Updated: Mar 18
Do you know that?
Two pandemics are raging across the world, especially in the U.S. COVID-19 has claimed over 24,421,994 U.S. lives (a quarter of the world's total) at the time of my writing this article 20 January 2021, the highest in the world. Given the US as one of the most technologically advanced countries on Earth, there is virtually no excuse for this. It is due to the rampant anti-social attitudes, anarchy, and behavior brought about – in our case - by liberal democracy that a real coherent humane state does not exist.
"What is the second pandemic?", you should be asking. We have symptoms everywhere, from the person on the street waving Q-Anon flags all the way up to the university classroom and even in supposedly peer-reviewed journals. "Fake news", people will shout. Isn't news simply news, everything else being just noise? Isn't news supposed to be inherently the truth – factual, events upon which everyone can agree happened, even if described from various perspectives? An accident either did or didn't happen. A war broke out or it did not. True, gray areas exist, as in the Korean conflict being called a "war" or a "police action", but it was not peace and conflict did occur.
Most recently, widespread allegations circulated about massive fraud in the US 2020 presidential elections. No evidence has emerged. A few isolated examples are not "massive fraud". Let's take one of Q-Anon's claims that German chancellor Angela Merkel is Adolf Hitler's granddaughter. Simply going to genealogical records and birth certificates will disprove this. In logic, if one claim is found to be false or contradictory, it is time to start suspecting the source altogether. Another Q-Anon fantasy is MMS, or Miracle Mineral Solution being a "miracle cure" for COVID-19. Elementary high-school chemistry knowledge and extant medical journal articles will disprove this immediately, that MMS is a form of industrial bleach, and, instead of curing you, will ultimately kill you.
Frankly, if you haven't heard about the problem with false information, Q-Anon, and all that, you have been living in a cave for better (hopefully living your life uncomplicated and in contentment – ignorance is bliss) or worse, ignorance is costly, if not deadly.
Information quality, peer review, and “fake news”
Opinions are like noses; just about every person has one. The question is, continuing the metaphor, whether they can detect anything resembling quality evidence. It is nothing short of laziness, incompetence, lack of discipline, absence of maturity, or sloppiness that yields poor information. You may throw in here substance abuse, as well, not a gratuitous aside, given the heroin epidemic and all. I'll include the alcoholics and pot smokers. Persons often will make statements without giving any sources; consider these examples. Search the Internet to determine the sources of:
Mussolini's actually having said that Fascism is the merging of State and corporate power;
90% of all homes use the Microsoft operating system, Windows;
the percentage of oxygen (even an estimated range) produced by rainforests being 40%;
“L’État, c’est moi”—literally, “I am the State.”
During the 2017 devastating hurricane Irma, posted on the Internet were numerous false reports of this hurricane hitting various places and being a “category 6” hurricane. In all these cases, there exists no explicit peer-reviewed documentation. When going to quotations websites, such as the popular The Quotations Page or Brainy Quote , read the quote and drill down as far as you can, and you will never discover the actual work from which the quite was taken … not so brainy, if you ask me. Social media is another swamp of degeneracy, gases of opinions bubbling up ready to be lit by a demagogue hell-bent on self-aggrandizement.
If you think it stops at the street level, guess again. Academic peer-review is in deep trouble, indicated by Retraction Watch and science journals. This says nothing about very poor or even fraudulent journals that will publish virtually anything for money.
Then, there are "writing services" websites, where a student can find an unethical professional writer to write a customized paper. Search for "writing services", "term paper writing" and associated phrases to see what I mean.
The sources of the problem are values and institutions. First, ask yourself about ethos. What are your core values? In reading Plato's Republic, Book 7, you will learn that the search for truth is the highest human value, not hedonism or mere material gain. The second source of the problem is the institution, the school, and its curriculum. Abundant literature exists on schools as educational as opposed to training centers, whether they educate or indoctrinate.
I have carped on all this in detail in my work, We the State and elsewhere, my think now that it is more important to be constructive and give solutions presently necessary in these troubled times.
Purported knowledge review
In short, knowledge is information that has been validated. If someone asserts an event, check it out to see if it really happened, preferably by you in person or a reliable authority, "reliable" meaning repeatedly correct, that what s/he predicts does happen.
