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.
I can say I am not guilty of any of these things at all and I had to count to make sure there are 50 of them anyway.:-) It looked like far fewer so I am obviously very unobservant.
I see nothing about being a bit of a know-it-all opinionated ar*e who loses friends because she speaks her mind far too often, but who does most often have the facts of the matter in question at her fingers tips so there! :-/
Everyone falls prey to cognitive dissonance and confirmation bias. Knowing this can help you to think more clearly.
We tend to think that people who use big words, the definition of which we never question, are right. “Climate change is an existential threat.” Look-up “existential.” I know of no climate science which actually indicates that humans may become extinct because of the climate change we are seeing. In fact, the some of the same people who say climate change is an “existential threat” are working to populate the Moon and Mars…now there are extreme climates in which humans are expected to survive.
Such exaggeration to motivate the population is counter productive. Even if most of the population does not know the definition of “existential” they sense that exaggeration is occurring.
Can you give me an example of someone who said CC is an existential threat? Also your definition of existential meaning extinction is not one most would agree with. See https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Existential_crisis
Dan, thanks for posting this. As scientist of nearly 30 years and as a college educator for 6 years, I wholeheartedly agree. Everyone certainly is susceptible to many (or perhaps all, at some point) of these biases – I can personally relate to experiencing them – and we ignore them at the peril of our personal and collective hubris. As humans, we are fundamentally social and emotional (actually, that’s a good thing), and it’s extremely difficult to be objective 100% of the time…in fact, I’d venture to say impossible. Thus the need to continually “check” ourselves.