For one brief shining moment, the Internet showed its possibilities. Then some shark-livered varmints screwed it up. Somewhere along the line some crazy learned HTML and it was off to the races with conspiracy theories (There’s a special place in Internet hell where the souls of people who used spam to spread their conspiracy theories will reside. Dial-up is only the beginning of their torment). A tool meant to disseminate knowledge became a loudspeaker to spout misinformation and shout facts down. What used to be some nutjob on the corner muttering and passing out mimeographed sheets took on the air of authority, and a chorus spread across the land: “I read it on the Internet.”
Based on his own conversion experience, Loren Collins decided to walk out of the mudpit of one particular argument to examine the short supply of critical thinking skills. By looking in detail at a select few Internet memes, he distills the methodology of online “discussions” to illustrate the many paths people take to passionately uphold their beliefs in spite of evidence that they are wrong:
- Denialism – It didn’t happen because I want it to not have happened.
- Conspiracy theory – It happened, but not the way everybody else thinks it happened, and only I know the truth.
- Rumor – It happened! It really happened! I know somebody whose sister had a friend…
- Quotations – This famous person said it perfectly, and it just so happens to apply.
- Hoaxes – You’re never going to believe what happened!
- Pseudoscience – It happens, but not when anybody can actually study it.
- Pseudohistory – This person says it happened, and I believe him even if so-called historians don’t
- Pseudolaw – I happen to have read the Constitution, and the Supreme Court is wrong.
As a librarian, I like to think of myself as a dispassionate consumer of information with the ability to analyze and spot the kinds of fallacies Collins describes. I am certain that in my professional life I provide patrons with their requests even when I believe those materials are patently poor sources of information. But I utilize selective news and information sources to check when I hear a fact too good to be true or too inflammatory to be tolerated (I hope I’m wary enough to take their information with a grain of salt). And even though it never does any good, I still don’t let my wingnut uncle get away with his stunts over the Thanksgiving turkey. After all, Josh Billings said, “The trouble with people is not that they don’t know but that they know so much that ain’t so.”
Maybe I better stick with “Ignorance is bliss. Knowledge is power. You’ve got a choice to make.”
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