What makes a TED talk go viral

I read this piece Does body language help a TED Talk go viral? 5 nonverbal patterns from blockbuster talks while thinking about the videos of my lectures I’m creating for an online course.

Excerpt: “All TED Talks are good. Why do only some go viral? Over the last year, a human behavior consultancy called Science of People set out to answer this question. To do so, says founder Vanessa Van Edwards, they polled 760 volunteers, asking them to rate hundreds of hours of TED Talks, looking for specific nonverbal and body language patterns. To ensure comparability, they limited talks to videos that had been posted on TED.com in 2010 and were between 15 and 20 minutes long.”

Van Edwards found out that hand gestures matter a lot, so too does spontaneity, and smiling. Smiling matters a lot. Viewers consistently rated those who smiled a lot while talking as more intelligent than those who didn’t. Also you only have 7 seconds to impress or not. That’s the amount of time in which people made up their mind how good a speaker was.

Content actually didn’t make as much difference as you might expect. Videos got the same ratings whether they we were watched with the sound on or off.

“Let’s talk through some of the patterns you noticed. I was pretty shocked by the conclusion that people rate speakers comparably whether they listened to the content of the talk or not. How did you find that?

We did a couple different screenings of the talks. We have about 40,000 subscribers on our website, and get about 100,000 to 200,000 visitors a month, so we’re able to get a lot of data quickly. In one of the screenings, we had half the participants watch talks on silent, and half watch talks with sound. We asked both of the groups the exact same questions: How would you rate this talk overall? How charismatic is the speaker? How intelligent is the speaker? How credible is the speaker? And we found that the people who watched the talks on mute rated speakers almost exactly the same as the people who had watched the talks with sound. The one exception was David Blaine’s TED Talk, I think because it included a lot of videos of him from previous endeavors and that confused people. For his talk, the ratings were different.”

But gender isn’t addressed and it made me wonder. I tend to smile a lot when speaking and I’ve always worried that it undermined judgements about my intelligence and that I ought to try to look more serious. I’ve worried that women who smile too much are thought of as being less smart.

Anyone know what the literature says about this? Hand gestures, I’m sold. But I’m curious about smiling.

How not to advertise a philosophy conference?


Rebecca Kukla comments on Facebook: “Um. Some one(s) thought this was funny but it seems super offensive to me. Philosophy conference as mostly naked mostly male combat sport with lots of chaotic fighting? Ugggghh.”and “I’m super annoyed at this.the whole keynote speaker as macho he-man warrior is also too much to bear. Can you imagine if the genders were reversed and they had the two female keynotes’ heads superimposed on the bodies of nearly naked hypersexualized models?”

And it’s a bioethics conference, a sub-field in Philosophy not exactly known for its shortage of women.

Better imagery please. I worry that this one perpetuates the worst stereotypes of philosophers, all combative and male.

Society for Modern Philosophy: Reflections on Canon

Lewis Powell kindly posted the drafts of two great papers from the Pacific APA 2015 panel for the Society of Modern Philosophy. Lisa Shapiro and Justin Smith address questions about the nature of the philosophical canon, and in particular about why it is so narrow and excludes in particular women authors.

The Mod Squad

This past spring at the Pacific division meeting of the American Philosophical Association, the Society for Modern Philosophy hosted a panel about the Modern Canon featuring Lisa Shapiro and Justin E. H. Smith.  Despite the panel occurring at dinner time on the final evening of the program, it was well attended, and led to some lively discussion during the Q&A.  I am pleased to share the following documents with anyone who wasn’t able to attend the session.*

Lisa Shapiro: What is a Philosophical Canon

Justin Smith: The ‘Two Libraries Problem’: Poetry, ‘Fancy’, and the Philosophical Canon

The session and subsequent discussion were extremely interesting, and I hope that future SMP panels continue to be as fascinating and thought-provoking.  Joining the society is free, and means receiving a handful of e-mails from me over the course of the year, as well as giving you the opportunity to help plan society events or projects.

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More on reclaiming the role of women in the canon

From the Atlantic:

In his first work, published in 1747, Immanuel Kant cites the ideas of another philosopher: a scholar of Newton, religion, science, and mathematics. The philosopher, whose work had been translated into several languages, is Émilie Du Châtelet.

Yet despite her powerhouse accomplishments—and the shout-out from no less a luminary than Kant—her work won’t be found in the 1,000-plus pages of the new edition of The Norton Introduction to Philosophy. In the anthology, which claims to trace 2,400 years of philosophy, the first female philosopher doesn’t appear until the section on writing from the mid-20th century. Or in any of the other leading anthologies used in university classrooms, scholars say.

Also absent are these 17th-century English thinkers: Margaret Cavendish, a prolific writer and natural philosopher; Anne Conway, who discusses the philosophy of Descartes, Hobbes, and Spinoza in The Principles of the Most Ancient and Modern Philosophy (which is influenced by the Kabbalah); and “Lady” Damaris Masham—the daughter of a Cambridge Platonist and a close friend of John Locke who published several works and debated ideas in letters she exchanged with the German mathematician and philosopher G.W. Leibniz.

Despite the spread of feminism and multiculturalism, and their impact on fields from literature to anthropology, it is possible to major in philosophy without hearing anything about the historical contributions of women philosophers. The canon remains dominated by white males—the discipline that some say still hews to the myth that genius is tied to gender.

Andrew Janiak, an associate professor of philosophy at Duke University, was a graduate student in the 1990s when he came across Kant’s startling reference to Madame Du Châtelet. “I remember thinking: Did he really mean Madame?” Janiak said. “It was the only time I’d seen a philosopher refer to the ideas of a woman.”

Now, Janiak and a team of Duke students and researchers, along with colleagues at Columbia and the University of Pennsylvania, have launched a site that features the forgotten voices of women philosophers, giving academics and students a rare opportunity to study and promote their work.

And we’ve posted it before, but you can find that site here.