“Legions of idiots”

Do you know the difference between a liar and a bullshitter? According to the sociologist Eva Illouz in an article published in Haaretz, “a liar lies because he cares about the truth not being known, whereas a bullshitter does not care about the truth, because he knows that whatever he says, true or not, will make an impression on the listener.”

Where does bullshit comes from? In a report commissioned by the Rand Corporation,Truth decay, Jennifer Kavanagh and Michael Rich mentionned the role of social media platforms that allow anyone to become a source of information. They conclude of an increasing blurred line between opinion and fact.

Umberto Ecco already wrote about it years: “Social media gives legions of idiots the right to speak when they once only spoke at a bar after a glass of wine, without harming the community … but now they have the same right to speak as a Nobel Prize winner. It’s the invasion of the idiots.”

We increasingly live in a world in which, according to Stephan Lewandowsky in an article about Post Truth (jointly written with Ullrich Ecker and John Cook),  “it is not expert knowledge but an opinion market on Twitter that determines what is right and what is wrong?”

These legions of idiots are everywhere. According to the Wellcome Global Monitor 2018, 28% of Americans and 33% of the French do not agree that vaccines are safe. In a 2019 Eurobarometer survey, it was found that nearly half the people in Europe believe — incorrectly — that vaccines often cause severe side effects.

Legions of idiots

Legions of idiots

So who should we trust?

We already know about the continuing decline, in public trust in such institutions as the government and the media. But scientists are also seen as untrustworthy. In an article, Cary Funk reported that though many more people reported to the Pew Research Center in 2016 trust in information from medical scientists, climate scientists, and food scientists than information from industry leaders, the news media, and elected officials, no more than about half of people hold strongly trusting views of scientists in any of these domains.

And the same exists in school where it is more and more difficult to argue about objective facts and topics despite having data and evidences that have been produced in a scientifically proven way. Luana Maroja, Professor of biology at Williams College, explained in an article the hard time she has in fighting “biological denialism that exists about nearly any observed difference between human groups, including those between males and females. Her students unfortunately push back against these phenomena not by using scientific arguments, but by employing an a priori moral commitment to equality, anti-racism, and anti-sexism”.

Can we optimistic about the future of knowledge? Let’s hope that those millions of students around the globe that participate in marches against climate change and trust scientific facts are strong enough to defeat these legions of idiots.

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