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How to combat misinformation and bias on the internet?

  1. May 27, 2013 #1
    On the web I find misunderstandings of a scientific result, clear bias, and obviously wrong information. For subjects close to my expertise, I can identify the errors. Subjects outside my expertise are not so easy: I spend hours surfing the web to try to verify a single statement, and often end up lost in the morass of questionable information.

    How can we combat this?

    A few ideas I've had:
    - Create a search engine which only admits well-supported, unbiased articles. Problem: this has to be moderated, which could introduce bias unless the moderation committee is very careful.
    Scientific articles attempt to provide a source of this. They do pretty well at it, although there are still incorrectly done studies and inaccurate results published. The main problem with this is it's geared towards experts. Without a doctor's training, good luck understanding medical literature.​
    Encyclopedias collect factual, unbiased information (in principle... I just realized I haven't checked their sources). However, the information provided in them is often too brief. It's possible that I'm looking in the wrong encyclopedias.​
    Wikipedia attempts to provide factual, unbiased articles which provide good explanations to a wide range of topics. But, the killer is anyone can edit an article at any time; until a moderator checks that article, misinformation which has been added will stay on the page. Hopefully Wikipedia tries to eliminate bias from the article moderators; this I don't know.​
    - Compile a list of websites which aim to collect information which is unbiased and factual.
    Through trial and error, I've found a few websites which seem to be factual and unbiased, from what I've read. Examples are HyperPhysics and Scholarpedia. Collecting a multi-disciplinary list of these would be another solution. Call it a "guide to the factual internet", or something similar. Educational institutions could be contacted to determine which pages they most recommend for accuracy and lack of bias. However, since professors can themselves be biased, a wide range of universities must be contacted.​

    What do you think? What ideas do you have?
  2. jcsd
  3. May 27, 2013 #2


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    I don't think is is really a killer at all.


    Wikipedia has a large list of studies which essentially show that it's as accurate as more traditional sources, but often has omissions. Yes, someone can jump in and edit in random information, but it doesn't happen that often, is usually caught fairly early on and fixed, and it's also possible for the author and two reviewers of a scientific article to make a mistake, and that mistake is way more unlikely to ever be noticed than one on wikipedia.
  4. May 27, 2013 #3


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    Being able to process and analyze the veracity of the information you come across is still a necessary skill for people, as it has always been.
  5. May 27, 2013 #4


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    Warning: this comic occasionally contains strong language (which may be unsuitable for children), unusual humor (which may be unsuitable for adults), and advanced mathematics (which may be unsuitable for liberal-arts majors).
  6. May 27, 2013 #5
    You can not (and should not) filter at the source. However, you can filter at the sink.
  7. May 27, 2013 #6


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    You are taking on the equivalent of herding cats. Can't be done.
  8. May 27, 2013 #7


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    You realize that this forum is the answer.
  9. May 27, 2013 #8


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    I already have three lines in my signature.




  10. May 28, 2013 #9
    You can't. And maybe you shouldn't anyway. In the information age, it is really your responsibility to sort the wheat from the chaff, as they say. As a voracious self-learner, I can tell you how I do it...

    First, if I have a question I just run a general search and see what I come up with. Usually that's Wikipedia or dictionary.com, yahoo answers, etc. Something like that. If its Wikipedia, I'm usually pretty confident its accurate, but sometimes I'll cross check another link or two to make sure. If it's anything else, I'll usually continue to cross check different links until the results settle into a "chaotic attractor of consistency" which resembles something close to a near-limit cycle, but definitely not a two-torus. In other words, if I get the same answers from several different sites, I'll typically accept that (always with a grain of salt, though). That approach has worked great for me.

    Now......if the information is mission critical, as say I need it in relation to something I'm submitting for publication, then I need to be absolutely positive I have the right story. In that case, the best you can do is resort to the most current peer reviewed and respected journal articles you can find. This is also the best route if there IS NO agreed upon "right" answer to your question. But 99% of the time some simple crosschecking usually gets the job done.

    In summary, the information superhighway is kind of a self-organized animal. Governing entities that act to organize the information overload just kind of emerge from within the chaos, like Wikipedia and PF. I don't think your idea of some sort of oligarchy of information checking institutions is a practical solution to the overload. Personal Power is! The internet is open ocean surfing, not a water park that can be controlled.
  11. May 28, 2013 #10


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    You can combat this, evidently there are many examples (including this forum) that work to some extent. The internet hasn't changed much in the way of debunking/teaching except to make it faster and more accessible. The process still involves identifying what X knows about Y, identifying what mistakes about Y X has, covering the relevant background information about Y to correct those mistakes and throughout all of it augmenting the style of teaching to suit X.

    What you seem to be asking for is some kind of Answers Engine so sophisticated that it can trawl a database of vetted data and use augmented learning techniques to produce material suited to the user. That seems quite pie in the sky at them moment. So presently the answer to your question is simply human labour. Take someone experienced in the subject with good teaching skills (doesn't have to be a professional of either) and take time to teach the person. Note that not everyone wants to be taught though.
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