Human knowledge drifts over time, and it doesn’t always go forward. The ancient Greeks not only knew the earth was round, they had roughly estimated the diameter. Hundreds of years later Christopher Columbus had trouble getting his exploration mission funded because by then everyone “knew” the earth was flat. Were it not for education, people would look at the horizon, and soon the world would be flat again.
In the age of the internet, with the sum of human knowledge seemingly at our finger tips, one would think that this phenomenon would diminish. But in fact it continues. Human knowledge is built on layers. Once a layer has been accepted as being in general true, the next layer is built on top. The more layers there are, the less scrutiny the layers underlying them get. The longer an untruth or misunderstanding persists, the harder it is to correct and the more magnified its effect on current human knowledge, sometimes in very unexpected ways.
In the information age, data is not just at our fingertips, it is also easily manipulated. Knowledge and data are not the same thing. Knowledge is derived from data. Computers can manipulate and present data in moments, arranging banks of raw numbers into neat and orderly tables and graphs from which we humans can draw conclusions and improve our knowledge. But the more layers there are between the data and the conclusions, the greater the potential for error, and the more difficult it becomes to correct them. Sometimes errors are just errors, and sometimes they are a deliberate attempt to affect our knowledge in a specific manner.
This blog is about drilling through the errors so we can get to the knowledge.