Ads quoting negative behavior en masse reinforces negative behavior. Petrified Forest National Park A/B tested two versions of a sign imploring people not to steal pieces of petrified forest from the park. One mentioned large amounts of petrified forest taken away on an annual basis, the other one simply asked the visitors not to remove petrified wood. The first one actually tripled the theft ratio as it showed stealing petrified wood as something commonplace. Same effect was observed after airing an ad that implored women to vote, but mentioned that 22 million single women did not vote last year. That kind of information actually portrays not voting as more socially acceptable.
So why, with the cornucopia of goodies now available to us, are blockbusters not just still here, but getting bigger? On the face of it, Anderson’s idea of a divergence of tastes in the digital era is logical. But if the long tail effect does not exist, or is not as pronounced as was thought, what is really going on?
Elberse says it’s a bit like the influence of multichannel television on the economics of sport. In the old days, if you wanted to watch soccer, you went to watch your local team in the flesh. Now, she says, in the UK you are more likely to decide to stay at home and watch Chelsea play Arsenal. This change of allegiance cuts the cash flowing into the ticket office of your local club while boosting advertising revenues for TV, which accrue disproportionately in favour of the already wealthy top clubs.
It is a phenomenon known to economists as the Matthew effect, after a quotation from the gospel of that name: “For unto every one that hath shall be given.” Just as for the long tail effect, there is a plausible explanation of why it should be happening in the modern media environment: easy digital replication and efficient communication through cellphones, email and social networking sites encourage fast-moving, fast-changing fads. The result is a homogenisation of tastes that boosts the chances of popular things becoming blockbusters, making the already successful even more successful.
Generations of Americans have been trained to follow the Dow Jones Industrial Average for a quick snapshot of how the economy is performing or is expected to perform. There’s a lot that’s ill-advised about that habit, but, most importantly, attending to the ups and downs in the Dow won’t tell you much about the current financial crisis. Ours is a crisis of credit: Financial firms are unwilling to lend to each other (at all-but-exorbitant rates) for fear that borrowing firms may fail or that they themselves may need the cash to fend off their own crisis.
Whereas the hourly fortunes of the Dow or any stock index are, at best, indirect reflections of this reluctance to lend, the TED Spread measures credit conditions directly. Bloomberg tracks the TED Spread here. What sounds like second-rate Nutella is actually the difference between the interest rate banks charge each other on three-month loans and the interest rate on three-month U.S. Treasury bills.
Participants in BudBurst monitor one or more plants, native or non-native, throughout the growing season. Along the way, they record and report the dates of events such as the first flower or first seed. Like many citizen science programs, BudBurst is modeled after the Audubon Christmas bird count, an annual volunteer effort that has provided ornithologists with a century’s worth of data.
Though some plant experts already have noticed certain species popping up unseasonably early, gardeners may be ideal for observing the subtle waxing of summers or waning of winters. They fill their plots with plants best suited to the weather, so for many, responding to climate change is simply a matter of common sense.
“There’s something about being in the dirt that puts things in perspective,” said Gina Garrison of Forest Park, who plans to monitor plants for BudBurst next spring. “Since planting my garden, I’ve looked into climate change more, looked into what would happen.”
In the 2004 movie “The Butterfly Effect” - we watched it so you don’t have to - Ashton Kutcher travels back in time, altering his troubled childhood in order to influence the present, though with dismal results. In 1990’s “Havana,” Robert Redford, a math-wise gambler, tells Lena Olin, “A butterfly can flutter its wings over a flower in China and cause a hurricane in the Caribbean. They can even calculate the odds.”
Such borrowings of Lorenz’s idea might seem authoritative to unsuspecting viewers, but they share one major problem: They get his insight precisely backwards. The larger meaning of the butterfly effect is not that we can readily track such connections, but that we can’t.