Wednesday, 25 April 2018

Staged Chemical Weapons Attack in Syria? Why We Need Critical Thinking


I have 20 years experience teaching critical thinking. Today I teach critical thinking at one of the most prestigious universities in the UK, and the rest of the time I travel, teaching critical thinking to students in poor and rich countries around the world. I do this because I believe understanding how to identify fact from fiction is not just helpful – it is essential.

Most would probably agree that critical thinking (being able to separate facts from fiction and thus make informed decisions) is important, but unfortunately this skill is largely missing in the general public.

In 2014, Cambridge International Examinations research revealed that teachers across the globe believe critical thinking is the skill their students most lack when they begin their post-16 courses at school, and 56% of teachers said students were still unable to think critically when they entered university (source).

A 2011 study by sociologists from the New York University and University of Virginia concluded that 45% of students graduated “without knowing how to sift fact from opinion, make a clear written argument or objectively review conflicting reports of a situation or event” (source).

More recently, a 2017 study by MindEdge, an online learning company founded by Harvard and MIT educators, found 44% of college students could not correctly answer 6 of 9 questions designed to gauge their ability to detect fake news (source), and a report by The Wall Street Journal the same year found large groups of college seniors have “basic or below-basic levels” meaning “they can generally read documents and communicate to readers but can’t make a cohesive argument or interpret evidence” (source).

It is easy to focus on the students here, but if the majority of students are unable to critically think at 16 years of age, and are still unable to critically think when they enter or leave university, it follows that parents, teachers and other adults that they regularly come into contact with are also failing to effectively demonstrate how to do so.

That is not all. A report by the Foundation for Young Australians in 2015 found the demand for critical thinking skills in new graduates has risen 158% in 3 years (source) while a 2016 Stanford University report found college students actually performed worse than high school students at distinguishing “between a news story, an ad, and an opinion piece” (source).

This is extremely worrying when we consider that the growing nuclear threat and a lack of trust in political institutions are two main reasons scientists have set the doomsday clock at 2 minutes to midnight for 2018 (source).

The need for students and non-students to understand global events is indeed increasing, while the ability for the general public to act on truth, it seems, is actually declining.

Let us take one of the most important events unfolding in the world right now as an example – missile strikes against the Syrian government.

France (source), the UK (source) and the USA (source) claimed they had evidence that a chemical attack did take place on April 7th in Douma and that it was carried out by Bashar al-Assad’s regime. Meanwhile, Russia said this evidence comes only from media reports (source), and presented testimony from two medics who said the video broadcast of survivors being treated for chemical exposure had been faked by intelligence services, with Britain directly involved (source).

Is it possible that media outlets reported on a fake video about a chemical weapons attack that did not even take place so that the US-led coalition could justify attacking the Syrian government?

Critical thinking is the “The objective analysis and evaluation of an issue in order to form a judgement” (source). It is therefore first important to acknowledge any assumptions or conclusions we may already have based on prior conditioning (not facts). For example, a preconceived idea that our governments and media are the good guys and would not lie.
http://www.collective-evolution.com/2018/04/23/staged-chemical-weapons-attack-in-syria-why-we-need-critical-thinking/

[Posted at the SpookyWeather blog, April 25th, 2018.]

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