Open Posted By: ahmad8858 Date: 18/10/2020 Graduate Dissertation & Thesis Writing

Required Resources
Read/review the following resources for this activity:

  • Textbook: Chapter 16
  • Lesson

Remember – these journal questions require more thinking than writing. Think about exactly what you are asked to do, and then write as economically as possible. 


  • Critical Thinking
    • Go back to your very first journal entry – review your definition of critical thinking. After studying critical thinking for the past eight weeks, would you change your definition in any way? If yes, how and why? If no – if it was perfect – what parts of the text were best reflected in your definition?
  • Heart of the Matter
    • Recall in your first journal entry that you discussed the authors' statement that the concepts in Chapters 12, 13 and 14 were "the heart of the matter." After having studied those chapters, answer again, with renewed understanding, the question posed there: Why do you think the authors find these concepts important to critical thinking?
  • Ethical Decision-Making
    • The lecture claims that an argument is no good unless it has a "strong and reasoned ethical base." Do you agree that ethics is an essential element of a good argument? If yes, why? If no, why not?
  • Looking Forward
    • Do you believe that you now know everything you need to know about critical thinking – or is learning to think critically a life-long task? Explain your answer.

Writing Requirements (APA format)

  • Length: 2 pages (not including title page or references page)
  • 1-inch margins
  • Double spaced
  • 12-point Times New Roman font
  • Title page
  • References page
Category: Mathematics & Physics Subjects: Calculus Deadline: 12 Hours Budget: $120 - $180 Pages: 2-3 Pages (Short Assignment)

Attachment 1

Think Critically

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To students and teachers everywhere, may developing critical thinking help you

stay forever young.

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Think Critically Third Edition

Peter Facione

Carol Ann Gittens

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Delhi Mexico City São Paulo Sydney Hong Kong Seoul Singapore Taipei Tokyo

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Vice-President/Director/Product Development: Dickson Musslewhite Product Data and Operations: Craig Campanella Senior Acquisitions Editor: Debbie Coniglio Editorial Assistant: Veronica Grupico Director of Product Marketing: Maggie Moylan Team Lead Program Management: Amber Mackey Program Manager: Nicole Conforti Team Lead Project Management: Melissa Feimer Project Manager: Richard DeLorenzo Operations Specialist: Mary Ann Gloriande Senior Art Director: Blair Brown Cover Art Director: Maria Lange Director of Digital Media: Sacha Laustsen Digital Product Manager: Claudine Bellanton Digital Media Project Manager: Amanda Smith Full-Service Project Management and Composition: Lumina Datamatics, Inc./Melissa Sacco Printer/Binder: Courier/Kendallville Cover Printer: Courier/Kendallville

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Unless otherwise indicated herein, any third-party trademarks that may appear in this work are the property of their respective owners and any references to third-party trademarks, logos or other trade dress are for demonstrative or descriptive purposes only. Such references are not intended to imply any sponsorship, endorsement, authorization, or promotion of Pearson’s products by the owners of such marks, or any relationship between the owner and Pearson Education, Inc. or its affiliates, authors, licensees or distributors.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Facione, Peter A. Think critically / Peter Facione, Carol Ann Gittens. — Third edition. pages cm Includes index. ISBN 978-0-13-390966-1 — ISBN 0-13-390966-2 1. Critical thinking—Textbooks. I. Gittens, Carol Ann. II. Title. B809.2.F33 2014 160—dc23 2014040474

10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 Student Edition: ISBN 10: 0-13-390966-2 ISBN 13: 978-0-13-390966-1 Instructor’s Review Copy: ISBN 10: 0-13-391412-7 ISBN 13: 978-0-13-391412-2 A la Carte: ISBN 10: 0-13-391413-5 ISBN 13: 978-0-13-391413-9

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1 The Power of Critical Thinking 1

2 Critical Thinking Mindset  and Skills 18

3 Solve Problems and Succeed in College 39

4 Clarify Ideas and Concepts 63

5 Analyze Arguments and Diagram Decisions 88

6 Evaluate the Credibility of Claims and Sources 113

7 Evaluate Arguments: Four Basic Tests 138

8 Valid Inferences 158

9 Warranted Inferences 174

10 Snap Judgments: Risks and Benefits of Heuristic Thinking 193

11 Reflective Decision Making 220

12 Comparative Reasoning 239

13 Ideological Reasoning 259

14 Empirical Reasoning 283

15 Write Sound and Effective  Arguments 300

16 Ethical Decision Making 327

17 The Logic of Declarative Statements 349

Appendix: Extend Argument- Decision Mapping Strategies 377

Brief Contents


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Acknowledgments x Preface xi About the Authors xiii

1 The Power of Critical Thinking 1 Risk and Uncertainty Abound 2

Critical Thinking and a Free Society 2 The One and the Many 5

What Do We Mean by “Critical Thinking”? 6 Expert Consensus Conceptualization 6 “Critical Thinking” Does Not Mean “Negative Thinking” 7 Improvement Takes Practice 8

Evaluating Critical Thinking 9 The Students’ Assignment—Kennedy Act 9

The Holistic Critical Thinking Scoring Rubric 11 The Students’ Assignment—Haiti 11

2 Critical Thinking Mindset  and Skills 18

Positive Critical Thinking Habits of Mind 19 The Spirit of a Strong Critical Thinker 20 Positive vs. Negative Habits of Mind 21 Preliminary Self-Assessment 21 Research on the Positive Critical Thinking Mindset 22

of Mind 23

Is a Good Critical Thinker Automatically a Good Person? 25 Cultivate a Positive Critical Thinking Mindset 26

Core Critical Thinking Skills 27 Interpreting and Analyzing the Consensus Statement 27 The Jury Is Deliberating 28 Critical Thinking Skills Fire in Many  Combinations 28 Strengthening Our Core Critical Thinking Skills 29 The Art of the Good Question 30 Skills and Subskills Defined 32

Looking Ahead 32

3 Solve Problems and Succeed in College 39

Differences and Similarities 41 IDEAS: A 5-Step Critical Thinking General Problem-Solving Process 42

Educating the Whole Person 44 Social Relationships 45


Vocation 46 STEP 1: 2:


Academics 49 50

Health and Physical Well-being 52 52

Problems in College and Beyond 55 Emotional Well-Being 55 Spiritual Development 59

4 Clarify Ideas and Concepts 63 Interpretation, Context, and Purpose 64

Meaning Matters 64 But, Clear Enough for What? 65 Worth 1000 Words 67 Communication, Language, and Thought 68

When Vagueness or Ambiguity Cause Misunderstandings 70

Vagueness: “Does the Meaning Include This Case or Not?” 70 Problematic Vagueness 71 Ambiguity: “Which Meaning Are We Using?” 72 Problematic Ambiguity 72

Resolving Problematic Vagueness and Ambiguity 72 Contextualizing 72 Clarifying Original Intent 73 Negotiating the Meaning 75 Using Qualifications, Exceptions, or Exclusions 78 Stipulating the Meaning 78 Donkey Cart Words Signal Twisted Meanings 79

Language Communities 81 National and Global Language Communities 81 Language Communities Formed of People with Like Interests 82 Academic Disciplines as Language Communities 83 Critical Thinking and College Introductory Courses 84

5 Analyze Arguments and Diagram Decisions 88

Analyzing Reasons and Claims 89 Accuracy Depends on Context and Purpose 89 Over-Simplification Masks Reality 90 “Reason” and “Premise” 91


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Mapping Claims and the Reasons for Them 93 Interpreting Unspoken Reasons and Claims in Context 95 Interpreting the Use of Irony, Humor, Sarcasm, and More 96

Analyzing Arguments in Context 96 The El Train Argument 96 The “Guns for Kids” Conversation 98

Analyzing and Mapping Decisions 103 “We Should Cancel the Spring Trip” #1 104 “We Should Cancel the Spring Trip” #2 105

6 Evaluate the Credibility of Claims and Sources 113

Assessing the Source: Whom Should I Trust? 114 Claims without Reasons 114 Cognitive Development and Healthy Skepticism 116 Authority and Expertise 116

Assessing the Substance—What Should I Believe? 125 Personal Muck and Gunk Monitor 125 Self-Contradictions and Tautologies 126 Marketing, Spin, Disinformation, and Propaganda 128 Slanted Language and Loaded Expressions 129

Independent Verification 130 Can the Claim Be Confirmed? 130 Can the Claim Be Disconfirmed? 131 More than a Healthy Sense of Skepticism Only 132 Independent Investigation and the Q-Ray Bracelet Case 133 Suspending Judgment 134

7 Evaluate Arguments: Four Basic Tests 138

Giving Reasons and Making Arguments 139 Truthfulness 140 Logical Strength 140 Relevance 141 Non-Circularity 142

The Four Tests for Evaluating Arguments 142 Test #1: Truthfulness of the Premises 143 Test #2: Logical Strength 143 Test #3: Relevance 144 Test #4: Non-Circularity 146 Argument Making Contexts 147

Common Reasoning Errors 148 Fallacies of Relevance 148

Ad Hominem


8 Valid Inferences 158 The Structure of the Reasoning 160

Inferences Offered as Certain 160 Reasoning with Declarative Statements 161

Affirming the Antecedent 162

Reasoning about Classes of Objects 163

Only 165

Reasoning about Relationships 165

Fallacies Masquerading as Valid Arguments 167 Fallacies When Reasoning with Declarative Statements 167

Denying the

Fallacies When Reasoning about Classes of Objects 167

and Division 169

Fallacies of False Reference 170 Personal Infallibility? We Don’t Think So 170

9 Warranted Inferences 174 The Evidence Currently at Hand 175

The “Weight of Evidence” 176 Evaluating Generalizations 178

Were the Data

Coincidences, Patterns, Correlations, and Causes 180 Patterns 180

Fallacies Masquerading as Warranted Arguments 185

10 Snap Judgments: Risks and Benefits of Heuristic Thinking 193

Our Two Human Decision-Making Systems 194 The “Two-Systems” Approach to Human Decision Making 194

The Value of Each System 196

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Heuristics: Their Benefits and Risks 197 Individual Cognitive Heuristics 198

Heuristics in Action 215

11 Reflective Decision Making 220 Dominance Structuring: A Fortress of Conviction 222

“I Would Definitely Go to the Doctor” 222 Explaining and Defending Ourselves 224

Moving from Decision to Action 225 Phase 1: Pre-Editing 226 Phase 2: Identifying One Promising

Benefits and Risks of Dominance Structuring 228 Self-Regulation Critical Thinking Skill Strategies 230

Precautions When Pre-Editing 231 Specify the

an Option Is In or Out 231

Precautions When Identifying the Promising Option 232

Precautions When Testing the Promising Option 232

Precautions When Fortifying the To-Be-Chosen Option 233

Critical Thinking Strategies for Better Decision Making 234

Decide When It’s Time to Decide 235

12 Comparative Reasoning 239 Recognizing Comparative Reasoning 240

Our Minds Crave Patterns 240 Comparative, Ideological, and Empirical Inferences 242 How This Chapter Connects to Others 242 Gardens of Comparatives 243 Powerful Comparisons Connect Intellect and Emotion 245

Evaluating Comparative Inferences 246 Do the Four Tests of Acceptability Apply? 247

Five Criteria for Evaluating Comparative Reasoning 248

Productivity 250

Models and Metaphors Shape Expectations 251 Creative Suggestions vs. Solid Proofs 251 The Center of the Universe for Two Thousand Years 252 The Many Uses of Comparative Inferences 253

13 Ideological Reasoning 259 Recognizing Ideological Reasoning 262

Examples of Ideological Reasoning 264 Three Features of Ideological Reasoning 266

The Argument

Evaluating Ideological Reasoning 269 Are the Ideological Premises True? 269 Logical Strength and Ideological Belief Systems 272 Relevancy, Non-Circularity, and Ideological Reasoning 274

Uses, Benefits, and Risks of Ideological Reasoning 275

14 Empirical Reasoning 283 Recognizing Empirical Reasoning 285

Characteristics of Empirical Reasoning 285

Independent Verification 286

Hypotheses, Conditions, and Measurable Manifestations 287

Conducting an Investigation Scientifically 289 Perhaps the First Recorded Empirical Investigation 289 Steps in the Process: An Extended Example 290 Evaluating Empirical Reasoning 293

Benefits and Risks Associated with Empirical Reasoning 295

15 Write Sound and Effective  Arguments 300

What Critical Thinking Questions Do Effective Writers Ask? 301

The Rhetorical Situation 302 Think Author 302


Think Audience 304 Writing Same Author

Think Purpose and Circumstances 310

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Contents ix

Organize and Develop Your Presentation 312 Reach Out and Grab Someone 312 Crafting a Presentation 312 Good News: Writing Is Work 313

An Arguable Thesis Statement and Solid Research 313 Map Out the Arguments Pro and Con—Then Outline Your Case 314

“BART’S Decision—Draft” 315 Evaluating the Credibility of Sources 316 Prewriting, Writing, and Rewriting 318 Two Practical Tips 318

Evaluating Effectiveness 319 Features of Sound and Effective Written Argumentation 319 A Tool for Evaluating Critical Thinking and Writing 321 How to Apply the Rubric for Evaluating Written Argumentation 321

16 Ethical Decision Making 327 Ethical Imperatives 331

Think Consequences 331 Think Duties 334 Think Virtues 338

Decision Making and Ethical Decision Making 339 Reactive and Reflective Ethical Decision Making 339

Thinking Through Diverging Ethical Imperatives 342 Prioritize, Create, and Negotiate 342

Establish Priorities 342 Create Additional Options 342 Interests 343 Others 343


17 The Logic of Declarative Statements 349 Declarative Statements 352

Simple Statements 352 Negations 353 Statement Compounds: And, Or, If . . . Then, etc. 354

Conjunctions 354 Conditionals 357

Translating Between Symbolic Logic and a Natural Language 360

Grammatically Correct Expressions 360 Translation to English 360 Translating to Symbolic Logic 361

Example: Translating a Telephone Tree 362 What the Telephone Tree Example Teaches about Translation 362

Detecting the Logical Characteristics of Statements 363

Building Truth Tables 364 Tautologies, Inconsistent Statements, and Contingent Statements 367

Testing for Implication and Equivalence 368 Evaluating Arguments for Validity 370

Testing Symbolic Arguments for Validity 370 Testing Natural Language Arguments for Validity 373

Appendix: Extend Argument-Decision Mapping Strategies 377 Glossary 386 Endnotes 389 Credits 405 Index 409

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Just as teaching and learning critical thinking is a collaboration, so is putting together all the words, images, exercises, video clips, page layouts, and digital materials for THINK Critically. This project could not have happened were it not for the wonderful participa- tion, support, and guidance of a great many people.

The biggest thank you of all goes to my co-author, Carol Gittens, Associate Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Santa Clara University. Every chapter ben- efits from her hard work, her humane sensitivity, her in- sights, and her attention to the finer points of authoring for learning. Dr. Gittens authored the Instructor’s Manual, a wonderful resource that offers strategies on teaching for thinking.

This third edition benefited from Benjamin Hamby’s insightful, positive, and helpfully detailed review of the second edition and from many follow-up conversations during the drafting of this edition. You may download Dr. Hamby’s review of Think Critically from academia.edu.

It was again a pleasure be working with the people at Pearson Education. Carol and I are grateful to every- one, including the publisher, the marketing director, the permissions and images people, the designers, the copy- editors, and many more. Our project directors, Melissa Sacco, Richard DeLorenzo, and Veronica Grupico deserve special thanks. We thank our senior editor, Debbie Coni- glio, for her singular drive and vision, and for bringing a plethora of digital assets and resources to Think Critically.

Co-author Peter writes, “Good ideas come from thinking and discussing things with other people. Great ideas come when that other person happens to be brilliant and wise. The ideas in this book come from a lifetime of those kinds of experiences, but mostly from talking and thinking with the one brilliant and amazing person who has shared that lifetime with me. Through her words and ideas, she contributed inestimably to this book, to other books, to a myriad of projects both professional and do- mestic, and to every other part of my life. No ‘thank you’ can do justice to all that I owe to her. But let me say it any- way. Thank you, Noreen.”

Co-author Carol Gittens writes, “When Pete asked me to join him as a main author of the second and sub- sequent editions, I jumped at the opportunity to add my voice to a text that is designed to nurture students’ critical thinking skills and habits of minds, not only to promote success in the academic arena, but to promote success in life. I would like to express my gratitude to my long-time research colleague and professional mentor Peter Facione and by extension his wife and fellow colleague, Noreen, for extending our scholarly partnership to include this project. Even more importantly, I want to acknowledge and thank my wonderful husband William who sup- ported me unconditionally even when my efforts on this book required more of my attention than he or our chil- dren would have wished to share.”


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In “Forever Young” songwriter Bob Dylan expressed our hopes for all who learn with and teach with THINK Critically. What more could we wish for one another than we all should seek to know the truth, walk in the light of well-trained reason, be courageous, have the intellectual integrity to stand strong, and that, no matter what our chronological age, that we should stay mentally forever young?

This book aims to strengthen critical thinking skills and nurture the courageous desire to seek truth by fol- lowing reasons and evidence wherever they lead. We all may have different beliefs, values, perspectives, and experiences influencing our problem solving and deci- sion making. But we share the human capacity to be reflective, analytical, open-minded, and systematic about thinking through our problems and choices, so that we can make the best judgments possible about what to believe or what to do. That process of well- reasoned, reflective judgment is critical thinking. Exercising our critical thinking helps our minds become stronger, healthier, and more youthful.

Our approach, proven successful by us and by oth- ers, is simple, practical, and focused. To strengthen criti- cal thinking skills, we have to use them. To build positive critical thinking habits of mind, we have to see critical thinking as the optimal approach for solving real-world problems and making important decisions. Every chap- ter of this book builds critical thinking skills and engages critical thinking habits of mind in every way possible. Why? Because we believe with every fiber of our beings that critical thinking is all about real life, and so the very best way to build strong critical thinking is to use engag- ing material from the widest possible range of real-life situations.

“Knowing about” is not the same as “using.” It is more important that a person learn how to use critical thinking to make the best judgments possible than that the person memorize gobs of technical vocabulary and theory about critical thinking. Yes, learning about critical thinking certainly can expedite things. But engaging in critical thinking is the payoff. That is why there are hun- dreds of exercises of many different kinds woven into the written text and each chapter’s digital learning support assets. There is no substitute for learning by doing. So, here’s a plan:

Chapters 1 and 2 explain what critical thinking is, why it is so vitally important to all of us, and how critical thinking connects to our academic studies and

to our personal, professional, and civic lives. Chapter 3 builds immediately on the theme of the practical value of critical thinking by describing the IDEAS approach to problem solving and then applying that approach to the kinds of problems typically encountered by college stu- dents of all ages.

Chapters 4–9 are building block chapters, each addressing one or another of the core critical thinking skills in the context of real-world applications. Chapters 4 and 5 focus on the skills of interpretation and analysis; when we can understand what people are saying, we can articulate the reasons being advanced on behalf of a particular claim or choice. Without these vital critical thinking skills we wander in a cloud of confusion, not really knowing what things might mean or why people, including ourselves, think what they think. Chapters 6, 7, 8, and 9 focus on the skill of evaluation as applied to the truthfulness of claims, the trustworthiness of so-called experts, and the quality of arguments.

Chapters 10 and 11 connect critical thinking to con- temporary understandings of human decision making. Illustrating the risks and the benefits of our heuristically driven snap judgments and releasing ourselves from the grip that our past decisions can have on our current thinking are the two purposes of Chapter 10. Chapter 11, by contrast, provides multiple strategies for approaching decision making reflectively. Together these two chap- ters emphasize the essential critical thinking skills of self- monitoring and self-correction, along with the habits foresight, open-mindedness, and truth seeking

The three most important chapters of this book are 12, 13, and 14. Why? Because comparative reasoning, ideo- logical reasoning, and empirical reasoning are the three most widely used methods human beings have for sup- plying reasons on behalf of their beliefs and ideas. With real-world examples, some that are disturbing in fact, these three chapters focus on the core critical thinking skills of inference and explanation, because drawing con- clusions and explaining one’s reasons, even to one’s self, in real life are products of our comparative, ideological, and empirical reasoning.

Chapters 15 through 19 are joyful explorations of the diverse applications of critical thinking—in writing, in ethical decision making, in logic, in the social sciences, and in the natural sciences. Thinking like professionals, instead of simply studying about them or trying to memo- rize what they may have said, is way more fun, and much more effective learning.


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xii Preface

We authors offer all who encounter THINK Critically this Dylanesque blessing: That you should have a strong foundation, even in the shifting winds of change, that joy should fill your heart and learning guide your life, and, of course, that by using your mind to reflect on what to believe and what to do, that you should make good deci- sions and stay forever young.

Instructor Resources Additional resources found in the Instructor Resource Center include the following:

What’s New to This Edition

simulations, data explorations, truth tables, and graphics—that are woven with the core narrative

critical thinking to substantive, real-world concerns

and on problem solving for student success

Declarative Logic

- ties, more emphasis on student diversity, and updated treatment of argument, deduction, and induction

natural and social sciences

REVEL™ Educational technology designed for the way today’s students read, think, and learn When students are engaged deeply, they learn more effec- tively and perform better in their courses. This simple fact inspired the creation of REVEL: an immersive learning experience designed for the way today’s students read, think, and learn. Built in collaboration with educators and students nationwide, REVEL is the newest, fully digital way to deliver respected Pearson content.

REVEL enlivens course content with media interac- tives and assessments—integrated directly within the authors’ narrative—that provide opportunities for stu- dents to read about and practice course material in tan- dem. This immersive educational technology boosts student engagement, which leads to better understanding of concepts and improved performance throughout the course.

Learn more about REVEL: www.pearsonhighered .com/REVEL

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Peter A. Facione, PhD, has dedicated himself to helping people build their critical thinking to become better problem solvers and decisions makers. He does this work not only to help individuals and groups achieve their own goals, but also for the sake of our freedom and democracy. Facione draws on experi- ence as a teacher, consul- tant, business entrepreneur, university dean, grandfather, husband, musician, and sports enthusiast. Now he is tak- ing his message about the importance of critical thinking directly to students through THINK Critically.

“I’ve paid very close attention to the way people make decisions since I was 13 years old,” says Facione. “Some people were good at solving problems and making deci- sions; others were not. I have always felt driven to figure out how to tell which were which.” He says that this led him as an undergraduate and later as a professor to study psychology, philosophy, logic, statistics, and information systems as he searched for how our beliefs, values, think- ing skills, and habits of mind connect with the decisions we make, particularly in contexts of risk and uncertainty.

A native Midwesterner, Facione earned his PhD in Philosophy from Michigan State University and his BA in

Philosophy from Sacred Heart College in Detroit. He says, “Critical thinking has helped me be a better parent, citizen, leader, consultant, teacher, writer, coach, husband, and friend. It even helps a little when playing point guard!” In academia, Facione served as provost of Loyola University– Chicago, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Santa Clara University, and dean of the School of Human Development and Community Service at California State University–Fullerton. “As a dean and provost, I could eas- ily see that critical thinking was alive and well in every pro- fessional field and academic discipline.”

Facione spearheaded the international study to define critical thinking, sponsored by the American Philosophical Association. His research formed the basis for numerous government policy studies about critical thinking in the workplace, including research sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education. Published by Insight Assessment, his tools for assessing reasoning are used around the world in educational, business, legal, military, and health sciences. Today, Peter operates his own business, Measured Reasons. He is senior level consultant, speaker, writer, workshop presenter. His work focuses on strategic planning and leadership decision making, in addition to teaching and assessing critical thinking. With his wife, who is also his closest research colleague and co-author of many books and assessment tools, he now lives in sunny Los Angeles, which he says, “suits [him] just fine.” You can reach him at [email protected] measuredreasons.com.

About the Authors

Carol Ann Gittens, PhD, is an Associate Dean in the College of Arts & Sciences at Santa Clara University (SCU). She is an associate professor with tenure in the Liberal Studies Program and directs SCU’s under- graduate pre-teaching advising program and the interdisciplinary minor in urban education designed for students interested in pursuing careers in PreK-12 education.

Gittens was the founding Director of Santa Clara University’s Office of Assessment from 2007 to 2012. As assessment director, she performed key activities related to institutional re-accreditation, educated academic and

cocurricular programs in the assessment of student learn- ing, and designed and oversaw an innovative multiyear, rubric-based assessment plan for a new core curriculum. She is an educational assessment mentor and accredita- tion evaluator for the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) as well as Board of Institutional Reviewers member of the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing (CTC), and a senior research associ- ate with Insight Assessment, LLC.

The central focus of Gittens’ research is on the interface of critical thinking, motivation, mathematical reasoning, and academic achievement of adolescents and young adults from diverse cultural and ethnic backgrounds. Dr. Gittens is an author or co-author of numerous articles and assess- ment tools focusing on critical thinking skills, numeracy, and dispositions in children and adults. As of this writ- ing, her forthcoming paper is “Assessing Numeracy in the Upper Elementary and Middle School Years.”

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Gittens’ consulting activities include working with col- lege faculty, staff and administrators, PreK-12 educators, as well as business executives, managers, and employees. Dr. Gittens’ areas of expertise include assessment of institu- tional effectiveness and student learning outcomes, institu- tional and professional accreditation planning, translating strategic vision into measureable objectives, designing sus- tainable assessment systems at all levels of the institution, critical thinking pedagogy and assessment, integrating critical thinking and information literacy across the curricu- lum and in cocurricular programs, as well as statistics and assessment design for individuals and institutions.

Gittens earned her PhD in Social and Personality Psychology from the University of California at Riverside. She received her BA in Psychology and Women’s Studies from the University of California at Davis. Prior to her appoint- ment at Santa Clara University she taught at California State University, San Bernardino and at Mills College in Oakland, California. Gittens and her husband live in California’s Silicon Valley with their teenaged daughter and son, and their 4-year-old daughter. She is an active parent volunteer in her children’s school, and is involved with K-12 schools in the local community, offering teacher training workshops on nurturing and assessing students’ critical thinking.

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Learning Outcomes

1.1 Explain why critical thinking is important in a world filled with risk and uncertainty by supplying reasons and examples that relate to you own life, to the well-being of your community, and to the preservation of a free and open society.

1.2 Explain why a strong critical thinker’s healthy sense of skepticism is not the same as negativity and cynicism. From your own

experience supply examples showing the unfortunate results of a failure of critical thinking as here defined.

1.3 Using the “Holistic Critical Thinking Scoring Rubric” as your tool for evaluation, evaluate the quality of the critical thinking evident in samples of written material and explain which elements in the written material led you evaluate it as you did.

Chapter 1

The Power of Critical Thinking

WHY is critical thinking important?

WHAT does “critical thinking” mean?

HOW can we evaluate our critical thinking?

When students study together, both teach and both learn.

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2 Chapter 1

Walking down 10th Street in Hermosa Beach the other day, I saw a helmetless young man skillfully slalom his skateboard downhill toward the beach. Ignoring the stop sign at Hermosa Boulevard, he flashed across all four lanes of traffic and coasted on down the hill. My imme- diate reaction was “Whew! Lucky that that guy wasn’t killed!” because I had often seen cars on Hermosa roll through that particular stop sign. Whatever was occupy- ing his attention, the skateboarder did not appear to have self-preservation on his mind that day!

Whether he reflected on it or not, the skater decided to run the stop sign. Similarly, we all make decisions all the time, with some of our choices made more thoughtfully than others. We’ve all underestimated obstacles, over- looked reasonable options, and failed to anticipate likely consequences. Life will continue to present us with our full share of problems, and when we err, we often think about the better decisions we could have made if we’d given it a little more thought.

Critical thinking is the process of reasoned judgment. That is, judgment that is both purposeful and reflective. Because this book is about that process, it is about how to go about deciding what to believe or what to do. This is not a book about what we should believe or do. The purpose of the book is to assist you in strengthening your own crit- ical thinking skills and habits of mind so you solve prob- lems and make decisions more thoughtfully for yourself.

1.1 Risk and Uncertainty Abound

We might not skateboard through an intersection, but none of us can escape life’s risks and uncertainties. Uncertainties apply to potentially good things, too. For example, each of us might be uncertain when choosing a major, taking a part-time job, making a new friend, or responding to a disaster stricken nation’s call for volun- teers. You never know what new friendships you will make, what new skills you will acquire, what new oppor- tunities might emerge for you, how your efforts will ben- efit other people, or how much satisfaction you may feel. Whatever the choice being contemplated or the problem being addressed, to maximize our chances for welcome outcomes and to minimize our chances for undesirable outcomes, we need to employ purposeful, reflective judg- ment. Sure, winning is great, but it’s just not a good idea to play poker unless we can afford to lose. We need to think ahead, to plan, and to problem solve. This means we need critical thinking.

Often, what seems like an exclusively personal decision ends up having consequences that go far beyond just our- selves. Everyone knows that driving while wasted can lead

“Dude! What are you thinking?”

to tragic results for passengers, other drivers and pedes- trians. That one is obvious. And DUI is illegal. But even choices that seem to be perfectly innocent can have unex- pected impacts on other people. Think, for example, about deciding to go back to college as an adult. You try to antici- pate what it will cost, how much time it will take, whether you can manage being a college student along with all the other responsibilities in your life. Suppose you consider the risks and the uncertainties, and the pros and cons as best you can anticipate them, and end up deciding to take on all those challenges. In due time you graduate. With your new qualifications you get offered a better job, one that requires moving to a new neighborhood or new city. That means liv- ing further from your old friends. But, it also means a new home, better pay, and new friends. You think, although I tried to anticipate all the consequences, I really could not have known all the ways my decision would affect all the people I will be leaving, and all the people I will meet.

Critical Thinking and a Free Society We are fortunate in a society that values self-reliance, eco- nomic competition, and individual initiative. The stronger our critical thinking skills and habits of mind, the greater our prospects for success, whatever the endeavor. Given the pace of innovation and the fierceness of the compe- tition, and the unpredictability of world events, today more than at any time in the past 70 years businesses are concerned to find workers who can solve problems, make good decisions, learn new things, and adapt to an uncertain future. To succeed in a global high-tech world, a corporation will have to hire workers with strong criti- cal thinking and cultivate a corporate culture that fosters

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strong critical thinking.1 In a 2013 survey of 318 employers 93% agreed that a job candidate’s “demonstrated capacity to think critically, communicate clearly, and solve complex problems is more important than their undergraduate major.”2

But if information is power, then controlling the flow of information is wielding power. Any government, any agency, any group of whatever kind that can withhold information or distort it to fit official orthodoxy is in a much better position to suppress dissenters and maintain its position of control. As we have seen recently in Syria, Egypt, Yemen, Libya, China, the Central African Republic, North Korea, Lebanon, Iraq, Ukraine, Thailand, Kenya, Afghanistan, and elsewhere, cutting off Internet access, expelling foreign journalists, disabling cell phone relays, and attempting in every way to block messages on social

JOURNAL How Would You Describe Your CT Skills? Employers consistently report that they prioritize skills in critical thinking and communication when evaluating job applicants. Employers want to hire people who can solve customers’ problems and make good business decisions. And the employers want people who represent the company well and communicate clearly, understand directions, and carry out assignments.

How would you describe to a prospective employer your critical thinking skills and communication skills? Use examples.

Positive Examples of Critical Thinking A person trying to interpret an angry friend’s needs, expressed through a rush of emotion and snide comments, to give that friend some help and support

A manager trying to be as objective as possible when set- tling a dispute by summarizing the alternatives, with fairness to all sides to a disagreement

A team of scientists working with great precision through a complex experiment in an effort to gather and analyze data

A creative writer organizing ideas for the plot of a story and attending to the complex motivations and personalities of the fictional characters

A person running a small business trying to anticipate the possible economic and human consequences of various ways to increase sales or reduce costs

A master sergeant and a captain working out the tactical plans for a dangerous military mission.

A soccer coach working during halftime on new tactics for attacking the weaknesses of the other team when the match resumes

A student confidently and correctly explaining exactly to his or her peers the methodology used to reach a particular con- clusion, or why and how a certain methodology or standard of proof was applied

An educator using clever questioning to guide a student to new insights

Police detectives, crime scene analysts, lawyers, judges, and juries systematically investigating, interrogating, examining, and evaluating the evidence as they seek justice

A policy analyst reviewing alternative drafts of product safety legislation while determining how to frame the law to benefit the most people at the least cost

An applicant preparing for a job interview thinking about how to explain his or her particular skills and experiences in a way that will be relevant and of value to the prospective employer

Parents anticipating the costs of sending their young child to college, analyzing the family’s projected income, and budgeting projected household expenses in an effort to put aside some money for that child’s future education

media have become standard tactics for suppressing protests and maintaining power. All done to curtail the free flow of accurate information.

We who live in the United States are also fortunate because of the high value we place on freedom—including the freedom to think for ourselves. In a free society education is about learning how to think for yourself, learning how to seek the information you need, learning how to correct mistaken assumptions, how to evaluate the claims people make, how to reason well, and how to detect and resist fallacious rea- soning. In a free society the power of government is used to protect the right to free and open inquiry, the right to share what we learn, and the right to collaborate with others to make better decisions and to learn more about the world. Watch “Why Critical Thinking.” Find this short video and more by searching “Peter Facione” on YouTube.

A closed society does not permit the freedom to think, it fears and it suppresses learning. A closed society, whether it is a government, a corporation, a religion or whatever, stifles independent critical thinkers, punishes those who do not adhere to the party line, denies access to full and accu- rate information, and buries scientific findings and policy recommendations that run counter to interests of those in power. The worst of these closed societies equate education with memorized orthodoxy, label dissenters as traitors, and, if need be, use ridicule, bullying, disinformation, deceit, character assassination, and in the worst cases physical assassination—whatever it takes, including creating mar- tyrs for the cause, faking enemy threats, lying to the media, destroying document and so on—to achieve its goals.3

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What would you have done if religious extremists attacked you or your daughter for seeking an education?

Films like The Insider, Promised Land, Cry Freedom, Syriana, Wag the Dog, Body of Lies, Seeds of Death, and The Panama Deception give us insights into how it is possible for corporate and government greed, orthodoxy, and lust for power to crush freedom, distort the truth, and destroy lives. Some films in this genre are well researched, fair, and accurate; others are fictional exaggerations or fabrications. Either way, they all illustrate the dire consequences of passivity, apathy, and indifference toward matters of public policy. Given the possibilities, strong critical thinking suggests vigilant readiness to ask tough questions about what is being done in our name.

“Our whole constitutional heritage rebels at the thought of giving government the power to control men’s minds.”

Thurgood Marshall, Former U.S. Supreme Court Justice4

Why is American higher education internationally admired and yet feared? One reason is that our colleges have the potential to teach critical thinking. The upside is great progress in learning, wealth and culture, and hence huge benefits for society. Problem solvers using critical thinking have achieved massive breakthroughs in science, technol- ogy, engineering, commerce, and the arts. But, at the same time, leaders around the world know that when the people are given a good education and begin thinking for them- selves, things get harder for would-be tyrants. People who are thinking for themselves are more apt to disagree, policy issues become more complicated to resolve, public discourse more confusing, the “old ways” are questioned, and decision making takes more time.

Strong critical thinking demands a healthy skepticism wherever entrenched organizational power is concerned. Strong critical thinkers know that defending the freedom to think demands vigilance. Passivity and indifference toward thinking and learning weaken not only our bodies but our minds as well. None of us want to wake up one fine day groggy, cross-eyed, and hung over from Fantasy Football, nonstop Grand Theft Auto, double cheese and bacon bur- gers, vacuous Hollywood gossip, online hoarding sprees, and stale beer, only to discover that while we were otherwise occupied our rights and freedoms were quietly, yet system- atically, stripped away. We believe that one way to protect

our cherished and hard-won freedoms is by using our critical thinking to assure open scientific inquiry, access to complete and accurate information, and the right to ask challenging questions, and follow the reasons and the evidence wherever they may lead.

But we do not need to rely only on films and novels to illustrate our point. Recent history shows what happens when people are not vigilant defenders of open, objective, and independent inquiry. We saw the results to a greater or lesser extent in Hitler’s Germany, Stalin’s Russia, Mao Tse Tung’s China, and, sadly, in the twenty-first century.

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See, for example, the autobiography And Then They Came for Me, by Maziar Bahari, 2011, and then Google the phrase “and then they came for me” for several even more recent examples of similar incidents around the world. Or consider how her co-religionists punished young Malala Yousafzai, a female, just for wanting the freedom to learn. In 2014 the systematic suppression of the freedom to learn, critical thinking, and science was the purpose of school curriculum changes imposed under threat of physical punishment by extremists in territo- ries controlled by the group known as the “Islamic State.”5 Where critical thinking, science, and open inquiry by men or by women are crimies, a society cannot call itself “free.”

The One and the Many Individual decisions can seem isolated and yet when they accumulate, they can have a far-reaching impact. For instance, in China the one-child policy has been in force for about 30 years. Culturally, there has always been a strong preference for male children; and if families could only have one child, most wanted a boy. In household after household, family after family made the choice to do whatever seemed necessary, including infanticide, to ensure a male heir. The collective impact of those millions of individual decisions now burdens that nation. In some villages, the ratio of unmarried men to unmarried women is 20 to 1. Today brides fetch payments as high as five years of family income.6 Those parents who decided to raise their first-born daughters sure look smart now.

Around seven billion members of our species, give or take, share a planet in which economic, cultural, politi- cal, and environmental forces are so interconnected that the decisions of a few can impact the lives of many. Short- sighted and self-interested decisions made by corporate executives, bankers, stock traders, borrowers, and govern- ment regulatory agencies plunged the world into a global economic depression, which has cost trillions of dollars, devastated honest and well-run companies, bankrupted pension plans, destroyed families, and put tens of millions of people out of work. What were the decision makers thinking? What blinded all of us to the foreseeable conse- quences of our choices? Did we think that there wouldn’t be adverse consequences if we all ran our credit card and mortgage debts to levels that were beyond our capacity to repay those debts? For some insights into the poor criti- cal thinking that contributed to this global economic melt- down watch the HBO film Too Big to Fail.

The historical evidence suggests that civilizations rise and fall, that economies flourish and flounder, that the arts are encouraged and suppressed, that advances

in learning are made and then forgotten. As a species we have very few advantages, other than our oversized brain and the critical thinking it can generate. We would be unwise not to use what little we have. Often catastrophic events, like the plagues that decimated Europe in the fifth and twelfth centuries, are beyond the ability of the science of the time to predict or to control. The same goes for the prolonged drought that triggered the dust bowl of the 1930s, the climate-changing drought suspected of driving the Anasazi out of North American Southwest.7 But what about droughts that we can predict? What about the water crisis we have made for ourselves today in the North American Southwest? We know that we foolishly over- use our water resources, waste water on silly things like trying to have green lawns in desert lands. We know that unless something changes, the Columbia River and the Sierra Nevada watershed cannot support the tens of mil- lions of people, and the homes, farms, businesses, fisher- ies, forests, wildlife, pets, resorts, fountains, golf courses, schools, hospitals, and fire departments. Strong criti- cal thinking tells us that we need to reform water policy and change our ways of using that essential resource. But change is so slow in coming. We cannot kick the empty water can any further down the dusty road. What are we thinking?

“Very few really seek knowledge in this world. Mortal or immortal, few really ask. On the contrary, they try to wring from the unknown the answers they have already shaped in their own minds—justification, explanations, forms of consolation without which they can’t go on. To really ask is to open the door to the whirlwind. The answer may annihilate the question and the questioner.”

Anne Rice’s character, the vampire Marius in The Vampire Lestat.8

If he were alive today, American folk song legend, Pete Seeger, might sing, “Where have all the waters gone?”

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1.2 What Do We Mean by “Critical Thinking”?

At this point you might be saying, “OK, I get it. Critical thinking is important. But what is critical thinking, exactly?” To answer that question precisely, an interna- tional group of 46 recognized experts in critical thinking research collaborated. The men and women in this group were drawn from many different academic disciplines, including philosophy, psychology, economics, computer science, education, physics, and zoology.

Expert Consensus Conceptualization For more than a year and a half, from February 1988 through September 1989, the group engaged in a con- sensus-oriented research process developed by the Rand Corporation and known as the “Delphi” method.9 The challenge put to the experts was to come up with a work- ing consensus about the meaning of “critical thinking,” which could serve instructional and assessment purposes from K–12 through graduate school, and across the full range of academic disciplines and professional fields. They also asked themselves questions that relate to Chapter 2, namely,: “What are the core critical thinking skills and subskills? How can we strengthen those skills in students? Who are the best critical thinkers we know, and what habits of mind do they have that lead us to consider them the best?”

Long story short, the expert consensus defined “criti- cal thinking” as “the process of purposeful, self-regulatory judgment.”10 The purpose is straightforward: to form a well-reasoned and fair-minded judgment regarding what to believe or what to do. The “self-regulatory” part refers

to our capacity to reflect on our own thinking process. We can monitor our own thinking, spot mistakes, and make needed correc- tions to our own problem solving and decision making.11

Strong critical thinking— making well-reasoned judgments about what to believe and what to do—is essential to consistently successful decision making. For many years we authors have con- sulted with various branches of the U.S. military, including Special Ops, with senior business execu- tives and mid-level managers, and with educators, policy makers, health care professionals, scientists, jurists, and engineers. Time and again we learn that strong critical

thinking can contribute to achieving goals and that poor critical thinking contributes to mission failure. Strong criti- cal thinking is essential wherever the quality of one’s deci- sions and the accuracy of one’s beliefs make a difference.

Critical thinking is not the only vital element, don’t get us wrong. Knowledge, dedication, training, and ethi- cal courage also factor into the formula for success. We often learn more from our failures than from our successes; when we examine unsuccessful operations we often find that individuals or groups have failed, somewhere along the line, to make well-reasoned judgments. Failures of critical thinking can result in some truly unfortunate out- comes, as the examples in the figure indicate. Can you think of any such instances in your own experience?

Failures of critical thinking often contribute to some of the saddest and most unfortunate accidents. In 2009, for example, 288 people died in the crash of an Air France

Failures of critical thinking contribute to... patient deaths / lost revenue / ineffective law enforcement / job loss / gullible voters / garbled communications / imprisonment /combat casualties / upside down mortgages / vehicular homicide / bad decisions / unplanned pregnancies / financial mismanagement / heart disease / family violence / repeated suicide attempts / divorce / drug addiction / academic failure / ... / ... /



Why farms vs. cities if everyone knows Water = Jobs & Food & Survival?

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jetliner. Investigators who examined the crash and its causes indicated that the pilots might have had enough time to prevent the disaster had they realized that the plane was stalling, instead of climbing to a safe altitude. But they appear to have misinterpreted the warning sig- nals and wrongly analyzed their problem, which led them to make the wrong inferences about what they should do.12 Asiana Air Flight 214 crash-landed at SFO in 2013 because of the decision to permit an inexperienced pilot to practice landing a jetliner full of passengers.13

Occasionally we see in the news that some poor indi- vidual has had a tragic lapse in good judgment. Like the three young people who stepped passed the guard rails to take pictures at Yosemite Park’s Vernal Falls. Other park visitors called to them, urging them to get back to safety, but they did not. Then suddenly one fell, the other two tried to help, and all three were swept over the falls to their deaths.14 Sad as it was, we have to ask ourselves, what were they thinking? If they had thoughtfully consid- ered the risks and benefits, we doubt that they would have made the tragic decision to ignore the posted warnings.

Realizing that strong critical thinking often results in positive outcomes, but failures of critical thinking could lead to major problems, the experts who were asked to define critical thinking determined that it was best to focus on the process of judgment. What they wanted to capture was that strong critical thinking was reflective, well-reasoned, and focused on a specific purpose, such as what to do or what to believe. “Should we ignore the posted warnings?”

Given the expert consensus definition of critical think- ing as purposeful reflective judgment, one of the first things the experts realized was that critical thinking was a “pervasive human phenomenon.” Critical thinking is occurring whenever an individual or a group of people

makes a reasoned and reflective judgment about what to believe or what to do. They also realized that strong critical thinking was thoughtful and informed, not impulsive nor knee-jerk reactive.

How important did the experts think critical think- ing was? They put their answer to that question this way: “Critical thinking is essential as a tool of inquiry. As such, critical thinking is a liberating force in educa- tion and a powerful resource in one’s personal and civic life. While not synonymous with good thinking, criti- cal thinking is a pervasive and self-rectifying human phenomenon.”

So long as people have problems to solve and deci- sions to make, so long as they have things to learn and issues to resolve, there will be ample opportunities to use our critical thinking skills and habits of mind.

“Critical Thinking” Does Not Mean “Negative Thinking” Critical thinking is not about bashing what people believe just to show how clever we are. Nor is critical thinking about using our skills to defend beliefs that we know are untrue or decisions we know are poor. Critical thinking is skeptical without being cynical. It is open-minded without being wishy-washy. It is analytical without being nitpicky. Critical thinking can be decisive without being stubborn, evaluative without being judgmental, and forceful without being opinionated.

Critical thinking skills enable us to seek truth (small “t”) with intellectual energy and with integrity. Respect for one another and civil discourse goes hand in hand with strong critical thinking. We can thoughtfully and fair-mindedly reject an idea without ridiculing or

embarrassing the person who proposed it. And we can accept an idea from any source so long as the idea is well-supported with good reasons and solid evidence. The results of applying the critical thinking process speak for themselves by virtue of the quality of the analyses, inferences, and explanations involved. So there is no reason, and very frequently no advantage either, in being aggressive, strident or hos- tile in how one presents those results.

Strong critical thinking can be inde- pendent, it can lead us to diverge from the norm, and it can impel us to challenge cherished beliefs. And, as a result, apply- ing critical thinking skills to a question or issue can be disquieting if not disturbing to ourselves and others. Critical thinking can also be insightful, collaborative, and constructive. And, as in the case of good

“I saw the man’s eyes when he went over the falls. That was devastating,” says witness.

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science, critical thinking brings deeper and richer under- standings. And too, as in the case of good leadership, criti- cal thinking results in more successful outcomes. The only real mistake is to go forward with beliefs or choices that we know, because of strong critical thinking, are false or foolish.

Improvement Takes Practice Think for a moment about learning to play a musical instrument or learning to play a sport. In both, improve- ment comes from practicing the requisite skills and strengthening our resolve to keep at it until we begin to see improvements. As we experience success at the skills part, enjoyment increases, and our disposition to keep apply- ing ourselves grows. And, having an ever more positive

attitude about striving to improve, we tend to enjoy more success as we seek to refine our skills. Each aspect feeds the other. To be a success the player must become not only able but willing, not just skillful but disposed to use those skills.

We learn to play a musical instrument so we can enjoy making music. We learn a sport to enjoy playing the game. We work on our skills and mental dispositions not for their own sake, but for the sake of making music or playing the game. This is true with critical thinking, too. The defining purpose of critical thinking is to make reflective judgments about what to believe or what to do. We will work on both the skill part and the dispositional part as we move through this book Our purpose as authors is to enable you to become more effective in using critical thinking when you are deciding what to do or what to believe.


Why do so many vacationers and sightseers foolishly risk their lives each year that our government must post warnings against even the most obvious dangers?

1. According to the National Park Service, over 250 people need to be rescued each year after they have tried to hike down into the Grand Canyon to reach the Colorado River and back up to the rim all in one day. More interestingly, these people tend to be young, healthy males. Why might this be? Is there something the research literature can tell us about the decision making of young healthy males that leads them, more than any other demographic, to take the kinds of risks that result in their needing to be rescued?

2. Group Discussion: Not all risks are unreasonable. Parents worry all of the time about keeping their children safe, but what is the role of risk taking in childhood and

adolescence? Are their “healthy risks” parents should encourage timid children to take? Should children be encouraged to climb trees? Rather than taking one side or the other, as in a debate, try instead to identify and elaborate on the best reasons for both sides of that ques- tion. A web search will reveal some interesting posts relating to risk and parenting.

3. Group Discussion: Given our advice about being respectful rather than hostile when applying critical thinking, does that mean that some topics are off limits? Is it even possible to have a respectful reasoned, evidence-based, and fair-minded analysis and evaluation of the truth, our moral, religious, or political opinions? What if people take offense because something they were raised to believe is called into question by seriously applying critical thinking skills to that idea?

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There is convincing scientific evidence that students can improve their critical thinking.15 As with any skills based activity, the key is guided practice. To guide you we loaded this book with exercises, examples, explana- tions, and topics to really think about. Each represents an opportunity. And, yes, here and there we have included topics/and questions some may find unsettling, maybe even jarring. Why? Because thinking about difficult top- ics and troubling questions often makes us stronger criti- cal thinkers. Just like with sports or music, those who skip practice should not expect to perform at their best when it really matters. Those who are so closed-minded that they cannot entertain hypotheticals that diverge from their own opinions will find progress in critical thinking difficult. But the rest of us can expect many interesting and enjoyable opportunities to exercise each of our criti- cal thinking skills and to strengthen our critical thinking habits of mind.

1.3 Evaluating Critical Thinking

Even when we are first learning a musical instrument or a sport, we can tell that some of our peers are better at the instrument or the sport than others. We all make prog- ress, and soon we are all doing much better than when we first started. We do not have to be experts to begin to see qualitative differences and to make reasonable evalu- ations. This, too, is true of critical thinking. There are some readily available ways to begin to make reasonable judgments concerning stronger or weaker uses of critical thinking. The following example illustrates some of these methods.

Critical Thinking - Willing and Able


Imagine a professor has assigned a group of four students to comment on the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act, signed into law on April 21, 2009. The group has access to the information about the bill at the website for the Corporation for National & Community Service. The bill:

Dramatically increases intensive service opportu- nities by setting AmeriCorps on a path from 75,000 positions annually to 250,000 by 2017, and focusing that service on education, health, clean energy, vet- erans, economic opportunity, and other national priorities.

Enables millions of working Americans to serve by establishing a nationwide Call to Service Campaign and observing September 11 as the National Day of Service and Remembrance.

Improves service options for experienced Americans by expanding age and income eligibility for Foster Grandparents and Senior Companions, authorizing a Silver Scholars program, under which individuals 55 and older who perform 350 hours of service receive a $1,000 education award, which they can transfer award to a child or grandchild.

Provides for a summer program for students from sixth through twelfth grade to earn a $500 education award for helping in their neighborhoods.

Authorizes a Civic Health Assessment comprised of indicators relating to volunteering, voting, charitable giving, and interest in public service to evaluate and compare the civic health of communities.

For more information search “americorps.gov” “nationalservice.gov” and “serve.gov”.


STUDENT #1: “My take on it is that this bill requires national service. It’s like a churchy service sorta thing. But, u know, like run by the government and all. We all have to sign up and do our bit before we can go to college. That’s great. Think about it, how could any- one b against this legislation? I mean, unless they r either lazy or selfish. What excuse could a person possibly have not to serve r country? The president is right, we need to bring back the draft so that r Army has enough soldiers, and we need to fix Wall Street and Social Security and immigration. I don’t want to pay into a system all my working life only to find out that there’s no money left when I get my chance to retire.”

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STUDENT #2: “Well I think this bill is a stupid idea. Who’s going to agree to work for a lousy $12,000 a year? That’s nuts. I can earn more working at Target or by enlisting in the Navy. This legislation is just more foolish liberal nonsense that takes our nation one step closer to socialism. Socialism is when the gov- ernment tries to control too many things. And now the president is trying to control volunteer service. Maybe you want to build houses for poor people or clean up after hurricanes, but I don’t see how any of that is going to help me pass physics or get me a bet- ter job after college.”

STUDENT #3: “I think there are problems with the legisla- tion, too. But you’re wrong about people not wanting to volunteer. The number of hits on the AmeriCorps Web site keeps going up and up each month. Retired people, students, and people who just want to make a difference go there and to Serve.gov to see what opportunities might exist near where they live. On the other hand, I do have issues with the govern- ment being the organizing force in this. Volunteerism was alive and well in America before Big Brother got involved. I don’t see why we need to spend billions of dollars getting people to do what they were already going to do anyway. We shouldn’t pay people to be volunteers.”

STUDENT #4: “That’s the point, some of them wanted to do volunteer service but they need a small incentive. Nobody is going to get rich on the stipends the gov- ernment is offering. But the new grant competitions for nonprofits, schools, and universities to create programs for at-risk youth in low-income communi- ties and academic and service program for all young

people is a way of directing government funds toward proven effective organizations that need money to keep doing good things for kids, teens, and families especially in these tough economic times. I think that people who want to keep government at arm’s length are going to have problems with this bill. They are right that it is another way that govern- ment is worming itself into every facet of our lives. But a lot of people feel that way about religion, too; that’s why they do not want to volunteer in programs sponsored by religious groups, because they don’t want to be seen as agreeing with all the beliefs of that group. The real question for me is the effect that this legislation might have on the future politics of our nation. All these volunteers could become, in effect, people the administration can call on in the next election. Organizing tens of thousands Americans who basically agree with the idea of public service at public expense is like lining up the Democratic vot- ers who will want to be sure these policies are not reversed by the Republicans. I’m not talking about a vague idea like “socialism,” I’m talking about clever politics, positioning the Democratic Party for success in the next election. I’m not sure what I think about that yet. But we need to understand that this legisla- tion will result in more than just a lot of wonderful work by a large number of generous Americans who are willing to give of their time to help others.”

Having reviewed the information about this legis- lation and read the statements by each of the four stu- dents, how would you evaluate those statements in terms of the critical thinking each displays? Remember, base your evaluation on what the statements reveal about the

At today’s event, the President honored President George H.W. Bush’s contributions to service and volunteerism, including his signing of the 1990 national service legislation and his creation of the Points of Light movement and its signature award. The Daily Point of Light Award has been presented 5,000 times to individuals and groups who find innovative ways to meet community needs.

“Volunteer service is and always has been a fundamental part of the American character,”said Wendy Spencer, CEO of CNCS, the agency that administers AmeriCorps and Senior Corps. For decades, presidents of both parties have embraced national service as a cost-effective way to tap the ingenuity and can-do spirit of the American people to get things done. Source: “President Obama Expands National Service Opportunities for Americans,” National Service news release, July 15, 2013.

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quality of the reasoning, not on whether you agree or disagree with their conclusion. We’ll offer our evaluative comments on these four statements in the paragraphs below. But before you read on, first make a preliminary assessment. Which of the four student statements would you rate right now as showing strong critical thinking and which do you regard at this point as showing weak critical thinking?

The Holistic Critical Thinking Scoring Rubric Every day we all make decisions about what to believe or what to do. When we are being reflective and fair-minded about doing so, we are using our critical thinking skills. The idea behind a critical thinking course is to help us strengthen these skills and fortify our intentions to use them when the occasion arises.

If that is true, then there probably is room for improvement—just as with other things we do that we may not have formally studied. But we are not starting from zero. We have critical thinking skills, even if we have not yet refined them to their maximum potential. We know what it means to be open-minded and to take a system- atic and objective look at an issue. We are familiar with the ordinary English meanings of common words for talking about thinking such as interpret, analyze, infer, explain, rea- son, conclusion, fallacy, and argument. And, in a broad sense, a lot of the time we can tell the difference between strong reasoning and weak reasoning, even if we do not yet know all the details or terminology.

So, given that none of us are novices at critical think- ing, we should be able to make a reasonable first stab at an evaluation of the thinking portrayed by the four stu- dents in the example. Just using our experience and com- mon sense we can agree that #4 and #3 are stronger than #2 and #1.

A tool designed to help us with this process of evalu- ation relies on the ordinary meanings of common terms used to talk about thinking. Called “The Holistic Critical Thinking Scoring Rubric” (HCTSR), this tool can aid us in evaluating real-life examples of critical thinking because it requires us only to consider the four evaluative descrip- tions: “strong,” “acceptable,” “unacceptable,” and “weak” and see which of the four fits best. At this point, before we have worked through any of the other chapters of the book, this simple tool/approach is sufficient to get us started evaluating critical thinking. Naturally, as we learn more about critical thinking, we will become better at applying the rubric and more facile at using the terminol- ogy it contains. Our evaluative judgments will improve, and our ability to explain our judgments will improve as well. In this way, the rubric actually helps us to improve

our critical thinking. Where we may disagree with one another at first about the evaluative levels that best fit, in time as we work with the rubric and with others on apply- ing it, we will begin to form clearer ideas of the differences not only between the extreme examples, but between examples that fall between the extremes.

To apply the HCTSR, take each student’s statement and see which level of the Rubric offers the best description of the reasoning evident in that statement. You will see that they line up rather well with the four levels of the HCTSR. Statement #4 is a good example of the top level, “strong”; student statement #3 is “acceptable”; student statement #2 is “unacceptable” because it displays the problems listed in the HCTSR in category 2; and statement #1 is so far off base that it qualifies as “weak.”

Now that you have the HCTSR available to evaluate examples of real-life critical thinking, let’s try it again with another set of four essays. As you read each essay response, compare what you are reading to the language on the HCTSR to determine which of the four descriptions, “strong,” “acceptable,” “unacceptable,” and “weak” fits the best.


This time imagine a professor has asked her students to respond to the following essay question “Did the interna- tional community abandon Haiti or not?–give reasons and evidence to support your claim.” The group has access to the information about the earthquake in Haiti reproduced here and on the Internet.

On January 10, 2010, Haiti experienced its most deadly earthquake in the country’s history. The quake left the capital city of Port-au-Prince flattened and the country devastated.

The death toll is estimated to be upward of 250,000 individuals, with 300,000 others being injured.

The estimated cost of damage due to the earthquake is between 8 and 14 billion dollars.

As of January 2014, Time reported that billions of dol- lars in promised aid have not yet been dispersed.

Time also reported that 70% of Haitians lack access to electricity, 600,000 are food-insecure and 23% of chil- dren are out of primary schools. At least 172,000 peo- ple remain in 306 displacement camps.17


STUDENT #1: “I wouldn’t say that the international com- munity has abandoned Haiti as much as I would say that the international community has done nothing but make matters worse! That impoverished country had an earthquake that killed nearly 250,000 people and injured 300,000 more. I saw on Facebook that

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the cholera epidemic was caused by a Red Cross volunteer. That means that someone from the out- side world caused a deadly disease to run rampant through the country. Everyone knows that developed countries only help out when there is something in it for them—like oil or bananas. Why else would the relief effort be run by a former U.S. president? What’s his political motivation? One could say that the Haitian government or lack thereof is the main reason why Bill Clinton’s commission has to run the recovery efforts and coordinate the funds for reconstruction, but I heard somewhere that Clinton’s commission

collected a ton of money for Haiti relief but hasn’t spent even half of it yet. I don’t get why not. You can be sure, however, that when the commission does spend the money it will only harm the Haitian econ- omy. Clinton will probably give it all away like some kind of welfare program. The international commu- nity should abandon efforts so that no further harm is done.”

STUDENT #2: “I don’t think the international community abandoned Haiti after the devastating earthquake. Even a year later you could still find news coverage

Strong 4. Consistently does all or almost all of the following:

Acceptable 3. Does most or many of the following:

Unacceptable 2. Does most or many of the following:

Weak 1. Consistently does all or almost all of the following:

The Holistic Critical Thinking Scoring Rubric16 A Tool for Developing and Evaluating Critical Thinking

Peter A. Facione, Ph.D., and Noreen C. Facione, Ph.D.

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The Power of Critical Thinking 13

of Haiti pretty much every day on the Internet. That means that Haiti has not been forgotten. Though the number of people who are still homeless is high, there are organizations over there that are rebuilding camps and schools. 60 Minutes even showed a story about a guy who was rebuilding a soccer field. They say that thousands of people have been able to go home and kids are able to attend the schools that have been reopened. I know the United States is not the only country that is helping in Haiti because the United Nations has sent money and workers—this means it is an international effort. Given that Haiti is not the only country needing our help, like Japan who had the tsunami, not to mention the hurricanes and torna- dos right here in America, the fact is that everyone is doing all that they can to help Haiti. What more can we possibly expect? I mean, we all have our problems. The biggest challenge is the cholera epidemic, which is slowing down efforts to rebuild the country. Nobody knew what to do about that. But now that the presi- dent has been elected it should be possible to move forward with getting medicines to that country.”

STUDENT #3: “Haiti was abandoned by the international community. How else might we explain why numer- ous countries all over the world would have promised billions of dollars but then reneged on payment? Yes, lots of money and hundreds of emergency aid work- ers have been sent to that impoverished country, along with food, medicine, water, temporary shelters, and heavy machinery to clear the collapsed buildings that once were homes, schools, and businesses. But at the end of the day (or year in this case!) there is still so much left to be done. Several thousands of people are still living in camps, and those who are able to go home are afraid to live inside because they don’t trust that their houses won’t still collapse. At first there were no major issues related to diseases that typically follow a major natural disaster, and this was touted as a successful part of the relief effort, but now we see the country stricken with a cholera epidemic. The international community has made big promises to the people of Haiti but those promises have not yet been fulfilled. I support the people who are asking for

an explanation of what is being done with the money that has been collected from the international commu- nity. If there is a reason to hold back on distributing the funds then that should be stated so that every- one knows the short- and long-term plan to achieve recovery and so that the people of Haiti know that the world still cares about them. And if we find no good reasons for holding back the money, then we should be told why it was not used sooner.”

STUDENT #4: “This is a really difficult question, but I’d have to say that the international community has not abandoned Haiti. This is not to say that the relief effort has been smooth, or that the country has been totally rebuilt in the years since the deadly earthquake leveled Port-au-Prince. Nevertheless, an important distinction needs to be made between relief and recovery. Immediately following the earth- quake monies and aid workers including doctors were rushed to Haiti. These monies and humanitar- ian aid were contributed by almost 40 different coun- tries around the world, and involved organizations such as the United Nations, American Red Cross, and NGOs that are still hard at work in Haiti. These funds and workers were able to provide food, shel- ter, water and medicine to the survivors who were left homeless. Yes, many countries have pledged billions to help Haiti, and not all of the money has been spent. This has angered some— particularly the Haitian people and individuals directly involved in the organizations who are on the ground in Haiti try- ing to make the recovery effort move more quickly. It has got to be frustrating to know that monies have been pledged or collected but remain unspent, but the turmoil over the contested presidential elections has to be considered—an unstable government is a liability when it comes to a wise and efficient use of public funds, even in the best of times. Finally, though it was once thought that the prevention of looting and disease in the immediate aftermath of the quake was evidence of the relief effort working, we should consider the cholera epidemic as evidence that the international community has forsaken Haiti. The cholera was entirely predictable when thou- sands are living in unsanitary camps. On the other hand, some international humanitarian organizations have stepped up their efforts to curtail the spread of cholera by providing medicine, sanitation, and fresh water which has effectively lessened the number of people who are dying from the outbreak. For these reasons I feel that the world has not given up on helping Haiti.”

As with the first set of student essays, we can apply the HCTSR to determine which level of the Rubric offers

What Are Scoring Rubrics?

Rubrics articulate the criteria used for judging different levels of performance. If you were the instructor of this course how might you use a rubric like the HCTSR to help your students learn? As a student, how might you use this rubric to develop your peers’ critical thinking? How about your own?

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the best description of the reasoning evident in that state- ment. When reading these four student essays on Haiti in order we find that each displays stronger critical thinking than the one before. Statement #4 is a good example of the top level, “strong”; student statement, #3 is “acceptable”; student statement #2 is “unacceptable” because it displays the problems listed in category 2 on the HCTSR; and state- ment #1 has many errors in thinking thereby qualifying it as “weak.”

At this early stage in our discussion of critical think- ing you only need to begin to differentiate among the four essays in terms of the quality of the critical thinking they displayed. As we go through the chapters in this book the more technical explanations for their relative strengths and weaknesses will become much clearer. In the meantime, what is important is that you are able to recognize that the critical thinking generally improves as you go from the ini- tial essay in the series on through to the fourth essay. As in real life, none of these four is absolutely dreadful and none is superbly stellar. But they do differ in the quality of the critical thinking displayed. Their differences will come

into better focus as you get deeper into this book and prog- ress in developing your own critical thinking.

The HCTSR is a great tool to use to evaluate the quality of the critical thinking evident in lots of different situations: classroom discussions, papers, essays, panel presentations, commercials, blog posts, Yelp reviews, editorials, letters to editors, news conferences, infomercials, commentator’s remarks, speeches, jury deliberations, planning sessions, meetings, debates, or your own private thoughts. Keep the focus on the reasoning. The key thing is that people have to express some kind of a reason or basis for whatever it is that

A Healthy Sense of Skepticism

Critical thinking is skeptical without being cynical. It is open-minded without being wishy-washy. It is analytical without being nitpicky. Critical thinking can be decisive without being stubborn, evaluative without being judgmental, and forceful without being opinionated.

THINKING CRITICALLY Who’s Supposed to Help? If you lost your home in a natural disaster, how many months and years would you and your family be willing to live in a temporary tent city? What if your government was unwilling or unable to provide more suitable housing, food, water, and loans to rebuild your home and business? Perhaps it is not the government's responsibility to offer those kinds of assistance.

If not, is it any organization's responsibility? Perhaps a church, a university, or a charity? Or should the hurt and homeless after a natural disaster simply be left to fend for themselves? Whatever your view, articulate your reasons and then evaluate your reasoning using the HCTSR.

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The Power of Critical Thinking 15

they are saying. It is tough to apply the HCTSR to tweets, slogans, gestures, signs, billboards, and epithets because reasons are seldom given in those cases.

Do not let the fact that you may agree or disagree with the particular conclusions being advocated sway you. Do not worry if you feel unsure of yourself, having used the HCTSR only a couple of times so far. There will be plenty of additional opportunities for you to practice with it in the exercises in this chapter and in future chapters. Like a new pair of shoes, the use of the tool will feel more comfort- able with time. Think of it this way: The more you use the HCTSR, and the more adept you become at sorting out why something represents stronger or weaker critical thinking, the more you will improve your own critical thinking.

When people first begin using a rubric like the HCTSR, it is important they calibrate their scoring with one

Summing up this chapter, critical thinking is the process of purposeful, reflective judgment focused on deciding what to believe or what to do. Neither negative nor cynical, but thoughtful and fair- minded, critical thinking is essential for learning, is a liber- ating force in education, and a precondition for a free and democratic society. Strong critical thinking is a tremendous

asset in one’s personal, professional, and civic life. We all have some level of skill in critical thinking and we all have the capacity to improve those skills. In the next Chapter we will examine more deeply the specific skills and habits of mind that are central to critical thinking.

Key Concept Critical thinking is the process of purposeful, reflec- tive judgment. Critical thinking manifests itself in giv- ing reasoned and fair-minded consideration to evidence,

conceptualizations, methods, contexts, and standards to decide what to believe or what to do.

Applications Reflective Log What did you decide? Think back over today and yester- day. Describe a problem you faced or a decision which you considered. Who was involved, and what was the issue? Describe how you thought about that problem or deci- sion—not so much what you decided or what solution you picked, but the process you used. Were you open-minded about various options, systematic in your approach, cou- rageous enough to ask yourself tough questions, bold enough to follow the reasons and evidence wherever they

led, inquisitive and eager to learn more before making a judgment, nuanced enough to see shades of gray rather than only stark black and white? Did you check your inter- pretations and analyses? Did you draw your inferences carefully? Were you as objective and fair-minded as you might have been? Explain your decision in your log with enough detail that would permit you to go back a week or two from now and evaluate your decision for the quality of the critical thinking it demonstrates.

another. Some individuals might initially rate something higher and others rate it lower. However, through mutual discussion, it is possible to help one another come to a rea- sonable consensus on a score. Identify two editorials and two letters to the editor that appear in your campus news- paper. Here is a good way to begin. Working with two or three other classmates, individually rate those letters and editorials with the HCTSR. After each of you have rated them, compare the scores everyone in your group initially assigned. Where the scores differ, discuss the critical think- ing evident in the editorials or letters, and come to con- sensus on a score. With practice and with what you will learn as you go through this book you will strengthen your critical thinking skills, including you’re ability to analyze, interpret and evaluate the claims people make, and the arguments they present.

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Individual Exercises Explain the mistake. One sign that we understand con- cepts well is our ability to explain the mistake or mistakes when they are used incorrectly. Here are 23 mistaken state- ments related to critical thinking and its value. Briefly describe the mistake in each. Use examples from your own experience if those help clarify your explanation.

1. Critical thinking has no application in day-to-day life.

2. If critical thinking is purposeful judgment, then if I do not agree with your judgment, that means I’m not thinking critically.”

3. “Critical thinking” means being critical. That’s too much constant hostility. We should all just relax and agree.

4. Democracies get along just fine even if people do not think for themselves.

5. Decisions about how I want to live my life do not affect other people.

6. Reflective decision making requires little or no effort.

7. I’m always disagreeing with authority figures, so I must be a great critical thinker.

8. If we disagree on something, then one of us is not using critical thinking.

9. Every time I make a judgment, I am engaged in critical thinking.

10. Teaching young people to think critically will only result in their losing friends.

11. Reasons are irrelevant; having the right opinion is the only thing that matters.

12. Some people achieve popularity, wealth, and power without appearing to be strong critical thinkers, but you’re saying that this can’t happen to me.

13. We cannot be responsible for what we were taught to believe when we were children. We can try to apply critical thinking to those beliefs, but we can never change our minds about them.

14. I’m already very confident in my critical thinking ability, so there is no reason for me to go any further in this book.

15. If critical thinking is a mental process, then it will not help me learn the informational content of my other college courses.

16. You only are going to make trouble for yourself by rocking the boat with challenging questions and demands for reasons and evidence. Hey, you got to go along to get along.

17. I like many of the things that my city, county, state, and national governments do, so I must be a weak critical thinker.

18. It is fine to apply critical thinking in education, business, science, law enforcement, and international problems, but there is no place for critical thinking in religious matters.

19. Looking at the HCTSR, I find that my family and friends do not seem to be very good critical thinkers, so I don’t have much of a chance to become one either.

20. People should not be taught critical thinking because it will only undermine their faith in their leaders.

21. If you are a strong critical thinker you will automatically be an ethical person.

22. Every government wants its citizens to be strong critical thinkers.

23. Once you become adept at engaging problems and making decisions using strong critical thinking, it is easy to quit.

Don’t think! Critical thinking takes effort! Why work so hard? Imagine what it would be like to live in a com- munity where critical thinking was illegal. What might the risks and benefits of such a life be? How would the people living in that community redress grievances, solve problems, plan for the future, evaluate options, and pursue their individual and joint purposes? Now imagine what it would be like to live in a community where critical thinking was unnecessary. Can there be such a place, except perhaps as human specimens in some other species’ zoo?

SHARED RESPONSE Positive Critical Thinking From your own experience, share one recent positive example of critical thinking, like the 10 we described near the beginning of Chapter 1. Explain why your example shows strong critical thinking. Be sure to provide your reason(s), not just your opinion. And comment respectfully on the examples others offer.

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The Power of Critical Thinking 17

Group Exercises The words or the message? A master of irony, the late comedian George Carlin said critical thinking can be “Dangerous!” Just search “Carlin critical thinking” on the Internet. Carlin said some are so worried about the risks to their own power and position that they do not see the benefits to their organization’s core purposes if employees or members are strong critical thinkers. Unscrupulous mega-corporations and Machiavellian leaders might well ponder the question of how to dis- tract, divert, or derail other people’s critical thinking so that they can maintain their own power and con- trol. Carlin warned us not to swallow the mental junk food being served up by those whose only purpose is to maintain their own personal and corporate power and control. Carlin used a lot of vulgarity and potentially offensive language in his routines, which is unfortunate since people can be put off by the words and not hear the message. The questions for group discussion are: “Can strong critical thinkers identify the good ideas and claims a person may be making in spite of the person’s off-putting way of expressing himself?” And, “Does the use of vile, vulgar, or offensive language exempt others from the obligation to think about the good ideas that may be contained in what the person is saying?”

Be hard on your opinions: Comedian and philosopher Tim Minchin offers nine stunningly simple yet powerful pieces of advice to the graduating class of his alma mater, the University of Western Australia. A romantic at heart,

he urges each of us to embrace our chance existence and to fill our lives with learning, compassion, sharing, enthusiasm, exercise, love and more. Minchin notes the importance of critical thinking when he recommends that we should be hard on our own opinions. This bit, point five, comes 6:17 into his talk. Search for the video of his twelve minute address on the Internet. By search- ing “Minchin commencement address 2013” we found a video of Minchin’s September 2013 address posted on several websites including upworthy.com. List his nine points, and consider specifically point five. Is there a good reason to wait until you graduate before consider- ing whether there is value for you in what Minchin has to say? In other words, are any of his nine points relevant for college students, or only for graduates? Give reasons for your opinions about the relevance or non-relevance of each of the nine.

What are we thinking? If we learn best from our mis- takes, then what can the international community learn about how best to assist a nation in recovering from cat- astrophic events given the experiences like Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, the 2011 tsunami that hit Japan, or the sustained subzero tem- peratures, floods, and winter ice storms in the Northern Hemisphere during the winter of 2014? Discuss these catastrophes, respond to the question concerning what can be learned, and provide reasons and evidence in support of your group’s response to the question.

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Learning Outcomes

2.1 Contrast the positive vs. the negative critical thinking mindset. Describe four specific ways a person can continuously cultivate a positive critical thinking mindset.

2.2 Write a set of investigative questions about a current event or topic of broad interest such that the questions engage each of the six core critical thinking skills.

2.3 Take charge of your own learning: Analyze the organization of this book focusing on which skills or parts of the critical thinking process are emphasized in each chapter. Describe how you anticipate applying those skills, including the art of asking good questions, to the other courses you are taking now or expect to be taking soon.

Chapter 2

Critical Thinking Mindset and Skills

HOW can I cultivate positive critical thinking habits of mind?

WHAT questions can I ask to engage my critical thinking skills?

HOW will this book help me to develop my critical thinking?

In Apollo 13, Tom Hanks and Kevin Bacon portray astronauts working together using critical thinking to identify the exact problem threatening their mission and their lives.

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Critical Thinking Mindset and Skills 19

After training for every conceivable contingency, the unexpected happened. Initially, the challenge was simply to figure out what the problem was. If it could be correctly identified, then there might be some slim chance of sur- vival. If not, the outcome could be tragic. Ron Howard’s award-winning documentary, Apollo 13, is a dramatic reen- actment of the breathtaking voyage that had the whole nation rooting for the three astronauts whose lives hung in the balance. The actors, music, camera angles, staging, props, and lighting all contribute to our overall experience. That said, this portrayal of individual and group prob- lem solving is so highly consistent with the research on human cognition and decision making that it just might be the best depiction of group critical thinking ever filmed.1 The problem is simple, yet vitally important. What could the problem be? If the crew and the ground control person- nel apply their reasoning skills to the best of their ability, perhaps they will identify the problem before the crew’s electricity and breathable air run out. The situation is dire. More than their thinking skills only, it is the mental habits of being analytical, focused, and systematic that empower the technicians, engineers, and astronauts to apply those skills well during the crisis. Locate Apollo 13 and watch the memorable scene described below.

2.1 Positive Critical Thinking Habits of Mind

The Apollo 13 sequence opens with the staff at Mission Control in Houston and the three-person crew of Apollo 13 well into the boredom of rou- tine housekeeping. Suddenly, the crew of Apollo 13 hears a loud banging noise and their small, fragile craft starts gyrating wildly. The startled look on Tom Hanks’s face in the video reenact- ment is priceless. A full 15 seconds elapses before he speaks. During that time his critical thinking is in overdrive. He is trying to interpret what has just happened. His mind has to make sense of the entirely unexpected and unfamiliar experience. He neither dismisses nor ignores the new infor- mation that presents itself. His attention moves between checking the craft’s instrument panel and attending to the sounds and motions of the spacecraft itself. He focuses his mind, forms a cautious but accurate interpretation, and with the disciplined self-control we expect of a well- trained professional, he informs Mission Control in Houston, Texas, that they most definitely have a problem!2

At first, the astronauts in the spacecraft and the technicians at Mission Control call out information

from their desk monitors and the spacecraft’s instrument displays. They crave information from all sources. They know they must share what they are learning with each other as quickly as they can in the hope that someone will be able to make sense out of things. They do not yet know which piece of information may be the clue to their life- or-death problem, but they have the discipline of mind to want to know everything that might be relevant. They have the confidence in their collective critical thinking skills to believe that this approach offers their best hope to identify the true problem.

One member of the ground crew calls out that O2 Tank Two is not showing any readings. That vital bit of informa- tion swooshes by unnoticed in the torrents of data. Soon a number of people begin proposing explanations: Perhaps the spacecraft had been struck by a meteor. Perhaps its radio antenna is broken. Perhaps the issue is instrumen- tation, rather than something more serious, like a loss of power.

