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Our future, our universe, and other weighty topics

Thursday, March 14, 2019

These Sites Keep Materialists in a Filter Bubble

The term “filter bubble” is used for a situation in which someone receives only a stream of information that agrees with his beliefs. The term was originally used to describe computer algorithms that give you only a stream of stories, news items or posts that match your interests (such a flow of items also having a tendency to match your own beliefs about things). But the term “filter bubble” is also used in a wider sense, to mean any stream of information or opinion that was designed (by computers or humans) to conform to the beliefs and expectations of a particular type of person.

On our TV sets we have particular TV channels that are examples of filter bubbles. On the Fox News channel, we are given only stories and information that conform to the opinions and expectations of Republican voters. On the MSNBC channel, it often seems we are given only stories and information that conform to the opinions and expectations of Democratic voters. There are similar web sites that are designed to give news items and opinion pieces that conform to the beliefs of some particular type of voter. Between 2001 and 2019, all US presidents and congresses have recklessly piled up sky-high budget deficits that have caused the US national debt to skyrocket to nearly 22 trillion dollars.  During  eight years of George W. Bush and two years of Donald Trump, we heard hardly a word about such a problem on Fox News; and during eight years of Barack Obama we heard scarcely a word about such a problem on MSNBC. 

If you're a scientist or a typical consumer of scientist dogma, you may think to yourself: “You often have that kind of filter bubble in politics, but not in science,” or “When I get my science news, it doesn't involve any kind of filter bubble.” But such opinions are very wrong. The favorite web sites of scientists and scientist fans are actually some of the clearest examples of filter bubbles anywhere on the Internet.

filter bubble

Below are some of the reasons such sites are filter bubbles:

  1. No coverage of the paranormal, or only biased or untruthful coverage. Human experience with paranormal phenomena is extremely vast, consisting of a huge variety of anomalies experienced by a large fraction of the population. Such experiences include things like ESP experiences, apparition sightings, near-death experiences, precognitive dreams, visions of the terminally ill, anomalous experiences with mediums, and UFO sightings. Besides the vast amount of experiences that have occurred outside of laboratory settings, there is a gigantic amount of evidence for paranormal phenomena gathered under laboratory conditions, including abundant laboratory evidence for both ESP and unexplained physical disturbances and manifestations. But in the filter bubbles of the web sites I will list below, there is virtually no reference to such important realities. If any reference is made, it is likely to be jaundiced or untruthful.
  2. Very little coverage or discussion of facts inconsistent with the beliefs favored by those inside the filter bubble. The person in the materialist filter bubble believes that the human mind is purely a product of the brain, or perhaps just an aspect of the brain. He also believes that the brain is a machine for storing and retrieving memories. There are many observational facts that conflict with such dogmas, typically facts that are not even contested. For example, there have been quite a few persons with normal, near-normal or above average intelligence despite having little functional brain tissue or only half a brain (discussed in this series of posts); synapses (claimed to be the storage sites of memory) are made up of proteins that have average lifetimes of only a few weeks; and autistic savants with brain damage can show memory recall abilities far beyond that of a normal person. But within the filter bubbles of the sites I will mention, you will get very little or no discussion of these and very many other facts that conflict with the claims of materialist orthodoxy. A similar situation might have occurred in the 1970's if a pro-Nixon newspaper were to have only a few lines in its paper (buried in the back pages) referring to the Watergate affair.
  3. Uncritical regurgitation of extremely dubious experimental results or theoretical speculations. Besides a replication crisis in modern science, there is a vast problem of hype, triumphalist overconfidence and exaggeration, in which extremely dubious speculations, flimsy explanations or weak experimental results are constantly being trumpeted as momentous science breakthroughs or "facts." In the sites I will mention, such dubious results and weak intellectual products are typically reported without criticism, and often hyped even further, often in a way that seems designed to bolster prevailing dogmas and prejudices.  The result is typically a kind of "pom-pom journalism" in which pushover fanboys tend to fall for authority pronouncements  and professorial party lines "hook, line and sinker." 

