Critical thinking explained

Critical Thinker

Senior Member.
As one might correctly assume, I am a strong advocate of encouraging Critical Thinking skills. I have always been a science/math geek, which are fields that require Critical Thinking in pursuit of truth (reaching a valid conclusion based on the available evidence). As a young man I was enthralled by Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes stories. Though a fictional character, Sherlock Holmes had been the closest that I have come to idolizing anyone (with Spock coming in a close 2nd). It has been a conundrum to me why Critical Thinking is not required curriculum in our schools, it had not been until college that Critical Thinking and Logical Fallacies had been thoroughly covered in a classroom. While Metabunk is mostly focused on examining claims of evidence in order to separate Fact from Fiction, I think it is also a wonderful place where (some of the) members show by example, how to be a Critical Thinker. As a community we often encounter people who have become misinformed as a result of an inability/unwillingness to practice Critical Thinking skills, who fall into the trap of "I read it on the Internet, so it's got to be true" or "My friends told me about [so and so], and they are smart, so it's probably true"....

I have given up on trying to have an intelligent discussion with people that are CTers, who are incapable of considering the possibility that they may be wrong/misinformed/misled. I focus on getting people recognize that some sources of information are FAR more credible than are others, namely conspiracy profiteering websites (ie... Infowars, beforeitsnews, the anti-media), how to recognize Logical Fallacies, and demystifying what it is to be a Critical Thinker. My intent is to inoculate people so that they are far less susceptible to fall for BS scare-mongering. That being said....

I think this chapter on Critical Thinking from University of Kansas, provides a good guide on how to encourage Critical Thinking in others.

Link to the website


Selected excerpts follow as this is not the entirety of the article:


  • WHAT IS CRITICAL THINKING?
  • WHY IS CRITICAL THINKING IMPORTANT?
  • WHO CAN (AND SHOULD) LEARN TO THINK CRITICALLY?
  • HOW DO YOU HELP PEOPLE LEARN TO THINK CRITICALLY?

HOW TO BE A CRITICAL THINKING FACILITATOR

Stephen Brookfield has developed a 10-point guideline for facilitators of critical thinking that focuses both on the learner and the facilitator herself.




    • Affirm learners' self-worth. Critical thinking is an intellectual exercise, but it is also a matter of confidence and courage. Learners need to have the self -esteem to believe that authority figures or established beliefs could be wrong, and to challenge them. Facilitators need to encourage that self-esteem by confirming that learners' opinions matter and are worthy of respect, that they themselves have and deserve a voice.
    • Listen attentively to learners. Repeat back their words and ideas, so they know they've been heard. What they say can reveal hidden conflicts and assumptions that can then be questioned.
    • Show your support for critical thinking efforts. Reward learners for challenging assumptions, even when they're your own.
    • Reflect and mirror learners' ideas and actions. That will help to identify assumptions and biases they may not be aware of.
    • Motivate people to think critically, but help them to understand when it's appropriate to voice critical ideas and when it's not. The wrong word to the boss could get a learner fired, for example. It's important that he understand the possible consequences of talking about his conclusions before he does it.
    • Regularly evaluate progress with learners. Critical thinking involves reflection as well as action, and part of that reflection should be on the process itself.
    • Help learners create networks of support. These can include both other learners and others in the community who are learning to or who already practice and support critical thinking.
    • Be a critical teacher. Model the critical thinking process in everything you do (particularly, if you're a teacher, in the way you teach), encourage learners to challenge your assumptions and ideas, and challenge them yourself.
    • Make people aware of how they learn critical thinking. Discuss learning and thinking styles, intrinsic and extrinsic motivation, learning methods, the role of previous experience, etc. The more conscious you can make people of their preferred ways of learning, the easier it will be for them to understand how they're approaching ideas and situations and to adjust if necessary.
    • Model critical thinking. Approach ideas and situations critically and, to the extent possible, explain your thinking so learners can see the process you've used to arrive at your conclusions.
Content from External Source

Examine information for accuracy, assumptions, biases, or specific interests. Helping learners discuss and come up with the kinds of questions that they need to subject information to is probably the best way to facilitate here. Using current examples -- comparing various newspaper and TV news stories, for instance, to see what different aspects are emphasized, or to see how all ignore the same issues -- can also be a powerful way of demonstrating what needs to be asked. Some basic questions are:


    • What's the source of the information? Knowing where information originates can tell you a lot about what it's meant to make you believe.
    • Does the source generally produce accurate information?
    • What are the source's assumptions about the problem or issue? Does the source have a particular interest or belong to a particular group that will allow you to understand what it believes about the issue the information refers to?
    • Does the source have biases or purposes that would lead it to slant information in a particular way, or to lie outright? Politicians and political campaigns often "spin" information so that it seems to favor them and their positions. People in the community may do the same, or may "know" things that don't happen to be true.
    • Does anyone in particular stand to benefit or lose if the information is accepted or rejected?To whose advantage is it if the information is taken at face value?
    • Is the information complete? Are there important pieces missing? Does it tell you everything you need to know? Is it based on enough data to be accurate?
Making sure you have all the information can make a huge difference. Your information might be that a certain approach to this same issue worked well in a similar community. What you might not know or think to ask, however, is whether there's a reason that the same approach wouldn't work in this community. If you investigated, you might find it had been tried and failed for reasons that would doom it again. You'd need all the information before you could reasonably address the issue.


    • Is the information logically consistent? Does it make sense? Do arguments actually prove what they pretend to prove? Learning how to sort out logical and powerful arguments from inconsistent or meaningless ones is perhaps the hardest task for learners. Some helpful strategies here might include mock debates, where participants have to devise arguments for the side they disagree with; analysis of TV news programs, particularly those like "Meet the Press," where political figures defend their positions; and after-the-fact discussions of community or personal situations.
Just about anyone can come up with an example that "proves" a particular point: There's a woman down the block who cheats on welfare, so it's obvious that most welfare recipients cheat. You can't trust members of that ethnic group, because one of them stole my wallet.

Neither of these examples "proves" anything, because it's based on only one instance, and there's no logical reason to assume it holds for a larger group. A former president was particularly fond of these kinds of "proofs", and as a result often proposed simplistic solutions to complex social problems. Without information that's logically consistent and at least close to complete, you can't draw conclusions that will help you effectively address an issue.


    • Is the information clear? Do you understand what you're seeing?
    • Is the information relevant to the current situation? Information may be accurate, complete, logically consistent, powerful...and useless, because it has nothing to do with what you're trying to deal with.
An AIDS prevention initiative, for instance, may find that a particular neighborhood has a large number of gay residents. However, if the HIV-positive rate in the gay community is nearly nonexistent, and the real AIDS problem in town is among IV drug users, the location of the gay community is irrelevant information.


    • Most important, is the information true? Outright lies and made-up "facts" are not uncommon in politics, community work, and other situations. Knowing the source and its interests, understanding the situation, and being sensibly skeptical can help to protect learners from acting on false information.
Content from External Source

IN SUMMARY
Critical thinking is a vital skill in health, human service, and community work. It is the process of questioning, examining, and analyzing situations, issues, problems, people (in hiring decisions, for instance) and information of all kinds -- survey results, theories, personal comments, media stories, history, scientific research, political statements, etc.-- from every possible angle. This will give you a view that's as nearly objective as possible, making it more likely that you'll be able to interpret information accurately and resolve problems and issues effectively.

Teaching critical thinking, whether formally or informally, requires a supportive and encouraging presence, and a willingness to both model and be the subject of critical analysis. It entails teaching the critical stance -- how to recognize and analyze your own and others' assumptions, question information, and examine the context of any information, situation, problem, or issue. Finally, it requires helping people to apply the critical stance to a problem and learn how to come up with a solution that is effective because it addresses the real issues involved. Once learners can do that, they're well on their way to successfully addressing the concerns of their communities.

Content from External Source
 
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Whitebeard

Senior Member.
It has been a conundrum to me why Critical Thinking is not required curriculum in our schools, it had not been until college that Critical Thinking and Logical Fallacies had been thoroughly covered in a classroom.
That has always baffled me as well, Critical Thinking skills are of use right across the academic field, even in subjects such as History. The very basics of critical thinking are not hard to understand and I'm sure that even primary school children (5-10 yrs) could be given the basics of matter which would be of great help in their later school, college and then university careers, besides being a very useful life skill.
 

Mick West

Administrator
Staff member
That has always baffled me as well, Critical Thinking skills are of use right across the academic field, even in subjects such as History. The very basics of critical thinking are not hard to understand and I'm sure that even primary school children (5-10 yrs) could be given the basics of matter which would be of great help in their later school, college and then university careers, besides being a very useful life skill.

There's always been some suspicion of "Critical Thinking" from the religious right, who view it as code for atheism.
http://talkingpointsmemo.com/muckra...-opposes-teaching-of-critical-thinking-skills

The Republican Party of Texas' recently adopted 2012 platform contains a plank that opposes the teaching of "critical thinking skills" in schools. The party says it was a mistake, but is now stuck with the plank until the next state convention in 2014.