The vital critical thinking skill of self-regulation is personified in the film by the character played by Ed Harris. His job is to monitor everything that is going on and to correct the process if he judges that it is get- ting off track. Harris’s character makes the claim that the problem cannot simply be instrumentation. The reason for that claim is clear and reasonable. The astronauts are reporting hearing loud bangs and feeling their spacecraft jolt and shimmy. The unspoken assumption, one every

After space capsule splashdown Navy Seals stabilize Apollo 13 with three astronauts aboard.

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pilot and technician understands in this context is that these physical manifestations—the noises and the shaking—would not be occurring if the problem were instrumentation. The conclusion Harris’s character expressed has the effect of directing everyone’s energy and attention toward one set of possibilities, those that would be considered real problems rather than toward the other set of possibilities. Had he categorized the problem as instrumentation, then everyone’s efforts would have been directed toward checking and verify- ing that the gauges and computers were functioning properly.

There is an important critical thinking lesson in what we see Ed Harris doing. Judging correctly what kind of problem we are facing is essential. If we are mistaken about what the problem is, we are likely to consume time, energy, and resources exploring the wrong kinds of solu- tions. By the time we figure out that we took the wrong road, the situation could have become much worse than when we started. The Apollo 13 situation is a perfect example. In real life, had the people at Mission Control in Houston classified the problem as instrumentation, they would have used up what little oxygen there was left aboard the spacecraft while the ground crew spent time validating their instrument readouts.

Back on the spacecraft, Tom Hanks, who personifies the critical thinking skills of interpretation and inference, is struggling to regain navigational control. He articulates the inference by saying that had they been hit by a meteor, they would all be dead already. A few moments later he glances out the spacecraft’s side window. Something in the rearview mirror catches his attention. Again, his inquisi- tive mind will not ignore what he’s seeing. A few seconds pass as he tries to interpret what it might be. He offers his first observation that the craft is venting something into space. The mental focus and stress of the entire Houston ground crew are etched on their faces. Their expressions reveal the question in their minds: What could he possibly be seeing? Seconds pass with agonizing slowness. Using his interpretive skills, Tom Hanks categorizes with caution and then, adding greater precision, he infers that the vent- ing must be some kind of a gas. He pauses to try to figure out what the gas might be and realizes that it must surely be the oxygen. Kevin Bacon looks immediately to the oxy- gen tank gauge on the instrument panel for information that might confirm or disconfirm whether it really is the oxygen. It is.

Being by habit inclined to anticipate consequences, everyone silently contemplates the potential tragedy implied by the loss of oxygen. As truth-seekers, they must accept the finding. They cannot fathom denying it or hid- ing from it. Their somber response comes in the form of Mission Control’s grim but objective acknowledgment that the spacecraft is venting.

OK, now we have the truth. What are we going to do about it? The characters depicted in this movie are driven by a powerful orientation toward using critical thinking to resolve whatever problems they encounter. The room erupts with noise as each person refocuses on their little piece of the problem. People are moving quickly, talking fast, pulling headset wires out of sockets in their haste. The chaos and cacophony in the room reveal that the group is not yet taking a systematic, organized approach. Monitoring this, Ed Harris’s character interjects another self-correction into the group’s critical thinking. He may not yet know how this problem of the oxygen supply is going to be solved or even whether this problem can be solved, but he is going to be sure that the ground crew addresses it with all the skill and all the mental power it can muster. He directs everyone to locate whomever they may need to assist them in their work, and to focus themselves and those others immediately on working the problem.

As depicted in this excerpt, the combined ground crew and spacecraft crew, as a group, would earn a top score on “Holistic Critical Thinking Scoring Rubric.” The emotions and stresses of the situation are unmistakable. The group’s powerfully strong critical thinking habits of mind enable the group to use that energy productively. It gives urgency to the efforts. Thus, the message about our thinking processes that emerges is that emotion need not be the antithesis to reason; emotion can be the impetus to reason.

“To repeat what others have said requires education, to challenge it requires brains.”

Mary Pettiborn Poole, Author3

The Spirit of a Strong Critical Thinker In the film skillful actors displayed the behaviors and responses of strong critical thinkers engaged in problem solving during a crisis. Authors of screenplays and nov- els often endow their protagonists with strongly positive critical thinking skills and dispositions. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s brilliantly analytical Sherlock Holmes, played in this century by Jonny Lee Miller in the CBS series Elementary, by Benedict Cumberbatch in the PBS series Sherlock, and in the movies by Robert Downey Jr., comes to mind. Matthew McConaughey’s dark, driven, and keenly observant character on HBO’s series True Detective is another rich example. A key difference, of course, is that fictional detectives solve the mysteries, while, as we all know, in the real world there is no guarantee. Critical thinking is about how we approach problems, decisions, questions, and issues even if ultimate success eludes us.

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Critical Thinking Mindset and Skills 21

Having the mindset that disposes us to engage our skills as best we can is the “eager” part of “skilled and eager.” First we will examine the “eager” part, beginning with taking a closer look at the overall critical thinking mindset. Later in this chapter we will examine the “skilled” part, the core critical thinking skills.

“It is an old maxim of mine that when you have excluded the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.”

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Author4

Positive vs. Negative Habits of Mind A person with a strong disposition toward critical think- ing has the consistent internal motivation to engage prob- lems and make decisions by using critical thinking.5 Operationally this means three things: The person con- sistently values critical thinking, believes that using criti- cal thinking skills offers the greatest promise for reaching good judgments, and intends to approach problems and decisions by applying critical thinking skills as best as he or she can. This combination of values, beliefs, and inten- tions forms the habits of mind that dispose the person toward critical thinking.6

Someone strongly disposed toward critical thinking would probably agree with the following statements:

“I hate talk shows where people shout their opinions but never give any reasons at all.”

“Figuring out what people really mean by what they say is important to me.”

“I always do better in jobs where I’m expected to think things out for myself.”

“I hold off making decisions until I have thought through my options.”

“Rather than relying on someone else’s notes, I prefer to read the material myself.”

“I try to see the merit in another’s opinion, even if I reject it later.”

“Even if a problem is tougher than I expected, I will keep working on it.”

“Making intelligent decisions is more important than winning arguments.”

Persons who display a strong positive disposition toward critical thinking are described in the literature as “having a critical spirit,” or as people who are “mind- ful,” “reflective,” and “meta-cognitive.” These expressions give a person credit for consistently applying their critical

thinking skills to whatever problem, question, or issue is at hand. People with a critical spirit tend to ask good ques- tions, probe deeply for the truth, inquire fully into mat- ters, and strive to anticipate the consequences of various options. In real life our skills may or may not be strong enough, our knowledge may or may not be adequate to the task at hand. The problem may or may not be too dif- ficult for us. Forces beyond our control might or might not determine the actual outcome. None of that cancels out the positive critical thinking habits of mind with which strong critical thinkers strive to approach the problems life sends their way.

A person with weak critical thinking dispositions might disagree with the previous statements and be more likely to agree with these:

“I prefer jobs where the supervisor says exactly what to do and exactly how to do it.”

“No matter how complex the problem, you can bet there will be a simple solution.”

“I don’t waste time looking things up.”

“I hate when teachers discuss problems instead of just giving the answers.”

“If my belief is truly sincere, evidence to the contrary is irrelevant.”

“Selling an idea is like selling cars; you say whatever works.”

“Why go to the library when you can use made-up quotes and phony references?”

“I take a lot on faith because questioning the funda- mentals frightens me.”

“There is no point in trying to understand what terror- ists are thinking.”

When it comes to approaching specific questions, issues, decisions or problems, people with a weak or nega- tive critical thinking disposition are apt to be impulsive, reactive, muddle-headed, disorganized, overly simplistic, spotty about getting relevant information, likely to apply unreasonable criteria, easily distracted, ready to give up at the least hint of difficulty, intent on a solution that is more detailed than is possible, or too readily satisfied with some uselessly vague response.

Preliminary Self-Assessment It is only natural to wonder about our own disposition. The “Critical Thinking Mindset Self-Rating Form” offers us a way of reflecting on our own values, beliefs, and intentions about the use of critical thinking. As noted on the form itself, “This tool offers only a rough approximation with regard to a brief moment in time.”

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We invite you to take a moment and complete the self- assessment. Keep in mind as you interpret the results that this measure does not assess critical thinking skills. Rather, this tool permits one to reflect on whether, over the past two days, the disposition manifested in behavior was positive, ambivalent, or averse toward engaging in thoughtful, reflective, and fair-minded judgments about what to believe or what to do.

Research on the Positive Critical Thinking Mindset The broad understanding of being disposed toward using critical thinking, or disposed away from using critical

thinking, has been the object of empirical research in the cognitive sciences since the early 1990s. This research has given greater precision to the analysis and measurement of the dispositional dimension of critical thinking.

SEVEN POSITIVE CRITICAL THINKING HABITS OF MIND One research approach to identifying the elements in a positive critical thinking mindset involved asking thousands of people to indicate the extent to which they agreed or disagreed with a long list of statements, not un- like those in the two short lists presented above. Using statistical analysis, these researchers identified seven mea- surable aspects within the overall disposition toward criti- cal thinking. We can think of these as the seven positive

Critical Thinking Mindset Self-Rating Form Answer yes or no to each. Can I name any specific instances over the past two days when I:

1. was courageous enough to ask tough ques- tions about some of my longest held and most cherished beliefs?

2. backed away from questions that might undercut some of my longest held and most cherished beliefs?

3. showed tolerance toward the beliefs, ideas, or opinions of someone with whom I disagreed?

4. tried to find information to build up my side of an argument but not the other side?

5. tried to think ahead and anticipate the conse- quences of various options?

6. laughed at what other people said and made fun of their beliefs, values, opinion, or points of views?

7. made a serious effort to be analytical about the foreseeable outcomes of my decisions?

8. manipulated information to suit my own purposes?

9. encouraged peers not to dismiss out of hand the opinions and ideas other people offered?

10. acted with disregard for the possible adverse consequences of my choices?

11. organized for myself a thoughtfully systematic approach to a question or issue?

12. jumped in and tried to solve a problem without first thinking about how to approach it?

13. approached a challenging problem with confi- dence that I could think it through?

14. instead of working through a question for myself, took the easy way out and asked someone else for the answer?

15. read a report, newspaper, or book chapter or watched the world news or a documentary just to learn something new?

16. put zero effort into learning something new until I saw the immediate utility in doing so?

17. showed how strong I was by being willing to honestly reconsider a decision?

18. showed how strong I was by refusing to change my mind?

19. attended to variations in circumstances, con- texts, and situations in coming to a decision?

20. refused to reconsider my position on an issue in light of differences in context, situations, or circumstances?

If you have described yourself honestly, this self-rating form can offer a rough estimate of what you think your overall dis- position toward critical thinking has been in the past two days.

Give yourself 5 points for every “Yes” on odd numbered items and for every “No” on even numbered items. If your total is 70 or above, you are rating your disposition toward critical thinking over the past two days as generally positive. Scores of 50 or lower indicate a self-rating that is averse or hostile toward critical thinking over the past two days. Scores between 50 and 70 show that you would rate yourself as dis- playing an ambivalent or mixed overall disposition toward criti- cal thinking over the past two days.

Interpret results on this tool cautiously. At best this tool offers only a rough approximation with regard to a brief moment in time. Other tools are more refined, such as the California Critical Thinking Disposition Inventory, which gives results for each of the seven critical thinking habits of mind.

© 2009 Measured Reasons LLC, Hermosa Beach, CA. Used with permission of the authors and Measured Reasons LLC.

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critical thinking habits of mind.7 Based on this research, we can describe someone who has all seven positive critical thinking habits of mind as a person who is:

Truth-seeking—meaning that the person has intel- lectual integrity and a courageous desire to actively strive for the best possible knowledge in any given sit- uation. A truth-seeker asks probing questions and fol- lows reasons and evidence wherever they lead, even if the results go against his or her cherished beliefs.

Open-minded—meaning that the person is tolerant of divergent views and sensitive to the possibility of his or her own possible biases. An open-minded person respects the right of others to have different opinions.

Analytical—meaning that the person is habitually alert to potential problems and vigilant in antici- pating consequences and trying to foresee short- term and long-term outcomes of events, decisions, and actions. Another word to describe this habit of mind might be “foresightful.”

Systematic—meaning that the person consistently endeavors to take an organized and thorough approach to identifying and resolving problems. The systematic person is orderly, focused, persis- tent, and diligent in his or her approach to prob- lem solving, learning, and inquiry.

Confident in reasoning—meaning that the per- son is trustful of his or her own reasoning skills to yield good judgments. A person’s or a group’s confidence in their own critical thinking may or may not be warranted, which is another matter.

Inquisitive—meaning that the person habitually strives to be well informed, wants to know how things work, and seeks to learn new things about a wide range of topics, even if the immediate util- ity of knowing those things is not directly evident. The inquisitive person has a strong sense of intel- lectual curiosity.

Judicious—meaning that the per- son approaches problems with a sense that some are ill structured and some can have more than one plausible solution. The judicious person has the cognitive matu- rity to realize that many ques- tions and issues are not black and white and that, at times, judg- ments must be made in contexts of uncertainty.

The Disposition toward Critical Thinking

NEGATIVE HABITS OF MIND After the measurement tools were refined and validated for use in data gather- ing, the results of repeated samplings showed that some people are strongly positive on one or more of the seven positive mindset attributes. Some people are ambivalent or negatively disposed on one or more of the seven.

We can associate a name to the negative end of the scale for each of the seven, just as we associated a name with the positive end of each scale. The “Critical Thinking Habits of Mind” chart lists the names, for both positive and negative attributes. A person’s individual disposi- tional portrait emerges from the seven, for a person may be positive, ambivalent, or negative on each.

Critical Thinking Habits of Mind


Intellectually Dishonest


Heedless of Consequences


Hostile toward Reason







Confident in Reasoning




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and what he believes (wrongly) about the ways it might be transmitted. His character uses his critical thinking skills, which turn out to be quite formidable as the film progresses. But his beliefs about AIDS are simply wrong. He makes a judgment at the time not to represent Hanks’s character. It is not the same judgment he will make later in the film, after he becomes better informed. Fortunately, he has the open-mindedness to entertain the possibility of representing Hanks’s character, that perhaps Hanks’s character does have a winnable case, and that perhaps the risks associated with AIDS are not as great as he had at first imagined. He has the inquisitiveness and the truth- seeking skills to gather more accurate information. And

In the award-winning film Philadelphia, Denzel Washington plays a personal liability litigator who is not above increasing the amount a client seeks for “pain and suffering” by hinting to the client that he may have more medical problems than the client had at first noticed. Locate the film and watch the scene where a new poten- tial client, played by Tom Hanks, visits Washington’s office seeking representation. The scene starts out with Denzel Washington talking to a different client—a man who wants to sue the city over a foolish accident that the man brought upon himself. The scene establishes that Washington is a hungry lawyer who will take almost any case. Tom Hanks comes into the office and says that he wants to sue his former employer, believing that he was wrongly fired from his job because he has AIDS. You would think that Washington would jump at this opportunity. There is a lot of money to be made if he can win the case. Truth-seeking demands that the real reason for the firing be brought to light. But at this point in the story, Washington declines to take the case.

Notice what the filmmakers do with the camera angles to show what Washington is thinking as he con- siders what to do. His eyes focus on the picture of his wife and child, on the skin lesion on Hanks’s head, and on the cigars and other things Hanks touches. The story takes place during the early years when the general pub- lic did not understand AIDS well at all. It was a time when prejudices, homophobia, and misinformation sur- rounded the disease. Washington’s character portrays the uncertainty and misplaced fears of the U.S. public at that time. Not understanding AIDS or being misin- formed, Washington’s character is frightened for himself and for his family. Notice how he stands in the very far corner of his office, as physically far away from Hanks’s character as pos- sible. He wipes his hand against his trousers after shaking hands. The nonverbal thinking cues are so well done by the filmmakers that we are not surprised when Washington, having thought things through, refuses to take the case.

There is no question that critical thinking is wonder- fully powerful. Yet, by itself i t i s incomplete . We need knowledge, values, and sen- sitivities to guide our think- ing. Washington’s character is sensitive to what he thinks are the dangers of the disease

Some Habits Are Desirable, Others Are Not

The expressions mental disciplines and mental virtues can be used to refer to habits of mind as well. The word disciplines in a military context and the word virtues in an ethical context both suggest something positive. We use habits of mind, or at times personal attributes, or mindset elements, because these expressions are neutral. Some habits of mind, personal attributes, or mindset elements are positive, others not. A habit of mind like truth-seeking is positive. Other habits of mind, like indifference or intellectual dishonesty, are negative.

In Philadelphia, the plaintiff, played by Tom Hanks, and his lawyer, played by Denzel Washington, wade through a crowd of reporters. How does Denzel Washington’s character use critical thinking throughout the course of the film?

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he has the judiciousness to reconsider and to change his mind.

“If we were compelled to make a choice between these personal attributes [of a thoughtful person] and knowledge about the principles of logical reasoning together with some degree of technical skill manipulating special logical processes, we should decide for the former.”

John Dewey, How We Think8

Is a Good Critical Thinker Automatically a Good Person? To get a clearer sense of the colossal problems that result from our collective failures to anticipate consequences, watch the documentary film The Unforeseen (2007, directed by Laura Dunn). It is the remarkable story of the loss of quality of life and environmental degradation associated with real estate development in Austin, Texas, over the past 50 years. What if the city planners or the developers, when undertaking their due diligence, actually became aware from the evidence that they were setting the stage for serious future environmental problems? And what if, knowing that, they decided to move ahead anyway with the project? Thinking about these hypothetical questions makes us wonder about the ethics of the decision makers involved. Similarly, thinking about Denzel Washington’s character in Philadelphia, raises the question: “Does having strong critical thinking skills make a person ethical?”

We have been using the expression “strong critical thinker” instead of “good critical thinker” because of the ambiguity of the word good. We want to praise the per- son’s critical thinking without necessarily making a judg- ment about the person’s ethics. For example, a person can be adept at developing cogent arguments and adroit at finding the flaws in other people’s reasoning, but that same person can use these skills unethically to mislead and exploit a gullible person, perpetrate a fraud, or delib- erately confuse, confound, and frustrate a project.

A person can be strong at critical thinking, meaning that the person can have the appropriate dispositions, and be adept using his or her critical thinking skill, but still not be an ethical critical thinker. Take, for example, the remarkably deceitful Congressman Francis Underwood played by Kevin Spacey and his equally manipulative wife Claire Underwood played by Robin Wright from the Netflix series House of Cards. Or, consider the Machiavellian pope, Alexander VI, AKA Rodrigo Borgia, played by Jeremy Irons from the Showtime series The Borgias. These film characters use strong critical thinking to exploit, mislead, manipulate, and coerce whomever it takes to achieve their interests. Compelling examples however are not limited to the big screen. There have been people with superior thinking skills who, unfor- tunately, have used their talents for ruthless, horrific, and unethical purposes. It would be great if critical thinking and ethical virtue were one and the same. But they are not.

At times people make a public confession of the shame- less efforts to figure out how to deceive others. Consider, for example, the revelations that Victor Crawford, a tobacco lobbyist, made in his 60 Minutes interview with Leslie Stahl. For excerpts search the Internet for “Victor Crawford Leslie

Stahl.” Crawford admits that he deliberately mislead and manipu- lated legislators and the general public to advance the interests of the tobacco industry. He says, “Was I lying? Yes, yes. . . Yes, yes. . . Of course. My job was to win. . . . Even if you’re going out lying about a product that’s gonna hurt kids.”9 Ms. Stahl calls him out, saying that he was unethical and despicable to act that way. For years Crawford used his critical thinking skills to confuse and deceive consum- ers so that his corporate masters could sell a product known to be addictive and deadly. Now, all these years later, he regrets having done that. The interview is part of his effort to make amends for his lies and the harm they may have caused to others.

Francis and Claire remind us in every episode that some strong critical thinkers are criminally unethical.

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Critical thinking is very useful in ethical decision making, but like any tool or process, it can be applied to unworthy and shameful purposes as well.

They spend billions of dollars every year lobbying . . . lobbying, to get what they want. . . . Well, we know what they want. They want more for themselves and less for everybody else, but I’ll tell you what they don’t want . . . they don’t want a population of citizens capable of critical thinking. They don’t want well informed, well educated people capable of critical thinking. They’re not interested in that . . . that doesn’t help them. That’s against their interests.

George Carlin, Comedian10

Cultivate a Positive Critical Thinking Mindset Critical thinking skills can be strengthened by exercising them, which is what the examples and the exercises in this book are intended to help you do. Critical thinking habits of mind can be nurtured by internalizing the values that they embody and by reaffirming the intention each day to live by those values.11 Here are four specific suggestions about how to go about this.

1. Value Critical Thinking. If we value critical thinking, we desire to be ever more truth-seeking, open-minded, mindful of consequences, systematic, inquisitive, con- fident in our critical thinking, and mature in our judg- ment. We will expect to manifest that desire in what we do and in what we say. We will seek to improve our critical thinking skills.

2. Take Stock. It is always good to know where we are in our journey. The “Critical Thinking Disposition Self- Rating Form,” presented earlier in this chapter (page 22), will give us a rough idea. If we have general positive critical thinking habits of mind, that should show up in the score we give ourselves using this self-rating form.

3. Be Alert for Opportunities. Each day we should be alert for opportunities to make decisions and solve problems reflectively. Rather than just reacting, take some time each day to be as reflective and thought- ful as possible in addressing at least one of the many problems or decisions of the day.

4. Forgive and Persist. Forgive yourself if you happen to backslide. Pick yourself up and get right back on the path. These are ideals we are striving to achieve. We each need discipline, determination, and persistence. There will be missteps along the way, but do not let them deter you. Working with a friend, mentor, or role model might make it easier to be successful, but it is really about what you want for your own thinking process.

THINKING CRITICALLY How Does TV Portray Critical Thinking? You can do this exercise by yourself or with a classmate. This exercise requires watching TV for two hours. Begin with a clean piece of paper and draw a vertical line down the mid- dle of the page. Mark one side + and the other –. With pen- cil and paper in hand, watch CBS, NBC, or ABC, or a major cable network that shows commercials along with its regu- lar programming. Pay close attention to the commercials, not the regular programming. Note each of the people who appear on screen. If you judge that a person is portrayed as a strong critical thinker, note it (e.g., Woman in car commer- cial +). If you think a person is portrayed as a weak critical thinker, note that (e.g., Three guys in beer commercial - - -). If you cannot tell (e.g., in the car commercial there were two kids riding in the back seat but they were not doing or saying anything), do not make any notation. After watching only the commercials during one hour of programming, total up the

plusses and the minuses. Now repeat the same activity for another hour, but this time pay attention only to the regular programming, not the commercials. Again note every char- acter who appears and indicate on the paper if the person is generally portrayed as a strong critical thinker (e.g., evil bad guy +, clever detective +) or a weak critical thinker (e.g., victim who foolishly walked into the dark alley alone –). Tally up the plusses and minuses. Based on your observations, is there a tendency or pattern that might be evident regard- ing the critical thinking strengths or weaknesses of children, adolescents, young adults, middle-aged people, and senior citizens?

Alternative: Or do the exercise with old episodes of Breaking Bad, Dexter, Mad Men, and Law and Order SVU.

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Critical Thinking Mindset and Skills 27

2.2 Core Critical Thinking Skills

We have talked about the “eager” in the phrase “skilled and eager” to think critically. Now let’s explore the “skilled” part by examining those mental skills that are at the core of purposeful reflective judgment.

Interpreting and Analyzing the Consensus Statement When thinking about the meaning and importance of the term “critical thinking” in Chapter 1, we referred to an expert consensus. That consensus identified certain cognitive skills as being central to critical thinking. Their research findings are shown below.12 Let’s unpack their quote. The experts identify six skills:

Interpretation Evaluation Explanation Analysis Inference Self-Regulation

As the Delphi definition of the critical thinking pro- cess indicates,13 we apply these six skills to:

Evidence (facts, experiences, statements)

Conceptualizations (ideas, theories, ways of seeing the world)

Methods (strategies, techniques, approaches)

Criteria (standards, benchmarks, expectations)

Context (situations, conditions, circumstances)

We are expected to ask a lot of tough questions about all five areas. For example, How good is the evidence? Do these concepts apply? Were the methods appropri- ate? Are there better methods for investigating this ques- tion? What standard of proof should we be using? How rigorous should we be? What circumstantial factors might lead us to revise our opinions? Good critical think- ers are ever-vigilant, monitoring and correcting their own thinking.

Putting the Positive Critical Thinking Mindset into Practice Here are a few suggestions about ways to translate each of the seven positive attributes into action.

Truth-seeking – Ask courageous and probing questions. Think deeply about the reasons and evidence for and against a given decision you must make. Pick one or two of your own most cherished beliefs, and ask yourself what reasons and what evidence there are for and against those beliefs.

Open-mindedness – Listen patiently to someone who is offering opinions with which you do not agree. As you listen, show respect and tolerance toward the person offering the ideas. Show that you understand (not the same as “agree with”) the opinions being presented.

Analyticity – Identify an opportunity to consciously pause to ask yourself about all the foreseeable and likely consequences of a decision you are making. Ask yourself what that choice, whether it is large or small, will mean for your future life and behavior.

Systematicity – Focus on getting more organized. Make lists of your most urgent work, family and educational

responsibilities, and your assignments. Make lists of the most important priorities and obligations as well. Compare the urgent with the important. Budget your time to take a systematic and methodical approach to fulfilling obligations.

Critical Thinking Confidence – Commit to resolve a challenging problem by reasoning it through. Embrace a question, problem, or issue that calls for a reasoned decision, and begin working on it yourself or in collaboration with others.

Inquisitiveness – Learn something new. Go out and seek information about any topic of interest, but not one that you must learn about for school or work, and let the world surprise you with its variety and complexity.

Judiciousness – Revisit a decision you made recently and consider whether it is still the right decision. See if any relevant new information has come to light. Ask if the results that had been anticipated are being realized. If warranted, revise the decision to better suit your new understanding of the state of affairs.

Delphi Definition of Critical Thinking

“We understand critical thinking to be purposeful, self-regulatory judgment which results in interpretation, analysis, evaluation, and inference, as well as explanation of the evidential, conceptual, methodological, criteriological, or contextual considerations upon which that judgment is based.”

— The Delphi Report, American Philosophical Association

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The Jury Is Deliberating In 12 Angry Men by Reginald Rose a jury deliberates the guilt or innocence of a young man accused of murder.14 The jury room is hot, the hour is late, and tempers are short. Ten of the twelve jurors have voted to convict when we join the story. In the classic American film ver- sion of Rose’s play, one of the two jurors who are still uncertain is Henry Fonda’s character.15 That character first analyzes the testimony of a pair of witnesses, putting what each said side by side. Using all his critical think- ing skills, he tries to reconcile their conflicting testimony. He asks how the old man could possibly have heard the accused man threaten the victim with the El Train roar- ing by the open window. From the facts of the situation, Fonda’s character has inferred that the old man could not have been telling the truth. Fonda then explains that infer- ence to the other jurors with a flawless argument. But the other jurors still want to know why an old man with apparently nothing to gain would not tell the truth. One of the other jurors, an old man himself, interprets that wit- ness’s behavior for his colleagues. The conversation then turns to the question of how to interpret the expression “I’m going kill you!” that the accused is alleged to have shouted. One juror wants to take it literally as a statement of intent. Another argues that context matters, that words and phrases cannot always be taken literally. Someone asks why the defense attorney did not bring up these

same arguments during his cross-examination of the wit- ness. In their evaluation, the jury does seem to agree on the quality of the defense—namely, that it was poor. One juror draws the conclusion that this means the lawyer thought his own client was guilty. But is that so? Could there be some other explanation or interpretation for the half-hearted defense?

The jury has the authority to question the quality of the evidence, to dispute the competing theories of the case that are presented by the prosecution and the defense, to find fault with the investigatory methods of the police, to dispute whether the doubts some members may have meet the criterion of “reasonable doubt” or not, and to take into consideration all the contextual and circumstantial ele- ments that may be relevant. In other words, a good jury is the embodiment of good critical thinking that a group of people practice. The stronger their collective skills, the greater the justice that will be done. To more fully appre- ciate the mix of emotion and interpersonal strife within which a group of people must make a life altering deci- sion, locate and watch 12 Angry Men. There are many great scenes in the classic release, particularly the El Train Scene.

“Pretending to know everything closes the door to what’s really there.”

Neil deGrasse Tyson, Scientist16

Critical Thinking Skills Fire in Many Combinations One way to present critical thinking skills is in the form of a list. But lists typically suggest that we move from one item to another in a predetermined step-by-step progres- sion, similar to pilots methodically working down the mandatory list of preflight safety checks. Critical thinking is not rote or scripted in the way that a list of skills might suggest.

Critical thinking is not the set of skills the experts identified, but rather it is using those skills in the process of making a ref lective, purposeful judgment. Imagine for a moment what it is like looking for an address while driving on a busy and unfamiliar street. To do this, we must simultaneously be coordinating the use of many skills, but fundamentally our focus is on the driving and not on the individual skills. We are concentrating on street signs and address numbers while also inter- preting traffic signals such as stoplights, and controlling the car’s speed, direction, and location relative to other vehicles. Driving requires coordinating physical skills such as how hard to press the gas or tap the brakes and mental skills such as analyzing the movement of our The old man could not possibly have heard the threat.

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vehicle relative to those around ours to avoid accidents. In the end, however, we say that we drove the car to the destination. We do not list all the skills, and we certainly do not practice them one by one in a serial order. Rather, we use them all in concert. Critical thinking has cer- tain important features in common with looking for an address while driving on a busy and unfamiliar street. The key similarity to notice here is that critical thinking requires using all the skills in concert, not one at a time or sequentially.

The intricate interaction of critical thinking skills in real-life problem solving and decision making may begin with an analysis, an interpretation, an inference, or an eval- uation. Then, using self-regulation, we may go back and check ourselves for accuracy. On other occasions, we may first draw an inference based on an interpretation and then evaluate our own inference. We may be explaining our rea- soning to someone and realize, because we are monitoring our own thinking, that our reasoning is not adequate. And this may lead us to recheck our analyses or our inferences to see where we may need to refine our thinking. That was what the jury, considered as a whole, was doing in 12 Angry Men—going back and forth among interpretation, analysis, inference, and evaluation, with Henry Fonda’s character as the person who called for more careful self- monitoring and self-correction. The jury’s deliberation demanded reflection, and an orderly analysis and evalu- ation of the facts, but deliberation is not constrained by adherence to a predetermined list or sequencing of mental events. Nor is critical thinking.

No, it would be an unfortunate and misleading over- simplification to reduce critical thinking to a list of skills, such as the recipe on the lid of dehydrated soup: first

Core Critical Thinking Skills Interact

analyze, then infer, then explain, then close the lid, and wait five minutes. To avoid the misimpressions that a list might engender, we need some other way of displaying the names of the skills.

We17 have always found it helpful when talking with college students and faculty around the world about criti- cal thinking skills to use the metaphor of a sphere with the names of the skills displayed randomly over its surface.18 Why a sphere? Three reasons.

First, organizing the names of the skills on a sphere is truer to our lived experience of engaging in reflective judgment, as indicated above. We have all experienced those moments when, in the mental space of a few sec- onds, our minds fly from interpretation to analysis to inference and evaluation as we try to sort out our thoughts before we commit ourselves to a particular decision. We may go back and forth interpreting what we are seeing, analyzing ideas and drawing tentative inferences, trying to be sure that we have things right before we make a judgment.

Second, a sphere does not presume any given order of events, which, for the present, is truer to the current state of the science. Maybe brain research will lead to refinements in our understanding of the biochemical basis and sequencing of higher order reasoning. But for the present, maturity of judgment suggests that we should not jump to conclusions.

Third, a sphere reminds us about another important characteristic of critical thinking skills, namely, that each can be applied to the other and to themselves.19 We can analyze our inferences. We can analyze our analyses. We can explain our interpretations. We can evaluate our explanations. We can monitor those pro- cesses and correct any mistakes we might see our- selves making. In this way, the core critical thinking skills can be said to interact.

Strengthening Our Core Critical Thinking Skills Musicians, salespeople, athletes, nurses, teachers, and soldiers strive to improve their likelihood of success by strengthening the skills needed in their respective pro- fessions. Even as they train in one skill or another, work- ing people must not lose sight of how those skills come together in their professional work. The quality of the concert, the number of sales made, the games won, the health care outcomes achieved, the learning accomplished, and the success of the mission—these are the outcomes that count. The same holds for critical thinkers. Success consists of making well-reasoned, reflective judgments to

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solve problems, and to make decisions effectively. Critical thinking skills are the tools we use to accomplish those purposes. In the driving example, our attention was on the challenges associated with reaching the intended street address. In real-world critical thinking, our attention will be on the challenges associated with solving the problem or making the decision at hand.

I cannot teach anybody anything, I can only make them think.

Socrates (469—399 BCE), Philosopher20

The Art of the Good Question There are many familiar questions that invite people to use their critical thinking skills. We can associate certain questions with certain skills. The table below gives some

examples.21 Often, our best critical thinking comes when we ask the right questions.22

Asking good questions, ones that promote critical think- ing, is a highly effective way to gather important informa- tion about a topic, to probe unspoken assumptions, to clarify issues, and to explore options. Asking good questions pro- motes strong problem solving and decision making, par- ticularly when we encounter unfamiliar issues or significant problems. Consider for a moment the topic of drilling to extract natural gas from shale. Natural gas as an alternative fuel source has not enjoyed the attention of the American population like solar energy or wind energy, mostly because it has been thought to be in short supply—until recently, that is. It turns out that natural gas can be harvested from shale rock formations two miles beneath the Earth’s surface. The technol- ogy behind shale gas drilling involves sideways drilling and a process called “fracking.” Over 30 states in the United States have underground shale beds and drilling in those regions

The Experts Worried That Schooling Might Be Harmful! The critical thinking expert panel we talked about in Chapter 1 was absolutely convinced that critical thinking is a pervasive and purposeful human phenomenon. They insisted that strong critical thinkers should be characterized not merely by the cognitive skills they may have, but also by how they approach life and living in general.

This was a bold claim. At that time schooling in most of the world was characterized by the memorization of received truths. At that time in the USA, the 1980s “back to basics” mantra echoed the pre-1960s Eisenhower era, when so much of schooling was focused on producing “interchangeable human parts” for an industrial manufacturing economy. Critical thinking that frees the mind to ask any question and evalu- ate any assumption naturally goes far beyond what the typical classroom was delivering. In fact, many of the experts feared that some of the things people experience in our schools could actually be harmful to the development and cultivation of strong critical thinking.

Critical thinking came before formal schooling was invented. It lies at the very roots of civilization. The experts saw critical thinking as a driving force in the human journey from ignorance, superstition, and savagery toward global understanding. Consider what life would be like without the things on this list, and you will appreciate why they had such confidence in strong critical thinking. The approaches to life and living, which the experts said characterized the strong critical thinker included:

inquisitiveness and a desire to remain well-informed with regard to a wide range of topics,

trust in the processes of reasoned inquiry,

self-confidence in one’s own abilities to reason,

open-mindedness regarding divergent world views,

flexibility in considering alternatives and opinions,

understanding of the opinions of other people,

fair-mindedness in appraising reasoning,

honesty in facing one’s own biases, prejudices, stereo- types, or egocentric tendencies,

prudence in suspending, making, or altering judgments,

willingness to reconsider and revise views where honest reflection suggests that change is warranted,

alertness to opportunities to use critical thinking.

The experts went beyond approaches to life and living in general to emphasize how strong critical thinkers approach specific issues, questions, or problems. The experts said we would find strong critical thinkers striving for:

clarity in stating the question or concern,

orderliness in working with complexity,

diligence in seeking relevant information,

reasonableness in selecting and applying criteria,

care in focusing attention on the concern at hand,

persistence though difficulties are encountered,

precision to the degree permitted by the subject and the circumstances.

Table 5, page 25. American Philosophical Association. 1990, Critical Thinking: An Source: Expert Consensus Statement for Purposes of Educational Assessment and Instruction. Used with permission from Insight Assessment-Measuring thinking worldwide. www.insightassessment.com.

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has made some homeowners into overnight millionaires. The drilling has given a boost to the local economies in terms of jobs and retail sales. But, as reported in 2011 by Lesley Stahl on 60 Minutes, and many more times by other news outlets in recent years, accidents and other safety concerns have peo- ple who live in drilling communities concerned. Those living near shale gas drill sites are questioning the contamination of the drinking water by the chemicals involved in the frack- ing process. In 2014 Lesley Stahl followed up with a piece on the myth of the clean tech crash. Search “60 Minutes fracking Stahl” to locate her reports. Notice how she uses her critical thinking skills to investigate and ask good questions.

Before forming an opinion for or against frack- ing under residential real estate in your community, as a

strong critical thinker you first would want to know more about this natural gas extraction method. Let’s try to think of good critical thinking questions to ask. You might ask “What is known about the environmental risks of the chemicals involved in the fracking processes?” or “What exactly is involved in establishing a new drill site in my community?” to promote interpretation. You could also ask “What are the statistics on the frequency and severity of the accidents and safety violations associated with shale gas drilling?” to promote inference. Perhaps we would ask “If our community were to permit fracking, what would be the economic impact of that decision, and for whom, and how long would we have to wait before seeing those benefits?” to promote evaluation. Or you could ask “Do

Questions to Fire Up Our Critical Thinking Skills







California Critical Thinking Skills Test

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my past statements in support of alternative energy poli- cies, or my financial interests in residential real estate, or my fears for the health and safety of myself and my fam- ily bias my review of the information about shale gas drill- ing?” to exercise our judiciousness habit of mind and our self-regulation skills.

Skills and Subskills Defined The six core critical thinking skills each has related sub- skills, as shown in the table Core Critical Thinking Skills. The descriptions in the table of each core skill come from

the expert consensus research discussed earlier.23 The experts provided this more refined level of analysis of the concept of “critical thinking skills” to assist students and teachers in finding examples and exercises that could help strengthen these skills. But, remember that “crit- ical thinking” does not refer to a package of skills. Rather, critical thinking is what we do with the skills—which is mak- ing purposeful reflective judg- ments about what to believe or what to do.

