Once upon a time, a long long time ago, research says … the earth is the center of the universe. Oh, and by the way the earth is flat too! It took about a thousand years for Copernicus to “disprove” that theory.

Once upon a time, not so long ago, research says … that a lack of maternal warmth causes autism. Really! Otherwise known as the refrigerator mother theory.

How about the food pyramid? Tons of carbs, lots of fruits and veggies, and only a little protein. Turns out that the research behind over 50 years of official US government nutrition advice is at best inaccurate and at worst blatantly false and misleading. In her book The Big Fat Surprise author Nina Teicholz makes the case that we should in essence be flipping the food pyramid on it’s head.  She refutes research that links diet to cholesterol and heart disease and recommends instead that we eat a diet composed mostly of animal fat.  So yes, butter, milk, steaks, eggs are all back in!

So the real question then becomes how can so many intelligent people have been so wrong for so long? My two cents … a blind faith in the statement “research says.” Because really, when you think about it, research says whatever you want it to. Depends who is asking. Depends who is paying. Depends who finds which answers convenient. At the end of the day research is only ever right up to the point when it isn’t. Seems obvious in hindsight of course, but up until that point it was the obvious “correct” answer as well. The world is flat. Sure sounds crazy now but people believed it! Refrigerator moms? Same concept. The modern day analogy is climate change. Many agree that the climate is changing, the debate hinges on who or what is causing it. Popular opinion, along with “research” seems to support theories that human activity is responsible for this change. Try standing against this train of thought in public and you are pilloried.

Enter information literacy: a set of skills that enables a person to access, evaluate and use information intelligently. Content is now mostly free, readily available, and only a Google search away, the trick is trying to make sense of it all. We need to explicitly teach our students information literacy skills in order to enable them to be successful in a world deluged with information. My responsibility as a teacher is to enable students to think critically, question conventional wisdom, and form their own informed opinions.

As for me personally, I am trying to get into the habit of replying to a statement premised with “research says” by countering with “show me the research.”

PS: there probably is no research that proving the world to be flat (except for people’s perceptions of it at the time), but I just couldn’t resist the analogy. =)

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