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Friday, September 28, 2012

Bronies, Dekotora, Faedism: Why Incorrect "Facts" Will Never Go Away

An example of Dekotora
The internet is about the quick and effortless propagation of information, right?

I can write in this blog and people literally on the other side of the plant are notified and can read it.

But there is an interesting question about what I write.  Is it correct factually or just some BS I made up?  To address this I always try to include links to sources of information I use.  For example, a few months ago I wrote the popular post "CT Scans - Known Cancer Cause in Children."  In order to show that I did not simply make up that information I included several links to sources of information I used so that readers could do their own followup.

Are the sources I chose accurate?

That's really a good question.

Now, in the case of CT scans there are a number of objective issues as well as any subjective ones.  X-ray's are in fact known to be dangerous.  While you can chose not to believe this there is a reason the X-ray technician puts on a lead apron.

CT scans require the use of multiple X-rays (many hundreds or thousands).

X-ray's can damage DNA in cells.

Many years of study and research have born out these statements.  But that doesn't mean it happens every time you get a CT scan but it increases your chances of being harmed by X-ray's is you use a CT scan.

So a simple "sanity test" tells me that its quite possible the article on CT scans is correct, i.e., it make sense in objective terms.

So even if the paper and/or articles I site are wrong I would still be cautions of CT scans for these reasons and I would hope that with some 85 million a year occurring others would retest any sort of hypothesis regarding their danger.

But much of what is on the internet is not factual or even correct.

Much is simply nonsense, made up, wishful thinking or worse.

But once any kind of information - correct and factual or wrong - escapes into the wilds of the internet it turns out that its very hard to "correct."

There is an interesting article by Samuel Arbesman at Wired on this topic: "Paradox of Hoaxes: How Errors Persist, Even When Corrected."

He points out how incorrect information in all forms persists long after it is identified and corrected on the internet and in other realms such as scientific research.

So what does this say in general?

I think it tells us that the first to publish something in any area of endeavor is going to dominate the thinking about that endeavor even if it is wrong.

Now what factors drive this process of persistent errors?

Certainly the errors themselves have no life - so something must be promoting and maintaining them.

Part of the problem is rooted in today's dearth of analytical thinking.

Kiddies in school are not taught to evaluate what they see and hear analytically or skeptically.  Instead they are fed a steady stream of "gospel fact" and told not to question it.  As they proceed through the educational system their focus and reliance on their own analysis of a situation becomes repressed in favor of raw "facts" promoted by others.

Technology merely serves to enhance the propagation of this incorrect information.

Its one thing to be ignorant in your basement bedroom - its another to blast your ignorance out to dozens or hundreds of social network friends.

In the past entire states liked to promote their independent thinking, i.e., Missouri as the "show me" state.  There are several stories about origination of the "show me" slogan listed here on a State of Missouri site. 

The most popular legend, according to the site "... attributes the phrase to Missouri's U.S. Congressman Willard Duncan Vandiver, who served in the United States House of Representatives from 1897 to 1903. While a member of the U.S. House Committee on Naval Affairs, Vandiver attended an 1899 naval banquet in Philadelphia. In a speech there, he declared, "I come from a state that raises corn and cotton and cockleburs and Democrats, and frothy eloquence neither convinces nor satisfies me. I am from Missouri. You have got to show me [ underline mine ]."

But skepticism today is passe.

Instead it would appear you "elect" an ideology at a young age and simply "live that lifestyle" regardless of any facts or realities to the contrary.

So questionable facts that may come along are simply ignored as something that falls outside your "lifestyle" choice.

Given this its little wonder that erroneous facts escape and cannot be put back in the box.

For example, if an erroneous fact appears that supports your "lifestyle choice" you accept it as true because it solidifies your personal choice.

With social media this means that your like-minded friends will also receive this information.

Any contrary fact, however, are likely to be ignored because they might invalidate your lifestyle choice.  So these are simply ignored.

Let's take the notion of "global warming."

In this regard I am from Missouri - "show me."  And since I wasn't born yesterday I expect, instead of "frothy eloquence" some sort of concrete facts which stand on their own.

I am a skeptic.

But what if I am some sort of "greeny" that simply "knows" as part of my lifestyle that global warming is caused by man and there must be bad?

I will simply process and retain all pro-global warming information and ignore anything that points to the contrary.  So if some fact I, as a global warming "supporter" is invalidated I will, by my nature, not wish to process or accept it.

And therefore wrong information will persist.

I argue it will persist even in the face of overwhelming contrary evidence.  Much like I showed with the study that shows smoking does not cause lung cancer.

The notion that it does, promoted since the 1960's, has no factual basis that I can find other than "doctors" said it was true.  I doubt very much that this meme will ever die.

But I am a skeptic and so are others, at least of my generation.

So what's happening I think is this.  Each little subgroup of society is developing their own fantasy world in which they live that only accepts and processes positive information about their little fantasy world.

For example (I am not kidding), listed here are "Bronies" - male fandom built around "My Little Ponies - Friendship is Magic,"  "Dekotora" - Japanese truck decorating, the "Sect of Gadget Hackwrench" worships Gadget Hackwrench from Chip n' Dale's Rescue Rangers, "Otherkin" are people that act/believe/think they are animals (see this in Second Life), Teen Werewolves, Guro Lolita, Beyonce's Baby is Evil, Xena fandom, and Faedisim (belief in faeries).

Of course, these are the more "fringe elements."  These propagate up as parts of other subcultures, for example atheist song writers, manga art, environmental and political groups, and so forth.

So if I am into Dekotora its unlikely I'll be receptive to information that says automotive lighting is, say, bad for the environment.  But it is likely that I'll be receptive to something that, for example, says its good to get a lot of self worth from material possessions like fancy decorated trucks.

I suppose that skepticism is also a subculture too - a diminishing one in a society filled with this kind of thinking.

Its little wonder our society (and society in general) is heading off the face of a cliff at full throttle.

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