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Indiana University Researchers Get $1 Million Grant To Study Memes 126

Posted by samzenpus
from the oh-long-johnson dept.
An anonymous reader writes with news that the NSF has just awarded a group of researchers a grant to study the life cycle of memes. "Indiana University is receiving nearly $1 million in federal grant money to investigate the genesis, spread, and demise of Internet memes. The grant from the National Science Foundation awards four Indiana researchers $919,917 to for a project called Truthy that will, as the grant's abstract explains, "explore why some ideas cause viral explosions while others are quickly forgotten." (And yes, in case you're wondering, the name was inspired by Stephen Colbert's neologism "truthiness.") The government-funded research is aimed at identifying which memes are organic and which ones are mere astroturf. "While the vast majority of memes arise in a perfectly organic manner, driven by the complex mechanisms of life on the Web, some are engineered by the shady machinery of high-profile congressional campaigns," Truthy's About page explains."
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Indiana University Researchers Get $1 Million Grant To Study Memes

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  • by Quarters (18322) on Thursday August 28, 2014 @08:07AM (#47773059)

    Up the road at Purdue University there are always quite a lot of memes about Indiana University. They're all really negative, so that might affect the study results.

  • First post, hot gritz, car analogy, robotic overlords, Beowulf cluster.

    • by fisted (2295862) on Thursday August 28, 2014 @08:10AM (#47773069)
      Look, there are over 9000 memes, but your list doesn't contain any.
    • by tepples (727027)

      Natalie Portman naked and petrified, karma whoring, ASCII Goatse/Penis Bird, only old Koreans use that anymore, BSD is dying, GNAA, The Lone Gunmen Are Dead, OMG Ponies, Twitter sockpuppets [slashdot.org], nobody wants an HTPC, hosts file, Buck Feta...

      Any more?

      • by gstoddart (321705)

        Editors can't spell (or read), that gross poop eating guy, Time Cube guy, Cowboy Neil, dupes.

        I'm sure there's plenty more.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        1)

        First post, hot gritz, car analogy, robotic overlords, Beowulf cluster.

        2)

        Natalie Portman naked and petrified, karma whoring, ASCII Goatse/Penis Bird, only old Koreans use that anymore, BSD is dying, GNAA, The Lone Gunmen Are Dead, OMG Ponies, Twitter sockpuppets [slashdot.org], nobody wants an HTPC, hosts file, Buck Feta...

        Any more?

        3) Profit!!!

      • All your base belong us! How would you forgotten this one :-)?
      • Plenty of them from 4chan:

        Cockmongler
        Happy Negro
        Reidick ("She is cute, that is why she is called Rei-chan!")
        Nigra Cell (before it was sanitized and turned into "SHOOP DA WOOP")
        Bix Nood
        Milhouse is not a meme (is a meme)
        Longcat (again, before Reddit got their filthy hands on it)
        Divided by Zero
        SAFETY CAR
        Hoodpins
        Pool's Closed, AIDS, etc.
        Dio Brando (and his cry of "WRYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYY")
        DUWANG
        PROMOTIONS
        W.T. Snacks (Around Snacks, CP was lax)
        Ondore ("Don't believe Ondore's lies! I'm Captain Basch fon

      • The year of the Linux Desktop.

      • Do *NOT* mention hosts files! You'll summon..him.

        • by tepples (727027)
          Except I respect..him. When Flash ads first came around, before there was Flashblock, I would block resolution of Flash ad servers in my hosts file.
    • Emacs vs. vi vs. viper-mode fence sitters, GNOME vs. KDE, Bill Gates as a Borg, Get Some Priorities (after a major natural disaster or terrorist attack), Less space than a Nomad, .page .widening, my UID is lower than yours, Stephen King is dead, You fail it, You insensitive clod, early versions of Mac OS X (later Windows Vista) taking 20 minutes to copy a 17 MB file, will we see it before Duke Nukem Forever (which became "before Valve releases 3" once DNF finally came out), "Taco snotting" and other slashfi
  • I don't always get paid to surf the Web but when I do, I make sure to get a grant that could have gone to a better cause...

    • What better cause than redirecting $919,917 to help market a high-profile congressional campaign.
      • Re:Memes = Politics? (Score:5, Interesting)

        by bill_mcgonigle (4333) * on Thursday August 28, 2014 @09:19AM (#47773445) Homepage Journal

        The odd part of this story is when it says:

        some are engineered by the shady machinery of high-profile congressional campaigns

        yet I'm failing to think of even one example of a viral meme that fits into that category. I mean, yeah, trigger words for government funding and all that, but even one?

