About the only bit of quantum theory I can really get my head around is the idea that observation affects results; that once the box is opened, Schrödinger’s cat is no longer in its dead/undead state, it’s one or the other.
So although we may have a desire to know, sometimes we hold back from investigating in case we affect the result, and thus become the story. In the aftermath of the Raoul Moat saga, there was much harrumphing about the Facebook page set up in his honour by one Siobhan O’Dowd; did tens of thousands of people really think this pink-faced slab of self-pity was really a legend? Well, possibly not. It’s been suggested that a good number – possibly a majority – of those who nominally ‘liked’ the page actually did so to tell the Moat fans what a bunch of idiots they were. And the more people who did that, the higher the number of apparent Moat fans rose. If you just wanted to find out out the relative numbers of pro- and anti-Raoulards, you still had to press the ‘like’ button, skewing the numbers still further.
There was a similar dilemma for those who wanted to find out how well the Times website was doing since it introduced its new paywall. It wasn’t simply a matter of not wanting to drop a few quid into Murdoch’s pocket; it was the knowledge that to take a peek would skew the statistics, making the reader part of the news. Of course, it would be harder in this case to be able to put a number on the readers, or indeed to distinguish between the merely curious and those actually willing to pay because they wanted to read the words and look at the picture. But one could get an idea of how successful the enterprise was by, for example, the number of readers appending comments to the latest Jeremy Clarkson article, presumably along the lines of “ROFL Jeremy Clarkson You Legend”. Incidentally, I’ve always been impressed by Clarkson’s use of metaphors that seem to imply that a car is a beautiful woman, and at the same time his own penis; a paradox that even Schrödinger may have struggled to explain.
And on a slightly different note (but back to Facebook), the tale of the Dr Pepper campaign that referenced the notoriously scatological 2 Girls 1 Cup film clip. The story broke on the tediously ubiquitous Mumsnet (of course it did) and immediately presented professionally disgusted news outlets with a dilemma of their own; how to communicate the depravity of the film under discussion, without actually naming it, or saying why it’s so depraved? The Telegraph had a go with a reference to “a hardcore pornographic film which is notorious for the obscene practices it depicts”, although one wonders what sort of hardcore pornographic film doesn’t depict obscene practices. And of course whether unhygienic but consensual behaviour should be a matter too disgusting to be discussed by the same media outlets that had been covering in forensic detail the activities of a murderous sociopath just a few days previously.
PS: David Hepworth also reflects on whether you can talk about swearing when you’re not allowed to swear.