9 February 2021

Science Illiteracy and Poor Critical Thinking Skills Really Can be Deadly

Posted by Dan Satterfield

I’ve written many times over the years about science illiteracy and the need to teach critical thinking skills to students. Is there any doubt that the last 14 months has emphasised it like nothing else could? Thousands have died because they thought the world’s medical experts were wrong about social distancing/face masks. The politicians who agreed with them and refused to urge their constituents to follow the basic rules during the pandemic bear even more responsibility.

No longer will science illiteracy just embarrass you or cost you money, it can and will kill you. It has indeed been deadly for thousands, and it’s a sad commentary on our education system. I am afraid the cure will not be an easy one, but we need to start now.

In a democracy, having voters who can make reasonable decisions is vital, but how do we teach people to think better?

I suggest we start by showing them how we think wrongly. Teach them about cognitive dissonance and the Dunning Kruger Effect. We are ALL susceptible to bad thinking, but if you know how you think wrong, you just might catch yourself and think harder about a subject.

I saw an information poster online today that’s all about thinking wrong, and it’s worth sharing. It was posted by Dr. Jonathan Stea, a clinical psychologist at the Univ. of Calgary, and I hope some fellow instructors in university science classes (and high school teachers) will take some time to talk about it with their students. I teach a class of university undergrads, and I try and mention something about how science works and critical thinking skills in every class meeting.

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