Sunday, May 8, 2011

Critical and Analytical Thinking are Lost Arts Amongst Many of Today's Adult Population

"Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I'm not sure about the former." - Albert Einstein

We live in a world whereby well over 85% of adults fail miserably when it comes to critical thinking abilities. Let me give you examples of why I believe this to be true.
I receive daily updates from the Seth Godin Blog. It's always a short but interesting read. Yesterday's blog was entitled, "What's high school for?" It had several excellent points that Seth hoped that high school of the future could be teaching students. I agree. You can see the list here.

I enjoyed all the points on Seth's "Wish List". My favorite two points that I think must be taught immediately are:

1) How to read critically
2) An understanding of the extraordinary power of the Scientific Method, in just about any situation or endeavor.

There is one more point that I always strive for and that point is:

3) An insatiable desire (and the ability) to learn more. Forever.

There are few people, I hope, who would disagree with the three I have taken from Seth's list. Unfortunately, there are many, even "successful" parents and businessmen who are sorely lacking in item #1. I believe that is irrefutable logic that if you fail at #1 then you will not be able to successfully conduct items #2 and #3.

Most unfortunately, I'm getting the impression that, judging from the comments I often hear and from reading comments on Social Media websites, at least 85% of the adult population are incapable of well-executed critical analysis and reading. We lives in a society today whereby far too many people have lost the ability to perform even the most basic levels of critical/analytical thinking when it comes to what they see or hear on TV or what they read in print. This is a very sad situation. People are not able to extract facts from conjecture. They seem to be incapable of deeply considering the motivations of the people they see/hear or read on the mass media. 

Proper critical analysis will always examine a person's possible motivations for what they say or write. Too few adults today seem able to exercise this most basic ability.

Let me give you three recent cases in point with real-life examples; 

Recently, amongst a plethora of panic concerning the Fukushima nuclear disaster, I often read comments from people whereby they stated things like, "I don't believe the government. I only want the truth." 

Great. First off, I think the part about not believing the government is good. But let me restate that; being skeptical of government pronouncements is healthy. 

The second part about wanting the truth is a given. So does everyone else (hopefully). But do people really want the truth when they make these sorts of statement's, then link these claims to anothers writings (often filled with outlandish claims) when they haven't taken even a minute to do a basic background check on the person that they are linking to and quoting from?

Of course, I have an advantage here. Thirty years in broadcasting teaches you why and how to do backgrounds checks first as a matter of course (actually being taught to do background checks in news is taught on the first day of new broadcasting courses in any college or university in the world). 

A person who claims that they only want to find the truth and while attempting to to post or comment about a subject (see #2 above about Scientific Method) and then linking to or quoting from a "quack" - whose background hasn't been properly checked or vetted by that person - only makes a mockery of that supposed "search for truth" and that person's claims... It makes that person who is claiming to be the searcher look a fool. (I reckon that the search for truth will require a bit more than a two-minute effort and consume a lot more time than a quick read and rehashing some ill-researched column from the quoted "quackster.")

I'll give you an excellent example. Recently, during the outrageous and excessively over-blown panic about the Fukushima nuclear accident and its effects on Tokyo and southern and western Japan, several people wrote ridiculous nonsense on blogs and on Facebook, etc., quoting a very well-known and sensationalist "scientist" named Michio Kaku. 

"Babies have big heads and big eyes, and 
tiny little bodies with tiny little arms and legs... So did the 
aliens at Roswell! I rest my case."William Shatner 

When the subject is something of critical importance like nuclear radiation and the dangers to you and your family, why is quoting people like Michio Kaku nonsense? Because listening to people like him is like asking William Shatner (played Captain Kirk in Star Trek) about space travel....Well, don't believe me, your honor. You be the judge. Here's the evidence; Michio Kaku he may be billed as a "scientist" but he is heavily involved in all sorts of "entertainment" such as writing Science Fiction for TV and books. 

As of this very moment, Michio Kaku's Wikipedia shows him to be a Theoretical Physicist. If you look through his bio, you'll see that most of his academic qualifications all list "Citation needed" (which means they are not verified). If you check his edit history on Wikipedia, you'll see that this is a very controversial figure with tens of thousands of re-edits. Before the Fukushima disaster, I saw Kaku was listed as an "Astrophysicist." Astrophysicist is defined as someone who studies the stars and the universe. It is also sometimes used as the description for someone who is involved with the zodiac for fortune telling purposes.  