If you have access to an iPad, download the free Insight Assessment sample crit ical thinking test app. Search “criti- cal thinking” at the App Store. The app offers a five-question

critical thinking skills test and short critical thinking mindset survey.

2.3 Looking Ahead “Wait! If critical thinking is a process, why haven’t you authors given us the steps in that process? In fact, what you did say was that nobody knew the order in which the different critical thinking skills fire. So, if the process of critical thinking is not applying the skills one after another, then what is the process?”

You are correct, critical thinking as a process needs to be explained and illustrated. Throughout the first two chap- ters we equated the critical thinking process with thought- ful problem solving and fair-minded decision making. Every discipline from music composition to biochemistry and every professional field from military leadership to counseling psychology has its experts talking about how people working in those domains engage in problem solv- ing and decision making. Our question was this: Is there a more general way to describe the process, one that has applications across all the academic disciplines and profes- sional fields, and beyond. And, as decades of research by ourselves and others24 indicates, the answer, affirmed by the Delphi Panel, is a resounding Yes! Revealing, detailing, and guiding the correct application of that process, including each of the core skills, is what the rest of this book is about.

In Chapter 3 is an overview of the critical thinking process. There we present a basic five-step critical thinking process for problem solving. Then later in the book, when the timing is right, we refine that process in a chapter

Leslie Stahl, Investigative Reporter, interviews Valerie Jarrett, Senior Advisor to President Obama and Presidential Assistant for Public Engagement and Intergovernmental Affairs.

JOURNAL Engaging Critical Thinking Skills? In June of 2014 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that if a family owns a corporation that corporation is exempted from one of the provisions of Obamacare. Specifically, the corporation does not have to pay for contraceptive options which the family objects to on the basis of their religious beliefs. Some people see this ruling as an affirmation of religious freedom, others see this ruling as restriction on the rights of women employees.*

What questions could you ask to engage your critical thinking skills of analysis, inference, and evaluation regarding what this ruling means, its potential implications, and the positive or negative practical impact of this ruling on the everyday lives of people?

*Supreme Court of the United States, “Burwell, Secretary of HHS et. al. v Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc.” (Search suggestion “Hobby Lobby Scotus”)

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Critical Thinking Mindset and Skills 33

THINKING CRITICALLY Ask Good Critical Thinking Questions Using the discussion about shale gas drilling as an example, practice formulating good critical thinking questions about the topics listed below. Look too at the table entitled “Questions to Fire Up Our Critical Thinking Skills” to get ideas about how to target specific critical thinking skills with your questions. Write at least four good critical thinking questions about each of the topics below. Instead of making them all analytical or inferential, spread the questions over at least three core criti- cal thinking skills. Before you write the questions, go online to review relevant recent news stories about the topic.

1. Sagarika Ghose, a former CNN news anchor and writer for a leading newspaper in India, has over 175,000 followers on Twitter. Ms. Ghose regularly receives cyber threats of gang rape and stripping. Assume you are a reporter for an American TV network that does balanced and fair stories on serious topics, and assume you have the opportunity for a Skype interview with Ms. Ghose. Write four good critical thinking interview questions. Before you write the ques- tions, do some background research. Start by searching “Sagarika Ghose rape threats.”

2. Boko Haram is a militant organization violently opposed to Western culture. In the past two years the group has killed more than 1,000 people with suicide bombers, and vicious raids on churches, schools, and villages. (Search “Boko Haram Nigeria BBC News.”) The group’s opposition to Western education is so strong that it has threatened, kid- napped, and killed female students and their teachers. And yet, many parents still seek opportunities for Western edu- cation for their daughters and those young women con- tinue to go to schools that teach dangerous subjects, like history and science, and use Western educational meth- ods, like critical thinking. Assume you have the opportu- nity to interview a teacher at a school that offers a Western education to girls in a region where Boko Haram kidnap- pings and attacks have occurred. Frame four good critical

thinking questions to ask the teacher. Search “Boko Haram kidnaps school girls” to begin your background research.

3. Perhaps with more foresight strong critical thinkers might have anticipated this problem. But when the one-child pol- icy was put in place, China was also beginning to experi- ence a phenomenon that has continued for many decades, namely, the migration of young people into urban areas in search of better jobs and a lifestyle different from what is available “back on the farm.” In 2013 China passed a law requiring children to visit their elderly parents who lived in the countryside. Search “China requires visit parents” to get the details. Then formulate good critical thinking questions about this policy and its potential benefits and difficulties.

4. Recently a study of 86,000 women who gave birth and 9,000 women who had abortions reported that 40 percent of all pregnancies in the United States were unwanted. The study appeared online in the journal Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health. Review the study and the news cover- age that report on the study and offer editorial comments. Then write four good critical thinking questions about this phenomenon.

5. The plant called quinoa offers “an exceptional balance of amino acids; quinoa, they declared, is virtually unrivaled in the plant or animal kingdom for its life-sustaining nutri- ents,” according to a New York Times story about the problems of too much success. As global demand sky- rockets, quinoa producers and other Bolivians may not be receiving either the nutritional or the economic benefits of this crop. Learn more about quinoa and the problems of its success by searching “quinoa economic impact.” A 2013 story in the Huffington Post should be one of your search results. Then formulate four good critical thinking questions about this issue. Let one of the questions be about the importance of having foresight.

6. The Buddhist nation of Bhutan has a Gross National Happiness Commission, and the head of that commission has a problem: Domestic violence appears to be rampant among a population whose religion abhors any kind of vio- lence. Search “Bhutan domestic violence Commission for Gross National Happiness” and then formulate a related series of four good critical thinking questions from the perspective of the head of the Gross National Happiness Commission.

7. Search “survey seven social classes in UK” and you will see a BBC report on a scientific survey that suggests that the familiar grouping of social classes in to just three, “upper, middle, and poverty” no longer effectively describes social stratification in the United Kingdom. Review the BBC story and related stories, and write four good critical thinking questions about that report. Some questions can focus on understanding the report and its implications, others could focus on whether or not a similar finding would result if the study had focused on the social class structure of some other industrialized country, for example, the United States.

Abubakar Shekau, Boko Haram leader. From a video calling for more attacks on schools to protect Islam from the threat of Western education. Source: AFP/Getty Images

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devoted specifically to more sophisticated strategies for reflective decision making. In both chapters we point out how all the steps and strategies call for positive critical thinking habits of mind and rely on multiple critical think- ing skills. To supplement these broader overview chapters, five chapters at the end of the book take the critical think- ing process into several different areas of inquiry.

We used the phrase “when the timing is right” in the last paragraph because learning things in the right order is

very important. Like coaches working with very promis- ing artists or athletes, we have a plan for when and how each critical thinking skill can be developed. We begin with interpretation and analysis in Chapters 4 and 5. There we examine strategies for clarifying the meanings of individ- ual claims and ways to visually display the reasoning peo- ple use to support claims and conclusions. In Chapters 6 through 9 we work on evaluation, looking first at how to assess the credibility of individual claims and then at how

Core Critical Thinking Skills

Skill Experts’ Consensus Description Subskill







Source: From Peter A. Facione, American Philosophical Association, Critical Thinking: A Statement of Expert Consensus for Purpose of Educational Assessment & Instruction, (also known as The Delphi Report). Copyright © 1990, The California Academic Press, 217 La Cruz Ave., Millbrae, CA 94030. All Rights Reserved. Reprinted by permission.

THINK CRITICALLY What Are Your Professors and Textbooks Asking of You?

1. A good education includes learning content knowledge and learning skills. Because there is so much to learn, it is under- standable that many instructors focus a lot of attention on helping students get the content knowledge right. These profs often call on students in class to answer questions that show that they know the meanings of technical terms or have learned the material from a previous lesson. Sprinkled in among those questions from time to time are critical think- ing skills questions, like those listed in the “Questions to Fire Up Our Critical Thinking Skills” table. Here is your challenge: In each of your classes over the next two class days, keep a list of the questions that the instructors ask students. Then, take the complete list and evaluate each question to see which were intended to evoke the use of critical thinking skills. Which skills were most often evoked?

2. Some textbooks include exercises at the end of each chapter. Those exercises can address content knowledge to be sure it is well understood. They can also invite students to apply their critical thinking skills to that knowledge—for example to interpret some data, to ana- lyze arguments, to draw out the consequences of cer- tain principles or facts, or to explain the right methods to apply. Take the textbooks for your other subjects and review the exercises at the end of the unit or chapter you are on. Identify those questions, if any, that are intended to evoke critical thinking skills. In the case of each text- book, write five additional “exercise questions” that evoke critical thinking about the content of the chapter.

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Critical Thinking Mindset and Skills 35

to evaluate the quality of arguments. Strengthening our self-regulation skill is the emphasis in Chapters 10 and 11 as we take a closer look at what science tells us about our real-life decision making. The advantages and disadvan- tages of snap judgments and reflective decision making are the topics for these two chapters. Chapters 10 and 11 are of particular importance to people pursuing careers in professional fields like business, health care, education, communication, counseling, law, social work, or engineer- ing because effective decision making is so valuable in professional practice disciplines.

We draw all the bits and pieces together in Chapters 12, 13, and 14. This trilogy of chapters emphasizes inference and explanation. At one level they explore the benefits, uses, strengths, and weaknesses of the three most powerful forms of argument making: comparative (“this is like that”) rea- soning, ideological (“top down”) reasoning, and empirical (“bottom up”). But for us they are more than just chapters in a text book.

Do not miss Chapters 12, 13, and 14. They are the heart of the matter. These three set up the most powerful contrasts between how the members of our species think. These chapters illustrate why we humans so often are unable to come to reasoned accord, even when we are giv- ing it our best effort. It turns out that many of our personal doubts and much of the discord in the world have more to do with how we think than what we think. Chapter 12 explains how powerful analogies and pattern recognition strategies shape our thinking, color our expectations, and persuade us using a minimum of evidence. It turns out that even poor analogies and fumbling metaphors can be wildly effective, amazingly so. We also use top down ideological reasoning, as Chapter 13 explains, to hammer home our prejudices and preconceptions. Ideological rea- soning can often generate unwarranted metaphysical and moral certitude. And these are the seeds of war. And at the same time, as Chapter 14 explains, we use hypotheses and evidence to creep ever so slowly toward a truer and truer

scientific understanding of this marvelously complex uni- verse, always knowing that certitude is beyond our grasp and that the next generation will overturn what truths we feel we have so confidently articulated. These three divergent ways of reasoning often create as many conflicts within our own minds as they create between ourselves and other people. Given how we human beings think, it is clear that strong critical thinking skills and habits of mind are needed if we are to negotiate livable paths not just to our own individual well-being but to the truth about how our universe works, to mutual respect, and to harmony in the world community.

As we said earlier, the final chapters take the critical thinking problem solving process into several quite different but important domains. Because effective writing and criti- cal thinking are connected in the classroom, in every profes- sional field, and all throughout our lives, Chapter 15 shows how to write sound and effective arguments. Because we all have to deal with vexing ethical problems at many points in our lives, Chapter 16 connects critical thinking with ethi- cal decision making. Chapter 17, on the logic of declarative statements, builds on the ideas first presented in the Chapter 8 on valid inferences People interested in accounting, technol- ogy, engineering, and mathematics will see connections with their disciplines and the effort to connect logic, symbolic nota- tion and natural language. Strong critical thinkers engage in social science inquiry into human behavior and apply social science findings to problems in professional fields like edu- cation and communication. Critical thinking is manifested in systematic natural science inquiry into the causal expla- nations for the observed patterns, structures, and functions of natural phenomena from the subatomic to the galactic in scope.

Strong critical thinking skills and a positive critical thinking mindset are integrally connected to success in each of these important domains of life and learning. Use these final chapters to connect the process of critical think- ing to what interests you.

Like athletes or artists, we practice the skills so we can integrate them smoothly when the time comes to perform and to compete.

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Summing up this chapter, the critical thinking process applies cognitive skills of inter- pretation, analysis, inference, evaluation, explanation, and self-regulation in an effort to judge what to believe or what to do. That is the “able” part of being “eager and able” to think. The “eager” part is being strongly disposed toward using critical thinking to solve problems and to make deci- sions. People exhibit the positive critical thinking mindset when they are truth-seeking, open-minded, analytical,

systematic, confident in reasoning, inquisitive, and judi- cious in their application of critical thinking. Strong critical thinking does not make a person automatically ethical or unethical. But critical thinking skills are valuable for decision making of all kinds, including ethical decision making. A major asset in critical thinking is the capacity to ask good questions.

Key Concepts truth-seeking means that a person has intellectual integ- rity and a courageous desire to actively strive for the best possible knowledge in any given situation. A truth-seeker asks probing questions and follows reasons and evidence wherever they lead, even if the results go against his or her cherished beliefs.

open-minded means that a person is tolerant of divergent views and sensitive to the possibility of his or her own possible biases. An open-minded person respects the right of others to have different opinions.

analytical means that a person is habitually alert to poten- tial problems and vigilant in anticipating consequences and trying to foresee short-term and long-term outcomes of events, decisions, and actions. “Foresightful” is another word for what “analytical” means here.

systematic means that a person consistently endeavors to take an organized and thorough approach to identifying and resolving problems. A systematic person is orderly, focused, persistent, and diligent in his or her approach to problem solving, learning, and inquiry.

confident in reasoning means that a person is trustful of his or her own reasoning skills to yield good judgments. A person’s or a group’s confidence in their own critical think- ing may or may not be warranted, which is another matter.

inquisitive means that a person habitually strives to be well- informed, wants to know how things work, and seeks to learn new things about a wide range of topics, even if the immedi- ate utility of knowing those things is not directly evident. An inquisitive person has a strong sense of intellectual curiosity.

judicious means that a person approaches problems with a sense that some are ill-structured and some can have more than one plausible solution. A judicious person has the cognitive maturity to realize that many questions and issues are not black and white, and that, at times, judg- ments must be made in contexts of uncertainty.

interpretation is an expression of the meaning or signifi- cance of a wide variety of experiences, situations, data, events, judgments, conventions, beliefs, rules, procedures, or criteria.

inference identifies and secures elements needed to draw reasonable conclusions; it forms conjectures and hypoth- eses, it considers relevant information, and it reduces or draws out the consequences flowing from data, state- ments, principles, evidence, judgments, beliefs, opin- ions, concepts, descriptions, questions, or other forms of representation.

evaluation assesses the credibility of statements or other representations that are accounts or descriptions of a per- son’s perception, experience, situation, judgment, belief, or opinion; also assesses the logical strength of the actual or intended inferential relationships among statements, descriptions, questions, or other forms of representation.

self-regulation is a process in which one monitors one’s cognitive activities, the elements used in those activi- ties, and the results educed, particularly by applying skills in analysis, and evaluation to one’s own inferential judgments with a view toward questioning, confirming, validating, or correcting either one’s reasoning or one’s results.

analysis identifies the intended and actual inferential relationships among statements, questions, concepts, descriptions, or other forms of representation intended to express belief, judgment, experiences, reasons, informa- tion, or opinions.

explanation states and justifies reasoning in terms of the evidential, conceptual, methodological, criteriological, and contextual considerations upon which one’s results were based; also presents one’s reasoning in the form of cogent arguments.

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Critical Thinking Mindset and Skills 37

Applications Reflective Log Schooling and Critical Thinking – This is a three-part interviewing and writing exercise: Part 1: Mark Twain is reported to have said, “I have never let my schooling interfere with my education.”25 Connect that sentiment with the information in the box, “The Experts Worried That School Might Be Harmful!” What is your reasoned opinion on the matter? If you were critical of schooling, what would you recommend be done to improve it? What evidence do you have that your suggestions would actu- ally work in the real world? Now ask someone who is 10 years younger than you what Mark Twain meant. Note the response in your log. Then ask someone who is at least 20 years older than you what Twain’s saying might mean. Log the response. Compare the three opinions: yours, the younger person’s, and the older person’s opinions. End this notation in your log by reflecting on these this question: Should K–12 schooling be designed to prevent students from learning to think critically for themselves? Why or why not? Part 2: You were specifically asked not to “defend,” “evaluate,” or to “argue for” one side or the other in the previous items. Here’s your new challenge:

Keeping an open mind and maybe stirring up a bit of courage, too, interview two professors and two students not in your critical thinking class. Present them with the same two claims, but invite them to agree or disagree with each one and to give their reasons. Note their reasons respectfully, and ask follow-up questions aimed at evok- ing more critical thinking. You should be able to base your follow-up questions on the group work you did earlier when you developed the best arguments for and against each claim. Then, in your reflective log, record the conver- sations and highlight some of the places where the people you interviewed did, in fact, engage in some deeper criti- cal thinking about the topic. Part 3: Using the “Holistic Critical Thinking Scoring Rubric” from Chapter 1, how would you evaluate the critical thinking displayed by each of the four people you interviewed? Quote some of the things each side said that led you to evaluate them in the way that you did. [We know you caught it, but just in case you didn’t, that was another critical thinking skills question. This one asked you to explain the evidence you used for your evaluation.]

Individual Exercises Explain the mistake. Here are six misconceptions about critical thinking habits of mind or critical thinking skills. Write a brief explanation of why each is wrong.

1. Calling on people to be systematic means that everyone must think the same way.

2. Critical thinking habits of mind are always positive.

3. People with a strong desire to be analytical have the skill to foresee the consequences of options and events.

4. People who have not taken a course in critical thinking cannot have strong critical thinking skills.

5. Critical thinking is applying the six critical thinking skills in their proper order one after the other.

6. Self-monitoring and self-correcting are unnecessary skills when your ideas are right in the first place.

Apollo 13 – There is a memorable scene in Apollo 13 when engineers are put in a room and tasked with designing some- thing that will reduce the toxicity of the air in the spacecraft. Their challenge is that the device must be something the astro- nauts can fabricate (a) as quickly as possible because time is running out, (b) using only materials and tools the astronauts have at their disposal in the spacecraft, and (c) using methods the astronauts can perform inside the spacecraft’s cramped environment. Locate that scene online and watch it two or

three times. The second or third time through, focus on try- ing to identify evidence of the critical thinking skills and hab- its of mind. Listen to what the characters say and watch their body language. It helps to take notes when watching. Pre- pare a brief description of the scene, like the description that begins this chapter. In your description emphasize the critical thinking skills and habits of mind you noticed the characters displaying either individually or as a group. Hint: to empha- size the critical thinking in your description use verb forms of the critical thinking skill names, (like “analyze” and “evalu- ate") and adjective forms of the positive habits of mind, (like “open-minded" and “systematic”).

“Truthiness” – In October of 2005 Stephen Colbert, a mas- ter of humor and irony, offered “truthiness” as his word of the day. In 2006 Merriam-Webster Online made “truthi- ness” the word of the year for 2006. That dictionary defines it two ways:26 1. truthiness (noun) “truth that comes from the gut, not books” (Stephen Colbert, Comedy Central’s The Colbert Report, October 2005); 2. “the quality of prefer- ring concepts or facts one wishes to be true, rather than concepts or facts known to be true” (American Dialect Society, January 2006). How does “truthiness,” in either of its two definitions, relate to “truth-seeking” as we have defined it in this chapter. Oh, BTW, you can still find a clip of Colbert’s October 2005 episode online if you search.

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Pros-and-cons video project – Consider this claim: “Effective writing and critical thinking are the two most important things to learn in college.” Do not take a position on that claim; instead present the strongest possible arguments pro and con. One way to gather information about this is to ask other people their views and the reasons they have for those views. Ask at least three teachers or professors, ask three successful people in business and three in other professions, and ask three people who graduated at least 20 years ago what they think. Get their reasons, not just their opinions. Then formulate the arguments pro and con. Make and post a Web video that shows both sides.

Evaluate the critical thinking in editorials – Look at the descriptions of each of the four levels of the “Holistic Criti- cal Thinking Scoring Rubric” in Chapter 1. In each, under- line the elements that call out positive or negative critical thinking habits of mind. Then go online and locate two

editorials from this week’s New York Times, Washington Post, Huffington Post, San Jose Mercury News, or BBC News. Select any issue or topic you wish. But find something that is con- troversial enough that you can find at least one pro and one con editorial. Approach the two editorials with an open mind. Resist forming a judgment about the issue at least until you have read and considered both carefully. Evaluate both using the “Holistic Critical Thinking Scoring Rubric.” Explain in detail the reasons for the score you assigned.

Ask two friends to rate you – If you feel comfortable with the idea, ask two of your friends to rate you using the “Critical Thinking Mindset Self-Rating Form.” To do this your friend would replace the word “I” and the word “my” with references to yourself. This assessment could provide valuable information about how your critical thinking dis- position manifests itself to others.

SHARED RESPONSE Cultivating a Positive CT Mindset How can you cultivate positive critical thinking habits of mind in your everyday life? Give examples. Comment respectfully on the examples others offer.

Group Exercises What would it be like? Our habitual attitudes affect our behavior and the way that we interact with one another. People who are habitually intellectually dishonest, intoler- ant, or indifferent act differently in household and workplace settings than those who have opposite, positive habits. This discussion exercise invites you to draw on your experience and your imagination, your foresight, and your inference skills to describe to others what it would be like to interact regularly with a person with negative critical thinking hab- its of mind. Scenario #1. You have a brother, close to your age, who is habitually intellectually dishonest, intolerant, and imprudent in making decisions. He has been like this since junior high school, and he recently enrolled at your col- lege. Now he wants to share your apartment, borrow your car, and get you to help him with his academic assignments. What is it like to have this person as your family member? Given that you have the power to say “no” to his requests, what are your plans with regard to his requests? Scenario #2. You have a part-time job in a department store as a clerk. Your old manager used to let your group solve a lot of the store’s own problems, like who is going to cover a shift if someone can’t work on a given day. But now you have a new manager. This person makes scheduling decisions arbitrarily, and is disorganized, and this means that your group always seems to be rushing to meet deadlines. She also habitually does not think about the consequences of her actions. What is it like to work for this supervisor? Given that you have the

right to complain to management about your new super- visor, is that an option you will pursue? What other plans might you make to help you cope with the approach taken by this new supervisor?

Textbooks – Consider this claim: “If textbooks used more critical thinking exercises, students would learn the material better.” What are the best arguments for and against that claim? Do not take a position on this. Rather, through group discussion and analysis, work to develop the strongest argu- ments possible for both sides. What additional information would you need to investigate, to ground each side’s argu- ments in solid facts? What assumptions about learning and schooling are required to make each side’s arguments as strong as possible? Again, do not evaluate (yet).

Professors – Consider this claim: “Professors should ask content questions, not critical thinking questions. It’s the responsibility of the professor to lay out the content, but it’s the job of the student to think critically about the subject matter.” Through discussion develop the best arguments for and against that claim. As with the previous discus- sion topic, avoid taking a position on this. Rather, work to develop the strongest arguments possible for both sides. What additional information is needed to ground each side’s arguments in solid facts? What assumptions about learning and schooling are required to make each side’s arguments as strong as possible? Again, do not evaluate (yet).

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Learning Outcomes

3.1 Identify the five steps of the IDEAS Critical Thinking General Problem Solving Process.

3.2 Explain how to use the IDEAS critical thinking process to solve problems that

occur in the day-to-day lives of college students.

3.3 Recognize the potential application of the IDEAS process to any problem-solving situation in college or beyond.

WHAT are the five steps of the “IDEAS” critical thinking process for problem solving and decision making?

HOW can we use the IDEAS critical thinking process to navigate the day-to-day challenges of being a college student?

Chapter 3

Solve Problems and Succeed in College

Every combination of decisions and circumstances is perfectly designed to produce exactly the results we are getting. If we do not like the results, we need to change the decisions or the circumstances.

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A door down the hall slammed and John’s eyes popped open. Immediately he blinked them shut. What time is it? He opened one eye to peer at the huge yellow-faced clock his roommate, Trent, had put on the wall. Almost noon!

John sat up in bed and groaned as he realized he was still wearing his jeans and jacket from yesterday, and even his shoes. He wondered how he had made it back to the dorm. But somehow he had. I need a shower, bad, he thought. He struggled to his feet and looked for some clean clothes. Nothing. Maybe he could borrow a shirt from Trent? He pulled open the drawer where Trent kept his T-shirts and socks and saw a piece of paper with his name on it.

“John, No. Don’t touch my things. Get a new room- mate. Get some help. Stay away from my things. Trent.” John pulled open a couple of other drawers and saw cop- ies of the same message.

John’s phone was dead, so he plugged it into the char- ger. When it beeped back to life he saw four unopened messages from the last couple of days. John recognized that one was from his Math Prof who used Blackboard to message the whole class with a one-liner. “Midterm exam is Thursday.” Aw, no. John knew that it was too late. One more math exam missed! John wondered what the dead- line was for dropping the course.

The next message was from his Dad. “Hi, John. It’s official, your mother and I are getting divorced. I’m mov- ing to Dallas. After I get settled maybe you could visit. Keep in touch. Oh, and let me know if you want me to call the Business School Dean about getting into the Finance program. Dad.”

Aw, man. Dad’s back on that B-School thing. I told him that I wanted to be a cop. If I had gone to Oakland Community College maybe I’d be in the law enforcement program right now. But noooo. He and mom insisted I go to a four-year school. Finance?! What, and end up like dad—an overweight, stressed-out banker? I don’t think so.

There was a day old message from some guy named Rodney who wrote, “John, what are you doing? We need your section for the group paper. We’re meeting tonight at Samira’s apartment. She’s going to cut and paste all our pieces together. Tomorrow we proof it. It’s due Friday. We need your section now!”

OK, so today the group’s proofreading. Maybe I can pull a couple of pages from Wikipedia or something, thought John. What was the goofy topic any- way, ah . . . , something about retired Baby Boomers taking part-time jobs. . . . Who picked that topic anyway? Ugh.

Three text messages chimed into John’s phone. He was about to open the first one when he noticed the date on the phone’s display. There was something wrong. It wasn’t Thursday at all. It was Friday. Ah, no.

The Soc class met at 10:00 am. It was almost noon! He saw a text from Rodney. “Handed in group paper.

Your name left off. See e-mail.” John looked back at his e-mail. There was another,

more recent message from Rodney. “We talked with the Prof about you. She said we should turn in the paper with- out including your name. She said it would be academic dishonesty to put you as an author. You’re busted, man.”

Noon, Friday! He had just enough time to get to his 12:30 Philosophy course. John wondered how he’d ended up in a senior honors seminar on nineteenth-century European ideologists anyway. He hefted the 2-inch-thick book of readings off the shelf to put it into his backpack. John hated the philosophy readings. Did these guys get paid by the word or what? But the Prof was funny, the class discussions were lively, and, although they were seniors and never talked to him, the girls looked good.

His phone rang. John let it go to voice. A moment later the message came and John listened to it.

“Hey, dude! How you doing, man? You were really messed up the other night. Thought you were going to puke in the stairwell or something, man. Zach and I liter- ally poured you into bed. It was like three in the morning and your roommate was pissed that we woke him up. Hey, like I need the thirty dollars you owe me from earlier this week, man. OK. So, text me or something when you get this. It’s Friday, man. Weekend! Dude. Parrrrrtaaaayyy.”

John groaned. He looked out the window at the November gray Michigan sky. His head throbbed. This was not how col- lege was supposed to be! I’m screwed. Maybe his roommate was right, he thought. “Get some help.” But, how? Who?

Obviously, John’s life is in disarray. He is beset with problems of many kinds: social, vocational, academic, physical, emotional, and spiritual. He does not appear to know where or how to begin to resolve them. You may know someone  like John, who seems to pile one problem on himself after another. John’s story illustrates the downside of not having the critical thinking skills and the positive critical thinking habits of mind associated with successful problem solving. In this chapter we present a step by step critical thinking general prob- lem solving process. The process utilizes those core critical think- ing skills and is supported by the There is no one stereotypic kind of college student.

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positive critical thinking habits of mind. In later chapters we will dissect the skills individually. But first, since critical thinking is a process, we need to understand that process. And what better way than by using as our examples the kinds of problems that college students may encounter.

Differences and Similarities There is no one stereotypic kind of college student. Some col- lege students are younger people, recently graduated from high school, who are attending full-time and living on cam- pus. Others are working adults with family responsibilities who enroll in only one or two courses at a time. Some col- lege students attend nationally known research universities, some attend regional colleges and universities, some attend community colleges or liberal arts colleges. Some students have disabilities, some are military veterans, some are going back to college after years of raising families. Some college students are deeply religious, some are politically active, some enjoy music more than sports, some enjoy video games more than music, some play chess. Some college students are fortunate enough to have plenty of money, some are scrap- ing it together with loans and part-time jobs. Some live at home with parents and siblings, some live alone, some live in apartments with friends, some on military bases around the world. Some take all their courses online, some take all their courses on campus, some take courses that are hybrids of both. Some students are enthusiastic about their chosen major, and some are totally undecided about a major.

About the only thing we can say about “all college students” is that from time to time they all have problems that are social, academic, physical, emotional, vocational, or spiritual. Not in all those domains all the time, and cer- tainly not, we hope, all the same problems. Oh, and one other thing, those college students who have an effective process of problem solving stand a greater chance of suc- cessfully earning a degree, achieving their other goals, realizing what it means to have the right and the skills to think for themselves.

“Students must have initiative; they should not be mere imitators. They must learn to think and act for themselves—and be free.”

Caesar Chavez, Farm Worker and Human Rights Activist1

No guarantees, mind you. This is the real world. External factors beyond our control, like accidents, illness, natural disasters, social upheav- als, and economic downturns can delay our prog- ress toward our goals and, occasionally, lead us to change our minds about those goals entirely. I’m reminded of a college student I knew, a real

one—not a fictional one like the John in the opening story— who enrolled as a full-time student, living on campus, and majoring in English Literature. She soon met someone, fell in love, married, and had a child. So the student dropped out of college and, together with her husband, began raising their family. A few years later, with three small children, she decided that she wanted to return to get her degree. Instead of going back as an English Lit major she chose health sci- ences, because it seemed more practical to her as a young mother. She went to school part-time for many years and sure enough, 11 years after first enrolling, she graduated with her baccalaureate degree. She often used the critical thinking problem-solving process developed in this chapter to work though the many expected and unexpected problems and obstacles that came along during those years.

“Education delivers a variety of benefits. Higher educational attainment is associated with better labor market outcomes including higher earnings, lower poverty, and lower unemployment. In addition, education is linked to various other benefits including higher job satisfaction, better fringe benefits, and better health.”

Women in America: Indicators of Social and Economic Wellbeing2

And, of course, I know another college student who came to college, her mind firmly set on becoming a high school science teacher. She dedicated herself to her studies, majored in Biology and in Secondary Education, and graduated in four years.

Your situation may be like these folks or it may be different.

Again, there is no one stereotypic kind of college student.

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Your success in college depends, for the most part, on you.

Other people’s stories about their college days are their stories. How those stories turned out does not determine how your story will turn out.

“Hold up a mirror and ask yourself what you are capable of doing, and what you really care about. Then take the initiative—don’t wait for someone else to ask you to act.”

Sylvia Earle, Oceanographer and 1998 Time “Hero of the Planet”3

In addition to the abstract goal of describing a criti- cal thinking process of problem solving which can be very widely applied, this chapter has a very practical goal. Namely, assisting you to be successful as a college student. That starts with a basic question: What does being success- ful as a college student mean to you?

3.1 IDEAS: A 5-Step Critical Thinking General Problem-Solving Process

Each of us must learn how to seize the initiative and solve our own problems—in other words, to take responsibility for our own lives. In my own life I found that there was quite a difference between saying that I was ready to take full responsibility for myself and actu- ally being ready. I had to learn a lot about myself, my friendships, and, most importantly, about how to think through the difficulties and challenges in my life. What really turned out to help me was a critical thinking process I could rely upon when- ever a major problem arose. Calling my parents all the time made me feel more dependent than independent, and I knew what advice they were going to give anyway.

And that’s the heart of this chapter—the pro- cess of using critical thinking to make reflective decisions about how to handle our own problems. There’s no way this chapter can cover every pos- sible problem or fit exactly every person’s indi- vidual unique situation. That is why the critical thinking problem-solving process is so valuable. The process can be applied no matter what kind of problem is at hand—social, vocational, academic, physical, emotional, or spiritual. So even if the spe- cific examples in this chapter don’t exactly fit your

particular situation, there’s plenty in each chapter that a good critical thinker will easily be able to adapt. One other note: Resolving a problem does not mean that it will never come back. Often the resolutions to our difficulties are suf- ficient only for a time, or only if conditions do not change.

For the sake of clarity, we define problem solving as moving from the point at which we initially realize that we have a difficulty that requires our attention to that point where we regard the difficulty as being sufficiently resolved for the current time and circumstances. There are five steps to reflective, well-reasoned problem solving about what to believe or what to do—that is, to engage in good critical thinking as we work through the problems and challenges in our lives. The process is universally applicable, but in this chapter the examples are the kinds of concerns that are more likely to occur in the lives of college students.

We have named the process IDEAS. IDEAS is a 5-step critical thinking problem-solving process that is compa- rable to the critical thinking used in many professional settings, including health care, legal analysis, arbitra- tion and negotiation, scientific research, engineering and architectural design, financial planning, marketing and advertising, agricultural advancement, and criminologi- cal investigations. It is highly valuable in real-life situa- tions such as buying a car, dealing with a difficult boss or co-worker, making a career change, ending a bad rela- tionship, investing, starting or operating a small busi- ness, or selecting a candidate in the upcoming election.

JOURNAL What Does “Success in College” Mean to You? Write down your personal concept of what it means for you to be successful in college.

What’s the secret to success? Answer: Show up, do your part, repeat again, and again.

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THINKING CRITICALLY Institutional Programs and Measures of Students’ Success Each individual student has a concept of what it means for him or her to be successful in college. And the col- leges have an idea as well of how they seek to define and to measure student success. Colleges, accreditation agen- cies, and the media often think of student success in terms of graduation. At the undergraduate level the metric most often used is the “6-year graduation rate,” which refers to the percentage of entering freshmen who complete a baccalaureate degree within six academic years. That metric, however, often fails to capture the successes of some important groups of students. Specifically that metric often misses successful degree-completing students who may have transferred from one institution to another, or who may have taken more than six years because they could not attend full-time or to attend continuously due to family, job, health, military service, or financial reasons. Each year U.S. News & World Report puts out its Best Colleges edition. One metric the editors use is a comparison between an institution’s actual graduation rate and the rate that it might be predicted to have based on its financial resources and on its students’ entry test scores. The aim was to reward institutions that succeed in graduating at-risk students.

Another metric used by U.S. News & World Report and by many higher education leaders and researchers to gauge the quality of an institution is the percentage of last year’s full-time freshmen that the institution is able to retain

into their sophomore year. Unfortunately some institutions are revolving doors, taking in large freshmen classes only to fail to retain them as sophomores. But institutions committed to the academic success of their students work hard to assist them make a successful transition to college life. Learning communities, first-year experience courses, internships, study abroad programs, undergraduate research opportunities, creative and collaborative projects, writing in the disciplines, service learning programs, strong academic advising services and student success service centers, faculty committed to the enterprise of teaching, welcoming and helpful staff, good physical facilities, a campus culture of learning, institutional pride, and a positive school spirit are all elements that contribute to higher student retention rates.

Woody Allen, movie producer and philosopher, suggests that four-fifths of the recipe for success is simply showing up. And while that hardly tells the whole story, there is a kernel of wisdom there. If you are a freshman, showing up as a sophomore next year is a very important part of graduating some time, if not on time.

Visit the U.S. News & World Report Web site, or get a copy of its latest issue of Best Colleges, and look up your institution. Then look up 10 or a dozen institutions like yours. Compare their stats on freshmen retention and graduation rates. What programs does your institution offer that are specifically designed to help ensure undergraduate student success? Are you participating in one or more of those programs?

With our research team we have studied problem solving in business, education, health sciences, the mili- tary, law, and a number of other fields and in all of these domains critical thinking and problem solving comes down to the same five things. The 5-step IDEAS critical thinking process is simple to understand and to apply and yet powerful enough to work with problems of signifi- cant complexity. The steps are straightforward. And yet, in response to the demands of the problem at hand, each step in the process can involve substantial analysis, infer- ence, and evaluation. The IDEAS process calls for good critical thinkers to take the time to make well-reasoned, reflective and yet timely decisions about how to resolve their problems. We need to be patient enough to apply the process well, and yet savvy enough to avoid “paraly- sis by analysis” because in fact a judgment must at some point be made. The name of the process, IDEAS, is a mne- monic, which simply means that it is a device to help us to remember more easily these five steps:

Identify Problems and Set Priorities. The first step in problem solving

is to realize that we have a difficulty that needsour attention. Knowing our priorities helps us identify situations, which are or could become problems for us. In turn, examining the characteristics of the prob- lem helps us clarify our priorities.

Determine Relevant Information and Deepen Under standing. Deciding what information is relevant, gathering that information and deepening our understand- ing of the problem ensures that we know all that we should know to move ahead in the problem solving process.

Enumerate Options and Anticipate Consequences. Enumerating genuine options helps us focus on those consequences that have a greater likelihood of occurring, rather than fantasizing about extreme and remote possibilities. In turn, anticipating consequences helps us discard the infeasible options quickly, thus saving energy and time so we can address the more realistic and practical options.

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Step 4, represented by the “A” is Assess the Situation and Make a Preliminary Decision. Assessing our situation thoughtfully helps us make an initial tenta- tive decision about what steps we are going to take to resolve the problem. In turn, making a prelimi- nary decision helps us clarify our expectations so we can better assess what level of resolution will be good enough, given the current circumstances, for us to consider the problem to be resolved at least for the present.

Step 5, represented by the “S” is Scrutinize the Process and Self-Correct as Needed. Scrutinizing the whole process enables us to see possible flaws and gaps in our thinking so that we can correct ourselves before we make a mistake. In turn, self-correcting can lead us to necessary reconsiderations of any aspect of our problem-solving process: We may realize that we should reassess the nature of the problem, rework our priorities, gather more information, iden- tify a new option, more carefully anticipate likely consequences, reassess our situation, reevaluate our expectations, and, in the end, make a better decision. This final step is our assurance that the problem has been resolved sufficiently for the current time and circumstances.

