13 July 2012

The truth lies in the 6th ‘O’ of Goooooooooooooooogle

We live in a world of claims.  Look around you.  You are being greeted by countless ‘I am this, that and the other’ signs.  Corporate entities, political parties, politicians, do-gooders, faith healers, tuition masters, meditation gurus, film makers, playwrights, rights advocates and others are smiling at you, aren’t they?  And aren’t they all telling you what to do and why you should believe that they know what’s best for you?
Open a newspaper.  It’s all claim.  It is all, ‘I will do this’ or ‘I can’, ‘I alone can’, ‘buy me’, ‘I am the best value for your money in the market’ etc.  These claims don’t come with disclaimers that are worth that tag.  They don’t come with references to objecting opinion.  They are definite.  They are the I-know-alls that crowd our lives, make us punier than we are and worse, persuade us to join the claiming bandwagon.  It’s a claim or perish kind of world that we inhabit. 

Am I painting a dismal picture? Depends.  I see claim and I take refuge, as I frequently do, in the incomparable wisdom of Siddhartha Gauthama, Lord Buddha, the Enlightened One, who too claims, but discourages blind faith, recommending instead the application of intellect, the cultivation of compassion and disavowal of ego which un-clutter the inquiring mind and persuades us to come to our own conclusion:

Do not go upon what has been acquired by repeated hearing; nor upon tradition; nor upon rumour; nor upon what is in a scripture; nor upon surmise; nor upon an axiom; nor upon specious reasoning; nor upon a bias towards a notion that has been pondered over; nor upon another’s seeming ability; nor upon the consideration, “The monk is our teacher.” Kalamas, when you yourselves know: “These things are good; these things are not blameable; these things are praised by the wise; undertaken and observed, these things lead to benefit and happiness,” enter on and abide in them.’ (Anguttara Nikaya III.65 – Kalama Sutta).

Consequently, when I see ‘claim’, I ask some questions.  ‘What is the source?’ I ask myself.   Is the source reliable?  Is claim verifiable in these and other ways?  If any of the worthies who are spitting venom at Sri Lanka regarding impropriety in war-conduct had intellects endowed with such inquiring preamble, they would dump the report that the ICG (International Crisis Group) is passing around as though it was written by an omniscient entity as unadulterated rubbish, but that’s another issue altogether. 

I believed, I confess, that technology had made claim-lie-and-get-away tough.  I was thinking of the internet.  Then I learned that it is not as innocent and free or as accessible as one might think.  In the first place, one has to know what one should be looking for.  Ok, we need to know some English too, not ‘conversational’ English, but enough to know how to spell certain words, technical terms and most importantly, names, brands and corporate entities. 

Even this is not enough.  I was told recently that if you wanted information about quitting smoking, there’s tons of information but your search is filtered in ways that you might have no clue about.  It is possible that if you know the correct key words, to get through these irritants, but that requires previous reading, long searches in different knowledge-spaces, the perusal of journals and the listening to expert.  But wait, did I say ‘journal’ and ‘expert’? Are they value-free, are they independent and even if they are, to what degree?  Isn’t it true that things have prices and people too have value-tag?

Check the internet for information about quitting smoking and then do what most don’t, i.e. check owner and source, the verifiability and validity.  I got an answer that astounded me.  The first fifty entries for a particular search based on particular key words were all linked directly or indirectly to the tobacco industry! In other words, even the ‘opposition’ is ‘managed’, the perpetrator decides to a large extent the dimensions of your escape options.

Journals.  We like to think that academics are pure, that they are objective and are ‘above board’.  Here’s news.  Wyeth, one of the top pharmaceutical companies in the world (now a division of Pfizer), it has been revealed, has used ghostwriters to place over 40 ‘scientific’ articles in medical journals!  Yes, we know that a lot of ‘medical research’ is funded by the drug industry, but when the ‘findings’ are doctored (bad word, yes) to mislead, there’s something terribly wrong. 

In July of 2009, a U.S. District Court Judge granted the motion to make discovery materials that were part of an on-going lawsuit public. These papers supporting the use of Premproand other derivatives of the Premarin family of drugs written by non-accredited writers were then “authored” by medical academics. What is most disturbing is that these ghostwritten articles “emphasized the benefits and de-emphasized the risks” of using hormone replacements. Equally alarming is that this type of marketing strategy is routinely used by pharmaceutical manufacturers to establish credibility for new and existing drugs while distorting scientific fact.’

We need to keep in mind that these are corporate entities that have lots of money.  What they have to pay the few people needed to write web copy and design web pages to guarantee a high hit rate and privileged access position in web searches is peanuts.  All the more reason for us to be extra vigilant, don’t you think? 

We are lazy, though. We type some words on the search box in www.google.com and press the ‘enter’ key.  We click on the top most entry.  We think we are getting authoritative knowledge. Think again.  This is a claim world, remember?  You might as well click randomly, about 6 O’s from your left in the ‘gooooooogle’ line at the bottom of the site. 

There are no guarantees of course.  Our innocence has been exploited.  Faith in ‘experts’ and ‘expertise’ has blinded us.  That which appears liberating is often nothing more than a thoughtfully crafted avenue of deceit.  

It is good to question though.  Good to revisit ‘authority’, put it under the magnifying glass of reason.  Just as The Buddha recommended.  There’s no substitute to this.



Walter Rajaratne said...

Reawakening the thought process. Thanks Malinda

Anonymous said...

AI, HRW, ICG and now, unfortunately even the UN have become manipulators in addition to the first 3 being safe refuges for put-out-to-pasture administrators and politicians.

As for the consumers, some just believe anything; "Fere libenter homines id quod volunt credunt".

Dhanesh Wisumperuma said...

Well said. I can remember occasions where companies bought the Search Terms! See the following,

"Gulf oil spill: To control message, BP buys search terms from Google"

Ramzeen Azeez said...

Very true. We should all check out veracity and authenticity especially in religion. Too often zealots believe the fiery words spewing from a silver tongued orator (religious, political, rabble-rouser et al)the resulting chaos and carnage is too well documented. There's no time to say " hey, wait up, I'm gonna check it out on Gooooooooooooooooooogle"