Sorting truth from fiction. Online Reasoning Stats.

I’m currently attending an online course on edx from Massachusetts Institute of Technology , MIT Teaching Systems Lab which focuses on the matter of our cognitive ability of critical thinking and sorting truth from fiction in todays world and how to train our ability to think critically, which seems to be a skillset that our current society is somewhat troubled with.

Here, I would like to share some of the information that has been kindly provided by the course organisers and that is troubling on many degrees .

Below I am quoting the text

“….we wanted to share what the Stanford History Education Group found when they gave students the Assessing Students’ Baseline Skills practice tasks.

From June 2018 to May 2019, SHEG gave these tasks to 3,466 students, a national sample that matches the demographic profile of high school students in the United States. SHEG graded their responses using a rubric to score students’ ability to correctly evaluate the evidence provided in the exercise.

The results were troubling: Over 90% of students received no credit for the Carbon Dioxide Science and Website Comparison tasks, and more than 75% received no credit on the Voter Fraud Task.

In general, SHEG found that students consistently made the following errors:

  • Students did not research the group running the CO2 Science website. If they had, they would have learned it was a climate change denial organization funded by fossil fuel companies.
  • Students chose the article on the Duke University webpage over the Wikipedia article because they (1) believed a “.edu” domain automatically confers reliability and (2) believed Wikipedia is never reliable as a research tool.
  • Students took the Voter Fraud video at face value and did not consider whether it was a credible source or whether the video was actually depicting Democrats committing voter fraud.

To learn more about SHEG’s research on student evaluations of web content, read Students’ Civic Online Reasoning: A National Portrait.

This task assessed whether students can identify who’s behind a website and reason about how the site’s sponsor affects its trustworthiness.

Although all students in the study had access to the internet while doing the task, very few students did enough research to discover that co2science.org is run by the Center for the Study of Carbon Dioxide and Global Change, a climate change denial organisation funded by fossil fuel companies, including ExxonMobil. The Center also has strong ties to the American Legislative Exchange Council, an organisation that opposes legislative efforts to limit fossil fuel use.

Nearly ninety-seven percent of students did not consider why ties between a climate change website and the fossil fuel industry might lessen that website’s credibility.

Instead of investigating who was behind the site, students focused on superficial markers of credibility: the site’s aesthetics, its top-level domain, or how it portrayed itself on the About page. Here are samples of student responses:

  • “Not a good website to look up evidence because it looks like it’s cheap.”
  • “This page is a reliable source to obtain information from. You see in the URL that it ends in .org as opposed to .com.”
  • “The ‘about us’ tab does show that the organisation is a non-profit dedicated to simply providing the research and stating what it may represent. In their position paper on CO2 , they provide evidence for both sides and state matters in a scientific manner. Therefore, I would say they are an unbiased and reliable source.”“

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