The plank in question, on "Knowledge-Based Education," reads as follows:

We oppose the teaching of Higher Order Thinking Skills (HOTS) (values clarification), critical thinking skills and similar programs that are simply a relabeling of Outcome-Based Education (OBE) (mastery learning) which focus on behavior modification and have the purpose of challenging the student's fixed beliefs and undermining parental authority.
Content from External Source
 

Whitebeard

Senior Member.
Good point as far as the US is concerned, but I can't see the religious right providing any real opposition in the UK and Europe and other parts of the world
 

skephu

Senior Member.
Conspiracy theorists often boast of being great critical thinkers because they don't believe anything they hear in the mainstream media, "do the research" themselves, etc. If you talk to conspiracy theorists, they will tell you you are the gullible one and they are the real critical thinkers.
 

Hama Neggs

Senior Member.
Conspiracy theorists often boast of being great critical thinkers because they don't believe anything they hear in the mainstream media, "do the research" themselves, etc. If you talk to conspiracy theorists, they will tell you you are the gullible one and they are the real critical thinkers.

They also like to believe that anybody can just 'figure out' stuff like astronomy by casually looking at the sky and easily see through the silly stuff the dishonest "experts" tell us. :rolleyes:
 

Henk001

Senior Member.
In the Netherlands, students learn in high school (although only in the level preparing for University) how to build an argument, including discussion techniques with issues like non sequiturs, ad hominems, relying on authority, strawmans, red herrings etc. However, the emphasis is on rhethoric skills, not logic, and when I do discuss with students sometimes, this “knowledge” doesn’t seem to stick immediately. Just like they have learned the traffic rules, but you could hardly tell looking at the way they behave on their bikes in real traffic.
 

BombDr

Senior Member.
Conspiracy theorists often boast of being great critical thinkers because they don't believe anything they hear in the mainstream media, "do the research" themselves, etc. If you talk to conspiracy theorists, they will tell you you are the gullible one and they are the real critical thinkers.

"Do some research" actually means, "I can not oppose your logic, so please watch this Jones, Icke, LaRouche, Dahboo unverified video and stop bothering me with facts"...
 

tadaaa

Senior Member
They are also, sometimes, simply a bit stupid

One CT'er thought he had made that killer point, when he said "why no phone footage of the pentagon attack"

Err because video smart phones were not around in 2001

Brief pause, (although obviously not evaluate his critical thinking)

"Why no plane shape hole"
 

tadaaa

Senior Member
And they are like goldfish, by the time who have answered and explained all the

why no ?...................

They will say, "why no phone footage of the pentagon attack?"
 

BombDr

Senior Member.
They are also, sometimes, simply a bit stupid

One CT'er thought he had made that killer point, when he said "why no phone footage of the pentagon attack"

Err because video smart phones were not around in 2001

Brief pause, (although obviously not evaluate his critical thinking)

"Why no plane shape hole"

You make a good point, in that as soon as one claim is debunked, without drawing breath they are on to the next.

I always ask them to acknowledge their previous claim was false and they hardly ever do. I was in a discussion on Youtube (I know, why do I do this to myself?) and a guy made a video in which he fires a Carcano rifle in the time set by the Warren Commission and Zapruder film at three targets, roughly recreating the assassination of JFK.

One guy comes up and starts arguing the test is invalid as Oswald was seen having lunch and Officer Craig swore that the weapon he saw was a Mauser. He also said that the shot was impossible - immediately debunked by the video.

I simply asked him what was wrong with the test - He went off on various angles (the usual claims, not worth repeating here) and ignored the question. Very interesting I replied, but what was wrong with the test? Same again, and this went through several cycles of irrelevance, but eventually he said, "well even if it was possible, he was having lunch somewhere else and Officer Craig said.................."

Getting a CT to stick to the point is the first challenge, as the detail of the theory is less important to them than the need for the concept that the conspiracy is necessary to satisfy their world view. Getting this guy to critically examine the notion that it is possible to shot three rounds at three targets in the time available was very hard, and even then, he did the logical summersault to then declare that it doesn't really matter as blah blah blah...
 

deirdre

Senior Member.
Getting a CT to stick to the point is the first challenge
Lack of or poorly developed critical thinking skills goes well beyond just conspiracy theorists though. and in fairness, sometimes it's hard to get critical thinkers to stick to the point as well. : )
 

NoParty

Senior Member.
Lack of or poorly developed critical thinking skills goes well beyond just conspiracy theorists though. and in fairness, sometimes it's hard to get critical thinkers to stick to the point as well. : )
I'd want to see some data that supports--SQUIRREL!!!

