Clean Slate January 12, 2012 1:34 PM   Subscribe

What's wrong with Slate? Is it so bad that people should never build a FPP around an article or is it just people bitching without reading?

So Slate has a bunch of questions they refuse to answer in their Explainer column. At the end of each year, readers vote on the questions Slate was unable or unwilling to answer. At that point the Explainer tackles the most requested unanswered question to the best of their ability. This year that question was "What are smart people usually ugly?"
Slate had a ton of interesting unanswered explainer requests in 2011. The one they chose to answer was inexplicably the stupidest. I personally would much prefer to have learned why we need to see the outline of the waste pipe in the base of the toilet, why all announcements from the National Weather Service come in capital letters, why there are no topless casinos in Vegas, and how the foods in your stomach decide which ones get to be in your breath when you burp.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 12:36 PM on January 12 [1 favorite +] [!]

It's on Slate, which isn't a high mark of quality and often a sign of dull witted pandering that belongs next to Uncle John's Bathroom reader. Perhaps beneath. Which isn't a total slam, as I like Uncle John's and it's taught me plenty. But a nuanced book of learnin' it ain't. Had it been on The Atlantic website, I would have read it before commenting.

Having now read the article, I'm pleased to note that I did an excellent job at sizing up the material at first glance (just like in the article), marking me as both smart and good looking. But you already knew that.

This ain't rocket science. If you're trying to make sweeping general statements and ignoring the rich variety of individuals, you're being ignorant and not worth much of my time.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 12:41 PM on January 12 [+] [!]

Flagged as SLATE ARTICLE
posted by The Whelk at 12:55 PM on January 12 [1 favorite +] [!]
posted by 2bucksplus to Etiquette/Policy at 1:34 PM (78 comments total)

The Atlantic is at least as stupid as Slate nowadays. And much more irritatingly self-serious about its stupidity.
posted by enn at 1:38 PM on January 12, 2012 [10 favorites]


A few folks' specific feelings about Slate notwithstanding, this seems like a "post with leading chatbait question framing baits chatter and dismissiveness of framing" thing, not a Slate thing.
posted by cortex (staff) at 1:40 PM on January 12, 2012 [4 favorites]


The problem with the thread in question is that people didn't actually read the article, mostly because of the way the OP framed the post: "Why are smart people usually ugly?"
posted by KokuRyu at 1:41 PM on January 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


Slate seems link-baity to me a lot of the time, but people shouldn't threadshit. That said, it's easier to clean up threadshitting if people don't quote it in MetaTalk.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 1:42 PM on January 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


the atlantic has in focus so it's at least a few measures more awesome than slate.
posted by nadawi at 1:42 PM on January 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


Single link to a troll-titled article which uses pseudo-science to explain the obvious.

No, I didn't read the whole thing. And no, I don't think much of a publication which puts it out there.

But then, I try not to think deeply about anything, as it's horrible for my flawless complexion.
posted by Capt. Renault at 1:43 PM on January 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


Slate, in my reading, has followed the path of most online 'magazines,' in publishing link-bait, articles with a couple of paragraphs per page, slideshows, and general stating-the-obviousness.

I thought this article was ok, but not what I would have expected from Slate, say, four years ago.

It helps, when linking to Slate, to have something else to link to as well.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 1:43 PM on January 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


as to the topic of this post - i've been seeing that headline around and every time i see it i roll my eyes and think something like "that must be from cracked or 9gag or some shit" - so i'm not really surprised to learn people are immediately dismissive. one might think that question was chosen for linkbait.
posted by nadawi at 1:44 PM on January 12, 2012


There was nothing dumb about the question or answer. It's provocative (which is not the same as trolling!) and led to a genuinely interesting and informative article, albeit with some questionable evo psych elements that astute people have pointed out. I'm better for having read it, all things considered.
posted by naju at 1:44 PM on January 12, 2012


(The real problem is kneejerk dismissiveness, of course.)
posted by naju at 1:46 PM on January 12, 2012 [6 favorites]


Smart people are not "usually ugly." We can all use confirmation-bias to picture the stereotypical nerd, but people who are smarter tend to also be more attractive. I don't have a cite but it's common sense: they are more successful, take care of themselves better, etc etc etc.
posted by drjimmy11 at 1:48 PM on January 12, 2012


It's really not common sense. Prior to reading the article, I simply had no opinion either way. I know smart attractive people and smart unattractive people in equal measure, more or less.
posted by naju at 1:49 PM on January 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


You ain't got no alibi.
posted by Burhanistan at 1:49 PM on January 12, 2012


That was nasty and uncalled-for threadshitting from a lot of users that I usually like. What the hell, guys?
posted by Navelgazer at 1:51 PM on January 12, 2012 [5 favorites]


They ain't got no alibi.
posted by Burhanistan at 1:52 PM on January 12, 2012 [3 favorites]


I literally fell asleep reading the article. Must have needed my beauty sleep.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 1:52 PM on January 12, 2012


What the hell, guys?

