Sunday, January 27, 2013

8 Must-Have Skills for Spotting Misinformation for 21st Century Students

A 21st century skill that all students need badly is the ability to spot misinformation. As educators, we desperately need to do as Loren Collins states in her book, Bullspotting: Finding Facts in the Age of Misinformation. We need to "arm our students with baloney-detecting tools to prevent false and unsupported beliefs so that such beliefs can be better contained." In other words, 21st century educators need to equip our students with "baloney-detection" skills.


Bullspotting: Finding Facts in the Age of Misinformation


What do these baloney-detection skills look like? Here's a starter list based on those described by Collins.

1. Be skeptical when people toss around the phrase "it's just common sense." Many individuals use this phrase as if it were sacred and unquestionable. The truth is, many things once accepted as common sense turned out to be flat wrong. Just ask those who said the world was flat. Using this phrase should never protect information from a skeptical examination. We need to teach students to be skeptical, always, when someone employs this phrase in an argument.

2. Be able to employ the scientific method to test information. In an age of misinformation, our students must have the ability to test hypotheses and conclusions they encounter. They need to be able to pose a question, research that question, construct a hypothesis, test that hypothesis, analyze the results, and finally draw conclusions. Their final conclusions should then always be subject to further validation. All of our students need to be able to employ these steps to test information because of the amount of misinformation posing as science all around them in cyberspace.

3. Be able to identify ideological and agenda-driven websites and information. In the age of misinformation, the ease with which individuals can publish information online has created a whole new world where anyone, no matter what their beef, can publish. It is vital that our students maintain a level of skepticism and explore the ideologies and agendas those publishing web sites might have. All information needs to be examined with a skeptical eye toward what that person's beef might be.

4. Be aware of their own confirmation bias and the role it has in being misinformed. We know if we are heavily biased toward confirming our own beliefs, we hinder the ability to dispel ourselves of beliefs that might be false. We, and our students, need to be aware of our tendencies to seek out information that confirms what we believe rather than looking at all the data. With these principles in mind, our students need to be able to detect their own confirmation biases and those of others as they deal with the information torrent.

5. Be aware of those who use anomalies to make their arguments. Individuals who use this tactic, gather up a collection of anomalies and attempt to use the weight of those to argue against a consensus view. This tactic is being heavily used by those spreading misinformation about climate change, and it was also used by those who argued against the ill-effects of smoking. Our students need to be able to recognize when someone is engaged in anomaly hunting as a misinformation tactic and recognize it as a misinformation tactic.

6. Be ware of the use of the logical fallacy of "proof by verbosity." Just because an argument is lengthy and complex does not necessarily mean it is true. Students need to be able to recognize when someone is engaged in this logical fallacy.

7. Be able to notice when someone engages in denialism. Those who engage in this tactic, just deny or reject a widely accepted truth, and they usually offer no solid alternative instead. Those who engage in denialism aren't really interested in determining the truth; they are simply interested in rejecting one. Our students need to recognize denialism as a tactic that tries to deflect away from what has been accepted by consensus.

8. Notice when someone employs fake experts. This is commonly used on the web. Those arguing against climate change or for intelligent design curriculum heavily use this one. In the climate change debate, often those making the arguments are not even qualified as climate scientists. Likewise, organizations like the Discovery Institute employ non-biologists in their arguments against evolutionary theory. Students need the skill of checking the credentials and credibility of the information sources they encounter.


In the 21st century, we as educators have a moral imperative to make sure our students are equipped with proper "baloney-detection tools" so that they can avoid being mislead and misguided in a flood of information.

7 comments:

  1. Wow, and you're not biased at all, are you? If you can't publish a blog without political leanings, then don't publish one at all.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Interesting comment. So only those to whom you agree are allowed to publish blogs? And, the last time I checked the blogosphere is filled with blogs with "politcal leanings." Since you did not specifically identify what those "political leanings were, I don't know specifically regarding what content to which you object. If it is the climate science debate, what I express is the consensus of all major climate scientists today. We can disagree to disagree and that is Okay. Thanks for commenting.

      Delete
  2. Wait, I get it: You're showing us examples of what you're warning us against. Now I understand; very clever!

    ReplyDelete
  3. Wow, I really have to go into detail? Ok: 1) You represent your blog as an educational/technology blog, not a political blog. You brought politics into it, not necessary to make your point, imo. 2) Your first point is to be skeptical, and not accept phrases such as "it's common sense" as fact. The same can be said for "it's the consensus." It's a phrase you use to sway your argument, in a dishonest way. Following your argument, it could be said that at one time "it was the consensus" that the world was flat. It's the same thing. You're contradicting yourself. I'm not even arguing that the climate is changing; but the reasons why are absolutely still under debate. Frankly, if you believe that what you express "is the consensus of all major climate scientists today" than you are guilty of not researching the topic thoroughly. 3) My point is not that I might disagree with you on a topic, the point is that neither of us really knows. This is clearly the case when you discuss evolution vs. intelligent design. It is your right to assume that scientists have all the answers. The point is educators with that attitude cheat themselves and their students. Besides, the opposite of intelligent design is not evolution. Evolution is the theory of biological adaptations over generations of animal life. 4) Honestly sir, your points are legitimate; and I would agree with every one of them. But the more you summarize what you mean the more you show how you're guilty of most of what you warn us against. Thanks for reading, sir.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks again for your comment. I think we are simply going to have to agree to disagree. I do not see climate change and evolution as political topics at all. I see them as scientific ones. My intention with this blog post was not to engage in a debate on those topics so I will not. I do see that there are organizations engaged in deceptive misinformation tactics to mask facts and what is really happening, and these eight tactics are often the ones they use. But even Collins points out in her book, even these explanations are subject to change should someone provide convincing, verifiable scientific information. My blog is about Teaching, Technology, and Public Education, as the byline suggests. That means I will venture into areas that people disagree with, and I have no problems with that. Thanks again for your thoughtful and civil discourse.

      Delete
  4. Just to be clear sir, I was not specific enough in my initial comment. I do not read political blogs, they make my head hurt. I do like to read edtech blogs, and that's why I came across yours. That's why it threw me for a loop. Just for the record, if you would ever like to comment on my blog, you may do so. I do not need to "approve" the comments my readers make.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Once again, thanks. I hope you have found something of value here. I am sorry to say that I do have to approve comments, not because I want to censor what anyone has to say, but because early on, my comments on this blog were bombarded with spammers trying to post their bogus links as comments, and I would rather not subject my readers with those comments. There are also those who see comments as opportunities to get their own web site links in comments as well, and that is the sole purpose they comment. I try to keep those comments out as well. While I can’t prove to you that I approve all comments except those above, I do. I also do not publish anonymous comments either because I simply do not believe in “drive-by blog commenting.” By the way, I will check out your blog. Thanks for the discourse.

      Delete

As a rule I do not publish anonymous comments.