Screen Shot 2015-04-04 at 5.22.22 AM.png
 

Hama Neggs

Senior Member.
Getting a CT to stick to the point is the first challenge

This. I just went through that. They started out claiming that persistent contrails do not arise from water vapor, but when I started discussing that point, they quickly switched to Welsbach materials and geo-engineering patents and agenda 21. o_O
 
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Mick West

Administrator
Staff member
This. I just went through that. They started out claiming that persistent contrails do not arise from water vapor, but when I started discussing that point, they quickly switched to Welsbach materials and geo-engineering patents and agenda 21. o_O

It takes two to tango. You can always try to force the conversation back to the original point if it's not been concluded. It does not always work, but often people will do this if you make it clear you are not going to go forward otherwise.
 

JesseCuster

Active Member
This. I just went through that. They started out claiming that persistent contrails do not arise from water vapor, but when I started discussing that point, they quickly switched to Welsbach materials and geo-engineering patents and agenda 21. o_O
And the fact that they can spout claims much faster than you can address them is usually taken as evidence that they are right. After all, they've linked you to 10 different claims and videos about the same general subject and you've only addressed one of them and shown it to be wrong, therefore they're still 90% right.

That's why I enjoy reading these forums where the discussions are kept nice and focused so that claims can be adequately addressed without every thread spiralling into a neverending Gish Gallop as happens all too often on web forums about fringe theories.
 

Hama Neggs

Senior Member.
It takes two to tango. You can always try to force the conversation back to the original point if it's not been concluded. It does not always work, but often people will do this if you make it clear you are not going to go forward otherwise.

Of course. That's what I generally try to do. I think I have tried to re-focus her on that original point 3 times now. No response. Just more: "You should look up [whatever]...."
 

Hama Neggs

Senior Member.
And the fact that they can spout claims much faster than you can address them is usually taken as evidence that they are right. After all, they've linked you to 10 different claims and videos about the same general subject and you've only addressed one of them and shown it to be wrong, therefore they're still 90% right.

That's why I enjoy reading these forums where the discussions are kept nice and focused so that claims can be adequately addressed without every thread spiralling into a neverending Gish Gallop as happens all too often on web forums about fringe theories.

Any more, I won't follow links at all unless they tell me what point they are making with it and QUOTE the relevant passage first. If you don't do that, you end up wading through entire papers or Youtube vids and trying to make their argument FOR them so you can knock it down. Make THEM make their own SPECIFIC argument. They don't like being pinned down to narrow specifics.
 

Mick West

Administrator
Staff member
Any more, I won't follow links at all unless they tell me what point they are making with it and QUOTE the relevant passage first. If you don't do that, you end up wading through entire papers or Youtube vids and trying to make their argument FOR them so you can knock it down. Make THEM make their own SPECIFIC argument. They don't like being pinned down to narrow specifics.

Although I've heard it suggested that a good way to debate is actually to try to make their argument for them. Not in an advocacy way - but in a straightforward "these are the facts" way. Something like "so you are saying that contrails don't persist because your breath evaporates, and hence they must be chemtrails?" Then if they can agree with you that establishes common ground, and also gets them out of the mindset that the opposite of whatever you say must be correct.
 

WeedWhacker

Senior Member
Not in an advocacy way - but in a straightforward "these are the facts" way.

In the sense that....a discussion on a topic (a "volatile" topic?) might progress into a 'shouting match', if allowed to?

When it comes to actual debates, "structured" and "moderated" (perhaps)...facts matter more than hyperbole.

I'd hope that we Humans (moving forward) will respond reasonably with each other (of course, this is just a "wish" at this point in time..)...
 

Henk001

Senior Member.
Since this thread is evolving towards debating/arguing with CT believers this video by potholer54 seems to be appropriate here. (Don't be troubled about the title)
 

Mick West

Administrator
Staff member
Since this thread is evolving towards debating/arguing with CT believers this video by potholer54 seems to be appropriate here. (Don't be troubled about the title)

That's a very good video, but it's rather unfortunately titled.
 

Psychic

Senior Member
In the Netherlands, students learn in high school (although only in the level preparing for University) how to build an argument, including discussion techniques with issues like non sequiturs, ad hominems, relying on authority, strawmans, red herrings etc. However, the emphasis is on rhethoric skills, not logic, and when I do discuss with students sometimes, this “knowledge” doesn’t seem to stick immediately.
The high school I attended focussed heavily on critical thinking skills, but very few of the students seemed to apply those skills outside of the classroom.
 

tadaaa

Senior Member
Since this thread is evolving towards debating/arguing with CT believers this video by potholer54 seems to be appropriate here. (Don't be troubled about the title)

another very good potholer video is


it deals with the concept of "feelings" and hits at the heart critical thinking and the lack of it

i.e. that simple "feelings" override the actual facts

CT-ers often "feel" that things don't look right
 
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