HIV/AIDS Skepticism

Pointing to evidence that HIV is not the necessary and sufficient cause of AIDS

Lowest common denominator — Wikipedia and its ilk

Posted by Henry Bauer on 2011/02/25

Peer review and other forms of regulating publication or broadcasting do not guarantee that what gets disseminated is reliable or truthful. On the other hand, the lack of any review guarantees that much untruth and much rubbish and much hate-inspired invective will be distributed; that has been copiously illustrated with innumerable examples on the Internet, for example, in Wikipedia and its ilk. For a book-length discussion of harm done by the Internet, see Elias Aboujaoude, Virtually You: The Dangerous Powers of the E-Personality (W. W. Norton, 2011); for a synopsis, see New York Times Book Review, 13 February 2011, p. 17.

The phrase, “lowest common denominator”, originated in mathematics: it’s whatever number can be divided without remainder into the set of numbers under consideration.
In social matters, the phrase was adapted to mean what is shared by a great range of individuals or institutions. In that latter sense, there is often a tinge of associated disdain: what appeals to the masses is often regarded as less worthwhile than what is valued by the experts.
In politics, on questions relating to democracy, disagreements and controversies are of long standing: for instance, should elected “representatives” rubber-stamp the relatively uninformed wishes of their constituents, or should they use their own better informed judgment? Or, should voting be compulsory so that it is truly the “wish of (all) the people” that counts, or should those who can’t be bothered to vote be allowed to self-disenfranchise?
The case for compulsory voting has long been accepted in Australia; a fine is imposed if an eligible voter fails to vote. Perhaps the principle that every voice needs to be heard owes something to Australia’s history, of being founded as a prison colony and settled in the beginning largely by convicts who had served out their terms, people who had learned a very healthy distrust of authority as a result of being convicted and transported for such crimes as stealing a loaf of bread with which to feed their children.
Some benefits of compulsory voting were demonstrated after World War II. The unions were very strong. Union membership was required in many industries. There were many strikes as union leaders tried to achieve all sorts of ends, some of them political rather than in the best everyday interests of unionists as a whole, because several of the most powerful unions — dock workers, for example — were led by avowed Communists. As is quite usual in groups of all sorts, the most fanatical gain ascendancy because they are willing to put in the most sustained effort, by contrast to those of moderate view and temperament whose lives are in better balance and who, for whatever reason — “my vote can’t make a difference”, say — let others take leadership positions. The solution was to have compulsory universal voting by secret ballot in union elections, and the Communists lost control.
An acknowledged failing of the political system in the United States is that party insiders select candidates who are then not found particularly appealing by the electorate as a whole, as illustrated by a succession of conservative gatherings and Republican primaries.

It is therefore only to be expected that the openness of the Internet means that fanatics will gain control whenever there is no effective mechanism for sifting truth from lies. I’ve discussed this in the past in relation to Wikipedia, based in part on what I learned when a friend told me that a “bio” of me had been posted there. We soon found that there is no effective mechanism for getting the truth into Wikipedia if someone is determined to keep lies there. The established mechanisms require one to “negotiate” with anonymous people of ill will and ignorance, with ultimate decisions made by again anonymous individuals of questionable intellectual credentials. In my case, the “bio” is wrong on simple facts and easily checked chronology, despite attempts by several people to have those rectified.
I soon learned to ignore Wikipedia. Those who haven’t learned that it’s untrustworthy have to learn that for themselves. But the matter was brought back to my attention by the recent comment from artwest saying that my website was red-lined in “Web of Truth” (WOT). I had never heard of WOT. Google quickly corrected my ignorance, and I see that WOT is based on the same misguided premise as is Wikipedia, namely that a consensus among the lowest common denominator would bring reliability. What it brings in actuality is the lowest of the low, dogmatists oblivious to evidence and intent only on enforcing their own views.

Caveat lector.

