We need more editors

When the means of communications change, societies change, though not always in the ways intended or expected. The printing press revolutionized society, though some of the change was backwards rather than forwards.

“There is no evidence that, except in religion, printing hastened the spread of new ideas… In fact, the printing of medieval scientific texts may have delayed the acceptance of Copernicus,” Elizabeth Eisenstein wrote in her book, The Printing Revolution in Early Modern Europe. Might it be that with more readily available information, European scientific progress, at least initially, stalled and went backwards?

It is said that humans are not rational animals but rather rationalizing ones. We often find what is comfortable for us to believe and then look for the information that will justify these beliefs. How else could we explain the recent worldwide growth in the Flat Earth Society? You would think that with so much irrefutable evidence readily available on the Web such crazy ideas would be in decline. The opposite is happening.

“Researchers believe they have identified the prime driver for a startling rise in the number of people who think the Earth is flat: Google’s video-sharing site, YouTube,” The Guardian reported in 2020. On the Web, it seems that misinformation is battling with information and that misinformation is often winning.

Misinformation is certainly helped by those with a bottomless greed and lust for power and dominance. Mark Zuckerberg has decided that Facebook’s continued growth strategy is to profit from misinformation and fake news. ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ is how Mark thinks. ‘We’ve made so much money already from fake news, why would a growth-at-any-cost company like Facebook change when it’s winning?’

Misinformation feeds off human emotion. Those in power can’t resist pushing the emotional buttons. It is so easy to manipulate people by calling to their most basic instincts. Fear, hate, violence and ‘common sense’ are powerful drivers. Why, it’s common sense that the earth is flat. Just look out your window. It’s flat, isn’t it?

Science recovered from the flood of dodgy medieval scientific texts. The answer to misinformation is information. We are seeing a growing awareness and understanding of the impacts of humans on the climate and overall planet. There is a hunger out there for evidence and facts.

Organizations face a major challenge in how to manage their information. We have created vastly greater capacities to create data and information than we have to error-check, organize and present it. For every delusional Flat Earther there are many more looking for the facts, looking for the evidence.

Quality information has never been more vital. Transparency has never been more vital. A core tactic of the misinformation and fake news gang is to look for weaknesses in information and news. Then they scream that the information and news are fake.

Part of the reason we are in the state we are in is because we have been too dependent on technology to manage information. We have stopped investing in core human skills built up over centuries to ensure the quality and integrity of information. We used to call these professionals editors.

We need new types of human editors, who are able to work in tandem with technology and the collective intelligence that the Web has unleashed. This is how we will achieve quality, accuracy, transparency, and clarity and simplicity of communication.

The Printing Revolution in Early Modern Europe, Elizabeth Eisenstein

Study blames YouTube for rise in number of Flat Earthers

4 thoughts on “We need more editors

  1. Mary Chipman

    “Misinformation is certainly helped by those with a bottomless greed and lust for power and dominance. Mark Zuckerberg has decided that Facebook’s continued growth strategy is to profit from misinformation and fake news.” This is nothing new. Bill Gates pioneered this model, throttling full disclosure of bugs and security flaws in the interests of selling software. For example, Microsoft Access, used by Diebold (now ES&S) as the data store for its electronic voting machines, a scam first aired back in 2004 by Bev Harris of Black Box Voting. Today’s voting machines are fundamentally the same, easily hackable because the technology does not exist to secure them. I wrote a lot of the original documentation for the oxymoronic Access “security” as an independent contractor back in the 90’s, and we were not allowed to say anything that would make Microsoft “look bad” or we would lose the access to the product teams that we required to keep on top of the technology. An editor of an independent journal once made me change the title of an article from “Is Access Security an Oxymoron?” to “Is Database Security an Oxymoron?” out of fear of reprisals from Microsoft. Today we are on our way to another electoral meltdown while Bill Gates gets to remake himself as a pro-science philanthropist with the billions he pocketed by withholding vital information about security flaws in one of its most profitable products. No army of editors can fix that.

    1. Gerry McGovern Post author

      Great points, Mary. Will the big organizations break society? Who knows. We must keep trying to be transparent and chase the facts, even when the world seemed full of fake news.

  2. Tim Collins

    Imagine getting your hands on one of the first books and believing everything in it must be true because it was in a book. Over time. people found out that some books were wrong and now there is some, not enough, skepticism when people read something in a book. This happened with pamphlets, newspapers, magazines, etc.
    Today, we do the same as we did with the first books when we read something online, but that is changing too. While books took time to print and even longer to refute, today that can be done in a matter of minutes, not that it really matters much. As Gerry said it perfectly above, “We often find what is comfortable for us to believe and then look for the information that will justify these beliefs.” Also known as stop reading when you find something that fits your beliefs.
    So what is next, how about when a computer tells us something is the way it is, it must be right because it has Artificial Intelligence. It is happening already, the program reading what I type and telling me to make spelling and grammatical changes must know these things better than I, a mere human. When I read out loud what changes it wants me to make it doesn’t sound right. Maybe the perfectly flawed person that programmed the computer, or put something on the internet, or wrote it in a book, got it wrong! Maybe, but that really depends on your beliefs now doesn’t it?

    1. Gerry McGovern Post author

      Great response. I suppose we are designed to believe. The AI said it, it must be right. Not necessarily at all. We need healthy skepticism. We need to question more than we ever did but not let that questioning paralyze us from action.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *