Filtering Information In The Information Age

The Fortean Times appears never to have been mentioned on scientific, much less cited as a reference source.  Now, when you have quite finished falling about laughing, I would like, in all seriousness, to draw your attention to a recent Fortean Times article:

The New Information Order
How the Internet is freeing conspiracy theories from the control imposed by traditional media.
By Robin Ramsay, Fortean Times, December 2009.

The gist of the article is that information, at one time controlled by magnates and moguls, the powerful and the political, is now beyond their control.  An injunction against publication is now often a spur to the widespread dissemination of information that, without the publicity engendered by an injunction, might have attracted little attention.  Further, conspiracy theories can proliferate wildly on the web through a lack of the sort of publication controls that once existed.

To quote Robin Ramsey directly:
In the pre-Internet age, our society had an order of information in which knowledge was managed by experts and authorities, as well as representatives of the political, legal, scientific, medical and economic powers-that-be. Academics, scientists, spokespersons for the state and the owners, producers and editors of the major media decided what was real and what was unreal, what was true and what was false.
In the pre-Internet ‘knowledge order’, the label ‘conspiracy theory’ was one of the key management tools of the powers-that-be, enabling the denigration of a political or historical proposition without it having to be falsified.
Given that everyone may publish a wild theory anywhere on the web, how is the general public to know who to believe?  To quote again from the article:
the evidence from America suggests that a large section of the population are unable to tell the shit from the Shinola.
Perhaps it is futile to try to address a too-wide section of the public regarding truth versus fiction.  It is also futile to preach to the converted.  Science needs to address people who are interested in scientific topics but who perhaps do not fully understand how the scientific method, loosely applied, can appear to give credence to nonsense. 

Rather than try to teach science to all, perhaps we need to attract members of the general public by writing attention-grabbing and easily-understood articles.  Of course, the media does that already.  They do not, however, generally cite their sources or refer the reader to external educational materials.  Notoriously, newspaper reporters often get hold of the wrong end of the stick and tell the public the exact opposite of what scientists are saying.

Once an idea has been published in the media, it takes off with a life of its own.  It is often the case, where proposition p is true that a Google search for 'p is true' will generate less hits than 'p is false'.  Science will be misreported in the media for as long as there is media.  But if the scientific facts or theories are published for public consumption before the media gets hold of the story, then the media can do far less damage.

In the coming years, science blogging will grow in readership at the expense, certainly of the newspapers, probably of popular science journals.  The reason is the number of potential writers and speed of publication of feedback.  Here at scientificblogging anyone can post an article on science.  And anyone else can tear it to shreds.  Or endorse it.  Instantly!  A hare-brained idea, bad science, false data, all will attract criticism long before the media gets hold of it.  Contrariwise, good research will be disseminated widely before the media can publish, so if the media gets it wrong they will be laughed at.

For science writing, the future is here, the future is now.  And thanks to Hank Campbell's idea, the future is scientificblogging