Pursuit of truth in a digital age
By George Edwards, GIAC2002.org
I often say that I know nothing then amend that by saying “But I have some very strong beliefs.” Very little that we “know” is from our direct experience, it is largely what we have been told by others and have accepted.
Determination of what is true is a challenge in any age. Certain common-sense principles must always apply including the reputation or possible conflict of interest that a source may have. If the source is known to have knowingly provided false information in the past, you are justified in dismissing any further statements by that source as it has shown to have no respect for truth.
Google is a source of ready information whenever we have any question at all in this digital age. When we receive any purported information in an e-mail especially that we suspect may be too outlandish not to have been reported elsewhere, it often works to copy and paste the title, source or other unique content from it into the google search bar and press <Enter>. Most frequently a snopes choice will be offered for further information.
It is well to read the information offered on snopes before making a judgment on whether the original is worthy of acceptance or to be passed on. Snopes not only offers an opinion on whether or not the original is true, only partly true or false. And most importantly, if it claims that the original statement is other than true, it offers background material from other sources that have led to its opinion.
The original snope authors were rumored to be liberals, but the site continues to have a big stake in not passing on false information on subjects they respond to. In my opinion, they are a reliable source even though any information from any source should be weighed with respect to other information you may be aware of.
Wikipedia is a frequently repudiated digital source of information that, most alarmingly can, in general, be edited by anyone, perhaps even anonymously. However, especially in generally non-controversial areas such as science, you may decide as I do that its articles are well worth reading and comparing with other information you already have. I would not use it as a source for political information.
I have copied and pasted an article from Wikipedia below, verbatim, on its editing procedures and lack thereof, with absolutely no editing by me. To read information indicated in its footnotes and links, google Wikipedia and click the internal links and footnotes there.
In a departure from the style of traditional encyclopedias, Wikipedia is open to outside editing. This means that, with the exception of particularly sensitive and/or vandalism-prone pages that are "protected" to some degree, the reader of an article can edit the text without needing approval, doing so with a registered account or even anonymously. Different language editions modify this policy to some extent; for example, only registered users may create a new article in the English edition. No article is considered to be owned by its creator or any other editor, nor is it vetted by any recognized authority. Instead, editors are supposed to agree on the content and structure of articles by consensus.
By default, an edit to an article becomes available immediately, prior to any review. As such, an article may contain inaccuracies, ideological biases, or even patent nonsense, until or unless another editor corrects the problem. Different language editions, each under separate administrative control, are free to modify this policy. For example, the German Wikipedia maintains "stable versions" of articles, which have passed certain reviews. Following the protracted trials and community discussion, the "pending changes" system was introduced to English Wikipedia in December 2012. Under this system, new users' edits to certain controversial or vandalism-prone articles would be "subject to review from an established Wikipedia editor before publication".
Contributors, whether registered or not, can take advantage of features available in the software that powers Wikipedia. The "History" page belonging to each article records every single past revision of the article, though a revision with libelous content, criminal threats or copyright infringements may be removed retroactively. Editors can use this page to undo undesirable changes or restore lost content. The "Talk" page associated with each article helps coordinate work among multiple editors. Importantly, editors may use the "Talk" page to reach consensus, sometimes through the use of polling.
In addition, editors may view the most "recent changes" to the website, which are displayed in reverse chronology. Regular contributors often maintain a "watchlist" of articles of interest to them, in order to easily track recent changes to those articles. In language editions with many articles, editors tend to prefer the "watchlist" because the number of edits has become too large to follow in "recent changes". New page patrol is a process by which newly created articles are checked for obvious problems. A frequently vandalized article can be semi-protected, allowing only well established users to edit it. A particularly contentious article may be locked so that only administrators are able to make changes.
The following is another verbatim selection from Wikipedia:
Some articles contain unverified or inconsistent information, though a 2005 investigation in Nature showed that the science articles they compared came close to the level of accuracy of Encyclopædia Britannica and had a similar rate of "serious errors". Britannica replied that the study's methodology and conclusions were flawed, but Nature reacted to this refutation with both a formal response and a point-by-point rebuttal of Britannica's main objections.
And, for those who may not be familiar with the source “Nature” that is mentioned in the above article, you can google it or, again verbatim from Wikipedia:
Nature is a prominent interdisciplinary scientific journal. It was first published on 4 November 1869. It was ranked the world's most cited by the Science Edition of the 2010 Journal Citation Reports and is widely regarded as one of the few remaining academic journals that publish original research across a wide range of scientific fields.
Research scientists are the primary audience for the journal, but summaries and accompanying articles are intended to make many of the most important papers understandable to scientists in other fields and the educated general public. Towards the front of each issue are editorials, news and feature articles on issues of general interest to scientists, including current affairs, science funding, business, scientific ethics and research breakthroughs. There are also sections on books and arts. The remainder of the journal consists mostly of research papers (articles or letters), which are often dense and highly technical. Because of strict limits on the length of papers, often the printed text is actually a summary of the work in question with many details relegated to accompanying supplementary material on the journal's website.
There are many fields of scientific research in which important new advances and original research are published as either articles or letters in Nature. The papers that have been published in this journal are internationally acclaimed for maintaining high research standards.
Finally, the following are verbatim selections copied and pasted from Wikidpedia concerning snopes.com:
Snopes.com /ˈsnoʊps/, officially the Urban Legends Reference Pages, is a website covering urban legends, Internet rumors, e-mail forwards, and other stories of unknown or questionable origin. It is a well-known resource for validating and debunking such stories in American popular culture, receiving 300,000 visits a day.
Snopes is run by Barbara and David Mikkelson, a California couple who met in the alt.folklore.urban newsgroup. The site is organized by topic and includes a message board where stories and pictures of questionable veracity may be posted. The Mikkelsons founded the San Fernando Valley Folklore Society and were credited as the owners of that site until 2005. . . .
Snopes aims to debunk or confirm widely spread urban legends. The site has been referenced by news media and other sites, including CNN, Fox News Channel, MSNBC and Australia's ABC on its Media Watch program. Snopes' popular standing is such that some chain e-mail hoaxes claim to have been "checked out on 'Snopes.com'" in an attempt to discourage readers from seeking verification. As of March 2009, the site had approximately 6.2 million visitors per month.
The Mikkelsons have stressed the reference portion of the name Urban Legends Reference Pages, indicating that their intention is not merely to dismiss or confirm misconceptions and rumors but to provide evidence for such debunkings and confirmation as well. Where appropriate, pages are generally marked "undetermined" or "unverifiable" if the Mikkelsons feel there is not enough evidence to either support or disprove a given claim. The Mikkelsons say many of the urban legends are mistakenly attributed because of common problems associated with e-mail signatures.