Aug 28 2012

You are a member of the sex class and the only way out is feminist revolt, by Jonah Lehrer

This woman wants to standardize “discovery attribution” across the entire Internet.

What is discovery attribution?

Remora photo borrowed from Britannica Online for Kids

Well, according to cross-disciplinary-interestingness-blogger Maria Popova, bloggers and Tweetists and the like are curators of information. We disperse ourselves throughout and infest the Internet, suctioning up the socio-bacterial output of popular culture like remoras clinging to a shadowy, infinite leviathan.* We digest our findings and reconfigure them into our own little signature turds, which we then fling, chimp-like, at computer monitors across the globe. This reconfiguration of informational turds, or to put it more gently, the discovery, collection, and presentation of intellectual bling, is arguably a creative endeavor.

Don’t blame Popova for that crappy mixed zoological metaphor, by the way; she puts it this way:

In an age of information overload, information discovery — the service of bringing to the public’s attention that which is interesting, meaningful, important, and otherwise worthy of our time and thought — is a form of creative and intellectual labor, and one of increasing importance and urgency. A form of authorship, if you will.

When Popova says that collecting stuff from around the internet is work, she’ll get no argument from me. She spends fifteen hours a day on her gargantuan Internetian output. Fifteen hours! The last time I spent fifteen hours on anything, it was a “Breaking Bad” bender, which enterprise, it should not surprise you to learn, failed to enbiggen anyone’s intellectual horizons. No lives were lost, fortunately, but a couple of dogs went unwalked, and I’m pretty sure some auntly neurons went on permanent hiatus, because day-um, that show is some effin hardcore culture-of-domination shit. Lard help me, I can’t look away!

But I digress.

Somewhere on the wild and wooly continuum of public media, along with stuff like journalistic integrity, plagiarism, fact-checking, and lyin-when-you-oughta-be-truthin, lies the gnarly concept of attribution. Attribution answers the question “not that we don’t trust you, but where did your idea come from?” This, alas, is a question that must be answered, so you can prove you’re not a low-down thieving plagiarist jacknut. And also, theoretically, so that motivated readers can continue their philosophic odyssey through your source material.

But the answer isn’t always straightforward. When you consider that all human knowledge depends on all the human knowledge that came before it, and acknowledge that there’s nothing new under the sun, and agree that even if it were possible to do (which it isn’t), art created in a vacuum without any cultural or historical or social references would be meaningless, it turns out that no matter what the idea, you didn’t — to downcycle a phrase — build that.

I’m all for attributin’. But how far back should you go?

In the interest of preventing the work of bringers-of-interestingness-to-the-public’s-attention from perishing in obscurity, Popova’s solution is the “Curator’s Code,” an implementation of unicode symbols that represent the closely related concepts of “via” and “hat tip.” In the spirit of classiness and mutual respect, everyone across the Internet would start via-ing and hat-tipping right and left, giving credit where credit is due, etc. For example, I got the idea for this post from Popova, so I should “via” her. Like this.

Maria Popova. That little squiggle is the symbol for “via.”*

So you pop ovah to Popova’s, and presumably from there the hyperlink trail will lead eventually to Idea Zero, the ur-concept from which hath sprung all intervening notions leading to the enturdification of an Internetian curator’s code.

But wait. Did I get the idea for this post from Popova?

I started typing this after I experienced what I initially thought were two separate Internetian incidents.

1) While listening to an On the Media podcast I heard an interview with the aforementioned Maria Popova, boostering for her curator’s code.

2) Twelve hours later somebody happened to comment on IBTP that another blog had erroneously credited me for ideas to which I had alluded in my post, but which had in fact orignated at another blog.

Hmm, I said. Maybe there’s a post in this.

But who to credit? And on second thought, I really get the actual idea from Popova? Maybe she was just the inspiration, in which case she isn’t entitled to a full-on via; she only gets, according to Popova’s code, a hat-tip. As should Linda, the commenter who pointed out the aforementioned misattribution.

But why was I interested in the idea of attribution in the first place? Isn’t it true that deeper, in the roiling vat of grease and yearning that is my obstreperal lobe, there did ferment yet another story I’d heard somewhere else? I think I recall Jayson Blair, the elder statesman of journalistic fabrication, throwing in his 2 cents on some NPR talk show about freshman media liars Fareed Zakaria and Jonah Lehrer. And not only that, but I remember reading another article condemning Lehrer for plagiarizing himself, which sort of stung, because I recycle my own material all the time on this blog, because let’s face it, there are only so many ways you can say “you are a member of the sex class and the only way out is feminist revolt.”

