Trying to get reliable, factual information from the internet is like trying to describe daytime TV without using the word “shithouse”. It can be done, but the effort involved is more than most humans can be fucked with.

Pick a topic. Anything you like. I guarantee you’ll find ten pages crammed with eye-burning horseshit for every one containing anything close to the truth. That’s because there’s no priority webspace given to proper, qualified experts over random chin-dribbling arseholes with movable fingers. The internet is for everyone!

So how do you wade through the quagmire of word-shaped turds to find stuff worth absorbing without getting brown socks? How do you sort the diamonds from the derp? The gold from the gobshites? The facts from the fucktards?

Everyone gets blinded by bullshit now and then, but you can help yourself avoid the biggest bum-nuggets by asking three simple questions.

Question one: Who the fuck are you?

Not everybody with an education is good at what they do, but relevant qualifications are a good fucking start. If someone’s going to smear their opinions all over the web and expect you to take notice, it’s not too much to ask that they’ve done some fucking research. And “research” doesn’t mean owning books or photocopying magazines or counting the fucking hours spent licking a laptop screen. It means spending a worthwhile amount of time in a recognised learning place, learning from recognised experts in a recognised field of expertise, and being recognised for it.

You’ll find important-sounding people spinning all kinds of word-garbage online. Retired micropaleontologists mouth-frothing over vaccinations. Posh pretenders with PowerPoint presentations about climate change. Vitamin salesmen wearing lab coats. But just because these people have painted themselves with a veneer of respectability, doesn’t mean their brainfarts smell like cinnamon.

If you’re reading about Topic X and the author has qualifications in Topic Y or none at all, be fucking suspicious. If they claim to be an expert, look them up. Most experts don’t make their credentials difficult to find.

Of course, there are plenty of excellent things written by unqualified people (and some fucking mediocre drivel banged out by bears), which shouldn’t necessarily be ignored. But if your aim is to get an expert opinion on something, make sure it comes from an actual fucking expert.

Question two: How the fuck do you know?

What people know is important. How they come to know it is just as fucking important.

Think about some of the really top-notch inventions you have access to. Ultrasound. Aeroplanes. Organ transplants. Microwaves. Surprisingly, not one of these came about as the result of some self-important knobjockey sitting in a chair with a bag of Twisties and thinking about stuff.

Sitting in a chair with a bag of Twisties and thinking about stuff is a fucking great thing to do, if you have the time and a reasonably low tolerance for clogged arteries. But on a productivity scale of one to ten, where one is “half a wank” and ten is “world peace”, it’s hovering pretty low.

Thinking about stuff is brilliant. But in the absence of investing, developing, consulting, testing, reviewing, failing and starting again, it’s rarely worth a pinch of shit to anybody else. Nevertheless, a fucking huge slab of the stuff you read on the internet was put there by some self-important knobjockey sitting in a chair, mouthing questions to their brain and waiting for answers.

It’s important to remember that thinking something isn’t the same as knowing something. That’s why the Food Babe thinks Bisphenol A is scary and dangerous, but doesn’t know that there is no evidence of harmful effects to humans from BPA. It’s why Tony Abbott thinks it’s worth spending public money on an investigation into Wind Turbine Syndrome but doesn’t know how strong the evidence against it already is. It’s why Meryl Dorey thinks that vaccination is equivalent to rape, but doesn’t know how fucked up that is.

If what you read on the internet sounds like it’s someone’s unverified, imagined think-trinket, it probably is. Go read something else.

Question Three: What the fuck does that mean?

Context is everything.

Consider the statement, “Old fish guts are delicious.” Unless you’re a spider crab or a fucking idiot, you’d probably disagree. But if you read the sentence, “Once you’ve tasted Foster’s Lager, you’ll think old fish guts are delicious!”, it starts to make sense.

When people want you to believe something, they can be very fucking crafty about how they express it. “Efficiency dividend” sounds less arseholey than “funding cut”. “99% fat free” sounds healthier than “contains a shitload of sugar”. And “I did not have sexual relations with that woman” is better than “I fucked more than just my career with a cigar”.

For example, when a chiropractor says “Chiropractic has been shown to have a 94% success rate with Colic”, it might sound quite encouraging to the sleep-deprived parent of a constantly crying baby. But what the fuck does it mean?

In this case, it means a single, uncontrolled study of 316 babies showed that colic symptoms improved in 94% of babies, according to diaries kept by their mothers. The study doesn’t compare the rate of improvement in babies who don’t receive any treatment, or control for factors other than manipulating children’s spines. And a lot of people might think the fact that the vast majority of babies’ colic symptoms resolve by the age of four months anyway is worth more than a passing mention. You could wrap babies in fern leaves and their colic would improve. You could sit them in a corner and their colic would improve. You could play fucking Nickleback songs on a fucking broken accordion and their colic would improve. It seems in this case, “Chiropractic has been shown to have a 94% success rate with Colic” doesn’t mean shit.

So next time you go fracking the internet’s seams for a morsel of mindfluff, remember to ask yourself the Three Great Bullshit-Busting Questions:

  • Who the fuck are you?
  • How the fuck do you know? and
  • What the fuck does that mean?

And if you can’t answer all three satisfactorily, why not add one of my personal favourites, “Why haven’t you fucked off yet?”