A person can improve the problem solving at any point along the IDEAS process. Although IDEAS is pre- sented as five steps, we do not have to go all the way through Step 5 before we correct our own thinking. The IDEAS process can fold back on itself whenever a thoughtful person realizes adjustments need to be made. For example, if the relevant information we developed in Step 2 indicates that we have been mistaken in iden- tifying the problem, then we can go back to Step 1 and fix that before moving on. Or, if the options and conse- quences enumerated in Step 3 all are problematic, a per- son can go back and reconsider his or her priorities from Step 1 or revisit Step 2 to determine whether additional information might be available to assist in expanding the options. IDEAS is a thoughtful and reflective pro- cess, not rigidly linear. We never have to wait for Step 5

to correct mistakes or make improvements on the work of earlier steps.

Using the IDEAS process well takes practice and that is what we are going to do in this chapter.4 So here’s our plan: To develop an understanding of this process and how to apply it to real problems in our lives we will explore each of the five steps, emphasizing how the step applies to actual problems faced by a wide range of college students. In the second part of this chapter we present six mini case study scenarios. The mini cases illustrate problems that typify the kinds of issues that arise in six different domains of college life: social, voca- tional, academic, physical, emotional, and spiritual. We will use the first five scenarios to explore each of the five IDEAS steps individually, emphasizing a different step with each scenario. Then in the final section of the chap- ter we’ll put the five IDEAS steps back together. Every problem worth solving requires that we apply all five steps of the IDEAS process.

3.2 Educating the Whole Person

Armed with IDEAS, let’s attack a few problems. In this sec- tion of the chapter we will explore the kinds of problems that college students often face. With each scenario we will take another step into the IDEAS process to illustrate how to apply strong critical thinking skills and positive critical thinking habits of mind to the problem or issue at hand. There are individual and group exercises suggested along the way because the best way to strengthen critical think- ing is to engage those skills and habits of mind to solve problems.

Research about college students of all different ages and backgrounds often focuses on how the experience of attending college impacts and shapes their lives. Our development as human beings continues throughout our lives. But the decade or so from late adolescence through young adulthood is particularly important because during these years we are

developing the competencies we will need to make a living in a complex society,

learning to manage our emotions,

moving through autonomy toward interdependence,

developing mature interpersonal relationships,

establishing our personal identity,

developing and refining our sense of purpose,

developing a greater integration of who we are with what we say and do in all circumstances.5


A 5-Step Critical Thinking General Problem Solving Process

I = IDENTIFY the Problem and Set Priorities

D = DETERMINE Relevant Information and Deepen Understanding

E = ENUMERATE Options and Anticipate Consequence

A = ASSESS the Situation and Make a Preliminary Decision

S = SCRUTINIZE the Process and Self-Correct as Needed

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Although the domains into which problems might fall remain pretty much constant throughout the arc of our lives as human beings, the particular issues and con- cerns college students experience are not the same as those expressed by children or as those expressed later in midlife. Our success in college, as in life, depends on our ability to address these concerns and issues, as these are manifested in the problems of our day-to-day lives.

Figure 3.2 illustrates some of the issues and concerns typically experienced and expressed by college students. Again, we are all different. You may not have person- ally wrestled with each of these issues or concerns. Don’t worry if the problems, which hound your life in these dif- ferent domains do not happen to be listed here. The impor- tant thing is to realize that we all experience problems and challenges, and that there is a sensible process for working through them. So, let’s begin.

Social Relationships Social relationships are complex. The meanings that we attach to what others say or do can differ vastly. What one person might see as an apology, another might inter- pret as sarcasm. What one person thinks of as a harm- less prank, another might experience as a deeply hurtful personal assault. What one person intends as respectful silence, another sees as unwitting acquiescence or as cold indifference. Seeing ourselves as others see us is not an easy thing. But throughout our lives those rare moments when we are able to see ourselves as others see us often yield valuable insights for personal reflec- tion and growth.

Consider Haley’s situation in this story: There was a huge party at a nearby dance club last Saturday night

after the football team’s victory. Haley and her room- mate went to the party, and Haley drank a few too many. A cute guy from her Communication class was there and he was buying Haley and her roommate a fresh drink every time they finished the ones they had. The next day Haley learned from her roommate that something made Haley get into a shouting match with another female partygoer. In a fit of anger Haley screamed, cursed, and called the other girl several nasty and unflattering names. Ultimately, Haley was subdued and escorted out of the club by the bouncer. This verbal display was in front of a big crowd at the party. Or at least Haley thought it was only the partygoers. She quickly learned that someone at the party had posted a video of her per- formance. Haley’s younger sister, a high school junior, had already sent Haley a frantic text because she had seen the video. Haley wondered who posted the video to the Web, who else had seen her act this way, and what was going to happen to her as a result. This was bad, really bad, Haley thought.

How would Haley’s roommate interpret what hap- pened? Did Haley lose respect in her eyes? How about in the eyes of the young man, whom she’ll be seeing in her Comm class? And what about Haley’s sister, the high school junior? What might she be thinking about her older sister and about college life in general, having seen the video? Haley’s mother is on Facebook a lot. She is sure to find out about the video. What will she think?





Circle of Well-Being


Domain Example Issues and Concerns of College Students

Social How do I build lasting friendships and relate in a positive way to other people? What responsibilities do I have as a member of a community? What can I expect of others, what contributions do they have the right to expect of me?

Vocational What major or career field shall I choose? What knowledge, skills, and experiences do I need to be successful in that career? How do I get started in that field?

Academic How do I study, when and where? How do I prepare for tests? How can I improve my writing skills? How can I connect what I’m learning in one course with what I’m learning in another?

Physical What should I eat or not eat? How can I stay fit? I know I’m free to do anything I want, but what kinds of risks with my health and safety are worth taking, and which are just too stupid?

Emotional How do I cope with the stress and pressure of grades and the expectations that parents and others put on me? How do I cope with being alone, away from my family and the friends I grew up with? How do I get out of bed in the morning when I feel so depressed?

Spiritual What are my true values? What do I really care about? What do I hope to achieve in my life? What about God, religion, patriotism, democracy, and all those things I used to believe without question?

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STEP 1: IDENTIFY the Problem and Set Priorities Haley regards what happened as “bad, really bad.” But there are no do-overs.

If Haley really wants to repair some of the damage, she’s first going to have to identify the problem as accu- rately as she can, or in this case, problems that she’s cre- ated for herself by her drunken indiscretion.

In some cases, the problem will be relatively straight- forward, meaning that you can state your problem directly and simply. This doesn’t mean that your problem is simple! It means, however, that you have clarity on what exactly the problem is that you need to think critically about. For example, “I’m going to see that guy in class and I have to think about what I’m going to say.”

Other times your problem may be part of a constella- tion of related problems and your task in this first step is to clarify and prioritize the problems at hand so that you can systematically address the main or most pressing problem. For example, “I know that my sister saw the video and probably Mom will have seen the video. I’m going to want to apologize and make it clear to them all that nothing like that is going to happen ever again. But should I talk to my sister and my Mom together, or separately? And if sepa- rately, which one first?”

You may have experienced a situation where you spent a great deal of time thinking about a problem and coming up with a solution only to find out later that the thing that you thought was the problem turned out to be not really what you needed to work on. You were solving the wrong problem! What questions might we ask our- selves to be sure we have accurately identified the prob- lem? For example, what might Haley ask herself to help her clarify the main problem(s) in this situation and to estab- lish her priorities going forward?

What aspects of last Saturday cause me the most concern or embarrassment?

Should I be concerned about my drinking?

Should I make it a priority to address the drinking issue?

Has a verbal rage like this happened before and is it a pattern?

Am I excessively vulnerable to peer pressure?

Are my friends worthy of my trust?

How badly have I hurt my relationship with my sister and my family?

Have I jeopardized my enrollment at this university?

What should I do first to repair my relationships with others?

Let’s assume that Haley prioritizes mending her rela- tionships with others. There are four more steps to the IDEAS process before Haley will have made a fully reflec- tive and thoughtful decision about what to do to repair her

damaged relationships. Before going on in this chapter, as an exercise, work though those four steps as if you were Haley and your first priority was to repair your relation- ship with your sister. You can do this exercise yourself as a personal reflection, or as a group discussion.

“If you don’t know where you are going, you might wind up somewhere else.”

Yogi Berra, Hall of Fame Baseball Player and Manager6

Vocation The word vocation means “calling,” and it is associated with the kind of work for which one is most suited or “called to do.” One’s vocation is intimately associated with one’s identity. People often describe themselves in terms of the professions they have pursued or the work they have done throughout their careers. “I’m an apprentice carpenter.” “I’m a physical therapist at the Med Center.” “I’m a teller at Chase.” “I’m in marketing.” etc. A combination of temperament, knowledge, skill, and desire goes into forging one’s sense of what one “ought to become”—that is, the career one ought to pur- sue. But the reality for college students often is that the jobs they happen to have during college do not represent the careers to which they aspire nor the majors they are pursuing. Rather, the forging of one’s future identity as a contributing member of society through the vocation one will pursue is, for college students, focused in the selection of one’s major. Many factors go into the selec- tion of a major, and one’s sense of one’s potential career or vocation is certainly one of the central factors in that mix. But it is not the only factor. And whenever many different forces are at play, some can converge to make a decision easier, but others can diverge or even conflict, making the choice more difficult. We have all felt these pushes and pulls.

Consider this scenario: Deshan was sitting in the col- lege library pouring over the university catalog and click- ing through the campus Web site. Staring at the multitude of departmental Web pages, each featuring pictures of smiling, successful students, had made Deshan frustrated that he didn’t have a major yet. Even though he had just started college, he felt pressure from his family to have his career plans all laid out. His parents had made it very clear that college was expensive. Unless he picked a major he felt like he was wasting time and money. He agonized over which major would be the best. Which would fit his interests and talents? Which would be the most enjoyable? Which might lead to the most exciting and lucrative career? And which would honor his par- ents’ sense of worthy respectability and also their wishes

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that he get through college and out into the work world as quickly as possible? There were so many possibilities! Deshan wanted to yell out loud with frustration. He did not know where to begin!

Your first reaction to Deshan’s situation may be this, “Since when did having a lot of good choices become a problem?” Think back to a situation when you felt over- whelmed by your choices. The 5-step IDEAS problem-solving process can help counter the feelings of being overwhelmed by a chal- lenging decision, like this one, which appears to have such momentous consequences. For Deshan, the first step would be to analyze the situation to identify the main problem and set his priorities. From there he could focus on determining what information he needs to deepen his understanding of the realistic option. Not of every option, but rather of those options that were most relevant to his priorities.

STEP 1: IDENTIFY the Problem and Set Priorities Deshan is in the library gathering informa- tion about all the academic majors his college offers. But his efforts are less than effective

because, not yet having clearly established his priorities, he does not know what information is the most relevant to his particular situation. What is Deshan’s problem, really? Is it that he must choose a major? No, that’s a solution to some other problem. Clearly Deshan has a substantial wish list: He believes that he must declare a major to be happy like the students on the campus Web site. He wants to make his parents proud. He wants to graduate on time. He wants to have a good job when he is out of school. He wants a major that fits his interests and skills, to be enjoy- able, and to fit his parents’ sense of what is worthy and respectable.

Part of Deshan’s problem is that he is trying to sat- isfy too many demands at once. Treating each demand as equal only pulls him apart. First he needs to figure out if selecting a major is vital at this very moment in his col- lege career. It might be, if he is interested in a major that requires a large number of units. But it might not be if he is enrolled in courses that will count toward his graduation requirements no matter which of several majors he might select. He needs more information about this because it can be a mistake to make a decision that does not yet have to be made.

“All that is required to become an optimist is to have the goal and to practice it.”

Sonja Lyubomirsky, Professor of Psychology, UC Riverside.7

Deshan also needs to set some priorities. For example, is fulfilling his parents’ expectations the top priority or not? Is it more important to select a major one’s parents find worthy or one that fits your interests and talents? In the chapter on the positive critical thinking habits of mind, we identified courageous truth-seeking, which plays an

Major in what you love. Become what you most want to be.

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important role in clarifying priorities. In this case Deshan will need to muster the courage to ask himself some tough questions, like whether or not he wants to spend his col- lege years preparing for a career that does not interest him. His parents may want him to become a lawyer, scientist, business executive, or physician. But Deshan may have other interests.

After reflecting on what is most important to him, let’s assume that Deshan has determined that his primary prob- lem is how to identify a major that will motivate him the most because it fits with his skills and interests. The more passion and motivation he has for the major, the more likely he is to enjoy his studies and do well. Even with his priorities in mind, Deshan might imagine that this major or that major is going to be the right one for him, but to continue to make progress on solving his problem he now needs to gather more information.

STEP 2: DETERMINE Relevant Information and Deepen Understanding After the main problem has been identified, Deshan would be ready to systematically gather the relevant informa- tion needed to inform his choice(s) of major. Other posi- tive critical thinking habits of mind discussed in Chapter 2 alongside of truth-seeking include systematic inquiry and inquisitiveness. These are valuable habits during infor- mation gathering. Deshan would be wise to organize his inquiry the same way he would if this were an important academic assignment. He might begin by listing several questions related to the problem at hand so that he could understand the problem better and so that he could focus his information-gathering efforts. Here are a few examples:

What do I know about myself in terms of my knowl- edge, skills, and values?

What topics do I find most interesting?

In which academic subjects do I excel?

What careers am I most interested in pursuing?

What kinds of problems do I find most compelling?

What can I learn from talking to other people?

What might my academic advisor be able to do to help me?

What could my professors this term do to help me?

What might my friends who are juniors and seniors be able to tell me about picking a major?

What could I learn from talking to people who work in careers that I think are interesting?

What can I learn by consulting other available resources?

What resources exist on campus to help students pick a major or pick a career?

What could I look for on the Internet to learn more about career options?

Where do I look to find out what careers are possible with what majors?

If I can narrow it down to two or three best options, are there any experiences, maybe internships or site visits that might help me learn more?

Does it really matter what major I choose, or could I get into the career field I want with any of several different majors?

“Success is not the key to happiness. Happiness is the key to success. If you love what you are doing, you will be successful.”

Albert Schweitzer, Physician and Humanitarian8

Part of deepening our understanding of a problem is gathering information that is relevant. Determining what information is relevant involves the critical thinking skills of interpretation and analysis, which are discussed in Chapters 4 and 6, on clarifying ideas and evaluating the credibility of sources of information. This is a two-way process. As we gather more information we deepen our understanding of the problem. Developing our under- standing helps us see what additional relevant informa- tion might still be needed.

Deshan’s decision will not be well made until he works through the three remaining steps in the IDEAS process. But let’s assume that he has narrowed his choices to these three possible majors: Political Science (to become a Foreign Service Officer), Forensic Chemistry (to become a Criminologist or Crime Scene Investigator), and Psychology (with a view toward attending Law School to become a Criminal Defense Attorney). As an individual exercise or as a group proj- ect, find out what programs your institution offers that most closely fit with these vocational choices. Investigate the next steps, beyond graduation from your institu- tion with an Associate of Arts Degree or a Baccalaureate Degree that a person would have to pursue to actually prepare for one or more of those careers. And then play out the conversation between Deshan and his parents, assuming they had been hoping he would become a physician or an engineer, as he explains to them that he has decided to dedicate his efforts during college to preparing for one of these three professional careers instead. Having worked your way through these steps in detail, what are the lessons that you might now bring to your own efforts to solidify your long-term career and vocational decisions?

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getting the informational content correct. They always demand a deeper understanding borne of reflective analy- sis, thoughtful interpretation, warranted inferences, and clear explanation based on reasons and evidence. And good exams often require, in addition to knowledge, thoughtful application, and informed analysis, a measure of skill at effective writing. What’s the point of a college course otherwise? Today, information—some of it reliable and some not—is as abundant as sand on an LA beach. If a college education were no more than a game of Jeopardy, then everyone with a smartphone would have a doctorate.

Consider Maria’s situation. In high school, where memorization was the main cognitive skill needed, Maria had always considered herself a good student. Maria earned excellent grades in high school and was in the Advanced Placement or Honors classes in most subjects. So, when Maria got her first test back in college—it was in an Introduction to Cultural Anthropology course— she was shocked to see the big, red “F” at the top of her exam. In fact, it was one of only three Fs in a class of 45 students. And a bunch of people got Bs and As. What the heck happened? She thought she knew the material! She had memorized the terminology and read the chapters,

“All I’m saying is that you’re an adult now . . . And the tough thing about adulthood is that it starts before you even know it starts, when you’re already a dozen decisions into it. . . .The decisions you make now are yours and yours alone from here until the end.”

Robert Redford’s character, Professor Stephen Malley, to promising young student, played by

Andrew Garfield. Lions and Lambs, 20079

Academics Effective preparation for exams and assignments in col- lege is not the brute memorization that many find works well enough in high school. College assignments and exams often require the application of critical thinking skills, like analysis, explanation, evaluation, interpreta- tion, and inference. For years we have given “open book and neighbor” tests, allowing students to collaborate with one another and to look things up online or in their text- books. But success on exams like that is never only about

THINKING CRITICALLY How Can We Use Our Study Time Most Effectively? Given how busy college students are these days, it is important to get everything possible out of every minute we can devote to studying and preparing for exams. It is better to study with highly focused intensity for 30 solid minutes, and then to take a mental break, than it is to waste an hour or two on a distracted, disengaged, disjointed, and half-hearted effort. Successful studying at the college level means becoming intimately, actively, and at times even passionately engaged with the material. Some students find it useful to make out- lines of chapters, to write sample test questions, to make lists or tables or charts, or to create line drawings and diagrams showing interrelationships and linkages. A casual read is not enough—it might be a mile-wide overview but it will end up being only inch-deep understanding. On the other hand, if you can simulate teaching each section and each paragraph to yourself—or better, actually teach the material to some- one else—you will have significantly magnified your compre- hension and your chances of earning high marks on tests. Memorizing definitions, facts, and theories is not enough. Beyond just being able to find or to recite the facts a success- ful student is able to interpret them in a sensible and meaning- ful way and to apply them correctly when drawing inferences and giving explanations. Simply being able to identify names, events, objects, and dates is not the same as being able to

analyze those objects and to explain the key relationships among those objects. Reading through a set of exercises does not pay half the dividends that actually working the exercises provides. And, figuring out exactly why a mistaken answer is an error can be more valuable for deeper learning than hap- pening to get the answer right but not being sure why.

One way to study is to explain to each other why the wrong answers are wrong.

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highlighting almost every sentence it seemed. She was defi- nitely confused because she had come to college thinking she was pretty smart. Maria was right about that, too; she was a very smart woman. But the demands of college work clearly were not going to be the same as high school. Maria knew she had to do something different if she was going to pass this class.

What should someone in Maria’s shoes ask them- selves? Following the 5-step IDEAS process in this situa- tion, the first two steps would be to analyze the situation to identify the problem and set priorities and then system- atically gather the relevant information needed to deepen understanding of the problem and change future behavior.


STE P 1: What is Maria’s problem and what is her priority? The “F” grade is not the problem. It is the result. The problem, in retrospect, became very clear to Maria: She quickly realized that she was not suf- ficiently prepared to take the kind of exam that the college professor gave. Her prior- ity is to reverse that situation. Like going into an important game without appreci- ating how much it would take to be suc- cessful, she had no idea how much critical thinking, as compared with information recall, the professor expected. And now she intends never to put herself in that disadvantageous situation again. Okay, but how? That brings us to the second step.

STEP 2: How can Maria determine what information is relevant and gather that information? What ques- tions could a student ask to learn what the profes- sor expects? The question, “Is this going to be on the exam?” is not one of them. In college everything and anything might turn out to be on the exam. A more helpful question might be “Can you give us an exam- ple or two of the kinds of questions we might expect on the exam?” The purpose of that question is not to find out if the questions are essay, short answer, or multiple choice, but to find out, no matter what the

THINKING CRITICALLY What If Art or Ideas Make Us Uncomfortable? Some students at Wellesley College were disturbed by Tony Matelli’s statue of a man sleepwalking in his underpants. The statue, part of an exhibit, was located outdoors in a busy part of campus. It was a “source of apprehension, fear, and triggered thoughts regarding sexual assault,” said a petition seeking its removal. To which Wellesley’s president, H. Kim Bottomly, is reported to have responded, “The very best works of art have the power to stimulate deeply personal emotions and to provoke unexpected new ideas, and this sculpture is no exception.” The college’s President went on to praise the con- sequences flowing from the placement of the statue because it “started an impassioned conversation about art, gender, sexuality and individual experience, both on campus and in the social media.” (Associated Press, February 8, 2014, “Mass college man-in-undies sculpture causes stir.”)

If President Bottomly is correct in saying that art that evokes unsettling and disturbing ideas has an educational

value, what about ideas? What if professors or other students raise questions about beliefs that we have been taught from childhood? Or, what if other students or professors challenge our traditional community practices? No doubt art and ideas that strike at deeply held beliefs and personal feelings can be very troubling and maybe even hurtful, although perhaps no disrespect was ever intended. But should college students be subjected to this kind of cognitive assault? Is that even ethical to do? Don’t students have the right to be protected from art and ideas that they might find personally offensive?

If you say No, you may be opening the door to the whirlwind. Every idea and every work art will be permitted. But, if you say Yes, then you are agreeing that professors and students do not have the right to challenge practices you may abhor, like honor killing, hazing, or gay bashing.

Training is learning the material; education is learning to learn.

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format, whether the questions demand interpretation, analysis, inference, evaluation, or explanation. What other questions would you ask? How about, “Can you share with us some examples of really strong papers or exams from the last time you taught this course?” If yes, then the professor is providing you with benchmarks and paradigms of the kinds of per- formances on assignments and tests that this profes- sor hopes to see.

“The definition of success: fall down seven times, stand up eight times.”

Japanese Proverb

STEP 3: ENUMERATE Options and Anticipate Con- sequences The twin goals of this third step in the 5-step IDEAS process are to generate potential choices and to reflect on their ramifications. One way to think about this is to visualize yourself standing in the center of an intersection, with paths heading in multiple directions around you. The first thing to do is to imagine as many options, or potential paths, as you can. This sounds easy, but it can be difficult to see all the options because of our natural human tendency to lock into a one possible solution or option prematurely, without giving due consider to the other options. Chapter 11, “Reflective Decision Making,” offers a great many suggestions on how to avoid the common mistake of locking into an inferior option before having seriously considered some bet- ter possibilities.

Suppose you were worried or disappointed, or down- right embarrassed, about your poor academic perfor- mance. Each of these questions could generate options for future behavior.

Are my study habits effective, and if not, how can I change them?

What could I ask my professor that would improve my performance in each class?

How might I engage with my classmates to help us all do better on the next test or assignment?

How could I utilize the textbook, online resources, or class sessions to help my learning? The section about introductory college courses and language commu- nities in Chapter 4 on clarifying ideas can be helpful. The same for the three important chapters (12–14) on comparative, ideological, and empirical reasoning, because those chapters explain the kinds of thinking, which characterize knowledge acquisition in different academic domains of inquiry.

What distracts me or takes me away from my studies? Can I eliminate, contain, or control these factors?

How might my family or friends help me improve as a student?

What campus resources are available to students who are trying to bring up their grades? Most student success centers at colleges these days are intended to help average students become good students and to help good students become superior students.

The second part of this step is to consider what is likely to happen if you choose a particular option and, obviously, to be able to explain to yourself why that is the likely outcome. The positive critical thinking habit of mind of striving to anticipate consequences as objectively as possible is particularly valu- able to cultivate. There are some helpful tips on how to do this in Chapter 2’s section on critical thinking habits of mind. Some of us overestimate our capacity to control events, and others of us underestimate our potential. But the wise per- son is one who thinks ahead when considering choices, and tries to figure out what is likely to happen or not happen if a given choice is made. The more we can understand ourselves and the reasons we make certain choices, the more likely we are able to capitalize on opportunities and avoid negative or disappointing results. As explained in Chapter 10 on heuris- tic thinking and snap judgments, pausing to consider first the potential consequences of our decisions will make us wiser, more reflective decision makers. It certainly helps us eliminate the kinds of impulsive, reactive, shoot-from-the-hip choices that so often lead to unexpected problems.

Let’s practice anticipating the consequences of some potential actions in response to getting a less than fully satis- fying grade on an academic assignment or test. Considering your own personal situation, how would you fill in the blanks?

There are almost always more options than we first might think.

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If I spend twice as much time studying as compared to last time, it is likely that because


If I spend the same amount of time or less time, but studied more intensely and more frequently than last time it is likely that because

If my attendance in class stays the same that will likely result in because .

If I participated more in class discussion this will likely because .

If I go to my professor during office hours, or send an e-mail asking for some help with a particularly con- fusing or difficult concept, the professor will likely tell me that because .

If I study with one of my classmates we will likely because .

If I looked for a campus office that is designed to assist students I will likely find because


If I increased the amount of sleep I get at night that would likely result in because


If I continue to eat the way I have been eating, this will likely because .

We suggest you go through these fill-ins a couple of times each, just to practice anticipating multiple possible consequences for yourself.

One more hypothetical situation for you to con- sider: Suppose that Maria, who likes to e-mail and text her mother every day, told her mother about the failing grade on that Cultural Anthropology exam. And sup- pose that, without informing Maria of her intentions, Maria’s mother decided to phone the academic dean or the Anthropology Department chairperson to complain about the professor ’s “impossibly unfair tests” and to ask the dean to void that exam score or transfer Maria to a section of the course taught by some other profes- sor. What do you think will happen in such a case? Apart from guessing or speculating about what the dean or the department chairperson might do, how can you find out for sure what is likely to happen at your institution if this kind of a situation should arise? Once you know what is likely to happen, would you want your partner, parent, or best friend making such a call on your behalf unbe- knownst to you? Explain why or why not?

Health and Physical Well-being Attributed to the Roman poet Juvenal, the popular say- ing “Mens sana in corpore sano” (“A sound mind in a sound body”) suggests that human happiness is intimately

connected with one’s emotional and physical well-being. That Latin phrase, which has become the motto of many educational institutions, sports clubs and products, and military organizations, has echoed through the centuries in the writings of poets, presidents, and educational philoso- phers. Today, attending to physical health and well-being covers a lot of territory: diet and dietary supplements, fatty fast foods, fitness products, exercise regimens, drugs and alcohol usage, safe and risky sexual activity, and so on. And, when we care about others, we often find ourselves worried about their physical well-being, not just our own.

Consider this scenario: Leah could not believe how much she was agonizing over whether or not to say something to her roommate Stephanie. It was the begin- ning of the semester, and she had been with Stephanie in the cafeteria talking with two other girlfriends about their summer breaks. Stephanie had clearly surprised her friends when she told them how she was still see- ing Brett and that they spend most every night together these days. One friend at the table blurted out “I hope he at least uses a condom!” and Stephanie replied ’Nah, he got so mad when I asked him to wear one . . . he says he HATES those things. Anyway, I am on the pill and I know he is a good guy so we’re good.” Leah had been stunned by Stephanie’s reply, but her friends seemed not to be. Without missing a beat their conversation imme- diately moved to a discussion of the lunch entrées they were eating. Three days later Leah was still trying to decide if she should talk to Stephanie about her relation- ship with Brett. Brett was pressuring Stephanie to gamble with her health and Stephanie was dismissing it. This concerned Leah greatly. She cared about Stephanie a lot and wanted to see their friendship grow. But Leah was still getting to know her roommate, and she was not sure how Stephanie would react if she seemed to be criticizing Stephanie’s love life.

THE FIRST THREE STEPS IN LEAH’S CASE Suppose Leah had been introduced to the 5-step IDEAS process. What might her thinking have been as she worked through the first three steps in the process? Here’s one possibility.

STEP 1: Identify the problem and set priorities. Leah would first analyze the situation to clarify her pri- orities and determine the main problem. Clearly one of her objectives is to develop her friendship with Stephanie. That Stephanie has unprotected sex seems unnecessarily risky to Leah, and Leah is concerned that perhaps Stephanie perceives herself to be invul- nerable for one reason or another. Getting to be a bet- ter friend to Stephanie becomes Leah’s paramount objective. But being a person’s friend means acting in their best interests. So Leah’s problem is to find a way to be honest with Stephanie about her concerns,

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even if acting in such an honest way puts their rela- tionship at risk. For if the relationship is to blossom into a lasting friendship, then that level of honesty is mandatory. Friends do not lie to each other or with- hold their concerns.

STEP 2: Determine Relevant Information and Deepen Understanding. The goal of Step 2 is to clarify the parameters of the situation, illuminate the rele- vant perspectives, and bring whatever needs to be known to the table. In this situation, Leah thought about how she didn’t know Stephanie well enough to simply begin a conversation by telling her that she was foolish for taking such risks. Leah decided

to ask the other two women who were at the table that day what they thought she should do. Their responses were mixed; one said Leah should defi- nitely talk to Stephanie because that would show her that someone cared (even if Leah was a rela- tive stranger). The other told Leah that Stephanie seemed like a smart person and that Leah shouldn’t feel like she had to say anything. In fact, maybe, she said, what Stephanie did was none of Leah’s busi- ness. It looked like the outcome of this step in the IDEAS process for Leah was going to be ambiguous. And then Leah asked herself how the idea of hav- ing unprotected sex based on a guy’s opposition to

THINKING CRITICALLY How Can We Protect Ourselves from Ourselves? Scientifically we know a lot about the relationships between dietary habits and health. A generation ago colleges worried about anorexia and bulimia, still problems today, but not about the opposite—obesity and the long-term health problems associated with excessive weight. The evidence is mounting to associate obesity with diabetes, heart disease, orthopedic difficulties (hips, knees, ankles, and back), birth defects, and higher-risk pregnancies. Oh, and premature death. We sure hope that this isn’t the government’s plan for fixing the Social Security budget!

Our question is this: Why, when we know that a given behavior has harmful long-term effects, do we engage in that behavior anyway? Smoking is another obvious example. Alcohol abuse is as well. Over-eating, not just occasionally, but consistently to the point of gaining significant poundage, going more than 20 percent above one’s ideal weight, taking into consideration height and sex, is an interesting puzzle. There is nothing necessarily wrong with eating. Food, unlike cigarette smoking, does not necessarily introduce anything harmful into a person’s body. And, unlike alcohol, eating a lot all at once does not cause intoxication. But consistently eating too much does ruin a person in the long run. Just like consistently eating too little can ruin a person.

Perhaps the answer to this dilemma can in part be found in the arguments used to support “sin” taxes. A sin tax is a government tax on various products or activities that can cause us harm. Taxes on alcohol and tobacco products, and on gambling, for example, can be called sin taxes. According to Harvard Economics Professor N. Gregory Mankiw, the best argument for “sin” taxes is that “taxes on items with short- run benefits and long-run costs tell our current selves to take into account the welfare of our future selves.” Another good argument is that the costs of which the professor speaks are not paid only by the sinner. Often there are costs to the rest of the society—namely other taxpayers—too, for example for

medical expenses to treat people who suffer from the chronic diseases and debilitating effects of their own unwise behavior.

Professor Mankiw’s remarks were published in an opinion piece he wrote on the topic of taxing soda. His question is “Is a soda tax a good idea?” You can find his article and commentary about it on the Internet by searching “Mankiw soda tax”. Consider his perspective, consider the various options and their consequences, and then formulate one of your own and explain your point of view using good reasons and solid evidence.

“But it seemed so right at the time.”

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wearing a condom fit with her own sense of being a smart person. To Leah those two ideas didn’t go together in her mind at all.

STEP 3: Identifying Options and Anticipating Conse- quences. When Leah imagined bringing the subject up with Stephanie she could see her reacting in many different ways—appreciation, anger, embarrassment, defensiveness, helplessness, happiness, and so on. Leah realized she didn’t know Stephanie well enough to predict which of these would actually happen. But when she imagined her other option, not approach- ing Stephanie, Leah envisioned a variety of futures. Stephanie might continue to take risks with her sexual health, or she might insist on using a condom from here on out. She might be told one day by a doctor that she has contracted a sexually transmitted disease. Or she might realize that she had been lucky in her rela- tionship with Brett, even though no one said anything to her. But to Leah, the risks for Stephanie were rather large, and the benefits of not bringing up the issue were almost zero, particularly since Leah wanted to cultivate a deeper friendship with Stephanie. On the other hand, there were risks associated with bring- ing up the topic. If Stephanie reacted with anger or hostility, that could prevent the friendship from ever happening. As with many difficult problems, it was not easy for Leah to infer what would be the better option. She knows that she needs to think carefully about these options and that she needs to make a choice.

Leah realized that procrastinating or failing to make any decision in a case like this is the same for all practical purposes as explicitly deciding to do noth- ing. Ignoring the problem is not the same as resolving it. Leah realized that a timely decision was essential. And so she moved on to Step 4.

STEP 4: ASSESS The Situation and Make a Pre- liminary Decision. The goal of Step 4 is to evaluate the relevant information, use it to inform your understanding of the problem at hand, and to come to a tentative initial deci- sion about what to believe or what to do. Even in contexts of uncertainty and risk it is often necessary to find the courage to make a decision and stick with it. Chapters 10 and 11 on human decision making focus on the differences between reactive and reflec- tive decisions, warn us about typical human decision-making errors, and provide helpful guidance on how to make timely and well- reasoned decisions without being locked pre- maturely into a less than optimal choice. The box “Critical Thinking Problem-Solving and Decision Making Strategies” includes many

of those recommendations. Each of these derives not only from research about how humans can make better decisions, but from the practical school of hard knocks. Some of the best decision makers are people and organi- zations that debrief their past decisions looking for why they may have been wise or unwise. From as impartial an analysis as possible, they derive for themselves some “lessons learned” to help with future decision making.

What questions could Leah ask herself in this specific situation to reflect on her options and come to a decision of what to do about her concern for Stephanie? Here are three. Can you think of others she might ask?

Will I be able to live with myself if I don’t approach Stephanie with my concerns for her health and well-being?

Am I confident that approaching Stephanie and risk- ing a negative response on her part is worth it, because showing my concern is the right thing to do?

Will I be able to handle the rejection if she doesn’t want to talk to me about something so intimate?

In the end one question Leah asked herself seemed to make all the difference. She asked herself this: “If Stephanie and I were real friends and the situation were reversed, what would I want or expect Stephanie to do to help me?” And her answer then became clear to her: “I would want her to tell me about her concerns, even if she thought that it would be difficult to raise the issue with me.” And so Leah’s tentative decision was to find an appropriate opportunity in the very near future to have a friend-to-friend conver- sation with Stephanie about how much it worried her that Stephanie took the risk of having unprotected sex with Brett and how troubling it was that he seemed to reject the idea of doing everything possible to keep them both healthy.

If the situation were reversed, what would I want my friend to say to me?

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There is one more step to the IDEAS process, and we will focus on it with the next scenario. But first, this ques- tion for you: “When you last had a conversation with a good friend about a health risk behavior—such as abus- ing alcohol or drugs, or overeating or not exercising, or not sleeping enough, or bulimia, or whatever worried you— how did that conversation go? Specifically, did having that conversation hurt your friendship, help it, or not affect it at all? How do you know?”

3.3 Problems in College and Beyond

We are going to extend the application of the IDEAS process to problems relating to emotional well-being and spiritual development momentarily. But, as we are sure you have already noticed, the kinds of problems, which impact us dur- ing our days as college students can impact our lives at other times as well. Physical, social, and vocational problems cer- tainly can be challenges any time in life. Academic problems, less so, but even here we can find that our skillset or knowl- edge base is not well-suited to our aspirations for a new job, or to coping well with an unexpected problem. And when that happens, we realize the need for continued learning.

Anticipating consequences, like the other steps in the 5-step IDEAS critical thinking general problem-solving process, applies to big decisions as well as small ones. Consider the big decision of whether or not to go to college and graduate. A look at the correlations between income and education suggests that the decision to graduate may have very different financial impacts on future earnings potential. While the numbers, as you will see, are impres- sive, noted economist Daniel Kahneman cautions against confusing correlations with causality.10

Emotional Well-Being The decision we reach in Step 4 is called “preliminary” or “tentative” because it is not the end of the problem-solving process. Yes, that preliminary decision is our best candidate for what often becomes our final decision. But before we embrace it and consider our problem to have been resolved, we must first double-check how we got where we are. Step 5 challenges us to scrutinize our own decision-making pro- cess with as much rigor and objectivity as we can muster, and then to correct any lapses or errors we might find. As psychologically challenging as being our own tough critic might be, this step is vital, if we hope to be consistently suc- cessful at problem solving and decision making.

Consider, for example, Angelica’s situation: Angelica walked into the student lounge and flopped down on the couch across from her classmates Shawna and Bree. The three of them had a formidable group project deadline

looming. There was a lot of work to do before the end of the week. But, before they could start talking about their group project tears started to well up in Angelica’s eyes. Her grades were slipping, and today that was weighing heavy on her mind. Nevertheless, what Angelica didn’t anticipate was getting emotional in front of her classmates. She hated the weakness she felt in herself and she did not want to be telling her classmates about all of the things that were stress- ing her out. But it just all started pouring out. She had so many responsibilities; in addition to carrying a full load of units this term Angelica was working nights and weekends waiting tables. And since her parents both had multiple jobs, she was expected to be at home with her little broth- ers and sisters when she wasn’t in class or working. She was also expected to contribute some of her tip money each week to cover the family’s expenses. Angelica didn’t resent the responsibility because she loved her family, but she was in college now and she wondered how she was going to get it all done without failing out of school. By the time she was done talking she was obviously distraught.

In this scenario we have three participants, Angelica, Shawna, and Bree, and they all could apply our 5-step IDEAS process. But would they all focus on the same problem (Step 1)? Maybe not. Bree may determine that the main problem they are facing right now is how to success- fully finish the group project. Shawna may determine that the main problem is to help her classmate with her trou- bles. Meanwhile Angelica can’t focus on the group project because she is distraught about keeping her grades up.

Critical Thinking, Problem-Solving, and Decision -Making Strategies

First of all, be sure you have correctly identified “the problem.”

Specify which factors and priorities are most critical.

Gather relevant information from multiple reliable sources.

Identify and clearly differentiate viable options.

Be clear about why each option is in or out.

Evaluate viable options with disciplined impartiality.

Listen to both sides first—hear the pros and cons before evaluating them.

If new critical factors or priorities emerge use those as well.

Evaluate options in terms of all the critical factors and priorities, not just a subset.

Treat all the viable options equally—don’t focus only on the advantages of the one you like and the flaws of the ones you don’t like.

Have the courage to follow the reasons and evidence wherever they lead and to ask all the hard questions before making a final decision.

