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Flagging on signal-to-noise grounds
March 5, 2011 8:16 PM   Subscribe

I flagged this guy on the blue but was conflicted.

One the one hand, I flagged b/c the info. is misleading and from a crap publication. I'm not inclined to visit sites that disseminate lots of low quality info. and think mefi would change for the worse if that were more prevalent.

On the other hand, vetting is a nice function for a site full of smart people to perform for the rest of the internet and perhaps for the community.

I guess my overall impression after lurking for a couple years is that there's a little too much crackpot allowed on the blue. I'd be curious to hear if others (dis)agree and if that's an appropriate use of the flag.
posted by airing nerdy laundry to Etiquette/Policy at 8:16 PM (40 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

I don't know, the crackpot stuff that does make it through gets pretty roundly dismissed, you know what I mean? And even stuff that isn't necessarily crazy on the face of it usually does get dismissed if it turns out to be from a site noted for generally being a source of poor quality information.

I haven't done an official survey or compiled examples or anything, though; that's just my impression.
posted by infinitywaltz at 8:22 PM on March 5, 2011


It should be deleted, but it is fun to see the vetting. I'm betting the poster just got swindled. I mean it's not like they were dumb enough to post that someone had found bigfoot....
posted by cashman at 8:23 PM on March 5, 2011


Dude, get off this.
posted by hal_c_on at 8:24 PM on March 5, 2011 [4 favorites]


Come to think of it, if you look at the post in question, something like three quarters of the comments are dismissing it for being crackpot crap specifically or from a crackpot journal in general, and the other quarter or so are really smart, interesting comments. I fail to see the problem; just because something is crackpot-bait doesn't mean it can't be interesting for reasons other than factual, you know what I mean?
posted by infinitywaltz at 8:25 PM on March 5, 2011


It's rare but not totally unheard of to have someone post something crackpot-ish to the blue. This one didn't seem to be "hey let's laugh at the crazy person" and it sort of turned into an interesting discussion or had by the time I saw it. We don't usually delete stuff for being wrong, though there's a lot of case by case stuff going on there. This post didn't have a ton of flags [it had some but definitely not an insta-delete] and by the time I saw girl scientist's comment that "I think it's this month's arsenic-based life science scandal." I figured people might have other things to be discussing even if the link in the post was a dud.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 8:29 PM on March 5, 2011 [3 favorites]


just because something is crackpot-bait doesn't mean it can't be interesting for reasons other than factual, you know what I mean?

I know exactly what you mean. The term for this is "fiction."

And that pseudoskepticism bit is just another flavor of crackpot.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 8:30 PM on March 5, 2011


It's an appropriate use of the flag in the sense that you flagged a thread you don't think belongs here, which is the right thing to do. But I wouldn't have flagged it, because these kind of posts often set off extremely interesting discussions that go far beyond the initial topic. It's no much vetting of true claims from false as it is a learning experience where we all come out of the thread knowing more about the subject than before.
posted by Kevin Street at 8:34 PM on March 5, 2011 [2 favorites]


There is no forum on the internet that did not debunk this after a few minutes. Don't pat yourselves on the back.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 8:34 PM on March 5, 2011


Er, "not so much vetting." Darn typos.
posted by Kevin Street at 8:35 PM on March 5, 2011


furiousxgeorge: There is no forum on the internet that did not debunk this after a few minutes.

Call me a pseudo-sceptic, but I seriously doubt this.
posted by GeckoDundee at 8:45 PM on March 5, 2011 [2 favorites]


Re: dismissal in the comments, don't forget there's different levels of use of the site. Some weeks I only scroll through the popular favorites for the last seven days and read no comments. Other weeks I read the comments sections of several posts daily.

Even given a debunking I hate to think of people who don't have time to sort through comments; for people who do it can still be a waste of time.
posted by airing nerdy laundry at 8:50 PM on March 5, 2011


Okay, maybe UFOlogy nuts.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 8:50 PM on March 5, 2011


Well, technically "your mom and her friends" is not an internet forum.
posted by Curious Artificer at 8:50 PM on March 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


I know exactly what you mean. The term for this is "fiction."

Oh, snap!

