snopes.com  

Go Back   snopes.com > Urban Legends > Questionable Quotes

Reply
 
Thread Tools Display Modes
  #1  
Old 07 August 2010, 10:58 PM
Eddylizard's Avatar
Eddylizard Eddylizard is offline
 
Join Date: 15 June 2006
Location: Tonbridge, Kent, UK
Posts: 17,857
Default Only 10% of human knowledge is on the internet

I have an acquaintance who is fond of trotting out the quote in the thread title.

IIRC she attributes it to Carl Sagan.

I've been trying to find this quote either by Carl Sagan or indeed by anyone of note. Has anyone else heard it?

The reason I ask is because I want to know:

1. When was it said? The internet is an ever expanding repository of knowledge (and nonsense of course) so the statement might have been true up to 1996 when Sagan died, but it is not necessarily true today.

2. How did he or whoever said it even arrive at that 10% figure?

3. Was whoever said it referring to knowledge we posess, or knowledge (such as making room temperature fusion work) that we might one day posess?
Reply With Quote
  #2  
Old 08 August 2010, 12:46 AM
Richard W's Avatar
Richard W Richard W is offline
 
Join Date: 19 February 2000
Location: High Wycombe, UK
Posts: 26,334
Icon24

(Firstly I admit that I read the thread title as "Only 100% of human knowledge..." and clicked because I thought that was interesting in several ways).

The claim of 10% sounds to me like an obvious variation of the we only use 10% of our brains thing, though.

Other than that it's clearly meaningless. As meaningless as the "brain" claim. What's it even supposed to be saying?

Still, "Internet = brain" is not new, but may be new in this context.

(eta) Are you sure your friend wasn't winding you up, Eddy? Carl Sagan is pretty much the poster-child for spurious arguments from authority. The combination of factors in your OP does seem a little much.

Last edited by Richard W; 08 August 2010 at 12:58 AM.
Reply With Quote
  #3  
Old 08 August 2010, 12:48 AM
geminilee's Avatar
geminilee geminilee is offline
 
Join Date: 02 December 2005
Location: New Orleans, LA
Posts: 11,518
Default

What is "knowledge"? How would you measure how much exists?
Reply With Quote
  #4  
Old 08 August 2010, 01:18 AM
Dropbear's Avatar
Dropbear Dropbear is offline
 
Join Date: 03 June 2005
Location: Hobart, Tasmania, Australia
Posts: 7,237
Australia

But it contains 97% of human ignorance, fear and superstition.

Dropbear
Reply With Quote
  #5  
Old 08 August 2010, 01:22 AM
Eddylizard's Avatar
Eddylizard Eddylizard is offline
 
Join Date: 15 June 2006
Location: Tonbridge, Kent, UK
Posts: 17,857
Default

Quote:
Originally Posted by Richard W View Post
Other than that it's clearly meaningless. As meaningless as the "brain" claim. What's it even supposed to be saying?
In the context in which she uses it it is "don't rely on the internet as a fount of knowledge" or more "even if you apply critical thinking you should believe nothing you read".

This is the same person who argued with me until she was blue in the face that Ernest emingway was not the author of the novel A fareway to Arms. I consulted the intertubes and about ten million websites agreed with me that he was the author.

Quote:
(eta) Are you sure your friend wasn't winding you up, Eddy? Carl Sagan is pretty much the poster-child for spurious arguments from authority. The combination of factors in your OP does seem a little much.
I'm pretty sure. At least in as much as this person truly and honestly believes this is an actual quote from someone qualified to deliver it, and the statement is correct. This person wouldn't know a wind up if it was ten feet tall, blowing a horn and wearing a bright red coat and a dayglo yellow hat.

I have pretty much as much respect for Sagan as yourself. What I would seek is to find the quote in context (and it may or may not be by Sagan) and call bull on it.
Reply With Quote
  #6  
Old 08 August 2010, 02:03 AM
James G's Avatar
James G James G is offline
 
Join Date: 12 January 2004
Location: London, UK
Posts: 3,680
Default

I wouldn't have thought it was the kind of thing you could put a number on, its not like knowledge can easily be quantified.

In a field near my childhood home is a tree. It sat in a hedge between two fields, and was hollow. A large crack on the side nearest to the little wooden bridge allowed entry to the tree, the inside of which was light and airy, thanks to opening to the sky above. The fold of roots, and the remainder of the tree internals provided a little step up to the inside, and a seat to sit on. In that strange fusion between childhood make-believe and childhood-beliefs, I thought of the tree as a gateway between worlds, simultaneously knowing that I was making this up, while still being excited by the possibilities that those ideas presented.

That story was never on the internet until now, it is true, and represents a level of personal knowledge. The fact I can also remember that the base of the tree occasionally contained a discarded can or two, suggests that others have their own, and somewhat different stories about the tree. They probably haven't posted these on the internet.

The sum of human knowledge is a huge thing, and not all of it can be weighed in terms of pages in books. Not all of it is practical, a lot of it is highly personal. There is some information about me that I've not told anyone, and if it is available on the internet, it is only revealed through cross referencing server logs, search terms and IP addresses.

