Expert Dethroned

American actress Jenny McCarthy used to be a scandal beauty in the Nineties, but lately she is more famous for her work against vaccines. Yes, against. She is the face of the anti-vaccine movement, which claims that vaccines cause autism. Today, I came across yet another case of internet lore on this topic, rather a vulgar one (but it got the point across): the Jenny McCarthy body count – how many lives have been lost due to myth of vaccines causing autism? 1170 by today’s count, in the US alone. Why is this a Netopia topic, you ask. Because it reminds me of a brilliant story in Wired magazine a few years ago that took the anti-vaccine movement as a departure point to discuss how the internet make us regard all facts as equal and that experts are often believed to have such vested interests that their knowledge becomes a reason for suspicion rather than trust. “Denialism” is the term, coined by science writer Michael Specter. Navigating a web with no publisher responsibility puts a lot of responsibility to the individual user in evaluating facts and statements. In the off-line society, we used to rely on specialists to make those judgments, now we like to assume that everyone is perfectly equipped to do it themselves. I, for one, can testify that that’s not the case – how many times have I clicked dubious links or taken misinformation as fact just because I was not enlightened in that particular field? Countless. And I have a lot more coming. So do you.