Dataclysm by Christian Rudder

The market is flooded with social science/big data/”think smarter” books. I read a few a couple years ago and I’ve been hesitant to try another. They all say the same things and aren’t especially enlightening. I blame Freakanomics for this. However, a friend recommended Dataclysm to me, so I decided to give it a try. Unfortunately, it only held up for a few chapters before I found myself trapped in pages of fluff.


A lot of social science research is done on WEIRD participants – white, educated, industrialized, rich, democratic because that’s the easiest people for professors to reach.

2) Wooderson’s Law, based on Dazed and Confused, states that men’s tastes don’t change.

I’ve never seen this movie, but ok.

3) Prafall Effect states that a competent person becomes more likable after making a mistake.

Is perfection boring? Is it better to make a mistake (maybe on purpose) and fix it?

4) Nostalgia used to be called Swiss sickness.

It’s always nice to find out where words come from.

5) The average word length of the top 100 words on Twitter is longer than those of the Oxford English Corpus.

4.3 vs 3.4. At first, this seemed surprising, but on second thought, there’s no room for extraneous words in tweets. There’s an important footnote saying that hashtags like #reallylongwordsthatarenotwords were not counted.

6) Pixar put bathrooms in the center of its office to facilitate small talk among different teams.

Having worked at 9 offices now, I know how work environment means everything. Do you get depressed the moment you walk in? Do you have a 360 view of Boston? Do you work in a cubicle that echoes when you talk? I think companies should spend more money on interior design. It probably saves them money over time by increasing productivity and reducing turnover.

7) One of the most famous pieces of news to come out of OkCupid is its experiment with Love is Blind day, during which they hid pictures to see what effect it would have on messages and dates.

It turns out the relative attractiveness of the pair was not a factor in self reported happiness. To show that these people were not self selected, Rudder shows that they messaged hotter people more outside of this experiment. I still think his argument is weak though. Are these people just happy because they participated in the experiment and it wasn’t disastrous?

8) Women aren’t hired for their ability.

This is very controversial, but it’s an interesting point that I have never heard before – probably because it’s not politically correct. If there’s evidence that women aren’t hired for their ability, then can that partially explain why they don’t seem to perform as well? Very controversial, but at the very least, it’s possible.

9) Zipf Law states that the frequency of words used is such that its rank times the number of occurrences is constant.

The most popular words are much more popular than somewhat popular words. A type of power law.

10) #TeamFollowBack – what a brilliant idea.

One of the funniest parts of the book is the chart that shows a huge spike in the number of Mitt Romney’s Twitter followers.


The best way to summarize how I felt about Dataclysm is that near the end, I turned the page and saw the word “Coda.” The book was over. What. Ok. I’m glad.


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