March 22, 2017 | David F. Coppedge

Think Critically About Everything But Evolution

Researchers found that courses in critical thinking help humanities students overcome pseudoscience. One important pseudoscience, though, is not in their list.

BM-BaloneyDetector-lgCEH strongly advocates critical thinking. That’s why we have a Baloney Detector. It’s also why we daily examine the claims coming from scientific journals, to see whether they can stand up to the tests of evidence and logic. So it was encouraging to see North Carolina State validate the teaching of critical thinking in overcoming superstition and fake news.

A recent study by North Carolina State University researchers finds that teaching critical thinking skills in a humanities course significantly reduces student beliefs in “pseudoscience” that is unsupported by facts.

Anne McLaughlin and Alicia McGill ran an educational experiment at their university. They believe their experiment improves on prior tests of critical thinking education in that it included a control group.

For this study, the researchers worked with 117 students in three different classes. Fifty-nine students were enrolled in a psychology research methods course, which taught statistics and study design, but did not specifically address critical thinking. The other 58 students were enrolled in one of two courses on historical frauds and mysteries – one of which included honors students, many of whom were majors in science, engineering and mathematics disciplines.

The psychology class served as a control group. The two history courses incorporated instruction explicitly designed to cultivate critical thinking skills. For example, students in the history courses were taught how to identify logical fallacies – statements that violate logical arguments, such as non sequiturs.

All students were rated before and after the experiment on whether they believed in various ideas classed as pseudo-history, pseudo-archaeology or pseudo-science. In the History class, some 16 pseudoscientific ideas were explicitly covered, including (a) Aliens built the pyramids, (b) The moon landings were faked, or (c) Bigfoot exists.

At the end of the experiment, students were quizzed on additional pseudoscientific ideas that were not explicitly covered in the course. This was to see if those schooled in critical thinking had transferred their ability to discern ‘fake news’ to other subjects. Appendix 2 of their paper in Science & Education lists those additional pseudoscientific ideas that were used in the post-class questionnaires:

  • Men are genetically predisposed to be more violent than women.
  • Archeologists can locate ancient sites with dowsing techniques.
  • The Earth is approximately 6000 years old.
  • Scientists can prove the existence of other intelligent life forms in the universe.
  • Creationism is a science similar to evolutionary biology.
  • In all societies, ideas about gender and differences between males and females are the same.
  • The number 13 is truly unlucky.
  • The planets and stars affect peoples’ personalities.
  • Aliens from other worlds have visited the earth.
  • Breaking a mirror can bring bad luck.
  • Alternative medicine is more effective that Western biological medicine.
  • Crop circles were created by aliens as spacecraft landing strips.
  • Some people can communicate with the dead.
  • The Illuminati are a secret society with great influence and power over politics and the economy.
  • The U.S. government hides evidence of alien beings.
  • Healing through faith is more effective than biological medicine.
  • Some dreams predict future events.
  • The planets and stars affect events in peoples’ lives.
  • Evolution is a theory.
  • People have been abducted by alien beings from other planets.
  • The Shroud of Turin is a centuries old linen cloth that bears the image of Jesus of Nazareth.

References in the paper to “the scientific method” and to Carl Sagan’s “baloney detector kit” provide clues to the researchers’ own biases.

He who controls the definition of pseudoscience controls the propaganda. While we celebrate the teaching of critical thinking, the students should have turned around and taught their instructors a few things: like, “Why did you leave Darwinian evolution out of the list?” Evolution is not even a theory. It’s job security for storytellers (6/25/14). How can you consider Darwinian evolution a theory, when it says nothing more than Stuff Happens? That’s not even pseudoscience. It’s anti-science.

Now most of the items in the list are clearly goofy, but I predicted that creationism would be in their list. It was easy, because I know the Darwin Party’s habit of using the Association Fallacy and Card Stacking trick against their enemies— those creationists who keep debating them on the scientific evidence and winning. This is just another example in the Darwinian tradition of DOPE pushing, taking impressionable students down the primrose path to think they are becoming wise when they are becoming fools.

To a critical thinker reading this commentary, wondering “Aren’t you doing the same thing?”, I’m glad you asked. You will indeed find a pro-creation, anti-Darwin bias here (everyone has a bias, you realize, which is not wrong per se, as long as one is fair-minded and open to evidence), but there’s a major difference. WE GIVE YOU THE DARWIN PARTY’S BEST ARGUMENTS. You get to read all the best arguments on both sides of each question (something Darwin himself advocated), so that you can think for yourself. Did the propagandists at NCSU do that? Absolutely not. Their goal was not to get you to think critically, but to TELL you what they BELIEVE is pseudoscience. Success is measured by how much you spit on creation and embrace Daddy Darwin with a hug.

Glad as I am if some students learned to question astrology and UFOs, I am not happy, nor should you be, that they pulled the wool over students’ eyes with subversive associations. Do you think for a minute that these teachers and testers wanted any student to read the best books on intelligent design or the Bible and science? No; they wanted students to toss out the baby of creation with the dirty bathwater of astrology. They wanted students to sneer at creation without thinking about it or learning anything about it. That, by definition, is propaganda.

 

 

Comments

  • Fitimtari says:

    David, I don’t know if you’ve written anything concerning claims to deja vu (in dreams or otherwise), which the NCSU list here among their examples of pseudoscience? Have there not in fact been several cases of people getting a cold chill or something shortly before 9/11, that caused them to avoid taking a certain flight or take the day off work in one of the Towers? Anyway, from time to time I get an eery sense of a premonition which comes true – often just seconds later, but still definitely later than the sense. E.g. recently I was driving to fetch my daughter from school, and the radio was broadcasting a choral evensong, with the choir singing. For some reason (nothing to do with what the choir were singing which I couldn’t hear anyway), the phrase “Edom is my washpot” popped into my mind, and thence I recalled my thoughts turned to the prophecy in Amos 9:11ff. A couple of minutes later, just as I was pulling up for my daughter, the choir finished and the Scripture reading began – from Amos 9:11ff. I was kinda spooked out to say the least!

    • Editor says:

      Deja Vu can probably be explained by similarities with previously-experienced events. But since premonitions, if they occur (whether by God, angels, or just luck) are unpredictable, unfortunately we cannot call them scientific. Perhaps pseusdoscience is too harsh a term. I think some warnings are providential, though.

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