The cheap ability to publish offered by the Internet is incredibly powerful (I wrote
at lengthad nauseam about this yesterday in my The Power of Blogging post). In my analysis on blogging, I honed in on the ability of blogging to prevent idea obscurity, encourage idea generation, and amplify the spreading of good ideas. Substitute the word “truth” for “good ideas” and I think Seth Roberts is after the same point, when he discusses how a homemade Trader Joe’s ad posted on YouTube became wildly popular because it tapped into the truth. It captured the widespread feelings Trader Joe’s shoppers have about the positive experience they associate with the grocery store.
You just can’t buy that kind of advertising.
Every publishing mechanism (Twitter, YouTube, Reddit, blogging) that is catching on over the Internet is powerful because it amplifies the ability for good ideas/truth to spread.
Seth’s point about “when science was young” reminds me of what I took from reading Bill Bryson’s A Short History of Nearly Everything; namely, that some of the greatest discoveries in science came at the hands of enthusiasts/hobbyists who were just following their own interests. The decentralization and ease of publishing the Internet provides is bringing that sort of incentive structure back. Corporate-cronies and information protectionistas best take heed.
Here is Roberts’ take. Note the tie-in for self-experimentation:
I think Carl’s commercial is very important as a glimpse of the future. Long ago, only the powerful could speak to a mass audience — and they couldn’t tell the truth, for fear of losing their power. Then cheap books came along. Instantly a much larger group of people could speak to a mass audience — and, having little to lose, they could tell the truth. The truth, being rare, was an advantage. When science was young and many scientists were amateurs — Darwin, Mendel — they could tell the truth. As science became a job, a source of income and status that you could lose, scientists lost the ability to say what they really thought. For example, David Healy lost a job because he told the truth about anti-depressants. Self-experimentation is a way around this problem because, as I’ve said, no matter how crazy my conclusions I can keep doing it. I don’t need a grant so I don’t need to worry about offending grant givers.