Who has the answers?

Isn’t Google brilliant?. It’s an amazingly life-enhancing tool and I love it. How many answers to searches does it provide each day? Zillions probably. And each search takes you to all sorts of amazing websites. But, unfortunately, that’s when the problems begin. Because the information contained therein is controlled by the owners of those sites and is therefore often wrong, or partially correct, but sometimes right. This confusion is not Google’s fault and a lot depends upon how you ask your question and then, of course, the interpretation is down to you too.

But the biggest problem is that too many people, and they tend to be the younger ones amongst us, automatically take whatever they read there to be gospel. I’m acutely aware that I’m beginning to sound like my parents, but in my day, going to the reference library took longer (and as a result often meant the quest was abandoned or guessed at) but there’s absolutely no doubt that the answer you got had a much greater chance of being correct. Sure, as time passed, there will always have been some erroneous answers, such as the world being flat and there only being six elements in the periodic table, but in general there wasn’t too much rubbish around.

But there is now. Just type the word “fat” into a search engine and it appears that there’s general agreement that more than a teaspoon a year of the stuff will kill you in two years. That’s if the sugar-filled dessert doesn’t get you first or three grains of salt make you explode from high blood pressure.

Those three substances alone have been demonised to such an extent that much information is available to tell us than none of them should pass our lips when the absolute facts are that all of them are necessary for life and all of them contribute to an increased quality of life.

To such an extent have we been persuaded that all correct information is immediately at our fingertips that we’re in danger of forgetting to question what we’re being told. And if other august sources of facts, such as radio, TV and the papers, start using unsubstantiated information, incorrect assumptions become absolute truth – with the devil fat being an obvious one.

I’m an addicted listener to BBC radio and the BBC is an institution in which I was brought up to have absolute faith. But I have to remind myself to dissect opinion from fact when they both deliberately occur in their news broadcasts. And then interpret fact from opinion when they actually wrongly present them as facts.

An obvious fact is climate change which, as it’s always been happening, nobody can deny. Compare that with the opinion that man is able to deliberately change the planet’s climate which, when you think about it, is definitely debatable. Should we really be so confidant as to think we can affect the world’s climate as we wish and cool things down? Or might we be better off preparing for inevitable change, buying a house on high ground, planting a vegetable garden, stocking up on factor 50 and investing in Tyne and Wear olives?

I recently heard a two year-old radio news reporter telling me that there was evidence that man used to be a cannibal. Sounds reasonable, particularly when you find that archaeologists have identified knife marks on bones that prove someone was after the marrow. Lovely, until she said that marrow used to be considered a delicacy. Used to be? If she wrote the story herself, perhaps she doesn’t realise that it still is a delicacy, along with brains and sweetbreads. And if she didn’t write the story herself, she’ll now obviously regard it as a matter of absolute fact, otherwise she wouldn’t have been allowed to read it out in a factual report.

We know that the internet’s a dangerous place in many respects but those with common sense recognise that its content should be treated with circumspection. But what hope is there if those sources of information that we traditionally respect and believe in, don’t necessarily understand the subject about which they’re reporting?

Believe me, bone marrow is still considered a delicacy. I read it on the internet. Just after searching to find out exactly how many answers Google does give each day. But upon doing my search – using Google – I got a multitude of conflicting answers. Not all of them can be right.

Originally posted April 2010

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