Wednesday, July 7, 2010

The Myth of a Biased Internet on "Conspiracy Theories"

It's no secret I am a documentary junkie. Many of the millions of published documentaries seem to present a clear point of view on a given topic. Some try to give a fair account of both sides on the subject of the argument, but usually there is a conclusion that is subtly made by the creator.

Last night I watched a frontline special called The Vaccine War. I have heard of the argument that mandated vaccination is necessary as well as those who claim vaccination can be harmful and cause things like Autism. This particular documentary clearly came down on the side of vaccination. I don't mind documentaries having an opinion. I can decider the arguments for myself and do further research to draw an educated conclusion, and I even disagree with the conclusion film makers come to in many cases.

The problem with this documentary is one that permiated many films I have seen and I have a very serious beef with it. In this example, when those who claimed Vaccinations were necessary life saving mechanisms they also claimed that the internet was largely responsible for the flaring up or a movement of angry parents who incorrectly blame the vaccination process for a serious condition their children "contracted" shortly after being vaccinated. These people claim that the internet is a place where conspiracy theories tend to be more popular than common sense, and an interesting story about "the man" forcing harmful vaccinations into babies catches like wildfire only because people love a good horror story, and these conditions are typically discovered around the same age that vaccinations are given whose coincidence further fuels the angry mob. I believe the internet empowers individuals who normally have no real voice to easily challenge an establishment that they normally would have no means to. No establishment wants to accept a blame for harming human life and so the incentive to uncover an ugly truth does not exist among those in the best position to do so.

This argument has been used to attack those who believe in all sorts of theories and political positions which are much more prevalent on the internet than in the "real world", but I do not believe that free unfiltered speech is the reason for this. I think terrible coincidences should be debated, argued and either confirmed or exposed. The internet pointing out an issue is important, even when a movement is completely wrong. These issues will sometimes be correct, and in that case they will ultimately save lots of lives and correct lots of wrongdoing and corruption in the world. Videos usually have rating systems. Videos are also linked to on websites and blogs when people either agree with them or publish something debunking the theory. These topics catch fire when they have some sustainable merit without adequate opposing viewpoints. There are lots of wacky topics that receive huge amounts of criticism on the internet, and this is the public's way of filtering out the garbage while maintaining the right of individuals to express what it is they believe. To assume I am stupid enough to read only one side of an argument and take up arms against a cause without considering the other side is only valid when the other side of the argument is not available, and in the modern free and open internet this does not happen. Why do established industries feel they are better equipped to come to a valid conclusion than the people are? If there is a competing argument, it will be brought up in comments, blogs, and articles across the internet and anyone researching a topic would not be able to avoid an opposing viewpoint. It is a wonderful example of free speach and to blame this mechanism for causing harm or to suggest it be changed is not only shameful, it would violate our First amendment to free speech which has been a cornerstone to our country's success.

This is something that is coming up frequently these days. Many countries have begun passing legislation curbing free speech on the internet, most notably China. Australia and many other freedom oriented countries have begun to followed suit, including the United States. Consider this video where President Obama tells graduating students that widespread information is dangerous, and that we should channel this information by "educating" people. To me, all information is educational, not only the education provided by those who decide our curriculum. I fear this type of mindset is incredibly dangerous to our sustained freedom.

Consider Wikipedia. The service is a shining example of how the internet as a whole comes to valid and rational conclusions. It is often criticized for being susceptible to misinformation contributed by an "uneducated" public, but any study performed shows the information found in the articles to be as credible and accurate as our highest standards for factual literature such as Britannica [Example]. The internet community as a whole is brilliant, and does not need regulations to protect it from itself, such as limiting or censoring the information which is contributed in any way. To do so, even with the best and most carefully considered intentions, can only undermine the power and accuracy that only free and unbridled speech can provide.

That said, on this particular topic, there are many people who blame vaccinations for serious conditions. I believe this is entirely possible especially given the inclusion of ingredients that we know to be toxins associates with many conditions, but the numbers are very slight and could be completely coincidental. Unfortunately disease and misfortune are parts of life which are unavoidable. The evidence on both sides are circumstantial until we can scientifically rule out each scenario. Some of the scenarios seem to have been ruled out which is fantastic, but to put the argument to rest, clinical studies need to be performed until either every scenario is tested with no link found to the illnesses said to be caused by vaccinations, or a scenario is identified where serious conditions are increased under a specific vaccination combination and the effected children are studied to help determine what is unique about them that they contracted a disease or condition as a result. There is just not enough evidence to make a determination in either direction, however wherever there are questionable or untested results, parents should be presented with the statistics of questionable side effects for their consideration, and information about the diseases these vaccinations prevent against. Under no circumstance should an individual be mandated to be vaccinated. This is a basic human right to own your body and be responsible for your child's health which should never be violated. Unless a parent is knowingly doing harm to their child they should be in charge of the decisions and have the right to protect their child against potential danger as they see fit. Violations of human rights, no matter how small, tend to be further exploited in order to justify further violations in the future which long term can be far move dangerous than any condition no matter how widespread.