Finally, a short check of Michio Kaku's work and list of books shows that his latest book is entitled, Physics of the Future: How Science Will Shape Human Destiny and Our Daily Lives by the Year 2100 (I wonder if this book has George Jetson walking his dog on the cover?) This (ahem), hardcore peer-reviewed scientific document follows his other "scientific works" such as, "Hyperspace: A Scientific Odyssey Through Parallel Universes, Time Warps, and the 10th Dimension" and, "Physics of the Impossible.

"Physics of the Impossible" is described on Kaku's own Wikipedia sites as, "an exploration into the science people dream about. Kaku explores things that people think are quite impossible. This book is divided into three sections: Class I, Class II, and Class III, according to the time that the things he talks about might happen.

"Exploration into the science people dream about"? "Impossible"? "The things he talks about might happen"? Indeed.

Kaku finds the time to write these books when he's not hosting his Saturday night TV show on Channel 10, "Sci-Fi Science: Physics of the Impossible." And, if you loved those, you'll surely enjoy Kaku in, "Obessed & Scientific" That's a film about the possibility of time travel and the people who dream about it

Oh and all of the above is derived from a very enthusiastic following (fans) who describe him on Wikipedia. Whenever doing a proper background check, it's always best to check sources that are not so positive. This is part of the critical and analytical process. One of many other sources reveals that Michio Kaku, as recently as January 27, 2011, was quoted as saying, "All you can do is run" to people who live near Yellowstone National Park. You might remember a while back when Old Faithful was acting funny. That was when Kaku said in an article that was quoted in the "End Times Are Here" that the volcano under the Yellowstone National Park was a "super volcano" that was going to"wipe out the United States as we know it." 

Michio Kaku (middle) holding a "real light saber" (they described it 
that way, not me) in this shot from his hard-hitting science fiction TV 

Now, after I have completely destroyed this guy's scientific credibility (all within two whole minutes) I ask again, 'who is Michio Kaku?' Is he an Astrophysicist? Maybe. Is he a Theoretical Physicist? Possibly. Is he a Physicist (as we understand the typical usage of the term)? Most probably not.  

Continuing with the question of 'who is Michio Kaku'? Is he a Science Fiction writer and host of Science Fiction TV programming dealing with possibilities and the far-flung future and a writer who needs to sell books? Most definitely, "Yes!" Is appearing on TV and mass media and internet sites spewing fantastic Science Fiction the best way to get Star Wars fans and Trekkies to know your name and the best way to promote and sell your books? Most definitely "Yes."

Is Michio Kaku someone you'd rely on to tell you the truth about conditions at a nuclear accident site and to give you the facts you need to make a logical, rational decision on what's best for your life and your families future? Unless you are just plain stupid or nuts, most definitely not. That many people actually took this guy seriously shows that the premise of this post is true.

Folks, I am a pretty open-minded guy. I don't care about things like gay marriage or abortion. These are not my business and I think people should do as they please. I like to have fun too! Incredibly, I even work with the biggest women's magazine in Japan in a project concerning astrology. Really! I think Astrology and books and Science Fiction about the future are fun and entertaining. But, I do understand that these are not generally or universally recognized as a good way to plan your families future (unless you believe in zombies). Only an fool or incredibly irresponsible person would even consider for a second that they are.

On Sept. 2 (1929) a reporter checked in with (famous) astrologer 
Evangeline Adams to ask about the future of stock prices. 
The very next day, the stock market hit its all-time high...

(By the way, It now it seems in Japan that the discussion has turned to the Tokai and Hamaoka nuclear power plant. This is logical and makes sense. After the Great Hanshin earthquake knocked down above ground expressways in Kobe that were manufactured by the same company that made the expressway above 246 in Tokyo, the local government has spent years upgrading those roads. This is prudent and understandable. I am not saying that I want the Hamaoka or Tokai plants shut down. I am saying that I think we must do a full examination of these facilities using the scientific method and, if their safety is found to be lacking, I would be more than sympathetic to either shutting them down (they are, after all, very old) or strongly reinforced (including, of course, being shut down until all improvements are made).... Actually, at 40-years-old, I cannot imagine that it is financially viable to upgrade these facilities. I also believe that since these plants are privately owned that the share-holders will be dead-set against shutting down these facilities.) 

