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Dilbert update: cartooning can give you the strength to open jars with your bare hands

We were having so much fun on this thread that I couldn’t resist linking to this news item by Adrian Chen. The good news is that Scott Adams (creater of the Dilbert comic strip) “has a certified genius IQ” and that he “can open jars with [his] bare hands.” He is also “able to lift heavy objects.” Cool!

In all seriousness, I knew nothing about this aspect of Adams when I wrote the earlier blog. I was just surprised (and remain surprised) that he was so impressed with Charlie Sheen for being good-looking and being able to remember his lines. At the time I thought it was just a matter of Adams being overly-influenced by his direct experience, along with some satisfaction in separating himself from the general mass of Sheen-haters out there. But now I wonder if something more is going on, that maybe he feels that he and Sheen are on the same side in a culture war.

In any case, the ultimate topic of interest here is not Sheen or Adams but rather more general questions of what it takes for someone to root for someone. I agree with some of the commenters on the earlier thread that it’s not about being a good guy or a bad guy. Lots of people rooted for the Oakland Raiders (sorry, I’m showing my age here), maybe partly because of their reputation as bad boys. And Charlie Sheen is definitely an underdog right now.

P.S. Amazingly enough, Chen includes a link to a Dilbert strip mocking the very behavior that Adams was doing. Not a big deal but it’s a bit odd.

P.P.S. No, I’m not Dilbert-obsessed! It just happened that I was reading Gawker (sorry!) and the Scott Adams entry caught my eye.

P.P.P.S. My favorite part of this whole story is Russell’s-paradox-evoking thread centered around Adams’s self-contradicting statement, “You’re talking about Scott Adams. He’s not talking about you.”


  1. Jean-Marie says:

    Having just read both your previous thread and the Gawker item, I can't help wondering if your commenter fraac wasn't Scott Adams himself. I know other people who regularly Google their own names to see what people are saying about them in blogs, then show up in the comments to argue their case.

    I've run across a few really brilliant people in my time. Generally you can tell right away by speaking with them or reading what they've written. I've also run across a few others who, like Scott Adams, claim to have high IQs. My impression is that they feel they have to tell you this because you wouldn't know it otherwise.

    I don't know what it means to have a "certified genius IQ". If I remember correctly, anything above 125 puts you in the upper 5% of the population. That sounds impressive, until you realize that the distribution of the people you interact with on a daily basis is a truncated normal. Likewise, someone who can hit .215 in the majors is probably a better hitter than 99% of the general population, but among his peers he's just a marginal player, and (unless he's a pitcher) is probably one step from beng sent down to the minors.

  2. fraac says:

    I find 'overly-influenced by direct experience' problematical. You're basically calling him a dupe for saying something you disagree with. The implication that there is a shared public consciousness providing high quality information to anyone jacked in certainly leads to insight about whoever believes that, but I don't think it's correct. These are not valid statistical methods.

  3. Steve says:

    How do you know that Andrew is basically saying that? I bet it's because you are using your "theory of mind". Thus the question is raised when are we supposed to trust our theory of mind, and when are we supposed to be skeptical about it. You seem to trust it when it suits you and be skeptical about it when it helps you make a point.

  4. Jean-Marie says:

    I saw an interview once with a woman who married a serial killer serving a life sentence in prison. She had all these wonderful things to say about him: He's a very humble guy! He writes such romantic letters!

    She too seemed overly influenced by direct experience.

  5. Adams reposted the controversial rant.

    I don't think that Adams was violating any social norms by posting comments under an alias on other sites. Nearly all of the others on those sites are posting under aliases.

  6. Andrew Gelman says:


    Like it or not, it violates online norms to praise yourself using an alias. Boasting is fine, and anonymity is fine, but put them together and you get embarrassment. And Adams didn't do himself any favors with that line about peeing in a cesspool. That's just tacky–especially coming from somebody who's so strong that he can open jars with his bare hands!

  7. Here is a discussion where Adams posts several defenses of himself under an alias, and then identifies himself.

    The site does have some rules about using a sockpuppet. I don't see anything saying that someone is not supposed to use an alias to defend himself against a bunch of anonymous posters saying nasty things about him.

    Embarrassing? Maybe. But read his blog or his comic. Adams or his comic. He says potentially embarrassing things all the time.

    Adams is not rooting for Sheen because he is a bad boy. What Adams says is that he is fascinated by Sheen because he fearlessly says things without self-censorship, and gets away with it in a way that others could not. Adams ends up saying that he would watch new episodes of Two and a Half Men. So would a lot of other people. That does not mean that they approve of wife-beating.

  8. Andrew Gelman says:


    When Scott Adams writes of himself, "he has a certified genius I.Q." and when Scott Adams nonsensically writes, "You're talking about Scott Adams. He's not talking about you," then, yes, he's violating internet norms as well as coming off like a fool. Not quite as foolish as Mary Rosh saying how wonderful her college instructor was, but foolish nonetheless, and also with intent to mislead.

  9. says:

    "The site does have some rules about using a sockpuppet. I don't see anything saying that someone is not supposed to use an alias to defend himself against a bunch of anonymous posters saying nasty things about him."

    Metafilter users are not necessarily anonymous. Everyone uses a username, very occasionally someone will use their real name as a username. And, in many more cases, their real name will be disclosed on their user profile page.

    I used to be a very active and prolific member of MetaFilter. I disclosed my true identity in my profile. I have a personal policy of either writing on the Internet under my true name, or making (as is the case here) my identity easily available. I'm of the opinion that anonymity reduces accountability and therefore encourages bad behavior and this weighs more heavily than its virtues.

    Within the context of MetaFilter, Adams violated the community norms against sockpoppets in a way that is particularly egregious: pretending to be someone, in real life, other than himself in order to defend his real life self. MetaFilter has quite a high profile, media and otherwise (I, myself, have been quoted by name in the New York Times for something I wrote on MetaFilter) and there are a significant number of moderately famous people who are members, particularly writers. It is not uncommon for their works to be discussed there. This community prohibition against this form of sockpuppetry is not theoretical, it has practical relevance.

    Futhermore, MetaFilter is, generally, very lightly moderated and with a forgiving bias. Adams's account was not suspended; as a new user who may not have been familiar with the community norms, he has been warned and that is deemed sufficient. Of course, he's unlikely to participate there again.

    As Andrew says, this is not an isolated incident. There is an interesting and odd history of writers praising and defending themselves on the Internet in the persona of someone else. It is a near-universally condemned behavior.

  10. Adams is a cartoonist. You are taking him way too seriously.

  11. Andrew Gelman says:


    I dunno. Adams is an entertainer. In that sense his impression of another entertainer (Sheen) is of some interest. And entertainers can have some influence: consider, for example, Bono (either one). Adams is an entertainer who also wrote a Wall Street Journal op-ed.

  12. Adams comments: "Some time ago, I learned the hard way that posting messages with my own identity turns any discussion into an orgy of name-calling."

  13. Andrew Gelman says:


    I can see how this would be frustrating for Adams, but I don't think that misrepresenting himself and flat-out lying is a good solution. Lying degrades discourse and is also a sign that you don't feel you can convincingly make your case using the truth alone. Adams can do what he likes, but maybe he shouldn't be surprised that the result of his lie being detected is that people trust him less!