And then I began thinking about all the other possible “inspirations” for this post. A horrible tangled web it was. How do you determine the provenance of an idea? How do you map out which of the lifetime 35,789,021 bajillion info-units received by your cerebral cortex has caused your neurons to fire in precisely this manner?

Crap. As a bloggist or a Tweetist or a what have you, one can only exercise one’s best efforts not to steal shit from people (or, apparently, from one’s own self), so that when one glimpses herself in the shop window at the Tractor Supply Co, the person looking back isn’t a fraud and a schmuck.

But I have to say, as this essay began to take shape, it stopped being about the original thing and started being about something else. I thought, shit, I’ll never figure out where I heard the Jayson Blair thing, so I can’t properly attribute that, and the same goes for that self-plagiarizing dealio. So I decided I would just write a post called “You are a member of the sex class and the only way out is feminist revolt,” attribute it to Jonah Lehrer, and call it a day.

* FYI I think I heard Alec Baldwin compare Liz Lemon to a remora on a “30 Rock” rerun the other day. So there’s the hat-tip inspiration for that joke.

** The squiggle is supposed to link back to the Curator’s Code site, which, for the record, I find confusing. It seems to me that if it links anywhere, it ought to be to the source material, mostly because it’s a pain in the ass to type in two links where one would suffice. Besides, I don’t believe that symbols in universal usage should require administration by independent websites. But then, I’m no Curator’s Code creator so what do I know.


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  1. quixote

    And there I was, agog to find out who this unexpectedly intelligent dude Jonah Lehrer was.


  2. thehighshelf

    I think this might be a fancy way of saying “shut up, you”.

  3. Comrade PhysioProf

    ?Maria Popova. That little squiggle is the symbol for “via.”

    The supposed little squiggle looks like a mahjong tile on my computer. And anyway, is there something wrong with the words “via”, “hat tip”, or “please see Florgnad & Snuhstein, 2009, for the origin of these ideas” that the supposed squiggle is intended to rectify?

  4. D.

    Heh. I do try to attribute whenever possible, if only so that I can retrace the connection in case I bork the link (which has happened). I had a “from…via…via” the other day, which had to do with “found link here, article had unsupported assertions, original article showing where inferences were taken for unsupported assertions,” but I don’t always do that. And if I’m linking directly to the source, I don’t bother, even though I might have seen a hint that caused a tangential inference which led me to source, because that’s too much trouble.

    I know heavy linkspammers don’t do this at all.

    Remind me to tell you about the time I figured out a running theme in a Shakespeare play three hours before the paper was due.

    Well, no. Don’t.

  5. yttik

    Has everybody heard the story of the elephant? These four people had to write about an unknown animal and do their research by being blind folded and studying it with their fingers. So one has the trunk and she describes it as a snake-like creature, while another has the ears so she’s writing about this flying creature, and so it goes with each one having a completely different perspective of the same animal. Everyone’s perceptions of the body part they are observing are correct and yet none of us would have any idea what kind of creature they were describing because they’re all wrong. Elephants don’t slither in the grass and they certainly don’t fly. It isn’t until you put all the descriptions together that you start to understand we’re talking about an elephant.

    So, you can’t really attribute human knowledge all the way back to the source. You can, out of courtesy or a desire to back up you commentary with some facts, link back to your sources. Chances are good they also have their own sources. Then of course we will descend into bickering over what is a reliable source. “I saw it on my TV!” “I read it in the New York Times!” “The guy has a PhD so I’m sure he’s the ultimate expert on feminism!”

  6. quixote

    yttik, at least in the academic world you’re not citing a source to bolster your argument. (Well, not officially.) You’re citing it so that others can check your work. So, to take your example, when I make my argument based on what Jonah Lehrer said about feminism, you can all go to the source and then point at me and jeer for quoting someone who was actually writing about 14th century lacemaking.

  7. KittyWrangler

    Thanks for writing about this, Twisty!

    1. The “via” and “hat tip” symbols are really difficult to distinguish. I’m pretty nearsighted, but wow.

    2. I wonder if a “tagging” system like Facebook uses could work, where a textual snippet or a post could both be tagged back to the originator by the discoverer, or the originator could also tag someone else’s post when they recognize their own material. But that might involve rebuilding the Internet? I don’t know how that works.

