Only Read Negative Reviews

Best statistical advice: Do not read “5-star” reviews, glowing recommendations, or positive plugs. Go straight to the sourpusses, the rants, and the ravings. If you already want the thing, the thumbs ups tell you what you already believe, but the thumbs downs tell you something new. Plus, the positives are often fakes, frauds, or fleshed-out flimflam filed by PR flacks.


  1. Will

    I value review sites that show other things the reviewer liked/disliked. A review, especially of a movie, is less valuable without knowing how close the reviewers taste is to my own.

  2. Amazon is a particularly glaring example of fake reviews or reviews written by friends of the author. I’m with you: I want to know what the curmudgeons have to say.

    Sometimes (on Amazon) the most interesting information is in the comments on the review. I’ve seen one and two star reviewers attacked and even threatened by sycophants or friends of the author. Remarks like “You had better change your review if you know what’s good for you” have a chilling effect.

  3. Sean Inglis

    I second this advice, with the exception of TripAdvisor and the like; I totally ignore extremely negative reviews but weight destinations relatively according to how many positive reviews they receive. Then I book the one my wife tells me to.

  4. William Sears

    This has always been my approach with a number of caveats. First, negative reviews are sometimes just angry attacks on politically unpopular books. These are fairly easy to spot. Second, the criticisms are most useful when they resonant with something that you suspect or can check out with the preview offered by Amazon. Third, read a selection of positive, moderate, and negative reviews to look for both consistency and contrasting opinions. Again, the look inside review is often your best bet to see if the egg is rotten.

    For reviews of devices (i.e. computers, kitchen appliances, etc) the approach is different. Here the negative reviews are useful when they tell you the type of things that can go wrong and which you keep in mind when you examine the product in the store.

    Finally, remember that the star ratings are offset by one star. That is, a three star rating is 50% not 60%. The same thing is done with SAT and similar tests. Briggs, you might consider an article on this topic. It is a type of chartmanship. I am starting to ramble here, time for coffee.

  5. Noblesse Oblige

    The trouble is that some of the sourpusses are also flimflams sent by competition to pee in the soup — or just loons. As some of the replies have noted, context is important.

  6. Speed

    Plus, the positives are often fakes, frauds, or fleshed-out flimflam filed by PR flacks.
    Or in the case of climate, peer reviews.

  7. Ye Olde Statistician

    Problem is that I’ve seen reviews of the self-same book: one saying the characters are cardboard, another saying they are well-rounded. And similar remarkable juxtapositions of blind men and elephants.

  8. rank sophist

    From my experience, the rave reviews are delusional and the negative ones are biased. Go for the middling reviews and keep an eye out for signs of sloppiness.

  9. Speed

    The original “At the Movies” with both Siskel and Ebert was useful because there were two reviewers who could (and did) disagree and had to argue and support their positions. Long time viewers became familiar with and could factor in the reviewers’ biases.

    And they were fun to watch.

  10. DAV

    The best approach IMO is to find a reviewer you know from previous reviews and preferably one who agrees with your tastes. The problem at Amazon or the Play Store is you have no reference to judge the quality of the review. The real value in Siskel and Ebert was in their consistency and availability. User reviews at Amazon are pot luck. I look at the average star rating and then at a couple good and bad to get a flavor of what’s being said.

  11. JWDougherty

    I would advise looking at the middling reviews for more than one reason. First, the reviewer usually has actually read the directions and attempted to follow them. It is astonishing how may one-star reviews clearly indicate the reviewer would have trouble emptying liquid from a boot with the directions on the heel, or incapable of common sense thinking. Second, a considerable number of one-star reviews seem to be by people who have not actually experienced what they are purporting to review. “My neighbor’s dog says his friend’s owner say that some person down the street …”

    On Amazon I like to look at the graphs of the numbers of reviews of various classes. If they are strongly bimodal, I like to check the one-stars very carefully. I suspect a battle of the shills.

  12. Ken

    RE: “Metaphysics also answers the questions”

    BUT, does it provide useful answers (assuming, just for fun, the answer is correct)???

    For example, if one applies the logic & determines something like, ‘God exists,’ be that as it may that result really provides no useful info as it doesn’t clarify exactly the nature of the God, his/her/its expectations (if any), etc.

    Which, ultimately, sends one back to pretty much where everybody started–with ancient source documents distorted by mulitple translations & even more interpretations (the priest at my church noted in one sermon that modern Christianity, in just the USA, sports some 20,000 variants–with each variant distinguished by some particular doctrinal characteristic that makes it unique from all the rest — that’s all from the same exact source material). As it is, if one carefully analyzes the situation, or just assumes the situation, to be pro-God-exists, one has pretty much unlimited latitutde to determine exactly whatever one wants that to mean. IF one is a “Christian.”

    What Islam has going for it, for now & the foreseeable future anyway, is an inherent inability to accomodate such diversity. That inherent consistency is a characteristic indicating that its got it right.

    But, exactly, what is that “it” & the “right” its gotten “right”? Therin lies some interesting (for those interested in that sort of thing) findings.

  13. John Moore

    I agree that middle reviews are the best. That’s my primary go-to on Amazon.

    As a publisher of an Android App, I have a perspective on reviews from the creator side. I find that one-star reviews that I get are usually nonsense – someone doesn’t understand anything. I call them “drive-by” reviews – especially since I can’t respond. Three-stars sometimes have useful data, such as pointing out that the app would be better with a feature it doesn’t have. Five stars often are just praise for the app, although a few give reasons.

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