More information is not necessarily better

| January 27, 2009 | 6 Replies

I thought it was just me.

Over the past few months, while reading some of the comments here at DI and at several forums that I frequent, I’ve been noticing that there seems to be LESS consensus on the hot topics of our time rather than more.

That doesn’t seem right. With the wealth of information on the internet literally at our fingertips shouldn’t we all be better informed than ever before?

Not so, says Clive Thompson in a recent issue of Wired magazine. In fact he has the stats to back it up!

Among Republicans, belief in anthropogenic global warming declined from 52 percent to 42 percent between 2003 and 2008. Just days before the election, nearly a quarter of respondents in one Texas poll were convinced that Obama is a Muslim. And the proportion of Americans who believe God did not guide evolution? It’s 14 percent today, a two-point decline since the ’90s, according to Gallup.

How can that be? According to Robert Proctor, a historian of science at Stanford, when it comes to many contentious subjects, our usual relationship to information is reversed: Ignorance increases.

It sure seems that way sometimes!

Read the rest of the article here.

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Category: Culture, Language, Media, Religion, Statistics, Uncategorized

About the Author ()

Mike Pulcinella is a documentary filmmaker.

Comments (6)

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  1. Dan Klarmann says:

    "Agnotology" is a worthwhile study. The glut of useful information online is well tempered by both intentional and simply ignorant counterknowledge.

    But in uncertain times like these, people gravitate even more strongly toward more comforting ideas, rather than those hard and often counter-intuitive facts that are needed to make our times more comfortable.

  2. The Twitter/Facebook craze is what originally got me thinking about this topic.

    I have a hard enough time managing all the important information I get every day. I really don't care to know what my "friends" are eating or watching or scratching every minute of the day! it's simply not important and would clutter my mind.

  3. Mary says:

    Dan has touched on the major topic of a book called "The Big Sort: Why the Clustering of Like-Minded America Is Tearing Us Apart" (2008), by Bill Bishop. According to Bishop, we've been sorting ourselves out geographically along the lines of our values, choosing to live amongst people who think like we do. The cumulative effect of this is that we keep echoing our comfortable values between those who think just like we do and this causes us to become further entrenched in our beliefs. This is why we are so politically polarized today, which in turn makes us gravitate even more toward comforting ideas. The "other side" has become the enemy.

  4. Tim Hogan says:

    When I began dating my now wife she'd be described as a moderate Republican. Our politics have grown to be somewhat more akin to each others as we have been together now almost 15 years.

    We moved from a neighborhood where there were fewer children to where there were more children as our family grew. I've found much diversity in our neighborhood in political thinking, not polarity. But, we all moved where the schools, religious and public, are where our children can get a good education. Mary, perhaps we are more alike than I am aware.

  5. Erich Vieth says:

    We are not purely rational beings. The modern internet proves that making good information available to almost everyone doesn't mean that people will choose that good information.

    I remember thinking a couple years ago that we were very lucky that Internet came along, so that ignorant people could educate themselves. It was to be the end of ignorance (and bigotry and so much else that was bad). I was so wrong.

  6. Erich Vieth says:

    Mary: Thanks for the book rec. I'll check it out.

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