30 June 2006

The Case of Credibility of Bloggers

Recently, the credibility of bloggers has come into question. This is following the letter by Lionel de Souza published in The Straits Times, concerning the blogger Char who allegedly posted religiously-insulting images on his blog. In it, Mr de Souza expressed his contempt on anonymous blog posts and attacked anonymous bloggers who write about political or religious topics in an extreme manner.

While he does have a valid point in his argument, i.e. "[bloggers] should have the conviction to stand behind any statements they make", I felt that he has missed out on the bigger picture, that credibility, ideally, is determined not by the person making the argument but by the argument itself. This has been elaborated by many other more eloquent bloggers, so I shall approach it from another direction: the way of science.

Physicist Richard Feynman wrote that authority merely gives a hint as to where a person might find a correct (scientific) theory. By authority, he meant someone who is an established person in the scientific field. Ultimately, whether a theory is correct or not has nothing to do with who created it, but whether it is in agreement with experimental data. For example, Albert Einstein was an unknown in the scientific community in 1905, but he published four papers in that faithful year. These papers laid the foundation for modern physics and later change physics so drastically that they are now known as the Annus Mirabilis Papers (Annus Mirabilis is the Latin word for "year of wonder").

Also, just because one has the authority or fame doesn't mean he/she is always right in his/her opinion. For example, Niels Bohr may be a pioneer in quantum theory and has won a Nobel Prize for his atomic model, but he was a strong opponent of Einstein's particle theory of light. He also advised Feynman against his works on quantum electrodynamics (which later became the most accurate theory in the history of science and earned Feynman his 1965 Nobel Prize).

Giants in science can easily be wrong. The truth of a theory does not rely on the size of its author. It is no wonder that Feynman said "doubt is clearly a value in the sciences", because if we were to believe in a theory just because its author is famous, then science is heading for the cliff edge. And if there is any philosophy of science that can be extracted for other fields, it has to be this very one.

The credibility (and hence value) of an argument lies in whether the argument makes sense. Who wrote it, in anonymity or not, only hints whether the argument is credible. It can and should not be used as concrete proof to judge the value of an argument.

On a side note, it seems that Mr de Souza has successfully employed reverse psychology in his letter. Usually, his letters (which are typically pro-PAP) have always been dissected and attacked by the local Internet community, in particular by Singabloodypore (I fondly remember them calling one of his letters "purified stupidity"). However, this time he added the line, "I am certain that if this letter is published in The Straits Times, netizens and other cyber-terrorists will have a field day posting all kinds of nasty or defamatory remarks against me." Result? He wasn't flamed at all. Well done, Mr de Souza, well done!


En & Hou said...

It is the very fact that he employed reverse psychology in a take-no-prisoners manner, which is why I decided to do reply directly to the ST Forum (and avoiding the ruse altogether).


Pandemonium said...

Hmm... yeah... I was a bit sarcastic when I said that, though I think it wasn't apparent in the paragraph. Guess I'm not a good writer...

Anyway, you've done an excellent job replying him in the mainstream media. At least many Singaporeans who are not familiar with the blogosphere will now have two sides of the argument to consider.