96 thoughts on “What’s with Freethought Blogs?

  1. The algorithms that determine what ads to put up are not very sophisticated. They see certain keywords that flag an interest in religion, and just start spitting out religiously themed ads. They can’t analyze the text to see that it is anti-religious.

    1. But religious sites (like reasonable faith, by WLC) do not have atheist organization ads. Maybe they have a filter.

  2. Algorithms are too stupid to figure out we’re an atheist site. That is the curse of not having rich people funding the network – we have to put up with silly ads.

    Besides, it’s funny.

      1. No, you miss the point. The religious institutions pay per click. Everyone should be encouraged to click and click and click away. We atheists don’t care about the message but the advertiser pays freethought blogs for your clicks.

        1. No they should not. I work in online marketing at my day job and a webmaster is forbidden from telling users to click on pay per click ads in order to ‘support the site’ or anything similar (Unlike say Amazon affiliates that are paid whenever there is a sale). Basically any messaging that would ask or invite anybody except a person legitimately interested in the ad to click is against most ad networks’ terms and conditions and has been known to lead to immediate account cancellation as these clicks are generally considered fraudulent.

          The last thing that FTB needs is to lose an ad network as a partner due to overzealous readers thinking they can game the system.

          1. Well so what.

            PZ Myers or the other blogs can’t say it.

            But what is to stop the commenters from saying it? PZ doesn’t precensor everyone’s minds.

            Yeah, the ads are usually wildly inappropiate. I get ads for things like Kosher food coupons followed by invitations to meet Moslem singles.

            After a while, it is just amusing.

            1. How about this:

              The advertising network is paying money to FtB in good faith that they will provide a platform upon which qualified traffic may be directed to their clients.

              That the algorithm isn’t working in this case is the fault of the agency itself – FtB can’t help that.

              However, it would still be an ethical violation of good faith agreements to try and increase the amount paid to FtB by swamping the system with unqualified internet traffic.

              If I were involved in the ad agency and I suspected that FtB was gaming the system in that way, I would refuse to renew the service agreement at the earliest opportunity.

              Additionally, although I would be very concerned if the webmaster of a site was encouraging unqualified ad traffic, I would be very very concerned if my traffic-generation analysis tools indicated to me that the majority of the traffic generated by FtB was unqualified.

              This can be done quite trivially nowadays. You can get an analysis of how many people who come to a website leave in under five seconds without actually clicking anything, versus how many people bounce around the website a few times only to leave on a specific page (indicating that this page might need a hook to retain client interest), versus how many actually result in a qualified sale or sales lead (or whatever the relevant metric is for the site in question).

              So even if no-one at FtB actively encourages dishonest click-throughs, and even if no commenters actively encourage dishonest click-throughs – nonetheless, if I noticed in the metrics that the majority of the traffic was unqualified, I would still seriously considering refusing to renew the service arrangement.

              Which would ultimately be bad for FtB.

              Note that I’m not in advertising. I’m not even a website manager. But I am peripherally aware of the tools involved – and I would be astonished if the advertising agencies themselves did not have these tools in place already.

              Incidentally, if you are from such an advertising agency and wish to learn more about this, consider hiring me as a consultant. ^_^

          2. “I work in online marketing at my day job”

            Well it’s a dirty job, but I suppose someone has to do it. Personally, I’d rather clean the sewers.

      2. Your presentation comes off as indignantly accusatory rather than ironically humorous. Were you going for a Seinfeldian ‘what’s up with that?’ It’s not working that way. IMO. If you were really aware of the (unfortunate, but perfectly reasonable) reasons for such ads, you could have mentioned that up front.

  3. Fortunately, AdBlock filters out all that stuff for me when I’m at Pharyngula. PZ is aware of the problem.

    Pharyngulites are known for “Pharyngulating” Internet polls. I find it amusing that Liberty University and the like are possibly paying extra for their ads because of the teeming hordes at freethoughtblogs who gleefully click away to help them run up their bill.

