Critical Thinking Instruction in Humanities Reduces Belief in Pseudoscience

Mar 28, 2017

By Anne McLaughlin, Alicia McGill, and Matt Shipman

A recent study by North Carolina State University researchers finds that teaching critical thinking skills in a humanities course significantly reduces student beliefs in “pseudoscience” that is unsupported by facts.

“Given the national discussion of ‘fake news,’ it’s clear that critical thinking – and classes that teach critical thinking – are more important than ever,” says Anne McLaughlin, an associate professor of psychology at NC State and co-author of a paper describing the work.

“Fundamentally, we wanted to assess how intentional you have to be when teaching students critical thinking,” says Alicia McGill, an assistant professor of history at NC State and co-author of the paper. “We also wanted to explore how humanities classes can play a role and whether one can assess the extent to which critical thinking instruction actually results in improved critical thinking by students.

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4 comments on “Critical Thinking Instruction in Humanities Reduces Belief in Pseudoscience

  • While I don’t want to look a gift horse in the mouth …

    Am I alone in thinking that waiting until students reach University is a little late in the day?

    I appreciate that no-one in the story is advocating University-only training in critical thinking, but it would be so much better if the study had been done on under-16s.

    By the time some kids get to college many a horse will have bolted.

    Oh dear not only mixed metaphors, but mixed horse metaphors..



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  • 2
    fadeordraw says:

    “For this study, the researchers worked with 117 students in three different classes. Fifty-nine students were enrolled in a psychology research methods course, which taught statistics and study design, but did not specifically address critical thinking. The other 58 students were enrolled in one of two courses on historical frauds and mysteries – one of which included honors students, many of whom were majors in science, engineering and mathematics disciplines. The psychology class served as a control group. The control group students did not change their beliefs – but students in both history courses had lower beliefs in pseudoscience by the end of the semester. Students in the history course for honors students decreased the most in their pseudoscientific beliefs; on average, student beliefs dropped an entire point on the belief scale for topics covered in class, and by 0.5 points on topics not covered in class”.

    Critical thinking eh! So this study is, 1stly, a one-time event; by itself, no general conclusions would be drawn. The image reported is that science, engineering and mathematic disciplines took history courses, the result of which positively influenced their detection of bullshit. The shrink students, who did not take the history courses, maintained over time their bullshit belief levels.
    You know, as an humanities honours graduate, I clung to facts and for policy initiatives. Those facts, when tracked, gave feedback for adjustment, as well as accountability. So humanities and critical thinking.

    BTW: I’ve actually always been skeptical about associating science disciplines with critical thinking; it’s a forest for the tress dilemma.



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  • I’ve applied some critical thinking to the experimental design of this study and believe the conclusions are not justified.

    Basically two treatments: a historical frauds course and a control.
    The historical frauds course taught students to be more sceptical, and that is what, I believe, explained the results. To test for critical thinking, the course should have included historical cases of sound research, and taught students how to distinguish the two. The final test simply presented some frauds and found the treatment group had become, unsurprisingly, more sceptical in general. If the final test included cases of sound sciencitic research, I suggest the students may have poo-pooed those as well. We don’t know if they could use critical thinking to discriminate between the two.



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  • @OP – “Given the national discussion of ‘fake news,’
    it’s clear that critical thinking –
    and classes that teach critical thinking –
    are more important than ever,” says Anne McLaughlin,
    an associate professor of psychology at NC State
    and co-author of a paper describing the work.

    The fake news brexteer stories about the EU being “undemocratic” and that Westminster brexiteers were going to dictate terms to the Scots, the Welsh, the Northern Irish, and the other 27 European states, are now emerging as the transparent lies that hey are!

    The other “Emperor’s New Clothes” style stories of assured wonderful brexit benefits, are also being exposed as unevidenced, unresearched, and unevaluated, propagandist drivel, from people who had no plan at the time of the referendum, and still have no plan based on evaluated outcomes!

    The only apparent plan is to keep the absence of planning and the falsehood of the unevidenced assurances hidden from critics and the public, until the “leap-before-you-look” policy is beyond redemption and beyond recovery!
    Teresa May keeps babbling about “a WTO No Deal, being better than a Bad Deal”, and that she will get “The Best deal available or the UK”, while evading and ignoring the most likely fact, that the “best deal for the UK” is the one already in place as members of the EU!

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-39501876

    The European Parliament has backed a motion setting out its position for the Brexit negotiations by 516 to 133.

    Although MEPs will not participate directly in the exit talks they will have to vote in favour of the final deal for it to go ahead.

    UKIP’s Nigel Farage accused MEPs of trying to impose conditions that were “impossible for Britain to comply with” and likened them to the “mafia”.

    The motion for debate was supported by the two largest groups of MEPs.

    It set out general principles at the start of the two year negotiations for the UK to leave the European Union under the Article 50 process.

    At a press conference following the vote, Guy Verhofstadt, the European Parliament’s Brexit negotiator, said the vote meant that “the UK on the one hand and the [European] Commission on the other hand now know the position of the Parliament, what the red lines are”.

    He said “the interests of our citizens is our first priority” and called for an early resolution of the status of EU citizens in the UK and UK citizens elsewhere in Europe.

    What are the red lines?

    The motion backs a number of positions taken by EU leaders, including the need for a “phased approach” to negotiations.

    This would require progress on the terms of Britain’s withdrawal, including settling financial commitments, before talks on a future trading relationship can start.

    It also backs the call for transparency in the talks, and for the UK to be considered liable for financial commitments that apply after it leaves the EU.

    It also says:

    transitional arrangements should be time-limited to three years and be enforced by the EU’s Court of Justice

    UK citizens in the EU and EU citizens in Britain should receive "reciprocal" treatment

    the final deal should not include a “trade-off” between trade and security co-operation

    the UK should adhere to EU environmental and anti-tax evasion standards to get close trade ties

    the European Banking Authority and European Medicines Agency should be moved out of London

    the UK should pay towards costs for the EU that “arise directly from its withdrawal”

    During the debate in Strasbourg Manfred Weber, chairman of the largest group of MEPs, the centre-right European People’s Party, said: “Cherry-picking will not happen. A state outside the European Union will not have better conditions than a state inside the European Union.”

    Gianni Pitella, chairman of the European Socialists and Democrats also argued that the UK “can not benefit from the same conditions as members do”

    The europhobic Nigel Farage of the “leap into the dark with no plan, and no idea”, UKIP, which seems best a infighting among its own members and leaders, and non-attendance of the European parliament by its MEPs, is as usual, in dispute with just about all the rational people who know how to organise constructive negotiations and useful agreements, but as in the past, he has nothing useful to contribute to the debate!



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