Do blogs make it harder to judge fact from fiction?

According to Richard Ladle (director of MSc Biodiversity, Conservation and Management at Oxford University), "the growing popularity of web-based journals is making it harder to sort fact from fiction."

In Blagging in the blogosphere (BBC News: Science/Nature) blogs are evaluated as a medium for discussing and imparting information on environmental issues. Indeed, Ladle believes the credibility of a blog can be quickly assessed according to the following criteria:

* Check the data - strong scientific arguments are based on information from recognised ources that is available for public scrutiny, while weak or spurious arguments are often backed up with data from secondary sources or often no data at all

* Take note of the language - arguments couched in hyperbolic language may be masking a lack of understanding or sound information

What he appears to be saying is that unless you have access to primary data, you have formally recognised expertise, or, you have a habit of throwing in an opinion or two, then you shouldn't be blogging at all.

I understand this argument to a certain extent as studying the environmental changes requires a little more than noticing how hot summers appear to be getting and how we don't seem to get as much snow as we once did, etc.

However, I don't think you can generalise these beliefs to other domains of knowledge or society. For instance, in the case of this blog; who is representing the most accurate view of organizational reality - the blogger or PR staff tailoring what information is released about a company?

In brief, in the physical sciences there may be "fact or fiction" and therefore it may be okay to say experts know best, but in social science this distinction is often unattainable. In other words, blogging about social issues, based on whatever abilities you may have, can only add to the richness of what is know about human behaviour. Environmental scientists may also learn a thing or two from social science and blogging, e.g. why are humans so slow at responding to calls from environmentalists.

1 comment:

Spike said...


Partly depends on who's reading I s'pose. Daily Telegraph (roughly equivalent to The Sun) readers would find it very difficult to distinguish fact from fiction where-ever they found it.

But somewhere out there in Blogland there must be a few good liars making stuff up in circumstances where even the most cautious reader can't check the facts.