Lunacy at Light Speed


By Samuel Greengard

After surveying recent news and events, I'm left wondering whether the Internet and technology have any chance of making civilization smarter. You would think that after nearly two decades of global connectedness, this would be a moot point. If so, you'd be wrong.

Apparently, after a couple of recent cannibalistic events--including Floridian Rudy Eugene gnawing off the face of a homeless man--the term "zombie apocalypse" catapulted to the No. 2 spot among Google searches. This spurred the Centers for Disease Control--normally focused on public issues such as AIDS and heart disease--to issue a statement that "flesh-eating living dead don't actually exist."


Meanwhile, we have a legion of "birthers"--including several prominent political leaders--who continue to obsess over President Obama's citizenship, despite an authentic birth certificate and a mother born in Kansas.

But just when it seemed things couldn't get any more bizarre, North Carolina introduced a bill legislating sea levels: "These rates shall only be determined using historical data, and these data shall be limited to the time period following the year 1900. Rates of seas-level rise may be extrapolated linearly to estimate 13 future rates of rise but shall not include scenarios of accelerated rates of sea-level rise."

Basically, North Carolina's political leaders want to make rising sea levels illegal. Heck, if they're successful, other coastal states will likely follow. Perhaps this can eventually become a law of the universe.

Let's face it, history is littered with spectacular ignorance. Galileo was convicted of heresy and sentenced to imprisonment because he dared to say that the earth revolved around the sun. The Salem witch trials led to hundreds of people being burned at the stake as a result of mass hysteria and sheer stupidity. In the 1950s, we saw Joseph McCarthy go on a communist witch-hunt that broke the insane-o-meter.

Unfortunately, today's technology--while solving many problems and improving life in many ways--makes it amazingly easy to spread lies, vitriol, lunatic ideas and conspiracy theories at light speed. Services such as Factcheck.org and PoltiFact have staff working full-time to expose lying politicians, who know that it's easier to create a lie and spread it through electronic media than to debunk it.

At the same time, Snopes.com features a mind-bending array of mindless myths. Current champions include: Starbucks refusing to serve Marines and a 3.8 percent home sales tax mandated by President Obama's health care initiative.

Of course, urban myths and mindless drivel have always existed ... and they always will. The sad part is that the Internet is amplifying stupidity rather than drowning it out.