    3. I would love a built-in accreditation system for visual images. I’m an artist and art copyright law is really confusing, outdated and unclear which is a major problem when people with a Tumblr want to reproduce an image of mine or someone “pins” it on Pinterest and they have no idea how copyright works or why it should exist at all (another post for another time I guess). It would be lovely if the originator’s website or signature were built in to the image code so I could find who has taken my images without relying on dumb luck or let them take my images, confident that I’ll be accredited even if they forget.

    4. @yttik Huh, I never heard the elephant story in relation to forming thoughts, but I like that. I heard it as an explanation for why different religions and factions existed: everyone is experiencing a different aspect of God / existence, so they foolishly believe all of God / existence is just like the part they experienced and no one was willing to trust that there was more to it they didn’t understand.

  8. eb



  9. Judi

    Even after 2 Cmd+ maneuvers and squinting avec lorgnette, neither of those alleged symbols looks like anything other than a smudged quotation mark. Even if the idea is good, the implementation needs tweaking.

  10. thatlush

    I realize that I am not focussing on the point (I’ve been drinking, for what it’s worth). Nonetheless, I would like, if I may, to humbly submit the following observations:
    1. “Internetian” is a hysterical word that I totally plan on appropriating. (Should I “via” you or hat tip or otherwise credit back?)
    2. I became fixated on the fact that you consistently spelled out the word “fifteen” but then later chose to use the digit “2” when referencing “2 cents.” Convention and CP style suggest the opposite; that it should be “15” and “two” yet there they are, all ass-backward for the world to see.

    Though this is a post about etiquette, I fear I am inappropriately fixating on unimportant things. (Am I fixating? I think I might be.)

  11. Saurs

    (thatlush, your fixations interest me. Fifteen spelled out looks so nice, though. All numbers, really. Especially when they get hyphenate-y.)

  12. Guest Blamer

    What Popova does is basically sales; soft pitches selling books and whatnot, tailored to an audience of upper-crusty elites. Calling herself a curator and trying to make rules seems a bit pretentious. Then again, so do all the “marketing gurus” and” SEO experts” all over the internet.

  13. polarcontrol

    As someone who reads academic texts daily, I’ve realized I really prefer the more essayistic style. Within academia you can of course only do it if you’re “established” enough, and sure all the formal referencing has a funtion, but still. Excessive referencing makes any text a pain to read.

    In any case, V. Woolf put it well:

    “For masterpieces are not single and solitary births; they are the outcome of
    many years of thinking in common, of thinking by the body of the people,
    so that the experience of the mass is behind the single voice.”

  14. lizor

    This is so widely covered I am not going to pick a link, but anyone read about the 50 Shades book burning fundraiser? Any blogular thoughts from our noble leader?

  15. lizor

    Very sorry for the derail, but I am kind of bursting to hear some decent dialogue on this. All I can find is a giant pile-on that the book is a sacred article that must never EVER be burnt. This trope from the labour-intensive printing press days has me anxious when I use a 10-year-old phone book to start up the wood stove. I think I may feel pretty good tossing that piece of propaganda in the flames all the same.

  16. yttik

    50 Shades is probably right on topic in a thread called, “You Are a Member of the Sex Class.” The popularity of both Twilight and 50 Shades seems to show this. So what attracts so many women to these themes? Probably trying to gain some illusion of control over our status? The appeal of 50 Shades seems to revolve around a contract, where she can negotiate her second class status instead of simply existing in it 24/7. Also, like in the Twilight series, “trust” appears to be a seductive concept. Men (vampires) don’t hate you, everything they’re doing is really for your own good. Rather than walking around in a state of terror all the time, you can “trust” them.

  17. KittyWrangler

    @lizor This probably isn’t the decent discussion you were hoping for but a book burning of 50 Shades seems difficult; I thought it was mainly successful via e-readers (Kindle). I bet they’ll have to go out and buy the book, then destroy it, just like the burnings of freshly purchased Dixie Chicks albums when they criticized Bush’s policies and the pouring of newly purchased French wine down gutters when during the US’s “freedom fries” episode. Heh.

  18. Twisty

    Concerning the Twilight and Fifty Shades of Grey franchises: I am happy to announce that I am not quite masochistic enough to attempt to slog through any of’em, even for academic blaming purposes. And I did try, but it turns out I’m not even masochistic enough to slog through the plot summary on Wikipedia; wow, that’s some really incomprehensible and badly written shit!

