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29 November 2016

It has been very interesting to hear the various commentaries on our living in a ‘post-truth’ world. There have been signs of this emerging for a very long time. People are more inclined to listen, or watch for example, radio stations and shows that back their world view or perspective. Most wouldn’t dare listen to another station or show which challenged their view. And more interestingly, there are many who insist in believing in a perspective that flies in the face of hard-core, well researched evidence.

There are groups of people who believe that wearing bicycle helmets damage the neck and cause serious brain injury through diffuse axonal injury even though study after study – the latest being the Finnish and UNSW studies of over 65 000 injured cyclists - happen to claim that helmets reduce the chances of serious head injury by 70%.

There are also groups of people who believe immunisation leads to autism even though there have never been any medical studies to draw this conclusion and/or the first suggestion of this being entirely debunked as fraudulent nonsense.

People gravitate towards fringe diets, take part in extreme sports etc etc often against medical advice. The Arrowsmith program has virtually no evidence to support it (unlike the Feuerstein program that has over 2500 research studies) yet people are paying upward of $10 000 to get their child enrolled and it has been adopted by various schools.

And of course, even though on current accounts 98% of scientists recognise human-induced climate change, there are many who still dismiss this as a hoax for wildly contradictory, unconnected reasons. America has plenty of absolute lunatics who promulgate anything to get attention. Alex Jones (U.S. radio host and ‘paleoconservative’) says that “government and big business have colluded to create a New World order through manufactured economic crises, sophisticated surveillance tech and—above all—inside-job terror attacks that fuel exploitable hysteria". This complete head-case has a massive following which is quite a concern.

In fact, America is the only country where a significant proportion of the population believes that professional wrestling is real but the moon landing was faked.

The weird and the whacky gets as much attention as the well-researched and the well-considered. Wisdom is short-changed or regarded given as much prominence as quackery. The intelligent is as revered as the stupid.  

We do have sites such as Blue Feed Red Feed which analyses and detects what’s politically bogus but to be honest, people cling hold to what they want to believe, not what is factual. The most recent objective analysis of the US election showed that the top 80% of stories were mainly untrue with the US President Elect making statements that were mainly fabricated (75% by most measures).

So this brings me back to an important question - or observation as it is. In this post-truth world order, if doctors are not heard, and if scientists are not heard, or if those who sprout untruths are more heard, then does anyone hear teachers and principals? Thankfully I feel heard a lot more but we all experience times when our collective perspectives are overlooked.

Importantly, how do we ensure our students know what is fabrication; urban myth; outright lie or what is truthful; factual and researched? How do they ascertain fact from opinion? The source of so much uncertainty, such lack of clarity, is the internet. It gives us a world of knowledge at our fingertips and a world of ignorance.

The Future Work Skills 2020 document outlines 10 essential skills students will need to have to navigate the future these being:

  1. Sense-making
  2. Novel and adaptive thinking
  3. Social intelligence
  4. Trans-disciplinarity
  5. New media literacy
  6. Computational thinking
  7. Cognitive load management
  8. Design mind-set
  9. Cross cultural competency
  10. Virtual collaboration

In the post-truth world, we are going to have to educate our kids in:

  • (1) Sense-making – an ability to determine deeper meaning of significance of what is being expressed
  • (5) Computational thinking – an ability to translate vast amounts of data into abstract concepts and to understand data-based reasoning (think climate change data!)
  • (7) Transdisciplinarity – literacy and an ability to understand concepts across multiple disciplines

In learning the above, I trust a Mount Sinai child would then not ever express the levels of pig-ignorance that have been on display in our post-truth world!