How things go wrong with amateur researchers
By now, you’ve all seen the tag line made popular by conspiracy theorists the world over.
DO YOUR OWN RESEARCH!
Used in numerous ways by modern conspiracy theorists, the phrase was made even more prevalent by the emerging Qanon movement. This particular group of cult-like adherents followed the conspiracy precedent of rejecting any information originating with the government or the mainstream media. Relying upon alt-right or other fringe sources, thousands of people who referred to themselves as “researchers” put out the largest catalog of incoherent ramblings I’ve seen since going down the JFK assassination rabbit hole.
They didn’t rely just on existing websites for their research. At times, they based their research on someone else’s previously posted research which was often just a Tweet or Facebook post of their thoughts. Using each other as sources, and basing their final reveals on nothing more than their own fever-dreams, the results were shocking as well as comical.
This continues today and may be worse than in previous years. Now many of those “researchers” have websites filled with their own imaginary findings and those, too, become “source material” to be riffed upon by others.
Throw in some fringe websites and the occasional foreign influence campaign and what you get is a bunch of nonsense being presented as “well-researched findings.”
As someone who has essentially been a researcher for more than 30 years, I was lucky to emerge from the last few years without clawing my own eyes out so I didn’t have to see it anymore.
I have contemplated this issue for a number of years now. I tried to give a few insights into how people do incorrect research and how that leads to incorrect findings in my small book, Just Stop. I wanted to give a few examples and perhaps encourage people to work harder. Writing a book solely dedicated to conducting research would be boring and probably several volumes in length. Nobody has time for that. You don’t have time to read it and I don’t have time to write it. If someone was paying me to spend a couple of years on a writing project, I suppose that would be different but they aren’t so I’m not.
Searching online you’ll find quite a variety of books on conducting research that apply to a variety of fields including scientific, academic, literary, and journalistic. You should find a few that apply to your specific, chosen area and study them. You see, that’s what research actually is: Study. And a lot of reading. It takes years to become an actual expert on a given subject, so your goal shouldn’t be achieving that status. A subject matter expert, at least a recognized one in most fields, has spent perhaps decades building a wealth of knowledge that you simply won’t be able to replicate while researching a narrow subject for your college assignment, news article, blog post, or friendly debate over thanksgiving dinner. If that level of expertise was, in fact, your goal, you should be in school right now instead of reading this blog post.
Doeth Thine Own Inquiry
For the layperson, someone who has neither the time nor inclination to become a subject matter expert or officially recognized authority on any given subject, it is usually sufficient to do some general study of a subject to gain a basic understanding of it. In reality, just that light reading and study will be more research than was conducted by the conspiracy theorist with whom you will debate. Perhaps not in duration and depth, but hopefully in accuracy and reliability. That is, if you do your research correctly.
Sources and Search Engines
First and foremost, the largest issue I find within the I do my own research conspiracy theorist world is their rejection of any information originating from an official source. One would think that, when searching for information regarding vaccines for instance, the best places to gather information would be scientific organizations, Centers for disease control, Food and Drug administration, and medical authorities such as research hospitals. Not so, sayeth the conspiracists. Because they believe in the existence of a global cabal intent on keeping the masses ignorant of their plans, official sources cannot be trusted. In the same way they reject news reporting from what they deem the mainstream media, they reject reporting from organizations they are convinced are part of the global cabal, which, of course, includes any official government source, official scientific community, official medical organization, or recognized experts. And you certainly can’t trust what the vaccine manufacturers say about their own products. If the product is designed to depopulate the earth or to target a specific segment of the population through DNA manipulation, they surely aren’t going to tell you. They’re going to lie about it the entire time.
Similarly, Big Tech is also a part of the cabal and spends billions of dollars ensuring that the information you are allowed access to is carefully curated in order to promote the cabal mission and keep the sheep unaware.
“LOL Where’d you find that? Google? LMAO”
Much has been written regarding how search engines present their results. Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is an industry in and of itself in the modern cyber world. Entire companies exist who’s sole purpose is to embed the correct phrases, keywords, etc. into your website to improve its visibility within search results. Sometimes you can even pay to be placed higher on the list. Some is strictly popularity of the specific item.
I conducted a simple test utilizing the four most popular search engines – Google, Bing, DuckDuckGo, and Yahoo. The same phrase was used in all cases: Graphene in vaccine. I settled upon this choice due to the seemingly endless flow of misinformation regarding vaccines, their ingredients, and even their purpose, which has escalated considerably during the Covid 19 pandemic. Conspiracy theorists claim, and incorrectly so, that graphene oxide is a main ingredient in the various Covid vaccines currently available to the public. The origins of this disinformation campaign is a topic for another discussion. Suffice to say, none of the SARS-COV-2 vaccines list graphene in their ingredients. Here are the results, cropped to only show a similar sized result in each engine. You can follow along by doing this experiment yourself using any search query you’d like.
