What's the difference between GEEKS and NERDS?

Does this 'data scientist' know? Depends which one you think he is


A data scientist says he has settled one of the most pressing conundra of the digital age. He has discovered the difference between geeks and nerds.

Burr Settles, software chap at crowdsourced translation platform Duolingo, rooted through millions of tweets to find the sorts of words that were used at the same time as either geek or nerd.

These were then plotted on an infographic, so that he could identify the sorts of words used by both subcultures.

Before starting his research, Settles made the following distinctions:

Geek – An enthusiast of a particular topic or field. Geeks are collection oriented, gathering facts and mementos related to their subject of interest. They are obsessed with the newest, coolest, trendiest things that their subject has to offer.

Nerd – A studious intellectual, although again of a particular topic or field. Nerds are “achievement” oriented, and focus their efforts on acquiring knowledge and skill over trivia and memorabilia.

Both are dedicated to their subjects, and sometimes socially awkward. The distinction is that geeks are fans of their subjects, and nerds are practitioners of them. A computer geek might read Wired and tap the Silicon Valley rumor-mill for leads on the next hot-new-thing, while a computer nerd might read CLRS and keep an eye out for clever new ways of applying Dijkstra’s algorithm. Note that, while not synonyms, they are not necessarily distinct either: many geeks are also nerds (and vice versa).

Settles used a statistical measurement called "pointwise mutual information", which allowed him to measure which words were most likely to appear in tweets alongside the words geek or nerd.

What he found was that words such as biochemistry, autistic, neuroscience or – confusingly – "goths" were nerdy, whilst words like shiny, hipster, webcomic, trendy or Etsy scored more highly on the geek scale. Phrases in the middle of his ranking, which might concievably be used by both geeks and nerds, are Doctor Who, Zelda and big data.

He said: "In broad strokes, it seems to me that geeky words are more about stuff, while nerdy words are more about ideas, like “hypothesis”. Geeks are fans, and fans collect stuff. Nerds are practitioners, and practitioners play with ideas. Of course, geeks can collect ideas and nerds play with stuff, too. Plus, they aren't two distinct personalities as much as different aspects of personality. Generally, the data seem to affirm my thinking."

You can see his original research – which is pretty darn nerdy [or perhaps geeky, by his definition—Ed.] – here. ®

Similar topics


Other stories you might like

  • DMCA can't be used to sidestep First Amendment, court rules
    Anonymous speech protections apply online too, and copyright can't diminish that

    It's been a good week for free speech advocates as a judge ruled that copyright law cannot be used to circumvent First Amendment anonymity protections.

    The decision from the US District Court for the Northern District of California overturns a previous ruling that compelled Twitter to unmask an anonymous user accused of violating the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). 

    The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), which filed a joint amicus brief with the ACLU in support of Twitter's position, said the ruling confirms "that copyright holders issuing subpoenas under the DMCA must still meet the Constitution's test before identifying anonymous speakers." 

    Continue reading
  • SpaceX staff condemn Musk's behavior in open letter
    Well, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to see why

    A group of employees at SpaceX wrote an open letter to COO and president Gwynne Shotwell denouncing owner Elon Musk's public behavior and calling for the rocket company to "swiftly and explicitly separate itself" from his personal brand.

    The letter, which was acquired through anonymous SpaceX sources, calls Musk's recent behavior in the public sphere a source of distraction and embarrassment. Musk's tweets, the writers argue, are de facto company statements because "Elon is seen as the face of SpaceX."

    Musk's freewheeling tweets have landed him in hot water on multiple occasions – one incident even leaving him unable to tweet about Tesla without a lawyer's review and approval. 

    Continue reading
  • Musk repeats threat to end $46.5bn Twitter deal – with lawyers, not just tweets
    Right as Texas AG sticks his oar in

    Elon Musk is prepared to terminate his takeover of Twitter, reiterating his claim that the social media biz is covering up the number of spam and fake bot accounts on the site, lawyers representing the Tesla CEO said on Monday.

    Musk offered to acquire Twitter for $54.20 per share in an all-cash deal worth over $44 billion in April. Twitter's board members resisted his attempt to take the company private but eventually accepted the deal. Musk then sold $8.4 billion worth of his Tesla shares, secured another $7.14 billion from investors to try and collect the $21 billion he promised to front himself. Tesla's stock price has been falling since this saga began while Twitter shares gained and then tailed downward.

    Morgan Stanley, Bank of America, Barclays, and others promised to loan the remaining $25.5 billion from via debt financing. The takeover appeared imminent as rumors swirled over how Musk wanted to make Twitter profitable and take it public again in a future IPO. But the tech billionaire got cold feet and started backing away from the deal last month, claiming it couldn't go forward unless Twitter proved fake accounts make up less than five per cent of all users – a stat Twitter claimed and Musk believes is higher.

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2022