The Perils of Clickbait

1. A lot of my friends linked to a version of this slideshow with a line or two of jealousy about school lunches in social democratic countries.

2. Turns out the truth is more complicated.

3. The basic lesson is that if something is too good to be true, it probably is.

4. I also wonder if liberals end up shooting themselves in the foot when we post things on social media. I want a generous welfare state too but I am not sure memes do anything but preach to the choir and put everyone else on the defensive.

5. Both sides do it.

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57 thoughts on “The Perils of Clickbait

  1. 4. I also wonder if liberals end up shooting themselves in the foot when we post things on social media.

    That would imply some form of causality between what gets posted on social media and what gets translated into results. There is probably a fair amount of correlation, but not much of a demonstrable causal link. So you got that going for you. Post away.

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  2. As they say, the grass is always greener on the other side. Just as many liberals like to imagine Europe as a land of the welfare state and sex positive citizens who are elegant, sophisticated and cosmopolitan; reality rears its ugly head. Yesterday, there was an editorial in the New York Times entitled the World’s Sex Education Problem. This editorial pointed out that a lot of Muslim and other immigrant citizens in Europe and Canada have some more traditional ideas about sex and complain a lot about what gets taught in sex education classes. Likewise, there are articles about the British equivalent of frat culture or how French kids like fast food just as much as American kids.

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    • I am not quite so sure this is completely correct. Sometimes the grass really is greener or at least has preferable outcomes.

      Look at my FB post on BBC documentaries. These things are much more interesting and dynamic than anything the History Channel produces. You have Mary Beard doing documentaries on the lives of ordinary Romans and Pompeii and Caligula. You have a documentary on the Joy of Mozart. You have a documentary on the art of the French Revolution with a thesis that the crowds were not thoughtless mobs but knew what they were doing in destroying particular symbols and creating new ones.

      These are real documentaries with real ideas behind them instead of the overly dramatic bombast of the History Channel which has descended into complete idiocy.

      Maybe most Brits don’t pay attention to these documentaries but I am glad they are being produced and the BBC thinks it is important to produce them.

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      • I saw your facebook post. A lot of what the BBC does is simply because the politics of the UK allow them to get away with it to an extent. There was a lot of paternal “eat your cultural vegetables” involved with the founding of the BBC. Its why they received a broadcast monopoly for decades. The decision to allow for commercial TV complete was a heavily contested one and a lot of restrictions on the advertisements. Even with all this protection and money, the BBC still needs to create a lot of fun shows like Doctor Who or Coupling in order to remain relevant. The public broadcasters in other countries are much less elevated.

        *At least the British got television on time. Lots of countries didn’t get television until the 1960s and 1970s because the political class thought it was vulgar and debasing. Israel famously did not get television until 1968 because David Ben-Gurion hated it and other politicians in his party deferred to him. Television and the creation of a common pop culture would have probably helped Israel in the early years when it was building a society with millions of Jews from around the world. The mid-20th century socialists had some good ideas but there was a big puritianical element to them. They were intent on imposing their idea of good taste and leisure on the people.

        The reason why the BBC has these good documentaries, and I love watching them on youtube to (there was a fascinating three part one about domestic servants) is a legacy of mid-20th century socialist beliefs about culture that managed to survive.

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      • Kim, nobody is saying that all BBC documentaries are worth watching but they do fund and broadcast many more interesting documentaries than American channels do even PBS. I think this is mainly a relic of mid-20th century politics but it does have some advantages.

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  3. First off, did nobody notice all the trays were the same? Did they think there’s some international school lunch tray manufacturer that sells to all of these countries and someone managed to get a photo from schools they sell to in each of these countries? Are people really that dense?

    Second, if this is what teaches you #3, welcome to the internet. Where’ve ya been all this time?

    Third, it’s so common, and I mean it’s like every day, all day common, by everyone of every political stripe including not conservative and not liberal, that I can’t imagine anyone cares anymore. Sure, there are probably trolls laughing at the latest incident, which happened about 2 seconds ago… oops, no, another one just happened while I was typing that… and another… anyway, trolls are laughing… two more as I was typing that… but I can’t imagine anyone takes it all that seriously except in petty internet battles with no impact on the world whatsoever.

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    • The trays are only a minor issue. They also didn’t notice that the school lunches were designed in a very artful manner that screams arranged and photographed by professionals who know what they are doing.

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    • As Lee pointed out the whole presentation is too arty and the table is also the same.

