Fake Data Is The Devil

Wednesday, June 9, 2021
By dreeves

Devil bee

“I eagerly anticipate how you’re going to write a blog post about an infohazard.” — User in the Beeminder community Discord

This is going to sound funny but we’ve toyed with having a rule in the Beeminder community against even mentioning the concept of fake data. Especially funny is that instead we’re doing the diametric opposite and blogging about it.

Our goal here is to explain what we were thinking there and convince you that the mere idea of fake data is almost literally horrifying. We have a particular set of community norms to cultivate. In particular we’re aiming for a norm where fake data is so gross that it goes without saying that no one would even consider it.

We’re thinking of this in terms of norms because just hearing about fake data as something existing Beeminder users would even consider can literally ruin Beeminder’s efficacy for someone. And the most amazing and impressive Beeminder users (Brent Yorgey and his 50 goals come to mind) — it never crosses their mind in a million years. See also the Type Bee Personality.

To make a slightly overblown analogy, it’s like this PSA from the NYC subways:

Subway surfing PSA

I see that and I’m thinking, “oh, wow, I would not have guessed that that was possible or a thing people ever did.” Now I know it is and they do!

“All I want is to make fake data as much a taboo as incest and cannibalism. Is that too much to ask?”

Or take the classic PSA about littering that backfired. It was lamenting how ubiquitous litter was, showed a park strewn with trash, and asked, “if you don’t give a hoot, who(ooo) will?” It just made people feel like they might as well litter because everyone else was. In other words, stating a rule can backfire by conveying that it’s a big enough problem to need a rule.

So that’s why I’ve resisted blogging this. But on the occasions it came up, I felt bad telling people they broke a rule that was never written down anywhere. So now it’s written down.

(Also, in case you haven’t seen them, you should definitely read our post on combatting cheating and our, dare we say poignant, post on recovering from cheating. And even though it’s covered in those posts, we want to make special mention of the Quantified Self ethos — it feels shamefully unscientific to have your graph ever not reflect reality.)

In conclusion, fake data is gross, shameful, Beeminder-destroying and the most brilliant, effective Beeminders users never even consider it. How’s that for norm-shaping? We’ll stop short of adding images of squished spiders but a disgust reaction is basically what we’re aiming to cultivate. Sorry, I know this was all obvious to most of you.


 

Image credit: Faire Soule-Reeves

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