Results 1 to 12 of 12
  1. - Top - End - #1
    Troll in the Playground
     
    Kobold

    Join Date
    May 2009

    Default Headlines make you stupid

    So, I clicked on a headline in the Guardian today, and it led me into a set of thoughtful and well researched essays on how we read. Specifically, how literary "genre" affects the reading process/experience.

    The blogger is writing about his own academic research. Which, to give it its due, is pretty cool.

    He is interested in the age-old question of why science fiction (specifically, although to a lesser extent this applies to just about all "genres") is regarded as "inferior" to "literary fiction" (and what that means is, of course, a whole other question). The general belief is that science fiction does less to help its readers develop what's called the "theory of mind" - what can, with an acceptable degree of simplification, be called "empathy".

    So he devised an experiment in which the same short story is written in four different ways: two "realistic" (set in a small-town diner), two SF (set on a remote starbase). The characters and their interactions are meant to be identical; the only differences are in a few words and phrases that describe the setting.

    What he found, when he got a sample of people to read each of these stories, was that the differences in the readers' reactions were far more significant than he'd expected. People who read the SF version, consistently, not only identified (empathised) less with the characters; they also understood and retained less of the story, and believed that the writing itself was "shallower". Hence his first headline, "Science Fiction Makes You Stupid".

    But reading the first essay - his first blog post - that's far from the full story. Because as well as the "theory of mind", the science-fiction reader has to contend with what he calls the "theory of world". When you read a story in a setting that purports to be the real world, you have an instinctive understanding of how all its components fit together. We know, or can imagine, how the central character looks at the middle-aged waitress, and how she responds to him, because the situation is within our everyday experience. But if you turn the central character into a "Corporal" on some far-off starbase, surrounded by aliens and androids, and make the waitress "an ensign on server duty", immediately the narrative becomes cluttered with distractions. What do these ranks mean? Where are they? What would a normal day be like? What, in a word, are these characters' expectations of one another?

    Now, "Science Fiction Makes You Stupid" is clearly a clickbait headline. I don't begrudge the author that. In his shoes, I wouldn't have even tried to resist the temptation to use that headline.

    Two weeks later - presumably under the onslaught of outraged SF fans - he proposes a modified headline: "Readers Who Are Stupid Enough to be Biased Against Science Fiction Read Science Fiction Stupidly."

    But it seems to me that this formulation is just as problematic as the first. The Guardian's headline ("Science fiction triggers 'poorer reading', study finds") is actually more accurate - which is a pretty damning thing to say about anything.

    My first difficulty is that there is nothing in the account to suggest that there exist people who don't "read science fiction stupidly". And if that is so, it's a bit rich to blame the readers for not "getting" the story. If none of the readers get it, or get it significantly less than another story - then it seems to me that the fault is most likely in the story.

    More importantly, I think neither headline really takes account of the cognitive load imposed by the "theory of world" burdens in the SF story. My takeaway would be more accurately expressed as "readers only have so much mental energy to spend on a short story, and the more work you make them do in one dimension, the less they'll appreciate the other aspects". I think even the author under-rates the cognitive burden of those "purely cosmetic" scene-setting changes.

    But you can't put that in a headline. And every attempt to reduce it to headline length introduces - issues. It's not just that they oversimplify a complex argument: they actively mislead you into thinking the story is going to say one thing, when that's not what it says at all.

    And we wonder why clickbait is taking over the world...
    "None of us likes to be hated, none of us likes to be shunned. A natural result of these conditions is, that we consciously or unconsciously pay more attention to tuning our opinions to our neighbor’s pitch and preserving his approval than we do to examining the opinions searchingly and seeing to it that they are right and sound." - Mark Twain

  2. - Top - End - #2
    Dwarf in the Playground
     
    RedWizardGuy

    Join Date
    Feb 2016

    Default Re: Headlines make you stupid

    Quote Originally Posted by veti View Post
    But you can't put that in a headline. And every attempt to reduce it to headline length introduces - issues.
    I would go with: "Breaking news in litterary research. Readerships found to have niches."

    As an aside, from your recounting of the story, I take it that either the author or you is at least partially a sci-fi fan. :)
    Both sides of the issue is presented, but it is implied that certain people find the genre stupid simply because they don't possess the mental subprocessing ability required to reach whatever comfort zone between simplicity and overcomplication a given work entails.
    -
    What is dead may never die, but rises again, harder, stronger, in a later edition.
    -

  3. - Top - End - #3
    Titan in the Playground
     
    Aotrs Commander's Avatar

    Join Date
    Jan 2007
    Location
    Derby, UK and Bleak Despair battlestation. Species: Spirit-Bound Skeletal Lich (Lawful Evil)
    Gender
    Male

    Default Re: Headlines make you stupid

    I'd have gone with "setting matters to literature comprehension," myself, or just "setting matters."



    I mean, he's not wrong, actually; there is a strong possibility certainly, that I myself have the exact opposite issue in that I would pay LESS attention to the contemporary story than the scifi one, all other things being equal.