You didn't agree with them this time?
posted by the man of twists and turns at 1:54 PM on January 12, 2012


The Atlantic is at least as stupid as Slate nowadays. And much more irritatingly self-serious about its stupidity.

The Atlantic has Ta-Nehisi Coates, making it one of the best things on the internet regardless of the rest of its content.
posted by shakespeherian at 1:55 PM on January 12, 2012 [5 favorites]


I keep trying to favourite Blatcher's comment at the top of this thread, but it doesn't do anything. Anyway, I'm pretty sure there's a lot more to life than being really, really, ridiculously good looking. And I plan on finding out what that is.
posted by gman at 1:55 PM on January 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


Also: What's wrong with Slate?

It's a porous source, without filler.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 1:57 PM on January 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


It's really not common sense.

What's meant by "common sense" is that there is a natural and easy to follow progression of logic; not that this is something most people know to be true.

In this case, it really was a remarkably stupid question on so many levels, but it really should've been slammed for that alone, not because of the publication that ran it.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 1:57 PM on January 12, 2012


Why is the first comment in that thread left standing? It seems like exactly the sort of kneejerk, early thread shit that I had the impression was being stamped out these days.
posted by Rumple at 2:04 PM on January 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


What's wrong with Slate?

I answered that in a comment of mine that you posted.

Is it so bad that people should never build a FPP around an article or is it just people bitching without reading?

The post consisted solely of low brow questions. That should be avoided, especially if the article itself isn't very good.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 2:04 PM on January 12, 2012


Why is the first comment in that thread left standing?

I was too busy babysitting an AskMe thread. I axed it.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 2:06 PM on January 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


So let's see here . . . you purposely misled people about the content by using the old "SALACIOUS HEADLINE" pedestrian article technique and now you're wondering why people decided to shit all over your post?

Who knows? Perhaps if you showed respect for your readers they would be interested in a reading the article and not just shitting on your sources.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 2:10 PM on January 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


2bucksplus is not the person who made the MeFi post, fwiw.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 2:14 PM on January 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


The initial comment, now deleted, was "Only a dumbass would ask this question, let alone write about it."
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 2:17 PM on January 12, 2012


No news source on the web should be credible enough on its own for an FPP--not even CNN, the Washington Post nor the New York Times. However, the standard for credibility on MeFi has been historically too low to preempt single source citations and so questionable sources often stand.

Further, labeling any in-thread criticism of the quality of an information source as threadshitting is nothing more than a hivemind response to having their brain candy taken away.
posted by Ardiril at 2:20 PM on January 12, 2012


Further, labeling any in-thread criticism of the quality of an information source as threadshitting is nothing more than a hivemind response to having their brain candy taken away.

That, or correctly pointing out that the material itself wasn't read.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 2:24 PM on January 12, 2012


I personally would much prefer to have learned why we need to see the outline of the waste pipe in the base of the toilet

Is there a doubt on the answer? I wish that toilets designers should be forced to scrub one on their hands and knees.
posted by francesca too at 2:35 PM on January 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


Furthermore, why do German toilets have that "shelf" thing? So you can better admire the fruit of your efforts before disposal?
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 2:46 PM on January 12, 2012


Threadshitting is bad, but so is misleading framing. If you phrase an FPP in a way that will seem clever and ironic after reading the article, which everyone who clicks on your post will of course do without exception...well, don't.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 2:47 PM on January 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


You didn't agree with them this time?

Agree or disagree, it's hard to think anyone who snarks before reading, then admits to not reading, then snarks that the original snark was correct, is going out of his way to be anything but a dick.

I often support dick behavior, but only when it's informed.

The post consisted solely of low brow questions. That should be avoided, especially if the article itself isn't very good.

Then avoid it.
posted by coolguymichael at 2:53 PM on January 12, 2012 [4 favorites]


Furthermore, why do German toilets have that "shelf" thing? So you can better admire the fruit of your efforts before disposal?