Seek advice from independent, informed, and unbiased sources

Decide when it is time to decide, and then make the decision in a timely way.

Check to see that the process you used has been reflective, complete, and fair-minded.

Check to see that the outcomes anticipated are the outcomes being attained. If not, make mid-course corrections to get back on track.

Have the maturity of judgment to stick with a decision if it is well made, but to change direction if there is good reason to reconsider and revise the decision.

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What Is the Relationship between Education and Income? Anticipating consequences, like the other steps in the 5-step IDEAS critical thinking problem-solving process, applies to big decisions as well as small ones. Consider the big decision of whether or not to go to college and graduate. The options appear to have different financial impacts on future earn- ings potential. Sure, there are always stories about someone who made it big financially but never went to college. Just like there are stories about people who smoked for decades but never contracted heart disease, lung cancer, or emphysema. But, statistically speaking, those celebrated examples are the rare exceptions. Like winning a fortune in a casino, it can happen; but the smart money says don’t bet your life on it.

In its May 8, 2010, issue, when the public mood was growing severely impatient with the continuing U.S. economic problems, The Economist published a graphic “Richer by degrees” (page 33) based on data from the Brookings Institution. The graphic describes the relationship between academic attainment, gender, and income. As a crit ical thinking exercise, how would you interpret what this graphic is telling us about the changes in real hourly earnings by sex and educational attainment? What do you suppose explains the generally better numbers for women at every educational level? Do you believe that the next 30 years will be different than the previous 30 with regard to earnings by educational level? What are the reasons and the evidence for your view?

An analysis focusing on the supercharged Silicon Valley economy appeared in the February 7, 2014, Silicon Valley Business Journal (page 8). The story there includes information on the jobless rates, and income differences by sex, race, and shifts of income by household.

Here are data presentations from the Brookings Institution, the U.S. Census Bureau, and the Silicon Valley Business Journal. Applying you critical thinking skills of analysis, interpretation and inference, what do the data indicate to you? What questions do you have about the data?


High school drop-out


Richer by degrees

Change in real hourly earnings by education level 1979–2007(%).

High school graduate

Some college

College graduate

Postgraduate education

Source: Reprinted by permission of the Brookings Institution.

–10 0 10 20 30 40


$1 40,000

Males in Silicon Valley with a bachelor’s degree, graduate or professional degree earn 40–73% more than females with the same level of educational attainment.


$1 20,000

$1 00,000

$80,000 Male



$0 Less than

High School High School

Graduate (Includes


Graduate or Professional


Bachelor’s Degree

Some College or Associate



Mean Earnings by Highest Degree Earned, $: 2009 (SAUS, table 232)

Education level Mean Earnings

Doctorate 103,000

Professional 128,000

Master’s 74,000

Bachelor’s 57,000

Associate’s 40,000

Some college, no degree 32,000

High school graduate only 31,000

Not a high school graduate 20,000

All 42,000

Statistical Analyses of the United States Table 276. U.S. Census Bureau,

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“I don’t think of myself as a poor deprived ghetto girl who made good. I think of myself as somebody who from an early age knew I was responsible for myself, and I had to make good.”

Oprah Winfrey, Entertainer and Philanthropist11

Let’s take Bree’s version of the problem at hand. As Bree navigates the remaining steps in the process, she will seek to clarify the situation, analyze the available options, evaluate the likelihood of success from choos- ing a particular option, and then after reflection, choose a course of action. To accomplish this, Bree may want to review the assignment with her two classmates, and go over what they had decided to do separately and together over the next day or two before the due date. She may ask the group to think about whether the plan is still realistic. Specifically she may ask Angelica whether she will have the time to complete her part of the project. She may also ask Shawna whether she can take on some additional work to assist Angelica. Bree would reflect on her own ability to assist Angelica.

STEP 5: SCRUTINIZE Processes and Self-Correct as Needed. Let’s assume that Angelica regained her com- posure and promised Shawna and Bree that she will get her parts of the project done on time. In light of this new information, Bree would need to consider the ramifications of trusting Angelica (Step 4). Bree would also want to ask questions that would help her antici- pate the consequences of accepting Angelica’s promise (Step 3). Ultimately, Bree accepts Angelica’s promise and is confident about this decision. Does this mean that Bree’s critical thinking about this situation is done? Actually no. The final step in the 5-step IDEAS process includes ongoing monitoring, analyzing, and evaluating the consequences of our chosen actions or beliefs. Mid-course corrections may always be neces- sary, no matter what the decision.

Only gods and fools never reconsider! Anonymous

Step 5 directs us to be deliberately mindful of our deci- sions and whether or not they are leading to our desired outcomes. Sometimes when we move forward with a decision we are rewarded with things going as we had

THINKING CRITICALLY Lifestyles of the Wealthy and Renown

Consider the conversation between Garrett and his easily excited suitemate, Taylor, who has just burst into their shared living room:

“Garrett! Garrett! Look at this!! That Big Bang Theory chick wrote a cookbook! I’ve decided to become a total Vegan. And I’m going to sell all my stuff, give all my money to the Red

Cross, get to a zero carbon footprint and dedicate my life to finding that Blue Zone everyone is talking about!” Without tak- ing a breath, Taylor shoves the tablet version of Mayim Bialik’s latest book, The Vegan Table, into Garrett’s hands.

“Okay… Taylor… hey!…Calm down,” says Garrett. But Taylor keeps roiling on.

“You know, Mayim Bialik! She’s Amy Farrah Fowler on Big Bang. Was Blossom Russo on “Blossom” back in the day, and she did a movie called “Beaches” when she was a kid. But did you know that she has a PhD in neuroscience from UCLA in real life? If someone as smart as her is a vegan, then, really, why not me too?

Knowing there is no cause that Taylor does not embrace, nothing on Facebook Taylor does not “like,” and no cute kitty video that Taylor does not watch 10 times, Garrett wonders what he can say or do. He is worried about Taylor. And his initial reaction is to talk Taylor down from this infatuation with profound eco-poverty and extreme veganism.

But, on second thought, maybe it wouldn’t hurt, thinks Garrett, to take this vegan thing a little more seriously. Garrett knows exactly who Bialik is, and he’s heard about her cook- book too. He knows the book is not a radical vegan manifesto. It contains some sensible ideas.

If you were Garrett what would you do to help your friend, Taylor? Explain why.

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envisioned them. But as often as not, our planning is imperfect or the unexpected happens. Or, if there are competitors in the mix, they respond to our moves by making tactical adjustments that counteract or nullify our own efforts. The situation changes, people do not fulfill their responsibilities, or events beyond anyone’s control inter- vene. Things go awry. Bad stuff happens!

M o n i t o r i n g p r o g r e s s toward important goals and successfully achieving intermediary benchmarks and objectives are very much a part of thoughtful and effec- tive problem solving. And, when we see things beginning to slip, revising our assumptions, reviewing our options, investigating why, and self-correcting are essential. This applies as much to beliefs—as the Chapters 12, 13, and 14 on comparative, ideological, and empirical reasoning explain—as it does to actions.

Here are some questions to help when reviewing and revising a decision:

What is actually happening as a result of my decision, and is it what I thought would happen?

If my decision was related to a short-term goal, was the goal achieved? Why or why not?

to a mid-range or long-term goal, what evidence can I col- lect to gauge whether I am still on the path to achieve my goal?

get feedback on my deci- sion and the ramifications of my chosen action (or belief)?

actions of another person, what can I do to support this relationship?

start? Do I have the problem and the priorities right? Is there new information to consider? Are some options looking better now than before? Was I mistaken about the consequences? Did I act prematurely or delay too long on some aspect of this? If the situation did not turn out as I had anticipated, how might I rethink this problem, minimize the dam- age my error may have caused, and make the best out of the position I now find myself in? Are there some questions that I should have asked, some techniques or methods for information gather- ing I should have used, some assumptions or expec- tations that I made which were unfounded, some

THINKING CRITICALLY What Is the Primary Purpose of Higher Education? In the “Measures of Students’ Success” box earlier the purpose of higher education was associated with student success. But “student success” was not defined except perhaps by whatever metrics influential media, like US News, might be using. And, if success in those rankings means that a college is achieving the primary purpose of higher education, then perhaps we need to take a step back and ask the question a different way. If you had to rank the many purposes higher education serves, for example, if it became necessary to make budget cuts or to decide between competing priorities, which purpose would come out on top?

Would the primary purpose of higher education be to maximize each student’s life time income, as the box on the “Relationship between Education and Income” might be interpreted as suggesting? Or, is the primary purpose to train people for a particular job or to prepare them for a given professional field, even if that job or profession is not one of the most lucrative? Many universities market themselves with that

promise. Or, moving beyond the individual’s good and looking to the nation’s needs, perhaps the purpose of higher education is to be an engine of future economic growth by producing scientists, engineers, entrepreneurs, and innovators. Many countries have based their funding of higher education on its potential to benefit the economy over the long haul. Or perhaps the primary purpose of education is to reinforce the beliefs and practices of a given religion so as to ensure that the religion will continue into the future unchanged. This is the case in many countries as well.

Obviously some of the candidates for “the primary purpose of higher education” require stronger critical thinking on the part of students than do other candidates. OK, so let’s put some skin in the game. Education is not free, and it cannot serve all purposes equally well. Ask yourself, what is and what should be the primary purpose of higher education? How would you adjust your answer if it applied only to public higher education or only to private higher education?

The primary purpose of higher education may not be the same as the goals each of us has for attending college. Is this a problem?

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standards of performance or quality that I failed to apply, and some contextual factors, which I failed to take into consideration?

Bree saw “the problem” as the looming deadline. But what if Angelica’s or Shawna’s way of seeing the problem were more reasonable? How would “the problem” be best handled if it were interpreted in those ways?

Spiritual Development In the previous sections we emphasized first one then another step in the IDEAS process. Along the way we have seen examples of problems in five of the six domains listed in the section on educating the whole person: social, vocational, academic, physical health, and emotional well- being. The one remaining domain is called the “spiritual” domain. Spiritual can be a troubling word for some of us; so if it helps to think of this domain as the province of one’s core values, ethical principles, and deep commit- ments, that is fine as well.

Here’s the situation: Max had been feeling ambivalent about the community service project he got sucked into over spring break. A group from his residence hall had signed up to spend the week building houses with Habitat for Humanity. His friends had coaxed him to join in by pointing out that Max’s father was in construction so Max would be a natural asset. Max knew that his friends were mostly joking about his being “an asset” and that they just wanted more hands working on the project so they would finish faster. What they didn’t know is that Max’s father was constantly telling Max that a college education would be his “ticket out of Pop’s blue collar life, and don’t look back.” Max always found that statement puzzling, but he knew that Pop was thrilled when Max announced that he was majoring in Engineering Management. Max never saw the curveball coming, but his life was irrevocably changed

by his experience during spring break. Max had never wit- nessed poverty like that before, nor the tearful gratitude from the families who were receiving the new houses. Ever since, Max can’t stop thinking about how his own family actually has it pretty good. Max finds himself asking hard questions about privilege, social justice, and what is fair in the world. He’s not only wondering what happened, he’s wondering now about the advice his Pop gave and about a lot of societal and political values and beliefs that he had never before questioned.

The central themes linked with the category we are calling “Spiritual Development” pertain to nurtur- ing a positive and enthusiastic outlook on life and the future, setting goals for oneself, and achieving those aspirations—by cultivating open-mindedness, forming a personal value system and appreciating others’ value systems, establishing a sense of ethics and ethical behav- ior, and engaging existential questions about life and the world around us.

Throughout this chapter we have highlighted the important factors that shape our college experience: social relationships, vocational direction, academics, physical health, and emotional well-being. These are not discrete domains; the life decisions we make during college inevi- tably touch on and are influenced by many of these fac- tors in complex ways. The 5-Step IDEAS Critical Thinking Problem-Solving Process works well for the practical, day-to-day problems that vex and at times torment us. Now, we end this chapter by acknowledging and celebrat- ing the “big questions” that are likely to be raised by the experiences you’ll have while in college. In fact, the big questions are likely to be ones that we come back to more than once throughout our lifetime. It seems that every stage of life holds its share of experiences that can cause a person or a community to revisit core values, principles, and commitments. Let’s take a brief look at how the five IDEAS steps might apply.

“I really wanted to do something positive on the Internet. I wanted to try to get young people talking about, thinking about, life’s big questions—make it cool and OK to wonder about the heart, the soul and free will and God and death and big topics like that, big human topics.”

Rainn Wilson, Actor12

Max is grappling with the big question of “Who am I in this world?” Reflecting thoughtfully about one’s iden- tity is a hallmark of the college experience. Erik Erikson and other developmental psychologists remind us that

We make our lives meaningful by embracing purposes larger than ourselves.

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THINKING CRITICALLY Religious Practices and Beliefs—What Do We Know? Whether it is through a religious tradition or a personally defined spiritualism, faith in a higher power, for many stu- dents, is a recognizable expression of their value system. How important is religion in your life—very important, somewhat important, not too important, or not at all important?

And how important is religion to the other students in your classes? Do you practice your religion at least once a week? Do other students practice theirs? Given the diversity of religious views, practices, and traditions among college students, perhaps a more fundamental question is how much do we really know about the practices and beliefs of those other religions . . . or even of our own?

According to a recent Religious Knowledge Survey conducted by the Pew Research Center nearly 60 percent of U.S. adults said religion is “very important” to them. And 40 percent of adults said they regularly (at least once a week) attend religious services. Nevertheless, a large number of Americans could not correctly identify the tenets, practices, history, and leading figures of their own faith tradition, let alone those of other major world religions.

The strongest predictor of religious knowledge was not having a religious upbringing, but it was a person’s years

of schooling. Other important factors included a person’s religious affiliation, overall levels of religious commitment and frequency of reading religious materials, their gender and ethnicity, and where in the country a person resides.

Initial questions: Review the survey findings at Report of survey results. Search “Pew U.S. Religious Knowledge Survey”. How can we explain the relationship between education and religious knowledge? Search “Pew U.S. Religious Knowledge Quiz.” How well do you know the Bible and Christianity, world religions, or the constitutional restrictions on religion in the public schools? Take the Pew Research Center’s Religious Knowledge Quiz for yourself:”

Obvious follow up questions: How does knowing a religion relate to practicing a religion? In the preface of The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins describes coming to the consciousness raising realization that adults can give themselves permission to question the religious beliefs taught to them in childhood. If you have not done so already, in the spirit of Dawkins’ “But I didn’t knew I could,”14 give yourself permission to explore potential differences between what you were taught as a child and what you have learned as a more mature and better informed adult?

many of the elements of the college environment— academic, co-curricular, administrative, and community- based—facilitate college students’ identity formation and social development.13 The table “Levels of Thinking and Knowing” in Chapter 6 describes a progression from the naïvely trusting ways children deal with ideas all the way to the subtle and complex ways that “truth-seekers” and “sages” think. Critical thinking, and the cultivation of a

healthy skepticism, can aid our cognitive development and help us not to be trapped in any one stage along the way. Max finds that he can no longer accept his father’s views about society and about work without question- ing. Max’s experiences during the service learning proj- ect reveal a troubling disconnect between what he had believed before and what he has learned since about rela- tive wealth and poverty, and the conditions under which

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people live. Max is not so naïve as to think that he can go out and “save the world.” But neither is he so insensitive as to think that “none of this is about me.”

“Faith consists in being vitally concerned with that ultimate reality to which I give the symbolical name of God. Whoever reflects earnestly on the meaning of life is on the verge of an act of faith.”

Paul Tillich, Theologian15

Applying the 5-step IDEAS process can help coun- teract the feeling of being overwhelmed by the magni- tude of big questions, such as those with which Max is wrestling. Forming a clear, solid, and durable sense of self takes time. Max is not going to have this all figured out in a day or two. But he does have the courage to face his question. He wants to know who the man is that he is going to become. And he knows that choices along the way are going to affect how he reacts each morning when he looks at the face of the man in the mirror. Rather than doing anything drastic that might impact his future options, Max is not going to drop out of college to take up missionary work in the inner city. Although that is one option that some might pursue. Nor is Max going to turn his back on his Habitat for Humanity experiences, trying to pretend that they never happened. Again, that is an option some others might pursue. Max is probably going to end up agreeing with his father that a college degree is

essential, but that will be an inference Max draws for his own reasons, and not simply because his father may or may not have said so. Max will see the value of a college degree for the work he wants to do in life. Max may or may not decide to stick with his Engineering Management major. Either way, again, this decision will be for his own reasons, and whether it pleases or displeases his father will be of secondary consideration. Probably Max will gather data information about Engineering Management careers that have the potential to combine employment and service to the greater good. It is highly unlikely that Max would take a job that fulfilled only one of those two compatible objectives. Max may then decide to seek sum- mer internships with firms that appear to offer those kinds of job opportunities after graduation. Not only would taking those kinds of internships help Max review and validate or amend his thinking about the man he will become, but internships can position him to be a stronger job candidate in those firms, if it turns out that the experi- ences affirm the direction he thinks he wants to take in his life.

Max’s case reminds us that the 5-step IDEAS process can work over an extended period of time when applied to larger problems and dynamic circumstances, just as it can work with smaller, more well-defined problems. The key thing is that good problem solving and decision mak- ing during our college experience, and for all the rest of one’s life, demands purposeful reflective judgment—that is, critical thinking.

Summing up this chapter, the process of reflective judgment known as critical thinking can be described as a widely applicable 5-step general method of problem solving and decision mak- ing. For ease of remembering the steps, use “I D E A S.” Identify the problem and set priorities. Determine rele- vant information and deepen understanding. Enumerate options and anticipate consequences. Assess the

situation and make a preliminary decision. Scrutinize the process and self-correct as needed. To illustrate how the process works, we applied it to the many different kinds of day-to-day challenges and difficulties college students encounter. In Chapter 4 we begin focusing on specific critical thinking skills, the tools used in multiple steps of the critical thinking process.

Key Concept problem solving is moving from the point at which we initially realize that we have a difficulty, which requires our attention to that point where we regard the difficulty

as being sufficiently resolved for the current time and circumstances.

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Applications Reflective Log What’s on my list? No doubt every one of us has small problems, if not big problems, which can aptly be classi- fied as social, vocational, academic, physical, emotional, or spiritual concerns. Take a moment to jot down some of your issues, questions, and problems in each of these areas. When you have done that, reflect for a moment on which of the ones you’ve listed appears to you to be the most challenging.

Having done that, now ask yourself what constructive steps are you taking to address that/those issues, questions, and concerns? How are those approaches working out for you? If not as well as you had hoped or expected, what might you do differently? Remember what Albert Einstein said, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.”

Individual Exercise Believing our own press releases: Hundreds of millions of us use social media to post pictures and share personal information for friends, family, contacts and all the world to see. And that includes everyone and anyone who is just surfing, snooping, or stalking cyberspace. The Craig’s List murderer, phishing schemes by identity thefts, and feature films like Headline, Her, The Social Network, and Catfish dra- matize the complexity of online relationships. They bring home the need to evaluate how trustworthy the information might be that someone posts about themselves. And that includes how honest we are about what we say about our- selves. Have we applied the right degree of healthy

skepticism to what we say about ourselves? Or, do we fall prey to the problem of believing our own press releases? Do a picture-by-picture and line-by-line analysis of your own postings about yourself. Are there exaggerations, strategic omissions, or misleading descriptions there? Is the impres- sion we are trying to give people about ourselves an honest one? Not that we should post all of our flaws and fears for the whole world to see, but we might ask: To what extent might some degree of depth, substance, and sincerity actu- ally present a truer picture? And if we know we are not being fully honest ourselves, then how can we trust what others are saying about themselves?

Group Exercise Investigate, classify, and rank the purposes of college: Students have their reasons for attending college, parents and family members have their hopes and expectations, governments and foundations have their reasons for fund- ing colleges, religious communities have purposes in mind for starting and sustaining colleges, and the colleges them- selves have mission statements and Web sites proclaim- ing all the worthy things they expect all their graduates to have learned. Compare those lists. What are the com- monalities of purpose, if any? Which are the most worthy and reasonable, even if they are not the most common?

Which do the faculty, staff, alumni, and financial support- ers of your college most value and spend the most effort to achieve? Which do you prize most and focus your greatest efforts on achieving? Which define the college and you as a success? Suggestion, begin with web searches for mission statements, government policy statements, and political statements about the value or worth of a college educa- tion. Interview some faculty and people from other walks of life. In other words, determine the relevant information and deepen understanding before responding to the evalu- ation questions in this exercise.

SHARED RESPONSE Give IDEAS a Try Describe how you could use the five-step IDEAS critical thinking process to work through a current problem that you may be dealing with, or that is fairly typical for college students like yourself. Comment respectfully on the problems and IDEAS solution strategies offered by others.

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Learning Outcomes

4.1 Explain how context and purpose affect the quality of an interpretation.

4.2 Explain the conditions under which vagueness and ambiguity become problematic, clarify your explanation with examples.

4.3 Apply five strategies to effectively resolve problematic vagueness and ambiguity.

4.4 Explain why strong critical thinking, particularly judicious interpretation, is helpful when encountering a new language community.

Chapter 4

Clarify Ideas and Concepts

HOW do context and purpose affect the quality of an interpretation?

WHEN are vagueness and ambiguity problematic?

HOW can I resolve problematic vagueness and ambiguity?

WHAT are language communities and in which do I hold membership?

In one of the most dramatic moments of the Academy Award–winning film version of Inherit the Wind two of the great actors of the previous century confront one another. Spencer Tracy, playing Harry Drummond, cross-examines Fredric March, playing Harrison Brady, on this point: How shall we interpret the biblical meaning of day? Watch this wonderful film, the scene is near the end. It is such a famous scene that you may be able to locate it on YouTube or elsewhere online.

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You interpret! The verbal gauntlet is hurled at the over-confident prosecution witness, Harrison Brady, by defense attorney Harry Drummond in Inherit the Wind.1 Drummond is defending a schoolteacher fired for teach- ing evolution. Brady maintains that evolution is demon- strably false, given the creation story presented in Genesis, the opening book of the Bible. The Harrison Brady charac- ter is a staunch advocate of reading every word and verse in the Bible as the exact historical truth in all respects. But, thinks Drummond, if Brady is offering an interpretation, then Brady has strayed from his strictly literal reading of the sacred text. An interpretive analysis would be a crack in Brady’s mental armor, a weakness that Drummond, like any good attorney, vigorously exploits. Drummond challenges Brady’s thinking with questions about how to make sense of the word day as that word is used in Genesis. How long is a day to the eternal Creator, partic- ularly if the Sun had not yet been created? There would be no way to measure a day, there would be no sundown to sundown, for example. So, is a “day” necessarily a 24-hour day; or might a day have been longer (or shorter) than 24 hours? Might it have perhaps been a year, hun- dreds of years, thousands of years, or, who knows, maybe millions of years?

Scientific advances over recent centuries have reshaped our understanding of ourselves, our world, our solar system, and our universe. Without diminishing the value of the biblical book of Genesis for other purposes, to offer the book as a historical record of actual events occur- ring within the specific time frames stated there is to invite precisely the kind of exposure that Inherit the Wind deliv- ers. On a literal level, Genesis’s obvious contradictions (e.g., daylight on earth being created before the Sun) and vast inconsistencies between that text and all that we have learned scientifically pose too great an intellectual obstacle for reason to vault. For a visually beautiful and person- ally inspirational scientific recap of the age of our planet, watch episode 7, “The Clean Room,” of the celebrated FOX Television 2014 series Cosmos: A Space Time Odyssey."

But, planetary history aside, what if the authors and editors of Genesis had entirely different purposes in mind as they told their marvelous and meaningful stories around the campfires of their nomadic kinsmen? What other interpretations might those authors and editors have intended?

This chapter is about interpreting the meanings of ideas as they are conveyed in language. Our goal, in the exercise of our critical thinking skill of interpretation, is to achieve as much accuracy and precision as may be required or as may be possible for the purposes and the context at hand.

4.1 Interpretation, Context, and Purpose

The authors and editors of Genesis meant to communi- cate their faith perspective. By telling of the powerful and awe-inspiring Yahweh, the authors of Genesis wanted to reassure the Israelites that Yahweh was far superior to the pagan gods. The tales of fearsome divine reprisals for straying from the teachings of Yahweh (e.g., death for those who went with the Moabite women to ceremonies honoring the god Baal) were meant to reinforce compli- ance. Genesis is meant to bind the Israelites as a group by giving them a common religious heritage and identity. To do this, the authors and editors of Genesis used some of the most memorable stories known to man.2

We do not expect a scientific publication to be a musi- cal score. And we do not defend it or criticize it using the standards that are meant to be applied to music. The purposes and context of the material determines how it should be interpreted and used. Take the book of Genesis, for example—to interpret it as a scientific work would be a mistake. First, as indicated earlier, it is very probably not an accurate understanding of the purposes of the authors. Second, the historical, social, and cultural context within which the work was produced was pre-scientific. The investigatory methodology we know as science was for- eign to the authors and the audience of Genesis. Thus, it would be equally wrongheaded either to criticize or to defend that collection of religious stories as if it were astronomical, biological, or geophysical science. In fact, the whole question of the Bible’s historical context and purpose is fascinating. And given the political, moral, reli- gious, and social significance of the Bible in today’s world, it is a question well worth examining carefully.3 As we shall see throughout this chapter, a grasp of context and purpose forms the starting point for interpretation.

Meaning Matters How best to interpret Genesis is a significant concern for a great many people. But it is only one of many disputes where everything depends on interpretation. For example, the words “father” and “sibling” in the context of MTV’s reality series Generation Cryo. Is it reasonable to call a sperm donor a father? Is it reasonable to think of another person fathered by that same sperm donor as a sibling? If two chil- dren adopted into the same family are siblings, and they do not have any ancestors in common, why wouldn’t two children from the same sperm donor be siblings, even if raised in different homes? Does it make a difference? Yes,

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especially if love, identity, opportunity, or money come into the picture. There was a legal battle in Michigan over whether a genetic child can receive Social Security survivor benefits if the sperm donor father dies.4 The key words here, “father” and “child,” are ambiguous. Meaning matters.

Or, to take another current example, one that rose to the level of a U.S. Supreme Court case, consider the mean- ing of “family” and “mother” within the context of twenty- first century technology. A child born today can have a birth mother, a genetic (egg donor) mother, and female par- ent (mother) who adopts and raises that child. In Florida a birth mother took her nine year old child from the home of the woman who was the genetic mother and who had raised the child. Sounds terrible, but the issue is compli- cated. The genetic mother’s egg was fertilized in vitro by a donor sperm, then implanted in the birth mother. But, because the genetic mother was in a lesbian relationship, and because Florida does not recognize same sex marriage, the genetic mother could not legally adopt her daughter.5 The legal outcome of this custody battle will impact this child and many others. Meaning matters. And as soon as we can replace one female’s nuclear DNA in an ovum with another female’s nuclear DNA so that it can interact with the mitochondrial DNA that is outside of the nucleus, we will be able to have a three-genetic-parent child. And on

that day the meaning of the term “parent,” with all of its psychological, social, legal, ethical, and financial implica- tions will again become more ambiguous.

Talking about the impact on people, what exactly is the definition of “person”? In the landmark case “Citizens United vs. the Federal Election Commission,” the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that corporations are persons too. The issue originally focused on whether the protections of the First Amendment right of free speech extended to political positions expressed by corporations. The Supreme Court said as persons that right is protected. So, “We the people …” includes Wal-Mart Stores, Exxon Mobil, General Motors, Bank of America, Boeing, and others. And if free speech is protected, it seems logical that the other First Amendment rights are protected too, including the right to the free exercise of religion. Which leaves us with the mental puzzle, what religion does a Fortune 500 public corporation practice? Is it the religion of its founder, the religion agreed upon by majority vote of the stock hold- ers, or what? But, more importantly for the biologically based people involved, does a large, public, for-profit corporation, for example, Hobby Lobby with over 20,000 employees, have the right to refuse to provide its female employees with certain health care benefits on the basis of the religious beliefs of its founder? Does a corporation upon which millions depend, for example, Cardinal Health Systems or Comcast, have the right not to provide services to customers on Sunday because the Board of Directors believes for religious reasons its employees should be attending worship services with their families on Sundays? Until the courts clarify its precise meaning, at this point in time “the free exercise of religion” as applied to corporate persons is unhelpfully vague. Meaning matters.

But, Clear Enough for What? How clear must the meaning of an expression be before we can say that we understand? Not surprisingly, that depends almost entirely on purpose and context of the communication. Interpretation, along with the habit of judiciousness, is the primary critical thinking skill for determining the meaning and significance of what is being communicated. The first rule of fair-minded interpretation is to be sensitive to context and purpose.

Strong critical thinkers use four interpretive questions to reveal context and purpose. These questions apply to written and oral communications. But not just to those two ways of communicating. The four interpretive questions apply also to nonverbal ways of communicating, includ- ing using music, dance, gestures, signs, posters, pictures, icons, maps, data charts, dashboard displays, and so on.

Does sperm donorship = fatherhood?

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And most importantly, to mixed communication modali- ties, including video that combines words, music, images, gestures, and iconic symbols.

1. What values, beliefs, events, or issues were impor- tant enough to motivate the author to initiate communication?

2. Who was the author’s intended audience?

3. What did the author intend to communicate?

4. Given the context and the intended audience, what did the author believe that audience already knew?

For example, assume that some- one texts this message: “Torch in boot.” At first this message appears nonsensical. Here is some context: The message was sent in response to a question, “Do we have a torch?” A Liverpool teenage driver sent this message at night to her dad. The dad’s purpose in sending “Torch in boot” was to respond to his daugh- ter ’s question. OK, now we can make a reasonably accurate interpretation of the message. It means, “Yes, we do have a torch (flashlight). You’ll find it in the boot (trunk) of the car you are driving.”

Icons have historically been used as non-verbal ways of communicating. In our current technology-rich culture, almost everyone knows that the colorful little icons on the home screens of mobile devices signify the app that they also enable the user to open. Carved into the pavement of the streets near the port of the ancient Roman city of Pompeii, are phallic icons intended to guide visiting sailors to houses of prostitution. But, l ike the gods of ancient civilizations, the icons which signified so much to people living in other times and places often are of l ittle significance for us today. Search “Mayan icons” or “Aztec icons” to see examples. Unfamiliar with context and purpose, today we have difficulty figuring out what they mean or meant. Some icons

are meaningful today only to people who are members of particular communities, and that is because the members of that community know their purpose and context of use. Outsiders often do not. For example, can you identify the cultural context and meaning of the two sets of icons pictured here? Hint, one set is intended to celebrate five individuals. The other set is advice to visitors to a public beach.

Christianity’s iconography is rich with meanings. This stained glass window shows the four evangelists, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, each holding a book representing the gospel attributed to his authorship. The figure in the middle represents Jesus, whom we are intended to recognize because the figure is holding a lamb.

Knowing that not every visitor to Morrow Bay Harbor can read English, the Harbor Patrol informs visitors about the laws and warns them about dangers using icons.

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Worth 1000 Words Some messages are better communicated in images than in text. But even so, the four interpretive questions apply. Consider, for example, the two Herblock editorial cartoons shown here. Within the context of U.S. politics and the influence the K Street lobbyists have in drafting legislation that serves the interests of their corporate clients, we can understand exactly what the cartoonist is saying. What sur- prised us about these two cartoons was their publication dates. Fifty years apart and the message is still meaningful.

Suppose an author’s purpose is to assist eligible peo- ple to understand how much subsidy in tax credits they could receive from the government as a way of reducing their health insurance premiums under the Affordable Healthcare Act. Knowing that millions of eligible individu- als may have poor reading skills, instead of quoting the regulations, the author might try using a graphic like this one. But, without understanding that the context is health insurance premium savings, it would be difficult to know what this chart is intended to communicate since it does not mention insurance anywhere.

It would take a page or more of formidably dense text to describe the range and distribution of critical thinking skills test scores for 2768 undergraduates. Or, if the audience can be assumed to understand simple numerical charts and descriptive statistics, we can com- municate more effectively simply by using one image of a bar chart. The bar chart, which statisticians would refer to as a “Histogram,” includes an abundant amount

Under the Affordable Care Act, you qualify for savings in 2013 depending on the size of your family and the in come you make. Find the size of your family to see what the upper limit on income is for you to qualify for

government supported savings. Family Size Max Income to Qualify

Qualify $ 45,960 $ 62,040

$ 94,200

$ 126,360

$ 158,520 $ 142,440

$ 110,280

$ 78,120

of information. But, to access that information a person needs to understand what the community of statisticians means by odd sounding words like “Quartile” or by abbre- viations like “N”. Like anything else, once we know how words and symbols are used by the people who form a given community of language users (in this case statisti- cians), it is very easy to interpret all that is being said. As a kind of personal mini-initiation into that community, watch the short video “Interpreting Group Score Report Histograms”. Search for it on YouTube by name, or by adding “Facione” or “Insight Assessment” to your search.6

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Communication, Language, and Thought Our complex ways of communicating, our uses of lan- guage, and our thinking are so closely connected that most of us think in our native language. As children, years before formal schooling, we begin to learn how to express our ideas in words and sentences. As we grow and learn more, our vocabulary expands, as does our abil- ity to express ourselves with greater precision. If we try to learn a new language as an adult, we often find our- selves translating from the new language into English (if English is our native language) and then back into the tar- get language.

Some anthropologists maintain that the capac- ity to use language gave the young species Homo sapi- ens great advantages over the other hominids, such as Neanderthals, who had greater numbers and greater physical strength.7 Using language, early human beings were able to coordinate efforts in combat and refine strategies for acquiring the resources our species needed to survive. Early human language may have included, along with words and pictographs, sounds like clicks and whistles, which we do not use in English. Because

communication was almost always face-to-face in the centuries before writing, gestures, and movements were also used to facilitate communication. Taken in its broad- est sense, language in the earliest millennia of our species was a rich and varied system of gesticulations, sounds, pictures, and symbols.

As human society became more complex and agree- ments and ideas became so important that they had to be passed down to future generations, written language evolved to capture those ideas and agreements. Whether it was the location of the family plot of land in a river delta that flooded each spring, or the dictates of the monarch, some things needed to be remembered. Written language became our means of commemorating important things like these.

Written communications are poor messengers as com- pared to face-to-face conversations. In the presence of the other person facial expressions, gestures, and body lan- guage add so much. When immediate face-to-face commu- nication is reduced to texts or voice recordings, we increase the risk that vagueness or ambiguity will make accurate interpretation more difficult. But, we gain a huge benefit, namely that reliance on written communication relieves us from needing to memorize everything. Most often we

Not Manifested





50 The Reasoning Skills Overall score describes overall strength in using reasoning to form reflective judgment about what to believe or what to do. High overall scores are attained by test takers who excel in the sustained, focused and integrated application of core thinking skills measured on this test, including analysis, interpretation, inference, evaluation, explanation, induction and deduction. The overall score predicts the capacity for success in educational or workplace settings which demand reasoned decision making and thoughtful problem solving.

55 60 65 70 75 80 85 90 95 100

12 0

24 36 48 60 72 84 96

108 120 132 144 156 168 180 192 204 216







SE Mean






Quartile 1


Quartile 3


Standard Deviation



Scores of 2768 undergraduate students on the California Critical Thinking Skills Test

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interpret textual or recorded communications correctly when we know the person with whom we are commu- nicating. If we know that person, then we often are able to infer his or her purpose and the context of their com- munication correctly. If we do not know the person who is sending the text, e-mail, or voice message, we are at risk of misunderstanding, or worse, of being duped or conned. A strong critical thinker will always ask “Who sent me this, and why?”

Occasionally even longer and more carefully prepared messages can be difficult to interpret. Consider the exam- ple of the December 26, 1987, letter shown here. It was written by an older couple to their adult children. Suppose the day has come when the three adult children pull out their parents’ letter and try to figure out how to honor what it tells them. Imagine the three of them, Susan, Bill, and Karl, discussing their parents’ letter:

Susan: “Our parents said that their whole idea was to divide everything equally. But the house in Milwaukee is worth only 70 percent of what the house in Lakeland, Florida, is worth. So, how is that equal?”

Bill: “The business was making money back in the day when Mom and Pop were more active, but the last few years it has been a struggle to break even. These days, it is nothing but headaches. Even if I sold the business I would have almost nothing left after I paid off the loans they needed just to keep operating these past couple of years. How is that equal to a house in Milwaukee or a house in Lakeland?”

Karl: “Look, they didn’t want us to fight over things like this. So, why don’t we put a value on each house and on the business, then sell everything, and divide the proceeds equally?”

December 26, 1987

Dear Susan, Bill, and Karl,

You probably never thought you’d see our last will and testament, but here it is. We know that you are all over 40, but Pop and I still think of you as our kids. We’re getting old and we’ve been thinking a lot lately about passing our belongings on to the three of you. We have no plans to do this in the near or foreseeable future. But, you never know. We have our aches and pains, and we are getting to that point when it is important to be sure that our ideas are known before it gets to be too late.

So, here’s what we want. We want all our money to go to each of you equally. Bill, we want you to have our business, which is no prize because it takes a lot of work. But we love it, and it has been good to Pop and me over all these years. Each year it provides us with a little profit, so we can’t complain. And you are the only one who ever really took an interest in it. Susan, we want you to have our house in Milwaukee. We had some fun times there when you kids were growing up. Maybe you can sell it if the economy improves. Karl, we want you to have the house here in Lakeland we’re living in now. The real estate market is the pits right now. And the house needs a new roof and the plumbing is a mess. But you know all that because you’re living here now. So, Karl, it’s yours.

Divide up our furniture, pictures, books, and personal things, and give everything you don’t want to Goodwill.

The main thing is for you three to divide everything equally. Including whatever might be left in our 401K. Please respect our wishes about not squabbling over what little there will be in our estate.

We love you.

Oh, and Karl, you get our dog, Lobo Loco. Lucky you.

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Susan: “Well, that makes financial sense. But would it really be what they wanted? After all, they were very specific about which one of us would receive each of the houses and the business.”

As we review the parents’ letter, we can see the prob- lems that the three siblings are having. The parents thought that their instructions were clear and precise. But, as it turned out, they were wrong. The instruction to “divide everything equally,” is problematic in two ways. First the word everything is vague. Did the parents intend that “every- thing” should include the two houses and the business, or does it apply to all their money and possessions other than the real estate and the business? The siblings need to clarify what’s in and what’s out so that they can fulfill their par- ents’ intent and divide “everything” equally. The letter is vague. Arguments could be made for both interpretations.

