Amidst misinformation, critical thinking needs a 21st century upgrade

March 26, 2024

In 2013, the University of California, Berkeley, debuted a course to teach undergraduates the tricks used by scientists to make sense of the world, in the hope that these tricks would prove useful in assessing the claims and counterclaims that bombard us every day.

It was launched by three UC Berkeley professors — a physicist, a philosopher and a psychologist — in response to a world afloat in misinformation and disinformation, where politicians were making policy decisions based on ideas that, if not demonstrably wrong, were at least untested and uncertain.

The class, Sense and Sensibility and Science, was a hit and convinced the professors to write a book based on the class that provides tips not only on how to systematically wade through the noise around us to seek the truth, but also how to work with those holding different values to come to a consensus on how to act.

Saul Perlmutter, a Nobel Prize-winning professor of physics and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory scientist, had been discussing the need for an undergraduate course on critical thinking with philosophy professor John Campbell for nearly a year when they both agreed that they needed a third perspective — that of a social psychologist. They approached Robert MacCoun, then a UC Berkeley professor of public policy and law who is now at Stanford Law School, and he was all in.

Berkeley News