That's not really what I mean, though; what I mean is that something false or disproved can still be interesting from other perspectives. The anti-vaccination crusaders, for example, are interesting (if maddening) because of how their cause has persisted despite its founder being humiliated and censured for breaching medical ethics, and because it's got pretty broad (if terrifying) medical and social implications. That's all I was getting at.
posted by infinitywaltz at 8:56 PM on March 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


It never even occurred to me that some people might read FPPs but not comments, or that one might view reading a post as an investment of one's time with a definite goal to be attained. Guess there really are a lot of different levels of involvement out there.
posted by Kevin Street at 8:59 PM on March 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


What kind of bothers me about the FPP is that people are just kind of deferring to someone else to provide the science for this to be wrong.

"uhhh...I don't really understand this...but I'm going to say 'no' because my skeptics meeting told me that there are no such things as little green men. Also...look at that black background...haha, you know thats wrong".

So come on all you people claiming to use science and reason to live your lives. Read the paper and tell me what isn't plausible. Thats what real science is all about.
posted by hal_c_on at 9:05 PM on March 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


Slight derail, but I think the main objection to Hoover's claim is based on probability. The structures he photographed are no doubt there, but the odds that a meteorite more than a century old would be completely uncontaminated by earth microbes, even on the inside, are pretty low.
posted by Kevin Street at 9:10 PM on March 5, 2011


@ Kevin Street - the blue often contains posts re: ideas and events that are off the radar of other sites. Learning about those is part of the site's value to me (tho not the only one) and part of why I "invest" my time here.

... sometimes I don't read comments even if I'd like to or only read a couple of the highest rated comments in a thread.
posted by airing nerdy laundry at 9:31 PM on March 5, 2011


What kind of bothers me about the FPP is that people are just kind of deferring to someone else to provide the science for this to be wrong.

Well lets see what scientists say in criticism and speculation about the implications of this which the Journal of Cosmology will publish March 7th-March 10th.

I like this portion from the NYTimes commentary on it:
These are very big ifs, and this effort clearly falls into the category of “extraordinary claims” that require extraordinary evidence (as widely noted today). This is recognized by the journal’s editors, who say they sent the paper for review to 100 independent scientists working in related fields, along with an invitation to 5,000 more researchers to critique the paper. Rudy Schild, the journal’s editor in chief, said in a note accompanying the paper that reactions to the research, “both pro and con,” will be published on the journal’s Web site between March 7 and 10. I’ll check back in then of course, and I’m reaching out to Hoover and others working in this field now.
posted by cashman at 10:15 PM on March 5, 2011


The structures he photographed are no doubt there, but the odds that a meteorite more than a century old would be completely uncontaminated by earth microbes, even on the inside, are pretty low.

Hoover addresses that:

Although many modern cyanobacteria are resistant to desiccation, they do not carry out active growth and mat building when they are in a dried state. However, it has been known since 1864 that the Orgueil meteorite is a microregolith breccia, comprised of minute particulates cemented together by water-soluble salts that are readily destroyed by exposure to liquid water. Therefore, it is suggested that none of the Orgueil samples could have ever been submerged in pools of liquid water needed to sustain the growth of large photoautotrophic cyanobacteria and required for the formation of benthic cyanobacterial mats since the meteorite arrived on Earth. Many of the filaments shown in the figures are clearly embedded in the meteorite rock matrix. Consequently, it is concluded that the Orgueil filaments cannot logically be interpreted as representing filamentous cyanobacteria that invaded the meteorite after its arrival. They are therefore interpreted as the indigenous remains of microfossils that were present in the meteorite rock matrix when the meteorite entered the Earth’s atmosphere.

Note that the meteorites he is working are quite rare, some of them collected just after falling:

The CI1 carbonaceous chondrites are extremely rare. Although over 35,000 meteorites have been recovered there are only nine CI1 meteorites known on Earth (Table I). Five of them were observed falls: Alais, Orgueil, Ivuna, Tonk and Revelstoke) and the other four (Y-86029, Y-86737, Y980115 and Y-980134) were collected in 1986 and 1998 from the blue ice fields of the Yamato Mountains by Antarctic Expeditions of the National Institute of Polar Research, Japan. The great rarity of the CI1 stones is undoubtedly due to the fact that they are friable micro-regolith breccias. All five CI1 meteorites known before 1986 were collected soon after they were observed to fall. The particulates of the CI1 meteorites are cemented together by water soluble evaporite minerals such as epsomite (MgSO4.7H2O) and gypsum (CaSO4.2H2O). The fact that these stones disintegrate immediately after they are exposed to liquid water was observed during the initial studies of the Alais meteorite (Thénard, 1806; Berzelius, 1834, 1836) and the Orgueil stones (Leymerie, M. 1864). These stones are destroyed and disaggregate into tiny particles as the water soluble salts that cement the insoluble mineral grains together in the rock matrix dissolve (Hoover, 2005).
posted by Brian B. at 10:50 PM on March 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


cashman,

Yeah, that kind of sums it up for me too...but I'm not blindly calling it "wrong" before they've had a chance to defend their point. I'm waiting.

