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Sunday, March 9, 2008

MISINFORMATION ON THE INTERNET AND TV

MISINFORMATION ON THE INTERNET AND TV
I have written on this subject before and I am going to write about it again here and now: about misinformation on the Internet. The Internet is becoming a great source of information. We know more today about more things than ever before in recorded history, and we are knowing things faster and faster and long before such information is evaluated.

But we also are beginning to know more inaccurate information than ever before. I watch Fox News regularly because here in Panama there are only two US stations on TV. Every day I see more scientific misinformation – what I call “medical garbage.” Within the past year I have discovered such information as: coffee is good for you; chocolate is good for you; and many other foods once thought to be detrimental to your health are now good for you. What most people do not know is that the scientists who say that coffee is good for you are funded by the Coffee Institute. Similarly for those who now promote chocolate. I once saw a program on the benefits of eating papaya and the camera showed mangos instead on the screen. See what I mean.

There are good qualities to all foods as there are bad. To get enough anti-oxidants from chocolate one would soon be 350 pounds and they would have other health problems from that. It is believed that the Kuna Indians here in Panama enjoy great longevity because they consume daily a drink made from fresh chocolate. But the processed chocolate we in the so-called civilized world eat is so far removed from fresh chocolate that there are no more the healthy anti-oxidants once found in the natural product. The short TV blurbs expounding the benefits of chocolate do say that eating modern chocolate does not provide the anti-oxidants they describe.

As a medical man I am concerned about the considerable medical garbage on TV. More people are learning more and more about nothing – at least nothing useful.

The other day TV news described about the great explosion which occurred way out in the Universe, some 800 million light years away, and they were discussing how the particles from this explosion might affect our Planet Earth. Let us, logically perhaps, if I am afforded such luxury, examine this more closely.

If the explosion occurred at a distance of 800 million light years away, since we are seeing it now means that the explosion occurred 800 million years ago. But remember that we are seeing it today and now. If the physical particles from the explosion could travel at the speed of light, which, of course, they cannot because a particle traveling at that speed would most likely disintegrate, these particle would be arriving now. If the particles are traveling at half the speed of light which they also can and are not the particles would arrive in twice that time, perhaps in 1600 million light years. If the particles were to travel at one quarter the speed of light which they also are not they would arrive in 3200 million years. For God’s sake: what are we worried about? TV is discussing the problem as if it were a probability that collision of the remnants of the explosion might affect life on Planet Earth. Some people are going to worry about this. Not I! But some more impressionable people might.

Many people are very impressionable, believe everything they see on TV, but more importantly get upset over what they see, no matter how trivial it might be. This might be a good thing for the drug companies selling tranquilizers, but for the average Joe. What good does it do him.

I am reminded of the time when a mother came into my Pediatric office with her child and she was very upset. I told her I would counsel her, but since I was busy at the time, I asked if she would not mind returning at 5 p.m. She arrived on time and we sat in my private office. I asked her what was troubling her. She was crying because she could not get over the death of a male actor in her favorite TV Soap Opera. As 20 minutes went by, I suspected something was going on which I did not understand. Asking more pointed and detailed questions, I discovered that the actor himself did not really die, but that it was the character in the Soap Opera who had died. This lady was so visibly upset. She was caught up in the fantasy world of the TV Soap that she was not able to separate reality from fantasy. I am sorry. I did not prescribe a tranquilizer. I just told her to “grow up and realize that there is a real world out there” and that she should stop listening to the TV Soaps which were nothing but garbage. Was I insensitive? Perhaps I was, but some ne had to tell her.

This woman had the responsibility of caring for three children, and I was not sure she was mature and healthy enough to perform that very important function. I saw her a month later, and she told me she stopped watching TV Soaps and felt better.

Television, like the Internet, is a powerful force in our lives. Of the five major senses, for the human sight is the most powerful. We know that for the dog, the sense of smell is most powerful and for some birds it is smell and sight. But for humans it is sight. This is why TV is such a powerful mover of our minds. But what do we encounter on TV? Much the same as we encounter on the Internet.

