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Information and misinformation

Jan 21,2023 - Last updated at Jan 21,2023

The noted scientist Carl Sagan distinguishes, in his highly informative book "The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark", between science and pseudoscience.

Science is based on accurate observation, thorough experimentation, reliable evidence and the much work and effort that precede conclusions.

And it is always, except in certain instances, subject to amendment, correction, and even reconsideration on the basis of emerging, proven counter indicators and evidence.

And this is what distinguished science and makes it important and trustworthy.

As for pseudoscience, it is composed essentially of inclinations, whims, impressions, illusions, and even outright lies, promoted by some and shared by many without any serious examination, investigation, critique, or experimentation.

And if some try to explain or rationalise what they relay, their explanation or generalisation is generally superficial or silly, failing to meet bare-minimum logical standards.

The irony, according to Sagan however, is that pseudoscience is more popular than science, and has its staunch advocates and followers.

In many instances, in fact, it reigns supreme over the minds of so many people.

And herein lies the danger: a majority of people in many societies are drawn to pseudoscience, not science, finding it more enticing and more romantic, especially since it feeds on either their inclinations or fears.

What Sagan says in the 1990s about science and pseudoscience can be applied today to the "information revolution" which was in the cradle when Sagan said what he said, and is now at its peak.

The "information revolution" has undoubtedly brought with it a lot of benefits for us, regarding useful technologies and valid science in a variety of spheres. And both the technologies and the science have made our lives easier and better.

Unfortunately, however, the information "revolution" made it a lot easier for incorrect data, false opinions, extremist views, distorted "facts", ill-intents, and misinformation to be disseminated and promoted as never before.

And this disturbing development has been nurtured and augmented not only, obviously, by social media, where nothing is subjected to any reliable or objective process of verification, but by minor and mainstream press and media the world over, in pursuit of marketability or in the service of individuals and forces whose aim is to influence recipients at any expense and regardless of validity or truth.

Make up a lie about someone or something and, if you are an influencer or a possessor of a media outlet, you will find thousands who like it or share it without thinking, checking, or hesitating for a second, no matter how unpalatable or incredible the content is.

The information "revolution" is then a great blessing in some ways, and a curse in others.

The irony here is that the unprecedented increase, multiplicity, and diversity in the number of active press and media outlets the world over, after decades of monopoly by a number of limited governmental and nongovernmental outlets, has not brought us we humans closer to “the truth”, as we have thought at the start, but has widened the gap between us and it.

This is a clear case where the more is not the merrier.

It is both sad and troubling the spread of false or misinformation at such an extent, scope, and pace.

But the crucial issue is the need to address this matter seriously and effectively.

Obviously, this is a huge challenge, and dealing with it will not be easy.

Nevertheless, we can, and must, start action on several fronts.

One is by arming individuals, starting from years of early schooling, with the key critical, investigation, and research skills; as well as what some refer to as “information management” skills. In fact, all other skills individuals and groups need to help them separate the wheat from the chaff.

Another is insuring access to reliable information and science, both during school years and after, so that people get into the habit of routinely knowing where to go for trustworthy information or news.

The third, and perhaps the most immediate and important, is for us to come up with a national strategy, drawn by experts, for battling pseudoscience and misinformation.

All of these steps are crucial, since pseudoscience and misinformation are plagues to any society and can seriously affect its security and stability, even its survival.

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