  4. There’s still problems, but it used to be a lot worse at PZ’s old blog- seemed like the only ads I saw there were for the LDS.

  5. And I understand if you click on them, they have to give PZ money. You don’t even have to become an ordained pastor, or anything.

  6. It’s the curse of a generic ad service. We’re slowly picking up better targeted ads, but it takes time, and right now we rely on the services that hook us up to clients based on keywords, not content.

  7. As PZ said, the algorithms just don’t target ads all that well. The good news is that we’re starting to get more and more requests for directly sold ads, so over time this should get better.

    1. I don’t understand why PZ Myers and Ed Brayton don’t use Blogspot (from Google), see Sandwalk, or wordpress, see here. I never see advertisements on Sandwalk or here.

  8. This can easily be solved.


    You don’t have to be a company. You can be a private person. All you need to know how to do is to write a check or send a money order. Then, you can design the ad the way you want it!

    1. Do you mean “buy an ad” … ? That’s a great idea. I’d donate to a foundation to support freethoughblogs.

  9. I haven’t seen ads on a blog or anywhere else in such a long time. Still I wonder if I shouldn’t write a little background script to randomly load ads on certain blogs by people I support so as to quietly and painlessly boost their revenue.

  10. By the way, your title implies that Pharyngula is a blog, yet you say this site isn’t. What makes them different?

    1. While the outward appearance (or accidents) of this site is that of a blog, its inward nature (or essence) is that of a website. Having performed the ritual of communion, Jerry has accomplished the miracle of transubstantiation and we are in the Real Presence of a website.

    2. “By the way, your title implies that Pharyngula is a blog, yet you say this site isn’t. What makes them different?”
      That’s easy: The difference is that Dr. Coyne says his interwubthing is a website, not a blog.

  11. Don’t waste your time trying to foil the advertising service with scripts or bunches of clicks. They already know all the tricks, thanks to all the people who know a lot more about how these things work and have a lot more motivation to game them.

    right now we rely on the services that hook us up to clients based on keywords, not content

    For today’s AI technology, keywords == content, essentially.

    Here’s the thing: there are very smart people devoting their very large brains to figuring out how to model content better than simple keywords. It’s a very hard problem. There are also very smart people devoting their very large brains to figuring out how to stop people from gaming ad services. That’s a very profitable problem.

    If you want the ads to be better, why don’t you do your part to allow the latter group to become the former group? Don’t try to game the ad services. Let the poor researchers work on better ways to match content to ads.

    – a message from a computer scientist.

    1. We have a marketing guy saying don’t click, and now a programmer that says don’t click. There may be something to this.

      “There are also very smart people devoting their very large brains to figuring out how to stop people from gaming ad services.”

      I’m a fan of research. I’m not against somebody making money, but I don’t have to be a passive sheep either.

      How many times has P.Z. pointed out the flaws of relying on data from random weirdoes clicking links? Ads are no different than polls. Your data will be flawed and possibly dangerously biased.

      I don’t even block ads myself. I just ignore them or find humor.

  12. “No application fee”? What’s the catch? Don’t most “real” religions put you through some kind of test to determine if your “calling” is “real”?

  13. All: As an experienced online marketer my advise is to please NOT click on any ads within FTB unless you are genuinely interested in the service.

    Ad networks will automatically insert the best performing ads (ie those that get clicks and conversions) and likewise remove those that receive no clicks.

    If folks are interested in the dynamics of online advertising wikipedia is a good place to start: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Online_advertising#Online_advertisement

  14. On another blog I frequented more years ago (onegoodmove) any religious topic posting would generate Google ads for christian singles – usually with a very large-chested blonde who was presumably waiting to date you at the christian dating site. We enjoyed joking about that whole concept.

  15. Very appropriate as freethought blogs is more like a church than actually freethought what with the over zealous censorship and all that.

    1. I have my comments removed here sometimes*. AFAIK I haven’t had any comments removed from FTBs, ever.

      *Not sure why.

