Monday, May 4, 2015

Web Myths and Public Misinformation

Economist David Friedman has a couple of recent good posts on fraudulent reports that left-handedness is a sin in Judaism and Christianity and that Darwin wrote certain supposed derogatory quotes on races. 

The left hand and Darwin posts raise the question of whether the Web has reduced or increased informativeness. My first thought was that we have a temporary problem, since a little experience would teach everyone that something being written on the web is not only no more reliable than what your friend's mom says, but less reliable, since there is a bigger chance your supposed fact is an outright lie.Plus, of course, with a little googling it's not hard to find out whether a surprising fact is true or false; if one enters the marketplace of ideas, one can manage to buy genuine goods. 

My second thought was that there's not enough feedback to teach most people. Few people are critical thinkers, after all, even among the college educated. Moreover, the web is useful as a rationalization tool, for people who use it to look up the one site out of 1,000 that supports their position and purposely if without admission screen out contrary information. 

Alas.

 

   The end of the Darwin post, though, does point to a silver lining. One of the posters of the fraud is a scholar of gypsy history, and Prof. Friedman notes that the mistaken quote allows us to better evaluate that scholars other work's likely mistakes. As sloppy use of the web becomes pervasive, it will become a useful shibboleth for deciding whose work to discard as junk. 
My second thought was that there's not enough feedback to teach most people. Few people are critical thinkers, after all, even among the college educated. Moreover, the web is useful as a rationalization tool, for people who use it to look up the one site out of 1,000 that supports their position and purposely if without admission screen out contrary information.

 

 

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/law_econ/2015/05/web-myths-and-public-misinformation.html

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