12 Responses to “Lowest common denominator — Wikipedia and its ilk”

  1. Robin said

    Henry, your wiki “bio” is actually very flattering, showing you have some eminently sensible views about some far more important subjects than your romantic infatuation with a certain mythical creature. And light-years away from the character-assassination job on Dr Wakefield, whose only redeeming feature is that it makes its lack of neutral point of view (NPOV, one of the Sacred Fundamentals of wickedpedophilianity) all too clear.

    A particularly telling feature of your wiki page is how they’ve put in claims lacking citation verification (in violation of wiki’s other Sacred Fundamental of “verifiability”). And most hilarious of all, the assertion about proof of hiv>aids cites ONLY two links to pages THAT DON’T EXIST!!!!!!

    So have a fairly nice day.
    PS- The reason why fanatics do more and hence dominate is cos they don’t expend any time or energy on questioning their assumptions or exploring alternatives thereto.

    • Henry Bauer said

      If I hadn’t become interested in the possible existence of Nessies, I might well never have branched out from doing electrochemistry. It was my first hint that there are things about which science knows nothing and cares nothing.
      Yes, ONE reason fanatics do much is not questioning; but another is obsessive one-issue fanaticism.

  2. Retro_Cycler said

    Acknowledging that the internet does some damage to “Truth” (however defined), would you say that the internet has helped or hurt the non-mainstream or fringe causes?

    Your argument seems to be that elevating the lowest common denominator hurts the “expert” position; but your position vis a vis HIV is that most experts (i.e. mainstream experts) are wrong. So if the internet hurts the position of these experts, doesn’t it help your position?


    • Henry Bauer said

      I think the Internet is dangerous because unless one already knows quite a bit about a subject, one cannot distinguish accurate from inaccurate information, be it from mainstream or from non-mainstream sources, or on “scientific” topics or non-scientific (“fringe”) ones..
      The Internet does afford people an easy way to collaborate, which is more benefit to non-mainstreamers who don’t have the advantages of mainstream organizational structures.
      I can’t think of specific examples where I would judge actual help or hurt. AIDS Rethinking benefits from some of its websites, for example, but it also suffers inordinate character assinations from many sources. I don’t know how to make a cost-benefit analysis.

      • Robin said

        Henry, I think you’re utterly wrong here. I mean there’s ample proof that hiv(oops wrong site)

        Without the internet one doesn’t even get the *opportunity* to “distinguish accurate from inaccurate information”. All one has is the misleading lies put out by the msm which includes nearly all books and “experts” too. All through THIRTY-SIX YEARS of devastating illness the only information I had about dental mercury was the official lies that it was entirely harmless (so I had not even the slighest notion it could have caused my becoming a mental and physical wreck). If only I had not had to wait so many decades for the internet to arrive, my life would have been SO, SO, SO much different! And in just about everything, I have learnt more in the past five years than I learnt in the previous fifty.
        But it’s not just the internet we have to thank. It’s also thanks to many millions of wonderful people who have freely given of their time to tell us the truth for no rewards beyond unworldly ones. You might just about qualify for inclusion in that list yourself (provided your subscription reaches me within 24 hrs).

      • Henry Bauer said

        That you personally have been able to use the Internet to advantage doesn’t mean its benefits overall outweigh its deficiencies overall. An analogy:
        Government-instituted propaganda against smoking has helped bring the rate of smoking in the USA down dramatically. But there are also many issues where Government-backed propaganda has caused mischief; for example, concerning HIV/AIDS or autism, say.
        So too with the Internet. It may be largely of benefit to particular individuals, or overall on particular topics, while at the same time being toxic on other topics and for other individuals.

      • Robin said

        Hmm, I think you’re more obtuse than usual. In the absence of the internet people would have only the infinitely more harmful almost entirely censored, extremely DECEITFUL and deliberately manipulative publication system in its place. The example of my own life is not some atypical but is the very essence of the matter. I wouldn’t even have heard of the hiv skepticism movement let alone its arguments, for just one more example. And to actually talk with one of its members as here would be utterly unimaginable.