    Unfortunately, my overwhelming disinterest in reading bestselling BDSM novels means that I’m not qualified to produce an entertaining radical feminist analysis of same. From what I can tell, though, these are just corny escapist hetero romances that women probably use to rationalize the fact that their dudes fetishize their (the women’s) submissive roles in real life. According to Wikipedia, the female protagonist in the final scene of Fifty begs the dominant dude to whup her with a belt. Seriously? Why is that even interesting?

  19. Lovepug

    Ah, 50 Shades of the Patriarchy. A google search should reveal a woman who does a book review blog who did a hilarious analysis of the book. Upshot is that it’s poorly written and not even particularly erotic. Apparently, the literary equivalent of the money shots are few and far between. She spends a good deal of time snarking on the dialogue which sounds worse than George Lucas’ dialogue.

    I think the appeal revolves around people’s assumption that somehow BDSM is all new and edgy rather than the tried and true, longstanding patriarchal oppression tradition that it actually is.

    It’s all about gaining social acceptance by establishing one’s fuckability. We’ve moved from a Victorian pearl clutching society that abhors sexual expression of any kind to one wherein to be considered appealing at all, you have to opt in to all sexual acts and fetishes, past, present and future.

    Basically, it’s, “Ooo, look at me. I’m all into BDSM and kink and shit. I’m all sexually open. Please don’t reject me as unfuckable.”

  20. TwissB

    Interesting short commentary on the rise and spread (but,alas, not the decline and fall) of the a-word:


    The interview is found at NPR’s “Fresh Air.”

  21. Sylvie

    I’m all for attributin’. But how far back should you go?

    Doesn’t matter because “there’s always someone somewhere with a big nose who knows who trips you up and laughs when you fall”. Can’t be bothered attributing, but quote marks and such.

  22. TwissB

    I agree with author Nunberg’s observation that women started using the a-word in the 1970’s because that is when I first heard a woman use it in mixed company. And was unimpressed.

    At the risk of annoying the host, I am disinterested in 50 Shades because I have no financial or authorial connection with it. What I really am is uninterested in it because one round with this theme (Story of O) is enough for a lifetime.

    The I-word is too liberally sprinkled through this post because efforts to do without it would render this message unintelligible.

  23. iiii

    Ana Mardoll has been doing a line-by-line shredding of _Twilight_, if anyone would like to join the pile-on. She’s also been giving the Narnia series the same treatment. Someone there recently pointed out that Aslan and Edward function similarly in their respective narratives, and their most glaring point of similarity is how the narration shows them doing things that are weird, scary, and downright bad, while telling the reader what good guys they are.
    (Her comment policy is modeled on Shakesville’s, so be prepared to self-police language.)

  24. Doctress Ju'ulia

    “I would love a built-in accreditation system for visual images. I’m an artist and art copyright law is really confusing, outdated and unclear which is a major problem when people with a Tumblr want to reproduce an image of mine or someone “pins” it on Pinterest and they have no idea how copyright works or why it should exist at all (another post for another time I guess). It would be lovely if the originator’s website or signature were built in to the image code so I could find who has taken my images without relying on dumb luck or let them take my images, confident that I’ll be accredited even if they forget.”

    KITTYWRANGLER. I LIKE THIS. How can we make it happen?

    I’ll swing by in a few days; I have to write a summary of an essay about “freak shows” by a porn-sick turd–some d00d who wrote letters to Wendy’s or some shit, and it’s all rapey and creepy. I hate him, I hate that I have to write a summary of his crap, and I hate my prof for assigning it. It’s only tiny little hates, though… mostly I’m frustrated that I am such a horrible writer. I want to write like Twisty…

  25. Friend of Snakes

    Hey! Why’d you leave us hanging about how your donkey (potential) adoption worked out? Maybe you could just set up one of those 24-hour nature cams like they have at African water holes and Wisconsin eagle nests. Just a suggestion for your consideration. No attribution needed if you were to make your fortune with Twisty Cam.

  26. josquin

    I’m interested in donkeys. I’m not interested in boring, badly written soft porn which purports to be edgy since it gives women “control” of their own degradation. I wish I could understand attribution, but understanding it would require that I am able to remember things from one day to the next. I completely forgot that I read about Banksy/Viona from a link on this very blog until I read another blamer’s comment about it. I thought I had read about it somewhere else. For my crap memory, I blame the patriarchy.

