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More on Free

Today I ran across another entry in the growing list of refutations of Chris Anderson’s Free: The Future of a Radical Price. This time it’s an article from The Chronicle of Higher Education featuring the story of Berkley Physics professor Richard A. Muller. In a nutshell, Anderson uses Muller as an example in Free of a case where web exposure (in this case YouTube videos of professor Muller’s lectures) has translated into commercial success (in this case a book deal).

The problem is, Muller doesn’t agree with Anderson’s conclusions. Muller is quoted in The Chronicle:

That is wishful thinking from someone who is trying to conclude that Webcasts lead to money, said Mr. Muller. But correlation is not causation. What Anderson says may be easy to see, but it just aint so. He is letting his hoped-for conclusion drive his analysis of events.”

The Journal then goes on to detail how Muller performed a quasi-scientific experiment to attempt to confirm Anderson’s hypothesis:

I have been personally contacted by about 1,000 people who saw my Webcasts, said the professor. When the book came out, I arranged to e-mail all of them (using Nortons account) to let them know that a book was now available. I then watched the sales very carefully. (I actually have a computer that downloads the ranking every hour from Google.) Although I had seen huge jumps in my sales when I was interviewed onNPR (3 times) or had a book review inThe Boston Globe, and a few other things, the massive e-mailing to my Web fans produced no discernible increase in sales. My conclusion: Web viewers dont buy many hardcover books.

Anderson, of course will have none of this. The Chronicle quotes him as responding:

To suggest that all Web viewers dont buy books seems premature, said Mr. Anderson in an interview with The Chronicle. He argued that the professors exposure on YouTube most likely helped the sales of his book, even if indirectly. For instance, the popularity of the videos may have made reviewers more interested in writing about the book.

If he believes theres no correlation, thats interesting, said Mr. Anderson. We have done the same type of experiments and we conclude otherwise.

Here is the hight of cybertopian douchebaggery. “I will ignore your evidence because it doesn’t fit my preconceived notions.” Sorry, Chris, this isn’t how science works. Of course, if Chris Anderson had an understanding of the Scientific Method we wouldn’t have twaddle like The Long Tailand Free to tear apart. Anderson makes two fundamental mistakes in his attempts to push his cybertopian crap. The first, Richard Muller points out above. Correlation does not causation. Chris Anderson seems incapable of grasping this fact. The second mistake that Anderson makes is thinking that the plural of “anecdote” is “data.” Anderson’s writing is chockfull of justsostories that, while they do an admirable job of making the reader feel good about whatever technoutopia Chris is pushing this week, do not serve as actual evidence of a trend. Really, it’s no better than a weight loss pill ad. Results may vary, meant for use with diet and exercise, consult your doctor before using Free.

The thing is, the above issues aren’t the most annoying part of the cybertopian menace, and here I will switch from the specific annoyance of Chris Anderson to the general mass of cybertopian dipshits. If the worst thing about the cybertopians was their sketchy grasp of science and their insistence on a wooladen worldview that would make Depak Chopra blush then we could just dismiss them. What truly rankles about the cybertopian freetards is their complete and utter inability to consider the fact that they may be wrong.

See, I couldn’t care less if someone wants to try to follow Anderson’s model and become a cyberhippie. That just leaves more filthy lucre for me. What infuriates me, and many people that I’ve discussed this issue with is Anderson and his disciples ability to blithely ignore actual content creators like Muller and just declare them wrong. To assume that, in a complicated economic system, a single model is the only valid one is sheer lunacy. To then declare the very people making money by refuting your model to be wrong borders on psychotic.