In case you aren't just threadshitting *snerk* the answer is: Yes.
posted by ZeroAmbition at 2:54 PM on January 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


Heil Shitler
posted by Dumsnill at 2:55 PM on January 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


The post may have been of questionable quality. But I don't think very much of it when someone posts a threadshit as the very first comment without having read the article. That's far more inane than the post itself! That's super-disrespectful...just flag and get on with your life. I can only imagine that something about the topic itself must have pushed a few buttons.
posted by Edgewise at 2:56 PM on January 12, 2012


In case you aren't just threadshitting *snerk* the answer is: Yes.

Yeah, I figured it was either that or some other purpose. The little diorama of the Sack of Rome that I built on it out of match sticks did look nice, though.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 3:00 PM on January 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


The shelf has been the subject of an askme.
posted by nomisxid at 3:04 PM on January 12, 2012


Low quality FPP links will tend to get snark at an early stage, but I do try and read the link before building dioramas.

Marisa may have just coined this week's catchphrase in my household.
posted by arcticseal at 3:11 PM on January 12, 2012


If the point of this post is to shame people out of commenting on FPPs early in the thread without reading the articles, then I am all for it.
posted by no regrets, coyote at 3:12 PM on January 12, 2012


If the FPP was the following:
At the end of each year, readers vote on the questions Slate was unable or unwilling to answer. At that point the Explainer tackles the most requested unanswered question to the best of their ability. This year that question was "What are smart people usually ugly?"
I suspect the whole thing would have gone better. Having just the question is makes me suspect trolling. Adding "SLSlate" confirms it.
posted by Mister Fabulous at 3:48 PM on January 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


shakespeherian: "The Atlantic is at least as stupid as Slate nowadays. And much more irritatingly self-serious about its stupidity.

The Atlantic has Ta-Nehisi Coates, making it one of the best things on the internet regardless of the rest of its content.
"

Yea but they also have Megan McArdle (aka Jane Galt) which cancels him out.
posted by octothorpe at 3:52 PM on January 12, 2012


Yea but they also have Megan McArdle (aka Jane Galt) which cancels him out.

It's true that McArdle is loathesome, but then they also have James Fallows, who writes about politics but also fun stuff like piloting airplanes.
posted by lalex at 3:57 PM on January 12, 2012


I looked up "link bait" in a couple of places and I'm still not sure how people are using the term here. Is the local definition something like "trying to attract more attention for a page than it deserves"? The Wikipedia page on it, for example, doesn't seem to attach any negative connotation to it.
posted by dfan at 4:04 PM on January 12, 2012


I often support dick behavior, but only when it's informed.

It was an informed opinion, one developed over several years of checking out Slate and living life. People who ask "Why are smart people usually ugly" are asking a loaded question full of narrow bias. Smart and ugly are subjective, so anyone who's seriously asking that question isn't working with a full deck and worse, doesn't realize it. Publications that treat those questions are very interesting are going for doing a poor version of Straight Dope and if said publication is Slate, then hell, they're just going for pandering to the water cooler crowd for easy page views. Nothing wrong with that, it beats owning slaves or wrecking the economy, but then again, those are pretty low bars.


Me: The post consisted solely of low brow questions. That should be avoided, especially if the article itself isn't very good.

coolguy michael: Then avoid it.


I don't make posts consisting solely of low brow questions, so we're good on that front.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 4:18 PM on January 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


2bucksplus is not the person who made the MeFi post, fwiw.

Ooops. 2bucksplus, please accept my apologies for my confusion.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 4:18 PM on January 12, 2012


wikipedia might not come out and say "it sucks" but it defines it well enough (also, the sole source for the wiki article is "SEO Advice: linkbait and linkbaiting").

Link bait is any content or feature, within a website, designed specifically to gain attention or encourage others to link to the website

for people, like me, who complain about it, i think we're saying - there's no substance there, or the substance is so hidden by the baiting as to become secondary. it's basically the working model for sites like gawker and slate. it comes up the most when there's a combination of "evil hook" and "headline" - writing a mean spirited headline just to get everyone to clutch their pearls and link to it, thus driving up clicks to your site.
posted by nadawi at 4:25 PM on January 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


I looked up "link bait" in a couple of places and I'm still not sure how people are using the term here. Is the local definition something like "trying to attract more attention for a page than it deserves"? The Wikipedia page on it, for example, doesn't seem to attach any negative connotation to it.

