Archived Opinion

For some, facts just don’t matter

op fr“It is an Internet Age paradox: We have more information than ever before and yet, seem to know less. Indeed, in the Internet Age, it can be fairly said that nothing is ever truly, finally knowable, authoritative testimony always subject to contradiction by some blogger grinding axes, some graduate of Google U, somebody who heard from somebody who heard from somebody who heard.”

— Leonard Pitts, Miami Herald

Leonard Pitts calls it Secret Knowledge, the information that only a few people know, but those people who know it know it to be true. I refer to it as the Internet Plague, a condition whereby any statement — no matter how outrageous, how cockamamie, how simply stupid — will be given credence by some wild-eyed know-it-all with a computer at his fingertips, facts be damned.

The plague made it to my dinner table some nights as we had our nightly dinnertime discussions. My kids would read something from one of those who make a claim to knowing it all, or perhaps would have heard something discussed by their friends. Then wthey ould offer it up as fact as we passed around the corn: 

“Dad, did you know that Obama is a Muslim and that he was born in Kenya.”

“Really, who said that?” 

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Which usually led to: “Someone at school” or “I saw it on the Internet.”

“Not true,” I would say, and go on to explain about the Internet world of bloggers and wanna-be reporters, and then let them know that even some television news shows often give valuable air time to the most outlandish ideas despite knowing that facts showed otherwise.

Today’s measles outbreak — a disease considered eradicated in 2000 by the Centers for Disease Control — is being caused in part by some people’s refusal to believe that vaccinations don’t cause autism. My heart goes out to those who have to deal with children who have these problems, but the best science in the world tells us that autism is not caused by vaccinations.

And no doubt, Internet “research” has led some people into this camp, research that may have no basis in reality. And this problem of discrediting science is apparently growing. A recent Pew Research poll found that while 98 percent of scientists believe humans have evolved, only 65 percent of U.S. adults hold the same belief. 

I don’t want to open up the whole climate change or global warming debate, or do I? The same poll showed that 87 percent of scientists think “humans worsen climate change.” Among the general public, only 50 percent believe it. It’s a bit outrageous to think the ice caps are melting and New York City is soon to be under water, but to argue that belching huge amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere won’t eventually affect temperatures and climate seems to me to be preposterous. 

Whether it’s the anti-science crowd or conspiracy theorists or just plain wackos, there will always be people who are just going to believe whatever they want. Those people have always been around, but our wired generation has yet to become adept at sifting the digital wheat from the chaff. 

The poet Thomas Gray coined the phrase, “ignorance is bliss.” If he was right, then we may be entering one of the happiest eras in human history. Sad, but true.

(Scott McLeod can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)

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