Drowning in information: MMR and climate

WILLIAM SHAW: This morning comes the news that measles is on the rise in the UK, predictably so as MMR vaccination rates dropped. The question is why so many people chose to disregard good information and clung doggedly instead to bad science or anti-establishment dogma. There's a parallel here with the science of climate change. From reading the media – new and old – you'd never know that the scientific community have reached a broad consensus that climate change is man-made. A Clive Thompson article in this month's Wired talks to Robert Proctor, a science historian at Stanford who coined the word antology to describe the concept of "culturally produced ignorance".

"People always assume," says Proctor, "that if someone doesn't know something it's because they haven't paid attention or haven't figured it out. But ignorance also comes from people literally suppressing the truth – or drowning it out – or trying to make it so confusing that people sto caring about what's true or what's not."

The information revolution has led to a civil war of beliefs in which half-truths are brandished indiscriminately. We drown in information; the science is lost. Just as, in the UK, the Daily Mail played a key role in muddying the waters around MMR, now  Christopher Brooker gives faux-legitimacy to climate scepticism in the Daily Telegraph. Brooker's arguments circulate on the web as gospel.

The facts one choses to see become increasingly an issue of culture, and the danger is that cultures are now digging themselves in increasingly doggedly. Example: Thompson points out that the numbers of Republicans who believe in anthropgenic global warming has declined from 52% to 42%.

Image: Still from Sandman by Patricia Piccini 2002, one of the films at Figuring Landscapes at Tate Modern, London from today 

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