I’m far from the first to point out that technology is changing faster than our biology can keep up with. Today, my broker and I had a back and forth over e-mail about the following chart from this blog:
While I had no desire to get into a debate about climate change, my issue was with the word “plummeting” being used in the overall description of the above data. As his responses veered toward whether or not man-made climate change is real, I redirected back to a simple discussion about the chart, yet was reminded of what the internet can do to us.
The internet is this marvelous place where we can find information about pretty much anything. When it comes to controversial issues, that means people from both sides can find information supporting their positions. More often than not, this information is very convincing, cites data & professionals, and probably claims a grounding in science (unless it’s a religious issue rallying against science).
The problem here is that everyone who has picked a side gets confirmation that they are right, evidence that the other side is wrong, and little or no incentive to seek out opposing viewpoints. Let’s take a couple examples that 99.9% of you will firmly end up on one side of:
- Beastiality – I’m not going to look, but I bet there are some pretty convincing websites out there saying why people should be having more sex with animals. (Or for another sexual example, South Park’s NAMBLA episode anyone?)
- Vermont Secession – This is so unknown that most of you have never heard of it, but there are those who want Vermont to secede from the US.
Now, if you were an alien who had just arrived, and you read websites in favor of those examples, you may just join the cause. Imagine growing up with Hitler as your only teacher. You don’t know any better. You just accept his words as gospel. Everyone around you is doing it.
This is a danger of the sounding box that is the internet. Some very convincing people can make some very convincing cases, usually without being directly challenged. They can build up a following in some dark corner of the internet, and then their followers will go toe-to-toe with the opposition on more well-known sites.
Confounding all this is the fact that, a small percentage of the time, the contrarian view is dead-on. Remember the movie, “Conspiracy Theory“? Sure, if you challenge everything, you will eventually hit upon a lie. Natural News and PRN, I’m looking at you. Stop cluttering my Facebook feed with shit about how Monsanto investing in a company developing an Ebola drug must be a conspiracy! Who the hell can know what to believe these days? Everyone makes such convincing cases. I was such a big fan of Gary Null’s work for years, and I appreciate his challenge of so many institutionalized beliefs and the resources he has, but listening to him without some sort of check from the larger world was dangerous.
So how do we fight the confusion? I Fucking Love Science shared this a little while back. I think it’s a great reference to keep in mind when judging both the establishment and the contrarians. Better still, I think procon.org is an amazing resource (full disclosure: I have donated to them before).
Good luck out there, and do your best to keep an open mind 🙂