There once was a dude wearing no shirt, no pants, tighty whiteys that were made for someone twice his circumference, and SHINY cowboy boots in Bloomington, Indiana who told me that aliens once tried to chase him into Lake Monroe...but he hid in the trash to escape them. I dismissed his claims as soon as he started to talk.

This journal may look like that dude...but they are giving us a paper that they claim will be pier-reviewed the hell out of, because they, TOO, believe it is an extraordinary claim.

I'm not going to dismiss them before they submit their research to criticism. That really is contrary to the scientific method.

But come April, or June or whenever...if their research is discredited by Harvard, Smithsonian, JPL, NASA....whatever, then I'll cheer their dismissals from their respected positions at those organizations. I don't want another Cold Fusion scam...but it would be nice to have a major discovery.
posted by hal_c_on at 11:12 PM on March 5, 2011


I mean it's not like they were dumb enough to post that someone had found bigfoot

i found bigfoot - he drinks too much beer, collects weird looking rocks and loves the grateful dead - he bought a harley but couldn't ride it because the tires kept popping
posted by pyramid termite at 11:12 PM on March 5, 2011 [2 favorites]


...but they are giving us a paper that they claim will be pier-reviewed

Well I for one am really looking forward to hearing what the longshoremen have to say about extraterrestrial bacteria.
posted by Sys Rq at 12:58 AM on March 6, 2011 [16 favorites]


everyone has an in house astronomer.
posted by clavdivs at 2:09 AM on March 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


I guess my overall impression after lurking for a couple years is that there's a little too much crackpot allowed on the blue.

That's not my impression. We certainly get some, but I don't think it's excessive, and it's often not only useful but also fun to see the crackpot we do get take a good kicking - which usually happens.
posted by Decani at 2:58 AM on March 6, 2011


Re: dismissal in the comments, don't forget there's different levels of use of the site. Some weeks I only scroll through the popular favorites for the last seven days and read no comments. Other weeks I read the comments sections of several posts daily.

Even given a debunking I hate to think of people who don't have time to sort through comments; for people who do it can still be a waste of time.



This is in no way meant to be rude, but Metafilter is not supposed to be a clearinghouse of factually supported information. It is entirely up to you how you choose to read the site, but when the bar is pretty much "post interesting links", you can't expect any more than that.
posted by oneirodynia at 9:20 AM on March 6, 2011 [3 favorites]


I guess my overall impression after lurking for a couple years is that there's a little too much crackpot allowed on the blue.

My overall impression is that we are the crackpots. People generally show up to academic threads with a slight background but often get away with swaying the herd by making up stuff and inserted into bad arguments to make it seem like their mistrust and axe-to-grind towards the subject are justified, but that is never the case when emotions are heatedly involved. That goes back to their childhood or adolescence, they just learned how to make it sound grown up. Bitterness is conditionally justifiable in politics and culture where rights and good taste are on the line.
posted by Brian B. at 9:20 AM on March 6, 2011 [2 favorites]


Um, and I don't mean to say flagging and deleting bogus crap is a bad idea, but you should not expect the site to operate as if only the highest caliber of information will be found in the post. the comments are part of the "filtering" as well.
posted by oneirodynia at 9:25 AM on March 6, 2011


when the bar is pretty much "post interesting links"

I guess I was saying that noise usually isn't interesting; sometimes it can even be irritating.

