Why all scientists must fight the "infodemic" of bullshit claims and quackery

Originally published at: https://boingboing.net/2020/04/29/why-all-scientists-must-fight.html


And in order to do so, you’ll find this very handy:


Forget it. It looks like this Anthropoedia thing just isn’t working out. Let’s reboot and try again with the Lemurs.


I don’t think the “swamping” method will work. I’ve spent a lot of time crafting carefully worded, and linked, responses to delusions and conspiracy theories that relatives post on Facebook and they just pop back a second later with a different one. The relative time investment to counter their BS is about a thousand to one. I now have a few links to guides on critical thinking, basic scientific method and logical fallacies. I post those and encourage my relatives to at least TRY to think things through. Saves a lot of time rather than playing Infinite Whack-A-Mole. They block me for a while and the cycle begins again.


This stuff has always been around, but social media has allowed it to become the memetic cancer that it is today. Instantaneous unvetted mass communication by anyone exploits a collective cognitive deficiency in human beings that no amount of rational pushback can combat. If there are any historians left in the future, they will likely point to social media as the thing that precipitated the end.


I’d like to think that future historians will one day refer this era “the misinformation age,” but that would imply humanity finds a way to put this behind us and I haven’t yet seen any basis for that kind of optimism.


I think this misses the point.
A functioning society requires trust networks and accepted authority/expertise. We’ve built society around the idea of representatives (elected officials who speak for us and inform us what our governments are doing), journalism (public entities that also inform us thereby holding those in power accountable), and schools that teach how to think and instill a respect for knowledge.

We have sold our politicians, our journalists, and our schools to the highest bidders. We eroded the basis of authority, expertise, and information dissemination. It is neither within the responsibilities nor the abilities of scientists to undo this. Ultimately scientists have the responsibility to determine what the current best information is, and schools, journalists, and elected officials have the responsibility to disseminate the information. As long as “truth” and “news” are selected by engagement maximization algorithms this is the world we’ll live in and there ain’t shit that scientists/academics/individuals can do about it.

(sorry, but I’m having a hard time finding optimism today)


It’s hard work and a thankless task.

As a PhD in geosciences with a specialty in paleoclimatology (not working in that field now) I sometimes try to correct the misinformation online in forums I take part in. It takes a mental toll because it’s hard to enlighten / argue with people with zero interest in truth and no interest in actual learning. 90% of the people arguing against climate change or environmental issues are doing so only to score points (where? with whom?), show tribal allegiance, or just to sew discord and misinformation.

It’s very rare that anyone actually wants to find out the truth or have a misconception cleared up - minds are set. Maybe it’s because this science issue has become so politicized, maybe it’s because science education is so bad in most areas of this country, or maybe it’s because a lot of people online are immature dicks.

So I try to fight this pandemic of bullshit - but it takes a mental toll and is hard work


I don’t think the problem is that the politicians, press or educators are less trustworthy than they used to be. History is FULL of crooked politicians, bottom-feeding libelous journalists and inept teachers.

The problem is that there has been a relentless and well-funded anti-intellectual movement for the last couple of generations that has successfully convinced a wide swath of the public that the concept of expertise itself is not to be trusted, because the experts were saying things that were incompatible with the goals of certain people in power. This is especially true regarding issues like climate science but it’s bled over into all kinds of other areas too. Objective reality is up for grabs, and if all the experts disagree with your favorite politician’s assessment then that’s just proof that they want America to fail.


I don’t either. In fact you are describing much of the same erosion and seem to agree that the primary cause is the selfish corporate interests of a few. As far as I can tell your comment is in complete agreement with the quote from my previous comment



Oh, OK, the following, too.


I may have misinterpreted what you meant by “sold to the highest bidder.” I took it to mean that the experts have sold out, or that their expertise is no longer being used for the common good. Neither of those is especially true, it’s just that expertise is increasingly being dismissed in favor of ideology.

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They didn’t sell out. We sold them.
Politicians are way more beholden to donors, journalism has been cratered by corporate boardrooms that care more about ad revenue than journalism, public funding for education has been gutted and universities are shilling for private donations in a way they never have before. We have sold the foundations of public education and expertise (and at pennies on the dollar). These things are inseperable from the anti-intellectual movement. They are both results of the ideological movement aimed at making money the only truth and eroding all other sources of authority/power.

My depressed point was that the actions of the individual experts has become irrelevant because we gutted the foundations (and did so for the promise of a few extra bucks)


I guess that also means there’s no point in me looking forward to a dystopian, cyberpunk future.


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Where to begin?

Given the disparity in the number of propagators of bullshit and the number of scientists available to refute that bullshit, I think the solution needs to be more fundamental than just trying to counter bullshit as it crops up on the internet.

Also, I think actual reality and virtual reality should be kept distinctly separate. Actual reality should be something that everyone should (mostly) be able to agree on. That’s not the case right now and that’s really the crux of the problem.

My suggestion is threefold…

  1. Encourage and develop critical thinking skills and media literacy in children and young people. Everyone should really have these skills but many adults just don’t want to know. Fuck those guys.

  2. Clear the airways of official media bullshit - I can’t speak to non-English speaking news media, but in the UK and Ireland we have nothing as pernicious as Fox News. It just wouldn’t be tolerated here. Compared to the BBC or Chanel 4 (or any of the News channels here), American news is a fucking clown-show! That Democracy Dies in Darkness thing is true. You can’t have democracy without an independent media. Without it, you end up with rich people owning all the fucking media and using it to meet their own ends. Do you want plutocratic oligarchy? Because that’s how you get plutocratic oligarchy.

  3. Hold Politicians accountable for lies (and stuff god told them). Britain isn’t actually a good example of honest politicians, but can you imagine what would happen if Macron or Merkel said something one day and contradicted it without explanation the next? In France there would be full scale riots and in Germany… nothing would happen because such a thing would just never happen there.

If you can do those things, policing bullshit on social media isn’t really such a big problem because it will have less impact on actual reality.

Sign up today! Join the Campaign for Real Reality


That future is already here!

Enjoy it to the fullest while we await the arrival of the Solarpunk Utopia!



maybe not that particular lemur…



These ones?


I edited my post to include the asteroid gif from the quoted one. It works much better that way. :slight_smile:

That explains much about the movie Madagascar.