Ignorance in the Information Age


image: scientificamerican.comIn my last post I said I believe that in the long run humanity is getting better, in part due to the ready availability of information. In the short term, though, easy access to information has it’s downsides as well.

Anyone can find the most ridiculous claims online, then google them and find a myriad of sites that all support said claims, and if someone has not learned to consider the source of information, those sites that all support one another could be seen as proof that something must be true. Just google Obama and aliens and see for yourself. And if someone doesn’t have a sense of humor, many of the spoof sites could also be taken seriously, adding to the conspiracy.

Of course, the folks who think the country is run by aliens or that Obama is an alien are really out there, but consider how many people still believe that Obama wasn’t born in America, or that he is a Muslim (as if that’s relevant), that the world is run by a small group of Jewish bankers, that 9-11 was a government plot or that the Sandy Hook massacre was staged by professional actors.

Consider how easy it is for ISIS, all the way over in the Middle East, to recruit young people here in America via Internet, or how easily the gunman in the latest school schooting in Umpqua, Oregon, found an audience for his ideas and intentions on an Internet chat room.

These are all aspects of the availability of “information” that don’t exactly contribute to the betterment of humankind; in fact, they directly contribute to ignorance, superstition and violence.

What can we do?

Only allow websites and blogs that can verify their claims? That would be limiting the freedom of speech.

Forbid at least websites or blogs that present themselves as online newspapers or news magazines to make false claims disguised as fact? American politicians wouldn’t stand for that because here politics is largely based on making false statements disguised as fact, at least in the past 15 years or so. Take the claims by American conservative politicians that Planned Parenthood sells baby parts and that this will encourage women to get pregnant and have abortions. A big stink all over the media, involving doctored videos and a committee hearing and all. The committee eventually found that Planned Parenthood did nothing wrong, but that little fact is barely mentioned.

Do we teach the theory of knowledge (how do you know what you know and how do you know it’s true?) in high school? Conservatives, in America anyway, are against that, because independent thinking might make students question their family’s beliefs. The Republican platform in Texas, for example, specifically states that they are against teaching critical thinking in public schools for this reason.

Do truthful politicians (if there are any), truthful journalists, truthful teachers, writers, bloggers, etc. just keep on keeping on, pointing out nonsense on the Internet, on TV, in books and in school as best they can in the hopes that in the long run reason will prevail?

If ready availability of information is a benefit to humanity in the long run, how do you think the present problems will be solved? Will it involve policy or will information (and perhaps education) just evolve kind of naturally? What would that look like?

What do you think? Because I really don’t know.

3 responses to “Ignorance in the Information Age

  1. I have no idea how the issue could be solved, especially as critical thinking isn’t being encouraged. (That always blows my mind.) I’m always amazed by how little people are willing to research, either, considering just how much information is out there. I see way too many people who have grown up with the internet who don’t seem to use it to answer the most basic questions. One or two Google searches and you could find these easy answers. If they don’t even use these resources for simple things, they don’t seem likely to use it for more complex questions.

    I’m not sure any of this actually relates to what you wrote. Apologies. It’s something I’ve been ranting about in my head today. 😉

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    • Ranting about in my head, I like that. That describes it perfectly, doesn’t it? One of the reasons I blog! Yes, I think not teaching critical thinking is maybe the biggest problem. The fact that so many people don’t use Internet to get information at all is definitely worth another post. Maybe tomorrow.

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  2. Peter Waterschoot

    Onafhankelijk en zelfstandig nadenken zou een studierichting moeten zijn op universiteiten. Afgestudeerden in deze richting (Masters, wie weet zelfs doctors) zouden ongetwijfeld kwaliteiten als nederigheid, luisterbereidheid en vrijgevigheid en mededogen tentoonspreiden. In theorie zouden ze potentieel perfecte politici kunnen zijn…..

    Peter

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