The dog that mooed and the “just google it” fallacy

A dog called Ermintrude

I’ve just been told, yet again, that kids don’t need to learn stuff nowadays. Knowledge is pointless because they can “just google it”. There’s been lots written about this, and I don’t have anything to add here—largely on the basis that it is a statement of such staggering ignorance that I wouldn’t know where to start.

Nor is it worth trying to debunk it: you can’t reason someone out of a position they didn’t reason themselves into in the first place. But if you do ever need extra ammo, here’s a true story to tuck away in the anecdote pouch of your Teacher Utility Belt.

a dog going 'moo'

Weird science

I was teaching year 8 Science recently. The students were on the laptops, researching how animals communicate using sound. I looked over the shoulders of two boys—let’s call them Will and Jack—who were putting together a presentation. The slide simply said:

For many years people have believed that dogs bark, however, they are actually mooing.

Me: What’s that about?

Will: Well, dogs don’t bark – they moo.

Me: Ha ha! So, what’s the punchline?

Jack: It’s not a joke, it said on the internet. It’s on Wikipedia.

Will: Yeah, it’s on Wikipedia.

And there it was, on Wikipedia:

vandalised wikipedia entry

Bloody vandals

It turns out that the page had been recently vandalised, but was so low-key that it hadn’t yet been reverted. In the meantime, two bright, 13-year-old boys had googled “dog bark”, clicked on the first result, and copy-pasted it into their Science work as a fact. No knowledge required.

So the next time someone tells you that the internet has made knowledge redundant, feel free to tell them, “Yes mate, and dog’s don’t bark—they moo.”

a cow barking


Notes

1. “You can’t reason someone out of a position they didn’t reason themselves into in the first place.”

A paraphrase of Jonathan Swift’s original, “Reasoning will never make a Man correct an ill Opinion, which by Reasoning he never acquired” – see Quote Investigator

2. Googling “dog bark”: the first non-video/sound/ad result is the Wikipedia entry.