      1. Your not trying hard enough. Early days just try having a freethought now and again and see where that gets you.

        1. I do not troll. That is not what i meant. I always try to stay on topic, and I am a freethinker.
          I’m not sure this is the actual reason mine are removed sometimes, but i suspect it is more of a flow of conversation type of thing than my comments being negative or what have you.
          I have’t called anyone mean names is quite a while either.

    2. Your claim is a lie.

      Persistent, obnoxious trolls who make no contribution to the discussion may get banned — that’s a necessary part of maintaining a comment section, because as you almost certainly know (since you’re presumably affiliated with them), there are groups of people who openly intend to disrupt the conversation.

      But you can test your claim yourself. Go to my blog, go to any article, and type whatever nonsense you want. Call me evil, a poopyhead, the worst atheist ever…get abusive (don’t use more than 3 links, though, since that trips the spam filters). Have a ball. It’ll get posted. It won’t be deleted if and when I notice it, either.

      If you do that repeatedly, you might get banned, but substantive arguments or occasional stupidities that don’t disrupt the threads tend to stick around.

      There is no overzealous censorship. You’re just a liar.

      1. So how come I got banned after posting one comment which was subsequently removed? Cut out the bullshit PZ. You’re the liar.

        1. What name did you go by there (if you were a sockpuppet, list all the names you have used)? Let us know and I’ll look it up in the dungeon and then post the exact reason here.

          1. If that was the reason for the ban, then why was I not banned over a year ago when I made my comments on the first pharyngula post I ever commented on (the comments to which that year-old tweet refers)?

            In fact I was banned just a month or so ago after making a single post on the second blog entry I had commented on at pharyngula over a year later.

            1. In other words, this:

              So how come I got banned after posting one comment which was subsequently removed?

              is false. It was not your first comment. Now, what name(s) were you using on Pharyngula so I can look you up in the dungeon?

              1. Exactly how is what I said false?
                I got banned after posting one comment on one blog entry. This was a few weeks ago.

                I’ll save you the trouble of finding my total previous contributions as you can find them on here:


                Decide for youself whether or not you think I should have been banned based upon that exchange. The fact is I wasn’t and what I wrote then is really irrelevant to my being banned recently, unless of course an incredible coincidece has occurred. I was banned around a year later after posting one comment on just the second (to the very best of my recollection) blog entry on pharyngula I had ever commented on. Last time I looked I hadn’t made it into the dungeon.

            2. It is false because you didn’t get banned after one and only one comment!

              Oh, and I love this:

              Comment #322 … December 8, 2010 3:44 AM

              Comment #323 by skepcheck August 21, 2011 4:49 PM
              Check it out. Looks like I won. Go me.

              Yes, go you indeed. *shaking my head*

              You have hardly proven yourself trustworthy throughout this side-discussion. So, I don’t trust you to tell the truth about your name not being in the dungeon. If it isn’t, however, one can hardly blame PZ for just canning your ass given your documented behavior.

              1. You seem to have added some words to what I wrote and also made some rather convenient inferences. Now you are accusing me of being untrustworthy? Frankly, that is laughable. Why don’t you ask PZ exactly why I was banned and why I’m not in the dungeon? And my documented behaviour? No worse than many phayrangula regulars and a great deal better than some.

            3. You seem to have added some words to what I wrote…

              Ah, OK, if you are going to start flat-out lying and trolling me now, here, with the evidence–some of it provided by you yourself–right in front of everyone’s eyes, then I’m taking my leave of this side discussion. What has been shown is that PZ had perfectly good reasons to ban you from commenting on his blog as anyone would who had put up with the behavior you displayed.

              1. Okay. Check what I wrote. Then check what you claimed I wrote. Not the same thing. Flat-out lying? Your lack of reading comprehension does not equal me lying. Someone appears to be though. Still, you run along all the same. Classic.