      • Henry Bauer said

        You may well be right 🙂

      • Louis said

        First, I would like to warn that I am trying to be short. The points I bring are a much denser discussion than a comment on a blog allows (one could fill books with it). That said, let me begin.

        I think the problem is more “tangential” than the “internet has its issues”. It is just a mean for communication like others, including person-to-person speech. The problems you point out is more with culture: people (all over the world, some places more than others) are raised to believe in the ‘higher powers/authorities/whatever source that is entitled to bring us the truth’ without too much questioning. Said source, of course, varies according to culture/sub-culture and with times (religious institutions, consensus from the scientific community, the government, heads of movements, there are many). The side effect is that any information contradicting the “unquestionable” source(s) will face severe skepticism, no matter how well backed up on evidence and, instead of judging the evidence both sides present, most people will cling to the subconscious suggestion “but the source probably knows better, so I will stick with”.

        There is the same dangers you point for the internet on books, television, or radio, just less people able to produce and release material, and make it reach potential consumers of that information. The same issues were brought up when the print medium began and became popular (read “accessible to the population and not just a crazy thing science people use on their basements”). The same also happened to radio and then tv, essentially it is something that is brought up every time a new medium makes it possible to a broader number of people to release and/or consume information on their own initiative. The source problem remains unattended for, however: people and gullibility.

      • Henry Bauer said

        I certianly agree — as far as it goes. But I’m far from the only one to point out that the ease, speed, and wide distribution possible via the Internet makes for a difference that is in kind, not just in degree, with the earlier media innovations you mention. With free blog hosting, and free access to on-line computers in many libraries and other places, personal wealth or status or connections aren’t needed to broadcast via Internet to the whole world.

      • Louis said

        I agree the speed distinguishes the internet, but there is a few “buts” that make the speed and broad access less significant than the broad numbers make them look like. It is a quite deceiving thing. Just for comparison and thought, when print came out the most effective media for transference of information were personal interaction and handwritten letters. Proportionally print brought a much higher speed up (radio was comparable too). When internet came out there were already instant news on radio and tv, printed newspaper were published once or twice a day, and bookstores were everywhere – info was everywhere, just not ‘centralized’ as the internet seems to do (not exactly, so many voices out there that it actually divides as much as it unifies, but that isn’t the popular perception). And if we consider the broad world, there are places were the internet isn’t so common or accessible, there are countries/regions where other sources are more popular, and the amount of trust people put in the internet vary significantly from region to region in the rest of the world too.

        There many other factors that deflates the impact of the easy of access and release of information on the internet (too many to make a decent short list), but most of them have to do with having a too trusted source (people just disregard the ‘excessive’ information after being exposed to it), and selective reading (people don’t even get to read info contrary to their world view). Selective reading is very impacting on the internet, more than other medias, specially tv and radio. It is easier to avoid links to pages/subjects, or to stop reading a text, when it feels like it contradicts my world view than to avoid a reportage in the middle of one’s favorite tv/radio news program (no wonder they are generic and talk about basically any possible subject, economy, tourism, games, ecology, you name it, they talk about it). Other medias are too sequential, the internet’s broadness ends by removing that feeling. The traditional way to read a book or section of a newspaper, or just watch a tv/radio program is from beginning to end, in the internet everything is side by side and there is no beginning or end, one just go from one page to whatever else catches their attention next. That actually makes those media a bit more dangerous in this sense, all the info comes in a sequentialized package. In the net there are higher chances that a person will be exposed to evidence before their mental defenses have been built.

  3. timewalker said

    Mark Twain once said: “A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is still putting on its shoes.”

    He said that long before there was an Internet or, God help me, Wikipedia. The medium may change but human nature, not so much. Pandering demagoguery is not new. Nor is sophistry. People and ideas have been misrepresented in newspapers, television, and radio for as long as those forms of communication have existed and with less chance of publicly setting the record straight… For today. As net neutrality dies the death of a thousand cuts, this playing field is about to get a lot less level.

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