Analytical Thinking is Important for Misinformation Prevention

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Analytical thinking skills are indispensable for misinformation prevention. Analysing content one encounters from the internet requires logical and reasoning skills to filter out sense from nonsense. Surprisingly, analytical/critical thinking skills are not as common as we would expect.

In a 2015 paper, Simon Cullen of Princeton University and his co-authors concluded that “the ability to analyse arguments is critical for high-level reasoning, yet previous research suggests that standard university education provides only modest improvements in students’ analytical-reasoning abilities.” David Epstein’s “Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialised World” reveals some fascinating information. Epstein describes a study of students from departments as different as the English department is from the Neuroscience department of a top American university. Students were given 20 questions that tested conceptual/analytical thinking ability applicable in the real world. Results showed students with high great point average (GPA) in academics did not necessarily perform well: there was no correlation between GPA and broad conceptual/analytical thinking.

The conclusion: “…traits that earn good grades at the university do not include critical ability of any broad significance.” Most students confuse value judgements for scientific conclusions. In one particular question testing students’ ability to separate correlation from evidence of causation, the students performed poorly. Epstein notes, “almost none of the students in any major [academic subject] showed a consistent understanding of how to apply methods of evaluating truth learned in their own discipline to other areas.”

[1] Cullen, S. 2018. Improving analytical reasoning and argument understanding: a quasi-experimental field study of argument visualization. https://www.nature.com/articles/s41539-018-0038-5.pdf
[2] Epstein, D. 2019. Range: Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World, Riverhead Books, New York

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