Monday, June 9, 2008

Inverse effect: More access to information = Less individual knowledge

The world has gotten smaller, the access to information has gotten greater, and the average person has gotten dumber. I know it seems silly to mention all of those "obvious" facts, but it seems to me that all three are highly interrelated. With the advent of the Internet, one can find out just about all the information in the world about almost anything. But access to that vast sea of data comes without any filter or buffer to explain it. You're stuck doing all the translation, integration and formulation on your own -- and to be honest, very few people have the training, understanding or desire to go through all that hassle.

What ends up happening is people become immune to learning - it's not that the information isn't there, it's just too much. So they start to rely only on a few "trusted" sources -- often without any rational reason for that trust (usually, it's simply a case of historical accident). And if those sources lie/cheat/obfuscate? The average joe won't have any idea, and will simply repeat the lies and obfuscations as if they were stone-cold fact.

I see this on the creationism/evolution discussion groups I participate in (see links). The scientists and evolutionists in the discussion have really studied -- they know the science, the data and the theories supporting evolution. Many of them have advanced degrees in the relevant fields, and have spent years (even decades) both professionally and personally educating themselves about some of the most minute details of fact. In contrast, the creationists are almost always ignorant of the vast wealth of evidence that supports evolution, and simply come in with boiler-plate creationist claims, most of which were debunked decades ago. Yet when shown the evidence and given the explanations to demonstrate the failure of their claims, they often either leave in a huff, or simply ignore the facts and repeat the claims.

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