      “Second, if this is what teaches you #3, welcome to the internet. Where’ve ya been all this time?”

      First I was in the NYC-Metro and then the Bay Area since 2008.

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    • First off, did nobody notice all the trays were the same? Did they think there’s some international school lunch tray manufacturer that sells to all of these countries and someone managed to get a photo from schools they sell to in each of these countries? Are people really that dense?

      The first time I saw this set of pictures, it was on a conservative website complaining about Michelle Obama and school lunches. The first picture was some nasty thing followed by all of these pictures, which by my lights were used to undermine what she’s trying to do.

      The first thing I noticed was that all the trays were the same. The second thing I noticed was that all the food looked professionally prepared. The third thing I noticed was that I was spending too much time on this very subject and then found a nice wall with drying paint.

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    • I think that is the real problem with these sorts of slideshows. One conservative criticism of American liberals is that we are insufficiently patriotic. Posting about how things are better in other countries and we can make America a better place by importing these ideas makes this argument for them. This is especially true if the other ideas are from Europe because a lot of Americans have definied the United States as being non-Europe or even anti-Europe since around the ink was fresh on the Declaration of Independence.

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      • Some of it is a matter of emphasis, and/or presentation. There is a strain of thought or delivery among some on the left that presents contrasts in such a way that’s less “I like what [Country X] is doing, and here is why…” and more either with the implication that if other countries are doing it differently then we are doing it wrong, or that if we were better we would be doing what other countries do because, unlike the speaker, Americans can be so backwards.

        Combine this with the fact that liberals do tend to less frequently describe themselves as patriotic, and the argument gains some traction.

        I mean, I frequently point to other countries as having things that we should consider emulating – including Sweden and France! Yet I rarely get called out on the basis of “If you love [Country X] so much maybe you should marry it” or in unpatriotic tones. The reasons, I think, involve both the delivery and my political orientation is not particularly leftward and so it doesn’t fit within an existing dynamic of assumptions (sometimes fair, sometimes unfair) about where I am coming from.

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      • There’s a sort of patriotism that I call the jealous boyfriend school of patriotism. I hate jealous boyfriends and girlfriends with a passion and that’s how it usually sounds to me. “What are you looking at Sweden for? Do you want to be with Sweden? Am I not good enough for you?”

        To me, we’re at the point with culture that it’s like a salad bar- take what you want and ignore the rest. I’d love to get taxed like the Americans, kissed like the French, flirted with by Spanish women, apologized to by Canadians, and eat like the Italians.

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      • Hey

        “since the days when I was more conservative than I am now”

        There’s a common belief that people get more conservative as they age (and particularly, that having kids drives one in that direction) but like you I have found the opposite to be true in my life.

        So are we unusual, or is the common belief incorrect?

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      • I think international comparisons of that sort, where you’re really looking at groups of countries rather than comparing countries one-to-one, can be pretty informative. Why do these countries execute their citizens, while these countries do not? What does that say about each group? What does it say about us?

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      • Some of the international comparison are used as evidence that something can work. Like when people would say it’s impossible for a country to provide universal health care or that uni HC is in every way inferior to Americans Best Health Care Ever. There are a variety of comparisons to show those statements aren’t’ true. That doesn’t say what we should do but it is certainly useful information in figuring it out.

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      • One conservative criticism of American liberals is that we are insufficiently patriotic.

        This is kind of true, but you’re also picking some very low-hanging fruit.

        For instance, I have a similar criticism of the left and it’s got not much to do with patriotism. It is more about provincialism, about turning various aspects of public policy into a status competition between the ugly American yokels in flyover country with our enlightened continental cousins.

        There is nothing wrong with making comparisons and finding America lacking. However, those comparison all too often get reduced to the form of magical thinking that posits the main differences as conspicuous policy choices, as opposed to the sum of a whole bunch of historical, cultural, geographic, economic and political factors. And that is how you end up with this phony slideshow.

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      • Re: Capital punishment. It comes across to me as talking about what the cool and uncool kids countries do. Not very illuminating.

        Re: Healthcare. It can be instructive to look at what other countries do, but I do often get into it when it’s presented as what Sweden can do we can do, too. (I happen to think Sweden is actually has a system worth pondering, maybe, for the US, but that it works in Sweden provides very little evidence for that in my view.) It’s further complicated by the fact that a lot of people who use international comparisons often do so in a pretty ignorant manner. (Not at all a liberal-specific thing, of course) Like, I could describe the Swedish system as something we could try, and they’d reject it, but if I said “We should try to Swedish model” they would respond differently.

