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Sunday, April 30, 2006

Argumentum ad googlum

I've noticed a very dangerous trend on discussion boards (especially those that discuss pseudoscience). The web is a tremendous resource for people wanting basic information on a topic. The problem is that it's easy to forget that anyone with the desire and webspace can put up a webpage. The temptation to find a quick retort means that, many times, people don't bother to check the source carefully. In still other cases, people will look for a specific phrase that may be taken out-of-context to support their argument. I call this internet-based argument searching argumentum ad googlum.
Argumentum ad googlum is not necessarily a bad thing after all isn't the 'information superhighway' supposed to make our lives easier? Are we not all to be commended for 'doing research' on a topic before arguing about it? The problem is that without a solid base of knowledge, it is equally likely that we stumble upon misinformation when looking for information. I found, much to my dismay, that any technical argument I might make can be seemingly countered by an argumentum ad googlum. In some cases, it may be that my argument was poorly made or contained some errors. In this case, a good google argument can help clear up misconceptions. In many cases, I've found that google is used to argue simply for arguments sake.
The question is whether or not we should avoid google when making an argument. I don't think so. There is a lot of good information out there and google is a superb search engine. The information can be placed at our fingertips in a matter of seconds. We must also understand that scientific research is not easily summarized on a single webpage. We cannot, for example, discuss the intricacies of plate tectonic theory on a single website. We cannot, for example, highlight the research on mantle convection using a webpage. We can find bits and pieces of these distributed around the web, but it is both dangerous and irresponsible to think that we can google away a complex discussion.
I'm as guilty as the next person when it comes to argumentum ad googlum. I've learned long ago that there is no substitute for detailed research on a topic (even those that show up on discussion boards). Just be sure that you use google wisely and always be prepared to back up your arguments!


Joe Meert


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