The Truth is Out There
The Truth is Out There by Keith Macdonald
The Truth is Out There
It is not only important for students to be digitally literate in the twenty first century it is vital that they develop critical thinking skills and follow the practice of scientific methodology in testing the knowledge that they obtain from the digital domain. Why should they bother to do this you may ask? The answer is simple enough. With Privilege comes responsibility. And that privilege of having access to the overwhelming loads of information available instantly at one's finger tips is a great one indeed and so carries great responsibility.
* 1 History * 2 Control of Information o 2.1 Records o 2.2 Access o 2.3 Spin * 3 Dissemination o 3.1 Communications media o 3.2 Rumor Mongering/Gossip Mill * 4 Investigation o 4.1 Sources o 4.2 Cross Referencing * 5 Response
Since the release of the World Wide Web in 1991, There has been an exponential growth in the number of users and the information that is available to be kept and accessed digitally in one form or another. This doesn't mean that many people did not have access to get or spread information before 1991, it simply means that since that time there has been a substantial increase in the speed of the process. In the introduction to the book The Pedagogy of the Oppressed4, Paolo Freire tells us that "Technological Society is rapidly making objects of most of us and subtly programming us into conformity to the logic of the system. To the degree that this happens,we are becoming submerged in a culture of silence. The paradox is that this same technology also creates a greater sensitivity to what is happening around us.
Control of Information
Knowledge is power. Many powerful groups throughout history have tried with varying success to control the information that those under their power could be exposed to and to an extent this situation still occurs.
The Blind Men and the Elephant John Godfrey Saxe (1816-1887)
It was six men of Indostan To learning much inclined, Who went to see the Elephant (Though all of them were blind), That each by observation Might satisfy his mind. The First approached the Elephant, And happening to fall Against his broad and sturdy side, At once began to bawl: "God bless me! but the Elephant Is very like a WALL!" The Second, feeling of the tusk, Cried, "Ho, what have we here, So very round and smooth and sharp? To me 'tis mighty clear This wonder of an Elephant Is very like a SPEAR!" The Third approached the animal, And happening to take The squirming trunk within his hands, Thus boldly up and spake: "I see," quoth he, "the Elephant Is very like a SNAKE!" The Fourth reached out an eager hand, And felt about the knee "What most this wondrous beast is like Is mighty plain," quoth he: "'Tis clear enough the Elephant Is very like a TREE!" The Fifth, who chanced to touch the ear, Said: "E'en the blindest man Can tell what this resembles most; Deny the fact who can, This marvel of an Elephant Is very like a FAN!" The Sixth no sooner had begun About the beast to grope, Than seizing on the swinging tail That fell within his scope, "I see," quoth he, "the Elephant Is very like a ROPE!" And so these men of Indostan Disputed loud and long, Each in his own opinion Exceeding stiff and strong, Though each was partly in the right, And all were in the wrong!
The preceding poem is a good way to think about the record of truth that is preserved as information both digitally and through other archival means. Although there are faster ways and means to find out what has occurred in the past we must be sure that the records are a trustworthy source. Most history books are generally considered to be a biased record of things that happened in the past. Trying to come to a consensus on the complete historical truth would be quite difficult even if everyone was trying to cooperate on removing the bias from the record. Unfortunately, there is only so much that can be done to correct the record on the past but the present and the future are here and ahead of us to give us a chance of making proper use of our digitally enhanced capabilities for keeping records of true information.
Governments are more or less the way in which large numbers of people either are oppressed or given varying amounts of freedom and representation to have say over their lives. Oppressive governments limit access to their people from outside influences. They also limit the access of their people to communications which are critical of the government and the general ways in which life is experienced under the government's control. One good example of access limitation in the recent pre-digital networking past is the nuclear disaster at Chernobyl. The USSR at the time was trying to modernize and connect with the western countries. The Communist regime in Moscow had an ingrained culture of secrecy and isolationist tactics in their relations with other countries. In the article, Chernobyl Disaster: 20 years later, it is recounted how the government officials were able to cover up and down play the extent of the disaster until physical evidence of radioactive clouds drifting over the Soviet border forced them to be more open about what had taken place. They were still able to control the access to the people and conditions inside their borders in 1986 but that is not the case anymore, at least in the area of information access limitation. China experienced a large earthquake in May of 2008 that challenged the government which is also historically fond of secrecy and access limitation to its people. Initial information from the government which downplayed the severity of the disaster was quickly shot down by computer and cell phone links from people on the inside to people outside of the Chinese borders.
