There is an underestimated paradox of knowledge playing a critical role in our advanced hyperlinked liberal democracies: the more information we have, the more we rely on the so-called reputation methods for its evaluation. The paradox is that the incredibly increased access to information and knowledge that we now possess does not give us new opportunities and does not make us cognitively autonomous. It only makes us rely even more on judgments and assessments of other people about the information that has fallen on us.
We experience a fundamental shift in the paradigm in our relations with knowledge. From the “information age” we are moving towards a “reputational” one, in which information will have value only if it is already filtered out, evaluated, and commented on by others. In this sense, reputation today becomes the central pillar of the public mind. It is the gatekeeper giving access to knowledge, and keys from a gate are at others. The way in which the authority of knowledge is built today makes us depend on the inevitably distorted judgments of others, most of whom we do not even know.
Let me give a few examples of this paradox. If to ask you why you believe that the climate is undergoing serious changes that could fundamentally damage the future life on Earth, the most reasonable answer you can give is likely to be that you believe the reputation of the sources of information to which you usually ask for information about the state of the planet. At best, you trust the reputation of scientific research and believe that an independent evaluation of works is a reasonable way to filter out the truths from false hypotheses and complete nonsense related to nature. In a lesser case, you can trust newspapers, magazines, TV channels that encourage political views that support scientific research in order to give you their final results. And in the second case, you are already two steps from the sources – you trust people trusting a respectable science.
Let’s take an even more contradictory truth, on which I wrote a separate work: one of the most notorious conspiracy theories, according to which no one landed on the moon in 1969, and that the entire Apollo program (including six moon landings from 1969 to the 1972 year) was fabricated. This theory was launched by Bill Kaysing, who worked in the printed edition of the company Rocketdyne – the one that built the rocket engines for Saturn-5. ¨Kaysing at his own expense has published the book “We have never been on the moon: $ 30-billion fraud of America” (1976). After its release, the movement of skeptics who collected evidence of alleged fraud began to grow.
According to the “Flatland Community”, one of the groups still denying the facts, the landing on the Moon was fabricated in Hollywood with the support of Walt Disney and under the direction of Stanley Kubrick. Most of the “evidence” they offer is based on a seemingly correct analysis of images from different landings. Angles of falling shadows do not correspond to lighting, the US flag flutters, despite the absence of wind on the Moon, the footprints are too clear and well preserved for the soil without moisture. And in general, is it not suspicious that the program, in which 400,000 people took part, was so suddenly shut down? And so on.
Most people who can be considered prudent and responsible (including me) will dismiss such statements, ridiculing the absurdity of the hypothesis (although NASA responded to these accusations seriously and documentarily). However, if I ask myself, on what evidence basis I base my belief that the landing on the moon was, I have to admit that my personal evidence is rather poor and that I did not spend a single second trying to expose the evidence gathered by the conspiracy theorists. What I personally know about these facts consists of a mixture of childhood memories, black and white TV news, and respect for what my parents told me in later years. And yet, the unconfirmed quality of these testimonies personally and the fact that they are obtained second-hand does not make me doubt the truth of my opinion on this issue.
My reasons for believing that the landing on the moon was taking place go far beyond the evidence associated with the event itself, which I could collect and test on my own. In those years, we still believed that a democracy like the US has an established reputation as an honest one. But without an evaluation of the reliability of a particular source of information, this information is useless from a practical point of view.
The paradigm shift from the information age to the era of reputation must be taken into account when we try to protect ourselves from “fake news” and other disinformation infiltrating modern communities. An adult citizen in the digital age should be competent not in the issue of finding and validating news. He must understand the reconstruction of the reputation path of the information received, assess the intentions of those who disseminate it hurts, and calculate the plans of the authorities that confirm its reliability.
When we get into a situation where it is necessary to accept or reject information, we must ask ourselves: where did it come from? Is the reputation good at the source? What authorities trust her? For what reasons do I consider the opinions of these authorities? Such questions will help us to stay on the wave with reality better than attempts to directly verify the reliability of the information discussed. In the hyper-specialized system of knowledge production, it makes no sense to start own investigation, for example, a possible correlation between vaccinations and autism. It will be a waste of time, and our conclusions will most likely not be accurate. In the era of reputation, our critical assessments should not be applied to the content of information, but to the social network of links that formed its content and gave it a certain “rank” in our knowledge system.
These new data constitute something like a second-order epistemology. They prepare us for assessing and checking the reputation of the source of information, for what philosophers and teachers should prepare for future generations.
According to Frederick Hayek’s book “Law, Legislation and Freedom” (1973), “civilization is based on the fact that we receive benefits from the knowledge, which we do not have. ” In a civilized cyber world, people need to know how to critically assess the reputation of a source of information, and give new opportunities to their knowledge, by learning to appropriately assess the social rank of every information that falls into their cognitive field.