News You Can Use

If you want more evidence that people don’t read/watch news to get useful info, consider the low little interest in this, the most useful article I’ve ever read:

Pooping on a modern sitting toilet is a big part of where hemorrhoids come from, and it can also cause diverticular disease … A 2003 study observed 28 people pooping in three positions: sitting on a high toilet, sitting on a lower one and squatting like they were catchers at a baseball game … Pooping took about a minute less when done squatting and that participants rated the experience as “easier”. In fact, toilets that require you to squat that way have been the standard for most of human history and are still widely used in the non-Western world. …

Showering or bathing daily … wreaks havoc on something hilariously called the horny layer. Hot water, soap and abrasive surfaces strip off the horny layer, exposing living cells to the elements. … Damaging this protective layer of skin makes us more susceptible to disease. … Showering doesn’t kill bacteria or other microorganisms, though it does move them around. … For this reason, surgeons in many hospitals are not allowed to shower right before operating. … There are no measurable differences in the number of microorganism colonies a person is host to regardless of how frequently that person showers. … When you shower, use warm or cool water and a mild soap (if at all), and rehydrate the horny layer by rubbing on some moisturizer afterward. …

The muscle you’re supposed to use to breathe, your diaphragm, is under your lungs and closer to your belly….

Artificial light has pushed our normal bedtime back later and later, and this [natural] segmented sleep has been compressed into a single eight hours. … In a monthlong experiment, healthy subjects were given a long artificial “night” lasting 14 hours. They quickly reverted to the segmented pattern, waking up for an hour or two of “peaceful wakefulness” between two three to five hour stretches. …

Today, the majority of women in America are still directed to give birth in the “lithotomy” position, an odd pose that consists of lying flat on your back with your feet and legs raised, sometimes in stirrups. … This is pretty much the worst position imaginable to give birth in. … The World Health Organization has called use of the lithotomy position “clearly harmful,” and recommended that it be eliminated. …

Flossing is much more important than brushing. … Brushing twice a day is generally still believed to be the best practice. But you should do it away from mealtimes to give your teeth time to recover from acid wear — ideally, right before you eat or drink anything. … You should use a soft brush and focus on your gums more than your actual teeth. …

A study used an MRI to measure the spinal disk movement of three groups of people: one sitting, one slouching and one lying back at a 135-degree angle with their feet on the floor. The last group showed the least disk movement. By the way, this reclining position was common during the Roman Empire. (more; HT Rebecca Roache)

How do people yawn at this sort of article, stay riveted to the latest on Japan nuke plants, and yet tell themselves they read the news to get useful info?

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  • Wophugus

    People like articles like that. That is one of the most popular articles in the history of cracked, it’s already passed a million views, a distinction articles rarely reach and even then only after sitting around for a few weeks, and it shredded the servers like no other article has before it.

    So people don’t yawn at this sort of article. The better question is, why did it take so long for cracked.com to come into existence? Crowdsourcing article writing obviously took the internet to do, but the basic idea of cracked, a list based article that will both gives the reader interesting new information and ties that information together with a unique slant and jokes, has been possible for years. Does it take crowd sourcing the writing to do that well? Does it take hundreds of writers searching the internet to come up with that kind of story?

  • candy

    You have to watch the news to be “informed,” which is just a self-fulfilling prophecy.
    I remember not having heard of the Monica Lewinsky scandal and looking like an idiot when I asked somebody about it. There’s no sense in which I was better off for knowing who Monica Lewinsky was, but it’s the kind of thing that people talk about, because it’s on the news, so I should know about it.
    The news has “pet stories” that they force into the public discussion; for example the OJ Simpson trial or the John Benet Ramsey case. There’s no reason for things like this to be so important, televised day and night at the expense of any of the other 10000 things you might tell people about. People must like watching the same thing an awful lot.

    • nazgulnarsil

      people prefer a common narrative. it is a big part of culture.

      • lemmy caution

        I agree. It really is the audience that is driving the “pet stories” and the celebrity gossip. Gossip is a natural human function. If you don’t know about Monica Lewinsky or whatever you are at a disadvantage.

    • dWj

      So it’s social signalling? How did Robin not come up with that?