I have written before in Open Letter to All Sensationalist Reporters and Bloggers on April 3, 2011 that people (especially in Tokyo) should worry about Tokai or Hamaoka nuclear reactors. Those reactors are upwind from Tokyo. Fukushima is downwind:

Not to downplay the suffering of those affected, but the disaster in Miyagi and surrounding areas is bad, but, in the long term view of things, merely a blip on the screen of Japan. Had this accident happened in Tokyo where 65 million people live (as opposed to the 750,000 in Miyagi), near the Tokai or Hamaoka reactor – that might result in a real catastrophe.

But I digress.

Another recent example showing a lack of critical thinking or reading skills by Joe Sixpack involved the film about the dolphin slaughter in Japan, The Cove. In an article I wrote last year that was published in several international online sites, Japan's Bans the Cove and Other Atrocities I had suspicions on the motivations of that film's producers. The producers of that film claimed that their motivations were pure and sincere. They said something to the effect of "If the Japanese people could see the movie, then they'd rise up and stop the senseless killing of these dolphins." (I'm paraphrasing here.)

From being a person who works in Marketing, the mass media and is initimately familiar with hype, I smelled a rat. I wrote:

"...if the makers of The Cove were truly sincere about their motivations in protecting the whales and dolphins, and how, if they truly believed that if the Japanese saw the movie, they'd demand the end of this whaling and dolphin killing, then they'd make the entire movie free on Youtube. Other people with a message have made theirs free, why doesn't the makers of The Cove do the same? Trust that Youtube has hundreds of millions more viewers than the movie theaters in Japan ever could hope to have. But, you know what? The Cove is not available on Youtube; only trailers for sales promotion are available. There goes their credibility.
And don't tell me that they can't give the movie away for free because then they won't make any money; just look at Google. Google gives away almost everything for free and they are one of the biggest money making companies in the world.
So just keep that in mind when you think about this problem and are bursting veins in your neck screaming about how evil these Japanese fishermen are." 

Of course, lots of people jumped on me for that question (Another example of what this post is about: the inability of a huge percentage of the adult population being unable to analyze and think critically). I am not talking about the pros and cons of killing those dolphins. I am completely attacking the claims of that film's producers. If we are to take what they say at 100% face value, that their motivations are purely to protect those dolphins and stop the killing (instead of controversy and making money producing films), then why isn't this film available for free on YouTube? 

The fact of the matter is that The Cove is not available for free on Youtube. Anyone could place The Cove on Youtube, the fact that this film's makers do not shows that their claims are false. Their primary motivations are not saving the dolphins, their primary motivations are money. If you don't believe me, place the film on YouTube and see how quickly a right's claim come to you and that film being removed by the right's owners.

This film being "banned" in Japan is the best promotion these folks could have ever asked for. You couldn't buy promotion that good. Think, "Sex Pistols" hype and media manipulation in 1976 for a brief course on how it's done. I know, I've done it myself too. My name was Nigel Nitro in 1978 and I was in a one-hit wonder band named "the Rotters."   

Global Warming gave us ten years of scare-mongering and panic. The first example, for me, was how the melting of the Arctic ice was going to flood low lying countries and territories creating in 2005, many publications warned, "50 Million Environmental Refugees by 2010!"  Of course, it hasn't happened. Then the UN tried to drop that asinine claim down the memory hole. But they got caught. Read: The UN "disappears" 50 million climate refugees, then botches the disappearing attempt." 

But, actually, folks, you didn't need to wait 6 years for this to happen to prove to you that this could never happen. Just a little analytical process and critical thinking were needed. Add those two with the Scientific Method and you could have proven to yourself, at home, in 30 minutes, that the melting of the ice caps could never increase the water level in the oceans. 

Place some ice in a glass. Fill with water. Watch to see if when the ice melts the water flows over or not. Nope. It doesn't. Simple, isn't it? That's an example of the Scientific Method.

The Scientific Method is virtually an unknown ability amongst the public at large. There are tons of examples showing how people are fast losing the ability to think analytically or critically. The old examples are many and there are new examples popping up everyday. These examples are just too numerous to state.

One recent example that just astounded me was the claim that the US government finally killed Osama Bin Laden. I chuckled when I first heard this claim. Then I laughed even more when the so-called photos came out and looked obviously Photoshopped (I'm pretty good at Photoshop and use it nearly everyday for work). It became a real screamer when the US government changed their story, and still continues to do so, everyday after the murder (of what is in most likelihood some old Pakistani guy) ....  Read more here on a complete destruction of that nonsense about Osama... I don't which sensationalism is worse, this Osama Bin Laden assassination joke or how some "scientists" claimed that Fukushima was going to make 1/3 of Japan uninhabitable

The technical publication, the Register had a good article on TV news going Hollywood here. It still applies today and will apply tomorrow even though most people may be too dim to remember that far by then.

