Saturday, 14 January 2017

Easily fooled

It's shocking that schools are so poor at teaching basic principles of analysis, research and critical thinking that many young people can't tell fake news from real news and easily mistake unsubstantiated nonsense for the truth.

I don't know about British schools, but in California a senator and assemblyman have both proposed bills to fight fake news by teaching children how to detect misleading, fabricated or inaccurate media and social media reports.

Senator Bill Dodd wants to see a "media literacy" curriculum, while Assemblyman Jimmy Gomez seeks lessons on "civic online reasoning".

It's astonishing to an oldie like me, well used to sceptical sifting through media reports and subjecting them to several tests of authenticity - Is this confirmed elsewhere? Is it credible? Is this a news source renowned for making things up? Are there obvious discrepancies and omissions? - that young people aren't taught this basic skill and happily absorb fabricated rubbish without a thought.

When even long-established reputable newspapers give space to dubious unverified stories, it only encourages the spread of fake news. I'm amazed at the constant airing of wild claims about Donald Trump's private life (I know all the details but I'm not giving them even more publicity). They may be 100 per cent true, they may be 100 per cent false, who knows? But why are they reported at all, when right now, there's no evidence whatever to support them?

People are all too willing to believe stories that fit with their particular view of the world, and reluctant to consider they might be a pack of lies.

Last year I complained to the BBC that their story about Vegemite being turned into homemade alcohol was totally untrue, and eventually they admitted it. But not before the story had spread all over the media with no attempt to check it.

The sooner young people can tell the wheat from the chaff, the better.

25 comments:

helen devries said...

Be a hard one getting that on the curriculum as succeeding governments maintain power by making sure that people don't know how to question the rubbish they put out.

Bijoux said...

When my kids were in school, they were not allowed to use Wikipedia as a source for any of their work. I've heard that now, even colleges accept Wiki. That makes no sense to me.

I think that the media just wants to make money, so will use any sort of sensationalism to achieve that goal. Nothing new there!

CheerfulMonk said...

I believe most people don't like to think --- I know plenty of educated people who read only newspapers and magazines that share their world view. Even if the facts in those media are correct, there is bound to be some filtering.

Shawn Maeder said...

I don't think the fake news phenomenon has anything to do with the education system. There are just a lot of stupid people. There always have been. They used to fall for medicine miracles sold at the county fair.

Nick said...

Helen: You could be right there. If all Trump's dramatic claims had been treated with due scepticism, would he be President Elect today?

Bijoux: I think the universities here ban any Wikipedia citings. Colleges that accept them must have pretty low standards. And yes, sensationalism often gets the better of conscientious reporting.

Nick said...

Jean: I agree, many people prefer to live in an echo chamber that reflects their own views. They don't like to think that opposing views might actually have some merit.

Shawn: I guess a lot of people are too dumb to tell the fake from the genuine. But I'm sure anyone of average intelligence could be taught to question sensational stories and statements a bit more thoroughly.

Dave Martin said...

It's not just the young.
My dad's 82 and believes everything he reads in the Daily Mail.

Nick said...

Dave: Ditto my 94 year old mother. If I question anything she's read in the Mail, she just blanks me as if I'm nuts. Even if I tell her some of the stories are simply made up, she doesn't believe me.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Shawn Mader. My daughter of 5 attending a Kindergarten uses very well her critical sense..employing in a smart way the "hows, why, perhaps, maybe etc. If people are not able to question what's going on in the world the result is Trump.
Mia More

Nick said...

Mia: Good to know your five year old daughter is so smart. I'm sure other five year olds could be taught the same skills, it's not that hard. As you say, what's the alternative if they aren't taught those skills? Gullible individuals taken in by persuasive demagogues.

kylie said...

I'm tired of hearing about the education system producing poor critical thinkers. My four kids have left school in just the last few years and all are great critical thinkers. And Wiki is not seen as a legitimate source (even though it is often just as accurate and much easier to access than the scholarly stuff)

and why are you suddenly defending Trump? has some mad Trump supporter been in your ear? the guy is pure evil and neither needs nor deserves your support. As for the fake news about him, well I have read fake news about Obama, too. It's par for the course

Nick said...

Kylie: Glad to know your kids are excellent critical thinkers. Maybe Australian schools are better than American ones in that respect?

I'm not defending Trump. He's a thoroughly nasty bit of work who's insulted just about every marginalised group and probably will do very little for all those ordinary struggling Americans who voted for him. I was only saying that colourful claims about his private life have circulated all over the media despite the lack of any supporting evidence.

Jacqueline @ HOME said...

I have become so cynical in my old age that I have gone the other way ... I don't believe anything that I read !!!
Just wanted to apologise for not commenting much Nick ... Christmas took over but I hope I'm back on track now. Thanks for still commenting on mine and not holding it against me !!! haha !! XXXX

tammy j said...

as the saying goes ...
you can't legislate morality. and can you still really teach critical thinking on a grand scale in today's modern climate?
i'm not a deep enough intellectual to even step into this pool. but that has never stopped me before. LOL! I tend to think it's the result of our current modern fascination with 'all things celebrity.'
it has to have a ZING or an angle or some other outrageous sound byte to it. people don't really READ or want to even think very much anymore.
they want instant tell~all headlines.
the more outrageous the better apparently. and yes.
then the world gets a trump!
truly sorry about it.

John Gray said...

The Prof would agree with you here
He's a researcher pure plain and simple

Nick said...

Jacqueline: Don't worry about not commenting - I'm sure you have a zillion other things to attend to! You shouldn't distrust absolutely everything, you might miss some really important stuff.

John: Ah yes, he shouldn't have any trouble distinguishing between unsubstantiated crap and the genuine article. It's not that hard.

Nick said...

Tammy: I'm sure you can teach critical thinking. Once you've grasped the basic principles, they're easy to apply. I think you can safely say that that the more sensational and bizarre a story, the more likely it is to be a fiction! And yes, some people never get past the headlines - some of which totally misrepresent the story.

Hattie said...

I just read an article where several Trump voters were interviewed. In their own minds they had thought things over carefully, weighed the pros and cons and voted accordingly.
How wonderful to know one is right!
I, on the other hand, am perfectly willing to believe any of those stories about Trump!
Only kidding, sort of...

Nick said...

Hattie: But presumably they didn't give much thought to whether all Trump's derogatory and over-blown statements were actually true?

Rummuser said...

With twitter, facebook and whatsapp sharing all kinds of information, it is important that we check for truth in many forwards. I always do on suspicious matter and inform the forwarder with the truth as can be found on the internet.

Nick said...

Ramana: There's so much plausible misinformation on the internet, it's essential to double-check anything that seems a bit off. Especially if it chimes so neatly with one's personal beliefs.

Secret Agent Woman said...

It drives me nuts how people post fake news on facebook without bothering to fact check. I think the bill is a good idea.

Nick said...

Agent: Hear hear! I often have to point out that a story is totally unsubstantiated, or several years old.

Ms Scarlet said...

Also, some people have a problem understanding satire online. I find this very disturbing.... They miss the subtleties and nuances. Sigh.
Sx

Nick said...

Scarlet: Ah of course, all the articles about the new President's concern for ordinary struggling Americans are just a brilliant satire! How did I not notice that?