  • http://cephalicfurrow.wordpress.com PeterW

    re: tooth brushing,

    From browsing Google Scholar it seems that there’s a tradeoff between having bacteria grow on teeth following meals, vs. acid-induced softening and erosion of teeth during after-meal tooth brushing. It probably makes sense for people with significant erosion to brush before meals, but evidence is mixed on what normal people should do.

    • http://www.hopanon.typepad.com Hopefully Anonymous

      that’s unsatisfyingly ambivalent. 😛

      • nate

        The ambivalence of it makes me think that it doesn’t matter much. Perhaps I’m overestimating medical science here, but if it’s difficult for dentists to reach a clear conclusion perhaps the difference in harm between either practice is negligible.

  • Ted

    Citations, please?

  • Constant

    This is the second blog entry today that I found linking to this. Looks like I’m set up so that I don’t miss stuff like this.

  • http://www.twitter.com/chumunculus John

    I wonder if my pleasure I derive from hot water in the shower outweighs the damage I’m doing to my horny layer. Decisions, decisions.

  • http://www.hopanon.typepad.com Hopefully Anonymous

    Awesome article, but it did get over 1 million views in a couple days, which I think undermines your thesis a bit.

    I wonder the dynamics that lead to the authors publishing something so awesomely useful (and in such a nonprestigious way).

    • http://www.uncrediblehallq.net/ Chris Hallquist

      This.

      To throw in one data point: even though I like reading articles like this on Cracked, reading it feels like a huge waste of time.

      Maybe because, even though this info is probably more useful than the physiology I’m supposed to be studying right now, it won’t be on my physiology exam tomorrow?

      But seriously, even when I don’t have an exam the next day, when I read Cracked, I feel like surely there’s something better I could be doing with my life.

      But I never feel that reading about Japanese nuclear reactors is it. I feel no need to know about Japanese nuclear rectors. In fact, most of what I know about them probably comes from this blog.

    • Wophugus

      The dynamic that leads to authors writing that stuff: Cracked let’s anyone sign into their writers work shop (after signing up in their forums) and pitch ideas. Those ideas generally have to be in a list format, like “7 Breakfast Cereals That Might Kill You (but are probably good for you).” If the editors like an idea, they’ll accept it and the person pitching it will write it. The list format may seem artificial, but audiences seem to like it (list articles perform the best) and the editors are convinced that it does a good job for forcing structure on amateur writers.

      As well as freelancers making pitches in cracked’s writers work shop, a few dudes and dudettes who perform consistently in the workshop or in other comedy formats get hired as columnists. Columns can focus more on character based humor, though few of them totally abandon the list based format. Some columnists also produce videos for the site.

      This particular article was written by two free lance writers, though one of them (sephira), writes consistently for cracked and other paying sites.

      So why do writers do it? 1. It is an incredibly accessible platform for budding comedy writers. Again, cracked has an open door policy, anyone can make a pitch. 2. It has a lot of visibility. A lot of writers who got their start there now make a living writing comedy. Even a mediocre article can expect a few hundred thousand page views, and if you rack up a string of articles several hundreds of thousands of people have read you start to look like someone who can write a marketable product. 3. Cracked pays its writers. Fifty bucks for your first five articles, 150 for subsequent articles, a fifty buck bonus for high traffic articles.

      That’s probably pretty boring to most people, but cracked totally fascinates me. It’s a brilliant business model that benefits everyone involved. Cheap writing for the site, lots of exposure for the writers, consistently interesting product for the reader.

      • http://www.hopanon.typepad.com Hopefully Anonymous

        A cracked-worthy reply. Thanks.

      • lemmy caution

        Thanks for this reply. That is interesting.

  • richard silliker

    Move on over John Tesh, there is a new guy in town.

  • Aaron

    Robin,

    I think you need to watch some more daytime talkshows like Dr. Oz and the Doctors. I think average folk are not only interested in this stuff, they’re obsessed with it. It’s just not what gets covered at “news” sites.

  • http://www.jasoncollins.org Jason Collins

    As for the article’s usefulness, how many of its million+ readers are going to start hovering over the toilet seat, showering less, breathing from the diaphragm and demanding that they be allowed to squat as they give birth?

    Second, how many “7 things that will change your life” articles are there on the internet that one would have to sift through before finding this one?

