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ATS and Empty Rhetoric: A Study of Replies?

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posted on Jan, 29 2008 @ 05:18 PM
First off I would like to say a little about what ATS is for me. I originally stumbled upon it several years ago when I got into reading conspiracy theories on the net - just for fun mostly. I came for that, but I continued to come back for the discussion. I love to discuss, debate, and learn about most every issue I can think of. I learn the most through discussion. I mostly lurk just to read the different viewpoints on issues (it is often said the best way to learn an issue is through the side you disagree with). This brings me to what I would like to look at; the substance of this discussion.

Every week I notice an increasing amount of replies that don't really contribute to the discussion. The dreaded one liner; except that it is now a few more sentences long. We are almost all guilty of it at one time or another, which is fine, but it seems to be getting excessive.

The best hypothetical (barely) example I can think of is in the Breaking news forum. You will see a post of a news article detailing something such as Bush Asks for War Funding. A reply such as "Just more money for GB and his Masonic buddies to screw the middle class out of money and raise the price of gas for us all!!!" would fit nicely. What I find even more amazing is that these posts often get 2, 5, or even 10 stars! I know this is an extreme example, but it gets my point across that replies often say nothing about the topic at hand (often in Breaking News I am sure that 90% of repliers did not even read the news article). Discussion without substance is just empty rhetoric, which contributes nothing at all. ATS is about user generated content, and I wouldn't call that content at all.

So this is where I come in. I would like to actually study this. I will pick a common characteristic that many threads share, and analyze the replies to every thread sharing that characteristic over a certain time period. I may or may not limit it a certain forum or group of forums. I will need to develop a system of post qualities that will define them as contributing or not. I may or may not record the amount of stars that went to empty rhetoric v the amount that went to contributing posts. I may do two sets of data (ie- December 2007 and December 2002) to see if the amount of substance has changed over time.

My basic goal is as follows:
-To find out what percentage of replies are just empty rhetoric.

My Secondary goals are:
-To see where on the board this is most prevalent.
-To see where stars are allocated in terms of this.
-To see if this has changed over time.

So this where you come in. I have a list of things I would like a range of comments on from staff and members, after all this is for all of you.
1-What topic should I choose?
2-What boards should I use for data?
3-Time period?
5-What standards should I use to define a post as empty rhetoric or a contribution?(most important)

So far, I am thinking:
1-Topics involving George Bush
2-Maybe breaking news, skunk works, and current events?
3-One month, possible two as I suggested earlier.
4-Not sure
5-Not sure

Primarily I would like input before I begin from mods, as they are the authority on relevant contributions; however, all users are welcome to join in on the discussion. This is still in the kind of planning stage so I have some random points to end:

-THIS IS NOT A KNOCK ON ATS. This is a wonderful place and people are free to say whatever they want, I am just using ATS as a tool to learn how people discuss issues. This is just a much a study of man as it is a study of ATS.
-I think this has the potential to be a great tool for the 3 Amigos to set board policy and get a good feel for how the community acts regarding this issue.
-At the very least it will be a great learning experience


posted on Jan, 29 2008 @ 05:18 PM
-The numbers will be off as often the kind of post that will fit the standard of empty rhetoric is deleted. Is there any way I can find out how many posts are deleted for that?
-This will be a very fine line in between the two kinds of replies. The most integral part of this thread is to decide (with the help of board rules?) what is a contribution.
-It can also be noted that this type of reply is not necessarily bad for ATS. Although it is bad for real discussion; it is traffic, it is eyes on adds, it is money for ATS. At the same time, it is also bandwidth that could be used more efficiently. After the study, a conclusion looking further into the economics of the issue and the total gain/loss for the community could be arranged.
-If this works out well I plan in the future to do more studies on different thread topics so as to see which issues bring out these kind of replies versus which do not.


Thoughts? Opinions? Plausible? Crazy?