Below are some of the filter bubble sites that act like the Fox News or MSNBC of materialist dogma.
  1. The New York Times.  The New York Times has for decades  published only news and articles that conform with the dogmas and expectations of a certain type of thinker. With the exception of a handful of stories such as one or two recent UFO stories, we get no appreciable coverage of paranormal phenomena in this paper or its web site, and any coverage that occurs is likely to be misleading and jaundiced. An example of the “filter bubble” actions of the paper was in its coverage of the astonishing Groesbeck voice case. Rescuers found an overturned vehicle in a small river, which contained a woman who had died hours ago and an unconscious baby hanging upside down. The four rescuers all reported a voice coming from inside the car, urging them on, but no such voice was possible from a long-dead woman and an unconscious baby. The New York Times reported the rescue of the baby, without telling their readers anything about the inexplicable voice that occurred.  That's typical for the New York Times, which may have the worst coverage of the paranormal of any major newspaper.  Some of the New York Times articles show extreme hostility towards the paranormal, such as a recent Sunday supplement article -- absurdly biased -- in which the paper approvingly quoted some virulent hate speech against a certain group of people who report psychic experiences, in which such people were called a type of monster. The science news coverage that occurs in the New York Times is almost as fawning and uncritical as a North Korean newspaper's coverage of its ruling dictator. 
  2. The journals Science and Nature. Given the realities of peer review, it is not surprising that the scientific papers published by these journals are the type of papers designed to keep readers in a filter bubble. The way it works is that if any author produces a research finding or evidence appraisal conflicting with cherished prevailing opinions, and submits a paper to either of these journals, it will simply be rejected by the anonymous peer reviewers, who want readers to keep reading the type of things they believe in. We may also note that the review articles and opinion pieces published by these journals are often credulous, one-sided or biased (such as this far-fetched article attempting to persuade us that oxygen was the reason for the Cambrian Explosion in which most animal phyla appeared rather suddenly). 
  3. Quanta magazine. Although a relatively inoffensive site, the Quanta magazine web site is very much a filter-bubble site. It has zero coverage of any paranormal phenomena, and zero coverage of medical and neuroscience facts conflicting with the dogma that brains make our minds and store our memories. Rather than just regurgitating university press releases, the site consists of perspectives on current science research. Such perspectives are usually lacking in critical analysis, and usually fail to mention evidence or alternative ideas conflicting with the research discussed.  On the topic of the universe's fine-tuned laws and fundamental constants, Quanta magazine would rather give you groundless nonsense like its article here (criticized here) than a discussion of reasonable and straightforward implications of such a thing. 
  4. Nautilus magazine.  At this major "science commentary" site you are 100 times more likely to read groundless speculations about unobserved universes than to read about important human observations of perplexing anomalous phenomena that have great relevance to the nature of the human mind. 
  5. Scientific American. Scientific American is very much a filter bubble magazine, dedicated to providing you only with information that agrees with current scientist dogmas. Don't be fooled by the occasional appearance of a contrarian reasoner on the site. They occasionally have a contrarian thinker who argues against materialism, but it seems that such a thinker will only be allowed to present weak arguments (rather like how Fox News had a token liberal who never seemed to make strong arguments for progressive ideas).
  6. BBC.COM. The web site of the British Broadcasting Company is very much a materialist filter-bubble site. An example of its strong bias was a long recent article on mediums. There was no discussion at all of any of the many years of studies in which scientists had dramatic successes in testing mediums under controlled conditions, including repeated spectacular successes with mental mediums such as Leonora Piper and Gladys Osborne Leonard, and equally dramatic successes with physical mediums who produced dramatic physical paranormal phenomena (see here and here for two examples). Instead, the only mention of scientific tests of mediums was a quote by someone who misspoke by saying mediums have never produced paranormal results when tested under controlled conditions. So the article was roughly equivalent to an article giving no evidence for rocket successes, and quoting someone claiming that rocket launches have never succeeded.  An example of the BBC's appalling gaslighting of paranormal witnesses is discussed here. Read here and here for cases where the BBC gave us dubious coverage of science topics, such as an article in which it claimed that there are "all sorts of reasons" why parallel universes exist.
  7. ScienceDaily.com. This site is a press release regurgitation site that presents press releases from universities and colleges, presenting them as "science news." Unfortunately, university and college press offices these days are often brazen and shameless in hyping scientific activity at their institutions, repeatedly passing off dubious and marginal research or speculations as "astounding breakthroughs," even in cases when the result is probably a false alarm (because of a too-small-sample size) or a dubious interpretation or a speculation.  Sciencedaily.com often adds its additional exaggerations and hype on top of the press releases it gets, carefully tuned to match the expectations of its readers.  Two examples of this are (1) a recent story claiming that "noncoding sections of DNA can quickly evolve to produce new proteins," the source being a study that merely speculated that 51 new genes could have originated in a million years; and (2) a story claiming "mystery of how first animals appeared on Earth solved," and merely offering the goofy explanation that one day there was enough food for them to eat. 
  8. LiveScience.com.  Besides articles that serve as a credulous echo chamber for dubious theories and speculations popular among scientists, LiveScience.com has a link to about 25 of its articles on the paranormal. The information given is largely inaccurate.  With the exception of one article I read, the authors of the articles show no signs of having deeply researched the parapsychology topics they are writing about, and repeatedly make erroneous claims that would not be made by anyone who deeply read up on such topics.  
  9. NationalGeographic.com.  For years, National Geographic magazine (and its web site and TV channel) have acted as an uncritical echo chamber for prevailing materialist dogma.  This post sites some inaccurate statements on a National Geographic show about the origin of life.  See this post for a look at a National Geographic show that gave an absurdly biased treatment of a type of paranormal experience.  The Cosmos TV series on the National Geographic channel is a sometimes erring showcase for materialist ideas. The National Geographic show "Brain Games" commits the error of describing any mental human experience as something that is going on in the brain or produced by the brain.  We never hear on National Geographic about the many powerful reasons for doubting claims that human consciousness and thinking are produced by the brain, and for doubting that human memories are stored in the brain.  A recent example of National Geographic's filter bubble approach is its March 2019 cover, with the headline "We Are Not Alone," above some text saying, "Scientists say there must be other life in the universe."  Any balanced treatment of the topic would point out the complete failure of 50 years of radio searches looking for life beyond Earth, and would also discuss the gigantic reason for thinking that we might quite possibly be alone in the universe: the fact that even the simplest life is so complex that the chance of it appearing accidentally from chemicals is similar to the chance of you throwing a deck of cards into the air and seeing them form into a house of cards. 
  10. Wikipedia.com. The pages of wikipedia.com display the most enormous bias on any topics relating to paranormal phenomena or the anomalous, often stating far-fetched scurrilous speculations and outright falsehoods.  Wikipedia's pages on many scientific topics are also biased and inaccurate, with the authors providing an uncritical echo chamber for many a dubious claim of professors and PhD's.  The authoritative Psi Encyclopedia of the Society for Psychical Research (an organization many times older than wikipedia) is the site you should check (rather than wikipedia.org) for reliable information on topics regarding the paranormal. 
I will give an example of the type of filter bubble effect going on in mainstream science journalism.  When discussing the theory of evolution by natural selection, in a large fraction of posts and articles only Charles Darwin is listed as the originator.  But the theory was co-originated by Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace. In fact an NPR article says, "Wallace actually came up with the idea twenty years earlier, says David Quammen, author of the book The Reluctant Mr. Darwin."  A typical discussion of the theory of evolution by natural selection will claim it has the ability to explain all of macroscopic life,  and will neglect to tell us that the co-founder of the theory (Wallace) emphatically rejected such an idea. For example on page 338 of his 1910 book The World of Life: a Manifestation of Creative Power, Directive Mind and Ultimate Purpose which you can read online here, Wallace stated the following,  "What we absolutely require and must postulate is, a Mind far higher, greater, more powerful than any of the fragmentary minds we see around us—a Mind not only adequate to direct and regulate all the forces at work in living organisms, but which is itself the source of all those forces and energies, as well as of the more fundamental forces of the whole material universe." In his book Wallace argues for such a thing not for any scriptural reason but for purely biological reasons.  On page 197 Wallace stated, "If then, as I am endeavouring to show, all life development—all organic forces—are due to mind-action, we must postulate not only forces, but guidance; not only such self-acting agencies as are involved in natural selection and adaptation through survival of the fittest, but that far higher mentality which foresees all possible results of the constitution of our cosmos." So clearly he thought that natural selection and evolution were quite inadequate to explain all the wonders of biological organization and biological phenomena. 

