The Misinformation Age

boat-storm2This age may not be as good for humanity as is commonly assumed. We are in grave danger of being harmed by too much information.

Information, on its own, is neither good nor bad. Rather it is either valid or invalid.

Signal-to-noise ratio is a measure used in science that compares the level of a desired signal to the level of background noise. In communication theory, this indicates the amount of valid information (the signal) to the amount of invalid information (the noise).

Signal can’t be analyzed apart from noise. An increase in good signal does not automatically mean we are better informed; if there has been an even greater increase in bad noise, we are less informed.

The current presidential campaign is instructive. Turn on any news channel; by the end of the program, you will be left with more questions than answers. This is due to being given more noise than signal. And each day is increasing the noise, and thereby decreasing the signal.

Brandolini’s Law: The amount of energy necessary to refute bullshit is an order of magnitude bigger than to produce it

News and journalism should increase signal & decrease noise. There can be no doubt news is now increasing noise. In fact, most journalism now revels in noise, because noise can create controversy, and controversy can increase viewers and readers.

It may be that humanity has not evolved in a way that allows us to process information as quickly as it is being presented. We have not been adequately educated to separate signal and noise.

The point is this: we are less informed today than we were yesterday. But, you may respond, what about all the new information we have received!?! It’s true; we’ve been blessed with unprecedented levels of good information in the recent past. But if in that same period we have been flooded with misinformation, the net result is a reduction in knowledge, not an increase. If there is more noise, there is simply less signal.

This is not a small problem. It may very well be the biggest challenge humanity has ever faced. And we are losing.