The second problem has to do with the instruction to divide everything “equally.” Should the siblings interpret that to mean “financially exactly the same dollar value,” or should they interpret “equally” to mean each gets one major asset, each gets one third of the books, furniture, and personal possessions, and each gets one third of the dollar value remaining in the parents’ 401K? In this second sense of “equally,” the result may not be that each person would receive the exact same total dollar value, but each would have been given an equal share of each category of objects in the parents’ estate. The letter is ambiguous. Arguments could be made for both interpretations. In this context and for this purpose the term “equally” is unhelpfully ambigu- ous. And, although the parents did not want their heirs to squabble, since meaning matters, it would not surprise us if one or more of them hired lawyers or if the process of dividing the parents’ estate caused hard feelings.

4.2 When Vagueness or Ambiguity Cause Misunderstandings

Since meaning matters, we need to examine vagueness and ambiguity. Our aim is to identify the strategies strong critical thinkers can use to analyze or clarify the context and purpose of a communication to more accurately inter- pret what it means.

Vagueness: “Does the Meaning Include This Case or Not?” Common sense tells us that we should not bring animals to the airport. Cows, chickens, cats, goldfish, snakes, and monkeys are not welcome there. Although we all can agree with the general principle, it would still be reasonable to ask, “What about companion animals and assistance

animals?” And as soon as the question is asked, we real- ize that our common sense understanding, while generally correct, is not precise enough for practical purposes.

A guide dog is an assistance animal, which we would not intend to prohibit from the airport. We can address the uncertainty about whether the term “animal” in this con- text is meant to refer to guide dogs or not by adding a qual- ification or exception to our initial statement. We could say, as they do in Tampa, “No animals are allowed in the air- port terminal except assistance animals.”

OK, but now what about “companion animals”? For example, for reasons of psychological health, in some states elderly people and others are permitted to legally register certain animals as “companion animals.” Often this registration permits the owner of the companion ani- mal to be granted exceptions to restrictions that gener- ally apply to pets. So, we might want to make a further amendment to our dictate about no animals at airports to permit another exception. In this case, for “registered com- panion animals.” Again, the uncertainty about whether the word animals applies in this context to companion animals needs to be resolved. Our intent is to permit them to be brought to the airport. So, for our current purposes, a dog that is either an assistance animal or a companion animal

Does “No dogs allowed” apply to companion animals if prescribed by a doctor for a person’s health and well- being? Is the animal’s care an allowable medical expense for tax return purposes?

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(which grow so thick that the vision of the drivers was limited), or the business owner who put up the huge, dis- tracting billboard?

The H&M example does not pose major problems. If Gen-Xers want to buy H&M clothing, the corporation will happily agree to make the sales, even if the market- ing campaign was targeted for the younger and much larger population of Gen-Yers. However, the corporation does care whether the campaign is reaching those who are clearly members of the target audience. Marketing cam- paigns are expensive. But they’re also like shotgun blasts. As long as the campaign hits its main target, it is not a problem if some of the pellets spray raggedly around the edges. The boundary between Gen-Y and Gen-X is not sharp and bright, at least for the purpose of selling youthfully styled clothes. So, resolving the question of whether “young adults” does or does not overlap Gen-X and Gen-Y a bit is probably not a major problem for the corporation.

The car accident example is different. There the vagueness of the expression “those who were responsi- ble” could become the object of highly contentious legal battles. If it is proven that vehicle manufacturers knew of some defect in the braking system of one of the cars but did not recall the vehicle for repairs, then a jury may decide to hold the manufacturer partially responsible for the accident. Similarly, it might be argued that the oth- ers listed each knew something, did something, or failed to do something that contributed to the accident. The vagueness of the term responsible as it applies to the car accident needs to be resolved for the purposes of deter- mining criminal and financial responsibility. This matter is so problematic and yet so important that our society

is permitted. In real-life situations, we think about our purposes and about the context to decide how to resolve uncertainties just like these.

Notice that we did not ask whether human beings were excluded from airports because human beings were animals. In terms of the purpose and context, it simply was not a reasonable question. But in other contexts or for other purposes, it could be, as for example in the question of whether or not a viral strain, say avian flu, can jump animal species. In that situation, human beings are ani- mals, rather than plants.

Consider this question: Given the purposes for not permitting animals at airports, how would you resolve the vagueness in the word airport if a child were to ask, “Is it OK if we bring our pet dog with us in the car when we take Grandma to the airport? Please, we are only going to drop Grandma off.” Does “airport” in this context and for these purposes include or not include the interior of vehicles that use the departure street outside the terminal building?

Problematic vagueness is the characteristic of a word or expression having an imprecise meaning or unclear bound- aries in a given context or for a given purpose. However, as the “animal” and “airport” examples illustrate, vagueness is best considered not as an absolute feature, but as being rela- tive to the context within which and purposes for which the term is being used.

Problematic Vagueness Imagine you work in the marketing department at H&M, and you receive the following memo from corporate for the next campaign: “We want to go after a young adult demographic.” Does that mean the tech-savvy, e-money using, social networking, style conscious Gen-Y Echo Boomers or the more skeptical, “what’s in it for me?” yet brand-loyal, credit card carrying, urban Gen-Xers?8 In the sentence “We have to find those who were responsible for causing this terri- ble car accident,” does the expres- sion “those who were responsible” include only the drivers who were involved, or does it also include any or all of these other persons: the manufacturers of the vehicles involved in the accident, the engi- neers who designed the street, the city officials who refused to install a stoplight, the people living along the street who never trimmed or pruned their shrubs and trees

Do you think this ad hits the “young adult“ market? Will this ad appeal to any other markets as well?

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has instituted a specific methodology for resolv- ing the applicability of the term “responsible” in situations like this. That method almost always involves negotiation between law- yers representing interested parties, and, in the most extreme situations, litigation.

Problematic vagueness is the characteristic of a word or expression having an impre- cise meaning or unclear boundaries such that uncertainty about precisely what is included in that meaning or excluded from that meaning results in troublesome miscommunica- tions in a given context or for a given purpose.

Ambiguity: “Which Meaning Are We Using?” In the hilarious comedy My Cousin Vinny,9 Ralph Macchio’s character has been brought in by an Alabama sheriff for questioning about a crime. Did he do it, or not? Listen care- fully to the exact words Macchio uses when he confesses to the sheriff. Macchio’s character is referring to his hav- ing walked out of a convenience store with a can of tuna fish in his jacket pocket. He forgot it was there and so left without paying for it. He is trying to confess to inadvertent shoplifting. The sheriff, on the other hand, is investigating the killing of the cashier at that same convenience store. The sheriff interprets Macchio as having said, “I killed the cashier” when Macchio apologizes for having left the store stupidly forgetting to pay for the can of tuna. The ambigu- ity triggers a chain of events that includes Macchio and his traveling companion, played by Mitchell Whitfield, being charged with murder.

When a word, expression, or statement has more than one meaning, we call it ambiguous. A quick look at the dictionary shows that a great many words have more than one meaning. Why, then, are we not confused on an almost constant basis? Because, again, knowing the con- text of the conversation and the purpose of the speaker, we can readily pick out the speaker ’s intended mean- ing. “Heads up!” shouted at the people sitting behind first base at a baseball game is not a command to look toward the sky; it is a warning to duck because the batter has just fouled off a pitch. “30–love,” at a tennis match is intended to reveal the score, not the number of someone’s amorous relationships. “That’s sick!” is slang for “That’s terrific.” And, “Baby, you’re the greatest!” is Hollywood hyperbole for “On your best day you’re no better than average.”

Problematic Ambiguity Macchio’s ambiguous confession is problematic

because the misunderstanding results in his arrest. Were it not for the stunning defense put on by

Joe Pesci, Macchio’s character could easily have been convicted of murder and sen-

tenced to the electric chair. The ambigu- ity of “equally” in the parents’ letter

about dividing up their estate was problematic because the multi-

ple meanings of that expres- sion left the three siblings

uncertain how to fulfill their parents’ wishes.

Problematic ambi- guity is the characteristic of a word or expression, which can have multiple meanings such that uncertainty about exactly which meaning applies in a given context for a given purpose results in troublesome misunderstandings.

4.3 Resolving Problematic Vagueness and Ambiguity

Resolving problematic vagueness and problematic ambi- guity requires the application of critical thinking skills and habits of mind. We need to analyze the communication to draw reasonable inferences about the context and purpose. We need to explain why we are interpreting the message in a given way and not in some other way. And we have to be reflective enough to search for and to correct any mis- takes we might have made, rather than plunging ahead as if there could be no way we could have misinterpreted anything. In the case of problematic vagueness, our critical thinking problem is to determine where the borderlines of the term are to be located. In the case of problematic ambi- guity our critical thinking decision relates to determining which one of the possible meanings the author intended.

Strong critical thinkers address problematic vagueness or problematic ambiguity using five strategies:

Contextualizing Clarifying intent Negotiating Qualifying Stipulating

Contextualizing AAA can refer to the American Automobile Association, the American Anthropological Association, the American Accounting Association, the American Academy of

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Audiology, the Amateur Astronomers Association, the American Association of Anatomists, the American Ambulance Association, the Aikido Association of America, and the Arkansas Activities Association, just to name a few. So, if a person were to say, “I’m joining the AAA,” we might find the ambiguity in that statement to be problematic.

Contextualizing resolves problematic ambiguity by reminding us of the topic being discussed or the circum- stances within which a statement was made. In the “I’m joining the AAA” example, simply noting that the person was an undergraduate physics major talking about her interest in astronomy would clarify which AAA she meant.

Consider another example. “We need to find some more offensive people,” can mean one thing in the con- text of sports and quite another thing spoken as irony after someone has made a particularly rude remark during a meeting. In the first context, the discussion is about build- ing up the team’s capacity to score more points by improv- ing its offense. In the second context, the speaker probably intends to express a negative opinion about the behavior of one of the other people at the meeting.

To establish context we ask questions like these:

Who said it to whom?

When and where was it said?

What was the topic of the conversation?

What information, events or issues, public or personal, may the speaker have assumed that the intended audi- ence knew about?

Was the expression meant to be ironic, hyperbolic, misleading, or deceptive, rather than taken literally?

Were technical terms, abbreviations, symbols, slang, code words, double entendre, euphemisms, or acronyms used?

That final question is important because often know- ing that the conversation took place among members of a particular interest group or professional group helps us immediately recognize that a given word or expression is used with the special meaning that the given group attaches to that expression. We will talk more about this in Language Communities later in the chapter.

Words taken out of context can be misleading. Consider, for example, “I smoked 50 years . . . today I can run a marathon.” We might interpret this to be a reason- ably unambiguous statement suggesting that smoking is not always physically detrimental. The only clue that there may be more to the story is the three-dot ellipsis. What were the words that the author omitted? The out of context quotation was sliced from this, “I smoked 50 years ago, when I was in high school. But only a few cigarettes just to see what it was like. It was cross-country season, and my coach told me that I was one of the best in the state. He said that if I started smoking, I could kiss the state

championship good-bye. So, I quit smoking before I ever really got started and stayed away from cancer sticks ever since. Because I quit smoking and because I’ve worked out several days a week all of my life, today I can run a marathon. That and go to the funerals of my classmates who did smoke.” Seeing the author’s words in context, our interpretation becomes the opposite of what it was at first. Now we know that the author is advising people not to smoke, instead of saying that it might not be a problem.

Putting an author’s words in context not only permits us to make an accurate interpretation, it helps us not be mis- led by unscrupulous individuals. Intellectual integrity and a strong habit of truth-seeking are needed when we summarize and de-contextualize the words and ideas of others. Accuracy is important, but so is a truthful preservation of the author’s original intent. Unfortunately these days the disturbing prac- tice of taking an opponent’s words out of context in a political message, talk show, or public debate has been raised to an art form. Oh yes, the quote was technically accurate. But, still it was intentionally untruthful. Misleading by taking words out of context is only a step short of its cousin, the abysmal prac- tice of intentionally misconstruing an opponent’s remarks to confuse other people about what the opponent meant.

Clarifying Original Intent Because problematic vagueness and ambiguity emerge when we are trying to interpret what someone means, one reason- able way to resolve the vagueness is simply to ask for clarifi- cation. Let’s go back to the marketing department at H&M. One of the first things we will want to do is clarify the target audience that the executives have in mind for the campaign.

We would not want to put all our effort into designing the marketing approach until we were clear whom corpo- rate H&M wants to reach. And our best method for doing this would be to ask the executives, “Can you clarify for us exactly which demographic you have in mind when you say ‘young adults’?” We might hear back that we should target single men and women between the ages of 22 and 29 who are college graduates and employed at jobs that pay $35,000 to $70,000 per year. If so, that would add a lot of useful clari- fication, and we might be able to apply our critical thinking to the question of how best to reach that market segment.

On the other hand, we might hear back from our cli- ent that “young adults” is as clear as the client can be at this time about the target audience. In this case, we would prob- ably try to help clarify that problematic vagueness. Given our experience and expertise in producing marketing cam- paigns, we might explain that the approach we would take to reach a single person who is a college graduate and has a good job is not the same as the approach we would use to market a product to someone who is the same age but mar- ried with children, or the same age but not a college gradu- ate, or the same age but not currently employed.

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Clarifying the speaker’s intent becomes more chal- lenging when multiple alternative wordings are possible and it is not possible to ask the author for clarification. For example, suppose our job was to resolve problematic phrases such as “unreasonable search and seizure,” “the right to bear arms,” or “freedom of assembly.” The fram- ers of the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights are not available, and times and conditions have changed over the centuries. Although not the only way to interpret the U.S. Constitution, endeavoring to discern the framers’ intent is one recognized approach.10 And, although we do not have benefit of access to the original authors, we have letters they wrote and other documents they authored, we have their official votes and rulings on legal matters relating to issues in the Constitution, and we do have a large number of previous court rulings that established important prec- edents. In fact, endeavoring to discern intent is part of the process of interpreting the law in general. It is essential to our criminal justice system.11

Anyone can download a copy of the Constitution of the United States of America, with analytical and

interpretive information citing court rulings and his- torical documents, from the Government Printing Office. Historically one of the most contested clauses in the First Amendment is this one, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibit- ing the free expression thereof.…” People on both sides of issues relating to the “separation of Church and State” often claim to know what the framers of the Constitution intended. And, with regard to James Madison and Thomas

Not Automatically a Problem

There is nothing inherently wrong with vagueness or ambiguity unless they introduce problems in a given real-life context or for a given purpose. The priority humans give to efficient communication should give way to concerns about problematic vagueness and problematic ambiguity only if miscommunications have occurred or are likely to occur.

Framers of the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights were intentionally vague so future generations could interpret these documents to fit changing times and national circumstances, which the framers themselves wisely knew they could not anticipate.

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Jefferson that is not difficult because of the historical record showing positions they took on other legislation, documents or letters they wrote. But, that said, an appeal to the intent of the framers goes nowhere if “the intent, insofar as there was one, of the others in the Congress who voted for the language and those in the States who voted to ratify is subject to speculation.”12

Perhaps the problematic vagueness was intentional. The framers of the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights were wise enough to realize that times and con- ditions would change and that therefore it would be prudent to write in ways that left room for future gen- erations of Americans to interpret these fundamental documents to fit their times and circumstances. Wise judgment is a very good thing. We want to cultivate that in ourselves and leave room for it to be exercised by oth- ers, too, because it is impossible for any individual or any group to anticipate every kind of problem and every set of circumstances. The habit of judiciousness, which we talked about in Chapter 2, inclines us toward wisdom and prudence in making judgments. It is precisely this virtue that the framers of the Constitution trusted that future generations of Americans would need and would have if the young Republic were going to survive and flourish.

On the other hand, at times intentional vagueness can be frustrating when precise, practical answers are what people desire. Imagine the blustery Senatorial candidate who pounds the electorate with bromides like these: “I will bring transparency and fiscal account- ability to Congress!” “Our educational system is such a mess that we need a war on ignorance.” “When I’m in

office, our nation will never again negotiate from weak- ness.” “Too many hard-working Americans are fed up with Washington politicians who take a business- as-usual approach.” As voters, we might do well to demand greater clarity and operational precision, rather than accepting platitudes like those.

Negotiating the Meaning Suppose you decide to hire me and we come to a hand- shake agreement that you will pay me a fair wage. As it turns out, we then discover that you regard a “fair wage” to be $25 per hour. But, I think a “fair wage” for the work you want me to do is $30 per hour. Because we both want the working relationship to start out being friendly, we decide to try to negotiate away the problematic vagueness by trying to reach a compromise between our two diver- gent positions. So, for our purposes in this context we can negotiate the mutual agreement that “fair wage” means $27.50 per hour.

The assumption that “negotiating” means “finding a mutually tolerable compromise” leads us to split the dif- ference. But strong critical thinkers reflect on their own thinking process and often discover that their assumptions may have been mistaken. As it turns out, our assumption about the meaning of “negotiation” is mistaken because that word is ambiguous. Yes, it can refer to bargaining or haggling until a compromise is reached. But it can also refer to a process known as “interest based negotiation.”13

The word “Compromising” suggests settling for less. Your position was that “fair wage” for the work you hired me to perform meant $25 per hour. My position was

that “fair wage” meant $30. So we compro- mised. That form of negotiating is known as “position-based negotiating.” Each side has its opening position and negotiation means chipping away at those positions. Position- based negotiation can result in a resentment, disrespect, and hostility toward the people on the other side of the table. They are the adversaries and we must never give them everything they want or they will have won! Some people believe that the only success- ful compromise is one that leaves both sides dissatisfied.

But those implications do not follow when we use “negotiating” in its other mean- ing. Interest-based negotiation begins with trying to figure out each party’s interests. Apart from saving money, why is it in your interest to limit the pay to $25 per hour? And, apart from wanting more money, why am I so determined to get $30 per hour? Once we

To negotiate successfully, it is more important to know your interests (your needs) than your position (your wants).

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each understand the other person’s interests we can seek some way to achieve the interests of both sides. We are not adversaries in interest-based negotiation. We are collabora- tors. We are sitting on the same side of the table because neither side is trying to force the other side to abandon any of its interests. Our initial ideas about the solution we believe will work best are less important because during the search for how to achieve our interests both sides will probably see that some other solution will work better.

Using the interest-based negotiation method, we might reach a different and far more amiable result. We ask each other to talk first about our interests. You say that the reason why you want to limit the hourly pay to $25 is because you cannot afford the precedent of paying more per hour. I would not be your only employee, and it is not fair to pay me more than the others who do the same work. You further explain that you have an independent exter- nal benchmark that you used when you first set that rate of pay. That benchmark is an industry study showing the average hourly wage for the kind of work I will be doing for you is actually $23.65. But you pay me $25.00 per hour, just like you pay your other employees.

For my part, it is not the dollars per hour that concerns me. Rather, my interest is in the total number of dollars I will make in a week. And my other concern is the number of hours I have to be away from my mother because I am her primary caregiver. I explain that I need to make $1,200 per week because I am expecting to pay $250 per week ($50 per day) for her dependent care expenses if I must com- mute to work five days a week. And I am not happy about the long commute, almost 90 minutes each way. With the commute time added in, I was expecting that my work- days would require me to be away from home for 11 hours each day of the workweek. And I was wor- ried about what that would mean in terms of my mother’s care.

Knowing each other ’s inter- ests, we can mutually explore creative resolutions. We might discover, for example, that I would accept $1,100 per week if you would permit me to telecom- mute from home two days a week. Working at home those two days saves me six hours of commuting time per week and $100 of depen- dent care expenses per week. In return, I guarantee you that I will give you 44 hours of work each week. This agreement permits you to preserve your $25-per-hour pay policy, which is fine with me.

Notice too that we have now expanded the meaning of “fair wage” beyond simply dollars per hour. Now it can include telecommuting and a variable number of work hours per week. Our negotiation resolved our problem without pro- moting greater conflict. In fact, neither of us feels dismayed, disrespected, or dissatisfied with the process or the result.

Remember when we defined the critical thinking process and said that the process can reflect back on the evidence, concepts, methods, context, and criteria used. Right here is a good example. We questioned the meaning of “negotiating” and noticed it referred to two different methodologies. So we applied the alternative method and came up with a different, and better, result. Let’s ask about the criteria too. The idea that success means that both sides are dissatisfied does not fit with interest-based negotiation. In fact, the correct criterion now is the opposite: both sides should come out very pleased because the interests of both sides were met.

Now that we have agreed that I will work for you, I ask you if there is a dress code of some kind that I should know about. You say, “Why, yes. Glad you asked. We expect everyone who works in our office to wear a shirt with a collar. No T-shirts, tank tops, or V-necks.”

I think, “What if we don’t mean the same thing by ‘shirt with a collar’?” I imagine a golf shirt with a soft col- lar, a loud Hawaiian shirt with a big collar, and a conserva- tive dress shirt with a button-down collar. The expression “shirt with a collar” is causing problematic ambiguity. So, I ask you to be more specific and you say, “Oh, I meant a dress shirt. You don’t have to wear a tie, but we expect everyone to wear a dress shirt to work.”

Still some vagueness, I’m thinking. What about colors? Or will only white shirts count as what you mean by “dress

Interest-based negotiation can replace the resentment of compromise with the connection of collaboration.

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shirt”? But I decide not to ask about that because I can just keep my eyes open the first couple of days on the job to see if anyone wears a dress shirt that isn’t pure white. I do want to ask one more question—kind of a mini-negotiation. “What about Fridays? Do you have casual Fridays?” And happily you respond, “Of course, we do. You’ll see a lot of golf shirts on Fridays at our office.” “Shirt with a collar” as a problem- atic ambiguity—gone!—for our purposes in this context.

When negotiating meanings, strong critical thinkers realize that they must not end up with a definition that renders the term useless. If a word can mean anything any

person might want, then the word has marginal value for communication. Richard Dawkins gives us this example, “Some people have views of God that are so broad and flexible that it is inevitable that they will find God wher- ever they look. One hears it said that ‘God is the ultimate’ or ‘God is our better nature’ or ‘God is the universe.’. . . If you want to say ‘God is energy’ then you can find God in a lump of coal.… If the word “God” is not to become com- pletely useless, it should be used in the way people have generally understood it: to denote a supernatural creator that is appropriate for us to worship.”14

THINKING CRITICALLY Negotiating a Job on Campus Most colleges hire large numbers of students part-time. They work as assistants in academic and non-academic depart- mental offices all over campus, or they work in the library, food services, recreation, and residence life. Colleges often have rigid pay structures that do not permit room for negotiating the hourly wage. It is in the student’s interest simply to secure a job, given that pay often cannot be a negotiating point. But the person doing the hiring has other interests: They want to hire students who are flexible about how many hours of work they will do per week and flexible about which hours and which days they will work. They also want students who are friendly, professional, fast learners, and who show initiative.

So, if it is in your interest to get a job that you might be able to count on for some part-time income not only this year but in future years, and if it is in your interest that the job be close to where you live and go to class (e.g., on campus),

then you would want to show that you are willing to be flexible about your work schedule. When you interview you might say that you know how important it is that the supervisor should be able to find students who are flexible about scheduling. Showing you understand the other person’s interests is as pleasant for the person who is hiring you as it is for you when that person shows that he or she understands your interests.

The negotiation does not begin after you are offered the job, it begins when you walk in the door to ask for a job. Put yourself in the mind of the person doing the hiring. Ask yourself, if I were that person, what would be most important to me? And, once you do get an interview, ask the person directly, “As you make this hire, what are the most important considerations?” Just asking that question will show the person that you are trying to understand and respond to their interests, not just your own.

There are hundreds of part-time staff jobs on most college campuses. How can critical thinking help you get one?

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Using Qualifications, Exceptions, or Exclusions One of the most practical ways of resolving problematic vagueness and ambiguity is to introduce qualifications that clarify which cases are included or excluded. Here are some examples of using qualifying expressions to intro- duce a measure of clarity.

Why are some terms regarded as “swear words” or “expletives” by some groups, but not by others? Can the same sound be a forbidden expletive in one language and a perfectly acceptable word in another? Should “clean lan- guage” directed at someone in anger be regarded as more or less offensive than “dirty words” used for the sake of humor? Give reasons and examples to support your opinion. And take a moment to search “Lewis Black bad language” for the comedian’s social commentary on this controversial topic.

As the examples above suggest, we can clarify expressions a lot or a little, depending on our pur- poses, by using descriptive phrases, contrasts, technical

terminology, and thorough examples. In the “animals at the airport” example, we clarified the problematic vague- ness by making exceptions for two kinds of animals. Our exception allowed us to make a statement that actually appears self-contradictory. “Companion animals are not animals as far as airport policy is concerned.” But, in fact, the statement makes good sense given the purpose and context.

If you are getting the sense that critical thinking in real-life contexts requires refining our skill at making good judgments relative to the circumstances and situ- ations at hand, you are correct. The judicious habit of mind impels us to strive to make judgments about what to believe or what to do that are as precise as the sub- ject matter, context, and purposes permit. But no more precise than that. In fact, it would be unwise to strive to be more precise than that. Real-life judgments are often made in contexts in which absolute certitude is not attainable.

“Everyone in a complex system has a slightly different interpretation. The more interpretations we gather, the easier it becomes to gain a sense of the whole.”

Margaret Wheatley, Management Consultant15

Stipulating the Meaning When the determination of the exact meaning of a term has major consequences for one or more of the parties involved, then adding qualifications or noting excep- tions and exclusions may not be sufficient. This often happens in financial and legal matters, when a word’s meaning must be circumscribed as precisely and com- pletely as possible.

We would not want the legal definition of “driving under the influence” to be left to each individual police officer, judge, or prosecuting attorney to define in any way he or she might wish. There would be too much variability in practice. One person might show favoritism to locals, but eagerly arrest folks from out of town. Another person might rely on a person’s answer to the question “How many drinks have you had?” Still another might believe that being drunk meant that the driver slurred his words or could not walk a straight line.

It is in the interest of justice and public safety to use a uniform definition of the term “driving under the influ- ence.” Ideally, the definition would provide for some objective way of telling which drivers it applied to and which it did not. Knowing exactly how many drinks a

veteran → person with prior experience, as contrasted with beginner

veteran athlete → player who was with the team last season, as contrasted with rookie

military veteran → soldier who has been honorably discharged from service

military veteran → soldier who served in combat

cold weather → chilly enough to need a scarf and jacket

cold weather → outdoor air temperatures lower than 40 degrees Fahrenheit

cold weather → chill factor less than 20 degrees Fahrenheit

bad language → curse, a solemn invocation of misfortune to be visited upon some person, group or object

bad language → blasphemy, an expression that is contemptuous of a religiously significant person, object, custom, or belief

bad language → vulgarity, an expression that is crude, unseemly, not in good taste

bad language → obscenity, an expression that is lewd, licentious, or indecent

bad language → indecent expression, one that is improper with respect to prevailing social standards especially in sexual matters

bad language → profanity, an expression that is irreverent or contemptuous of what is considered sacred

bad language → offensive expression, one that inflicts or is intended to inflict emotional pain such as ridicule, abuse, mockery, or hate speech

bad language → expletive or swear word, a grammatical term classified as profane, indecent, vulgar, or obscene by a given language community

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person had, for example, will not work. Some drinks have a higher alcohol content than others, some people weigh more than others, and some metabolize alcohol at different rates than others.

As in other states, California lawmakers stipulated the meaning of the expression “driving under the influence.” Stipulating meaning is intended to remove problematic vagueness and problematic ambiguity by establishing what a term shall mean for a specific set of purposes. In this case, for legal purposes within the state of California the term “driving under the influence” means exactly what Section 23152 of the state’s motor vehicle code says it means. No more. No less.

The rules and regulations, which specify the legal meanings of common terms are often complex, but

they are penetrable. Ordinary taxpayers , for example , are expected to understand the basic rules that apply to filing their tax returns. One of the basics is determining whether or not you can claim a person as your dependent on your tax return. If you can, then this will, in most circumstances, reduce your taxes. The term dependent i n t h e s e n t e n c e , “ A r e y o u dependent on your parents?” can be interpreted to mean “needy” or “reliant” as contrasted with “independent.” But for purposes of filing federal income tax, the term “dependent” has a far more precise meaning that is stipulated in the tax code.

Donkey Cart Words Signal Twisted Meanings It is one thing to knowingly negotiate or to stipulate a term’s meaning when the term is problematically vague or problematically ambiguous. It is quite another to be tricked into accepting a twisted meaning for a perfectly good term. Donkey cart words are words, typically adjectives, which are used to distort or twist the meanings of other perfectly good words.

The signal that a word’s meaning is about to be twisted is the appearance constructions like these:

“True ________,”

“Real ________,”

“Genuine _______,”

Driving Under Influence of Alcohol or Drugs California Vehicle Code 23152 states:

(a) It is unlawful for any person who is under the influ- ence of any alcoholic beverage or drug, or under the combined influence of any alcoholic beverage and drug, to drive a vehicle.

(b) It is unlawful for any person who has 0.08 percent or more, by weight, of alcohol in his or her blood to drive a vehicle.

For purposes of this article and Section 34501.16, per- cent, by weight, of alcohol in a person’s blood is based upon grams of alcohol per 100 milliliters of blood or grams of alco- hol per 210 liters of breath.

In any prosecution under this subdivision, it is a rebuttable presumption that the person had 0.08 percent or more, by weight, of alcohol in his or her blood at the time of driving the vehicle if the person had 0.08 percent or more, by weight, of alcohol in his or her blood at the time of the performance of a chemical test within three hours after the driving.

Source: California Department of Motor Vehicles, August 25, 2009 <http:// www.dmv.ca.gov/pubs/vctop/d11/vc23152.htm>.

Which is better, stipulating an objectively measurable meaning for “DUI” or leaving it up to each police officer to make his or her own decision about what “DUI” means?

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“Authentic _______” “Natural _______” “Pure ________”

For example:

“True freedom means not choosing to do what you know you cannot do.” “True faith embraces that which is known to be unknowable.” “Real men drink till they puke.” “The real victim here is not the young man who was killed, it is the poor fellow who shot him.” “Genuine power rests only with those who rule by the unchallenged power of their will.” “Authentic human beings ride their emotions, relishing the lows as well as the highs.” “Authentic love requires emptying your identity as a gift for the other.” “Natural water is better for you than water out of a tap.” “This sports drink is made with all natural ingredients.” “The natural leader is he who has the audacity to speak when all others are silent.” “Pure courage ignores all risk to self.” “He who has a pure heart is he who hears and responds.”

Although each may seem like a pearl of wisdom, they are in fact donkey droppings. Seriously, we just now made up those examples. They are nothing more than thinly disguised stipulations that twist meanings just enough that counter-evi- dence to refute them is difficult, if not impossible, to find. And, we offered the examples without providing any rationale or evidence for their truth. There is none. They are stipulations.

In each case we twisted the meaning of the word that rides in the donkey cart—that is, the word that follows behind true, real, genuine, authentic, natural, or pure. And we tossed in a couple of profound sounding, but vacuous, “he-who’s” just for fun. “He-who” sounds a little like our donkey’s “He-Haw!”

Charlatans love donkey cart words. Why? Because using them enables the charlatan to sound wise and knowledgeable. By beguiling the listener the charlatan hopes to exert control. If you can control what people think, you can control what they do. And, by using don- key cart words effectively, the charlatan can gain control without being burdened with providing proof or evidence. Instead of stepping away from twisted meanings toward more conventional definitions, if confronted the charlatan is more apt to bully or ridicule the critic. “Oh, how unfor- tunate, the ignorant uninitiated one does not know what we know, and that is the word’s true meaning!”

Resorting to the use of donkey cart words is not a sign of wisdom, it is a signal that someone is trying to mislead

and possibly exploit gullible individuals by twisting lan- guage. Zealots and hustlers of all kinds rely on donkey cart words to impose on their gullible disciples a way of talking and thinking that immunizes them against evidence-based criticisms. Talking “our special way” forms us into our own community and isolates us too. We know what we mean and that’s all that is important. But because we use words in our own special (twisted) way, communicating successfully with the rest of the world is much more difficult. And the evi- dence others might use to show that we are mistaken simply does not apply, because we meant something else. You see, “We know the true meanings of the words we are using.”

The clanging bell that should be our warning signal is the speaker’s use of one of the six precursor words in front of a noun. Or the solemn gonging of the classic “he-who.” We hear those expressions and we know the speaker is inviting us to depart from the community of those who use words as they are defined. The speaker wants us to follow that donkey cart into a dark mythic forest where words no longer mean what they are supposed to mean. If we follow that cart, well then we shall need to be careful where we step.

Nothing Speaks for Itself

The first rule of fair-minded interpretation is to be sensitive to context and purpose.

“It isn’t true hazing if it’s voluntary,” said the bully, as if his donkey cart expression worked to excuse his abusive excesses.

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4.4 Language Communities One way to identify communities is by attending to how they use particular words, symbols, and expressions. We can often move seamlessly among these communities if we understand what they mean by common words. For example, consider the word “defensive.” The word’s meaning morphs depending on which community is using it. For psychologists talking about a “defensive response” it means one thing. For military equipment engineers talk- ing about “defensive weapon” it means something else. And for coaches and athletes “defensive specialist” has yet a slightly different meaning. Speaking about sports, “punter” means one thing to the community of people who enjoy American football, and quite a different thing to the vice squad of the London police force.

National and Global Language Communities Over the millennia our species developed many languages to facilitate effective communication between people living in various regions of the world. Sounds became words and took on different meanings within the communities. To preserve ideas, various systems of writing were invented that used symbols, words, and icons that meant specific things to the people of a given tribe, region, or nation. People who shared an understanding of the meanings of the words and icons can be thought of as a community defined in part by its shared language, or a language com- munity. For example, we mentioned the language commu- nity of statisticians earlier in the chapter.

The meanings of the words that form a given language are conventional. The words mean what they mean in a given language by virtue of the tacit mutual agreement of the people who speak that language. Those tens of millions of us who speak English never voted what each English word should mean. We learned our shared language by learning the conventions for how words are used by the English-speaking language community. Dictionaries were invented to record a language community’s conventions for what its words shall mean. But, as Mark Twain Prize winner George Carlin illustrates in his comedic bit “I’m a Modern Man,” English is a very dynamic language. You can find this comic routine several places on the Internet. New words are invented, and old words take on new meanings. Dictionaries need updates.

At the national and global levels the expression lan- guage community refers to the community of people who can communicate in a given language (e.g., Thai-speaking people, Polish-speaking people, and English-speaking people form three language communities). A given person may be a member of one or more of these communities, or none of them, being instead a member of some other language community, such as those who speak Italian, or those who speak Arabic, Bahasa, Dutch, Farsi, Tagalog, Turkish, or Yoruban.

Even when people in different parts of the world happen to be talking about the same thing, they may use expressions that are emblematic of their own language com- munity. For example, when talking about something as uni- versal as bribes, people speaking Farsi will say “money for tea.” In Brazil, however, a bribe is “a little coffee,” in China a bribe is “little token of gratitude,” and in Mexico “a bite.”16

THINKING CRITICALLY It Means What We Can Measure One way of stipulating the meaning of a problematically vague term is to create an index to measure it. Take “slavery” for example. Suppose we wanted to know how prevalent slavery is today, and which countries were the biggest offenders when it came to permitting or tolerating slavery. We would need some way to measure slavery, a way of deciding if a person is or is not being kept as a slave. Not in a metaphorical sense, as in “I’m a slave to my computer,” but in the sense that the person’s only recourse would be to risk punishment or death trying to escape to freedom. In 2013 the Walk Free Foundation estimated that there were 29.8 million human beings world- wide who lived in slavery. They used the Global Slavery Index to give “slavery” an operational definition, meaning that they made the term “slavery” measurable. The definition includes people in debt bondage, people in forced marriages, and peo- ple who are sold as commodities in human trafficking. (Source

“New global index exposes ‘modern slavery’ worldwide,” BBC World News, October 17, 2013).

Some people take great pride in being able to render problematically vague terms measurable. Having trouble with a vague term like “better team?” No problem, the better team is the team that wins the game. One objection to defining an abstract concept using an operational measure is that we are apt to lose some of the richness of the term by thinking it means no more than what we can easily count. Happiness is more than money. The value of the work is more than the wage received. Greatness in a movie is more than ticket sales. On the other hand, if happiness, or the value of work, or cinematic greatness mean “something more” and if we cannot possibly measure that something more, then what is it? How would you define “happiness,” the “value of work,” “great movie,” and “slavery?”

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Language Communities Formed of People with Like Interests Today the idea of a language community has taken on even richer meaning. Those who understand and use the technical vocabulary of a more specialized field of human endeavor can also be called a “language community.” For example, there are language communities of musicians, mathematicians, electrical engineers, military officers, bankers, biochemists, health professionals, and model train hobbyists. The words and symbols used within these communities have conventional meanings that are known and used by the members of the community. Look at the “Symbols, Terms, and Expressions Used by Different

Language Communities” chart to see examples of sets of symbols that are well known to those who are members of specific language communities, but not well known to other people.

A speaker seeking to communicate with a listener whom he or she knows to be a member of the same lan- guage community will use the special language and symbols of that community. For example, a hobo wanting to warn other hobos to beware of the local authorities will use a particular symbol that to the members of the hobo language community has that particular conventional meaning. To make a correct interpretation, we need to know how words and symbols are used by the members of the language community.

Symbols, Terms, and Expressions Used by Different Language Communities

Aa Bb Cc Dd Ee Ff Gg

Hh Ii Jj Kk Ll Mm

Nn Oo Pp Qq Rr Ss

Tt Uu Vv Ww Xx Yy Zz American Sign Language Users

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Clarify Ideas and Concepts 83

Academic Disciplines as Language Communities When we are novices relative to a given area of human endeavor—for example, the subject fields represented by the academic departments of a college or university—we may feel somewhat intimidated by those language commu- nities. We know those who have already been initiated into that community—for example the faculty, graduate stu- dents, and undergraduate majors—know vocabulary we do not know. They are able to speak with one another about that subject field in ways that we cannot yet comprehend.

As newcomers to those language communities, we may not fully understand the textbooks or lectures senior mem- bers of that community have prepared for us. One reason is that the terminology differs from one discipline to another. Freedom, for example, has different meanings depending on whether the discipline is political science, mathematics, economics, philosophy, statistics, or chemistry.

