How to Spread a Lie and Other ‘Useful’ Skills in Postnormal Times?

37% of Americans don’t believe in global warming. Half of those that believe in global warming don’t believe it is man-made. Although, recent extremities in the weather, the recent bomb cyclone Grayson, Hurricane Katrina etc. do point out towards global warming as the cause. The wording used in these two statements are very typical. Now the first problem with these statements is the word ‘believe’. Global warming can be scientifically proven. So, can the scientific facts become beliefs and is there a problem with that? The difference between beliefs and scientific ‘facts’ is that beliefs have no scientific proofs. If the scientific ‘facts’ become beliefs than they are considered true even if new scientific evidence proves them wrong. This can be used to an advantage if it allows someone to make a gain. If a scientific fact is inconvenient for you, then make the whole thing an issue of beliefs and take the science out of equation. Global warming is indeed a scientifically provable or disprovable phenomenon. In the ideal world, there is very little room for ‘belief’. However, as can be seen from the opening statements of this article, the word 'believe' is incorporated into the global warming debate. So, a scientifically proven phenomenon is only considered true by just around 2/3rd of Americans.

But how do you spread a lie in today’s world and age when, apparently, all the information is at the finger tips of everyone? Simple. Just find the common sources of information and feed them with your version of the story or ‘facts’. In the old days, it was done through controlling the mainstream media. Today the most common and easy to access source of information for common population is social media. The difference is only a certain section of society had control over the print and electronic media in the olden times whereas social media is in the reach of everyone today. However, controlling social media requires different strategies and it is still only the rich and powerful that are in charge or, are they!

First of all, getting anything to trend on twitter has a whole method behind. It also requires investment. Large corporations pressure groups, political parties and leaders, all hire their social media teams to give them favourable social media presence. These teams can spread all kinds of fake news and lies to achieve their objectives. The other social media users become vehicles that make these fake stories and alternative ‘facts’ travel.

How is it possible to make people believe the lies to be true and convince them to spread them further in this age of information. This part of the process relies on the lack of ability of a layman to separate fact from fiction and do a background check on something that appears on your Facebook or Twitter feed before that 'Share' button is pressed and the information is passed on further. Part of the problem is the inaccessibility of scientific literature. Firstly, most of it is not free to access unlike stuff on Facebook and Twitter. Secondly, the wording and the language used in the scientific articles and journals is complete alien not just for a layman but even for a scientist from another field. Second point, other than the accessibility of information, is that even scientists can be bribed. There are numerous examples of that in the history. The rising levels of lead in the oceans and the health dangers of sugar are just a few examples.

So how do we deal with this information explosion? How do we separate facts from fictions? How can the beliefs be separated from the scientific theories and proofs? I think, first of all, the scientific literature needs to become more accessible, free and easy to understand. Scientific facts are to be communicated better. Among many other benefits of this, one will be increased impact of scientific discoveries. A quick sanity check before passing on any information further will be a service to humanity. Scientific discoveries are not to be confused with beliefs. Personality cults play a role in converting some of the scientific theories into beliefs. For example, just because Newtown said something, or Albert Einstein came up with a theory doesn’t mean it will hold forever. Science is challenging the old theories and understandings. Newton’s famous words, that “I could see further because I was standing on the shoulders of giants” can serve us well.

When it comes to global warming, a lot is at stake for some of the industry and the world economy. I will leave the background check on the firsts two sentences of this article to the readers.

Naeem Minhas

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