If you scroll past the first result, in fact scroll through the entire first page of Google results, you’ll find zero vaccine disinformation links. The first page is all official vaccine information or vaccine related research articles, none of which indicate the presence of graphene in the covid vaccines.
DuckDuckGo…goes the extra mile. When you scroll through the first page of results, my laptop showed ten results. Of those, eight were vaccine disinformation links. Only two were the opposing view. Only one was a link to an actual scientific study regarding the potential for graphene to be useful in the development and delivery of medicines, including vaccines. Result? DuckDuckGo gave me 80% bullshit and wished me luck.
Of the ten results on the fist page of search results, Bing went full-on middle of the road, providing five disinformation links and five links to either real science or debunking articles about graphene in covid vaccines.
Below the ad, which seems to be different depending on when you conduct your search, I was given seven search results by Yahoo. Of those seven, three were outright disinformation links.
Regardless of which search engine used, many of the links are the same. You’ll encounter this regardless of your search terms. They are all searching the same internet, after all. In DuckDuckGo’s case, however, I was given much more obvious vaccine disinformation that the others. DDG appeared to attempt to shock me with just how much graphene was in my covid vaccine. Now, does this mean DuckDuckGo is doing this on purpose? No, not at all. It is just giving you results for your search query. Could DDG be actively trying to misinform the public about vaccines? Sure they could. Do I think they are? Not really. Although based on how much disinformation DDG returns, it wouldn’t be hard to convince someone they were. The most likely answer is that DDG is simply returning all results that meet the search criteria. It isn’t really DDG’s fault that the majority of internet sources on the subject are disinformation and misinformation sources. Your search query is what brought them up.
At the opposite end of the spectrum, you have Google, which certainly appears to be taking an activist role in the results they provide. They are obviously intentionally removing what they determine to be disinformation from search results. How you feel about this sort of activism with information is strictly up to you. In a way, it is good. Google being the most popular search engine by far, ensuring the correct information winds up in the minds of our children is pretty important.
And yet, Google’s conduct in this confirms what conspiracy theorists believe – that Google takes an active role in controlling what information you are allowed to absorb. Because they do. The debate over whether we approve or disapprove of Google’s activism will rage, most likely, until Google ceases to exist, which, also most likely, won’t happen in my lifetime. The free access to information – all information – is fundamental to many in modern society. They want to control what they absorb, when they’ll absorb it, and how. So society ends up in the age-old debate of “By banning it, does it make it more alluring?”
Telling a kid, “Don’t touch that” will almost assuredly result in that kid “touching that” as soon as they think they can do it without you knowing about it. Is the lure of disinformation the same thing? Do people seek it out simply because they know the powers that be don’t want them to? I don’t think it is that simple. It is a much deeper question involving distrust of authority, whether that be government, religion, parents, or some massive tech giant that thinks it gets to decide what information is worthy.
What if Google is wrong?
In this case, Google isn’t wrong. Grephene isn’t listed as an ingredient in any of the current Covid-19 vaccines and analysis by laboratories around the world have yet to report the presence of graphene oxide. The only “reports” that do confirm the existence of graphene in covid vaccines are institutions that don’t actually exist or are a figment of a conspiracy theorist’s imagination. But, what if, one day, Google gets it wrong? Or, what if, one day, Google decides it will intentionally distribute incorrect or misleading information? How do we know it hasn’t already? On this topic, the conspiracy theorists have good cause for their distrust. Not because it is known to have happened, but because it could happen, and it is evidenced by their willingness to suppress information that runs counter to the official stance of the organization. Google has gone from providing search results to controlling narratives with their carefully selected results. As someone who has been fighting disinfo for many years, I have to say I have mixed feelings on this topic. I want to prevent false information reaching the masses. I also don’t want some tech giant deciding for me what information is valid or invalid. That’s my job. And I write that knowing full well that most people are not equipped to distinguish creatively crafted disinformation from actually reliable and correct information.
So, now what?
You really want to complete your research on your topic of choice. You want to drill down into a stack of information and glean from it the ultimate truth. You might even write a paper on the subject, get published, and start a SubStack for all of your newly acquired fans. But now you know you can’t trust Google and, really, you can’t trust any of the other search engines either. Where do we go from here? We go…backward.
