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54 Posts
Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Or so they are according to these idiots.

Websites don't work...

Funny, for the #1 Internet solution provider in the world, I don't recognize any of their clients. And how about that 'Guaranteed Inclusion' line? Sounds like a 'carny' pitch to me... ;)

No one ever said being #1 is the most important aspect of a website, but being in the top two pages of results is fairly crucial for casual traffic generation.

235 Posts
I personally believe this bit of seminal work...

Learning to navigate in a sea of information

By Chet Raymo (09/15/97)

This summer we followed the Mars Pathfinder mission on the Internet.

We saw the pictures and examined the data beamed backed from Mars, almost as quickly as they were available to the scientists at mission control.

These were not photographs and data filtered through the media, but the original information — every pixel, every number, every geological and meteorological observation from the Red Planet.

And more. We had frequently updated analyses by NASA scientists. Explanatory animations. Diagrams and graphs. Commentary from the news media. And a vast amount of opinion from Ordinary Joes expressed on private web sites.

We also read about joke conspiracy theories, the "pictures NASA didn't want us to see." The face of Christ on a Martian rock. A flying saucer in the Martian atmosphere. A Martian Bigfoot walking around in the Martian dust.

Some of these joke web pages were as graphically realistic and as convincingly constructed as the official NASA web site.

All of this information, real and bogus, was available to anyone on the planet with a computer and access to a telephone line.

What was true for Pathfinder is true of every other field of human endeavor. A few keystrokes will bring into our homes newspapers of record and the ravings of madmen, works of art by the great masters and by Sunday painters, Shakespeare's plays and the scribbles of the person next door, stockmarket wisdom and money-gouging scams, science and pseudoscience — a vast unsorted sea of information and opinion, some valuable, some off the wall.

The essence of the Internet is its glorious intellectual promiscuousness. No gatekeepers stand between sources and consumers of information.

We have entered the Age of Unfiltered Information.

Previously, we obtained information from books, magazines, newspapers, radio, television, libraries and schools. Editors, librarians, and teachers decided what information is "true," "legitimate," "useful" or "appropriate."

This had certain advantages. We were saved from drowning in a sea of superfluous information. We were instructed by those who are wiser and better educated than ourselves. Our society gathered a stabilizing degree of cohesiveness.

By contrast, the Internet is a gate flung wide open. The loony web pages of civilian militias are as readily accessible as the web pages of a Nobel prize-winning peacemaker. The web pages of the International UFO Museum and Research Center have equal standing with the web pages of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

This all-inclusive anarchy can be exhilarating, liberating, fun. For the first time in history, individuals can interact with the world of information without the constraints of official gatekeepers.

This Internet revolution has enormous implications for education, and the sooner we face them the better. The schools are fast becoming obsolete as purveyors of facts; facts come flooding from our computers faster than we can assimilate them. What the schools must now provide — and quickly! — are skills of critical thinking.

Our children must learn to become their own gatekeepers.

How does one filter the information that gushes from the net? How does one distinguish information that has the backing of a broad base of educated opinion from fringe or crackpot information? In which web pages can we place our trust without the risk of getting burned?

Let's say a kid in a science class does a net search for "cold fusion." She gets 5,000 hits, more information than she could have obtained in a dozen years of teachers and books. However, these hits range the gamut from respectable scientific research to the incoherent thoughts of perpetual motion cranks. And to make things more confusing, some of the goofier opinions are found on the glitzier web pages. How does the student separate the wheat from the chaff?

Another student finds his way to the classy home page of the Institute for Creation Research in California. He notes that the institute has a faculty with Ph.D's, a graduate program, a Science Education Center, even a list of ideas for science fair projects — all the trappings of real science. How is the student to know that the Institute for Creation Research has pariah status within the professional scientific community?

The Internet is like a vast marketplace of ideas where every purveyor has the same size stall. Some stalls are decked out with neon and flashing lights; others are shabby and drab. Some stall keepers promise the world; others offer only modest helpings of "fact." Where does one shop?

Does it matter? Yes. A vigorous marketplace of ideas is healthy, but a society needs a certain degree of shared faith if it is not to disintegrate into anarchy. If all ideas in the marketplace are equal, then no ideas will truly matter.

If we are to live in a society without information gatekeepers, we must educate our children to be open-minded but skeptical, tolerant of diversity but passionate about truth, respectful of received opinion but equipped with tried-and-true critical skills of history, rhetoric, logic, statistics, and the experimental method.

Chet Raymo is a professor of physics at Stonehill College and the author of several books on science.

©1997 Boston Globe
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