In the article, Deadly Earthquake Doesn’t Shake China’s Internet Censors "Following the May 12 earthquake in China’s Sichuan province, the news coverage was naturally empathetic, making the censorship regime redundant. But as Chinese citizens began criticizing the response to the earthquake online, the government’s internet police made their presence known. On one message board, posters started criticizing large China-based corporations for not contributing enough to the relief effort. The thread grew heated that week, forcing an appearance from Jing Jing and Cha Cha — those two adorable animated characters that China began deploying on online forums the year before, whenever the conversation strays too close to discouraged topics or sentiments. "Don’t accept vulgar content," advised the smiling cartoon cops overlaid on the post. "Advance harmony." So even though Oppressive governments are having less success at limiting access to people and from people inside their borders, they are still exercising what controls they can either by appeal or through spin. Spin is in essence taking a subject that could be seen as unfavorable to your position and rewording the information to show your position in the best possible light.
* Communications Media
Traditional media is in a ground war with modern digital communication. Newspapers are bleeding readers from from their ranks and their circulation numbers make it harder to maintain the staff levels needed for truly wide topic coverage in a timely manner compared with digital sources of news. Television has a different kind of problem in that it has to be concerned with being attention grabbing entertainment. If someone is going to sit through research on a topic in an in depth manner they generally want to have some control over its direction and scope and not be forced to endure someone else's ideas of what they should find valuable. As quoted in the article, Traditional Media Continues Losses, Searches For Answers9: "Local television: Local TV news remained the nation’s most popular source for news, but rapidly continues to lose market share. Says PEJ: “Slightly more than half (52 percent) of Americans are now regular viewers, according to a survey, down from nearly two-thirds (64 percent) a decade earlier.”
* Rumor Mongering/Gossip Mill
From the public side of things, the response to the instant availability of information has spawned some terrible problems in its own right. E mail networks are rife with chain letters which give misinformation on everything from the dangers of immunizations. How Panicked Parents Skipping Shots Endangers Us All1 and Inoculation Misinformation3, to an article on the importance of flu vaccinations, Does the Vaccine Matter?2 These are three articles which cover this type of misinformed rumor mongering extensively
These sources are very reliable. they always cite all the sources of their information and post corrections when they get things wrong (which is rare).
* Cross Referencing
It is important to note that the references that are cited by reliable sources lead to deeper sources. Using the sources and the factualy checked article to cross reference in a search for broader information is generally a good way to stay as close to the truth through out your digital information discoveries as possible.
In response, what should the responsible person do to improve the situation in regard to digital literacy and ethics? In an article on Critical Ethical reasoning and role play, the authors conclude that we as digital citizens have a responsibility to "critically reflect on who we want to be for others and how we have the power to foster greater empathy, tolerance, and understanding for others in all of the roles we inhabit in our lives.
Truth Seeking Exercise
Because it is important to test what you learn to ensure you understand it, try looking up an article on a controversial topic. See if you can identify any spin in the presentation of the information. Question the source of the story and see if there is research or related stories to back up the account of the source. Is the backing information from credible sources? Are there other credible sources on the other side of the issue? Some issues are very complex and the truth is somewhat subjective in nature at the surface of the issue, but if you want to find the truth and you keep digging through sources and facts, you have a much better chance of getting to the unbiased facts of any story. The importance of your search is found in the ideal that it is wrong to surround yourself in lies and /or spread them to others. Unfortunately too many people self isolate themselves from the truth because of ignorance or misguided loyalties. Don't let yourself get caught in a web of lies, because the truth is out there and it is powerful when it is unleashed.
References and Resources
How Panicked Parents Skipping Shots Endangers Us All, http://www.wired.com/magazine/2009/10/ff_waronscience/all/1
Does the Vaccine Matter?, http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/200911/brownlee-h1n1#
Inoculation Misinformation, http://www.newsweek.com/id/218513
Freire, P. (1970). Pedagogy of the oppressed (pp. 27-41). New York: Herder & Herder.
Petty, R. E., Cacioppo, J. T., & Goldman, R. (1981). Personal involvement as a determinant of argument-based persuasion. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 41(5), 847-855.
Simkins, D. W., & Steinkuehler, C. (2008). Critical ethical reasoning and role-play. Games and Culture, 3(3-4), 333-355.
Chernobyl Disaster: 20 years later, http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/12423515/ns/world_news-europe
Deadly Earthquake Doesn’t Shake China’s Internet Censors, http://www.wired.com/threatlevel/2008/05/deadly-earthqua/
Traditional Media Continues Losses, Searches For Answers, http://www.cfm-online.com/tips_detail.cfm?TipID=256