If one has an opinion, no matter how bizarre and untrue it may be, one can find in the Internet some one who would be able to corroborate that piece of misinformation. Every day I have friends who tell me this and tell me that and they give some authority on the Internet to back up their view. But who are these “Internet Authorities?” They are the individuals whose research is funded by the Chocolate Institute backing up some garbage information on chocolate. Need I belabor the point.

TV has no incentive to correct misinformation. They like the outrageous and bizarre because the people running TV think this is what the public likes. Just last week Fox News reported an incident about a crime and some of the sordid details about it. Within minutes of the initial reporting they were corrected by the police investigating the crime on one particular detail of the crime. But this was not good enough for Shepard Smith who once corrected continued to describe the original misinformation about the crime. This man is probably the worst news commentator on TV because he concentrates on the outrageous. He is more of an entertainer, not a serious news broadcaster. To many he might appear cute and funny, but his continuous reporting of misinformation is far from funny. But he has the “power of the mike” as I like to put it.

How about all those people who believe in Global Warming? I credit one man, Senior Alfonso Gore, who has perpetrated the most amazing fraud upon the general public of the world about Global Warming. The fact that he is making so much money with his private company selling so-called “Carbon Credits” seems to elude the rest of the world. He has been able to con the Hollywood-Types who are trained actors not educated thinkers. The entire debate is no more a debate. If you do not believe in Global Warming, you are anathema. They even have the Republicans now believing in it!

The other day on TV I watched an interview of the man who started “The Weather Channel.” He appeared to be an intelligent individual. He is getting together a group to sue Senior Alfonso Gore in court for perpetrating this Global Warming hoax and accusing him of profiting from the venture. The fact that Mr. Gore is in bed with the Canadian, Maurice Strong, who has in the past bilked stockholders in a shady energy deal in Colorado and also the stockholders of a Boston company, Molten Metals, which claimed to be able to neutralize radioactive materials by physical means. After bilking the government of millions of dollars with Gore being a major supporter at the time, the stock of Molten Metals plummeted from the 40's to just single digit values. The company folded. But before it did when the stock was in the high 30's, Maurice Strong who knew beforehand that the government was to withdraw support, sold all his stock making a tremendous profit. Many individual investors lost their shirt. Maurice made a lot of money from the fraud. I believe but not too sure that Gore got out early also.

You know people by the company they keep. This is what my father, who never went to school, told me. Know Senior Alfonso Gore by the company he keeps – Maurice Strong. You can easily evaluate the rest.

I know there are some readers of my Blog who will not like my disparaging comments on Gore, but my advice to them is: “grow up and realize that there is a real world out there.” Funny, this is what I told the mother in my office!

I admit it is very difficult to separate the wheat from the chaff when it comes to Internet information. As an educated scientist I can usually tell what is misinformation in the fields of science and medicine, but I am not trained in all the intellectual fields. But I do ask questions and I try to search other sources of information about a subject. I analyze the differing points of view, and I apply something the Jesuits taught me – logic.

Two things that have guided me in evaluating bits of knowledge, especially when it comes to things others propose are: logic and the Principle of Occam’s Razor. Although the principles of logic might appear self evident, one must know what these principles are in order to apply them.

The Principle of Occam’s Razor needs explanation. Occam’s Razor is a principle attributed to the 14th-century English logician and Franciscan friar William of Ockham. The principle states that the explanation of any phenomenon should make as few assumptions as possible, eliminating those that make no difference in the observable predictions of the explanatory hypothesis or theory. The principle is often expressed in Latin as the lex parsimoniae ("law of parsimony" or "law of succinctness"): "entia non sunt multiplicanda praeter necessitatem", or "entities should not be multiplied beyond necessity". – from Wykipedia

Paraphrasing the principle I usually write it as: “when there are more than one explanation to explain a theory or phenomenon, the simplest is usually the correct one.”

These two things have guided me through my intellectual pursuits and they have served me well. Just remember: “Do not believe everything you see and read” – especially if it comes from the Internet or TV.

nicola michael c. Tauraso, M.D.
Director, Tauraso Medical Clinic
www.drtauraso.com

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