Critical thinking is now bad, the New York Times announced in a column on Thursday.
Instead of looking at all sides of an issue and thinking critically about it for one’s self, everyone should just look up stuff on Wikipedia and take whatever the biased leftists who run the site say as gospel — because investigating any topic too deeply is a waste of precious time.
That is the argument Times columnist Charlie Warzel — formerly of BuzzFeed — makes in his latest piece titled, “Don’t Go Down the Rabbit Hole.”
Don’t Go Down the Rabbit Hole
Critical thinking, as we’re taught to do it, isn’t helping in the fight against misinformation.
By Charlie Warzel
For an academic, Michael Caulfield has an odd request: Stop overthinking what you see online.
Mr. Caulfield, a digital literacy expert at Washington State University Vancouver, knows all too well that at this very moment, more people are fighting for the opportunity to lie to you than at perhaps any other point in human history.
Misinformation rides the greased algorithmic rails of powerful social media platforms and travels at velocities and in volumes that make it nearly impossible to stop. That alone makes information warfare an unfair fight for the average internet user. But Mr. Caulfield argues that the deck is stacked even further against us. That the way we’re taught from a young age to evaluate and think critically about information is fundamentally flawed and out of step with the chaos of the current internet.
“We’re taught that, in order to protect ourselves from bad information, we need to deeply engage with the stuff that washes up in front of us,” Mr. Caulfield told me recently. He suggested that the dominant mode of media literacy (if kids get taught any at all) is that “you’ll get imperfect information and then use reasoning to fix that somehow. But in reality, that strategy can completely backfire.”
In other words: Resist the lure of rabbit holes, in part, by reimagining media literacy for the internet hellscape we occupy.
It’s often counterproductive to engage directly with content from an unknown source, and people can be led astray by false information. Influenced by the research of Sam Wineburg, a professor at Stanford, and Sarah McGrew, an assistant professor at the University of Maryland, Mr. Caulfield argued that the best way to learn about a source of information is to leave it and look elsewhere, a concept called lateral reading.
For instance, imagine you were to visit Stormfront, a white supremacist message board, to try to understand racist claims in order to debunk them. “Even if you see through the horrible rhetoric, at the end of the day you gave that place however many minutes of your time,” Mr. Caulfield said. “Even with good intentions, you run the risk of misunderstanding something, because Stormfront users are way better at propaganda than you. You won’t get less racist reading Stormfront critically, but you might be overloaded by information and overwhelmed.”
[…] In 2016, Mr. Caulfield met Mr. Wineburg, who suggested modeling the process after the way professional fact checkers assess information. Mr. Caulfield refined the practice into four simple principles:
2. Investigate the source.
3. Find better coverage.
4. Trace claims, quotes and media to the original context.
Otherwise known as SIFT.
Mr. Caulfield walked me through the process using an Instagram post from Robert F. Kennedy Jr., a prominent anti-vaccine activist, falsely alleging a link between the human papillomavirus vaccine and cancer. “If this is not a claim where I have a depth of understanding, then I want to stop for a second and, before going further, just investigate the source,” Mr. Caulfield said. He copied Mr. Kennedy’s name in the Instagram post and popped it into Google. “Look how fast this is,” he told me as he counted the seconds out loud. In 15 seconds, he navigated to Wikipedia and scrolled through the introductory section of the page, highlighting with his cursor the last sentence, which reads that Mr. Kennedy is an anti-vaccine activist and a conspiracy theorist.
“Is Robert F. Kennedy Jr. the best, unbiased source on information about a vaccine? I’d argue no. And that’s good enough to know we should probably just move on,” he said.
The old high school advice that Wikipedia shouldn’t be cited as a source is now passe.
If the Wikipedia editors say Rachel Levine is a woman and erase that “she” was born Richard Levine then Rachel was always a woman and it’s misinformation to say otherwise.
The SIFT method and the instructional teaching unit (about six hours of class work) that accompanies it has been picked up by dozens of universities across the country and in some Canadian high schools. What is potentially revolutionary about SIFT is that it focuses on making quick judgments. A SIFT fact check can and should take just 30, 60, 90 seconds to evaluate a piece of content.
The four steps are based on the premise that you often make a better decision with less information than you do with more. Also, spending 15 minutes to determine a single fact in order to decipher a tweet or a piece of news coming from a source you’ve never seen before will often leave you more confused than you were before. “The question we want students asking is: Is this a good source for this purpose, or could I find something better relatively quickly?” Mr. Caulfield said. “I’ve seen in the classroom where a student finds a great answer in three minutes but then keeps going and ends up won over by bad information.”
[…] “The students are confused when I tell them to try and trace something down with a quick Wikipedia search, because they’ve been told not to do it,” [Christina Ladam, an assistant political science professor at the University of Nevada, Reno who teaches the SIFT method to students] said. “Not for research papers, but if you’re trying to find out if a site is legitimate or if somebody has a history as a conspiracy theorist and you show them how to follow the page’s citation, it’s quick and effective, which means it’s more likely to be used.”
As a journalist who can be a bit of a snob about research methods, it makes me anxious to type this advice. Use Wikipedia for quick guidance! Spend less time torturing yourself with complex primary sources! A part of my brain hears this and reflexively worries these methods could be exploited by conspiracy theorists. But listening to Ms. Ladam and Mr. Caulfield describe disinformation dynamics, it seems that snobs like me have it backward.
Perhaps Warzel is “anxious” because he knows he’s lying and anyone who isn’t dumb enough to use the “SIFT method” could easily find that out.
He certainly didn’t report both sides in this piece.
Think about YouTube conspiracy theorists or many QAnon or anti-vaccine influencers. Their tactic, as Mr. Caulfield noted, is to flatter viewers while overloading them with three-hour videos laced with debunked claims and pseudoscience, as well as legitimate information. “The internet offers this illusion of explanatory depth,” he said. “Until 20 seconds ago, you’d never thought about, say, race and IQ, but now, suddenly, somebody is treating you like an expert. It’s flattering your intellect, and so you engage, but you don’t really stand a chance.”
What he described is a kind of informational hubris we have that is quite difficult to fight. But what SIFT and Mr. Caulfield’s lessons seem to do is flatter their students in a different way: by reminding us our attention is precious.
The goal of SIFT isn’t to be the arbiter of truth but to instill a reflex that asks if something is worth one’s time and attention and to turn away if not.
Judging a book by its cover and rushing to judgement based off preconceived biases is now good.
Critical thinking is now bad.
This is what young people are now being taught in college and what the New York Times is now publishing unironically.
It’s not enough that the New York Times lobbied successfully to have all independent media silenced on social media and algorithmically censored on Google and YouTube because people are still seeing through their false narratives, finding the truth and debunking their lies.
Just days ago, the New York Times had to admit they deceived their audience by falsely reporting that Officer Brian Sicknick was killed during the Capitol protests after being bashed in the head with a fire extinguisher.
Medical examiners determined there was no evidence to back that up and CNN reported on it nearly two weeks before the Times issued their retraction but they waited until Trump’s impeachment trial was over to retract their false reporting (the claim Sicknick was killed was used by Democrats to prosecute their case).
Sicknick’s own family said over a month ago that he “had a blood clot and had had a stroke.”
The Times wants to silence all dissent because they’re angry people no longer believe the establishment’s lies.
When President Trump said “the media is the enemy of the people” — he wasn’t being facetious.