The most useful skill we could teach is the habit of asking oneself and others, how do you know? If knowledge comes from intuition or anecdote, it is likely wrong. For one thing, the brain stinks at distinguishing patterns from randomness (no wonder people can’t tell that the climate change now underway is not just another turn in the weather cycle). For another, the brain overestimates causality. In one neat experiment, participants rewarded students’ punctuality or punished tardiness for 15 days, then evaluated whether carrots or sticks worked better. Verdict: punishment. Unbeknownst to the “teachers,” the exercise had been rigged: students arrived at random times (generated by computer) unrelated to what teachers did. Yet the teachers believed their intervention had an effect. (A nickel says parents fall for the same illusion.) Science is not a collection of facts but a way of interrogating the world. Let’s teach kids to ask smarter questions.
Ever read one of Joe’s books?