[edit on 29-1-2008 by WuTang]

posted on Jan, 29 2008 @ 05:33 PM

posted on Jan, 29 2008 @ 05:34 PM
interesting idea, though one has to wonder whether you should be using your super powers for good rather than evil! lol....

as with all discussions, real or virtual, some people have a "real" insight into a topic while other have no real information, merely a gut feeling... some people can express their feelings or opinions eliquently, while others struggle with language and adjectives... some people have time to read and some people struggle with the written word....

what i personally find uplifting, is that people will take moments from their days to actually respond or peruse topics that may have an important impact on others... there are many many who could care less about conspiracy or the environment or political outrage and continue to live their lives with their heads in the sand, ass in the air producing nothing but methane.... here, we find a collection of thoughtful, engaged citizens of the earth.. IMO

all said, perhaps you could get a research grant from the ATS "overlords"... afterall, they must be making a mint from all the mindless banner ads and animated squares they're running... I mean, how much were they paid to place those squares on their "premium video" applets?.. surely they didn't hand pick the one where death lops off someone's head.... now the one where the character bashes his head on the wall and prompts you to discover how smart you are... that one I'm sure they're monitoring!!

posted on Jan, 29 2008 @ 05:37 PM
reply to post by WuTang

5-What standards should I use to define a post as empty rhetoric or a contribution?

I would say no standards.
Who are you or anyone else to say what is, as you say, empty rhetoric?

Everyone has something to add. Not everyone has the same thought process, so therefore, not everything reads the same to everyone. Also, what is wrong with injecting humor into this sometimes over-serious board? People have a tendency to take themselves and what they are saying way to serious.

Again, who decides what is rhetoric? I took 5 minutes out of my night to respond, you don't like it, it is then to be labelled rhetoric?

Just my two cents.

posted on Jan, 29 2008 @ 05:47 PM
WuTang you should expand your study of empty reasoning to included the Flagging of threads. Truth be told I am not that fond of the way the Flag system is used to many high quality threads are ignored because the topic isnt populate or the fact that a topic is buried in the wildness.

posted on Jan, 29 2008 @ 05:49 PM
Technically everything that communicates a message is rhetoric. So yes, all words are rhetoric.

I am concerned with the empty. Like I said, it is a fine line, and those replies are exactly what I had expected. But if many of us can work together to decide what is an empty reply we can see how often it happens. I cannot stress enough that I am only in this to see the numbers, not to judge them. I am not trying to ride a high horse. I just want to know what topics garner lots of empty posturing, and how much they produce.

To bobafett, You can help or you can call me out. Who am I? Did you read my whole post? The whole point was to have members decide what is empty rhetoric, not me. If it was me I would have done the study by myself and then told you what I found. How can you call me out for that when the whole point of my post is to come to a community consensus before i begin???

posted on Jan, 29 2008 @ 05:51 PM
reply to post by xpert11

Although I like you idea, the whole point is to analyze the rhetoric of replies, whereas a flag is a measure of the thread as a whole. At the same time it wouldn't take much time to record that as data, which would be pretty cool to plot against empty rhetoric in a graph.

posted on Jan, 29 2008 @ 06:09 PM

Originally posted by WuTang
5-What standards should I use to define a post as empty rhetoric or a contribution?(most important)

Half of your effort will need to be spent on this alone-- and that even assumes it is possible to define what a meaningful contribution is...

Maybe it somehow relates to whether alternative links and sources are provided in a post? (That is certainly measurable.)


I'm curious what you think this will do for you?

posted on Jan, 29 2008 @ 06:14 PM
reply to post by WuTang

Yes I did read your entire post. I do not post in threads that I have not read.

I was not trying to sound like I was looking to call anyone out.

I guess I just do not see the point. It is a message board. It is not life. It is not school. When you boil it down, it should mean nothing at the end of the day. If one is overly concerned with the goingson on a particular website, that in it self is a problem.

There are rules in place and it seems to me that they work just fine. If those that run this site see something that is out of line it is taken care of. If someone adds something completely inane to a topic, I for one, completey disregard what was said. How hard is that?

Like I said before, people around here tend to take themselves way to serious as well as over think things. Sometimes a spade is just in fact a spade but that is another topic for another day.

