‘Tis the season to be gullible.
By “season” I mean geologic age.
For all our talk about “the information age”, people are, by and large, more uninformed than at any other point in history. You read this on a computer screen, one web page among billions you could choose. You are bombarded with information, but unless you know how to sift through it, you are no more informed than an encyclopedia. Less so, because an encyclopedia rarely contains opinions.
This is the point I’ll start from, the difference between an opinion and a fact. The difference seems to evade many people, who use “opinion” and “fact” as interchangeable terms.
If you use Facebook, you may have noticed recently “related articles” following posted links. A friend posted an article lately, one that I have seen several times before. The article purports to be a “Cancer Update” from Johns Hopkins Hospital. It contains a number of “new age” ideas about curing cancer, and states that traditional therapies do not work. Having lost a loved one to cancer I was intrigued the first time I saw this a few years ago, but after reading a paragraph or two it was obvious that no one in the medical field would have ever written it. It is a dangerous hoax, possibly steering people away from life saving therapies, at best it only blames the dying for causing their own condition.
So I commented on her post, leaving a link to the snopes page debunking the “update”. I then noticed two related articles Facebook had attached to her post. One was a page from Johns Hopkins, declaring her post to be a hoax, the second was the snopes page. Anyone who came across this post would see the disclaimers and not be fooled right? Wrong. Another friend of my friend came along and posted “The article seems very accurate, even though it may not have been published by Johns Hopkins”. “May not”, with a denial from Johns Hopkins attached. He went on “Although snopes can also be accurate it has been known to ” sway” a story, years ago I checked on snopes about BPA in plastics. At the time snopes said the cancer reports were false”.
I offered to him that his ability to discriminate between facts and opinion was skewed. There is no evidence that BPA causes cancer. There is a great deal of speculation, which has spurred hundreds of studies, and still no causal link. But because he believed the rumor, he discredited snopes, which justified discrediting Johns Hopkins distancing themselves from the hoax. To this he replied “Thanks for your opinion”. The facts were my opinion, his opinions were the facts.
This is the environment that allows hoaxes to flourish. The Johns Hopkins Cancer Update hoax has been going strong since 2007. The BPA hoax has been alive since 2004. The correct information is available, buried under opinions.
Speaking of the environment…
The Global Warming Hoax continues, fueled (with the greenist of energies) by the best of self loathing intentions. The other day, it popped up within another hoax. Julian Lennon was publicizing the “anti-gravity moment”, now set for 4 January 2014 at 0947. This hoax has been around for almost forty years, dating from a 1976 April Fools joke. A reading of the article should shake one’s faith immediately, even if you didn’t know that British astronomer Patrick Moore died in 2012. Referring to a gravitational effect of “the planet Pluto aligned with the Planet Jupiter” might make anyone who is aware that Pluto has not been referred to as a planet since 2006 take pause. Of course, anyone who understood why Pluto is no longer referred to as a planet, because its mass is so insignificant, would know its gravitational effect on objects on Earth is ZERO. Nonetheless, numerous comments asked which time zone 0947 referred to, and one person said “Enjoy it while you can! With what we’re doing to this planet it won’t happen again!”.
Yes, our pollution of the planet will cause it to change its orbit. Wow, if only our minds were as powerful as carbon emissions.
The next one would sound like a hoax, but isn’t. Despite the physical evidence, a group of free lance researchers (ironically offering a “warm feeling” in return for a $5 donation) headed into Antarctica to, among other things, collect data on Global Warming. They didn’t make it to their base camp on the Antarctic coast, their ship got stuck in the increasing polar ice cap. Not only that, but the rescue ship got stuck as well. You can’t make stuff like this up. Real scientists, on the other hand, acknowledge the Earth is actually in a cooling trend. Not that facts matter.
Sometimes just the source brings an article into question. That’s one reason I avoid linking to stories in FOX News, which is unfortunate. If the same information is published in multiple sources, why do I prevent FOX getting credit? Because almost half the population dismisses them out of hand. I caught a story the other day from the Iranian press. It was a marginally believable story about the pope. The Iranian press listed their source, so I checked it, and found it was a satire blog. It started as a joke, and a major outlet repeated it, and some people didn’t look any deeper, so it became the truth to seventy six million Iranians, and millions of others around the world who believe it, saying “The Western Press doesn’t report these stories”.
The silver lining to that episode is the person who initially publicized the story didn’t delete it, she edited it to indicate the story was a hoax, helping to slow its spread, and allowing the laughter the original satire piece deserved. In other situations I’ve frequently seen people say “It doesn’t matter, it sounds like something he’d say”, allowing the opinion to run over the fact.
We live in a world where a college football player plays into his own hoax of a dead girlfriend, continuing to “mourn” for her after he finds she’s not real. Millions of people say “What an idiot” and send money to a waitress who claims she wasn’t tipped because she’s gay. Turns out she was tipped, but she needs those donations because now she’s out of a job for lying. The biggest hoax of the year, the “Affordable Care Act”, continues to be spread, by people claiming how much help they have received. An amazing feat of time travel, as the act only takes effect today.
So I am clear, I am not suggesting you shouldn’t believe anything, I’m saying you shouldn’t believe everything. You should verify everything, even when it sounds believable, because that’s how hoaxes start. The believable lie, repeated over and over again, creates its own verification, popular support. If you don’t know that it is true, don’t repeat it.
Don’t be insulted when people question you, be happy you have intelligent friends. Show them how intelligent you are by backing up your words with facts. Real facts, not just opinions.