29 May 2020

I Thought This Was a Joke. It Wasn’t

Posted by Dan Satterfield

I saw this online last week and immediately assumed it was a joke from THE ONION.

Unfortunately, it was not. The poll seems to be real, and it says a lot about our country. None of it good. Over a quarter of U.S. adults believe a silly conspiracy theory.

Our polarisation is breaking not only along party lines, but those party lines seem to be breaking along scientifically literate lines. That is dangerous and I wonder if this has ever happened in our country before. Just to be clear, there is no objective fact-based evidence that anyone is working to insert microchips into vaccines to track you. Frankly, the government can already do that (too?) easily by using your mobile phone.

That a large percentage of people in this country believe a ridiculous conspiracy theory tells me that our schools are failing. We are graduating 18-year-olds and giving them a diploma that is worthless. Why?

They have no critical thinking skills.

They are scientifically and geographically illiterate. They are the epitome of the French joke that “war is how Americans learn geography” (If that made you angry, look up cognitive dissonance). Too many are primed to believe silly conspiracy theories and they gladly post them all over social media, where others who are products of the same failed educational system become quick converts.

It’s even worse. We have a segment of the population who think ignorance is a cultural identity to be proud of. It is not and never will be, but you need critical thinking skills to work that out.

We MUST teach critical thinking skills in high school. We must explain to students what cognitive dissonance and cognitive bias is, and we must talk about the Dunning Kruger Effect. I would also suggest giving them a blank map of the USA and say fill in the states! Miss one, no diploma. Try again next week. Yes, students, I know your parents cannot do it either, but you are the future and we have a global economy now.

Here’s Why This is Important

When I started posting online about Covid19 in early February I often received comments that it was a hoax, or being blown out of proportion by the “Fake News Media”. Stick to the weather was a particular favourite. These comments continued well into April, and now in late May, we have passed 100,000 dead. A horrific tragedy. The experts tell us we are only in the 2nd inning of a 9 inning game, but I am not sure that we have a population with enough critical thinking skills to keep this virus at bay until a vaccine arrives. A large percentage cannot even reason well enough to know that wearing a mask might save their life or their kids’ life.

Their tribal belief system overrides common sense because they do not have the thinking skills to do otherwise.

What Do We Do About It?

If you’re a parent and want your kids to learn what they do not seem to be learning in school, then start with Tom Nichol’s book The Death of Expertise and also check out my friend John Cook’s three videos on covid19 conspiracy theories. Oh, and when a friend starts talking about one of these crazy beliefs, do not hold your tongue. Peer pressure sometimes makes a difference.

Tell them they need to learn to reason using objective facts. Start by giving them a copy of Carl Sagan’s Demon-Haunted World.

I’m not condemning the incredible teachers and amazing students who come out out of our schools. I’m condemning the fact that there is not enough of them. Every year, China graduates more brilliant engineers and scientists than we have college students. Our graduate programs are full of these students, but a U.S Senator wants the Chinese students banned. That would close many of these programs down because frankly we lack enough bright students who can meet the requirements to get into them.

A friend who has seen it up close tells me that China’s school system is so competitive that student stress has become a real problem. We are just the opposite, we are not emphasizing academics.

We must completely change our program of education. If we don’t then we will get poorer, and soon, the world will go elsewhere to get a good education. It’s already happening. When the world opens back up, go see Asia and Europe. When you return, you will feel like you have come back to a second world country.

Maybe you have…