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    Does more information lead to less knowledge?

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    Diaz
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    Does more information lead to less knowledge?

    Post  Diaz on Tue Apr 14, 2009 11:37 am

    Clive Thompson on How More Info Leads to Less Knowledge:

    Is global warming caused by humans? Is Barack Obama a Christian? Is evolution a well-supported theory?

    You might think these questions have been incontrovertibly answered in the affirmative, proven by settled facts. But for a lot of Americans, they haven't. Among Republicans, belief in anthropogenic global warming declined from 52 percent to 42 percent between 2003 and 2008. Just days before the election, nearly a quarter of respondents in one Texas poll were convinced that Obama is a Muslim. And the proportion of Americans who believe God did not guide evolution? It's 14 percent today, a two-point decline since the '90s, according to Gallup.

    What's going on? Normally, we expect society to progress, amassing deeper scientific understanding and basic facts every year. Knowledge only increases, right? Robert Proctor doesn't think so. A historian of science at Stanford, Proctor points out that when it comes to many contentious subjects, our usual relationship to information is reversed: Ignorance increases. He has developed a word inspired by this trend: agnotology. Derived from the Greek root agnosis, it is "the study of culturally constructed ignorance."

    As Proctor argues, when society doesn't know something, it's often because special interests work hard to create confusion. Anti-Obama groups likely spent millions insisting he's a Muslim; church groups have shelled out even more pushing creationism. The oil and auto industries carefully seed doubt about the causes of global warming. And when the dust settles, society knows less than it did before. "People always assume that if someone doesn't know something, it's because they haven't paid attention or haven't yet figured it out," Proctor says. "But ignorance also comes from people literally suppressing truth—or drowning it out—or trying to make it so confusing that people stop caring about what's true and what's not."

    After years of celebrating the information revolution, we need to focus on the countervailing force: The disinformation revolution. The ur-example of what Proctor calls an agnotological campaign is the funding of bogus studies by cigarette companies trying to link lung cancer to baldness, viruses—anything but their product. Think of the world of software today: Tech firms regularly sue geeks who reverse-engineer their code to look for flaws. They want their customers to be ignorant of how their apps work. Even the financial meltdown was driven by ignorance. Credit-default swaps were designed not merely to dilute risk but to dilute knowledge; after they'd changed hands and been serially securitized, no one knew what they were worth.

    Maybe the Internet itself has inherently agnotological side effects. People graze all day on information tailored to their existing worldview. And when bloggers or talking heads actually engage in debate, it often consists of pelting one another with mutually contradictory studies they've Googled: "Greenland's ice shield is melting 10 years ahead of schedule!" vs. "The sun is cooling down and Earth is getting colder!"

    As Farhad Manjoo notes in True Enough: Learning to Live in a Post-Fact Society, if we argue about what a fact means, we're having a debate. If we argue about what the facts are, it's agnotological Armageddon, where reality dies screaming. Can we fight off these attempts to foster ignorance? Despite his fears about the Internet's combative culture, Proctor is optimistic. During last year's election, campaign-trail lies were quickly exposed via YouTube and transcripts. The Web makes secrets harder to keep.

    We need to fashion information tools that are designed to combat agnotological rot. Like Wikipedia: It encourages users to build real knowledge through consensus, and the result manages to (mostly) satisfy even people who hate each other's guts. Because the most important thing these days might just be knowing what we know.
    http://www.wired.com/techbiz/people/magazine/17-02/st_thompson

    The other side of the coin is also knowing your limits, what can be more important sometimes is knowing what we don't know and when it's time to seek more information or expertise to fill in the gaps. It's an interesting thing to ponder the role of knowledge in today's culture of easy access information, a fair amount is likely to be junk.
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    Psalter
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    Re: Does more information lead to less knowledge?

    Post  Psalter on Tue Apr 14, 2009 11:44 am

    Best thing I have read in ages.

    I have been thinking about this exact phenomenon recently and came to a similar conclusion to Robert Proctor.. pity I am not a scientist that comes up with cool words. But yes, just look at 9/11 conspiracy, look at a certain member on SC and his inexhaustable knowledge about GW.

    No, the internet is doing us no good in this sense. Maybe their should be penalties for deliberately msinforming somone?
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    Psalter
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    Re: Does more information lead to less knowledge?

    Post  Psalter on Tue Apr 14, 2009 11:47 am

    Also, could I please have the source for this?

    Could come in handy some day.
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    relict
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    Re: Does more information lead to less knowledge?

    Post  relict on Tue Apr 14, 2009 11:57 am

    Psalter wrote:Also, could I please have the source for this?

    Could come in handy some day.

    It's there. A link. End of second-to-last paragraph.
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    Diaz
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    Re: Does more information lead to less knowledge?

    Post  Diaz on Tue Apr 14, 2009 11:58 am

    http://www.wired.com/techbiz/people/magazine/17-02/st_thompson is the source. I must see if I can get hold of a copy of the book they mention too.

    I think I know exactly who you are talking about. It's what I call the arrogance of ignorance, they don't know what they don't know and boy, do they revel in it.
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    Psalter
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    Re: Does more information lead to less knowledge?

    Post  Psalter on Tue Apr 14, 2009 11:59 am

    relict wrote:
    Psalter wrote:Also, could I please have the source for this?

    Could come in handy some day.

    It's there. A link. End of second-to-last paragraph.

    Ha, just looked straight past it as unimportant junk. Embarassed
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    canterella
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    Re: Does more information lead to less knowledge?

    Post  canterella on Wed Apr 15, 2009 5:21 am

    Oh c'mon we all know the said ignoramus and staunch believer in mumbo jumbo 'medicine' is Dream Builder.
    There, I said it. Laughing
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    Psalter
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    Re: Does more information lead to less knowledge?

    Post  Psalter on Wed Apr 15, 2009 6:16 am

    canterella wrote:Oh c'mon we all know the said ignoramus and staunch believer in mumbo jumbo 'medicine' is Dream Builder.
    There, I said it. Laughing

    Hey, I was being diplomatic.

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