In fact, I would bet that if you mapped the guy’s uncensored social networking data there wouldn’t be too many degrees of separation between Keen and Ed Wegman, the statistician who, in 2008, purported to use social network analysis to undermine the scientific consensus on climate change. Massive hunks of Wegman’s paper—and the 2006 report to Congress on which it was based—were discovered to have been plagiarized, and a computer scientist named John Mashey has devoted much of the past five years to detailing and diagramming the petrodollar-soaked networks that promoted (and continue to defend) Wegman’s phony scholarship. Many of Mashey’s early findings are documented in the book Merchants of Doubt, which traces the careers of the most visible group of academic climate change skeptics back to gigs downplaying the risks of tobacco and acid rain during the eighties.

But what if Web 2.0 had followed the Friendster model? What if everyone who participated in social networking was obliged to draw some distinction between their real friends and their marketing alliances, and everyone could access the map that would be generated from the aggregate of our mutual trust? The transmission and absorption of true knowledge could become markedly more efficient if networks of individuals who trusted one another’s judgment could establish standards for policing the borders between speech and fraud.

And what of professional bullshitters like Keen? Ideally, he would either have to settle for his day job (whatever it is) or start adhering to the old saw about writing what you know—as opposed to writing what you think a consumer segment will deem appropriate or convincing or contrarian. Perhaps some of them would be shamed into reforming, as Martin Jay Levitt was when he was forced to survive in a trust-based community in a rehab facility for his alcoholism.

“I come from a very dirty business,” he finally wrote in Confessions of a Union Buster. “The enemy is the collective spirit. A campaign against a union is an assault on individuals and a war on the truth.” Do not bother with Levitt’s Wikipedia page; he died eight years ago but the mercenaries are still at it, slaughtering truths and exorcising collective spirits and exploiting information asymmetries more profitably than ever from the comfort and safety of alter egos and avatars. As long as they are still trying to propagandize it out of history books and bullshit it off the trending topics, the truth lives, somewhere, and the collective spirit has only begun to recognize the power of merely reminding the world it still exists.

 

Maureen Tkacik is (still) a writer who lives in New York.