Bringing Home the Bacon

One of the most disturbing trends fostered by the Internet is the intensification and consolidation of prejudice and opinion. Every large group, small group, and splinter group has a blog, a website, a whatever. As an information freak, I find this quite delightful, but as a teacher and researcher I also worry because, typically, I find people flock to sites that intensify what they already “know” and hence promote an unhealthy homogeneity of opinion rather than open discourse.

Unfortunately, people WANT to believe, and we especially want to continue believing what we already believe. As Francis Bacon more eloquently said, “For what a man would rather were true, he more readily believes.”

This is an aspect of human nature we would do well to resist. But it ain’t easy. I’ve often found myself on my own list of offenders, but at least I spend considerable time cross-referencing, researching, and rechecking myself regularly. I’m painfully aware that certainty is among man’s most dangerous failings.

When I work with college students tackling research or opinion projects, I urge them to find a college or library website that gives instructions on how to evaluate sources. For example, I just typed in “evaluating sources”–without the restrictive quotation marks–on Google and found and abundance of .edu (college and university) sites. Public library and even public K-12 school sites often have good evaluation pages too. There are even videos. Here’s a YouTube video claiming to be from the University of California at Irvine.

So what did you think if you watched that video? Did you make even a cursory attempt to verify that it really is from UC Irvine? Or did you just watch and say, ok, that must be true because I saw it on the Internet?

If you didn’t do so much as click around a bit, you may be likely to believe sites that reassuringly say something like this:

Carbon dioxide is a harmless, colorless gas and an essential nutrient for plants. People exhale carbon dioxide that plants need to grow. In return, plants release oxygen that people need.

Is this true? Is this the whole story? Does this statement mean we have nothing to worry about from rising carbon dioxide levels? Are CO2 levels in really rising? If so, who says so? Should we believe these sources or not? Even if they are, shouldn’t we just kick back thinking how we’ll just get faster growing trees and tomatoes?

Go find out for yourself. Here are a few possible sets of keywords:

carbon dioxide levels
carbon dioxide poisoning
carbon dioxide oceans
carbon dioxide danger levels
CO2 emissions

Come up with some more keywords on your own. Grab an evaluation list and use it. And, oh yeah, remember what Francis Bacon said.

Cassandra

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