No one wants the truth – everyone wants to comfortably exist in the version of the truth they have chosen to accept. Everyone wants to believe their opinions are valuable. We all think we have found the correct – or true – answer. With so much information available to anyone with an internet connection the truth has become both totally meaningless and nearly impossible to find.
For the first time in human history It’s easy to find people that agree with even the most logic defying, insane, and ridiculous ideas. A whole subset of humanity believes the Earth is flat, NASA has been faking every trip to space, vaccinations cause autism, Obama is a Muslim, GMO’s are secretly mind controlling drugs, and the Earth is covertly being controlled by a race of reptilian aliens masquerading as humans. Before the advent of digital and social media people with crazy beliefs were hard pressed to find their like minded peers. Today, even the fringe elements of society can seek out and find people who agree with, and support, their ideas. Their audience has gone from those people unfortunate enough to be within range of their screams to everyone with an internet connection.
No one could have predicted the devastating effect our connected lives would have on our society: that the truth would be hidden behind a veil of misinformation. Scientists and lay people alike are lost in the endless amount of data everyone can now access. When every opinion is given the same weight an unbiased answer becomes effectively impossible to find. On the web a well written but clearly insane viewpoint is given as much authority as a published article from a respected academic. For the uninitiated it is nearly impossible to make a distinction between the two.
Add a celebrity to the mix and things get even more complicated. Jim Carrey and Jenny McCarthy greatly amplified the voice of the anti-vaxxers. Before the internet the scientific community would have had no trouble debunking the idea that vaccinations cause autism, before the internet a lay person’s only source of medical advice was their doctor. Now, in a world where every crackpot has a podium to shout from the idea was able to take hold. The average person can find hundreds of websites supporting the false hypothesis that vaccinations cause autism.
Huxley was right: there is no need for censorship when the truth is impossible to find. And I’m leery to say our information overload is a problem needing a solution. Our problem isn’t necessary the information, it’s who we’ve trusted to curate it for us. The news media’s cherry picking of medical journals causes a lot of disinformation to spread further than it should. Cherry picking is what leads to headlines like “Coffee cures Cancer!” and “Coffee is the Leading Cause of Cancer!” when the study cited in the article was actually about the effect of coffee on the lower bowel of a wildebeest.
What should we do? First, every person needs to be educated about the difference between a reliable and unreliable source. What’s a reliable source? Experts in the field, academic journals (they have their own problems, but I don’t have the word count to get into it now,) generally anyone without a financial stake in the information they are providing. And second, realize that unless you are an expert in the field you are not qualified to form an opinion on the subject. Are you an expert in ID? No. Therefor you are not qualified to make judgements regarding the use of vaccines. Are you an astrophysicist? No. Therefor you can make no judgements on the shape of our planet.
So to sum everything up: it’s all bullshit.