Atlantis is old-school 'fake news.' A college class used it to teach an important lesson.

What classes did you take in school? Algebra? Biology? How about, Is Atlantis Real 101?

If you went to North Carolina State University in the fall of 2014, that’s one of the options you might have been given. It was part of an experiment by two professors to test how to teach critical thinking skills.

"Given the national discussion of 'fake news,' it’s clear that critical thinking — and classes that teach critical thinking — are more important than ever," says Anne McLaughlin, associate professor of psychology at NC State and co-author of the study.


Critical thinking is one of the cornerstones of an active mind, but it's usually not explicitly taught in schools. We demand it, but don't show kids how to do it. Instead teachers assume that, somewhere in between book reports and volleyball, students will just pick up critical thinking skills. McLaughlin and fellow professor Alicia McGill wanted to put that assumption to the test.

So to study critical thinking, the researches called in none other than Bigfoot himself.

"Yo." Image via iStock.

They compared 117 students in three courses. Half were enrolled in a standard psychology research course. The other half went to one of two special courses on historical frauds and pseudoscience.

The history courses included textbooks on analyzing and debunking myths. Students also got textbooks like "From Stonehenge to Las Vegas: Archaeology as Popular Culture" and learned some of the more common logical fallacies. They honed their skills through analyzing websites, class debates, and discussions about myths such as Bigfoot, the lost continent of Atlantis, or aliens building the pyramids.

At the start of the courses, researchers surveyed students' beliefs in various pseudoscientific claims. Students rated how much they believed them on a scale of 1 to 7. The researchers surveyed the students again at the end of the semester and compared the classes. The surveys included both beliefs covered in the courses and ones that weren’t, like crop circles, the illuminati, and 9/11 being an inside job.

The researchers found by the end of the course that the history and Bigfoot group were significantly less likely to believe in pseudoscience. The psychology course? Didn’t see a difference.

The study's conclusion: Critical thinking isn't something that can just be picked up. It has to be explicitly taught.

No aliens here, sorry. Have you checked Roswell? Image via iStock.

McLaughlin says she was surprised that the psychology course seemed to change so little. It was a rigorous course steeped in logic, after all.

"I thought we had stacked the deck against ourselves by choosing such a tough control group," McLaughlin says. This suggests that more knowledge doesn't necessarily translate to more critical thinking.

"I think our work shows just how important it is to be explicit about critical thinking as a skill," she adds. Like playing a musical instrument, it takes practice.

For people outside the course, McLaughlin says there's plenty people can do to hone their own critical thinking skills. She pointed to Carl Sagan's "baloney detection kit" as a particularly good resource.

But the end, McLaughlin said the results are heartening.

"The change we see in these students is important because beliefs are notoriously hard to change," McLaughlin says. Just trying to push facts at people can actually dig erroneous beliefs in deeper. So it was affirming to see that, in the end, the students were not only able debunk specific myths but also apply those skills outside the classes.

McLaughlin and McGill's paper was published in the journal Science and Education on March 20, 2017.

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I'm staring at my screen watching the President of the United States speak before a stadium full of people in North Carolina. He launches into a lie-laced attack on Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, and the crowd boos. Soon they start chanting, "Send her back! Send her back! Send her back!"

The President does nothing. Says nothing. He just stands there and waits for the crowd to finish their outburst.

WATCH: Trump rally crowd chants 'send her back' after he criticizes Rep. Ilhan Omar www.youtube.com

My mind flashes to another President of the United States speaking to a stadium full of people in North Carolina in 2016. A heckler in the crowd—an old man in uniform holding up a TRUMP sign—starts shouting, disrupting the speech. The crowd boos. Soon they start chanting, "Hillary! Hillary! Hillary!"

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via EarthFix / Flickr

What will future generations never believe that we tolerated in 2019?

Dolphin and orca captivity, for sure. They'll probably shake their heads at how people died because they couldn't afford healthcare. And, they'll be completely mystified at the amount of food some people waste while others go starving.

According to Biological Diversity, "An estimated 40 percent of the food produced in the United States is wasted every year, costing households, businesses and farms about $218 billion annually."

There are so many things wrong with this.

First of all it's a waste of money for the households who throw out good food. Second, it's a waste of all of the resources that went into growing the food, including the animals who gave their lives for the meal. Third, there's something very wrong with throwing out food when one in eight Americans struggle with hunger.

Supermarkets are just as guilty of this unnecessary waste as consumers. About 10% of all food waste are supermarket products thrown out before they've reached their expiration date.

Three years ago, France took big steps to combat food waste by making a law that bans grocery stores from throwing away edible food.According to the new ordinance, stores can be fined for up to $4,500 for each infraction.

Previously, the French threw out 7.1 million tons of food. Sixty-seven percent of which was tossed by consumers, 15% by restaurants, and 11% by grocery stores.

This has created a network of over 5,000 charities that accept the food from supermarkets and donate them to charity. The law also struck down agreements between supermarkets and manufacturers that prohibited the stores from donating food to charities.

"There was one food manufacturer that was not authorized to donate the sandwiches it made for a particular supermarket brand. But now, we get 30,000 sandwiches a month from them — sandwiches that used to be thrown away," Jacques Bailet, head of the French network of food banks known as Banques Alimentaires, told NPR.

It's expected that similar laws may spread through Europe, but people are a lot less confident at it happening in the United States. The USDA believes that the biggest barrier to such a program would be cost to the charities and or supermarkets.

"The logistics of getting safe, wholesome, edible food from anywhere to people that can use it is really difficult," the organization said according to Gizmodo. "If you're having to set up a really expensive system to recover marginal amounts of food, that's not good for anybody."

Plus, the idea may seem a little too "socialist" for the average American's appetite.

"The French version is quite socialist, but I would say in a great way because you're providing a way where they [supermarkets] have to do the beneficial things not only for the environment, but from an ethical standpoint of getting healthy food to those who need it and minimizing some of the harmful greenhouse gas emissions that come when food ends up in a landfill," Jonathan Bloom, the author of American Wasteland, told NPR.

However, just because something may be socialist doesn't mean it's wrong. The greater wrong is the insane waste of money, damage to the environment, and devastation caused by hunger that can easily be avoided.

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Policing women's bodies — and by consequence their clothes — is nothing new to women across the globe. But this mother's "legging problem" is particularly ridiculous.

What someone wears, regardless of gender, is a personal choice. Sadly, many folks like Maryann White, mother of four sons, think women's attire — particularly women's leggings are a threat to men.

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Men are sharing examples of how they step up and step in when they see problematic behaviors in their peers, and people are here for it.

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