Even so, the Osama Bin Laden assassination story became a real head scratcher for me when I saw all those dimwit American people in front of the White House celebrating the death. "USA! USA! We're number one!" Is it possible that these people still believe anything the US government says? What? Are they so brain-dead? I guess American Idol wasn't on TV that night. (Bet you a half a donut that these people spend way too much time in front of their TV sets and never read books.)

Then all I could do was shake my head. I find it incredible that all these people actually believe this stuff. Need anymore evidence that neanderthal man never really went extinct and their relatives still stalk this earth or that man did indeed evolve from apes? 

Of course, I make these comments in jest....

Judging from that, the panic in Tokyo (and all over the world) concerning Fukushima, the dolphins, AGW and a host of other nonsense just shows me that I am completely correct when I say that we live in a world whereby over 85% of adults fail miserably when it comes to critical thinking abilities.

People should try not to be in that 85%. 

How to learn critical thinking and analytical skills? There's lots of books on the subject.  So start reading books... Oh, and I don't mean Science Fiction books by guys like Michio Kaku or, even though my seven-year-old loves them, children's books by J.K. Rowling.

I'd recommend "The Lady or the Tiger" or "The Power of Logical Thinking: Easy Lessons in the Art of Reasoning...and Hard Facts About Its Absence in Our Lives."

Osama Bin Photoshopped. On left, Bin Laden in 2001. The guy in the middle was killed three years ago and this photo has been all over the Internet since. The guy on the right is supposedly Osama Bin Laden... Gee, the background is the same as the middle photo. So is the bandage on the left shoulder... The eyes... And hey! Bin Laden's mouth must be frozen in time and he has less gray hair in his beard than 10 years ago. The real question should be: "What's the secret to this guy's youth?" 

NOTE: I can think of at least eight people who might think that I am writing about them in this article. I am not writing about any one person...Don't flatter yourselves, there's millions of people who are well educated yet have problems when they require critical thinking or the ability to perform basic analytical process. This article is about all of them and this serious problem in society today. 


Anonymous said...

Boy, you really knock the fakers for six! I came across a video of Michio Kaku and switched him off after I realized he'd managed to mention Fukushima, Chernobyl AND Hiroshima, if not all in the same sentence then pretty damn close. Great. Just the kind of hyperventilating panic-journalism I was looking for... not! Last month, I blogged about an article in "The Diplomat" where a Mr. Sich blasted Kaku. Kaku also recommended immediately covering all the Fukushima reactors with concrete, a recommendation echoed (almost word for word) by anti-nuke activist Hirose a short while later. Strangely, no nuclear engineers or anyone qualified to talk about it, were making this suggestion.

BTW, investigative journalist Jon Rappoport recently posted on the subject of what they (don't, but should) teach in schools. Last year, Rappoport produced a course "Logic & Analysis".. I bought my copy last year and plan to use it with my more advanced students. I've already used parts of it. (I don't get a commission or anything, btw.)

Here's a taster from Rappoport's Tectonic Shift in Education:
As I was about to post this piece, it suddenly occurred to me younger people might not understand my use of the word “drill.”

I learned about it, first-hand, when I was 11 years old. In school. In 1949. Our teacher gave us arithmetic drills every day. For instance, we had to work at our desks converting ten fractions into percentages. Then we took home 20 more fractions to convert. Of course, we had no calculators or computers.

In drills, you take a procedure and use it over and over. Eventually, with practice, it’s like cutting warm butter with a sharp knife. It used to be called elementary education...

Anonymous said...

No... I don't know about you, but most of the people that I work with are like those people who cheered the "death" (cough, cough) of Osama Bin Laden....... Quite an intelligent bunch, really. I just go to work and drink coffee in the mornings, say "Hi!" & have a few donuts and that's about it... Not much debate coming out of this cowboy (it's not safe!)

Anonymous said...

So before you begin bashing anyone who disagrees with you in the lower 85th percentile, I can infer from your tirades that you believe global warming to be faked by nearly every independently commissioned scientist out there? The only scientists coming out with your views were commissioned by gas and oil industries.

Sorry, Dude. You're always going on about your expertise in marketing. That being the case, it's doubtful you've studied or accessed the information these scientists have. But you're well-suited for airing your arrogance. Definitely, broadcasting suits bigmouths best.

