Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Mad Skeptic's Disease

The internet is a wondrous thing, to be sure. All that information, waiting to be sucked up.
A very conservative estimate; I look up 6-8 things on Wikipedia, Merriam-Webster, Google, UrbanDictionary, whatever, during my average work day. Half of it is probably work-related, the other half is trivia or based on interests.

Wikipedia has the unique property of sending me off on link rampages, and I guess everyone experiences this. Yesterday, I read a fun article on the crappiest beasts of the old televised Star Trek series. I followed one of those beasts to Wikipedia, remebered that I had always wanted to know more about Q and went through to that section. From there, I went on to read about the Borg which lead me to a passage about physics and dimensionality and - briefly - to the anthropological description of the Finns (who are, by some, referred to as Borg). I then returned through the biography of Patrick Stewart. Star Trek waved goodbye by linking to the definition of fusion power which led me to Hydrogen-3 and the apparently impending space race to the Moon. Since that has to do with withering energy supplies, I returned to Earth through a Peak Oil reference. At this point I left Wikipedia, reading an interesting Wired article - in which a comment links to this.

Now, of course I don't really read all this. Like most webformation-addicts (I suspect that is what I have become) I have perfected a skimming-style that allows me to read 3-page articles in, say, 3-4 minutes. Definitely a heavy information loss there - I don't pick it all up. However, there is also a technique to reading blog and newspaper articles. I usually begin with the first 2-3 sentences, to get a feel for the topic. If I am interested, I jump to the last 4-5 sentences to judge the conclusion, if it is present. If the conclusion is as expected, I let it go and head on for other stuff to pique my curiosity. If the conclusion is absent or controversial, I begin scanning back towards the middle section - usually the meat of the arguments in any article lie between the 50% and 75% markers of the bulk text, this seems to be my experience.
I wasn't really aware that I did this skimming until someone commented the way I was skipping ahead (I have a habit of marking up the text with my cursor while reading it).

I expect these habits are quite common, but compared to how one reads a book the difference is really quite huge - and I think it goes to show how much one needs to "shut out" in order to get anywhere, webformationally speaking.

Anyway, my main point was the skepticism that this leads (should lead) to. The example with the whole Peak Oil discussion above is quite vivid. Both articles are well-written - the second is more biased and as such weighs in less on my overall opinion - but how are we to believe anything? I don't dare take a stand anymore - I'm still trying to fathom the mechanisms behind the immense discourse shift on global warming - not because of scientific evidence but because of media attention through Gore.

Disclaimer: I am not saying the evidence is not there...I am saying that it has, in its basic form, been there for at least a decade. Gore put it in the discourse. So does that make him a scientist or a spin-doctor? Assuming there is a difference these days...

1 comment:

Jeppe said...

Hi Rasmus,

I have the exact same feeling of not being able to see what's up and down i the clima-debate any more. It seems people stopped thinking and started acting like sheap almost reminiscent of peoples behaviour during the witch-burnings of the middle ages. This totalitarian hysteria started during the no-smoking campains where smoking people suddenly where treated as leppards though the causes of smoking have been knows to all normal thinking people since the eighties. I'm surtain that we have only seen a small amound of the huge environment hysteria covering the world the comming yeas. I hope that people will start thinking for them self soon or the democracys around the world will be in great danger of being controlled completely by the media and mass hystera.