16 March 2023

Belief versus Evidence

If we assume two things …

Assumption 1: Knowing facts increases fitness -- survival and reproduction, "success".
This seems reasonable. Imagine the life expectancy of zebras that believe "There is a tree with a leopard tail." rather than "There is a leopard lurking behind the tree.".

Assumption 2: The function of higher education is two-fold: First, the development of competent citizens. Second, the training of a skilled workforce.
This also seems reasonable. What else are we doing?

Consequently, the distinction between fact and fantasy must be of vital importance in higher education.

It is not. I am somewhat old now, but in the 70 university courses I took in my younger more vulnerable years, not a single one formally dealt with this problem. And from my informal observations I must say that most people are rather confused about the distinction between facts, beliefs, preferences, and opinions.

I teach introductory biology and introductory ecology at an unnamed university. The formal distinction between facts, beliefs, preferences, and opinions is the first thing I teach the students. At the end of the semester, most of them have forgotten already.