Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Conspiracies or just theories?

Recently I read a book called "A Place Called Here" by Cecilia Ahern. It is about a girl who obsesses on looking for missing things. You know when you wash a pair of socks, but you never find the other one. Actually I found the book so boring, that I never finished it, but I find the idea interesting of a place where all the missing things go. Like a heaven for lost things. Once when I was little I got a camera for my birthday. You know one of those fake cameras, which spray water when you push the button. Well, I and my friends were quite wired from all the cake and we started spraying on the wallpaper, so my mother took away the camera. She hid it "at a safe place", and I was supposed to get it back after the party. Well, we never found the camera. Ever. My mother didn't even know where it disappeared. And I still keep losing things.

I've always liked weird stories about surreal and supernatural stories. Take the novel "Nineteen Eighty-Four" by George Orwell for instance. The idea of having a "big brother" that watches over everyones life. Writing that novel in 1949, Orwell wasn't so far away from the truth, only he picked the year wrong. I mean, I have at least 16 surveillance cameras on the way from my place to the centre square, which is like 700 meters away. Sure, we (the public) are told that those are surveillance cameras for the protection against theft for whatever companies put them up. But what if we actually are being watched? I mean, you don't really know who is watching the footage. I don't want to get all paranoid, but I'm just saying. We are always told that all these things with surveillance cameras, fingerprints and whatnots are there for our protection. To prevent crimes and to protect the citizens against bad people. What if it really is about keeping an eye on the people?

Conspiracies and conspiracy theories is a well discussed subject. We have the events behind 9/11 for instance. There are a lot of videos concerning this matter. An interesting one is "In Plane Sight  Director's Cut", which you can find on YouTube. Then there's the climate change and global warming. The mass media is mostly owned by a small group. Take the Finnish media for example. Most major magazines are owned by the same company. If you take a look at the magazines, you find that a majority of the articles are almost the same. They come from the same source; the magazines use the same news agencies, which at their part are owned by a limited group of companies. The sources considered "reliable" are usually the government and the authorities. But can we really trust that they are who we should believe? Of course it's a lot about who we choose to trust. I just think that everyone should look into the matters from several points of view. I'd like to go back to global warming. There has been a lot of discussion on whether it is a hoax or not. A while back I read an article about scientists that had substantial proof that there in fact is no such thing as global warming. It is just regular variation. At some point a new ice age is in fact inevitable...

As a counter development we have the so called free media, which is (at least trying to be) independent and looking at things from a different angle. However it all comes down on who you choose to listen to and trust. The important thing is to keep an open mind and not believe blindly in everything you are being told. At least without looking into the matters from different points of view. That's what I'm trying to do.


  1. Posing the problem of valid knowledge as 'who we choose to trust' is problematic, because if pushed further, it means that we cannot advance our knowledge, as we would have to rely on sources which we don't consider reliable. The reliability of knowledge should not be measured in terms of trust or then we have to evaluate this trust in terms of the method used to produce such knowledge.

    Let's begin with global warming: knowledge related to climate warming has nothing to do with media, it has to do with science. The main principle of reliability for scientific knowledge is refutability, i.e. the possibility for fellow colleague researchers to prove the theory wrong, through criterias defined within the theory itself. 'Current' scientific knowledge comes from research results which have not yet been proved wrong, and have been 'approved' by other researchers (through peer-review process, responding articles, complementary researches, etc.). Derived from this, scientific knowledge is always 'temporary', and major trends are mainly the result of wide consensus in the scientific community. But this method is solid enough that we can build on it, and make progress, step by step, sometime jumping to another stair (when a new paradigm gain traction, see quantum physics for instance). Global warming benefits from a huge consensus. The fact that 'some' scientific articles try to refute it is not in itself a sign that global warming is a hoax (many articles refuting global warming are actually emanating from doubtful organizations, and do not go very far with peer-review process). The fact that global warming is man-induced is slightly less consensual, but still has pretty strong support in the majority of scientific fields involved.

    Basing our personal knowledge purely on a level of trust is not a good idea. In fact it is a very dangerous idea, if trust itself is not based on rational, method based and systematic analysis. What is at stake is the manipulation of people by small groups of interest. Everytime knowledge is produced, the method should be questioned. This is what happens daily in the scientific community, and this is what should happen all the time in the media (reliability of source, cross-verification, etc.).

