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United States v. Blog

Dr. Conspiracy

Dr. Conspiracy

I have been fascinated for a long time with the fact that there are groups of people who firmly believe one thing and other groups that firmly believe the opposite thing. I’m not talking about religion or philosophy, but rather disagreements about things that reasonable people should be able to come to consensus on.

For example: Barack Obama’s published birth document is/is not a certification that he was born in Hawaii.

Put aside the questions of forgery or fraud and focus only on the question, “does the document assert that Barack Obama was born in Hawaii?” Reasonable people, given an opportunity for exchange of ideas, with not-too-much research, should be able to find out what, on the face of it, true or not, the document says.

Now here is where the title of the article United States v. Blog comes in. If you were to take a poll by doing a web search for “Obama Birth Certificate”, selecting only blogs, you would find a massive majority of “No” votes to my question (and high-confidence in the answer). If you took a poll of people in the United States, you would find a massive majority of people who had never heard of a published birth certificate, but nonetheless are convinced that Barack Obama was born in Hawaii. [This has decreased due to coverage in the tabloid press.]

Why do rational people differ? The answer is that bloggers get information from bloggers and most people get their news from radio, television and newspapers.

One person can set up a blog and using relatively simple free software can with some effort set up a very impressive-looking web site. A billion-dollar news organization can also set a very impressive-looking web site. The old addage, “you can’t tell a book by its cover” applies equally to the web. The web sites can look similar but the typical independent blogger has limited resources to verify what appears, while the news organization has access to people and services that the average person does not.

What you may see in a blog is nothing more than a collection of rumors inside a fancy cover. Blogs are still in their infancy and some blog readers haven’t yet learned to separate the quality of the layout from the quality of the content. There are certainly some high-quality blogs out there, but it’s hard to separate them from the garbage just by looking at the cover.

It’s OK to read blogs and get information from them, but it is not OK to believe everything you read without a little critical thinking and a little fact checking. If you see a link on this blog, more than likely it will be to a newspaper, a university or a government agency because I wouldn’t expect anyone to accept somebody’s blog as an authority.

5 Responses to United States v. Blog

  1. avatar
    brygenon February 10, 2009 at 3:18 pm #

    Fine observations, Dr. Conspiracy. Some radical ideas have proven important, others idiotic. We must keep open minds, but not empty heads.

    In the preface to his now-classic work of kookology, Martin Gardner lamented the difficulty of locating and culling the major fringe literature. Times have changed in the half-century or so since Gardner wrote Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science. Today’s communications infrastructure is a different world. Kooks on the other hand, have remained fundamentally the same.

    Gardner focused on scientific kookery, but his key observations apply broadly. Kooks thrive in a world of their own; their self-importance is titanic. The more they fail, the better the evidence of a giant conspiracy against them.

    Gardner observed that science kooks fancy themselves to be geniuses and champions of truth. Why do they never accomplish anything? Because they are opposed by a preternaturally powerful conspiracy, composed of the evil and the dim. Legal kooks are fundamentally the same, fancying themselves great patriots.

    All sides of any controversy can and should exploit free expression. Let everything be said and let everyone hear it. If the truth does not win in open combat, then we were doomed anyway.

  2. avatar
    mimi February 10, 2009 at 4:50 pm #

    You mean Berg can accept info from a blog for his case, but I shouldn’t? Go figure. Heck, that Canadian Birth Certificate he referred to in his first complaint was for real… wan’t it? Dudley Doright’s signature was right on it.

  3. avatar
    Dr. Conspiracy February 10, 2009 at 5:41 pm #

    We get into trouble, though, when crank science connects with political power. Lamarkian genetics nearly ruined Soviet agriculture, and Bush climatology may ultimately kill us all.

  4. avatar
    richCares February 13, 2009 at 1:34 am #

    Birther’s are beginning to go berserk, they can’t handle Obama’s popularity. Obama’s recent press conference drew 37.1 million (American Idol drew 30.1) They actually resent people cheering for Obama. Both Dems & Repubs cheered Obama’s Lincoln day speech. They seem to be unaware that Obama won the election. They think most people are like them, they have no idea that they are being left in the dust bin of history, Sad really!

  5. avatar
    Hitandrun February 17, 2009 at 4:37 pm #

    Doc,

    Rather than prejudge its results, why not (under an alias) propose such a poll on the ‘nobot’ sites you monitor?

    Hitandrun