        Which takes us again to emphasis and presentation, which matter a great deal. As well as fair and unfair dynamics of assumptions, which is a tougher egg to crack.

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      • There are a variety of comparisons to show those statements aren’t’ true.

        Most of them are bunk. When you control for things like violent or accidental deaths (e.g. car accidents actually put a noticeable dent in the US life expectancy relative to most western European countries), lifestyle factors, demographics (e.g., black women have a very high rate of infant mortality, and nobody really knows why), and measurement issues, the US comes out looking much better than it does when you just look at the raw outcomes. And certainly not 37th, like in that WHO ranking that was mostly a measure of socialization.

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      • Which is to say, the US health care system is expensive, in part because we have high top-end salaries and don’t try regulate the profits out of pharmaceutical innovation. But it’s not particularly bad.

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      • Umm no not really Brandon. All those things can be controlled for. Even the most basic claim, which i heard many times, that Uni health care doesn’t work, is proven to be wrong.

        FWIW if you compare poor americans to various other countries they do poorly compared to western europe. ( i know , i know, i’m not being patriotic) Middle class and above do pretty well.

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      • Rufus F., I think one reason why socialism did not gain much ground in the United States was that many leftists have always had a difficult time dealing with American patriotism. During the 19th century, many socialists talked to Americans as alienated peseants and workers in somesort of monarchy rather than citizens of a republic that closely identified with the history and institutions of their country. Many limited their audience to European immigrants rather than branch out to Anglo-Americans. Left-leaning ideas got more traction when their advocates found ways to link them to the American past and tradition rather than simply write them off.

        This isn’t a distinctly an American issue. In a lot of the new democratic countries of the 19th century like Canada, New Zealand, and Australia; there was a fundamental failure to grasp that citizens of these countries have an entirely different relationship with their governments than the subjects of much older nations. Even in an old republic like Switzerland, the most conservative country in Western Europe, had this sort of relationship with patriotism that the new countries did.

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      • I think Sweden is a bad comparison for the United States if only because of the different seize of our respective populations. A welfare state in country with hundreds of millions of citizens is going to be more bureaucratic and less intimate than that in a country with nine million citizens. It would be better to look at European countries with larger populations like Germany or France because there are issues of scale.

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      • It could be that I have simply become less ideological, and certainly less ideologically certain, than I used to be. Most of my movement has been away from conservatism in part because conservatism was where more of my views were. Particularly economic conservatism. In some ways I’ve become more socially conservative (in other ways not) then I was… though, actually, the apex of my conservatism was probably because that movement happened before the movement on my economic views.

        Creating the basic general shift over time:
        High school: Economically moderate, socially and culturally liberal.
        Early college: Increasingly economically libertarian, socially libertarian and culturally liberalish.
        Late college: economically libertarian-to-conservativeish, and and moving towards social and cultural conservatism
        Post college: Everything moving in a conservative direction.
        Ten years later: economically moderate-to-libertarian, socially in a moderate-conservative-libertarian triangle, culturally lite-lite-liberalish-or-maybe-just-moderate.

        Five years from now, with gay marriage off the table, my social and cultural views may look more conservative than they are now.

        (Social is defined more by policy views, culturally more by outlook.)

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    • Can be controlled for. If you know of a study that actually does do, and still shows that the US health care system produces (rather than merely coinciding with) bad results, I would very much like to see it.

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      • Brandon,
        there are many, small, things that the American health care system does that are exceedingly bad. Will’s wife I think would tell you about C-sections,and we’ve certainly gone overboard at times in testing for things like breast tumors. Not to mention our fear of pain that has to sacrifice thousands of people per year needlessly (note: I wonder if you could use LSD instead of a general anesthetic?)

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  4. I once saw a disinfographic pop up on my news feed that claimed that the US spends more on prison than on education. In reality, the US spends about $50 billion a year on prisons and over a trillion dollars a year on education.

    And I know I’m in for a treat whenever Senator Buzzfeed pops up.

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      • Glyph, in the very clear, very explicit, very not what Brandon said context of the entire comic, which is higher education. State and federal higher education funding doesn’t come close to the trillions of dollars in a year, the number Brandon waved at us, and is at least in some states less than what those states spend on prisons. So the comic may actually be telling the truth (I can’t read the source it cites, and I don’t know the numbers for the entire country), and Brandon just completely misrepresented it. Perhaps this is a result of a faulty memory, but once he linked it he could easily have corrected himself.