  27. Hattie

    None of this is making my headache go away.

  28. Twisty

    I’ll probably regret this, but what is “the a-word”?

    Also, there’s a filter in Photoshop called Digimarc that embeds code into your images such that they “phone home” whenever they’re appropriated. Early on in this whole Internet thing, before I fully grasped these esoteric concepts, I once got busted by some Digimarc-usin’ photographer for borrowing his foto for a stupid-ass mash-up thing.

    Also, the donkeys were re-homed; sadly, Spinster HQ wasn’t a suitable habitat.

    And Hattie, I’ve had a headache for 5 days. I feel ya.

    Also, I feel you, too, josquin. I haven’t been able to remember a goddam thing for 6 years, ever since I had chemo. Fuck.

  29. TwissB

    @Twisty. You came close with your adjective here: “…borrowing his foto for a stupid-ass mash-up thing.”

  30. stacey

    polarcontrol says,

    Excessive referencing makes any text a pain to read.

    But that’s why HTML is the perfect medium for academic writing; you mark up your references and then the reader can click them at leisure to find the source.

    (Please ignore the woman behind the curtain as I try out the cite thing in the reply box.)

  31. stacey

    AUGH sorry, that didn’t work out at all. I missed a close-bracket somewhere.

    I’ll try again some other time when I haven’t had two glasses of wine.

  32. Twisty

    You mean “asshole”? No one ever said I wasn’t a vulgar old harridan, but I probably use that word about 47 times a day, only slightly less often than I say “another taco, please.”

  33. Jen

    Stacey, in the Digital Humanities Quarterly, authors’ in-text citations are links to the Works Cited, and the Works Cited includes links to sources when possible. Here’s an example:


  34. Ayla

    What is wrong with the word asshole?

  35. lizor

    Apologies for bringing up 50 Shits – I had heard about the burning and the pile on and it was on my mind. Yttik and others are right on in the analysis of the book and kittywrangler is definitely right about the whole e-book having to buy the damn things point. Too bad as it would be nice to see some public push back to this stinky crap.

    I also brought it up after hearing fragments of two back-to-back interviews on our national radio this week; the first with Toni Morrison, who from what I can tell is a real live writer with a significant body of work and something to say about the role of social stratification over the past 60 years. She kind of rocked. This was followed by the 50 Shits author who managed to fill 30 minutes of airtime with Sweet Fuck All except to say she had no idea why she decided to write the book – especially since she’s not, yanno, a writer. But she’s awful pleased that other non-writers with no craft or practice are now inspired to write porntastic drivel of their own. Throughout the interview she mostly said “I can’t answer that” or “I don’t want to answer that”, though at one stage she did say that other people say it’s the submissive who holds the real power. That’s one of my favourite tropes of the P – all that slave-as-empowerfulled assholery.

  36. KittyWrangler

    @Doctress Ju’ulia

    “KITTYWRANGLER. I LIKE THIS. How can we make it happen?”

    Hell if I know. Also, I read this bit, “[…] by a porn-sick turd–some d00d […]” as an adjective, “turdsome,” which is obviously a fantastic new word. I think it bodes quite well for your upcoming writing endeavors.

  37. KittyWrangler

    @lizor – If you’d like to read more about Toni Morrison, New York Magazine recently ran talking about her life and work, and how and why she constructed the public identity of “Toni Morrison.”

  38. KittyWrangler

    Mmm, html tag fail. Let me try this again:
    @lizor – If you’d like to read more about Toni Morrison, New York Magazine recently ran an in-depth article talking about her life and work, and how and why she constructed the public identity of “Toni Morrison.” Here is a link: http://nymag.com/news/features/toni-morrison-2012-5/

  39. Friend of Snakes

    A reaction to that New York piece on Morrison by one of her best buds:

  40. debaser

    “We disperse ourselves throughout and infest the Internet, suctioning up the socio-bacterial output of popular culture like remoras clinging to a shadowy, infinite leviathan.” -Twisty

    That delicious sentence might have been inspired by a hat-tip, but the flavor is unmistakably Twisty. If there aren’t new posts to read, just re-read some older ones, ‘cuz Savage Death Island’s archives are rich in deposits of such tasty prose.

  41. Lizor

    Thanks KittyWrangler and Friend of Snakes for the links!

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