Basically, yeah, that's my understanding of the term. And there's nothing inherently negative about wanting to grab attention. The negative aspect of it is by implication: linkbait/clickbait is what you resort to when you can't get by on substance alone.

I'd make the comparison to SEO: in its purest sense, search engine optimization as a principle is fine and good. Organize and mark up your content in a sane, parsable way that presents well what's actually important about it in a way that search engines will index effectively. Give your content a fair shot at being noticed. Most basic web design is in this sense a kind of SEO.

But people can't stand the SEO service sector, not because those pure principles are bad (they're not, they're fine) but because a whole lot of sleazy SEO jerkwads operate on a premise that ignores the question of content and quality altogether and offers to maximize search engine placement and hence traffic through cheap tricks and game-breaking exploits. Nobody likes getting spattered in snake oil; "SEO" as a label has been seriously tarnished, which sucks for folks who actually do plain old reasonable optimization design work, but there you go.

So, to linkbait: given the same article, the difference between a really provocative headline and a more honest one is...the provocativeness of the headline. Which may get clicks but will also sour a lot of palates. People will wonder precisely why you needed to trump up the situation or fake them out.

Skip the presentational bullshitting and you piss fewer people off. And if your content is good, people will share it anyway on the merits.

And so conspicuous linkbait tends to be associated with folks willing to accept that their content isn't strong enough to stand on the merits. Folks more interested in jockeying for attention than doing good work. And that may be unfair to the occasional very-clever article with a very-exploitative headline, but it's a pretty fair analysis of a lot of rather poor work with eye-popping dressing, so the folks producing the really good content wouldn't be unwise to avoid jumping into the same mud puddle, if they can help it.
posted by cortex (staff) at 4:27 PM on January 12, 2012 [5 favorites]


It's a shame about what Slate's turning into. Of all the people you could lay off, what sane employer picks Timothy Noah? If it weren't for Dahlia Lithwick's Supreme Court pieces there'd hardly be a reason to go there and risk accidentally seeing a headline associated with Farhad Manjoo at all.
posted by Adventurer at 5:13 PM on January 12, 2012


Flagged as SLATE ARTICLE

Of the three quotes comments in this MeTa, that's the only one that's pure noise. I disagree with Jessamyn that having the comment quoted in MeTa is a reason not to delete it.
posted by cribcage at 5:15 PM on January 12, 2012


TODAY ON SLATE: WHY METATALK IS WRONG ABOUT SLATE BEING A SEETHING PIT OF KNEE-JERK CONTRARIAN LINKBAIT

ALSO: WHY TIGHT SHOES ARE GOOD FOR YOU
posted by BitterOldPunk at 5:57 PM on January 12, 2012 [4 favorites]


I linked to Slate two days ago and no one complained or even mentioned that it was a "SLATE ARTICLE" so I don't think the problem here is the source of the article.
posted by Houyhnhnm at 6:09 PM on January 12, 2012


What's funny is that the second-most popular question in that poll (about pharmacies) has been answered here at AskMe more than once. A wasted vote!
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell at 6:34 PM on January 12, 2012


If people had even attempted to read the article...

But they didn't. They didn't even read the first two sentences. This is the first time a bunch of metafilter people made me actively disappointed in them. I didn't even know it could happen!

Well, I mean, I did. It's the internet. But still. I am used to people reading the articles or not shitting on them in the first comment.

That Brandon guy sounded like the most insufferable person, but he hates Slate so he's above my station.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 6:49 PM on January 12, 2012


I don't blame the OP, it's about Slate ignoring The Science of Advertising (can't remember the author) regarding headline writing.

Sorry I sounded off, but ... c'mon, time is tight, you better engage off the get go if you want me to read the damn article. This, from one who used to work in advertising.

Yoga wrecked my back is a better fucking headline, fer crying out loud.

Sorry Slate, you suck at getting my attention, big schmiel, I say.
posted by alicesshoe at 6:54 PM on January 12, 2012


I suspect the whole thing would have gone better. Having just the question is makes me suspect trolling. Adding "SLSlate" confirms it.

FWIW, I wasn't trolling. Evidently, I could have framed the post a lot better. Lesson learned.
posted by asnider at 8:49 PM on January 12, 2012


I really like John Dickerson. That is all.
posted by bluedaisy at 11:57 PM on January 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


Um, what's link bait?
posted by taff at 4:11 AM on January 13, 2012


But they didn't. They didn't even read the first two sentences. This is the first time a bunch of metafilter people made me actively disappointed in them. I didn't even know it could happen!

