Critical thinking and fake news

One of my teaching missions is for my students to gain skills to critically evaluate information. Several years ago Richard Arum wrote a book entitled, Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses”, where he studied several thousand undergraduates from 24 different schools and found that they left college without critical thinking skills.  While these conclusions were not without criticism and recent studies have concluded that there is some increase in critical thinking associated with undergraduate education.  Ultimately, these studies reveal that we can do better at developing these skills in our students.

In my classes, I teach students to ask, “how do we know” and look at the data to determine whether it strongly supports the statements of fact.  You can apply this question to facts like: “mitochondria are the powerhouse of the cells” or to “the Greenland icesheet is melting”. This test of critical thinking can (and should) also be applied to fake news, reputable news sources and social media, as it is essential that we evaluate all information with “how do we know” and look into the sources and “data”.  Fact checking to identify pinocchios in disguise can be done here, here or here.