But more practically, you can look at the work that went in to my thesis. While not available online yet, it will be after the final submission. Yet of the three and a half years work this represents, not all is included. Some was determined irrelevant, but still other data was processed, analysed and formatted for presentation. The thesis will not include the countless sequencing reads confirming cloned genes for instance. When I confirmed that samples A and C were free or errors, the fact that B included a point mutation became irrelevant. The information is not online, will never be online, and in some cases knowledge had such an ephemeral usage, that it wasn't even recorded.
Reply With Quote
  #7  
Old 08 August 2010, 02:15 AM
snopes's Avatar
snopes snopes is offline
 
Join Date: 18 February 2000
Location: California
Posts: 109,652
Yow!

On the other hand, 650% of human pornography is on the Internet.
Reply With Quote
  #8  
Old 08 August 2010, 02:21 AM
James G's Avatar
James G James G is offline
 
Join Date: 12 January 2004
Location: London, UK
Posts: 3,680
Default

Quote:
Originally Posted by snopes View Post
On the other hand, 650% of human pornography is on the Internet.
And not just the human stuff.
Reply With Quote
  #9  
Old 08 August 2010, 02:36 AM
Steve Eisenberg Steve Eisenberg is offline
 
Join Date: 15 October 2001
Location: Philadelphia, PA
Posts: 11,841
Default

Quote:
Originally Posted by geminilee View Post
What is "knowledge"? How would you measure how much exists?
I suppose you could say that it consists of the intersection of all the non-fiction books and journals held by the world's libraries.

But, then, if you meant that, you wouldn't use a vague word like knowledge, but would specify.

One consideration in any serious exploration of this issue: A lot of the material on the internet, probably including most scientific research published in the last 20 years or so, is held behind password-protected walls. On what side does that stuff count?
Reply With Quote
  #10  
Old 08 August 2010, 06:40 AM
marrya's Avatar
marrya marrya is offline
 
Join Date: 11 January 2003
Location: Nelson, New Zealand
Posts: 10,300
Default

And yet, I don't think there's much that I CAN'T find out by using the internet.


Exccept maybe, why cats lick plastic bags. And even so, there are at least a passable few theories...
Reply With Quote
  #11  
Old 08 August 2010, 09:03 AM
Eddylizard's Avatar
Eddylizard Eddylizard is offline
 
Join Date: 15 June 2006
Location: Tonbridge, Kent, UK
Posts: 17,857
Default

Quote:
Originally Posted by Steve Eisenberg View Post
I suppose you could say that it consists of the intersection of all the non-fiction books and journals held by the world's libraries.
That's what I would take it to mean.

Quote:
One consideration in any serious exploration of this issue: A lot of the material on the internet, probably including most scientific research published in the last 20 years or so, is held behind password-protected walls. On what side does that stuff count?
I would count that. For sure to access it you need to either buy a subscription, which is sometimes faily expensive - well worth it to those who need to access the information on a regular basis, not worth it for an occasional enquiry) but open to me if I was willing to pull out my credit card.

Then we have knowledge which is restricted and not on the internet. With very good reason I can't access my neighbour's medical records or find out what the MOD plans to do in Afghanistan next month.

Maybe the reason I can't find the quote is because it's in the 90% of information that's not on the internet.
Reply With Quote
  #12  
Old 08 August 2010, 12:03 PM
nonnieyrissa's Avatar
nonnieyrissa nonnieyrissa is offline
 
Join Date: 16 July 2007
Location: Brooklyn/Hudson, NY/Rancho Cordova, CA
Posts: 2,554
Default

I may be wrong Eddy but I think he meant password protected things that can not be accessed by the public period.
Reply With Quote
  #13  
Old 08 August 2010, 02:33 PM
overyonder overyonder is offline
 
Join Date: 03 March 2010
Location: Charlotte, NC
Posts: 2,120
Default

Considering the length of time the Internet has been around, vs the print press, or handwriting for that matter... 10% would be (if accurate), quite the accomplishment.

Keep in mind that the *accessibility* of this knowledge on the Internet is MUCH MUCH greater than print press knowledge ever was...

OY
Reply With Quote
  #14  
Old 08 August 2010, 06:33 PM
Jahungo's Avatar
Jahungo Jahungo is offline
 
Join Date: 23 May 2007
Location: New York, NY
Posts: 5,351
Default

Quote:
Originally Posted by nonnieyrissa View Post
I may be wrong Eddy but I think he meant password protected things that can not be accessed by the public period.
I don't think so, because that would be an inaccurate characterization "most scientific research published in the last 20 years or so." Published scientific papers that are available on the internet can be accessed by buying a subscription to the journal, or in many cases a one-time fee to view that article in particular.