No snark intended: Are you serious? This actually happens pretty frequently. Some topics/sources, if not framed just so, pretty much guarantee it will happen.
posted by SpiffyRob at 6:28 AM on January 13, 2012


Um, what's link bait?

Scroll up, we discussed it.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 6:34 AM on January 13, 2012


You know what else I don't read - anything that is described as "a weird old tip" or "discovered by a mom." Part of literacy is understanding what's worth your time.

Anyone with a link to anything like that, I won't read it and still might comment.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 6:37 AM on January 13, 2012


What's wrong with Slate?

The way he treated Fred Flintstone was disgraceful, for one thing.
posted by jonmc at 6:47 AM on January 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


Furthermore, why do German toilets have that "shelf" thing? So you can better admire the fruit of your efforts before disposal?

Actually, yes. So you can inspect it to see if it's funky or to collect a stool sample. The German Wikipedia article on toilets does say their 'biggest downside' is that they smell a lot. I have also learned that some German bloke holds the world record for breaking toilet seat covers with his head with 50 in a miute.
posted by hoyland at 7:26 AM on January 13, 2012


More importantly:

"In both studies, seemingly naive guesses were compared to actual test scores to see if they were ever accurate.* "

WHERE THE EFF IS THE EXPLAINING ASTERISK?!?! I mean, I scanned the page for entirely too long looking for it. Then I decided I'd read the entire rest of the article in case he snuck it into the middle of a paragraph or something. Why not make it a hotlink anyway? You have about eight thousand OTHER links in your damn article!
posted by Grither at 8:01 AM on January 13, 2012


Oh jesus. Is it really supposed to be referencing this???

"Correction, Jan. 12, 2012: The original overstated the magnitude of the results of the Ohio and Pittsburgh studies."

If it is, PUT ANOTHER DAMN ASTERISK IN THERE GODDAMNIT.
posted by Grither at 8:03 AM on January 13, 2012


> It's a shame about what Slate's turning into. Of all the people you could lay off,
> what sane employer picks Timothy Noah?

They've picked up Matthew Yglesias, who generally gets good notices around here. Perhaps Noah was too expensive.
posted by jfuller at 9:03 AM on January 13, 2012


Um, what's link bait?

$20 SAIT.



(thank you for the obvious setup)
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 11:07 AM on January 13, 2012


Everyone else just had better self-control.
posted by Burhanistan at 11:10 AM on January 13, 2012


So you're saying it was SAIT bait?
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 11:14 AM on January 13, 2012


If it is, PUT ANOTHER DAMN ASTERISK IN THERE GODDAMNIT.

I understand your frustration, but try to look at it from their point of view1. It's really tempting, and a lot of fun, to add an unnecessary troll asterisk near the beginning of an article. If your editor or the proofs don't catch it, you can get a small chuckle from it after it goes to print, and imagine how many readers keep scrolling back down to the bottom of the article - or, even better, flip a few pages ahead - to see what you're referencing.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 12:32 PM on January 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


1that of a dick
posted by psoas at 1:22 PM on January 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


Slate is an attractive roofing material, (it's fireproof to boot), but you have to have really seriously reinforced frames, I hear.
posted by zomg at 2:39 PM on January 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


1Through a sniper scope from a clock tower.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 2:39 PM on January 13, 2012


I really like John Dickerson. That is all.

It is not all. I really like Emily Bazelon, as well.
posted by The corpse in the library at 2:55 PM on January 13, 2012


I like those folks and Dana Stevens. I guess what I left out that's galling is that they also simultaneously canned Jack Shafer, June Thomas, and Juliet Lapidos. It was just such an anti-grownup move.
posted by Adventurer at 6:10 PM on January 13, 2012


They fired June Thomas? That's ridiculous.
posted by The corpse in the library at 3:33 PM on January 14, 2012


The atlantic has in focus so it's at least a few measures more awesome than slate.

In focus is just a ripoff of The Big Picture which isn't a bad thing, per se.

But yeah, the problem with slate is that they value being 'controversial' over being, you know, right. It's like if you took the huffington post and added a bunch of psudointelectuality.
posted by delmoi at 12:20 AM on January 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


alan taylor, mefi's kokogiak, created the big picture and then moved to the atlantic and created in focus. unless you're saying he ripped himself off?
posted by nadawi at 12:31 AM on January 15, 2012


« Older Metafilter meets Jon?   |   A font of knowledge Newer »

You are not logged in, either login or create an account to post comments