While the question is a bit rhetorical, it likely is not possible to avoid getting stupider as we get smarter as long as money is involved.
I think there is a real crisis in the way information is both disseminated and created. This has become very important when research is involved and especially research tied to grants paid for by folks interested in not finding the truth but in supporting previous conclusions or paradigms. In a recent article published by the National Academy of Sciences (considered one of the remaining bastions of “real science,” where results can actually be trusted) the majority of 2047 peer reviewed papers/articles that were withdrawn from PubMed were withdrawn due to fraud or suspected fraud.
Think about that for a moment.
It is not that they were just plain wrong—fraud, or suspected fraud, was involved.
A detailed review of all 2,047 biomedical and life-science research articles indexed by PubMed as retracted on May 3, 2012 revealed that only 21.3% of retractions were attributable to error. In contrast, 67.4% of retractions were attributable to misconduct, including fraud or suspected fraud (43.4%), duplicate publication (14.2%), and plagiarism (9.8%).Misconduct accounts for the majority of retracted scientific publications. By Fang FC, Steen RG, Casadevall A.
This becomes all the more apparent as we become more and more dependent on relying on the opinions of those we listen to, those we have trusted in the past and those we think have earned our trust. After all, how can we all possibly read EVERYTHING? This is a very dangerous position to find oneself, because it tends to crush critical thinking.
Anytime you find yourself in a position where you are not willing to change your mind or are not “allowed” to change your mind, one could argue that you are already dead.
If there is one significant flaw of our educational system it is the lack of teaching of critical thinking.
While it may not be possible to do all the hard research ourselves or read all the literature ourselves, we should be able to learn the skills to know whether if something smells like shit then perhaps it is shit.
Of course this only applies to “the other guy,” and not to ourselves—we know for a fact that what we personally think is well thought-out and the truth.
The inability to perform even rudimentary levels of critical thinking affects every aspect of our lives and threatens our very freedom as human beings–well beyond the superficial freedoms related to freedom of religion and country. It affects how we think about religion, politics, relationships and even the food we eat and the air we breathe.
This is a crisis infinitely bigger than global warming or the lack thereof, infinitely bigger than Republicans or Democrats, infinitely bigger than clean air and water, and infinitely bigger than the energy crisis or lack of an energy crisis. It is bigger than all of these because without the power of critical thinking necessary to perform honest research, none of these things can be solved—at least in a time frame that human beings can live with.
(One of the harsh realities that human beings have trouble facing is that the earth did just fine without us for millions of years and if we are not careful will do just fine for millions more without us again.)
The internet has the power to contribute, even correct, this condition, but it also has the power to merely allow incorrect thinking to dominate the discussion. With enough repetition almost anything can be seen to be the “truth” even when it is a lie.
We must be vigilant to not assume that just because something is seen as the truth, or is the dominant paradigm, that it is necessary wholly correct or even partially correct.
Sometimes we need to step back, go back to the basic premise and see if it has any validity and then sometimes start over when required.
For a more in depth treatise on what this problem is all about, please see: Does Repetition on the Internet Make It True?
By Charles Buell, Real Estate Inspections in Seattle
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