Insights for Adults and Professionals

It’s not news that social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook can be hotbeds of rumor and misinformation. Spend anytime online, and there’s a friend of a friend retweeting some implausible bit of Kardashian news.

But the COVID-19 pandemic is showing that information on social media is particularly unreliable, a crapshoot of so-called advice that can have disastrous effects on public health. 

Fake news is back in the real news. A study released this month found that the 100 most widely shared fake news stories of the year had received an estimated 158.9 million Facebook views between January and October. The European Union recently scolded social media giants, demanding they do more to combat fabricated content, and Mark Zuckerberg admitted that Facebook has caught Russian and Iranian bot-nets aimed at interfering in the 2020 U.S. elections

Too many business leaders are simply not reasoning through pressing issues, taking the time to evaluate a topic from all sides. Leaders often jump to the first conclusion, whatever the evidence. Even worse, C-suite leaders will just choose the evidence that supports their prior beliefs. A lack of metacognition — or thinking about thinking — is also a major driver, making people simply overconfident. This article defines three simple things that can be done at work or in daily life to improve critical thinking skills.

The 2002 war game known as the Millennium Challenge exposed gaps in the critical thinking training of the US military. In fact, it has been 100 years since the last comprehensive review of its education system. In the meantime, “conventional warfare” has evolved into adversaries and insurgencies without a discernible front line. The U.S. Navy is now conducting a major study that’s expected to lead to a radical shift in the education of its personnel. The Navy will almost certainly recommend doing far more to emphasize critical thinking skills in its training and development programs.

Pseudoscientific beliefs can lead to weak or irresponsible decisions. Conspiracy theories, the paranormal, climate change and evolution denialism, Bigfoot: many Americans belive in these phenomena. In response, educators are testing ways that instruction on human error of perception and logic can train more critical thinkers.

Last year, the Cornell University SC Johnson College of Business launched an online certificate program that focuses exclusively on developing critical thinking skills. The economy is changing, driving demand for richer forms of reasoning and independent thought. The university recognized that their students would be attractive future employees, whose improved decision making skills would help forge thriving teams and organizations in the professional world.

Groupthink is the tendency to make decisions based on consensus, even if, individually, group members may find those decisions to be weak. Thankfully, there are a lot of ways to avoid groupthink. There are new and powerful ways to teach people to be better, more independent thinkers. For one, people should be encouraged to play the devil’s advocate and help break up the norm of agreement. Along the same lines, people with a dissenting opinion should be encouraged to speak up, without negative consequences, so long as their opinion is fact-based and well-researched.

“Calling Bullshit,” got its start as a lecture series covering the various ways in which news agencies, corporations, and even scholarly institutions sling, well, bullshit. Now also a college-level course, Calling Bullshit provides people with tools to look critically at what is too often considered unassailable — data. The founding University of Washington professors continue to make a wealth of course materials available online including syllabus readings and case studies.

A recent study may explain how people whose intelligence and talent landed them some of the most coveted jobs on the planet can make huge, forehead-smacking — possibly career-ending — mistakes. While raw intelligence accounts for certain successes in life, smarts do not guarantee future well-being. Indeed, critical thinking skills are far more predictive of making positive life decisions than raw intelligence. Unlike IQ, which is largely genetic, critical thinking can be learned and developed.

The Reboot Foundation “State of Critical Thinking” white paper shows that while the vast majority of adults believe that critical thinking is important, very few actually employ critical thinking skills when reading or researching online. And people aren’t teaching their children to do enough critical thinking, either.

Few of us are taking the necessary steps to develop and improve the critical thinking skills that we so covet. A Reboot study found that more than 95 percent of Americans believe critical thinking is necessary in today’s world, but less than 25 percent regularly seeks out views that challenge their own. Furthermore, parents are overconfident about their ability to help their children reason in more effective ways. Most parents believe that they know how to teach critical thinking skills to their children, but only 20 percent frequently or very often ask their children to consider an opposing view.

Cedric Villani is sometimes called the “Lady Gaga” of math. Bearded and long-haired, he typically wears a three-piece suit, a lavallière (a cross between a cravat and a bow tie) and a spider brooch on his lapel. But most importantly, Villani is an educator. As a teacher, Villani has found that math gives young people a way to think more effectively. For Villani, math is not just for thinking, though. It’s also about action. Despite contemporary challenges, such as fake news and complex global problems, the future is ripe with opportunity for better forms of thinking.

Jon Favreau became director of speechwriting in the Obama White House at the age of 27, and he wrote some of Obama’s most notable speeches. The president thought so highly of Favreau’s talent that Obama once called Favreau a “mind reader.” But on May 27, 2018, Jon Favreau screwed up, tweeting a picture representing the immigration crisis at the border with Mexico. The problem was, it was fake news.