There is a lovely family story about a grandmother who always hid the silverware away in the kitchen drawer when lightning threatened. It is assumed this was to be sure the cutlery was not going to attract a lightning strike.
These days she could have looked this up on the internet and found this was a harmless myth.
For those who seek a view on almost anything in the world, the galaxy, the universe, the internet has an endless store of ideas. Some are mirages that disappear on close scrutiny. Others are like those film sets, a realistic front with nothing behind them.
The only way to find out is to get behind the façade and examine what is holding it up.
This is getting harder to do. Like people at a party, like-minded ideas gather in the corners of the internet where they only talk to each other. They ignore others, especially strangers who might challenge their firmly held assumptions. Research has shown how this effect creates ideological enclaves, gated communities of thought, where only those who agree with each other gather.
Other ideas, theories and thoughts are not allowed in. The lack of exposure to other opinions serves to strengthen the foundations of an attitude as bulwark against any opposition.
This creates perfect conditions for growing conspiracy theories. The internet is awash with them.
As fast as science tries to bail, the more the flood of quackery overwhelms the research.
We do not need to look very far to see examples of this. Those arguing that fluoridising is poisoning us or that vaccinating children is dangerous have ignored well-proven science and constructed a set of pseudo arguments that completely misses the value the protective umbrella effect has over all children in a community to prevent tooth decay and potentially fatal diseases.
My response to such views is to challenge those arguing against sound public health measures is: are they willing to pay the costs of those who then suffer from this stance? If they truly believed in the power of their argument then they would foot the bill for those at risk from their misguided ideas.
Of course, there is another side to the debate around good science and sound evidence. There are plenty of research papers. The world of academia turns these out in journals and study reports constantly. I have edited papers and been published in international health journals but I am sure you will never see them, as like many papers and research reports, they are not in places where they can be easily found.
Often, they are held behind pay walls that require membership and a fee to access the writing.
This prevents the wider public from seeing the enormous wealth of research that exists around so many social, environmental, justice, education and health issues.
Research papers present an evidence-based argument for a theory that can be contested by other scientists. Ideas will be scrutinised for validity against sound study frameworks. There may be disagreement about findings but this is all part of arriving at robust conclusions that can inform action.
For the average punter, research papers can be difficult to interpret. The language of science is often impenetrable and the actual findings hard to understand. If the scientific community want to fight back against misinformation and the shaky, shonky world-wide-wisdom networks, then they need to put their work out in a way that is approachable and can be understood by the person in the street.
Terry Sarten (aka Tel) is a writer, musician and social worker. Feedback: firstname.lastname@example.org