This one is all about the importance of critical thinking.
It should be the most important part of the national curriculum, but I’m not sure it’s even part of it.
I’m pretty certain we’d be living in a different world if we’d all been taught to query and question everything rather than take information as given. Certainly a lot of the marketing and political campaigning used in today’s world would be a whole lot less effective if we were all well versed in critical thinking.
To be critical is not to be cynical. It’s to genuinely question the origins of information, the motives of the sources, their competence and credibility.
Try to apply critical thinking to any information you’re given. You can do this by asking the following questions (adapted from Mike Berners-Lee):
- Do you consider the source to be smart and competent? Do they have the necessary expertise in the area they are commenting on?
- Has the source had full access to the information they are commenting on to be able to fully understand the issue? Have they had the time and resources to be able to obtain and comment on it?
- What motivations might the source have? Could presenting information in a certain way provide any benefit to themselves? How are they backed or funded? Could those backers have any agenda? If so do you think you can trust their independence?
- How self aware is the source? Are they a source who takes time to reflect on their own position? Do they understand the things that might influence them? We are all influenced in some way and are all just a product of the information we’ve taken on in our own lives. Are they transparent about this?
- How is the source’s humility? Have they owned up to previous mistakes? It’s also important to question whether they’ve changed their position in the past once presented with a change in evidence. Nobody knows everything and things change a lot. Any source that is so steadfast in their ways that they never change position is unlikely to be credible. Showing an ability to have a change of mind is showing an ability to think adequately.
- Has this source ever knowingly misled anybody before? This isn’t necessarily asking whether they’re lying but whether or not they’ve purposefully omitted certain information or created a narrative that is at odds with the evidence available. If so it’s not a credible source.
If you can ask these questions whilst standing back to take in the full context of the information you’ll find yourself in a position to make well-founded decisions over what and who can be trusted.
For news and current affairs I would recommend The Conversation as a place whose journalists & academics and their articles regularly pass the critical thinking test. But don’t take my word for it. Run the test yourself.
Try to run the critical thinking test beyond the news too – you’ll find yourself becoming a lot harder to be targeted by marketing and political campaigning.