Link between conspiracy and critical thinking

I am one of the last people who should pass on references to research linking conspiracy theorists and their inabilities to think critically. I devote one of my chapters in Going North, Thinking West to critical thinking, which I historicize and then frame an argument (ironically arguing against arguing) against formulaic critical thinking in writing classrooms; part of my argument stems from the then-current practice of politicizing critical thinking. The other part focuses on class-based interpretations of critical thinking, privileging middle-class over working-class families (I skip upper-class families, who in general don’t have to think in order to be successful – see Bourdieu). 

Still, I have wondered how some of my intelligent friends could have bought into conspiracy theories. I hate to bifurcate my friends into intelligent and not-quite-so-intelligent groups; the practice of imagining any section of reality as dichotomous seems to signal uncritical thinking, linked to Manichaeism (see Lakof, Women Fire, and Dangerous Things), i.e., a feature of the not-so-intelligent-group :)). 

In addition, although I more or less specialized in a kind of assessment based on scoring guides (we used to call this focused holistic scoring), in the latter part of my career, I veered away from this practice—became in fact somewhat critical of it.

The article which refers to an analysis of the link between conspiracy theorists and uncritical thinking hits on both of these practices (adopting a traditional interpretation of critical thinking and scoring people’s abilities by looking at what they write in a fake writing situation). When I approached the article, I had at least one eyebrow raised. Still: the study asked an interesting question: if you can identify two groups along the conspiracy theory continuum, would there be any difference in the group’s abilities to think critically?

The researchers answered, almost predictably, yes. There are some holes in the argument (in essence, that conspiracy theorists [I mean the ones who really believe that Obama wasn’t born in the United States] can’t think very critically), but I couldn’t help wondering what others might think of this research. I doubt that many readers will get this far in my post/blog, but I thought, it being a slow afternoon, I would try.  

(Also see Idiocy of . . . )

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