Start from the beginning
Do you even know what graphene oxide is? Probably not. I didn’t when I first heard about it. Only Bing (first result in list) and Yahoo (fourth result in list) provided information on scientific research on graphene oxide from actual scientific studies. Both articles are from the National Institutes of Health and cover various studies. We will ignore the conspiracy theorist mantra of not trusting official sources and we will rely on actual scientists to explain to us what we want to know. The results we find from scientific sources assumes we already know what graphene oxide is so they aren’t helpful for the layperson. We have to start there.
What is graphene oxide?
Searching each of our four chosen search engines, three of the four, DuckDuckGo, Bing, and Google, provide a quick reference to the right of the results. Each of these is a link to a Wikipedia article. This can be very helpful if you’re in a hurry and don’t want to read through a bunch of scientific studies. Unfortunately, and you will see this if you look closely, the provided Wikipedia link is…wrong. The reference provided is for graphite oxide, not graphene oxide. Although the two substances are related, they are not the same. You’ve just been sidetracked with incorrect information and if you don’t catch it right away, you may not realize you’re wasting your time. Or worse, you produce an article, social media post, or argue a position at Thanksgiving dinner that is based on poor research into the wrong substance. Bing even provides you links to purchase some graphene oxide if you’d like.
Bing confuses your research by providing both the quick reference Wikipedia link on graphite oxide as well as the correct description of graphene oxide.
As for DuckDuckGo, well, they not only provide the incorrect result for graphite oxide, they also give you a string of results about how graphene oxide is definitely in the covid-19 vaccines and also it will definitely kill you.
Only Yahoo provided a quick reference link to the correct substance.
But, and there is always a but, Yahoo was not content to just give you the information you actually sought. It decided to give you some links related to your search. Five of them, in fact. And 80% of them are vaccine/graphene disinformation. The “fact check” link showing graphene is not in the covid-19 vaccines gets top billing under the technical description but all of the other links are vaccine disinformation.
This isn’t helping
As you can see, it matters little which search engine you use during your research. Each of them have issues that will sideline your work and each of them provide you with information that is incorrect. As an amateur who is just trying to get correct information so you are well-informed and can debate from an educated position, you’re probably feeling fairly discouraged at this point. You should. You just went through what the conspiracy theorists went through. This is how they develop their opinions. This is how they conduct their research. And if DuckDuckGo is their preferred search engine as many of them claim, as you can see, the majority of the information they encounter, upwards of 80%, is nothing more than disinformation.
Many researchers refute the idea that social media algorithms, which curate information and provide it to you based on your past activities, are to blame for the epidemic of disinformation currently plaguing society. They contend that your own interests, specifically conspiracy theories, existed prior to your descent down the rabbit hole of disinformation. You spent a lot of time searching for information about conspiracy theories so the algorithms are simply giving you what you want. There can be some truth to this perspective but just within these simple search engine experiments, we also see that disinformation is happily provided to you regardless of your interests. “Graphene in vaccine” seems innocuous enough of a search and it isn’t out of the ordinary for someone who heard about a topic and decided to do their own research. And yet, here we are, being handed disinformation upwards of 80% of the time anyway and we aren’t on social media. These are the search engines upon which we rely to bring us useful information on a daily basis and they, too, are handing us plenty of disinformation with which to drag us down a rabbit hole.
On any topic related to science or even opinion, people often accept the viewpoint that is considered a relative consensus. Consensus being a majority of opinion, where does that leave us on the subject of whether grephene oxide is in the available covid-19 vaccines? The majority of the search results provided are clearly on the side of that assertion being true. How much volume of information influences our own opinions is a subject for experts and I’m not qualified to offer an analysis. I can only make assumptions that when someone is searching a topic, if most of the information found on that topic is in agreement, that could, and probably will, influence their own opinion.
Check your sources
First and foremost, we have to ensure we are using sources and resources that are reliable, truthful, and accepted as being scientifically sound. We also can’t be influenced by titles and accolades. For instance, two of the most active vaccine disinformation agents who are frequently quoted and used as sources among the conspiracy theorists are Dr. Jane Ruby and Dr. Andrew Kaufman. They are both frequently used as sources for information about the origins of Covid, vaccines, and what’s really going on. They both hold the title of Doctor. Neither is a medical doctor. That doesn’t seem to matter to conspiracy theorists. They rely on a pair of psychiatrists to explain the intricacies of viral isolation, transmission, and treatment. A few minutes using proper search terms in a search engine easily refutes what both disinformation agents tell us but, again, based on what we have seen thus far, it depends on who you trust to provide you with information.
