Posted by : Konstantine Monday, February 8, 2010
A life before Google and Wikipedia. Seems unimaginable doesn't it? I cannot count the amount of debates I have settled, the amount of questions I have answered and the amount of frustration I have avoided simply by having access to what I see as the accumulation of all human knowledge. And all of it at available my fingertips. The difference is, I know what is an acceptable source, while many don't (see Yahoo! Answers).
Information used to be a difficult thing to access, almost prohibitively so—ask your parents. Not one generation ago, one would have to go comparatively great lengths to find out, well, anything. Small, limited, avenues of information were the source of knowledge. An educated person was thereby valued.
Nowadays, the task isn't so much about locating the information, as it is about sifting through it. There is so much of it out there, so much of it junk, that one can easily get lost in it. Be mislead. To understand what is an acceptable source falls on the shoulders of the reader, much as it has in the past with books, but to a much greater extent. Critical thinking skills become infinitely more important. The value shouldn't lie just with the education person, but also with one who is able to understand what information is valid. One who is capable of sifting through the bullshit. This is becoming increasingly difficult to come by.
Our problem is that not enough people are employing these skills when they access the vast amount of information now available to them. They accept as truth the first thing they come across. David Dineen-Porter, a fellow skeptic amongst other things, put it eloquently in a message to me, describing what he coins as "naive expertise."
It's the syndrome where people with access to cursory and superficial information, and without the expertise to analyze it properly, and then to place it in context of a much broader data set (which they have never accessed), believe themselves to be experts in that field. Reading a pamphlet doesn't make you an expert on vaccines.
Such is the problem that we now have to deal with: everyone fancies themselves an expert.