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David Hegg: How reliable is the information on the internet?

Posted: June 29, 2014 2:00 a.m.
Updated: June 29, 2014 2:00 a.m.
 

With the advent of the Internet we have experienced an information explosion unprecedented in human history.

Almost every kind of knowledge is now available to you if you have access to WiFi and know how to “google” it.

Need to know how to change your transmission fuel? Google it! Need a recipe for smoked salmon with mango chutney? Just google it. Have a desire to know if God exists? Just go to captain-billy’s-whizbang-bible-site.clergyconman

But just how reliable is the information you are getting? How do we recognize real expertise today given that anyone can start a website, publish a blog, or buy an advanced academic degree from an unaccredited, educational website that mails them out daily?

In the past, expertise was demonstrated before being accepted. For example, to get material published meant it was first delivered to a reputable publishing firm whose editors and researchers put the author and his conclusions through their own rigorous grid to determine cogency and truth. In academic areas, material was put out to peer review by experts in the field to determine its merit. All of this meant the works eventually published came with a certain stamp of approval, having been thoroughly tested. It meant that both author and his or her work were worthy to be purchased and read.

Today we have almost entirely lost the protective guardrails around knowledge. Doctoral degrees, once the pinnacle of academic prowess, are now available from online degree mills in several academic and professional areas. Websites and blogs now offer expertise in every area imaginable as though there were no question as to their veracity. And the invention of “self-publishing” and “eBooks” means anyone with a keyboard can pass themselves off as an author and expert in the field.

There is one more insidious activity we all ought to keep in mind. With the massive availability of articles, blogs, books, eBooks, tweets, emails, and all manner of other content, it is almost impossible to know if what an author writes is his own, or if he has plagiarized from someone else. In my field of biblical studies, a very famous and prolific Seattle pastor has recently admitted to using pages and pages of stolen material from various authors to upgrade the level of his own writing. This kind of thing only allows the greedy and lazy to masquerade as knowledgeable and trustworthy.

So, what do we do? First of all, when you are looking for expertise on the Internet, ask yourself “what is the worst thing that can happen if this material is wrong?” If you can live with a bad salmon dish, then go for it!

Second, where getting the right information really matters, don’t take shortcuts. Go to bonafide experts, whose level of study and practical expertise gives you some assurance that you’re getting useful information. Lastly, have a personal ethical system – a worldview – that allows you a grid through which to push everything to see if it aligns with basic concepts of right and wrong, true or false.

What you’re reading right now is opinion, and while I hope it stirs conversation, it does not rise to the level of information that offers proof from reputable, testable sources. Opinion should know its place and never be allowed to masquerade as expertise. In the ocean that is this information age, there are too many chances for us to drown under the waves of opinion and false assertion. Let’s get better at examining everything carefully, and be ready to hold fast to that which proves to be good.

David Hegg is a senior pastor of Grace Baptist Church and a Santa Clarita resident. “Ethically Speaking” runs Sundays in The Signal.

Comments

ricketzz: Posted: June 29, 2014 7:09 a.m.

In my world things don't need to "prove to be good". I presume everything is "good" until I am proven wrong. If something isn't "good" it will reveal itself in good time. Then I will fix it or destroy it trying or learn to ignore it.


chefgirl358: Posted: June 29, 2014 3:13 p.m.

It is NOT true that it's almost impossible to prove plagiarism! There is tons of software out there, used by many educational institutions among other things, to find out if people are copying others work without giving credit or passing it off as their own.

There's a lot of very good info out there too. With medical info, I print up articles, info, etc and take it to my dr to ask him about any questions, treatments, etc. He has told me in one instance that I gave him the most complete, well researched packet of paperwork that he'd ever received when I was opposed to a medical treatment he wanted me to undergo, I gave him this packet to back up my points.


Indy: Posted: June 29, 2014 3:40 p.m.

chefgirl358 wrote: It is NOT true that it's almost impossible to prove plagiarism! There is tons of software out there, used by many educational institutions among other things, to find out if people are copying others work without giving credit or passing it off as their own.

Indy: Do you have any recommendations for sites for this?

chefgirl358 wrote: There's a lot of very good info out there too. With medical info, I print up articles, info, etc and take it to my dr to ask him about any questions, treatments, etc. He has told me in one instance that I gave him the most complete, well researched packet of paperwork that he'd ever received when I was opposed to a medical treatment he wanted me to undergo, I gave him this packet to back up my points.

Indy: Couldn’t agree more . . . check out stuff . . . become knowledgeable . . . be a ‘participant’ in your medical care.


Indy: Posted: June 29, 2014 3:44 p.m.

I guess what I would add to these recommendations by Hegg are:

- Look for a preponderance of evidence . . . check multiple sources
- Study basics so you can decide if the knowledge being disseminated passes reasonableness
- Stay away from grossly political sites
- Don’t get your ‘news’ from media outlets that ‘frame’ same in their ideology

There’s no real shortcuts in becoming informed . . .


therightstuff: Posted: June 29, 2014 5:03 p.m.

There are actually very good recommendations Indy. When do you plan to start?


CaptGene: Posted: June 29, 2014 5:19 p.m.

This is the checker I've used to reveal most of Indy Nile's plagiarism:

http://smallseotools.com/plagiarism-checker/


ricketzz: Posted: June 30, 2014 7:29 a.m.

Unless you are a trained journalist I suggest you find people who are and follow them. Start at Columbia Journalism Review and work your way back. Listen to the BBC World Service (occasionally politicizes, but overall better than most), especially for global stories. Watch Amy Goodman on Free Speech TV ("Democracy Now", a one hour non-commercial newscast that gives a different angle to things; Santa Clarita Valley TV refuses to carry it, claiming the government programming they use (NASA? Grill Sergeants?) is all the "left wing stuff" they need. SCVTV is not a gatekeeper to be trusted.)

Beware of certainty. Beware of sources that never express doubt. Nobody has a grip on all the info; the trustworthy ones will be the first to tell you that.

Do not watch 24/7/365 cable TV news. It is all worse than worthless; they are using your "fight or flight" endocrines against you; you get addicted to fear; you get PTSD from News Corpse. The world is no more dangerous than it ever was. Anybody who tells you different wants to sell you Protection, like the neighborhood "wise guy".


CaptGene: Posted: June 30, 2014 7:58 a.m.

To answer the question in the headline, information on the internet is 97.1% accurate.



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