      2. While my comment was obviously flippant I do believe there is an element of truth there. I do accept there has to be some censorship (commentators not following the ‘guidelines’, trolls, spam and ‘the crazies.’ Also I am not affiliated with anyone as I find the whole deceased equine whipping very annoying as I have noticed it has spread to other blogs and websites where the commentators ‘take sides’ instead of discussing the issue in hand. I also accept that there is no unreasonable censorship on your blog but you might want to have a word with some your colleagues because if you go under the bander ‘FreethoughtBlogs’ they should indulge in, you know free thoughts.

        I am no liar and would be happy to be shown to be wrong as the censorship of ideas leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

    3. I comment often on freethought and have never had a comment removed or censored.

      AFAI concerned, they are a bit lax with obvious deliberate trolls and truly crazy and sick in the head people.

      I skip threads that turn into troll feeding festivals as a matter of time wasted and sheer esthetics. Seen one ugly mind, seen them all.

      1. Nor have I as I like to think my posts are reasonable but lets not pretend that it doesn’t happen.

        Yes there are crazies on the Internet though not everyone who disagrees with someones opinion is psychologically damaged. Either counter their arguments or don’t but that doesn’t make you arbitrator of what is right or wrong.

        1. Very much agree. Some time back, I gave up on reading the comments at PZ’s site – too much chaff and predominantly too snarky. A little snark is good 🙂

          1. Have you not noticed the left hand top column “Join 1,344 other followers” – the numbers have been creeping up a fair amount. I looked a week or two ago when it was bang on 1,300. Admittedly some will be the religious people who wish to ‘troll’, but still…

  16. On the other hand, we could all sign up & become ordained ministers then subvert the church from within.

    By the way, the easiest way to get rid of a priest is camp outside his church.(See St.Paul’s Cathedral in the news)

  17. Some ads are just plain weird and irrelevant to context.

    I usually get FTB ads either in English or my local Finnish. However, one time I got a Norwegian ad for “Norway’s biggest cheerleading supply store”.

    Now I imagine a distressed cheerleader running away from an irate moose…

  18. Well, that pastor looks like the cat who’s just eaten the cream … maybe you could stick him in a Caturday post (and PZ could… oh, I don’t want to think about it…)

  19. We can’t talk about the ads. We can’t tell you to artificially jack up the response rate to give us more money because that would make ad placement less desirable — it turns out advertisers actually want to attract real customers. Who would have thought it?

    The inappropriate ads right now and for some time to come are because we’re a relatively new site, and it takes time for selection to work. What you should do (if you see the ads at all) is respond honestly: if it’s a service that appeals to you, take advantage of it. If it doesn’t, ignore it. That way advertisers will learn whether FtB is profitable or a waste of time for them.

    People here should know this. The keyword-based ad service we use if sloppy and poorly targeted, and close to chance. It will take time and selection to refine the ad selection, and it’s going to be wasteful and inefficient. It’s evolution!

    We’d much rather use Intelligent Design and get advertisers who know that our site clientele matches theirs and designs and targets ads for our audience. I think EvolveFish specifically bought some ad space from us, so I would, for instance, recommend visiting their site.

    Otherwise, recognize that we’re at the mercy of chance variation for now.

    1. I really wouldn’t worry about inappropriate ads on Freethought Blogs. I’m with Jerry Coyne. I just think they are funny.
      Any atheist, who lives in the US anyways, has to be used to having religion thrust in their face all the time. If I wanted to avoid that I would have to live in my basement and never turn on tv, surf the internet, or read a newspaper or magazine.

  20. Personally I don’t care about the ads on PZ’s website. If you’re incensed by some religious ads on PZ’s Free-thought (!!!) site, you probably take life a little too seriously.
    (Maybe it helps to keep in mind that these ads make PZ money!)

    As for becoming an ordained pastor: Not sure about this specific one, but I myself and my wife are ordained ministers. And atheists. I don’t see anything wrong with that. We now can officially and legitimately marry people and my wife has done so on various occasions: friend of us who didn’t care for long sermons with religious overtones. (And we do it for free).