        If somebody wants to tell me that Nanci Pelosi's people came up with Doge, OK, fine, I'd believe it, but I've never heard any such insinuations.

        • by Anonymous Coward

          Death panels. Obamacare. Birthers. The memes don't have to be jokes.

          • Death panels. Obamacare. Birthers. The memes don't have to be jokes.

            You might be able to argue that "Death panels" was "engineered by the shady machinery of high-profile congressional campaigns" (Sarah Palin is credited with coining the term), but definitely not "Obamacare" (the media promoted that one), or "Birthers", which was certainly an organic meme, to describe people questioning Obama's origins. It's also a form of the "something-ers" form of describing a group (deniers, anti-vacciners, etc.), which as I recall sprang out of calling the 9/11 conspiracy theorists "tr

            • by drinkypoo (153816)

              You might be able to argue that "Death panels" was "engineered by the shady machinery of high-profile congressional campaigns" (Sarah Palin is credited with coining the term), but definitely not "Obamacare" (the media promoted that one),

              A quick glance around the internets suggests that it was promoted by the Romney campaign, including his self, but has a history going back reps calling single-payer health care "Hillarycare". So no, definitely "Obamacare" as well.

              • You might be able to argue that "Death panels" was "engineered by the shady machinery of high-profile congressional campaigns" (Sarah Palin is credited with coining the term), but definitely not "Obamacare" (the media promoted that one),

                A quick glance around the internets suggests that it was promoted by the Romney campaign, including his self, but has a history going back reps calling single-payer health care "Hillarycare". So no, definitely "Obamacare" as well.

                No doubt Romney's campaign used the term, but it was in widespread use long before then. Everything that I've read indicates that Hillary's primary campaign actually coined the term, so you might have a point that it was a campaign that promoted, but both of those were presidential campaigns, not "shady machinery of high-profile congressional campaigns."

        • by xdor (1218206)

          Which is why I suggest the grant money to study memes is really to fund a high-profile congressional campaign's viral marketing budget, using this pretense of "testing" political memes. Especially, if by some coincidence, the memes tested are for said high-profile congressional campaign.

          Either that or the article is just trolling...

  • I, for one, welcome our new meme-studying overlords.

  • Interesting. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Thursday August 28, 2014 @08:33AM (#47773159) Journal
    One doesn't have to see the value in stuff that isn't immediately applicable R&D(and I'm not here to debate the point, do as you will); but if you are OK with the concept of such research this actually seems like a pretty good idea:

    The question of how and why ideas, 'culture', religions, new scientific hypotheses, etc. are transmitted and compete with one another is really a very long standing one. A lot of the historical study emphasizes 'elite' culture and theory(mostly because everything else was oral record only, and that doesn't keep well; but written works sometimes survive) or religious(high frequency of literacy, and proselytizing is a technology of considerable interest to contemporary religions); but there is also study of popular culture, folk mythologies, what the middle and lower classes were reading and watching(once that became common), and so on.

    Cultural transmission is a very solid social science topic, and internet memes have the dual virtues of both potentially being novel(they might actually follow some traditional propagation pattern, might be something new, either way would be interesting to know) and being amenable to large-scale analysis because the internet is just so conveniently searchable and heavily cached in various places. You don't have to like the entire field; but this research project seems like a perfectly reasonable exercise.
    • by Dutch Gun (899105)

      Cultural transmission is a very solid social science topic

      "Social science" is an oxymoron. Science is not a field. It's a methodology, and social sciences fail miserably at applying that methodology. It's undoubtedly an interesting academic exercise, but let's not pretend it's something that it's not.

      One could possibly make the argument for spending money on social research like this were we not currently in a long-term deficit spending pattern. As it is, we simply don't have the money to waste. Just because a million dollars is a tiny fraction of the federal

      • If we are going to get pedantic, methodology is the study of methods. (Like geology is the study of the geo ~earth)
        The word you are looking for is "method"

    • The question of how and why ideas, 'culture', religions, new scientific hypotheses, etc. are transmitted and compete with one another is really a very long standing one. [. . .]

      Cultural transmission is a very solid social science topic, and internet memes have the dual virtues of both potentially being novel(they might actually follow some traditional propagation pattern, might be something new, either way would be interesting to know) and being amenable to large-scale analysis because the internet is just so conveniently searchable and heavily cached in various places.

      While a bit dated and somewhat intellectually renegade, Marshall McLuhan has done much to talk about how print fostered literacy (duh) and the transmission of ideas in a stable form across human cultures in The Gutenberg Galaxy (i.e. Gutenberg Bible and the enablement of Christianity as a proselytizing religion with a relatively stable population of "practicing" Christians all "reading" the same text). However, his writing style is a bit mimetic of the illuminated manuscript and he communicates his point in

    • ...but I'm finding it hard to really get too worked up about.

