Belief in an Information Age

Crocoduck1Why do we believe weird things? Moreover, how do we persuade others (or ourselves) to move off of a long-held belief when new evidence comes to light? These are questions that are never far below the stream of my consciousness, and have been for some time. And these, coincidentally, were all prominently addressed in my three most recent reads:  The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution by Richard Dawkins,  Shakespeare: The World As Stage by Bill Bryson, and Nate Silver’s The Signal and the Noise: Why So Many Predictions Fail–But Some Don’t

The first two seek to actively disabuse readers of fraudulent notions they might have about evolution and Shakespearean authorship, and the third attempts to explain why our brains are so wired to believe this “noise.”

In the very first chapter of his book, Silver points to the enormous amount of new information available as a prime culprit to our inability to distinguish fact from fiction. This “Information Age” argument is a powerful one, and it can be seen influencing debate in a number of different facets. Silver writes,  “The human brain is quite remarkable; it can store perhaps three terabytes of information. And yet that is only about one-millionth of the information that IBM says is now produced in the world each day.” He continues the thought:

Meanwhile, if the quantity of information is increasing by 2.5 quintillion bytes per day, the amount of useful information almost certainly isn’t. Most of it is just noise, and the noise is increasing faster than the signal. There are so many hypotheses to test, so many data sets to mine–but a relatively constant amount of objective truth.

When I browse through my Facebook news feed, read blogs, or receive random chain e-mails, I am frequently disheartened by the amount of empirically false claims I see casually tossed about. The joke might be, “It’s true, I read it on the Internet!” But that is so often the case, and I think most people, myself included, have been guilty of it at some point or another.

Even if lies are subsequently proven false, the damage has already been done. An early wide-spread Internet lie was the one linking the MMR vaccine to autism.  Repeated studies have shown no link, but the anti-vaccination crowd remains vocal and dangerously effective.

While addressing and correcting such falsehoods is a worthy endeavor, it could paradoxically be causing more harm than good. When there are such divergent “facts” available through a few simple key strokes, it can cause an undue level of skepticism for actual, objectively true facts.

As Dawkins points out, creationists love to use this confusion tactic. They say, “Teach the controversy,” despite there being no such controversy in scientific circles. To them (or any other agents of purposeful misinformation, and there are many), persuading the masses isn’t completely necessary, so long as they at least plant a seed of doubt. If both sets of “facts” seem reasonable on the surface, a great many will take them both at face value, and wave the truth off as a 50/50.

Of course, the truth cannot be 50/50. A statement is either true, false, or unknown. An overly skeptical person might say something like, “It’s never wrong to question authority or conventional wisdom,” but this is a definitive statement in its own right. Definitive, and wrong. There is a great deal we do not know about the universe, but not knowing everything is far removed from knowing nothing at all. Indeed, our collective inquiries through a wide-range of intellectual fields throughout the centuries have left us with quite a bit of knowledge which is unlikely to soon be disproved.

Among the worst of the Internet fabrications are the widespread conspiracy theories. Within days of the Boston Marathon bombing there was a conspiracy theory, despite the hundreds of victims, the thousands of witnesses, and the whole thing caught on camera and live on cable T.V. This gets into another reason for why we believe weird things, and it ties nicely into the pre-Internet idea that William Shakespeare was not the author of the plays and poems bearing his name.

I am by no means the first to propose it, but I will do so here: many people need to believe that great events (or in the Boston Marathon case, great tragedies) need to have great explanations. For many, it is too simple an explanation that a 16th Century provincial actor-turned-playwright would produce such brilliant, timeless works. It is too simple to believe that all life evolved slowly over time. It is too simple to believe an American president could be gunned down by a lone gunman. And somehow it is too simple to believe 19 pissed-off Muslims could actually pull off a conspiracy involving four separate planes (on a quick side-note: my all-time favorite anti-“Truther” comeback is courtesy of Michael Shermer, “How do we know 9/11 wasn’t orchestrated by the government? It worked”).

I have not yet addressed my second question, the one of how to actually change minds with new information. Frankly, I have no idea. Far too often in discourse, political or otherwise, people either talk past each other, or merely hear what they want to hear. While I thoroughly enjoyed Dawkins’s book, I couldn’t help but feel like he was preaching to the choir, so to speak. He beautifully laid out the incredible and substantial evidence for evolution, but I wondered how many, if any, creationists read his book.

When I see climate change deniers, 9/11 “Truthers,” creationists, and the like go on about their obvious misconceptions about objective realities of our world, it is easy to become pessimistic.

I may have already answered this question in my post about the shifting attitudes toward same-sex marriage. While it is difficult, and in some cases impossible, to sway a single person on an issue, it is much easier to persuade a population over time. There will likely always be conspiracy theories and theorists, the key is to make sure their noise doesn’t filter into the larger population. Collectively, we need to extol the virtues of the scientific method and intellectual progress, and make a stand whenever we see nonsense masquerading as real news.

20 comments for “Belief in an Information Age

  1. David Marx
    July 31, 2013 at 16:19

    My comment is this: Zachary Marx is most certainly NOT “currently living and working just north of Seoul, Korea in the town of Paju”. Therefore, how can anything you say be true? Love you, Dad :)

  2. Erick Faerber
    January 5, 2021 at 16:06


    Let’s face it…

    Sending out emails is fun – as long as you keep getting responses… (But before I get into the details of how you can get more replies, let me tell you a little secret)

    You might have heard about Abraham Lincoln’s sharpening an axe before chopping a tree quote? If not, here it is…

    He said, “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.”

    Now, how does it apply to you and the way you reach out to people?

