Selective Information Overload

I read a column in a local paper by David Suzuki on the weekend; turns out it appeared a couple of months ago on the DS Foundation website. The local paper version has a much more engaging title though: ‘On crop circles, Atlantis, UFOs and alien abductions : proof of just about any theory can be found on the internet‘.

He’s talking about ‘selective information overload‘ and how this is used politically to devalue scientific evidence. Here’s the interesting bit:

I now believe we are experiencing a major problem in the early-21st century: selective information overload. And by this I mean that we can sift through mountains of information to find anything to confirm whatever misconceptions, prejudices or superstitions we already believe. In other words, we don’t have to change our minds. All we have to do is find something to confirm our opinions, no matter how misguided or wrong they may be.

Reminds me of the phrase, ‘lies; damn lies and statistics’; or, if it’s on the internet it must be true. How can politicians discredit science in this way? Science is not an opinion-based enterprise, it is based on research and careful observation of verifiable facts. Yes, the interpretation of these facts can be debated, but generally a ‘scientific consensus’ will emerge that presents the most reliable information. What’s that you say? Scientists can be wrong? To be sure, but I have to side with Suzuki here:

Scientific consensus does not mean we will always get the right answer. But if I were to bet on an issue, I’d put my money on scientific consensus over an observer’s hunch, a politician’s opinion, or a business leader’s tip.’