You believe something which isn’t true. It’s the human condition, so you should get used
I first ran into this in 2nd grade, when my teacher announced that porcupines flicked their tails to fire quills like missiles. I had just read a science book which refuted this old folk tale, and I corrected my teacher (using, I’m sure, all my 7-year-old tact). She shushed me, and the lesson went on. It taught my young self that adults would tell me things which weren’t true. Not because they were lying, but because they confidently believed something which was false.
A little porcupine disinformation harms–for all intents and purposes–no one. It was a passing experience which prepared me for “facts” tied to much higher stakes. Smoking.
We were told smoking certainly wasn’t harmful–heck, it was probably somewhat healthful! Everyone around me “knew” this truth about smoking. It was only some annoying cranks who were making whiny claims about its dangers. For me, the first red flag was simply my own nose telling me it was vile.
You could never trace one cancerous cell back to its Philip Morris assailant. It was only when the courts permitted statistical arguments that the harm of cigarettes was tied back to the purveyors. The lawsuit showed how the millions of smokers had a health outcome
which was much, much worse than the non-smokers. And the court accepted this as proof of
the harms of the product.
You can still buy cigarettes; you’re free to accept the risk. But the industry can’t lie
about it. Over time, what people “knew” came around.
The porcupine quill throwing lobby probably didn’t have the budget to suppress attacks on
their beliefs. But Big Tobacco certainly did. What if the government had sanctioned censorship, defunding, and even harassment of “tobacco alarmists” or “tobacco disinformation”?
Technology gives you neither knowledge nor information; it only gives you data. When Google or Facebook serves you data, they tailor its presentation so that what you “know” is updated based on their agendas. What are their agendas? An important question, and one for which the data is scarce.
In general, who’s making your tech? Are they behaving themselves? How would you know when they weren’t? If it’s “free”, how is it paid for? How do your benefits compare to their benefits?
We’ll dig into actual tech next issue with some words concerning the most common tool for
finding data… search engines.
(Where do you go to type in the query “Should I trust Google?”)
Until we meet again, here’s an extra credit challenge: go out and find one thing which you believed was true when you read this article, but then found out it was false. Send in your story if it was interesting: firstname.lastname@example.org