COLUMN: What makes you so smart?

Sorting fact from fiction in the Age of Information

Maybe we love to rebel against authority.

Perhaps we feel we’re our own experts, empowered by the ability to search any topic online.

Or it could be the role of social networks, where some folks trust anything their Facebook friends tell them but refuse to believe a newspaper report.

Whatever it is, too many of us seem too quick to distrust the scientists, experts and other traditional leaders of our society.

Don’t get me wrong. Critical thinking is a good thing. Evidence, data, decisions and policies should be challenged. You have to be your own advocate.

But it strikes me as an insult to doctors who invested years of study when we try to out-think them, armed with a quickie diagnosis from Dr. Google.

Physicians, of course, weren’t the only ones fighting an uphill battle against the over-informed masses in 2011.

Economists who said B.C. would be wise to keep the Harmonized Sales Tax found their advice ignored by the majority of voters.

Astronomers were still rebutting a viral email hoax that’s circulated for years, claiming a rare celestial event will make Mars appear as big as the moon.

Pollution experts struggled to counter YouTube and Facebook posts claiming to expose the “real” radiation levels B.C. was receiving from Japan’s nuclear disaster.

Granted there are situations where scientists disagree, or may be aligned with opposing stakeholders. The debate over Metro Vancouver’s garbage incineration plans and the possible role of fish farms in the decline of sockeye salmon spring to mind.

In the case of the Fukushima disaster, nearby Japanese residents were right to disbelieve almost everything they were first told.

For the most part, though, I worry for our future if too many of us engage in knee-jerk cynicism.

India’s prime minister Dr. Manmohan Singh (a doctor and a politician, pity him) said it well last month: “Rampant distrust of all authority imperils the foundations of democracy.”

I’d say it imperils our health as well.

When too many vaccination rebels refuse to get a shot to help keep serious diseases at bay, we are all put at greater danger.

We saw this two years ago with the H1N1 flu vaccine refuseniks and more recently with parents holding chicken pox parties rather than have their kids submit to Big Pharma and the needle.

Besides a failure to filter and intelligently assess the glut of information now at our fingertips, we seem to have a related problem: an inability to realistically assess risk.

As a result, we have a low-level insurgency against BC Hydro’s wireless smart meters, despite the fact every square inch of the Lower Mainland is blanketed by wifi and cellphone signal networks.

We have schools ringed with parents’ cars because of the pervasive fear that lurking pedophiles will snare our children on the walk to class – despite the fact nearly all molesters and abductors are known to their victims and families.

We worry about “the big C” and how to avoid it because cancer rates are rising – never mind that’s largely because we’re living longer and not dropping from heart attacks as early.

And we have the public’s intense fear of crime, despite generally falling crime rates, that the Harper government is exploiting to impose U.S.-style justice reforms that many experts fear will be a costly failure.

I’ve run out of space, but I suspect the 9/11 conspiracy theorists, moon landing skeptics and Holocaust deniers have already tuned out.

For the rest of you still with me, thanks for reading.

I trust you didn’t believe a word.

Jeff Nagel is the regional reporter for Black Press in the Lower Mainland.

Twitter: @jeffnagel

Just Posted

VIDEO: Chilliwack students and staff perform with Steven Point

Chilliwack secondary school students and staff perform song written by former Lieutenant Governor

Chilliwack maternity ward closure narrowed to two weeks

Fraser Health says they’ve found a solution to an expected 13-week shortage of obstetricians

Pioneer Park playground opens for fun and play

The $160,000 playground is wheelchair accessible and funded partly through grants

After 30 years, Agassiz’s Miss Marge set to retire from Variety Play

From 1989 to today, Miss Marge has taken generations of kids through the district play program

RCMP believe Missing Hope teenager was headed to Chilliwack

Keely Reeze Loewen, 18, last in contact with a family member on June 13

VIDEO: Reading splashes into Agassiz’s Ferny Coombe Pool

The Agassiz Library held its annual Reading in the Pool event Friday, June 14

’When thunder roars, go indoors’: How to keep safe before lightning strikes

Each year, an estimated 10 deaths and as many as 164 injuries are lightning-related

B.C. rolls out online registration to speed up evacuee processing

Central Okanagan district tests province’s streamlined emergency management digital self-registration

VIDEO: After 73 years, siblings separated by adoption reunite in B.C

Donna Smith of Abbotsford and Clayton Myers of Williams Lake are glad they met each other

New Westminster police seek video of fight between two teens

Police responded to a fight at Pier Park in the early hours of June 14

B.C.-born Carey Price brings young fan to tears at NHL Awards banquet

Anderson Whitehead first met his hockey idol after his mother died of cancer

Licence issue delays boozing while cruising on BC Ferries

Planned June launch for alcohol sales delayed

B.C. school mourns after 13-year-old killed by fallen tree on field trip

Teenager died after being struck and pinned by tree while on a field trip near Sooke

Most Read