Baby Got Stats

It blows my mind that Weird Al Yankovic’s “White and Nerdy” video on YouTube has over 45,000 comments.

I’ve said this before, but I just don’t understand what motivates commenter No. 45,093.

There’s no video — only audio — but if you like “White and Nerdy,” you will love “Baby Got Stats” — courtesy of the Johns Hopkins Department of Biostatistics. They also do poetry.


I am nearly certain that the total number of posts do not necesarilly mean that they are unique individuals. Is it not possible that one person with an interest could post several times on the same topic and perhaps start an epidemic of multiple responses? Perhaps network theory and power laws be part of the expalnation here?

Josh Millard


I post on this blog fairly frequently, but I don't think anyone has ever commented on anything I've said.


Isn't it extremely ironic to comment on a post like this?

Reasonable points, and I have the same feeling when I comment here (and, in fact, comment here a lot less than I might if I felt like the place was more of a conversation than a series of largely disjoint reactions). The NYT presentation (and the old Freako blog's before it) is bog-standard, though; that there is, at least, an oldest-first, flat-view thread of comments for the post is a big step up compared to the YouTube's tiny latest-first window. (Or, given that this kind of presentation has been more or less standard for a long time now, Youtube is a step down.)

So what motivates the 11th Freakonomics commenter, and how is that different from the 11th Youtube commenter, and how is it the same? That's not a rhetorical flourish; I'm genuinely curious (if, perhaps, a little mad to try and start a conversation where conversation isn't necessarily the common mode, I know).

The one thing that has for a long time struck me as conspicuous and a little disappointing is the absence of the Steves et al down here in the mucky muck of the comments. That's probably a big part of the sense of this place being a bunch of responses rather than a conversation: there's no one acting as a hub or a guide or giving the threads an actual, well, thread.

And that's fine, really; it's a matter of choice, and responding in detail to every thread may just be plain time-consuming and unattractive to guys who have other things to do with their days. This is a blog that came out of a book that came out of existing, busy careers -- that differs a lot from e.g. a hobbyist blog in a lot of ways, which is understandable. But I think it's an instructive part of the dynamic, a key thing that helps place this blog somewhere in the semi-responsive middle areas of a continuum from hyper-involved conversations to write-only posterboards like Youtube.

(Hi, Paul!)



#16 reminded me of another comic by the same person that may answer the question "What motivates poster 45,093"


The barely hidden science nerd in me had a bit of a moment upon first listening to 'Baby Got Stats'. "You can call me a geek, but I'll write my grant in a week." - I'm posting this on my lab door.... Thanks, JHU!
My old genetics professor is attempting to do something along these lines for his class this semester. Replace 'Stats' with 'Translation' and you've got yourself a new YouTube entry.

On the original topic, I would assume what motivates people to comment on posts is their intrinsic want to share something that they know that you may not. Or, they are ridiculously offended by a previously commenter.


Baby got metrics:


If I were white, "white and nerdy" would be my theme song.


Jon is right -- there's really no mystery at all, despite Levitt's longtime refusal to think it through. No matter what number your comment is, it goes to the top of the list (same with Amazon reviews). So the 45,000th commenter gets pretty much the same readership as the first.

(Also, comments that are knocked off the pedestal quickest tend to be the ones on the most popular posts, so more people saw them in that small time frame.)

Basically, you invest the time of writing the comment and get the return of people seeing what you have to say. The number doesn't change this ratio.


"I just don't understand what motivates commenter No. 45,093."

next Q&A guest? :)


Agree with Jon Peltier, 'only comment on the serious blogs', although I have been known to read and comment on (the least depreciative) celebrity blogs on occasion.
Clint, don't feel bad! Keep commenting until someone replies to your comment (like me! And someone else up there!). I feel the same way, especially here; if you feel like you have a strong/smart/revolutionary opinion about something, you want to get noticed too! It's only normal.

Paul K.

With YouTube specifically, comments are Newest first by default, so if you comment, it will be seen, at least briefly. With sites like this, however, I'd say anything past the first 10, 20, 50, maybe 100 is unlikely to be read.

Worth checking out is this link:

It shows the latest comments on MetaFilter (a web community posting interesting links) and YouTube. The difference is just shocking. The illiteracy shown on YouTube is just depressing.

And of course, there's this great comic:


Thanks for the shout-out for Baby Got Stats! Rest assured that the youtube video is forthcoming.

Cheers, Sir Thinks-A-Lot (aka Dorry, aka "the guy who wrote baby got stats")


That reminded me of this statistics music video, a parody of "Grillz" by Nelly. My professor recommended it on the syllabus as a good review of basic statistical concepts.


I bet they would have dramatically fewer if new comments went to the bottom of the list, rather than the prime spot right below the video.


Another possible explanation -

Nowadays lot of spam is posted on comments. Possibly a seo tactic.


Re: "just don't understand what motivates" -- I'm a little annoyed that you're making fun of the 45,000th commenter. It makes it seem you don't really want to know the answer. I don't think this question is that hard to answer, at least in general terms, as the above commenters already have; if you want more definites, you'll have to design a way to work it out. Set the behavioral economists on it.


As a student of said JHU department, I love this entry. Don't know if it's been posted online yet, but there's also a pretty masterful 'Dick in a Box' spoof video.


I post on this blog fairly frequently, but I don't think anyone has ever commented on anything I've said. I suppose my sole motivation is hoping that someone reads what I've said and thinks the same thing.


I'm waiting to be commenter number eleven.... D'OH!

Janet R

The Hopkins one seems so frequentist. The Harvard statistics dept had a Bayesian version.

Jon Peltier

I post on this blog occasionally, as I do on most serious blogs I read. The funniest thing happened last week. My high school daughter was online chatting with my college daughter, and she asked me if I had commented on a Freakonomics post. Surprised, I said sure. Well, it seems that my remote daughter was reading the Freakonomics blog while chatting with my local daughter, and she was saying, "good point ... OMG! That's Dad!"