      We are planning to buy almost F-35s at a price of approx. $188 million per. This is a plane that in the words of Rand corp (hardly an anti-military outfit) "can't turn, can't climb, can't run" well enough to dogfight.

      We are planning to buy a total of 10 Ford class aircraft carriers, at a cost of more than $11 billion per ship. The Chinese seem to think they can neutralize our carriers with cheap ballistic missiles and attack subs. Lots of expe

  • 1: Find idiots in government handing out other peoples money (redundant)
    2: Apply for grant
    3: ???
    4: Profit

  • by NotDrWho (3543773) on Thursday August 28, 2014 @08:38AM (#47773187)

    This year the federal government moved $550 billion closer to default and the collapse of the dollar.

    Just thought I would point that out, since it seems relevant.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Dutch Gun (899105)

      Oh, it's absolutely relevant. I don't care if I get modded off-topic. I've got plenty of karma.

      Quite frankly, this sort of stuff is insane when we're continuously running a massive deficit. No one likes to hear this, but we really need to crank down the government spigot at so many levels it's no longer even funny. We simply don't have the money to be spending on what I'll generously term "discretionary" research. It's not just grants either, which admittedly take up a very small portion of the budget.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        Quite frankly, this sort of stuff is insane when we're continuously running a massive deficit.

        No, not even slightly. The reason you're running a massive defecit is because you have dumped trillions into two pointless wars and the military industrial complex. It was such a dumb idea that even previous presidents have warned about such things.

        Cutting back on basic research is a sure-fire way to hobble long term future development. The only way to do this successfully and on the scale and longevity required is

        • by Dutch Gun (899105)

          Did you not even read my post? I'm agreeing with you about the military spending - it's a massive part of the federal budget. I'll even quote myself for your benefit, so you don't have to do all that pesky reading before typing up a reply.

          The military budget is out of control. Yes, we live in a dangerous world, but we need to ask the rest of the civilized nations to help share the burden a bit (and this is coming from a somewhat conservative hawk), or perhaps scale back our overseas adventures.

          And how exactly is meme investigation "basic research"? I'd really like to know how cutting frivolous grants like this will damage future meme propagation on the internet. I'm perfectly fine with federal dollars being judiciously spent on science which may have a real

          • Yes I did: I summarised it as "etc".

            We both agree military spending is out of control.

            And how exactly is meme investigation "basic research"?

            It's pretty solid social science as far as I see it. It's about better understanding of people.

            I'd really like to know how cutting frivolous grants like this will damage future meme propagation on the internet.

            It won't harm meme propagation, and if you believe that you seriously misunderstand the research (which is why decisions on such things should not be left to la

        • by mjwx (966435)

          Quite frankly, this sort of stuff is insane when we're continuously running a massive deficit.

          No, not even slightly. The reason you're running a massive defecit is because you have dumped trillions into two pointless wars and the military industrial complex. It was such a dumb idea that even previous presidents have warned about such things.

          Cutting back on basic research is a sure-fire way to hobble long term future development. The only way to do this successfully and on the scale and longevity required is via government funding.

          etc...

          Yes government spending is out of control. About the worst way of reignin it in is to cut down on basic research.

          Pink elephant in the room.

          The government gave $1 million dollars for research that sounds silly but may yield results in psychology (leading to developments in teaching, detecting and treating mental illness, advancements in stand up comedy). Meanwhile, the US military spends $1.3 Billion per day (that's $1,300 million)*.

          Now I know a lot of advances come from the military, but I highly doubt much of the money is being spent on R&D. The US could reduce it's military spending a little and solve most

      • Where did the majority of your spending money begin its life? Bank loans. Remember that massive issue the banking sector had recently?

        We need to get our economy off credit. We need to stop borrowing against every security we can find. Either we reduce our debts voluntarily, or we go bankrupt. Either way, we will reduce our debt level over the next 5-20 years. This is going to remove money from circulation. If the government runs a surplus, this will also remove money from circulation. If we stop deficit sp

        • by NotDrWho (3543773)

          If we stop deficit spending the economy will shrink and may falter.

          And if we keep doing it the economy will collapse.

  • I love memes.

    I make sure to catch up with memes twice a month on specialized web sites, but they often come to me while browsing around.

    I think they are now a good 33% of what really make me laugh on the web.

