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In recent weeks, or so it seems, there has been an accumulation of some very disturbing trends in the media. Unaware of how they all are connected, I wrote separate posts on the different occasions when the events triggered their separate thought processes.

It started in the US (where else?), when at least one creationist went on the record as claiming the moon landings were a hoax. Two delusions in the same person? Indeed, the blogosphere, home to all the echo-chambers of the social web, acts pretty much as a powerful amplifier without crossovers or equalizers: sometimes it just amplifies garbage. The political attacks on science slowly moved towards political (and physical) attacks on scientists. The US-based Discovery Institute wants to put all scientists in jail. Most recently, in the Telegraph (UK), the columnist Gerald Warner wrote:
Who cares? Thanks to climate change scams, swine flu and a whole host of own-goals, the status of the white-coated prima donnas and narcissists has never been lower in the public esteem. It was Rush Limbaugh, of all unlikely candidates, who at the height of the Climategate exposé made the thoughtful point that more than climate was at stake: the credibility of the entire scientific community was collapsing. He was right. After a period of priest-like authority, the pointy-heads in lab coats have reassumed the role of mad cranks they enjoyed from the days of Frankenstein to boys’ comics in the 1950s.
Add to that a system in which fraud and careerism are incentivized, and one starts to get a grim hunch of the dynamics that have to play out such that even decades of scientific data and debate are not enough to convince people.

The social web creates echo-chambers of epic and unseen proportions. Echo-chambers lead to such strong convictions that their members easily and quickly become 'unpersuadables' - no amount of evidence can persuade them (Guardian, UK version). The hallmark of a scientist is that he/she is an opportunist: in the face of overwhelming evidence, change your mind. In contrast, unpersuadables would never change their minds. Maybe this difference already explains some of the recent hostility? Already in 2004 it became clear that the unpersuadables, the delusional, are not marginal any more. Today, they are a powerful minority with substantial societal power. Let's face it, there are now millions upon millions of people all around us who are impervious to argument, consistently learning resitstant and who hold one or several beliefs unthinkable since the time of the enlightenment more than 200 years ago. In other words, a substantial portion of western society is moving backwards and degenerating intellectually and the social web 2.0 technology is fueling this regression.

And these millions of people vote.

Unpersuadables would decrie gravity as a hoax if a political opponent endorsed it, or the second law of thermodynamics. So far, these prophecies are just satires, but given that even the Flat Earth Society is thriving again (interview with the president of the society), there seems to be a Poe at every corner these days. Is it just a matter of time until the new, hi-tec, web 2.0 echo-chambers have managed to shift the Overton window enough such that any opinion is worthy of serious debate? Is there nothing we can do about it? Or has it already shifted?

What if the delusional becomes the majority?


P.S.: Most likely, there is already an echo-chamber somewhere, where people are using 'unpersuadable' as a positive adjective when describing themselves.
Posted on Tuesday 09 March 2010 - 15:28:21 comment: 0
delusion   web 2.0   middle ages   religion   politics   unpersuadables   


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