And gimme a break about your middle school science experiment. It is only a Neanderthal who would compare a glass of iced water with an ecosystem as complex and multifaceted as the earth. Looney toons!

Oren said...

1. Ice melting
You forgot, there is a lot of grounded ice out there, which will have an effect.
The ice isn't going to melt because the physics of this indicate it would take about 20,000 years even if temps increased to 20 degrees C, but if it did, you need to take into account melting the 29,300,000 km3 of grounded ice. It's simple arithmetic to get 67 meters of rising. Note that I agree this won't happen, but your logic was faulty.

2. Michio Kaku
Using the Wiki article you linked to, I see he is Henry Semat Professor of Theoretical Physics in the City College of New York of City University of New York, and the co-founder of string field theory. A quick trip to the CUNY web page confirms this.

So whether you like his ideas or not, he is one of the pre-eminent physicists alive, and it just makes you look bad to call him an astrologer.

Anonymous said...

Just because the producers of The Cove did not put their film up on youtube does not mean that the Japanese fishermen are committing atrocities. And the fact that the government is mislabeling dolphin meat as whale is dangerous.

You talk about critical thinking but your logic needs a lot of work, Buddy.

I grade your argument, an F for FAILURE.

mike in tokyo rogers said...

Here's a funny one:

Anonymous "Buddy" said...

"Just because the producers of The Cove did not put their film up on youtube does not mean that the Japanese fishermen are committing atrocities."

You are right. It doesn't mean that the Japanese are committing atrocities. I agree. I don't think they are at all.

But, most unfortunately for you (yet lucky you haven't the balls to sign your name) I think what you want to say is that, "Just because the producers of The Cove did not put their film up on youtube does not mean that the Japanese fishermen are NOT committing atrocities."

That you can't even get your initial argument and sentences straight shows that I have already spent far too much time on you... And, most probably, much more time than you ever spent in 3rd grade grammar and English on this subject for that matter.

Come back when you've learned how to construct a proper sentence or train of thought. Until then, be sure to sign up for summer school at your local public institution.

mike in tokyo rogers said...

The official position of the World Natural Health Organization in regards to global warming is that there is NO GLOBAL WARMING! Global warming is nothing more than just another hoax, just like Y2K and the global freezing claims in the 1960's and 70's were. Global warming is being used to generate fear and panic. Those behind this movement are using it to control people's lives and for financial gain.

There are not many individuals, groups, or organizations willing to stand up against this fraud that is being perpetuated for fear of being persecuted, harassed, and ostracized by those who support global warming within the scientific and other communities. But fortunately, a few have decided to do the right thing and take a stand against this evil, proving just how unscientifically founded global warming is and exposing those who are behind it. Below, you will find links to information and articles showing the proof that global warming is nothing more than just a bunch of hot air (pun intended).

mike in tokyo rogers said...

"Media Scrambles as Official Bin Laden Story Crumbles"

Anonymous said...

People in the USA did not turn out in great numbers to go watch the COVE. So why would it matter if they did in Japan? Like most documentaries, people watch them after they are released on dvd. Like I did. The thing that seemed most disturbing was that apparently some of this dolphin meat was being fed to kids at schools as whale or tuna meat. Not a big deal except that a lot of it seemed to be tainted with mercury. High levels of it.

"World Natural Health Organization in regards to global warming is that there is NO GLOBAL WARMING!" What does that mean? This group of religious, tea bagging loonies who can't even put together a professional website are supposed to be the "authorities" on whether there is global warming or not? There is some sort of warming or climate change happening. It is irrefutable. The question is, is it being caused by man or not? I think man has caused some of it but if you look at the history of the planet, there have and always will be climate changes and those changes will force humans to change.

Finally, bin Laden. First off, if you thought those phony pics of him dead were real, then I have a bridge for sale. And even if the pics that many people want published to the public were published, there would always be the naysayers that would say they were fake. It's like the birther movement. "Show us the death certificate". Should we trust the gov't? No. We should always question authority. IS he dead? Was he already dead? Who knows. Who cares. He won. The US lost. He changed the way people live in America and in a big way. Those people cheering in the streets after the news that was was killed are a bunch of dumb asses that were 8 years old when 9/11 happened.

Finally, I am hiding behind the Anonymous. Why? Because I can. Mike, if you don't want people to do that, then take that option off.

I mean, anonymous.

Anonymous said...

I don't think being paid for your work undermines all credibility as you've put it. People need to eat. If you do something well, often, it isn't for free.

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