Science or Spam?
How do we develop the aptitude to separate spam from knowledge? James Lawrence Powell tells Big Think you need to be "your own spam filter."
What's the Big Idea?
Every second of every day, more data is being created than our minds can possibly process. Therein lies the great paradox of today's knowledge economy. Is it all just sound and fury, or can the increased speed of information actually lead to greater knowledge?
To answer that question, we need both filters to block out the garbage and curators to point us in the right direction. That's what we try to do here at Big Think, after all.
In order to accomplish this mission it is necessary to have clear benchmarks and common frames of reference. Science is one of them, and as James Lawrence Powell argued in an interview with Big Think (see the video below), science "should be one of the most respected human enterprises." After all, science has a built-in spam filter called peer review.
And yet, peer-reviewed science journals are not designed for information to pass through quickly. We get our information on the go, in incomplete bursts, and we are all too susceptible to those who would profit by passing on falsehood as truth. For instance, Powell exposes a whole cottage industry of pseudo-scientists who cherry-pick data or even spread deliberate falsehoods in order to undermine the global scientific consensus on climate change in his book The Inquisition of Climate Science.
So how do we develop the aptitude to separate garbage from knowledge? Powell says you need to be "your own spam filter."
Watch the video here:
What's the Significance?
How can you test your spam filter? James Powell says if there is consensus in the world science community on an issue like climate change but you hear one individual -- be it Senator James Inhofe or Viscount Monckton of Brenchley -- arguing that all the scientists are wrong, a bell should go off in your head. After all, Powell tells Big Think, "it just doesn't compute."
And yet, it's not always so easy as that.
For instance, take Viscount Monckton of Brenchley, who appears to ooze gravitas with his patrician accent and the logo on his presentation slides that closely resembles the portcullis emblem of the British House of Lords. The House of Lords has asked Monckton to stop pretending he is a member. And yet, as Powell notes, the seals are so small it is hard to tell they are not authentic. The smaller the spam, the easier it is to slip through the filter.
On the left is the portcullis emblem, the official seal of the House of Lords. On the right is the one used by Viscount Monckton of Brenchley.
Image courtesy of Shutterstock
Follow Daniel Honan on Twitter @Daniel Honan
Sharon Salzberg, world-renowned mindfulness leader, teaches meditation at Big Think Edge.
- Try meditation for the first time with this guided lesson or, if you already practice, enjoy being guided by a world-renowned meditation expert.
- Sharon Salzberg teaches mindfulness meditation for Big Think Edge.
- Subscribe to Big Think Edge before we launch on March 30 to get 20% off monthly and annual memberships.
The 21st century is experiencing an Asianization of politics, business, and culture.
- Our theories about the world, even about history or the geopolitics of the present, tend to be shaped by Anglo perspectives of the Western industrial democracies, particularly those in the United States and the United Kingdom.
- The West, however, is not united. Canada, for instance, acts in many ways that are not in line with American or British policies, particularly in regard to populism. Even if it were united, though, it would not represent most of the world's population.
- European ideas, such as parliamentary democracy and civil service, spread across the world in the 19th century. In the 20th century, American values such as entrepreneurialism went global. In the 21st century, however, what we're seeing now is an Asianization — an Asian confidence that they can determine their own political systems, their own models, and adapt to their own circumstances.
They didn't know it, but the rituals of Iron Age Scandinavians turned their iron into steel.
- Iron Age Scandinavians only had access to poor quality iron, which put them at a tactical disadvantage against their neighbors.
- To strengthen their swords, smiths used the bones of their dead ancestors and animals, hoping to transfer the spirit into their blades.
- They couldn't have known that in so doing, they actually were forging a rudimentary form of steel.
Can sensitive coral reefs survive another human generation?
- Coral reefs may not be able to survive another human decade because of the environmental stress we have placed on them, says author David Wallace-Wells. He posits that without meaningful changes to policies, the trend of them dying out, even in light of recent advances, will continue.
- The World Wildlife Fund says that 60 percent of all vertebrate mammals have died since just 1970. On top of this, recent studies suggest that insect populations may have fallen by as much as 75 percent over the last few decades.
- If it were not for our oceans, the planet would probably be already several degrees warmer than it is today due to the emissions we've expelled into the atmosphere.
SMARTER FASTER trademarks owned by The Big Think, Inc. All rights reserved.