Such information is definitely "on the internet." It may not be freely accessible on the internet, but that's not what the OP specified.
Reply With Quote
  #15  
Old 10 August 2010, 01:19 PM
nonnieyrissa's Avatar
nonnieyrissa nonnieyrissa is offline
 
Join Date: 16 July 2007
Location: Brooklyn/Hudson, NY/Rancho Cordova, CA
Posts: 2,554
Default

Many more things are not accessible unless you are an employee or student.
Reply With Quote
  #16  
Old 10 August 2010, 04:39 PM
FullMetal FullMetal is offline
 
Join Date: 19 December 2005
Location: Edmonton, AB
Posts: 1,376
Default

I agree that 10% of the combined knowledge of mankind throughout history would be an amazing accomplishment. I also completely doubt that number. while there is a lot of knowledge on the internet, knowledge (facts/theories) probably makes up less than 10% of the internet. the rest is garbage. my Bathroom reader had an interesting quote from Douglas Adams about computers and the World Wide Web. paraphrasing since the book is in it's place of honor in my bathroom at home, but something akin to, at first we thought the computer was a calculator, then with the advent of word processors we thought it was a typewriter, then with better graphics we thought it was a tv, now with the world wide web we realize what it really is, a brochure.

There is a lot of stuff that's not on the internet yet, and a lot of stuff that has been lost to the centuries. heck I'd venture a guess that current human knowledge only consists of less than 10% of what we have known throughout history. and granted the vast majority of that stuff is probabally "garbage" knowledge anyway. Can anyone name their closest direct male ancestor who was alive in 148 AD?
Reply With Quote
  #17  
Old 10 August 2010, 04:50 PM
GenYus234's Avatar
GenYus234 GenYus234 is offline
 
Join Date: 02 August 2005
Location: Mesa, AZ
Posts: 26,369
Default

Quote:
Originally Posted by James G View Post
In a field near my childhood home is a tree. It sat in a hedge between two fields, and was hollow. A large crack on the side nearest to the little wooden bridge allowed entry to the tree, the inside of which was light and airy, thanks to opening to the sky above. The fold of roots, and the remainder of the tree internals provided a little step up to the inside, and a seat to sit on. In that strange fusion between childhood make-believe and childhood-beliefs, I thought of the tree as a gateway between worlds, simultaneously knowing that I was making this up, while still being excited by the possibilities that those ideas presented.
This sounds like the beginning of a pretty good novel.
Reply With Quote
  #18  
Old 10 August 2010, 05:30 PM
Eddylizard's Avatar
Eddylizard Eddylizard is offline
 
Join Date: 15 June 2006
Location: Tonbridge, Kent, UK
Posts: 17,857
Default

Quote:
Originally Posted by FullMetal View Post
I also completely doubt that number. while there is a lot of knowledge on the internet, knowledge (facts/theories) probably makes up less than 10% of the internet. the rest is garbage.
The issue is not the ratio of facts to fluffy tosh. The issuse is do the facts available on the internet constitute only ten percent of the facts currently known?

Consider a hypothetical library with a set of each of the most regarded encyclopaedias and dictionaries and other factual works. It also has an overwhelmoig number of bad novels - 100 times as much printed paper as the factual section. Only a small percentage of the library is factual works, but the percentage of known facts that can be accessed by a library user is much higher.
Reply With Quote
  #19  
Old 10 August 2010, 10:51 PM
James G's Avatar
James G James G is offline
 
Join Date: 12 January 2004
Location: London, UK
Posts: 3,680
Default

Quote:
Originally Posted by GenYus234 View Post
This sounds like the beginning of a pretty good novel.
Thank you.
Reply With Quote
  #20  
Old 11 August 2010, 12:43 AM
jimmy101_again jimmy101_again is offline
 
Join Date: 29 December 2005
Location: Greenwood, IN
Posts: 6,912
Default

Quote:
Originally Posted by Jahungo View Post
Such information is definitely "on the internet." It may not be freely accessible on the internet, but that's not what the OP specified.
I would disagree, if it isn't freely available then it isn't on the "internet". The word is now generally meant that the info is freely available.

Besides, there isn't any information "on the internet". The info is on machines connected to the internet. The machines are distinct from the internet. (Ya, I know, details details.)

The original quote is probably more or less correct, particularly in the science and engineering domain. Indeed, in those domains the number is probably more like a percent or two. The vast majority of the scientific and engineering literature is not available on the internet for free.
Reply With Quote
Reply

Thread Tools
Display Modes

Posting Rules
You may not post new threads
You may not post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

BB code is On
Smilies are On
[IMG] code is On
HTML code is On

Forum Jump

Similar Threads
Thread Thread Starter Forum Replies Last Post
Dog gives birth to human boy Jenn Fauxtography 10 26 September 2009 03:04 AM
Bio-Optic Organized Knowledge device snopes Inboxer Rebellion 7 17 September 2009 09:42 PM
Dogs and human will eat themselves to death snopes Critter Country 26 10 January 2008 03:44 PM
“Destroying human life in the hopes of saving human life is not ethical...”-GWB charlie23 Questionable Quotes 26 06 July 2007 08:21 AM


All times are GMT. The time now is 11:25 AM.


Powered by vBulletin® Version 3.8.7
Copyright ©2000 - 2018, vBulletin Solutions, Inc.