  21. I’ve been avoiding Freethought blogs due to the annoying pop-ups and the sluggish server response. Perhaps the problem is on my end–I don’t know.

  22. I think it’s HILARIOUS.

    Meet Christian Singles.

    Become a Pastor.


    Everytime PZ pwns some idiotic theistic notion, that theistic notion pops up in an ad.

    It’s spooky funny.

    Now, if we could only get all the Pharyngulites to click on those ads, we’d send the n00bs to the poorhouse.

  23. For some fundamentalist ministers the lack of a seminary education is seen as an asset. Too much “book learning” will fog one relationship with god.
    I know of Baptist ministers who never attended seminary or even finished high school. They were just called by the holy spirit and had some other Baptist “ministers” lay hands on the future minister. To them, this is all you need to be a Baptist preacher. Being a “simple country preacher” is a badge of honor.
    There is a long history among independent fundamentalist Baptists of bogus degrees from unaccredited colleges and “honorary” doctorate degrees from the same institution. “Doctor” Cyrus Schofield of the “Schofield Reference Bible” never even attended college, but he lied on his resume, put it in front of the Bible and most fundamentalist Baptist do not have a problem with that. To them, it is god, not the secular state that gets to decide who gets a doctorate of divinity degree.

    Next time you see a Baptist minister with a doctorate of divinity degree:
    1. It is an honorary degree
    2. It is from an unaccredited college.
    3. He is lying.

  24. I am highly amused that PZ is suddenly so sanguine and “What can you do” about this given how vociferous he was about OMG! INAPPROPRIATE ADS ON SCIENCEBLOGS! THIS CANNOT STAND!

    Now of course, popups for financial ad scams and the rest are all fine. Hmm. Wonder why.

    1. I could be mistaken, but I think ScienceBlogs sells targeted advertising, as opposed to using a more generic ad service such as the one used by Freethought Blogs. This article from the NY Times is what leads me to that conclusion. Using Google to search for “scienceblogs advertising” also turns up a page, on which it appears one can purchase ads that will show on ScienceBlogs.

      In this case, it is quite consistent to complain about ads on the former, as these can be rejected by ScienceBlogs on the basis of unsuitability, while remaining mum about similar, somewhat-randomly selected ads on the latter.

      1. Spin magic justification wheel, spin. FTB had many options for ads, including targeted ads. They had enough starter traffic to get more than “the first ad network that waived a shekel at them.”

        However, this is what happens when people confuse expertise in one area, (science, reporting on culture wars, etc.) with expertise in all areas, (IT, marketing, etc.)

        Getting sponsors for a site is not that difficult, especially with the kind of traffic and engaged community FTB has had from day one. But contrary to ignorant belief, it does take some knowledge, just like setting up a high-traffic site. (no, having been a SysAdmin a decade ago doesn’t count.)

        Even if the targeted ads have some VERY weak justification, the bullshit popups do not. The only difference here is who’s getting the larger cut of the income. Cross their palm with silver, and suddenly all ads are understandable. Funny that.

    2. When the owner of a blog network wants to constrain content or comment policy to make potential advertisers happy or when an ad is made to look like legitimate content, that’s different from temporarily taking on inappropriate and objectionable ads which otherwise have no bearing on content whatsoever. That’s not to say that more care could not have been taken to secure properly targeted advertising, but from what I understand, they needed to move in a hurry and what they chose to do was most expedient.

      Obviously, they aren’t making much money off the ads as they are because their readership isn’t going to clickthrough in large enough numbers until the targeting gets better.

      1. Which once again shows that they confused expertise in one area with expertise in all. Also, “move quickly”? Bullshit, FTB was not an overnight lark. It had the APPEARANCE of one but it most certainly was not. It’s just that no one involved seemed to actually know how to do certain things right.

        IN any event, it is still complete hypocrisy for PZ to be so utterly apathetic to the bullshit ads “his” site is running when he was SOOOOOOOoo outraged anytime SB did/does anything he doesn’t approve of.

        Bullshit is bullshit.

Leave a Reply