Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Lessons from a Mattress

I’ve done a lot of work lately on how the so-called “Dumbest Generation” regards the Internet as the end-all resource. For today’s entry, we’ve been given permission to share a reader’s experiences that reflect exactly why the Dumbest Generation is misplacing their faith in that regard. Our reader says:

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I remember when my wife was pregnant this time last year, the topic of SIDS came into one of our nightly discussions. We were, of course, interested in causes as well as prevention, but it was nothing I had ever thought about or worried about. However, my wife was worried over the topic and a worried pregnant woman quickly becomes a crying one. So I was curious to do some quick research on the topic. (I'm sure you'll spot the sarcasm but this is honestly something we did together.)

Well, according to Google, 99% (NOT an exaggeration) of the search results confirmed it - the #1 cause of SIDS, of course, is the chemicals used in most mattresses. They leach harmful toxins that the baby breathes, and eventually the baby dies. It was clear my wife and I needed to order an organic mattress (from the same websites!) to avoid SIDS. One guy actually had a theory related to dreams and sleep, but otherwise it was conclusive. Saddened after thinking about the $80 we already spent on a mattress, I didn't know what to do. Skeptical, I turned to Wikipedia - the most objective source available on any topic. I didn't want to have to buy another mattress! Certainly they could offer me some other arguments of scientific merit.

Reading Wikipedia, I was glad to know there were at least multiple theories on the matter. Although I was still depressed, as I learned that, at best, people disagree on the theories and no particular theory has really been accepted. So to be safe, we needed to order that organic mattress.

Of course, the reality, as my wife and I knew, was that there is one piece of the puzzle missing from Internet searches - the results of medical journals and scientific studies. Not a single internet site offered any information of this nature because, as REAL "intelligent" people know, when you spend loads of money through experiments to figure things out, it helps to publish your results and get money back from your hard work. And published material is often also protected (copyrighted) or at least not indexed through Google. I thought of this because I remember learning to use a library in my high school years to access medical journals. My wife realized it, too, because she is a medical professional with a PhD. Of course, it probably isn't something heavily researched either because, as much worry as young women put into it, SIDS only happens to like 2 % of newborns within the first 2 months.

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The most important point to take from this: Things like medical journals, which are expensive to produce, are not found on the Internet. No one wants to give away their hard-earned research for free. Yet journals and such are also often the best place to find depth, cutting edge research. If the Dumbest Generation succeeds, then, as Keen reflects in Cult of the Amateur, academic journals may end up slowly dying out, as fewer and fewer people support them and turn to them for answers.

Our reader, by the way, reports that their baby is almost 7 months old now, and still sleeping on their "hazardous" $80 Serta mattress!

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