I’ve heard the internet referred to as the greatest tool for the human mind, or as the greatest assault on cognitive development. I take a far more standard approach to the internet; it is no doubt a tool, but I do not hesitate to suggest it can be misleading, with erroneous information and a tendency to bring out the worst of us (largely due to the ability to remain anonymous).
It’s a promiscuous tool, and one I fear may be largely responsible for the distribution of bad information, especially the spread of bad science. Now the term “bad science” is largely misleading, as much of what I am discussing is not science at all; it is fallacious and does not conform to the processes of science. When I refer to “bad science,” I speak of “anti-vaxxers,” global warming “skeptics,” young earth creationists, and even so-called “flat-earthers,” (do not be fooled; they do exist). These positions are ones which directly conflict with known science.
For a hypothesis to be merely considered in science, it must be put through a rigorous process of peer-review, which can take months and involves the input of the brightest minds in the field. Most papers submitted will be rejected. But there is no peer-review process with the internet. Not that there should be; that could be considered a violation of free speech. Blogs or websites which report to write about science need no credentials, and need not be prestigious or even correct; they merely need to be convincing.
The heart of the matter is that 51 percent of Americans deny human-induced climate change, 34 percent deny evolution, and 6.5 percent of citizens claim vaccines connect to autism, according to multiple polls from the Pew Research Center. Despite our current efforts to better teach these topics in school, people would rather believe politicians and online blogs over the wealth of scientific data and peer-reviewed papers.