Uncritical Critical Thinking
Among the frustrations of anyone who alleges to be a critical thinker are discussions that turn into arguments. During the discussion phase I may say, “well, the scientific evidence shows . . . .” If open-minded discussion continues, my friend might counter with reference to other evidence, although neither of us may have documentation at hand or even in memory. We begin to argue, however, if my friend claims that those scientists I mentioned are biased liberals and refers to an article in the Wall Street Journal. I confess that in many discussions I have not read the “evidence” but only a review of research on, say, global warming. So, at best, we agree to disagree and order another round.
Critical thinking is hard cognitive work, and we can use help to keep it sharp, so it is disappointing to read about an apparently widely used book (in its 7th edition) on critical thinking in which the authors are “debunkers who fail to consider evidence and argumentation that are inconsistent with their beliefs” (last para.). In his review of How to Think About Weird Things: Critical Thinking for a New Age, Etzel Cardeña goes on to say the authors “offer an unscientific double-standard discussion instead of engaging in the difficult task of trying to think and argue about complex evidence that sometimes resists easy explanations” (last para.).
What we really need is a book on how to discuss weird things, or better yet, an Evidence App for our smartphone that will take us to reviews and meta-analyses on various topics with links to the original sources. Wouldn’t that make me popular as a dinner guest? Short of that, I could use some advice on evidence-based everyday discourse, including a better guide than How to Think About Weird Things.
By Etzel Cardeña
PsycCRITIQUES, 2014 Vol 59(28)