Embrace Your Inner Skeptic 5: Evaluating information in the internet age

This is a partial transcript of the talk I gave at St. Charles Community College on December 2, 2014.

  1. Amazing news!
  2. Nobody loves a critic
  3. Why skepticism is healthy
  4. What about religion?
  5. Evaluating information in the internet age
  6. Is Skepticism Right For YOU?
  7. Some advice on community building
  8. Q&A

To discover a solid truth, you need careful investigation and analysis. Believing something just because of blind trust takes no time at all. Mark Twain once said: “A lie can travel half way around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.” Urban legends and rumors appeal to people. Claims that speak to our secret prejudices, that confirm things we want to be true, spread quickly and efficiently through gossip, and at any given time there are thousands of things that “everybody knows” which aren’t actually true.

We live in an interesting time. It’s only since I was a computer science undergraduate that the internet stopped being a weird hobby for mega nerds, and started being used by everyone everywhere, to transmit information as fast as we can think about it. We all carry magic boxes in our pockets that we can use to immediately tap into the largest repository of knowledge in human history.

But a lot of it is lies.

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Never let the facts get in the way of a good conspiracy tale

My mom visited last weekend.  She is currently renting a room to a housemate, and it seems that the housemate is a bit inclined towards conspiracy theories.  One afternoon at lunch, mom told me that the housemate informed her that Barack Obama had just signed an executive order seizing control of all resources in the United States.

Mustering all my logical and rhetorical abilities, I decisively replied: “Uh… what?”

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