    What is much more worrying nowadays is that some political groups and some affiliated media are now saying that all things are equal, therefore completely ignoring what makes scientific knowledge more valuable than pure belief. It is done on purpose, to serve their own agenda. They are trying to put into people's mind that believing in what someone claims (a politician, a religion) is exactly the same as believing in scientifical knowledge, so that their word should have the same value as a scientific theory. The result? People will stop hearing the 'method' argument, saying that science is just another type of belief. I think you can imagine where this will lead eventually.

  2. One last comment I wish to make relates to the idea of 'free-press', or 'free-media'. I strongly agree that free-press is an absolute prerequisite to avoid articles that simply follow (directly or indirectly) the interests of some particular group of people. But this is far from enough to garantee objective articles, or even quality article. Some state-owned media produce great content (BBC?), as well as some family-owned (New York Times). And some free media produce rather low-quality content. Again what matters is the method applied to produce articles, the professionalism of the journalists, the editorial line, etc. Nowadays it seems that 'information' is seen as simply providing 'facts' (taking AFP telegrams, adding a few sentences, and publishing it). Real information is putting cultural, historical and economical context to fact, trying to track the real motivations behind a political action, debunking public communication from states or big companies, and... uncovering conspiracies if there are some. This is what journalism should be about. Free-press is necessary for that, but very far from being enough.

    Instead of talking about conspiracies, I prefer to talk about self-sustained, self-evoluting systems. The way media work today is probably mostly the result of the way our capitalist economy works and evolves, the way technological changes questioned the very existence of 'old' media, forcing them to optimize their expenses, therefore limiting their investigative capacity, having them look for new investors etc. Same for public communication (from the state or a company): there is not necessarily anything to hide. Sometimes people make mistakes. Sometimes they only follow some protocal, even though it would not be suitable for all given situations. There is no need to have a top-down conspiracy to have a system very detrimental to people as a whole. And this is very unfortunate, because unmasking a conspiracy would be much easier than changing a system, however wrong this system is for the people!

  3. Firstly I have to say how glad I am that my blog post is raising conversation. Secondly I have to admit that I might deliberately have been provocative and making things look black and white. Which they really are not. It was not my intention to state that a person should base their knowledge on trust. I was merely encouraging critisism towards information sources. Like I said in my post, I believe one should base their knowledge on a variety of sources instead of believing everything blindly. It is always good to question so called facts, because this is the only way for science to develop and go forward. I absolutely agree with you that there are trustworthy and reliable main media and also untrustworthy 'free media'. Still I want to encourage critisism. However I don't think that trust is the wrong word for it, everything in this world is about beliefs and trusting. Whether it is scientifical 'facts', religion or anything else. Most things can never be certain. We see that everyday as the science develops. A scientific result can be proven wrong the next day. Research on food is good example of this. Almost every day new research is stating that some food cause cancer, just to be proven wrong the next day (okay, provoking a bit here as well).

    My comment about global warming was also a bit misleading, mostly because I tend to have difficulties ordering my thoughts into words. Especially when the thoughts are overwhelming me and making my head spin. What I was referring to is what you were saying about the idea of global warming not being entirely man made. Of course global warming exists, but the question is whether it is normal change or man made. The word I probably should have used here is green house effect...

    Finally about conspiracies. Sometimes I tend to go overboard with my thoughts, that's when they start racing at a pace that my brain can't handle. Again one reason for these suggestions is to provoke conversation. Being critical against authorities is only a good thing if you ask me, but only as long as it stays within a rational range. I don't want to challenge the reliability of the government or the authorities, that would lead to revolution. I am just questioning the idea of trusting everyhting without doubt. Still I can't get over the idea that it might be possible to live in a double universe where we are being held in the dark and that there might be things that are to great for us to understand. That's when we come to the idea of conspiracies and theories. But that is a whole other subject, which I might write more about at some point.

  4. Conspiracie theories or not, right now we have swedish secret service pressing on for instant access to all data... Anybody remember Snowden?