Thursday, November 16, 2006

Research and Conspiracy Theories

As I have said before (borrowed from one of my professors) the difference between a conspiracy theory and a scientific theory is that a scientific theory allows you to make consistent predictions. So I was interested to read this article on the use of research in the Internet age (hat tip elmondohummus in the comments):

Overreliance on Google is only one of many technology problems facing college students. A new report released Tuesday by the Educational Testing Service finds that students lack many basic skills in information literacy, which ETS defines as the ability to use technology to solve information problems.

The original impetus for the study came from librarians and professors who have found that students can use technology for socializing or entertainment but still have problems finding information, evaluating it and then putting it to use, said Irvin Katz, a research scientist with ETS. “It’s not only in academics,” he said, “but also in the workplace that people don’t have the necessary critical skills to access information.”

For the study, information was gathered from over 6,300 students found at 63 universities, colleges, community colleges, and high schools (seniors). Each institution selected participants to take an information and communication technology literacy assessment. Because the institutions did not make random selections, caution should be taken when evaluating the results. The challenge was to see if students could identify trustworthy information, manage that information, and communicate it effectively. The results do not inspire confidence.

Few test takers demonstrated effective information literacy skills, and students earned only about half the points that could have been awarded. Females fared just as poorly as males. For instance, when asked to select a research statement for a class assignment, only 44 percent identified a statement that captured the assignment’s demands. And when asked to evaluate several Web sites, 52 percent correctly assessed the objectivity of the sites, 65 percent correctly judged for authority, and 72 percent for timeliness. Overall, 49 percent correctly identified the site that satisfied all three criteria.

One of the reasons I found this interesting was because I wrote the following earlier in response to a post on Hot Air asking why recent growth in conspiracy theories.

But this is getting worse. Before it was just a few self involved activists, now it is becoming an entire generation. Perhaps it is technology? The Internet has done some wonderful things, without it I couldn’t be posting my thoughts for people to read, but in making information so readily available, it has also made it cheap. Before, if you wanted to learn something, you actually had to go out and find a book and read it, or seek out someone who was an expert in the area, and ask them about it. Now you just do a quick google search and the information appears right before you. No need to think about it, or analyze it, the truth is instantly in front of you, it is in a video, it must be true!

What happens then though is you get information without wisdom, it becomes nothing more than a number of unrelated points superficially connected. The movie Loose Change is the perfect example of that. A trio of uneducated 20-somethings make a movie based off of screencaptures of conspiracy websites, and suddenly they are seen as speaking from authority. They never had to do the hard work to turn this information into wisdom, and thus it has no value. If they would have been required to have had more years of experience in order to accomplish this, if they had to exert more effort into compiling what went into their movie, then perhaps they would have paid more attention to the validity of their claims. Instead, they just wallow in their own arrogance, and declare themselves the bearers of the truth.

Hey, I am allowed to blow my own horn every once in a while.


At 17 November, 2006 11:31, Blogger The Artistic Macrophage said...

Honk Honk!!

There ya go. Good article. The internet, the savior and the curse.



Post a Comment

<< Home