Had Galileo Galilei not decided to risk sharing the ideas he formulated based on what he had seen in the heavens almost four hundred years ago, his fellow human beings would never have been able to take stock of his findings.
His decision to publish and be damned opened the way for any observer in the Western hemisphere to view the heavens from their own stand point and draw their own conclusions.
The authorities of church and state, realising that such observations would seriously reduce their standing in the eyes of the populace, were adamantly opposed to their dispersal. Nevertheless, though there were few within the world's population at that time able to read and even fewer able to get hold of the great astronomer's writings, his clear evidence - once revealed – became impossible to suppress.
For Centuries, new ideas have only became accepted as fact once they had undergone rigorous scrutiny by others who were acknowledged experts in the same field and even then only if they fitted with political agendas.
Yet in 2001, this ancient system was shaken to its core. Wikipedia's founders encouraged anyone who wanted to do so to enter facts into its data base. Those entries were then open to scrutiny and change by anyone who had further or more verifiable information. So far this open forum does not seem to have done the world's knowledge bank any great harm.
In contrast, social networking sites - the first of which came into being only five years ago - have allowed opinion to take up as much time and space as verifiable facts. On Facebook, Twitter etc, anyone can say anything however banal or contentious, and display themselves in whatever guise they choose.
Democracy personified, you might think. But when men and women who put themselves forward to be in charge of the world's greatest power show themselves to be unaware that Africa is a continent or state that China will soon have a nuclear capability when it has already had one for more than forty years, it would be much better for democracy and for the future health and sanity of the world if social networking encouraged us to separate fact from fiction.
To attract attention these days we are told that things have to be sexy! OK. So let's make fact-finding sexy. Let's make forethought and the pleasure of the chase so titillating that the act of consummation creates a whole new generation of ideas that are verifiable from any stand point.
But we must do this soon, for the authorities of church and state (as concerned as they were four centuries ago about their standing in the eyes of the world), are already well on the way to devising fool-proof methods for stuffing the genie of freedom of expression back into his bottle. And if they succeed, it could be decades before we - the populace - find a way to let him out again!