Again, I meant no disrespect, I was only adding my thoughts on the matter.


[edit on 1/29/2008 by bobafett1972]

posted on Jan, 29 2008 @ 06:25 PM

Originally posted by WuTang
--This will be a very fine line in between the two kinds of replies. The most integral part of this thread is to decide (with the help of board rules?) what is a contribution.Thoughts? Opinions? Plausible? Crazy?

I would love to see you be successful at this, but I don't think you can do it. I don't think it is technically possible. I certainly don't think you can possibly automate this to any reasonable extent,

You can analyze the statistical layer of communications (such as count repetitions in words or letters) but you can't get to the semantic level, because it is subjective.

Subjectivity. That is the killer. I have no idea how you can possibly process human semantics without a review board of human minds, studying, comparing notes, voting, etc. to determine whether a post is relevant or just noise.

It is the ancient problem of the mind-body problem. Subjectivity is actually a very very mysterious and mystical thing. The brain is a set of organic material, but the human mind is a subjective observer of the universe. This weirdness of the mind has been studied by cognitive science at length and it is pretty much a brick wall that can't be crossed.

For example, how do you know that the "non-relevant" posts don't actually form some sort of complex subtext to an argument that affects your subconscious, and will be considered the MOST VALUABLE part of ATS in the distant future? (Yeah, that last paragraph may be a stretch, but it is an appropriate speculation for your project, and for ATS.) Since we don't know what that subtext is, only a human mind can detect it, and it will be highly arguable, like arguing over the pattern of tarot cards.

Please prove me wrong, WuTang! If you can come up with a set of semantic rules, we could apply this to language translation, natural language processing, and a number of other impenetrable studies. I will watch here for further comments.

posted on Jan, 29 2008 @ 06:36 PM
reply to post by bobafett1972

Once again I am not here to judge ATS. I am using ATS as a tool to study how often the average member takes the effort to make a comment that doesn't contribute. Your right that it is not real life, but its the best tool available to feasibly do this. I don't have the means to do a study of thousands of peoples comments in real life. I do have that here. If you know a bigger discussion site where I can do this, or even compare to here, by all means suggest it.

This message board does not mean nothing to everyone at the end of the day just because it does to you. Do think that these peoples opinions are worth nothing to the 3 Amigos? How about the ATS personalities who spend hours on their contributions? It means something different to everyone. I guess this study could be a tool to indicate what percentage of members do respond in certain ways?

Either way if you do not agree or find it interesting then I guess don't participate. But for those that do find this interesting what would you do to define a post?

I think providing outside materials/sources should be included in a list of qualities that define a contributing post.. Good suggestion. I think i might either do a list of requirements where if one or more is satisfied than it counts as contribution.

Any ideas as to the system? List of positives satisfied to be contributing? Negatives to be empty? Both on some sort of point system? Either way it is very true that defining the standards is going to be the hardest part.

posted on Jan, 29 2008 @ 06:39 PM

Originally posted by bobafett1972
When you boil it down, it should mean nothing at the end of the day. If one is overly concerned with the goings on on a particular website, that in it self is a problem.

Honestly, I must have a severe problem. (It is called "ATS addiction", and I think it is a real syndrome.)

This board is extremely significant. There is stuff going on here that is redefining reality.

Is there a forum here at ATS that can help me with this?

(You see WuTang, this is not a relevant post. Or -- is it?)

posted on Jan, 29 2008 @ 06:51 PM
reply to post by Buck Division

Very good post, and if you haven't read much into the subject it seems foreign, unfeasible, and surely subjective. But it can be done, exactly as you (almost sarcastically
) postured! Often you pick words, or issues, and count! I have myself done a couple of studies on rhetoric for university classes, mainly only newspaper editorials regarding political issues. I suggest you read some William Riker if you are interested in the analysis of rhetoric. He spent his entire life counting words in editorials, but produced brilliant results in the context of the American constitutional conventions.

Basically, you define what it is you are looking for. We are looking for empty rhetoric. We need a system, and then standards for that system. The all it takes is a bit of counting and reading!

