Last year I had the dubious pleasure of serving on the board of directors of a Home Owner’s Association (HOA). Normally the administrative functions of the board are rather mundane but occasionally there is that one unique person who likes to keep things interesting.
After having conducted exhaustive research on the internet, this individual felt confident leveling charges against the board of directors that his children’s “asthma-like” symptoms could be squarely blamed on the chemicals applied to the lawns by the association’s landscape contractor. Apparently his children were immune to the dander of their three cats and two dogs in the household.
Gaining no traction in his effort to go “organic” and have the landscape crew pull weeds by hand, he conducted a daring propaganda blitz, skittering around the neighborhood in the dead of night leaving fliers under the door mats of his neighbors in an attempt to warn them of the conspiracy being perpetrated by the nefarious board of directors and their gardening storm troopers.
In public view, he became stoic and civil member of the Landscape Committee, lobbying his evidence to the committee chair – a man whose profession is as a water quality scientist. However, Landscape Poison Crusader, a computer technician by trade, was undeterred; armed with “facts” gleaned from web sites, the noble activist assailed the committee studies of how these chemicals caused cancer, allergies, birth defects and any number of horrible health risks.
But the committee chair politely responded with his own Internet research explaining that the landscape products were all approved by federal, state and municipal authorities for application by professional state-licensed technicians in accordance with manufacturer recommendations. And it was pointed out as well that the intrepid health crusader didn’t seem to mind his children swimming in the community pool… sanitized with equally deadly chemicals.
More recently a member of our local Secular Society became the focus of a rant who is convinced that that the 19 hijackers who struck the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on September 11th are alive and well and living abroad and that these acts of terrorism were the work of the CIA to instigate a Bush-lead “Gulf of Tonkin” style pretext for war on Islam. Their source: “credible” Internet web sites.
Today it is possible to instantly retrieve information on any topic imaginable. But sometimes lost in this information cloud is; how much of this information is truthful and useful? I usually try to cite sources when I offer information and opinions; but I am not immune to falling into my own positional bias. We all tend to look for information sources which support our view and discard those which do not.
I the case of the 9/11 conspiracy theorist, this person sought sites which supported their view; dismissing the “official” information as tainted, propaganda, lies. So then how is one to sort out and choose which information to trust and which not? The most direct way is to “consider the source”.
I have sometimes sought health information on the Internet. To my annoyance, often the sites bearing information about, let’s say a vitamin supplement; also provide the opportunity to purchase the item as well. That immediately sets off my credibility alarm. Likewise the sites themselves can provide clues of inherent bias. I’m not sure but a URL with “poisonplanet.com” just might be lacking what one could consider an objective stance. Nancy often restricts her search of health information to known sources such as the CDC or the Mayo Clinic, for example.
But as with 9/11 conspiracy “truth” sites, one can find substantiation that the Holocaust was a hoax, as was the moon landing. One can Googled up evidence that Big Foot stalks the woods of the Pacific Northwest and people are routinely abducted in their sleep by alien spacecraft which perpetrate any manner of probing of their bodies. Who would have known that, remarkably, aliens from millions of light years away are fascinated with our anuses.
Still one cannot be too complacent; dangerous risks all around us. Each of you reading this post may not be aware that the compound Dihydrogen Monoxide (DHMO) is being used heavily in YOUR community every day. DHMO is used in fire retardant and as a coolant in nuclear reactors yet it is found in large quantities in our drinking water, rivers; it is even found in acid rain! Be safe – be informed – visit the non-profit Dihydrogen Monoxide Research Division www.dhmo.org before it’s too late!