Add this to what the Netflix documentary Unraveling the Mind teaches about the psychological side of conspiracy theories, and you get the actual reality.

Expand full comment

There is a reason that right-wing governments like to disembowel education, libraries, and any other edifice of knowledge and critical thinking.

Though we focus on reading skills – and we mustn't get too smug in the UK given a quarter of our 11 year olds do not read/write to the expected standard – an equally large problem which I do think plays into the lack of critical thinking skills is innumeracy. Only 22% of British adults are functionally numerate, which means that the vast majority are swamped by numerical information.

Expand full comment

The Nixon/Kennedy debate TV vs. radio difference is a beloved story, but it's actually very dubious in reality:


"Debunking Nixon's radio victory in the 1960 election: Re-analyzing the historical record and considering currently unexamined polling data"


It is widely reported that Nixon won the first of the 1960 presidential debates among radio audiences while Kennedy carried television viewers, and further that Kennedy’s victory translated to an electoral victory. It is thus assumed that style trumped substance when politics entered the television age. However, the Nixon radio victory emerged in only a single poll conducted by Sindlinger and Company. Considering other polling data reveals Sindlinger's finding is likely the result of a Republican bias in the sample and not a mass defection of Democrats swayed by Nixon’s substantive arguments. Voters found Kennedy ahead on substance as well as style. ..."

That the story will continue unabated rather casts a pall over the paeans to the critical thinking that "we" (the enlightened intellectuals) do and "they" (those functionally illiterate non-intellectuals) don't.

Expand full comment