A few questions all of us who work in educational institutions must ask ourselves: What kind of adults do we want our students to become? How do we ensure that our students develop critical thinking skills that are grounded in sound research? Fortunately for us as a species, critical thinking and good research skills can be learned. To understand the stakes for doing so, COVID-19 has provided some examples from popular culture that should motivate us to re-examine and double down on what we do in schools.
By now, you have heard some version of “you have to do your research,” typically from a celebrity who is COVID vaccine-resistant. For instance, Nicki Minaj, a rapper, claimed that she will take the COVID-19 vaccine once she’s done enough research. What does Minaj’s use of the term “research” mean? Does it point to peer-reviewed journal articles written by epidemiologists, virologists, as well as public health and other medical professionals? Does it point to reviewing the medical data on infection rates, hospitalizations, and vaccine effectiveness? I suspect not. However, what’s important here is that Minaj’s redefinition of the word research is problematic for students.
While we don’t know where Minaj went to conduct COVID research, Aaron Rodgers cited his sources. The Green Bay Packers quarterback shared that he asked Joe Rogan, a popular American podcaster, for advice when Rodgers tested positive. He also disclosed how many times he had been tested (over 300) and gave thanks to his ‘medical squad.’ Of note is that he sought advice for testing positive for COVID-19 from a radio personality known for his vaccine misinformation (Rogan has since apologized) rather than somebody on the Green Bay Packers’ medical team. The Israeli study that Rodgers mentioned in support for not being vaccinated was to understand “…infection-induced and vaccine-induced immunity over time. And the results of the study showed that the benefit of vaccination compared with infection without vaccination appeared to be higher for recipients of Moderna than the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.” In other words, the study did not recommend that people not get vaccinated. That wasn’t even its purview: it was a comparison of the effectiveness of the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines against one another and against immunity from infection.
As a teacher and trained humanities researcher, I realized that Minaj and Rodgers demonstrate confusion over the question of reliable sources and what it means…