    (Because - to be flatly honest - if you don't give me a hook (scifi/fantasy or Being About Characters I Already Have Some Care About (e.g. a book about CSI or the Three Investigators or something) or at a push, some historical context, I likely won't care, since I don't find people to be an interesting subject in and of themselves.)

  4. - Top - End - #4
    Troll in the Playground
     
    Kobold

    Join Date
    May 2009

    Default Re: Headlines make you stupid

    I think the form of the test - a standalone short story - is very significant here.

    The SF setting described is pretty generic, and none of it is related to the story. (Because that would violate the constraint of "an identical story in a different setting".) So these SF aspects are purely distractions. They're violations of, among other laws of writing, Chekov's Law - the fact that the protagonist is introduced as a "Corporal" is like a gun that is never going to go off.

    So in this format, you can make a plausible case that the SF story is objectively worse (violates the generally accepted rules of narrative composition more egregiously) than the "realistic" one.

    That objection would disappear if it was part of a series, in which these characters' roles and relations were reasonably developed. Then there would be time to discharge all these metaphorical firearms lying around the place. But given the construction of this test, that's not possible.
    "None of us likes to be hated, none of us likes to be shunned. A natural result of these conditions is, that we consciously or unconsciously pay more attention to tuning our opinions to our neighbor’s pitch and preserving his approval than we do to examining the opinions searchingly and seeing to it that they are right and sound." - Mark Twain

  5. - Top - End - #5
    Titan in the Playground
     
    lord_khaine's Avatar

    Join Date
    Nov 2006

    Default Re: Headlines make you stupid

    I mean, he's not wrong, actually; there is a strong possibility certainly, that I myself have the exact opposite issue in that I would pay LESS attention to the contemporary story than the scifi one, all other things being equal.

    (Because - to be flatly honest - if you don't give me a hook (scifi/fantasy or Being About Characters I Already Have Some Care About (e.g. a book about CSI or the Three Investigators or something) or at a push, some historical context, I likely won't care, since I don't find people to be an interesting subject in and of themselves.)
    I do know i would be less interested. I read to leave this word, not get caught in some petty story about people i dont know.

    It was a really interesting eksperiment. But i think it lack a bit of scale before you can say anything relevant. And things like readers divided by genre preference.
    Because, surprise, i do think people who normally read science fiction would respond most favorably to the science fiction version.
    thnx to Starwoof for the fine avatar

  6. - Top - End - #6
    Colossus in the Playground
     
    Eldan's Avatar

    Join Date
    Jan 2007
    Location
    Switzerland
    Gender
    Male

    Default Re: Headlines make you stupid

    Quote Originally Posted by veti View Post
    I think the form of the test - a standalone short story - is very significant here.

    The SF setting described is pretty generic, and none of it is related to the story. (Because that would violate the constraint of "an identical story in a different setting".) So these SF aspects are purely distractions. They're violations of, among other laws of writing, Chekov's Law - the fact that the protagonist is introduced as a "Corporal" is like a gun that is never going to go off.

    So in this format, you can make a plausible case that the SF story is objectively worse (violates the generally accepted rules of narrative composition more egregiously) than the "realistic" one.

    That objection would disappear if it was part of a series, in which these characters' roles and relations were reasonably developed. Then there would be time to discharge all these metaphorical firearms lying around the place. But given the construction of this test, that's not possible.
    Yeah, I agree here, that's the first thing i thought, too. It wouldn't even have to be a series, though. Just a well-written SciFi story. I've read plenty of SciFi short stories that, over a dozen pages, managed to introduce a futuristic element, show us the effect it had on society and a few people, and then come to a satisfying conclusion. That's SciFi. Writing a generic story about characters sitting in a bar, except everyone is an alien, is not SciFi, it's bad set dressing.
    “It’s honest. What our religion tells us, the part that is a religion, is that the gods created life to try and make meaning. It’s ultimately hopeless, and even gods die, but the effort is real. Will always have been real, even when everything is over and no one remembers.”
    -The Litany of Earth, Ruthanna Emrys

  7. - Top - End - #7
    Firbolg in the Playground
     
    Metahuman1's Avatar

    Join Date
    Mar 2011

    Default Re: Headlines make you stupid

    Spoiler: Image and unsure of it's size.
    Show


    I think this applies.
    "I Burn!"

  8. - Top - End - #8
    Ettin in the Playground
     
    RedWizardGuy

    Join Date
    Oct 2009
    Location
    Not a great place
    Gender
    Male

    Default Re: Headlines make you stupid

    Quote Originally Posted by veti View Post
    the fact that the protagonist is introduced as a "Corporal" is like a gun that is never going to go off.
    Honestly? That could work as a 'gun' in both 'contemporary' and 'future' settings. It feels like things that aren't actually window dressing were presented s window dressing.

    This makes me wonder, what if we repeated this with slightly different genres. So take the basic idea, two stories that have all the same basic characters and elements, but change the setting.