Ask about a source:
Who is the author?
What is her/his background – what qualifications does s/he have to write about the subject? From what universities/colleges did they graduate? How long have they been publishing?
With what organizations or individuals is/are the author(s) associated that might suggest a bias? Do they have any financial interests?
Under what circumstances is the author writing that might contribute to a bias?
How current is the information?
In what context is the information framed? Is it relevant to the writer's main area of study/expertise?
What method was to obtain the information?
In what location was the information prepared or formulated?
How plausible is the information? How skeptical should you be?
How tight is the argumentation?
Are the photographs/video/audio real, or have they been altered?
For a procedure, can you do it yourself, or can you research a reliable manufacturing source?
What about the science? For example, are any laws of physics being violated?
How well is the information documented?
This list does not include everything but does apply to ALL information and to all sources, including persons, organizations, communications media, encyclopedias, magazines, and even peer-reviewed articles.
I recommend these critical thinking websites for resources:
The Foundation for Critical Thinking - https://www.criticalthinking.org/
The Critical Thinking Company - https://www.criticalthinking.com/company
What about Wikipedia? Academics criticize using Wikipedia as a source, and a number proscribe it for the students in class. However, while many articles are of questionable value, so is a lot of presumably peer-reviewed research. Often, there will be an admonishment that the article is only a “stub” or incompletely referenced. The reader, as would any competent researcher, should do two things. First, read the content of what is being said to become acquainted with the ideas being discussed. Wikipedia says:
Anyone is allowed to add or edit words, references, images, and other media here. What is contributed is more important than who contributes it. To remain, the content must be free of copyright restrictions and contentious material about living people. It must fit within Wikipedia's policies, including being verifiable against a published reliable source. Editors' opinions and beliefs and unreviewed research will not remain. [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:About ]
You should consult the Wikipedia sources to get familiar with the topic, albeit thinking critically about the assertions. Chances are the more scientific and technical, the more accurate it is, especially in mathematics. Articles in political thinking or those about controversial issues are more problematic. You should advance to the references, treating each one as any scholar would. Then, again, the critical thinking websites are recommended: www.criticalthinking.org and www.criticalthinking.com, both run by old friends of mine – the late Dr. Richard Paul for the first, and Mike Baker for the second.
Knowledge Quality Institute
Truth in information regulations would go a long way to protecting people. I'd require in the publication (fully or by reference) a complete statement of the claim with peer-reviewed evidence supporting and refuting it, the mode of argumentation (deductive or inductive), as well as the reason for making the claim (commercial gain, education, etc.). Before such information could be vetted, representatives of the scientific community and experts in critical thinking would rate the piece for information, say from rumor to official document, peer-reviewed scientific study, or primary source. No longer could claims of “the best” and comparable superlatives be allowed unless supported by that evidence, as in peer-reviewe scientific studies. Vetting information without the rating would be deemed an antisocial attack. Remember, the raison d'etre of the State is the search for truth. If science and other knowledge quality enhancement methods are to play a significant and positive role in our world, academicians and non-academicians alike will need to take responsibility for the mounting problem and act to reverse these trends.
Already, numerous organizations, such as the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), Union of Concerned Scientists (USC), the Society for Technical Communication (STC), and the Centers for Inquiry (CFI) have sections devoted to promoting knowledge quality in our society. Yet, there seems to be lacking a single organization to coordinate these efforts, for a more powerful advocacy this domain. Other organizations, such as the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), Consumer Reports, the Institute for Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), and American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), represent their constituency’s interests effectively, and the same can be done for knowledge quality.
An organization can be created to enhance the regularization of knowledge production by creating and promulgating specifications. In the same way as the IEEE or similar standards organizations create standards, I suggest a knowledge quality institute (KQI) will do approximately the same. That is, when a knowledge producer (journal, technical publisher, newspaper, audio producer, etc.) adopts a specification, that producer can tell the audience a regular procedure has been used to produce that knowledge. As a foundation of standards formation, it would be recognized that epistemology, philosophy of scientific methods, educational philosophies and the systems they generate, and philosophies of life, in general, play an integral part in knowledge creation.