    The Botched Christ [wikipedia.org] meme [knowyourmeme.com] and its parodies [google.com] is a major meme to me, I hope they won't forget this one

  • Complex ones are still relevant, like language, religion and moral, even if the internet ones are more documented and have a more delimited life cycle. And they are risk to get their funds cut when they find the truth behind the ice bucket challenge,
    • Because the Internet acts like a convenient system of record. More traditional memes, while going through many of the same spreads/transformations do so in a way that only leaves behind secondary evidence.

      That stupid 2008 era lolcat, on the otherhand, has an upload date, comments, viewcounts, and a directly trackable spread path.

      It's almost certain, knowing humanities academia, that any models that arise from this study will be used as a "template" in an attempt to understand more serious non-internet meme

  • A million dollars? Really? It took us two years to finally get a little over half a million from the NSF for a program to help women and underprivileged kids get a foot hold into math, science, and engineering programs at our university. At least the money is going toward a good cause. I fail to see how the fruits of the Indiana University grant is going to benefit anyone other than the PI and CoPIs getting funding from this grant.
    • by makq (3730933)
      If you cannot see how it would benefit anyone, you do not have much of an imagination. It could benefit marketers or anyone who wants to spread a message. This could include public service announcements or charity groups.
      • >> It could benefit marketers or anyone who wants to spread a message.

        The multi-billion dollar marketing industry is WAY ahead of you. We are well aware of memes (as self-perpetuating brands or slogans) and have been successful launching quite a few of our own on behalf of our well-heeled customers for the past 80 or so years, e.g.,

        "Bud" "Wise" "Er"
        "So easy a caveman could do it."
        "... Burma Shave"
        "War on Women"

        So...we're good over here. Why don't you just send that $1M back to the taxpayers?

        • by makq (3730933)
          As someone who does not work in marketing, it seems like ad development is more like a crap shoot than a science. There are some major successes, but it seems there are 100's of failures for each of those.
          • >> ad development is more like a crap shoot than a science

            Crap shoots (e.g., deterministic systems) can be science too. Think of particle physics. Or today's story about the "one in decades" chance to film moving stones.

            The "science" in marketing (focus groups, crowdsourcing, testing, brand affinity, etc.) can be used to take a pile of ".00001% successful" ideas to (let's say) "2-3% successful" ideas...which can still be valuable if each idea takes $10K to try but could bring in millions if successf

    • If artificial memes can be used to sway public opinion in a significant way, I would say finding a way to identify them is sufficiently important.
  • by Perl-Pusher (555592) on Thursday August 28, 2014 @09:22AM (#47773479)
    From the extract:
    "This service could mitigate the diffusion of false and misleading ideas, detect hate speech and subversive propaganda, and assist in the preservation of open debate. "
    Or more aptly:
    "This service could mitigate free speech, detect anything we don't agree with and allow us to control the message"
    • Or maybe they do just want to do what they say, and they don't have a shadowy agenda.

      • by dkman (863999)
        The university kids do just want to do what they say [the study], and the government does have a shadowy agenda.

        Did I clear that up? I'm not necessarily saying they do, but history would dictate that it's likely.
    • by xdor (1218206)

      assist in the preservation of open debate

      That has got to be the most beautiful characterization of censorship I have ever read.

    • by radtea (464814)

      Or both. Any new understanding of the world will be used in as many ways as people can think of using it. I wrote a novel that speculates on precisely the topic of what might happen with exactly this kind of technology, and part of the fun was thinking about how different groups might use it for good or ill: http://www.amazon.com/Darwins-... [amazon.com]

  • Shut up and take my money!

  • Spend a million dollars, and astroturf the meme "evil republican congress people are trying to influence you with memes".

    Back in reality-world:

    http://www.freedomworks.org/co... [freedomworks.org]‘one-nation’-just-liberal-astroturfing

    http://mashable.com/2008/08/08... [mashable.com]

    http://lonelyconservative.com/... [lonelyconservative.com]

    http://dailycaller.com/2013/02... [dailycaller.com]

  • It seems to me that whatever political party can effectively use this data first, has a great weapon in its arsenal.
  • Richard Dawkins invented meme specifically in relation to religion, in his book The Selfish Gene [arvindguptatoys.com].
  • This was in 2011, if you look at NSF's award page. And just to put things in perspective.. This sort of money is enough to pay for four graduate students (50% effort), some very limited summer time of two professors over the course of four years, and a modest amount of travel to conferences. It's a very good grant from a great source that allows you to get some good work done, but it doesn't go as far as the uninitiated might think.

Business is a good game -- lots of competition and minimum of rules. You keep score with money. -- Nolan Bushnell, founder of Atari

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