    Well, no matter how good you think your email is – no one will open it if its subject line is not enticing enough…

    It won’t matter if your email brings a lot of value – if the recipient doesn’t open it in the first place…

    This is where the whole ‘sharpening the axe’ theory steps in…

    So, if you’re sending out multiple emails in a day and not getting any responses, there’s a chance that your emails are not being opened…

    Coming back to how you can get more replies…

    Over these years, I’ve tried and tested multiple subject lines and identified what makes people tick…

    To help you out and send the elevator back, I’ve put all of them together in a done for you, fill in the blank free resource so that you can use them whenever you want…

    Follow this link to get access to this free resource and sharpen the axe to get responses like never before!

  3. January 27, 2021 at 18:30

    You Won’t Want To Miss This! 50 pcs medical surgical masks only $1.99 and N95 Mask $1.79 each.

    Special Offer for the next 48 Hours ONLY! Get yours here:


    Belief in an Information Age – 80 Couches

  4. February 16, 2021 at 14:26

    You Won’t Want To Miss This! 50 pcs medical surgical masks only $1.99 and N95 Mask $1.79 each.

    Only 10 orders left! Get yours here:

    To your success,

    Belief in an Information Age – 80 Couches

  5. February 27, 2021 at 16:41

    You Won’t Want To Miss This!

    Buy N95 Mask only $1.69 each and get 10 pcs of medical surgical masks for FREE.

    Limited Time Offer! + Fast Shipping! Get yours here:


    Belief in an Information Age – 80 Couches

  6. March 2, 2021 at 21:52

    Hi there

    Buy all styles of Ray-Ban Sunglasses only 19.99 dollars. If interested, please visit our site:

    Kind Regards,

  7. March 8, 2021 at 14:31

    Hello there

    Buy face mask to protect your loved ones from the deadly CoronaVirus. We wholesale N95 Masks and Surgical Masks for both adult and kids. The prices begin at $0.19 each. If interested, please visit our site:

    The Best,

    Belief in an Information Age – 80 Couches

  8. March 13, 2021 at 17:32

    The #1 Best Dog Bed Of 2021
    Get yours now, we’re currently having a sale & Free Shipping
    Shop now:

    Belief in an Information Age – 80 Couches

  9. March 13, 2021 at 21:01

    Good day

    The complete selection of all Ray-Ban sunglasses styles available online and only 19.99 dollars.

    Insanely special offer for the next 24 hours only! Get yours here:

    You Won’t Want To Miss This!


    Belief in an Information Age – 80 Couches

  10. March 18, 2021 at 12:09


    Be Free from Neck Pain
    Try NeckFlexer & Relieve Neck Pain Effortlessly In 10 Min!
    Save 50% OFF + FREE Worldwide Shipping

    Shop Now:


  11. March 22, 2021 at 05:20

    Good Morning

    Body Revolution – Medico Postura™ Body Posture Corrector

    Improve Your Posture INSTANTLY!

    Get it while it’s still 60% OFF!
    FREE Worldwide Shipping!

    Get yours here:


    Belief in an Information Age – 80 Couches

  12. March 24, 2021 at 04:50

    Hey there

    Wholesale Medical Surgical Masks for both adult and kids – Buy Now as Low as $0.19/mask

    Shop now:

    All the best,

    Belief in an Information Age – 80 Couches

  13. March 27, 2021 at 05:14

    Hi there

    Defrost frozen foods in minutes safely and naturally with our THAW KING™.

    50% OFF for the next 24 Hours ONLY + FREE Worldwide Shipping for a LIMITED time
    Buy now:

    The Best,

    Belief in an Information Age – 80 Couches

  14. March 28, 2021 at 09:00

    Good Morning

    CAREDOGBEST™ – Personalized Dog Harness. All sizes from XS to XXL. Easy ON/OFF in just 2 seconds. LIFETIME WARRANTY.

    Click here:


    Belief in an Information Age – 80 Couches

  15. April 2, 2021 at 23:19


    Wear with intent, live with purpose. Fairly priced sunglasses with high quality UV400 lenses protection only $19.99 for the next 24 Hours ONLY.

    Order here:

    Best regards,

    Belief in an Information Age – 80 Couches

  16. April 3, 2021 at 18:24


    World’s Best Neck Massager Get it Now 50% OFF + Free Shipping!
    Wellness Enthusiasts! There has never been a better time to take care of your neck pain!

    Our clinical-grade TENS technology will ensure you have neck relief in as little as 20 minutes.

    Get Yours:

    Kind Regards,

    Belief in an Information Age – 80 Couches

  17. April 15, 2021 at 09:18

    Hello there

    Trim your dog’s nails safely from home. Get it while it’s still 50% OFF + FREE Shipping

    Buy here:


    Belief in an Information Age – 80 Couches

  18. April 16, 2021 at 15:11

    Hi there

    Meet your best Buds – True Wireless Earbuds with amazing sound, convenience, portability, & affordability!

    Order yours now at 50% OFF with FREE Shipping:

    Kind Regards,

    Belief in an Information Age – 80 Couches

  19. April 25, 2021 at 15:57


    Our Medical-Grade Toenail Clippers is the safest and especially recommended for those with troubles with winding nails, hard nails, two nails, nail cracks, deep nails, thickened nails etc..

    Get yours:


    Belief in an Information Age – 80 Couches

  20. April 28, 2021 at 15:48

    Good day

    The ultimate smashing machine! Grinding Coffee Beans, Nuts & Spices in seconds.

    50% OFF for the next 24 Hours ONLY + FREE Worldwide Shipping for a LIMITED time

    Order here:

    Kind Regards,

    Belief in an Information Age – 80 Couches

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *