One way to make people ignorant of truth and history is to first convince them that hard research into such matters is superfluous. If you can erect institutions to rewrite history and data in order to redefine what real truth is and then force-feed it to people as source material, all the better.
Enter Michael Caulfield and the New York Times.
Michael Caulfield is a professor at Washington University. He is not just a teacher, he is the Director of Blended and Networked Learning. What is Blended and Networked learning? We don’t know either, but will let Michael define his beliefs for you that he teaches as objective facts:
“…the way we’re taught from a young age to evaluate and think critically about information is fundamentally flawed and out of step with the chaos of the current internet.”
So, because their are weaknesses in human Biology with respect to Western critical thinking paradigms, Michael Caulfield suggests tearing down those paradigms and replace them with an intellectual equivalent of bubblegum and toothpicks.
“We’re taught that, in order to protect ourselves from bad information, we need to deeply engage with the stuff that washes up in front of us,” Mr. Caulfield told me recently. He suggested that the dominant mode of media literacy (if kids get taught any at all) is that “you’ll get imperfect information and then use reasoning to fix that somehow. But in reality, that strategy can completely backfire.”
“I’ve seen in the classroom where a student finds a great answer in three minutes but then keeps going and ends up won over by bad information.”
Does Mike mean ‘bad’ information, or information that disagrees with his world view? We cannot know this.
Aren’t many major discoveries made by people who question what the current state of ‘good’ information is? Totalitarians love to call all critiques of their societies ‘bad information’ and brand as lepers any believers of such information. In such societies, it is best and acceptable only to agree with state-sponsored sources. Would those also be the sources that agree with Mike?
We do not know from the NYT article. But, instead of ‘deeply engaging’ with a topic in order to build a solid foundational understanding that allows you to come to a well-researched conclusion, here is Michael’s step-by-step guide to the intellectual pinnacle:
“The four steps (SIFT) are based on the premise that you often make a better decision with less information than you do with more.”
Yes, this is actually a quote. And, while the 4 steps would be difficult to argue against on the surface, they are quite perfunctory and pernicious in their simplicity and vagueness. It turns out, simplicity and vagueness do not form well-researched opinions. So, why use them as a guide to research?
In Steps 2 and 3, Caulfield tells you to investigate the source and find better coverage. However, in the article he tells you to use Wikipedia as perhaps your primary starting point for sources.
Wikipedia has become so far-left biased that its own founder exited the company years ago and came out against his own platform. He wasn’t just raising the alarm, he literally called the site “dead” stating that it was “broken beyond repair” as early as 2007. In 2021, he continued to bemoan the leftwing bias in a Foxnews interview. In fact, he wrote an entire rant on the subject of how badly biased Wikipedia had become.
Yet, according to Caulfield in the NYT article, Step 2 of SIFT begins by telling its students to investigate sources using Wikipedia and far-left government websites. Is this a solid premise? Would great historians and researchers and physicists share such a view? If you are researching government corruption or corrupt government mandates, does it make sense to only trust government sources on the issue and leftist Wikipedia articles that the founder himself believes completely lack authoritative research quality and objectivity?
The ‘SIFT’ system tries to convince people to make their opinions on just seconds of research rather than “diving down the rabbit hole” of…actual research:
“What is potentially revolutionary about SIFT is that it focuses on making quick judgments. A SIFT fact check can and should take just 30, 60, 90 seconds to evaluate a piece of content.”
So, we are going to replace the ‘old’ system of research with a blistering 30-second race to conclusions? Keep in mind, this man is a DIRECTOR of something at a publicly funded University.
As an example, let’s take someone who is trying to understand racism and totalitarianism in history. Michael Caulfield believes that reading for perhaps 90 seconds–starting with Wikipedia as the intellectual bottleneck–instead of taking time talking to people or reading literature and testimonials from all sides of the issue.
This goes against every tenet of Western culture.
For instance, The Communist Manifesto and Mein Kompf are both examples of literature written about abhorrent ideologies that resulted in the deaths of hundreds of millions of people when used to implement totalitarian governments. But, Western culture demands that we know such works and read more works by people with which we disagree. We must do this in order to understand if or why we disagree with them. But this is also the only way any society can learn from past mistakes and identify when similar ideologies crop up again.
Caulfield doesn’t want that, based upon this article. He would simply have you never read these scary ‘dangerous’ works and instead read a Wikipedia article or two before coming to a well-rounded informed conclusion that steers you toward the conclusion he wants from you. Like most totalitarians, Michael seems to fear dissent and disagreement.
Christina Ladam, PhD is an assistant political science professor who is also somehow nationally relevant, according to the NYT. She seems to share Michael Caulfield’s beliefs that it is best to encourage laziness in the development of one’s opinions:
“The students are confused when I tell them to try and trace something down with a quick Wikipedia search, because they’ve been told not to do it,” she said. “Not for research papers, but if you’re trying to find out if a site is legitimate or if somebody has a history as a conspiracy theorist and you show them how to follow the page’s citation, it’s quick and effective, which means it’s more likely to be used.
So, despite the fact that you shouldn’t use Wikipedia in research papers, you should use it in every day life and train yourself that it is ok to be used to develop all your day-to-day intellectual frameworks and ideologies. That way, when you do have to write a research paper, you will be perfectly primed for more uninformed laziness and leftist bias from Wikipedia because that is how she has trained you to live your day-to-day life.
What is most humorous (and hopeful) about this is that Christina admits that her students want better from her as a teacher, being perplexed by her lazy attitude toward opinion formation. So, is Christina trying to promote a bias, or is she misguided or lazy?
The NYT author of the article concludes that he has been a fool his whole life for relying on ‘torturous’ and time-consuming critical thinking and research. The implication is that the reader should also give up such critical thinking research skills as well:
“if you’re trying to find out if a site is legitimate or if somebody has a history as a conspiracy theorist and you show them how to follow the page’s citation, it’s quick and effective, which means it’s more likely to be used.”
As a journalist who can be a bit of a snob about research methods, it makes me anxious to type this advice. Use Wikipedia for quick guidance! Spend less time torturing yourself with complex primary sources! A part of my brain hears this and reflexively worries these methods could be exploited by conspiracy theorists. But listening to Ms. Ladam and Mr. Caulfield describe disinformation dynamics, it seems that snobs like me have it backward.
Oh, the great agony of thinking for one’s self and working hard to build your complex mind and intellect. Why bother when Wikipedia can spoon-feed you leftist-curated unauthoritative answers at the click of a button?
Every single human system or ideology or solution has weaknesses. A critically thinking Western mind (of any race or sex) is superior because it understands correctly that there is no perfect system, but also knows that the Western system is demonstrably the best system that has ever existed in human history. The critically-thinking Western mind also knows (based upon history and human nature) that progressivism, Marxism, and Mr. Caulfield’s systems make populations of people more ignorant, less attentive, less thoughtful or inquisitive, and hopelessly dependent on fewer sources that are prescribed by people that Mr. Caulfield deems acceptable.
We do not truly know the minds of Christina Ladam or Michael Caulfield. It is entirely possible that they are not leftists (though the NYT likely wouldn’t seek them out if it were true). But we do know this:
People who seek to destroy The West and control others highlight the fact that weaknesses exist in every system, including the best systems. Marxism and other Anti-American ideologies do this in order to gaslight a previously critically thinking Western World into believing that weaknesses in the Western paradigm mean that the entire Western paradigm is bad. They then fail to tell anyone that the new system will be a tried-and-true anti-Western nightmare. And that nightmare will be a feature, not a bug.
People like this prey on the fact that many who have been trained to disavow Western thought may be seduced by the oversimplified vagueness of this grift.
But, if you truly want to succeed in life, you must always do the work, and then show it