But such a very relevant fact is censored from the modern reader of science web sites and science textbooks.  In more than a thousand mainstream discussions I have read of evolution in my lifetime, I cannot recall a single one of them mentioning how the co-founder of the theory of evolution by natural selection denied its explanatory sufficiency to explain what we observe in biology.  This is an example of how strong a filter bubble effect is going on in the most popular information sources about science. 

The ten media sources I have mentioned (along with similar media sources) function collectively nowadays as a kind of Ministry of Propaganda to peddle the prevailing party line of particular professor groups, which often is mainly tribal folklore told by vested interests who are financial or philosophical stakeholders in selling particular ideas kept aloft by motivated reasoners. 

Postscript: Commenting on the credulous science triumphalism of the New York Times, an essay in The New Yorker says the following:

Every few weeks or so, in the Science Times, we find out that some basic question of the universe has now been answered—but why, we wonder, weren’t we told about the puzzle until after it was solved? Results announced as certain turn out to be hard to replicate. 

Below is an example of a National Geographic writer telling us in a matter-of-fact manner a completely unbelievable story that would never in a trillion years occur:

Long ago, about 36 million years before today, a raft of monkeys found themselves adrift in the Atlantic. They’d been blown out to sea by an intense storm that had ripped up the African coast, and now a mat of floating vegetation was the closest thing to land for miles in all directions. But luck was with them. Thanks to a favorable current, they were thrown onto the beach of a new continent – South America.

I could hardly ask for a better example to back up my original claim in this post that "there is a vast problem of hype, triumphalist overconfidence and exaggeration, in which extremely dubious speculations, flimsy explanations or weak experimental results are constantly being trumpeted as momentous science breakthroughs or 'facts.' " 

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