As real researchers, we have to stick to accurate information and actual scientific studies to gather our information. If you followed my older articles on how disinformation is spread and used, you know that reading someone’s article about a study is not the same as reading the actual study. Often the article about the study does not accurately portray the information within the study. This is a very common tactic. The authors realize most of their readers will not seek out that scientific study and read it for themselves, comparing it to the opinions offered on it by the author. Hardly anyone takes the time to do that. Most often, the person who does is someone who got a weird feeling about the author and questioned their findings so they embark on a quest to find out for themselves. They’ll do their own research. Again, this will be a very small minority but the motivation is the same no matter which side you are on.
The fundamentally flawed approach
At this point, the evidence is pretty clear that doing research online has a tremendous number of pitfalls just waiting to suck you into an insurmountable mound of useless and misleading or outright false information. No true researcher can gather the information needed by following the demands and requirements of conspiracists. The standards set forth by the conspiracist doing their own research are simple:
- Don’t use Google.
- Don’t trust official sources.
- Don’t trust the mainstream media.
- Don’t trust science.
Although we see that one doesn’t have to follow these edicts in order to be inundated with disinformation, once you apply the above standards, you are essentially limiting your research to only disinformation sources. As they claw their way through the spiderweb of information it really becomes irrelevant where they end up. They are going to be wrong no matter what. Some directions may be more wrong than others but how much does that matter in the grand scheme of things?
“Graphene is nanotechnology designed to create a link from you to the internet of things, thereby making you a part of the matrix.”
“Graphene is a poison designed for population control and it gets activated by 5G signals creating a ‘kill switch’ for Big Brother.”
Both of the above statements are absurdly incorrect. Both of the above statements are apparently believed by various factions within the conspiracy theorist space. You can find both of the above statements on any given conspiracy theory forum or website today. They’re all wrong. They are just wrong in different ways. When you limit your research to only those sources that intend to give you incorrect, misleading, or conspiratorial content, what do you expect?
Oddly enough, some of the best tools to use for research and to weed out the ever present disinformation is…Suspect Zero: Google.
The cure for Google is Google
For all of its problems and its own decision making, Google has taken it upon itself to compile and make available resources specifically for students and researchers. Google Scholar is a resource you may occasionally hear mentioned by journalists, university students, amateur researchers, and investigators.
You can have a look at Google Scholar at This Link.
When we search using Google Scholar, the results are from scientific studies, academic papers, and explanations of various aspects of both. Simply typing in the term ‘graphene oxide’ you can see that our results are considerably different than our previous attempts.
And, as you can see from this screen capture of the Google Scholar home page, you can even search through the case law pertaining to your topic. The results are compiled from academic research from a variety of sources within the various disciplines.
Let’s do a simple Google Scholar legal search. To keep within the same subject matter, we will do a Scholar Case Law search about vaccine mandates.
The results from this simple search are very interesting. If you are into reading legal decisions, you won’t be disappointed by what Google Scholar provides. The first case linked, Jacobson v. Massachusetts, was originally heard by the Massachusetts Supreme Court in 1904, decided in 1905, and was heard before the U.S. Supreme Court in 1907. It describes a mandatory vaccination program against smallpox by the city of Cambridge, MA. A citizen, Jacobson, fought both the vaccine mandate and quarantine protocols, and used each and every argument put forth by anti-vaccination activists in 2021. Reading the U.S. Supreme Court decision is fascinating and very informative.
Spoiler Alert: Even in 1907, SCOTUS said, yes, the state can, in fact, create mandates for the public good. The end.
Here’s a link to the decision discussed above. Jacobson v. Massachusetts
For an introduction into how to use Google Scholar for your research, there is a PDF available HERE.
Another excellent tool to improve your search results and weed out disinformation is the use of something called Google Dorks. This isn’t a program, per se, but rather a method of query input. It allows you to remove links that don’t meet your criteria and to specifically select dates of publication and other details. For old school internet users, some of it will seem very familiar, such as using quotation marks to get results with that exact string of words, using plus, minus, etc. There are many ways of using Google Dorks so it would be impossible to adequately cover the topic here. For a great introduction to Google Dorks, you can start at this LINK from Maltego, an Open Source Intelligence (OSINT) tool. If you look around, you’ll also find search parameter guides for search engines other than Google.
Properly using Google Dorks search operators can save you a lot, and I mean a lot, of time. It is the difference between sifting through thousands of search results and narrowing your results down to perhaps ten or fewer. I ran an experiment just prior to writing this paragraph and the difference was, a basic Google search for a person’s name = 234,000 search results. Using Google Dorks operators, a similar search returned only the information I needed. Google Dorks = 3 results.
I may write future posts on the subject of research and investigations if time permits. The goal being to help people improve their own skills while showing them how the typical layperson may come up with the wrong answers. Until then, don’t be “that guy.”