Old Patriot's Pen

Personal pontifications of an old geezer born 200 years too late.

NOTE The views I express on this site are mine and mine alone. Nothing I say should be construed as being "official" or the views of any group, whether I've been a member of that group or not. The advertisings on this page are from Google, and do not constitute an endorsement on my part.

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Location: Colorado Springs, Colorado, United States

I've been everywhere That was the title of a hit country-and-western song from the late 1950's, originally sung by Hank Snow, and made famous by Johnny Cash. I resemble that! My 26-year career in the Air Force took me to more than sixty nations on five continents - sometimes only for a few minutes, other times for as long as four years at a time. In all that travel, I also managed to find the perfect partner, help rear three children, earn more than 200 hours of college credit, write more than 3000 reports, papers, documents, pamphlets, and even a handful of novels, take about 10,000 photographs, and met a huge crowd of interesting people. I use this weblog and my personal website here to document my life, and discuss my views on subjects I find interesting.

Friday, October 22, 2004

An education worth pursuing

I've been having a lot of fun lately helping a couple of friends rebut attacks from folks on the looney liberal left. While doing that, I've discovered that there are literally MILLIONS of websites on the Internet, with virtually any kind of information one could want. In fact, there's enough information out there that, if it were linked in an orderly fashion, one could get a pretty darned good education - up through the PhD level - from reading even a small percentage of it.

Let's take a look at just one incident: the Great Depression that decimated the United States in the 1930's. If you do a Google search on "Great Depression" +cause +US (because the depression hit virtually every country in the world), you get about 138,000 hits. This isn't everything there is to know, or every reference to, the Great Depression, but just those that mentions the cause of the Great Depression, and that focuses primarily on the United States.

Google brings up just about anything and everything that has the words queried against in the article it retrieves, but is it worthwhile information? The first link up is Lecture 18 of thirty from a History 102 course given by the University of Wisconsin. The entire class notes are online, offering anyone wanting to study them a chance to get the same information offered in the class itself. Of course, these are just the class notes, and I don't find a link to the textbook, but that's not really important. By checking with Google, one can find a vast array of related information that would provide far greater knowledge than any single textbook, or from sitting in the class for four and a half months. There's information from several conflicting viewpoints, and hotlinks to supporting data, statistics, and even first-person accounts. There are articles from more than 30 "reference" sources - Encarta, Encyclopedia Brittanica, Webster's Dictionary, Google, and more. There are sites providing everything from snippets of information, course outlines, and reviews to entire scholarly dissertations on minute points. Just reviewing the first 70 items revealed work, class notes, assignments, and general study guides for a half-dozen different colleges and universities, and data from at least five government agencies.

I've researched more than 40 topics in the last two weeks, and the amount of information I've retrieved has been astounding for every single one of them. I've also found that changing the word order in the query will change the way the list is displayed, and may or may not change the number of hits. It really doesn't matter - the number of hits for almost every major event in world history returns anywhere from 500 to 5 million hits (do a query on "World War II" - 5,060,000 hits in less than a minute!). Of course, it's like the old saying, "you have to kiss a lot of frogs before you find your prince charming" - you have to look at dozens, sometimes even hundreds, of Google hits before you find the one with the answer you're looking for. The more you know about Google, the more you know about how search algorythms work, and the greater skill you have in properly wording your request, the more likely you'll get the results you want more quickly.

Of course, some people aren't really interested in the TRUTH, only what they want to say, or to repeat from "their" guy in politics, in sports, or whatever. The differences from fifty years ago, when I first started visiting libraries on a regular basis, and now are unbelievable. There is more information at my fingertips as I sit here typing than there was in the entire Louisiana Parish I lived in back then - and there was one four-year college and a separate two-year college in the two nearest large towns. The person trying to feed false information into a debate has a much harder time today - the information is only a query (and a few dozen mouse clicks) away. If the attempt is done in a public venue, there's a growing chance someone in the venue knows enough to run circles around the perpetrator of the false data. Even if there's NOT an expert readily available, within 24 hours the Internet will come up with not one, but a dozen.

So why are there so many lies making the rounds of the Internet? Part of the answer is laziness - someone finds it easier to forward the falsehoods than to research them and debunk them. Another part of the answer is that many of the people who hear the lie WANT to believe it, and gleefully spread it across the blogosphere at light-speed. Some people have a hard time searching for things - from lack of skills, from lack of understanding the way search engines work, from lack of experience, and from downright fear of doing anything but the most simple things on their computer. The lies spread, rather than be killed.

This is exactly what the people that created the lie in the first place want. They want it to be replicated around the world, spread to as many machines as possible, hoping that some of the lie sticks. They may want to change an opinion, create a demand (or kill it), to undermine someone's credibility, destroy faith, or simply see how far their lie will go before someone can kill it.

A few sites, like Snopes, Junk Science, and Fact Check, can make checking easy, and do a good job of debunking a lot of the untruths deliberately being spread around the world today. For many of the rest, it's up to those of us who value truth over fiction, and reality over make-believe. As for me personally, I'd rather be hated for telling the truth than loved for telling a lie.


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