Thursday, April 28, 2005

Don't Be Fooled by Bogus Info

Anyone with access to the Internet, which is almost everyone these days, knows that it can be used to find good information about almost anything imaginable. And you can usually find it very quickly if you know a few advanced searching tricks.

But along with legitimate news and information there is also a plethora of “junkformation,” which is my word for Internet litter. The biggest problem is that some people, especially neophyte users, might actually confuse the legitimate for the not-so-legitimate.

In this age of electronic publishing where anyone with a Web address can publish almost anything he wants, we must be really careful to sort out the flotsam and jetsam floating around in cyberspace from the bona fide facts.

Some of the spurious information is put there purposely as a joke. Some of it comes from the fringe groups of society who have adopted a sort of twisted logic that they have formed into cult-like status, and they want everyone to join them. They make the most bogus of assertions seem credible by using scientific lingo or using out-of-context quotes from authorities.

A few years ago, I wrote about a Web site that warned everyone against the deadly chemical dihydrogen monoxide. The site claimed that this substance was found everywhere, even in breast milk. They said it could cause everything from skin irritation to death.

All of the claims made about this chemical are true, and many college students who visited the site took up the cause to force the government to regulate it. Unfortunately, none of those students were majoring in chemistry, for the deadly dihydrogen monoxide is just the chemical name for plain old water.

Yes water can kill you if you drown in it. And it can irritate your skin in its frozen state. It can even give you frostbite. But the Web site didn’t mention water anywhere. It was an attempt by the Webmaster to show just how gullible some people can be about information they find on the Internet.

Someone recently sent me a Web site for my perusal, to see what I thought about it. The site is called WhatDoesItMean.com. I don’t know who runs it or why, but it is chock full of legitimate-looking, though completely bogus, news and information on a wide variety of topics.

One article claims that the U.S. and Russia have been working together to fire thousands of nuclear missiles at a huge incoming asteroid. The article said that the nukes have destroyed the intruder and that its debris is now raining down on the earth. It points to a meteorite impact in Canada recently as one of the pieces of this debris.

I wonder how CNN failed to pick up on those thousands of nuclear missile launches. Maybe it was too busy covering the Michael Jackson trial.

An even more bizarre claim is that the earth’s gravitational field has been altered by the recent earthquakes in the Indian Ocean so that the earth is starting to attract more asteroids. It quotes a legitimate news story about how the quakes have affected Earth’s gravity.

Although large quakes can affect the earth’s rotation minutely, and even change the gravitational field on a local level a tiny bit, the gravity of the earth as a whole cannot be altered by these local events. Gravity depends on one thing – mass. The earth’s mass cannot be changed by an earthquake; therefore, its gravity can’t be changed either.

Yes, the Internet is a vast storehouse of knowledge that’s free for the taking. Just be careful to verify the information before you use it. If you can’t verify it, take it with a grain of salt.

1 comment:

Lexie said...

Great post. More people need to read and heed.