    How about this, a person enters a bar, orders a drink, and meets with their boss about a job they just did. In the first story they are a gangster in some 'crime fiction', in the second they are a street samurai in some 'cyberpunk fiction'. The idea here would be to do it without changing more than is needed, maybe the Crime story has the bar named 'The Horse's Head' and the job is related to a protection racket, while in the Cyberpunk story the bar is named 'Chromed Flesh' and the job was stealing something from a corporate office. Still the same 'familiar versus unfamiliar' idea, but without going out of the way to make one take more mental effort.
    I prefer science fiction to fantasy, and generally play in the former genre. Due to this, I generally expect the laws of physics to apply to games, and work from that perspective.

    Spoiler: playground quotes
    Show
    Quote Originally Posted by Zelphas View Post
    So here I am, trapped in my laboratory, trying to create a Mechabeast that's powerful enough to take down the howling horde outside my door, but also won't join them once it realizes what I've done...twentieth time's the charm, right?
    Quote Originally Posted by Lord Raziere View Post
    How about a Jovian Uplift stuck in a Case morph? it makes so little sense.

  9. - Top - End - #9
    Troll in the Playground
     
    Kobold

    Join Date
    May 2009

    Default Re: Headlines make you stupid

    Quote Originally Posted by Anonymouswizard View Post
    This makes me wonder, what if we repeated this with slightly different genres. So take the basic idea, two stories that have all the same basic characters and elements, but change the setting .
    If you find the basic idea interesting and want to explore it further, I really recommend following the links in my original post. The author is no fool, and he's thought about some of these ideas in considerably more detail than I've tried to convey here.
    "None of us likes to be hated, none of us likes to be shunned. A natural result of these conditions is, that we consciously or unconsciously pay more attention to tuning our opinions to our neighbor’s pitch and preserving his approval than we do to examining the opinions searchingly and seeing to it that they are right and sound." - Mark Twain

  10. - Top - End - #10
    Titan in the Playground
     
    Forum Explorer's Avatar

    Join Date
    Feb 2008
    Location
    Canada
    Gender
    Male

    Default Re: Headlines make you stupid

    Quote Originally Posted by veti View Post
    I think the form of the test - a standalone short story - is very significant here.

    The SF setting described is pretty generic, and none of it is related to the story. (Because that would violate the constraint of "an identical story in a different setting".) So these SF aspects are purely distractions. They're violations of, among other laws of writing, Chekov's Law - the fact that the protagonist is introduced as a "Corporal" is like a gun that is never going to go off.

    So in this format, you can make a plausible case that the SF story is objectively worse (violates the generally accepted rules of narrative composition more egregiously) than the "realistic" one.

    That objection would disappear if it was part of a series, in which these characters' roles and relations were reasonably developed. Then there would be time to discharge all these metaphorical firearms lying around the place. But given the construction of this test, that's not possible.
    That's my thought. I've read that Editors will expect a Sci-Fi or Fantasy novel to be significantly longer then a story taking place in a realistic story. Simply because the Sci-Fi has to also explain all fantastic elements in enough detail to engage the writer as well as having to explain the setting.

    For example, if the waitress in a realistic setting is an aboriginal college student studying Liberal Arts, well I'm sure an image of a person fitting that description popped in your head.

    If I said the waitress was a Vlock refugee who had fled the Thought Lords after the Supernova Wars ended, then there's a lot of stuff to explain before you can understand that sentence, let alone imagine something.

    What's a Vlock? Who are the Thought Lords? What were the Supernova Wars?

    All of that would take a lot of time to explain, and it's not easy to explain it well in a short manner.
    In order to understand recursion you must first understand recursion.


    Spoiler: Regarding RPG Discussions
    Show
    I don't care about RAW. I only care about RAI (Rules as Interpreted/Intended), RACS (Rules as Common Sense) and RAF (Rules as Fun).

    Please don't bother to respond to me if all you want to talk about is RAW.

  11. - Top - End - #11
    Titan in the Playground
     
    Aotrs Commander's Avatar

    Join Date
    Jan 2007
    Location
    Derby, UK and Bleak Despair battlestation. Species: Spirit-Bound Skeletal Lich (Lawful Evil)
    Gender
    Male

    Default Re: Headlines make you stupid

    Actually, I suspect the issue mught be the same if you transposed the thing from modern Earth to historical Earth - maybe even a Sufficiently Foreign contemporary Earth. Whether set in a Roman popina or an ancient Egyptian tavern or whatever an equivilent in China or something is has sufficiently more non-contemporary terminology that people pay the same amount of attention or lack thereof.

  12. - Top - End - #12
    Titan in the Playground
     
    Forum Explorer's Avatar

    Join Date
    Feb 2008
    Location
    Canada
    Gender
    Male

    Default Re: Headlines make you stupid

    Well now that I've actually read both short stories, I've got to say the Sci-Fi version is actually really bad. It's a 'translation' but holy crap it's a bad one. Lots of stuff simply don't make sense when moved to the sci-fi setting like that.

    For example, a corporal talking back to an ensign. Who was serving food for some reason.


    It's really obvious that the realistic version was written first, without much regard to if that story would be able to be translated to a sci-fi version and still make sense. That plus a really bad translation makes for a bad story. So of course people don't engage with it as much when it's simply worse then the realistic version.

Posting Permissions

  • You may not post new threads
  • You may not post replies
  • You may not post attachments
  • You may not edit your posts
  •