  • dWj

    When I was doing long-distance hiking, my sleep schedule certainly shifted closer to sunset-to-sunrise, but there was never a period of wakefulness in the middle of the night. (Mid-latitude spring and summer, so perhaps it wasn’t a long enough period of dark. Still, I do remember waking up before sunrise, though after more than 7 hours of sleep.)

    I’m pretty sure that I’m a poor and possibly abnormal sleeper anyway, though I wasn’t aware of any other hikers waking up at 1AM, either.

  • josh

    How much of that article is bullshit?

  • jsalvatier

    Those are very interesting ideas, and I agree if they were true, they would be very useful indeed, but you should keep in mind that Cracked is for entertainment and not necessarily well researched (http://lesswrong.com/r/discussion/lw/53r/the_importance_of_research/).

  • Andrew C

    I think that people have evolved to care seriously about small (<100) groups of people. People have trouble empathizing with people they have not met and with whom they share little common experience or interest.

    However, modern morality says we should care about the fate of our country and of humanity in general. This seems reasonable on the face of it, so we try to be attentive when bad stuff happens, and we watch the news to convince ourselves that we are being attentive enough. The news tries to reinforce the hopelessly vague notion of staying "informed," claiming they report "the news that affects you," when the vast majority of what they report blatantly does not.

    Honestly, I wasn't sad when the Japanese tsunami happened. Nor was I particularly bothered by September 11th, the various wars that have recently happened, or even the woman that was raped last week just blocks away from my house. I read about such things because they are interesting stories, and because my social group rewards me for reinforcing the myth of universal morality.

    So yeah, the news is what Robin would call a signalling behavior. It signals that we give a shit about things we don't, because it seems painful to admit that we in fact only care about the small group of people we interact with.

    Why is it so desperately important for us to pretend to care about Japanese earthquake victims? I suspect one reason is that we know that social forces much larger than our circle have immense sway over our lives, and it is terrifying to admit how little of a shit they give about *us.* So we pretend that we are in a morally reciprocal relationship with all of humanity: we care about them, and they presumably care about us. This is a more palatable, more addictive story than “no one really cares about me and mine, but a much larger set of people have power over me and mine.”

  • http://michaelkenny.blogspot.com Mike Kenny

    I note the self help stuff is popular but I think considered generally low status, or not high status, anyway.

    Productivity pr0n seems like higher status self help, I guess.

  • Aron

    I hear there’s been further escalation of risks at the imperiled nuclear facility. Radiation is spewing into the environment. An unidentified source reports that things are worse than he had previously thought. Cows appear irritated by the radioactive iodine contaminating their grass. Recriticality is probably not happening, but I wanted to use it in a sentence. Stay tuned.

  • J

    Interesting article, though I have to confess to at least a bit of skepticism towards an article in Cracked offering dental advice from British dentists. This wasn’t published on April 1 was it?

  • IVV

    What’s all this about the diaphragm? Every child knows that your belly sticks out when you breathe in and comes back in when you breathe out. I’m not even sure I know how to breathe without using my diaphragm–that’s like trying to walk without moving your legs.

  • Doug

    Actually Robin, I think you’d like a lot of articles that appear on Cracked. For example they somewhat regularly run articles that support your position on the dangers of over-consuming medicine.

    http://www.cracked.com/article_17429_the-6-most-terrifying-medical-malpractice-cases-ever.html
    http://www.cracked.com/article_18840_5-common-medical-procedures-that-secretly-arent-worth-it.html
    http://www.cracked.com/article_18908_the-6-most-horrifying-ways-hospitals-can-kill-you.html

  • http://twitter.com/afoolswisdom sark

    I believe people do not shower in order to remove bacteria. They want to be ‘clean’ of course but by this they mean they would like to feel pleasant, and not smell.

  • Maxime

    If you understand french, you should really read this book : http://www.amazon.fr/Overdose-dinfo-Gu%C3%A9rir-n%C3%A9vroses-m%C3%A9diatiques/dp/2020859319
    “Overdose d’info : guérer des névroses médiatiques” (“Overdose of information : heal from media neurosis”).

    It’s true people want to get useful infos, but they first need to fear something. Once they have fear, they’ll want the useful info in order to manage this media-induced fear (like “how can I protect myself from dangerous radiation ?”).