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The Blogosphere and Academic Research

By Jeff • Jan 17th, 2009

Recently, Ars Technica, a technology blog wrote a nice summary of the paper that Leif, Tom and I published, “Enhancing the Television Viewing Experience through Commercial Interruptions”. I was actually quite surprised by the depth of the post and the fact that the author likely read the entire paper and not just the abstract (or title). He understood the main ideas and didn’t cherry pick topics to suit his needs. I commend him for this. 

However, the comments posted in response to this post are absolutely hilarious. One of the major points of this paper is that despite the fact that TV commercials often make the TV show in which they are embedded more enjoyable, people fail to appreciate this. Let me say that again, people fail to appreciate this. And yet, the vast majority of the comments are of the form: “I don’t believe this research. After all, I hate commercials.” I couldn’t ask for anything better. Here are some choice examples:

Sorry, I’m not buying it.

Watching a TV show on DVD is SO much better than mainly because of no commercials.

I always skip through the commercials when watching stuff on the DVR which is 90+ Percentage of all my TV watching.

And another:

The fact that a lot people keep watching a series when they record it and skip the commercials proves that the study couldn’t be more wrong. Hell, some even only watch recorded shows just to skip the commercials. Others even drop cable and satellite in favor of watching the same shows on DVD, Hulu or even Bittorrent! I’m sorry, but real world evidence is completely counter to the study’s biased results.

I love that his example “proves that the study couldn’t be more wrong.”

We also make a point in the paper that this effect can not be due to contrast effects. In other words, commercials don’t make the show more enjoyable because they make the television program look better by comparison. We demonstrate this in one experiment by including a  commercial break that is as enjoyable as the program and in another experiment where all participants receive the same commercials, just that for some of them the commercials disrupt the program and for others they don’t.  Here’s a great comment suggesting just the opposite:

This is like saying if you eat dog crap in between meals, your regular food will taste better. Although it’s probably true, I’d rather just not eat the dog crap.

There was also a decent amount of inquiry as to who funded this research. The simple answer is that the Stern School of Business did. There was absolutely no outside funding and their was no subversive purpose to the research. Then again, from the comments:

Now, who wants to lay down a bet that this was funded by an ad company?

All in all, I’m simply very amused. People in the blogosphere often don’t read the entire paper (though I again commend the author of the original post for doing so) and choose to instead ignorantly criticize everything. On the surface it’s entertaining, but there is a more sinister side to this ignorance. Commenters will walk away thinking that they understand a concept that they really don’t. They will propagate this misinformation throughout the virtual and real world. And they will subsequently create false knowledge. This is the exact opposite goal of scientific inquiry and a real problem.

Oh well, for now I’ll stick with this being entertaining.


2 Responses »

  1. “People in the blogosphere often don’t read the entire paper”

    That might be because it is not in the public domain.

    Unless you place it in the public domain, I don’t really thing you can complain about people not reading it when commenting on the abstract or other reports.

  2. Hi Bruce,

    That’s a fair point, but we do have the entire paper up on SSRN. You can download it here: http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1007767

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