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Are you blogging more… But enjoying it less?

Borrowing an advertising slogan from Camel cigarettes, I introduce this research article about the Orly Taitz web site. I have never fully trusted poll numbers on birthers because a poll respondent does not necessarily tell the truth, nor do polls measure birther enthusiasm. One other source for information comes from the public participation on birther blogs.

I have published site statistics from this blog covering the past 3 years, and at the present time interest measured in page views on this blog is on the decline. What about birther sites? Generally birther web sites do not publish their activity statistics. Orly Taitz has a page hit counter2 of dubious value, and as of last month, verified numbers from her site are available at Alexa.com, but there is no historical data.

One way to value site engagement is to look at comments1, and while it is tedious to do, it is possible to count comments on a WordPress blog by crawling the entire site, and this is what I have done for Orly’s blog. Here’s the result  from March of 2010 to the present:

TaitzComments

The high point is January of 2013, the month Barack Obama began his second term as president. Of course any measure of comments at the Taitz site is affected by her moderation policy and the fact that she deletes comments and articles. Also this doesn’t account for any technical errors in my data-gathering software, or historical data loss.

Just for comparison, here are the comment numbers for my site added for the same period:

WebComments

Given statistics that suggest Taitz has twice the number of page views than here, the relatively small number of comments is really striking.


1Most blog visitors do not comment, so comment numbers don’t equal visits, but comment numbers can be studied over time. One thing of note is that visitors here have more to say about the articles than they do at Orly’s site. While the average article here has about 65 comments, the number there is around 4. Of course Taitz has many times the number of articles that I do.

2The Taitz hit counter first appeared in November of 2011 with an initial value around 22,518,751. Here is a chart roughly showing monthly values over the prior month using historical values from the Wayback Machine:

TaitzHits

While her comment totals are tapering off the past few months, her hit counter seems to be trending up.

Studying the birthers

debunking helps

A new report. “Echoes of a Conspiracy: Birthers, Truthers, and the Cultivation of Extremism.” has been published in the January-March edition of the journal Communication Quarterly by university researchers Benjamin R. Warner and Ryan Neville-Shepard studying the effects of the media on belief in conspiracy theories. Two theory types were selected for the study: birthers and truthers (9/11 conspiracy theorists).

In the study, carried out separately for truther beliefs and birther beliefs, subjects were exposed only to the conspiracy theory or the conspiracy theory plus debunking material or just unrelated stuff. Their level of belief was measured before and after. The study tested what we often call the “echo chamber” in comparison to more open competition of ideas. Media included magazine/newspaper reports, videos and blog comments (alas not from here).

The results were, to say the least, surprising.

First, among birther material, debunking was markedly effective in reducing belief, unlike the truther results where belief increased even when debunked. In the real world birthers tend to be conservative and truthers liberal, but in this study belief change proved unrelated to party affiliation, suggesting partisan filtering was less a factor.

I was interested in the criteria for measuring birther belief. They used three statements that mirror definition of a birther:

  • President Barack Obama was born inside the United States (Reversed);
  • Obama’s birth records were faked to cover up his Kenyan birth;
  • Obama is not constitutionally eligible to be president because of his birth status.

There were 147 participants in the birther study, aged 17-30, were recruited from universities (in Missouri and Indiana). It would be interesting to see of the results held for the older, less educated individuals who make up a disproportionate share of actual birthers.

The Science 2.0 web site has an article about the study, and I left the following comment there (the only one so far):

Birthers on average are less educated and older than the persons selected for the study here. It certainly would be interesting to see how folks of another generation and outside universities respond.

Probably the most interesting result to me was that political affiliation didn’t affect the results, suggesting that partisan filtering was not a factor; however, in order to hear the debunking message, one has to be exposed to it, and the folks who frequent Alex Jones or Atlas Shrugs 2000 are not going to be listening to CNN.