Truth is stranger than fiction, unless that fiction is found on the World Wide Web. Recently a post secondary institution canceled several H1N1 clinics because students refused their vaccinations. Although the clinics were free and information about the vaccine and the flu were readily available, some students on campus thought they knew the “real truth.”
They had read online of the dangers of the vaccine and decided to sabotage the clinics by removing information posters and warning other students to avoid the shot because of its alleged lethal content and lack of testing.
Many of these same students are among some of the most socially conscious individuals you’ll find. They advocate for reduced carbon emissions, attend rallies for social justice and campaign for responsible political representation. But despite the fact that scientists continue to challenge the man-made climate warming doctrine, that ill-bent powerful entities persist in thwarting humanitarian advances in social justice and that political debate is alive and well within our country’s democratic framework, they reject this information while embracing emails and online scare stories regarding H1N1 immunization. These students have discarded some research in favour of other sources, and at times have based their conclusions on sensational information passed on through blogs, emails and unreliable sources.
The information superhighway is now a propaganda autobahn, so fast and dangerous that you have to be either tremendously well read or simply crazy to stand in its way. Reliable and unreliable information are all mixed together, spewed out by search engines with no delineation between truth and fiction. It’s not just students who swallow the instant porridge of unsubstantiated drivel on the Internet — people of all ages stand at the trough gobbling it up.
TV is no different. Dr. Bill Irwin, philosophy professor at King’s College in Pennsylvania has investigated popular TV’s effect on social opinion. His research has demonstrated that The Simpsons has put a negative spin on nuclear energy. For two decades, North American homes have watched the low-IQ Homer Simpson bumble his way through his job at the Springfield Nuclear Power Plant while his brilliant daughter Lisa is shown advocating for environmental issues. Is it any wonder we hear the crow’s ominous caw every time the scene switches to the power plant? Is it surprising that people today have such a negative view of nuclear energy?
Last year, Jane Browning posted fascinating research on the Internet about a 19th century Virginian named Edward Owens, the last American pirate. It included a Wikipedia page, YouTube videos and a website. But it was fake. Even the researcher didn’t exist. It was all fabricated by a history class at George Mason University as a history class assignment. Despite this, it was widely accepted as truth, linked by blogs and websites and quoted by multiple sources as true and amazing research.
It is easy to plant junk in the mind of the public. There is a widespread move to accept popular viewpoints despite facts that contradict them. Websites such as snopes.com or truthorfiction.com try to attack urban myths, but unfortunately the sheer volume of crap can’t be wiped clean. Evidence should be weighed – all of it — and it should not be hidden or deleted or re-written to support views that have reasonable arguments for an alternative view.
(Dee-Ann Schwanke is a St. Albert resident who weighs all her options first.)