Does online chatter make us dumber?

Amy SipovicBy Amy Sipovic via The Times (mywebtimes)

A recent University of Chicago study found approximately half of all Americans believe in one of six medical conspiracy theories.

youtube graduate_250pxTwo examples include the idea a U.S. spy agency purposefully infected African-Americans with HIV, and the government has dumped large quantities of toxic chemicals into the water supply under the premise of fluoridation.

Another study found 19 percent of Americans believe the 9/11 terrorist attacks were concocted by the U.S. government, and another 11 percent think the switch to compact fluorescent light bulbs is an attempt to make people more obedient and easier to subject to mind control.

In some regards, these numbers do not surprise me. I am asked questions from time to time by students who have read something on the Internet that sounds like a conspiracy theory, and they ask if I have heard about it.

conspiracies05While I think there should be a healthy discussion about policy and current events, I worry the Internet and online public comments sections are making everything — including scientifically-proven ideas — up for debate.

Conspiracy theories are different from a critical analysis of information because conspiracy theorists continue to cling to their beliefs, despite facts that continually disprove them. Often, they then say the facts are all a part of the overall conspiracy, and the cycle of ridiculousness continues.

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