I will be thinking about this and brainstorming for a bit, I will return with my basic structure and maybe people can critique from there. My thread needs more substance itself!!!

posted on Jan, 29 2008 @ 07:03 PM
reply to post by WuTang

William Riker. Got it.

I suggest Steven Pinker: The Language Instinct -- it forms the basis of most of my understanding about semantics.

Thanks for the tip.

posted on Jan, 29 2008 @ 07:26 PM
reply to post by Buck Division

Unfortunately I dropped linguistics, but I may still have the textbook. I'll have a rummage around and see. Linguistics is a crazy field, but it wasn't my cup of soup.

I'll give you an example of my methods for one of my previous studies, as I think it might help in developing methods for this.

I was studying the rhetoric in a serious of argumentative editorials regarding whether or not Nova Scotia should join in the Canadian confederacy. I basically took a bunch of photocopied microfiche's (from 1812) and retyped them in word. I then highlighted, in different colours, paragraphs and at times sentances regarding different issues (such as defense, economy, railroad, religion, etc.). I then counted the words of each colour, charted it, and studied the change over time. This was to study Riker's theory of dominance and dispersion (which is a whole other thread

That was relatively simple as there were two sources, two sides.

Here at ATS there are a millions sources with a million sides. However I am confident that a more broad method can be developed through community interaction that can classify replies into our two sides: empty posturing v insightful content.

posted on Jan, 29 2008 @ 07:30 PM
reply to post by Buck Division

Either I did not explain myself enough or I can't speak in full sentence form, either way, my remark wasn't meant as a slam in any way to any one. Heck, I come pretty much everyday. But when I go to bed at night, what was said and what people write on here, mean nothing in my actual day to day life. Does that come across any better?

posted on Jan, 29 2008 @ 07:32 PM
reply to post by WuTang

Hey -- I see what you are saying. There are in fact a lot of good metrics and ways of counting words. I am satisfied that you can look at just the statistical layer and make some measurements of whether a person is just filling up space. It would be just a guess, but good enough to make some predictions, especially if you analyzed large amounts of data.

I stand corrected. (Didn't take much to flip me over, did it?

It seems like you could take a look at the number of times that words and phrases are re-used in posts. Here is one reference and I see plenty of others also.

In paricular, here is another article on the Flesch-Kindaid Readability Test which might be interesting. I would like to see whether there is some correlation with regard to readability and pertinence. (I bet there is. People who want to make there point will write more carefully. The same goes with spelling, perhaps.)

You might be able to create some sort of ATS "grade" for any response, which would help you make your graphs. This might be useful for ATS moderators and administrators.

I'm glad I did the research you suggested! Good thinking. This might be very interesting!

(Edit to fix emoticon...)

[edit on 29-1-2008 by Buck Division]

posted on Jan, 29 2008 @ 07:37 PM

Originally posted by bobafett1972
reply to post by Buck Division
Either I did not explain myself enough or I can't speak in full sentence form, either way, my remark wasn't meant as a slam in any way to any one.

I was playing with you buddy. I knew what you were saying. (Only too well, actually.)

I see we are no longer "Above" top secret. (The thread must have been moved by the Moderators?) I'm getting loose now. :w:

posted on Jan, 29 2008 @ 07:53 PM
reply to post by Buck Division

Wow your hitting the journals before I am! For your first link I can't find the actual article, and my university only has it in print, at the library, so I am not sure if its worth my time (economically of course, thats a lot of OC for that little amount of utility
). The readability test is a nice standard, I agree would be interesting, but that is a lot of work; almost staggering for this amount of data. Perhaps in th e future if more are on board.

I am thinking more like: search for topic word(s) in post title. Take posts within time period 1 month. Read all threads and count X number of replies. Count "empty replies" (good name?) according to whatever system decided upon, as Y number of Empty replies. Y/X = % of ERs basically. Could do that for several forums to find out what different crowds are like. Two different time periods to find out how it changes. % of stars to ERs v Substance. Lots of possibilities here, I need to unwind and think it over.:w:

[edit on 29-1-2008 by WuTang]

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