TELECOM Digest OnLine - Sorted: Re: Online Research Worries Many Educators

Re: Online Research Worries Many Educators

William Warren (
Fri, 10 Dec 2004 02:18:09 GMT

On Thu, 9 Dec 2004 08:31:31 -0500, Monty Solomon <>

> By ANICK JESDANUN AP Internet Writer

> Young people may know that just because information is plentiful
> online doesn't mean it's reliable, yet their perceptions of what's
> trustworthy frequently differ from their elders' _ sparking a larger
> debate about what constitutes truth in the Internet age.

> Georgia Tech professor Amy Bruckman tried to force students to leave
> their computers by requiring at least one book for a September class
> project.[snip]
> ...Bruckman and other educators grapple daily with the challenge of
> ensuring their students have good skills for discerning the truth.
> Professors and librarians say many come to college without any such
> skills, and quite a few leave without having acquired them.

> [TELECOM Digest Editor's Note: [snip]

> The computer and internet are simply tools to use in
> your learning experience. The 'information explosion' did not begin
> with computers; it started in the fifteenth century with the invention
> by Guttenberg of a printing machine out of old wine skins. So what are
> these people complaining about, that the tools for learning have been
> improved? It is true that computers have hastened the 'information
> explosion', but who is to be blamed for that, Bill Gates, or the
> parents whose children use computers instead of *at the very least*
> know the 'old fashioned' techniques for learning? PAT]


I don't think Professor Bruckman and her peers are concerned about the
"information explosion", but rather about the DISinformation
explosion. From such trivial errors as confusing a painter and/or
actor named Guttenberg with a goldsmith and inventor named Gutenberg,
to corporate doublespeak and government misdirection on a global
scale, the Internet is the ultimate example of how speed is the enemy
of judgement, of accuracy, of perspective, and of critical thought.

The process of manufacturing a book is complicated, expensive, and
time-consuming. It costs real money to set type, to manufacture
printing plates, to buy paper, to hire expertise, and to transpost the
finished product - ALL of which leads, naturally, to very carefull
verification of the facts in a manuscript and proofreading of the
printer's galleys BEFORE the publication is allowed into the public

Not so with electronic media: we are all, after all, part of a
distribution system that has "externalized" all but the most trivial
costs of publication onto the recipient, and therefore has weakened
the need for accuracy, and increased that for speed, to the point
where "researchers" can claim successful cold-fusion on the basis of
shoddy demonstrations, and a newspaper "reporter" can make up a
sensational story out of whole cloth and have it distributed without
any independent verification even being considered, let alone

It all comes down to money: if it costs nothing to publish, then
mistakes cost nothing too, and college students who assume that the
Internet is (or should be) a primary source are making a fundamental
mistake. Having said that, I'll add that I do not hold any illusions
about the "golden days" of yore: book burnings, lawsuits, and pulp
fiction of every variety have been with us as long as moveable type -
but having deep pockets means having due regard for the risk of being
wrong, and for that reason, books are more reliable sources of
information than search engines.

Freedom of the press may no longer belong only to the man who owns
one, but the responsibilities that accompanied that freedom in
Gutenberg's world - the obligation to verify facts, to question poorly
thought out reasoning, to demand clarity and responsibility - have
been given over to students who are ill-equipped to question, let
alone correct, the memes and messages flitting across their screens.

This message will self-destruct in Thirty Seconds.

William Warren
(Filter noise from my address for direct replies)

[TELECOM Digest Editor's Note: What you say is true, but with the
sheer volume of information (dis- or otherwise) in the search engines
you'd think a person searching through it would manage to land on
the correct information after sifting through it all. That's not a
very good explanation, is it ... :) PAT]

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