I also come here for baby monkeys on piggies etc., but this was a science posting.
posted by airing nerdy laundry at 9:34 AM on March 6, 2011


they claim will be pier-reviewed the hell out of

As in a long walk off a short one.
posted by octobersurprise at 9:37 AM on March 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


Curious Artificer: "Well, technically "your mom and her friends" is not an internet forum"

If you value your sanity you will not Google "your mom and her friends forum". You have been warned.
posted by Splunge at 11:24 AM on March 6, 2011 [3 favorites]


This illustrates why it is important to criticize weak posts in he comments for that post. But it is a gamble. Half the time doing so will lead to an illuminating conversation like we see here. The other half of the time a mob will arise and scream "OMG threadshitting OMG!!!!"
posted by LarryC at 11:39 AM on March 6, 2011


"The content in the link is problematic because x, y, z" is a substantially different comment than "this post sucks" or "why is this here" or "best of the web, really"? Folks frustrated by threadshitting are by and large objecting to the latter sort of thing, not the former.
posted by cortex (staff) at 11:51 AM on March 6, 2011


Hey! I got almost 50 favorites in that thread. You can't delete it!
posted by ryanrs at 1:32 PM on March 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


I thought that thread was a fantastic read. It gave me a lot of insight into how scientific journals work. I especially liked kyrademon's comment speculating on how the questionable journal may have come to be.
posted by free hugs at 1:51 PM on March 6, 2011


Ha! I did say "pier". Well gotta go check out that ad hominem attack thread on the blue.
posted by hal_c_on at 2:43 PM on March 6, 2011


The story is still evolving.
posted by kisch mokusch at 3:01 PM on March 6, 2011


I don't use blue layout.
posted by Surfin' Bird at 3:22 PM on March 6, 2011


I like when the occasional borderline sciency article is linked here because the scientists we have here:

girl scientist: "Yeah, this is pretty much total hokum. This is roughly what I do too, and not only are the data not convincing, such that the conclusions of this article are not accepted by anyone I know, but it has been emailed to me multiple times this week in mocking emails.....I think it's this month's arsenic-based life science scandal."

and

Brian B.: "The structures he photographed are no doubt there, but the odds that a meteorite more than a century old would be completely uncontaminated by earth microbes, even on the inside, are pretty low.

Hoover addresses that:

Although many modern cyanobacteria are resistant to desiccation, they do not carry out active growth and mat building when they are in a dried state. However, it has been known since 1864 that the Orgueil meteorite is a microregolith breccia, comprised of minute particulates cemented together by water-soluble salts that are readily destroyed by exposure to liquid water. Therefore, it is suggested that none of the Orgueil samples could have ever been submerged in pools of liquid water needed to sustain the growth of large photoautotrophic cyanobacteria and required for the formation of benthic cyanobacterial mats since the meteorite arrived on Earth. Many of the filaments shown in the figures are clearly embedded in the meteorite rock matrix. Consequently, it is concluded that the Orgueil filaments cannot logically be interpreted as representing filamentous cyanobacteria that invaded the meteorite after its arrival. They are therefore interpreted as the indigenous remains of microfossils that were present in the meteorite rock matrix when the meteorite entered the Earth’s atmosphere.

Note that the meteorites he is working are quite rare, some of them collected just after falling:

The CI1 carbonaceous chondrites are extremely rare. Although over 35,000 meteorites have been recovered there are only nine CI1 meteorites known on Earth (Table I). Five of them were observed falls: Alais, Orgueil, Ivuna, Tonk and Revelstoke) and the other four (Y-86029, Y-86737, Y980115 and Y-980134) were collected in 1986 and 1998 from the blue ice fields of the Yamato Mountains by Antarctic Expeditions of the National Institute of Polar Research, Japan. The great rarity of the CI1 stones is undoubtedly due to the fact that they are friable micro-regolith breccias. All five CI1 meteorites known before 1986 were collected soon after they were observed to fall. The particulates of the CI1 meteorites are cemented together by water soluble evaporite minerals such as epsomite (MgSO4.7H2O) and gypsum (CaSO4.2H2O). The fact that these stones disintegrate immediately after they are exposed to liquid water was observed during the initial studies of the Alais meteorite (Thénard, 1806; Berzelius, 1834, 1836) and the Orgueil stones (Leymerie, M. 1864). These stones are destroyed and disaggregate into tiny particles as the water soluble salts that cement the insoluble mineral grains together in the rock matrix dissolve (Hoover, 2005).
"

show up.

I benefit from their years of work.
posted by vapidave at 5:59 PM on March 6, 2011


ryanrs: "Hey! I got almost 50 favorites in that thread. You can't delete it!"

Don't worry, you get to keep them.

also they don't matter
but we all know they secretly do
just kidding mods

posted by Riki tiki at 8:23 PM on March 6, 2011


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