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      • Skimming through that, I can only find an absolute comparison in California, which is the state everyone always mentions in this context. If there’s a nationwide higher education number in there, I can’t find it quickly (50 billion for prisons is also somewhat deceptive in this context, because it excludes federal funding I believe, so 70 billion or so is the real number we should compare higher ed spending to).

        This appears to be the ultimate source: http://www.pewtrusts.org/~/media/legacy/uploadedfiles/wwwpewtrustsorg/reports/sentencing_and_corrections/onein100pdf.pdf

        It has an overall ratio of .6 corrections to higher education spending, with a few states having ratios of 1 or greater, in 2007. We know that California’s ratio tops 1 eventually, so this data isn’t entirely accurate for today, but I’m skeptical that the numbers have changed so dramatically that the nationwide ratio is now 1 or greater. So the comic is factually incorrect. See, then, #3, but still #6 as well, because its inaccuracy does not change the fact that Brandon completely misrepresented it.

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      • I know you’d love to make me look bad, but you’re really reaching for it. It says “students,” not “college students.” Now, maybe that’s what they meant, but it’s not what they said, and contrary to your assertion that it’s very clear and explicit, neither Glyph nor I, both reasonably intelligent people, managed to pick up on that. You know what would have made it explicit? Saying “college students.” It’s possible that they had no intent to mislead, but it is in fact misleading.

        Furthermore, I said “over a trillion,” which is an accurate description of US spending on education. You transmuted this to “trillions,” which is definitely not an issue of interpretation.

        So let’s be clear: Taking the statement at face value, as many readers undoubtedly did, my criticism is correct. Yes, the $50 billion figure is state-only, and I regret the error. I should have said $70 billion, but the source I found matched my memory and wasn’t clear about it being only state funding. You can have that if you want.

        As you acknowledge, even if you only look at higher education it’s still wrong, and by quite a bit. It says “You spend more…” not “The government spends more.” This isn’t just semantic quibbling—it gets to the heart of why the whole info(sic)graphic is garbage. The reality is that Americans spend quite a bit of private money on higher education, not only through tuition, but through donations. We spend, AFAIK, roughly zero private money on prisons.

        The implication here is that if we don’t spend taxpayer money on something, it must not be a priority for us. That’s nonsense, of course. The actual criticism here is “You don’t fund higher education entirely through government funding.” Even if it were true, comparing government spending on higher education to government spending on prisons in this way would be sophistry.

        Also, for the record, I’m finding $170 billion in state funding and $50 billion in government funding for higher education, which makes the infiltrating off by a factor of three even with the most generous assumptions. Sorry for no links, but spam filter. The state figure is from NASBO.

        It’s also worth noting that the US has an above-average (for OECD) rate of bachelor’s attainment for young adults, about the same as Sweden. Interestingly, South Korea, which has a fairly low percentage of government funding for higher, has the highest rate of bachelor’s attainment.

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      • , I’m not trying to make you look bad (though you’re not doing a bad job of it yourself), and if you didn’t know the whole thing was about college education, that’s because you didn’t read it, because every single panel prior to that one, which is closer to the end than the beginning, talks about higher education. If you didn’t read it, you probably shouldn’t be throwing it around as yet another example of those [people who disagree with me] sayin’ something stupid or dishonest. When you do, it becomes clear you’re going for points, not for facts or honesty.

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  5. School lunches in Japan significantly beat expectations – local, healthy, nutritious, and designed to be integrated with the child’s overall education. School lunches in the United States, in my opinion, could not be much worse than they currently are.

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  6. Anyone with half a brain can see through this crap. I mean, that particular one doesn’t even pretend to be the real thing: all the meals are served on the exact same tray on the exact table. They are clearly not actual pictures of actual school lunches. Is it possible that certain schools in those countries serve lunches of that type of certain days? Sure. My school (independent) will sometimes serve shrimp scampi or bulgur wheat salad or steamed brocollini. But we also sometimes have pizza or fish sticks or grilled cheese. And most of the kids just grab salami from the deli station. So the article in question doesn’t really show us anything. Might it generate some heat among easily influenced, non-critical thinkers? Sure. But what does that really accomplish?

    Basically, if anyone thinks they are really going to change anything with a listicle, they’re a moron.

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