The Importance of being a Critical Consumer of Information

Monday, July 23, 2018

This article was originally published at

The importance of being a Critical Consumer of Information

by: Chris Gamble

The internet is a vast resource filled with excellent information produced by experts and presented in various mediums.  Teachers and students are faced with a daily issue of credibility of the content they consume.  Unfortunately among the many credible sources of information on the internet are white lies, lies and big fat whopping lies.  This misinformation is sometimes hard to spot and I have found that Internet sources for students are often seen as credible simply because they are, “on the internet”.

Michael Schriemer’s video titled the balony detection kit is an excellent review of some general rules to follow when you are presented with new ideas or reviewing your current beliefs and assumptions.

Michael Schriemers list comes from the late Carl Sagan‘s baloney detection kit.

The complete checklist:

  1. How reliable is the source of the claim?
  2. Does the source make similar claims?
  3. Have the claims been verified by somebody else?
  4. Does this fit with the way the world works?
  5. Has anyone tried to disprove the claim?
  6. Where does the preponderance of evidence point?
  7. Is the claimant playing by the rules of science?
  8. Is the claimant providing positive evidence?
  9. Does the new theory account for as many phenomena as the old theory?
  10. Are personal beliefs driving the claim?

I have fallen victim to passively accepting things I have read or seen on-line as well.  Recently I was caught recommending Ted talks to my aunt when she asked me “Who Moderates Ted talks?"  I was shocked, I had not considered this.  I had assumed that it was some system of jurying that occurs to maintain the quality of presenters and verification that their content is of the highest quality.  My aunt called me back on Skype some hours later, she had watched the video I had recommended and then had done some research into the moderation of Ted talks.

As it turns out the site simply lists one person as the owner of Ted Chris Anderson, who is the sole decider of what content appears on Ted. The mediation of the content is only one criticism. See Wikipedia for more information about what controversies and criticisms surround Ted. The issue is not that all things on Ted are not accurate or of value but that there is content that is not either.  As a learner I made a mistake and let my guard down, it is important that I maintain enough skepticism so that I don’t believe everything and yet remain open enough to incorporate new ideas into what I know, to paraphrase Carl Sagan.

The video below is a parody which illustrates some of the criticism of Ted talks.  The onion is [in]famous for this.  There are at least six of these on their website so if you like this there are more available.

What is the danger in our current situation?  Well history tells us that we have been gullible before.  In 1938 Orson Wells broadcasted a radio play “The War of the Worlds”.  Many who caught the broadcast confused the play with reality and perceived the play as a newscast simply because they were accustomed to using the radio to receive news.  I believe that the aura of authenticity in the printed word often pollutes our perception of things we read and assume that they are truth.  I believe that students are even more susceptible to this phenomenon as they see controversy less in the prepared materials that they read in textbooks.

One way to teach about being a critical consumer of information is to use a spoof site like dihydrogen monoxide.  I used this with my class and amalgamated many similar sites supporting the idea that dihydrogen monoxide is a dangerous chemical.  I asked students to research the chemical and rather than look outside the few websites I had put together on my prepared geocities site they were satisfied with the one or two sites I had provided them with.  They created posters and pamphlets and began coming up with plans to “raise  awareness”. A few students discovered that the “chemical” was water but they were in the minority.  The lesson showed my students that you need to be skeptical and that fantastic claims need fantastic evidence.

Every year Google plays in the gullibility of the masses and plants a spoof innovation on it’s website.


The danger of not teaching students to be critical consumers is far greater then not recognizing harmless April fools jokes.  Children we teach today will be the decision makers of tomorrow so if they are willing to believe things without evaluation we are in big trouble.

We need to demonstrate an openness to change and innovation and yet a skepticism that prevents us from hopping on the reform-wagon. I think that educators can take a lesson from medical sciences where ideas are tested for their efficacy then implemented at large.  We need to open up the private teaching spaces and start admitting that there may be better ways to do things in our classrooms. Being critical consumers ourselves is the first step in the right direction.

If you like this contact me on Twitter @csgamble I’d love to hear what you think!

About the Author:
Chris Gamble is Principal of Warren Elementary School in Warren, Manitoba.


Posted by Meghan Burns at 12:37 PM

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