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The Age of Misinformation

“Surviving the Misinformation Age” (May/June 2017) offered my incredulous skeptical brain a real epiphany. We often simply cannot understand how the masses can possibly believe things that are, well, unbelievable. But people who read SI and our friends tend to be those who do know how satellites can tell us where we are, how surgery can change refraction of the eyes, and why the tides go in and out.

I think David Helfand’s equating technology to magic really does explain how many people can see modern technology as magic—thus blurring the line between things that are simply technological innovations and unexplainable mysteries. This also explains to me why a number of science-fiction stories explain that microprocessors, fiber optics, and even velcro were provided by space aliens or time travelers. If you cannot understand the concept of layering one technology over another, then it seems like something impossible to invent with our (at least their) limited minds.

The article doesn’t make clear how we could actually get a non-skeptic to sit while we explain science and technology in sufficient detail, but it did help to relieve my frustration with understanding how they might be thinking.

The focus of the May/June 2017 Skeptical Inquirer on the Misinformation Age is very interesting reading. Although the emphasis is on today with false beliefs rejecting scientific truth and accepting pseudoscientific beliefs, David Helfand traces deliberate falsehoods back 2,400 years but blames their increase on our “technology saturated environment.” He notes Harris quoted a speech by Demosthenes of Athens, “Although a witness who perjured himself could be prosecuted ... an orator who spoke in court could indulge in as much fabrication as he wished without fear of punishment,” and went on to state: “In short, nothing aside from the knowledge of the audience and the limits of plausibility restrained the orator from inventing falsehoods and distorting the truth.” If “orator” is translated as “politician,” this sounds very up-to-date!

In Dr. David Helfand’s “Surviving the Misinformation Age,” he described how he presented public talks clearly showing why we can say that global warming stems largely from our burning of fossil fuels. He did it in seven steps that were “begging” for graphic support. So, I wrote him and asked if he had a set of slides or Power-Point for doing that. He replied, sending me several slides he uses, but pointed out that his narrative always accompanied the slides (they aren’t self-explanatory). I offered to write a narrative based on his article in SI to accompany the slides, and he consented.

His classes over recently, he responded to my efforts, liked what I did, made a few minor modifications, and said it would be ok to make available to interested persons. Perhaps you’d like to make this known to your subscribers (and also on the SI website). I have prepared a Word document with slides and commentary included and also a PowerPoint of the slides. I think this would be ideal for any teacher wanting to teach about climate change. This is now posted on my website at http://www.indiana.edu/~ensiweb/main.source.global.warmng.html. [CSI has also placed a link to it with Helfand’s article athttp://www.csicop.org/si/show/surviving_the_misinformation_age .]

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About Skeptical Inquirer

Politicization of Scientific Issues: Looking through Galileo’s Lens or through the Imaginary Looking Glass Bigfoot as Big Myth: Seven Phases of Mythmaking The Fallacy Fork Why It’s Time to Get Rid of Fallacy Theory The Fakery of Electrodermal Screening