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Like Alice's Restaurant in the Arlo Guthrie song, the Internet lets you get anything you want -- from views on politics or science and technology or religion to recipes and gossip. Oh, and of course, news. However, few people do more than skim the surface -- and as they do with newspapers, most people tend to read only what interests them. Add to that the democratization of the power to publish, where anyone with access to the Web can put up a blog on any topic whatsoever, and you have a veritable Tower of Babel.
Some people will take the utmost effort not to think, and not to have to make decisions. I'm not sure there's anything you can do against this tendency.
As for other people, the Internet allows them, nost of the time, to get more information and read other opinions, provided they have the time and the right mind to do it.
Still, there's something in what you write. The problem lies is in two important sources of information:
1. Wikipedia: many people, especially students and pupils, tend to accept the information given there as the whole truth. That leaves little space for other descriptions of the facts which appear there.
2. Search engines: most people won't bother to look for information beyond the first 20 items produced by the search engine. The first items are usually those which are part of the regular sphere of knowledge, excluding items with dissident ideas.
What can be done?
Every teacher and every parent should train their pupils and children to read the information which appears in the Internet in a critical manner, being careful not to accept information from hatred sources, and information which is repeated in many sources and is a complete lie.
BTW, information presented in the TV channels may be even worse then that presented in the Internet.
"...users devote their spare computer processing power to research diseases or climate change.
Who benefits from these projects?"
Doesn't the first sentence answer the question posed by the second? Aren't those who benefit from research into disease and climate change the sick and, well, every living thing on the planet?
I personally read opposing views and opinions which helps crystalize my opinions. Regulating the internet to create a "Balance" creates an "UnBalance" of information. Information should flow freely. I see very few exceptions to that.There are many things I see that I believe are simply untrue but, I do not believe it should be wiped off the net. No one has or should have the right to decide what another can read. When we go on that road it leads to the filtering of information to a certain belief, thought or idea which is highly dangerous to a "Free" Society. No one is superior. Frighteningly our country is heading in that direction.
While it may be easy to avoid information via the internet as opposed to "being forced" to sit through a CBS newscast, forums such as this tend to open up discussion boundaries and create fertile ground for critical examination of issues.
Beyond simple forums, the internet may cause more fragmentation of opinion because so much more information is available and more than one side of each story is told. It is, perhaps, the greatest single safeguard against "thought police" in the history of the world.
It certainly will not make "critical thinkers" out of MTV or CBS enthusiasts, but the internet offers the means to critically evaluate the "news" or subjects that are important to the readers.
If you take a bit of time to read about World Community Grid you would see that research institutions across the globe (Japan, France, Brazil, United States) get access to massive computational time to conduct research that they might not otherwise be able to perform. In return for getting access to this computational power (that is provided by volunteers across the globe) they are required to put the results of those computations into the public domain. This is a very positive thing.
The volunteers get to choose which projects their computers contribute to. Additionally, the projects that are run on World Community Grid are areas of humanitarian interest - including areas that are not typically a focus of western research such as Dengue Fever.
Please read: http://www.worldcommunitygrid.org/projects_showcase/viewSubmitAProposal.do
For full details about who 'benefits' from these efforts.