Another reason understanding what is being said can be difficult for novices is because there are different conventions within the different disciplines for how one

conducts inquiry and communicates findings. As we shall see in the chapter on empirical reasoning, science pro- ceeds by seeking evidence to disconfirm hypotheses. In science the professional papers that present research find- ings follow a specific outline in which methods, findings, and results are described separately; data are displayed in charts and graphs; and often statistical analyses are used to establish that the data are not simply the result of ran- dom chance.

In contrast, in the humanities, scholars work to refine the meanings of terms and provide textual analyses based on the author’s intentions, cultural context, word choice, and historical time and place. We illustrated this briefly at the beginning of this chapter in the Genesis example. Charts and graphs displaying experimental data are almost never found in the humanities, although its scholars take due note of evidence, such as historical and cultural facts. Their work is presented in papers that often begin by stat- ing a problem and then proceed by introducing important distinctions and parsing out alternative meanings.

Historians, musicians, accountants, political scientists, poets, nurses, civil engineers, journalists, physicists, social

THINKING CRITICALLY “How Are We As We Are?” Different academic fields and disciplines interpret the ques- tion “How are we as we are?” in different ways or from dif- ferent perspectives. To some extent noting how scholars and practitioners from different areas respond to this question helps us understand how the various academic language communities differ from one another. It gives us an insight into what each regards as “important” and “interesting.” From the practical perspective, knowing this helps a per- son do better in his or her courses and it invites adventur- ous minds to explore the wonderful and varied landscape of human learning.

For example, biologists and physical scientists see this as a question about how our species and our world evolved, how all the parts interact at every physical level from the galactic to the subatomic, and in particular how human beings function as complex organisms with biological, chemical, and physical characteristics. Psychologists and behavioral scientists interpret this as a question about our human-to- human interactions, how we think about ourselves and how we relate to others in socially complex and culturally distinct communities.

Humanities and arts disciplines seek ways of expressing answers to “How are we as we are?” using creative and narrative means, such as poems, novels, dances, drawings, sculptures, songs, and plays. History responds by recounting the complex and often unpredictable or unexpected sequence

of events that brought us individually and as different communities to this juncture in the human story.

The health professions respond by diagnosis of how we are as we are, if we are not as we might hope to be physically or mentally. These disciplines go on to proposing treatments that might be useful in moving us to our own levels of optimal health and functioning. Educators do the same with regard to the skills, knowledge, attitudes, and values that may be seen as needed or underdeveloped. Business-oriented fields see this question in terms of our economic interactions and our needs for organization, leadership, and teamwork. Engineers see the question as a call for equipment, infrastructure, tools, and devices that would enable us to do what we otherwise could not do, since we are as we are.

Philosophers respond to “How are we as we are?” by trying to fathom and to articulate the fundamental characteristics of the human condition, and they occasionally ask how we ought to behave if we were to desire to be at our best. And theologians explore the question of how we are as we are by considering the extent to which forces revealed only through the mysteries of a faith perspective offer possible glimpses into the supernatural forces which may shape human destiny in general and personal lives in particular.

One way to think about your own academic major, or about choosing a major, is to ask yourself which way of interpreting this question resonates most with you.

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84 Chapter 4

workers, lawyers, and all the other academic language communities at a university each follow the standards of their professional or academic field for how to conduct inquiry and communicate findings.

Critical Thinking and College Introductory Courses There is a strong connection between critical thinking in general and critical thinking in specific fields of study. Often college freshmen and sophomore general studies requirements are intended to introduce students to the array of different academic language communities. To help us understand how a given academic discipline functions, the typical introductory course is designed to explain

The kinds of questions that the discipline seeks to address

The evidence the discipline understands to be relevant to resolving its questions

The concepts, terminology, and basic theories of the discipline

The methods and techniques of inquiry used in the discipline

The criteria the discipline applies when evaluating the quality of work produced

The contexts within which the discipline conducts its work

Notice how well this list matches the list presented by the expert consensus researchers as they described criti- cal thinking, cited in the opening chapters of this book: “We understand critical thinking to be purposeful, self- regulatory judgment that results in interpretation, analy- sis, evaluation, and inference, as well as explanation of the evidential, conceptual, methodological, criteriological, or contex- tual considerations upon which that judgment is based.”

Critical thinking within a disciplinary language com- munity is like critical thinking within any language com- munity. Different language communities, and in particular different academic disciplines, focus on the specific evi- dence, concepts, methods, criteria, and context. But the critical thinking skills and habits of mind apply across all language communities. As a result, strengthening our criti- cal thinking skills and habits of mind helps us when we venture into different academic language communities.

Through steady effort, practice, and attention to the language conventions of the different communities, we gain warranted confidence in our own ability to speak effectively and interpret accurately. In our introductory college courses, our challenge is to learn the terminol- ogy and the way that the discipline conducts its work— its questions, evidence, concepts, methods, criteria, and context of inquiry. By applying our critical thinking skills, and in particular the skill of interpretation, we can begin to take a few successful steps along the path toward fuller membership in these different academic language communities.

”The world is a complex place, and the influence of the media in its representation and its power of communication and interpretation is a remarkable amplifier of emotions, and of illusions.”

Tariq Ramadan, Professor17

JOURNAL My Language Communities? What language communities am I a member of? What language communities would I like to be a member of, and why?

Summing up this chapter, knowing the context within which a word or expression is used and the intent of the speaker in using that word or expression is essential to making an accurate interpreta- tion. Vagueness and ambiguity are not problems if context and purpose make the speaker’s meaning clear to the lis- tener. But vagueness and ambiguity can be problematic in those contexts in which multiple plausible interpretations are possible. We can work to resolve problematic ambigu- ity and vagueness by asking probing questions. Our criti- cal thinking skills give us the tools to clarify meaning. We can interpret by contextualizing, clarifying intent, negoti- ating the meaning, establishing exceptions and inclusions,

and stipulating the meaning for a given purpose. Even so, at times we may still be uncertain about how to inter- pret an expression, word, or sign because it is being used in a special way by a particular language community. Academic language communities, also known as profes- sional fields or academic disciplines, are defined not only by their terminology, but by the sets of questions, kinds of evidence, conceptualizations, methods, and standards of proof that they accept. Thoughtful interpretation enables us to understand what words and symbols mean in a given context and, therefore, what the members of these different language communities are saying.

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Clarify Ideas and Concepts 85

Key Concepts problematic vagueness is the characteristic of a word or expression having an imprecise meaning or unclear bound- aries such that uncertainty about precisely what is included in that meaning or excluded from that meaning results in troublesome miscommunications in a given context or for a given purpose.

problematic ambiguity is the characteristic of a word or expression, which can have multiple meanings such that

uncertainty about exactly which meaning applies in a given context for a given purpose results in troublesome misunderstandings.

language community is a community in which people share an understanding of the meanings of words and icons. Dictionaries were invented to record a language community’s conventions for what its words shall mean.

Applications Reflective Log Interpreting verse: Song lyrics and poetry often contain ref- erences to emotions, ideas, issues, persons, or events well known to the members of the language community for whom the song was written. Select a song you particularly enjoy. Write out the lyrics. Research the song and the composer or author to learn what you can about the purpose and context of that work. Restate what is being said to explain what the composer or poet is trying to communicate with each verse.

Locate and listen to Bob Dylan’s original version of “Forever Young,” then listen to Rod Stewart’s 1988 ver- sion. Compare those interpretations to each other and to

Will.i.am’s rap rendition, which was used in the 2009 Pepsi Super Bowl commercial. Use your critical thinking skills to explain how each artist’s interpretation slightly modifies what the song is intended to mean.

Apply your interpretive skills now to this verse from the poem “Today I Will Be,” by the undergraduate poet JJF18 quoted here with the poet’s permission.

Today I will be the strings that I strum; Gently thundering by the will of my thumb, Constantly changing the rhythm and tone, Based on my finger—No—based on my bone.

Individual Exercises Resolve problematic vagueness and ambiguity: Each of the italicized terms in the statements below introduces a degree of troublesome vagueness. The underlined terms are ambigu- ous. Use qualifications, exceptions, exclusions, or stipula- tions to rewrite each statement with sufficient precision to resolve the problematic vagueness or ambiguity.

1. America is overeating. [Hint, people eat, countries do not.]

2. Successful people should give back.

3. “We may be living in the most peaceable era in human history.” [Hint: Pinker, S., “The Better Angels of Our Nature.”]19

4. She had the good judgment to dump the creep.

5. The tennis star had to forfeit the match due to unsportsmanlike conduct. [Hint, the thing people use to light candles?]

6. Kate Winslet was riveting in her portrayal of a desperate housewife in “Revolutionary Road.”

7. The high schools in our state are a mess. [Hint, private college prep schools too? Hint: terrible janitorial services?]

8. We do not negotiate with terrorists.

9. The measure of our greatness is our ability to change.

10. I want to live a meaningful life.

11. Every living breathing person has rights.

12. We need to talk tomorrow?

13. We never had sex.

14. I was shocked when she left.

15. Usher’s lyrics move me.

16. Direct inquires to the front desk.

17. Kathleen Madigan is hysterical.

18. It’s defensive. [Hint: Soccer vs. Military vs. Psychology]

19. The crowd carried signs that said “Free Republic”

20. Workers carried signs downtown that read “Free Health Care.”

21. In a nonviolent protest, five hundred off-duty firefighters carried signs outside the mayor’s office that read “Free Education for Low-Income Families.”

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86 Chapter 4

22. Everything and everyone has a cause. [Hint: Physics vs. Philanthropy]

23. Nobody under 6 is permitted in the ER or the ICU. [Hint: Hospitals]

24. 1 2 1 2 3 0

[Hint: Hockey vs. Baseball]

25. For you, connection with all who came before cannot be helped. [Hint: Horoscope]

Interpreting claims: Reword each of the following to expose the problematic ambiguity or vagueness, if any, that each statement contains. Add context as needed. Remember that a given statement might be both ambigu- ous in some respects and vague in other respects. Mark as “OK AS IS” any that are crystal clear and entirely unprob- lematic no matter what the context or purpose.

1. This is a land of opportunity.

2. If you can’t afford food, then you’re not free.

3. I love my brother and my wife, but not in the same way.

4. God is love.

5. When in doubt, whistle.

6. Organic foods are healthier.

7. Clean coal is a green business!

8. Hamlet contains timeless truths.

9. Music soothes the savage beast in all of us.

10. Ignoring lazy thinking is like snoozing on a railroad crossing—not a problem until it’s too late.

Interpreting data: The Pew Research Center’s “Science and Technology Knowledge Quiz” asks 13 questions. Men and women, young and old, with differing levels of educa- tion have taken the quiz. Different groups scored higher or lower on each question. The patterns are quite interesting. Take the quiz first, it is quick. Then go to the Results table and analyze the data presented there. How would you interpret those data? For example, what does it suggest about differences between men and women, and to what might any differences evident in those data be attributed? Search “Pew Science and Technology Quiz.”

SHARED RESPONSE Context, Purpose & Quality How do context and purpose affect the quality of an interpretation? Give one good example and explain how the example makes your point. Comment respectfully on the examples and explanations offered by others. Do they work? Why or why not?

Group Exercises Interpreting “science” and “pseudoscience”: For many years the National Science Foundation (NSF) has con- ducted surveys of the public attitudes and understanding about science and scientific knowledge. The results inform policy development, legislation, and funding for scientific research and science education in the nation. NSF reports: “In 2002 the survey showed that belief in pseudoscience was relatively widespread. . . . For example 25% of the pub- lic believed in astrology . . . , at least half the people believe in the existence of extrasensory perception, . . . 30% believe that some of the UFOs are really space vehicles from other civilizations, . . . half believe in haunted houses and ghosts, faith healing, communication with the dead, and lucky numbers.” Form a small working group with one or two others in your class. Do steps 1, 2, and 5 as a group. Divide the work among yourselves for steps 3 and 4.

1. Review the public information on the NSF Web site, particularly the public understanding of science and technology part of the NSF's most “Science and Engineering Indicators” report.

2. Define the words pseudoscience and science in a fair- minded and reasoned way.

3. Survey 10 of your friends and family members about their views on astrology, extrasensory perception, and ghosts. In each case invite them to use their critical thinking skills and explain why they believe what they believe.

4. Objectively summarize the reasons pro and con for each of the three topics.

5. Using the Holistic Critical Thinking Scoring Rubric in Chapter 1, evaluate the quality of the thinking pros and cons for each of the three topics. Explain your evaluation.

Meaning matters and meaning mutates: A great many public policy issues turn on our understanding of words that evoke strong emotional responses, either positive or negative. But before taking a stand for or against something, strong critical thinkers will step back to be sure that they understand what is being said. This exercise challenges

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Clarify Ideas and Concepts 87

you to use contextualization, clarification of intent, nego- tiation, qualification, or stipulation to clarify the under- lined term(s) in each passage. This is not an exercise aimed at evaluating the claims being made in these passages. Rather the goal of the exercise is to achieve as clear an under- standing of the key term(s) as possible. Correct analysis and interpretation comes before thoughtful evaluation. Otherwise, like a slimy eel, poorly defined terms make it difficult to get a grip on exactly what is being argued.

1. “Sorry, Mr. Miller, your dead.” The Ohio judge did not have the authority to void the legal declaration of death, even though Mr. Miller was standing there in good health. It might not matter, except that his widow had collected death benefits from Social Security. And now, if her husband was “undead” then Mrs. Miller would have to return that money.20 What should the legal definition of “death” be? Should it be brain dead, heart-stopped dead, missing-for-seven-years dead, or what? Think about the implications for health care and end of life care in particular.

2. “In today’s world truthfulness is at risk. To quote what Dr. House is often heard saying on the TV drama House MD, ‘People lie’.” [Hint, lying includes

more than trying to mislead a person by telling them something the speaker believes to be untrue.]

3. Are the winners of the annual League of Legends tournament cyber athletes? Is playing League of Legends a competitive sport? Is preparing for the tournament a form of athletic training? Where exactly are the boundaries of terms like “sport,” “athlete,” and “training”?

4. “Misrepresentation by deceptive naming has become an art form. Today pollsters, political pundits, and populist politicians attach misleading names to ballot propositions, Web sites, and campaign contribution mailers. Often the public is not deceived. But occasionally a name creeps into common usage. Take

for example “Clean Energy.” What exactly is that?” [Suggestion: Begin with the interview with Noble Award–winning physicist, Steven Chu, and watch “Power Surge” and other recent shows available for free Web viewing from NOVA]

5. What do you think of when you hear about a cultural exchange program for young people to promote “mutual understanding” and “cultural exchange” Search “corporate abuse of J-1 visa” to see how these terms can be twisted. How might you stipulate the meanings of cultural exchange program to prevent these abuses?

6. “I worry about the pornographic, vulgar, and lewd commercials and television shows that pour forth from the cable and satellite TV vendors today. Even the big networks are producing programming that would have been considered indecent only a generation ago. Yes, I realize that in July of 2010 the U.S. Court of Appeals dealt a serious blow to the American Family when it struck down the TV indecency rules that the FCC and the Congress had put in place. Which is partly why I’m so upset—we have to do something to protect the children.”

7. “My grandfather said that he did not want the doctors to use extraordinary measures to prolong his life. I never expected to have his medical power-of-attorney. But that’s how things in our family have worked out. So, now that I find myself legally responsible for his medical decision making, I’m really wondering what he meant.”

8. In what ways was it both fair and yet unfair for Bill Maher to define religious faith as “the purposeful suspension of critical thinking” when he interviewed Ralph Reed of the Faith and Freedom Coalition. Don't jump to conclusions. Instead, before answering this question, search and watch the interview. It comes after the opening monologue and just before the panel discussion segment of episode 320 of the HBO show Real Time with Bill Maher, June 6, 2014.

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Chapter 5

Analyze Arguments and Diagram Decisions

Learning Outcomes

5.1 Identify the reason or reasons, explicit or implicit, a person is using to argue that a given claim is true or very probably true.

5.2 Display the analyses of arguments using argument maps, showing where appropriate the final conclusion, various lines of reasoning used, implicit but unspoken reasons.

5.3 Given more complex conversations containing multiple arguments, pro and con, made in a given context, analyze

and map those arguments including the divergent conclusions being advocated and the counter-arguments presented to the reasons advanced by one side or another.

5.4 Apply argument-mapping techniques to display analyses of decision making by individuals or groups, include statements that indicate that a decision is needed, lines of reasoning that abandoned, options which were considered but not accepted.

HOW can we use our analytical skills to discover the reasons people advance on behalf of the claims they are making?

HOW can we use mapping to represent the relationships between reasons and claims?

HOW do unspoken assumptions, context, irony, sarcasm, wit, and humor factor into making complete and accurate argument maps?

HOW can we extend mapping techniques to represent complex pro-and-con decision making?

Preschoolers learn to ask why-questions early and often. Adults reinforce this behavior by responding with explanations and reasons. For a three-year-old, asking why may only be a way to get attention. But by the time children start school they have come to expect that there are reasons and explanations for events, decisions, and beliefs.

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Analyze Arguments and Diagram Decisions 89

Making arguments and giving reasons to communi- cate the basis for our beliefs and decisions are universal in our species. There is a way to ask “Why?” in every lan- guage. For example, if we ask the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF) why it supports the sale of guns made for children, like the Cricket, a spokesperson may reply, “Because we are trying to develop the next generation of gun users.” And if we pursue that response a bit further, the representative may explain, “The NSSF is a trade associa- tion for the American fire arms industry.” To the question “Why did you order a moratorium on Illinois death pen- alty executions in January 2000?” former Illinois governor George Ryan might have responded, “Because our state’s criminal justice system has made mistakes, and innocent people have been wrongly executed. There is no way to undo that kind of a mistake.” In episode 19 of season 10 of the Law and Order Special Victims Unit, detectives go after a mother who refused to have her son vaccinated. In her own defense the mother says it was her right to make that deci- sion about her own child’s health. She asserts that she is not accountable for the consequences of her decision. And she says that for her child the outcome was exactly as she had hoped. Without incurring the risk she associated with a vaccination, her son got sick with measles and then recov- ered. In the final analysis, her reason is this: “Measles vac- cinations have dangerous side effects. Those risks worry me a lot.” Apart from the TV drama, we know that those risks are exceedingly rare and that the disease itself is a far greater risk to her child and to other children.1 And so, although we can identify with a mother’s concern for the welfare of her child, we may want to evaluate this decision negatively, particularly because in the TV drama her child infected other children and one died.

Whether we agree with NSSF, or with Governor Ryan, or with the mother whose decision resulted in the death of another mother’s child, will become important later, when we work on the skill of evaluation. For the present, how- ever, our goal is to analyze exactly what people’s claims are and the reasons they use to establish them as worthy of acceptance. In some ways applying our core critical think- ing skill of analysis can be more difficult than offering an evaluative opinion. Analysis, like interpretation, is about understanding at a deep level. Often we are too quick to react positively or negatively to someone’s decision, only to discover later that we did not even understand the per- son’s decision or their reasons for it.

The goal of this chapter is to strengthen our analyti- cal skills. We will use a technique called mapping to help clarify how a person’s reasoning flows from initial state- ments taken as true to the conclusion or decision the per- son regards as being supported by those statements. Like a Google map showing how to get from point A to point B, the maps we will draw show how people reason from their beliefs and assumptions to reach a particular opinion or

decision. The criteria for successful analyses are accuracy, completeness, and fair-minded objectivity.

5.1 Analyzing Reasons and Claims

Consistent with common usage, we will use the expression make an argument to refer to the process of giving one or more reasons in support of a claim.2 Here are some exam- ples of arguments:

1. [Reason] Student journalists should have the same rights as professional journalists. [Claim it is intended to sup- port] So, laws that shield professional journalists from imprisonment will apply to student journalists, too.

2. [Reason] Confidential sources of information would be in danger if they were publicly identified. To legally require journalists to reveal confidential sources to the police will have the effect of publicly identifying those confidential sources. [Claim] Therefore, the law should not require journalists to reveal their confiden- tial sources.

3. [Claim] Encephalitis (swelling of the brain) cannot be said to be a side effect of measles vaccination. [Reason] Here’s why: “This happens so rarely—less than once in a million shots—that experts can’t be sure whether the vaccine is the cause or not.”3

4a. [Claim] I need to get a better job! [Reasons] My boss is an unappreciative moron. And my commute is brutal.

4b. [Reasons] My commute is brutal and I work for an unappreciative moron. [Claim] Man, do I need to get a better job or what?

The term claim refers to the statement that the maker of the argument is seeking to show to be true or probably true. We will often refer to an argument’s claim as the argument’s conclusion. The other sentences in the argu- ment, namely those that are used to show that the conclu- sion is true or that it is probably true, constitute the reason or reasons. Remaining faithful to the variety of ways we have of talking about thinking in everyday language, we can refer to reasons using synonyms, like considerations or rationale. We can use the term argument to refer to the combination of a person’s claim and the reason or reasons a person presents in support of that claim. To argue, in this sense, is to invite others to draw the inference from the reason(s) offered to the conclusion intended.4

Accuracy Depends on Context and Purpose In conversation people may give more than one reason in support of the same conclusion. Example #4a and #4b

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Mayra Maldonado
Mayra Maldonado

90 Chapter 5

illustrate that practice. Without knowing more about the speaker and about the context, we cannot determine whether the person thinks of the brutal commute, the boss’ moronic behavior, and the boss’ lack of appreciation as three indepen- dent reasons each of them sufficient to lead the speaker to look for a better job. Or, if the speaker thinks of the three rea- sons as small in themselves, when linked together as being enough to tip the balance in favor of looking for a new job. Why does that matter? Because if the three considerations are separate reasons in the mind of the speaker, then show- ing that two of them are mistaken will still leave one reason standing. If tomorrow the boss was replaced with a wonder- fully appreciative, sophisticated and brilliant new boss, the brutal commute would still be an independent reason why the speaker would want to find a new job. However, if the speaker regards the three reasons as mutually reinforcing, then the arrival of the new boss might lead the speaker to tolerate the commute to stick with the job and the new boss. To be fair to the speaker and to make a full and accurate analysis, we would want to ask the speaker to explain those reasons more fully. We might ask, “What if the commute problem went away because your boss allowed you to work from home? Would you still want to find a new job?

The takeaway from this example is that context and purpose will again be vitally important as we apply our analytical and interpretive skills to arguments and deci- sions. The more we know about the events and circum- stances within which the argument is made, and the more we know about the people involved, the more likely we are to develop an objective, complete, and accurate analy- sis. As analysts, just going from the words on a page only, we are at a huge disadvantage.

Let’s practice with another short scenario: Joel says to his friend Mike, “Hey, let’s get a pizza.” Mike says, “Great, what kind.” Joel replies, “Thin crust. Costs less and tastes better.” In this example, is Joel giving two independent reasons or are the two considerations he offers (cost and taste) linked in his mind? If Joel intends the two consider- ations to be separate reasons, then Joel is making two inde- pendent arguments. And, if he can be persuaded that thin crust pizza does not always taste better, he will still hold on to the cost argument. Or, vice versa, if we tell him he does not have to pay for the pizza, he will still hold out for thin crust because of the taste argument.

5a. [Reason] Thin crust pizza costs less. [Claim/Conclu- sion] We should buy thin crust.

5b. [Reason] Thin crust pizza tastes better. [Claim/Conclu- sion] We should buy thin crust.

But, if in Joel’s mind the two reasons are mutually reinforc- ing such that taken together they tip the balance in favor of thin crust, then, to be fair to Joel, our analysis should reflect that he is making one argument, not two. And, if he discovers that either of the two mutually supporting

reasons should be mistaken, he might decide that the pizza does not have to be thin crust.

6. [Reason] “Thin crust pizzas are less expensive and bet- ter tasting. [Claim/Conclusion] We should by thin crust.

The accuracy of our analysis depends on knowing which is which. And, from the words in the dialogue so far, we can- not tell. So let’s supply more context. Mike says, “What? Remember the last time we had thin crust? You called it cardboard.” Joel replies, “Yeah, I remember. But I didn’t say ‘cardboard’ I said it tasted like sunbaked Wyoming roadkill.” “Okay,” says Mike, “Then I’m going to order us a Chicago style deep dish.” “Go for it,” says Joel. If the con- versation ended as described here, then we would analyze Joel’s two considerations (taste and cost) as constituting a set of mutually reinforcing reasons. Our evidence is that, in context, when Mike defeated one of the considerations (taste), Joel agreed with the conclusion to order deep dish instead. So, from the context we can infer that Joel prob- ably intended to be making one argument. Not two.

We need to do our best to make accurate analyses; it will pay off in deepening our understanding of what other people are saying. And it will pay off when the time comes to evaluate or to make cogent counterarguments.

For the purposes of making an accurate, objective and complete analysis, we can use this rule of thumb: The number of arguments depends on the number of independent reasons the argument maker intends. But, if the context or cir- cumstances of the communication do not reveal what the speaker intends, what should we do? We have had two examples of this earlier in the book. One was a will left by parents to their three children, the other was the question of the intentions of the authors of the U.S. Constitution. When it is important to interpret reasons and conclusions in circumstances where the intent of the author is difficult or impossible to determine, it is reasonable to interpret those arguments in ways that are consistent with the gen- eral pattern of the author’s words and deeds.

Over-Simplification Masks Reality Our analytical and interpretive work would be easier if speakers would always be clear about their reasons, if speakers always knew their own minds, and if people never withheld their reasons, lied, or concealed their rea- sons behind political correctness. But that is not the way the world is. And critical thinking, if it is of any value at all, must be applicable to the world as it is, and not as we might wish it were.

In reality, the rationale people offer for what they believe or what they decide is often murky, even in their own minds. As we will see in Chapter 10 “Snap Judgments,” we humans are not always fully reflective and thoughtful when we make decisions. One of the major benefits of asking

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Analyze Arguments and Diagram Decisions 91

why, and of pursuing that question beyond the first or sec- ond quick response, is to open up the structure of the rea- soning behind a given claim or decision. Obviously, asking why helps us with our analysis. But there is another benefit too. Asking “why” can help the speaker. Being pushed to explain our thinking leads truth-seeking critical thinkers to a clearer understanding of their own beliefs and decisions.

Ask “why.” And then ask for clarification. Analysis is an active skill. Analysis includes digging below what peo- ple first say. We should not be afraid of asking ourselves or others why we think what we think. Like good investi- gators, analytical people probe. Getting people to explain their own reasons provides the analyst with the material necessary for a fair-minded, complete and accurate analy- sis. Guessing at another person’s reasons, or worse mistak- ing our own reasons for the other person’s reasons, only leads to misunderstanding. Guesswork and misattribution are marks of weak critical thinking.

TWO CONFUSIONS TO AVOID There are a couple of confusions to avoid. First, by using the word argument, we do not mean “quarrel” or “disagreement.” The discussions that result when making arguments and giving reasons can be civil, constructive, respectful, and collaborative. And, yes, they can also be emotionally charged, but yet ratio- nal. Remember too that when people argue, in the sense of quarrel, they may be name-calling or worse, but they can also be giving reasons. So, again, good judgment is needed. Our focus in this chapter is on the claims people make and the reasons they give in support of those claims, even if the context is a quarrel. It is always a good practice to interpret another person’s arguments charitably. Give the other person the benefit of the doubt, and interpret what they are saying in a reasonable and plausible way. Not only is that the more respectful approach, but it is often the smart approach. Although the temptation may be great, it is almost always a mistake to underestimate the thinking of people with whom we disagree.

Second, when using the word conclusion, we do not mean to suggest that the person’s conclusion must come at the end. Examples #3 and #4a above demonstrate that the conclusion—that is, the claim that the speaker intends to support—can be the first statement in the speaker’s argu- ment. In everyday discourse, it often is. Often a speaker will start a conversation with their conclusion and not give any reason, unless asked. The speaker may assume that the per- son they are talking too agrees, or that the person already knows the reasons, or at least knows the speaker’s reasons. If we remain silent in that situation, then the speaker and others may interpret our silence as agreement or consent. When the issue is important, and if we do not agree, then one reasonable response is to probe for the speaker’s ratio- nale before the speaker pushes ahead, believing that we are totally onboard with what they said.

“Reason” and “Premise” In example arguments #1, #4a, #5a, and #5b above, the rea- son is expressed in a single statement. In #2 two statements are used together to express the reason. In #3, grammatically only one sentence is used. But when we analyze what that sentence tells us, we see that it expresses two statements5:

For every 1 million measles vaccinations adminis- tered, 1 case of encephalitis occurs.

The rate of 1 in 1 million is so rare that experts cannot be sure if the vaccine was the cause or not.

By contrast, in examples #4a and #4b the expression “I work for an unappreciative moron” contains two poten- tially separate considerations: one is that the boss is unap- preciative, the other is that the boss is a moron.

The take away from these looks at grammatical structure by itself is that our interpretation can be guided by grammati- cal structure, but grammar is not the whole story. Context and purpose must be considered as well if we are to make a correct analysis. Again, analysis is not an easy skill to execute correctly. Oversimplification, for example, trying to reduce everything to grammatical structure in this case, will lead to mistakes.

Because we know many of you know the term “prem- ise,” we want to clarify one point. A single reason may have component parts, to which we can apply that word, “prem- ise.” For example, look at argument #2. There one reason is given. But that reason has two component premises. By exten- sion, we can speak of the two premises seen there as “prem- ises of the argument.” Like a bicycle, tricycle, or car requires two, three or four wheels to be complete, some reasons require two, three or four (or more) premises to be complete.

In normal everyday conversations, if we give a reason at all, we seldom articulate every premise. The context and our shared understanding of the topic enable us to com- municate much more efficiently. We put into words only what we believe is needed to communicate our think- ing.6 Here are two examples. In their proper contexts, the makers of these arguments correctly believe that they can afford to leave a premise unexpressed.

7. Optimus Prime and Bumblebee are Transformers. So, obviously they are made of metal.

8. Salerno is south of Napoli. So, it is south of Roma.

The premise missing from #7 is “All Transformers are metal,” which is a true statement within the fictional uni- verse of the many Transformers action adventure movies. If you know that fictional universe, then it is unneces- sary, redundant, and even a little insulting to remind you of such an obvious fact. But if you do not know that fic- tional universe, argument #7, like a bicycle with only one wheel, may not even make sense. Too much information is missing. The implicit premise of #8 is about the relative

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location of two cities in Italy. Specifically, “Napoli (Naples) is south of Roma (Rome).” It is unnecessary to remind any- one who knows Italy about the location of Naples. But, if the speaker thought that he or she was making argument #8 to someone who did not know the locations of major cities in Italy, then the speaker would be wise to voice the unspoken premise about Naples being south of Rome.7 Do not be concerned if the distinction between a reason and its component premises is not clear to you yet. We will rein- troduce the term “premise” in Chapter 7. For now it is only important to know that reasons often have components which are implicit when making arguments or justifying decisions within a given context.

DISTINGUISHING REASONS FROM CONCLUSIONS Our language is rich with words we can use to commu- nicate our intentions when it comes to expressing argu- ments. Some words signal our conclusion, and others signal our reason. The table lists some of the most common words and phrases used when we want to be sure people know we are making an argument. Naturally, it would be an error to think that we always are so clear and obvious about our argument making. Grammar and vocabulary are important, but not the whole story. Even when we know the context and the purpose, miscommunication can hap- pen. Ask “What is the conclusion that the speaker is trying

to establish as true?” Or, “What is the decision that the speaker is trying to explain or justify?” And ask “What con- siderations does the speaker present to establish the truth of that claim or the basis of that decision?”

Words That Signal Conclusions Words That Signal Reasons

So . . . Since . . .

Thus . . . Given that . . .

Therefore . . . Whereas . . .

Hence . . . Because . . .

We can now infer . . . For the reason that . . .

It follows that . . . Suppose . . .

This means that . . . Assume . . .

This implies . . . Let us take it that . . .

These facts indicate . . . Let us begin agreeing that . . .

The evidence shows . . . The evidence is as follows . . .

Let us infer that . . . We all know that . . .

So it would seem that . . . In the first place . . .

And so probably . . . Is supported by . . .

We can deduce . . . Is implied by . . .

This supports the view that . . . Is derived from the fact that . . .

You see, therefore, that . . . Is justified because . . .

This justifies our decision that . . . Is understandable when you consider . . .

About Technical Vocabulary In general, specialized terminology is valuable because it improves communication among the members of a specific language community. Professional fields, businesses, government agencies, religions, social organizations, clubs, and societies of all kinds inevitably generate specialized vocabulary—words that have special definitions for the members of that language community, definitions that differ from what those words might mean when used by the rest of the people who are not members of that language community. There are many important reasons to generate specialized terminology; often the reasons relate to the activities the language community is engaged in together and the nuanced understandings those activities require. For example, the social media community has introduced new verb forms of familiar words “friend,” “text,” and “like.” And that community has created new terms, such as “unfriend.” To become a participating member of one of these language communities, we must learn to use words with their specialized community meanings.

Along with the benefit of clarifying the precise meanings of key terms for the members of the language community there is a risk. The risk is that that the members of the community will find it more difficult to communicate effectively with people

who are not privy to the specialized meanings they attach to those words. The more a language community generates specialized terminology and technical definitions, the less people who are not members of that language community can understand what is being said, even if the words are familiar and have been in everyday use for centuries.

In Chapter 4 on clarifying ideas, we suggest that to make progress in an academic discipline that is new to you, it is vital to discover how to communicate using the specialized language of that discipline. Learning technical terminology means acquiring the facil ity to use words that have specialized meanings the same way that the other members of the disciplinary language community use those words when conversing with one another.

Specialized vocabulary poses major problems for talking with people about their critical thinking. Critical thinking is a pervasive human phenomenon. It is evident everywhere, in all academic disciplines, in every professional field, in all language communities. So, the more we want to talk with people about how to analyze, evaluate, or explain reasoned judgments about what to believe or what to do, the more important it is for us not to create a specialized vocabulary.

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5.2 Mapping Claims and the Reasons for Them

When we are trying to be precise in our analysis of an argu- ment, especially a complex argument or a conversation in which several arguments pro and con are made, many of us find it useful to represent the reasoning visually. In effect, we try to map the arguments. Using familiar shapes and connecting lines, we express how we understand the ideas to be related. As analysts, our main responsibility is to develop as accurate an understanding as possible of what the person expressing the argument had in mind. Like crime scene investigators, we analyze the evidence and map out our findings. Our aim is to show how that person intended to support the claims being made by the reasons that were used.

Let’s map a few simple examples to get started. We will use a rectangle to represent the argument’s conclusion. Let’s use an oval to represent the reason. And we will simply draw an arrow from the reason to the conclusion to show that the person who made the argument intends to support that claim with that reason. Remember, just because the speaker intends that a given reason should support a given claim, it does not follow that the reason actually does sup- port that claim. Some reasons fail. But, evaluation comes later. For now focus on analyzing the arguments, that is

digging out the elements (reasons and claims) and figuring out how those elements relate to each other.

Map 1 illustrates the most basic case: A person gives one reason in support of a conclusion. The conclusion in Map 1 is “Pot should be legalized.” The reason, according to Map 1, is “The state can get sales tax when people buy pot, just like with alcohol.” The maker of this argument is making a simple comparison of pot to alcohol.

Let’s put the argument illustrated by Map 1 in context. A local news reporter is asking a friend of yours, Karen, for her views on the decriminalization of marijuana. Karen says, “I think pot should be legalized because, just like alcohol, the state could get sales tax revenues, and because people over 21 could buy pot legally. Oh, and another thing, then we could regulate pot to ensure consumers get consistent quality.” The argument in Map 2 shows Karen as having offered three separate reasons in support of her claim that pot should be legalized.

When the topic of an argument is important to us we may be tempted to “repair,” “reword,” or “supplement” what the original argument maker is saying For example, we might want to build an argument concerning legalizing pot by using public opinion polls or the outcomes of recent ballot initiatives.8 Or we may want to editorialize about the economic impact of farming the cash crop, cannabis.9 Or we may be tempted to polish the speaker’s argument just a bit by pointing to examples of where pot is legal. But,

The state can get sales tax when people buy pot,

just like with alcohol.

Pot should be legalized.

Map 1

Instead, to be able to talk to everyone about critical thinking we need to use the vocabulary of human thinking in ways that are consistent with the ordinary, everyday meanings of words. We need to be able to talk about these things with people no matter what discipline, profession, political party, religion, business, club, or other language community they may be a member of. If we attach special meanings to common words like reason, claim, analysis, open-mindedness, and so on, we only limit the utility of those words to communicate across the greatest possible span of people, topics, and real- life situations. The language community for critical thinking includes everybody. So, the words have to be used in ways that can be understood by everyone . . . even if they were not

fortunate enough to have attended college or to have read this or any other book about critical thinking.

Another reason not to go overboard about creating technical terms to talk about critical thinking is to avoid the “to name it is to tame it” delusion that Stewart Firestein warns about in the wonderfully insightful book This Will Make You Smarter. (Ed. Brochman J., Harper Perennial: New York, 2012, p. 62) In his essay, “The Name Game,” Firestein points out that students are often misled into thinking they understand something just because they have memorized the technical terminology. But to know what “analysis” means is not the same as having strong analytical skills. And in the case of critical thinking, it is strong skills that matter most.

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fixing arguments is not the analyst’s job. We must resist the temptation to improve, to diminish, or to editorialize. As analysts our responsibility is to unearth and to describe the speaker ’s arguments, not to bolster or to undercut them. Intellectually honesty demands we be rigorously objective about the speaker’s claims, reasons, and unspoken assumptions. Our aim is to display with accuracy the argu- ments as the speaker made them.

MAPPING A LINE OF REASONING There are times when a claim becomes a reason for another claim, thus forming a chain of reasoning. For example, say a person named Sara was to share her reasoning for having rented an apartment on State Street this way: “I wanted a place near the library because I love to study there. It was the closest rental avail- able.” Were we to ask Sara why she loves to study in the library, she might give as her reason, “Because it’s quiet there.” And if we push her to say why quiet is important to her, especially in a world where background music seems to assault us all the time, she might say, “I like music, but I need quiet when I study. Music, or anything that disturbs the quiet, distracts me from my work.” The analysis of Sara’s reasoning would map out this way:

Sara’s line of reasoning begins with a fundamental thing she knows about herself (“anything that disturbs the quiet causes me to be distracted”) and concludes with the idea that she should rent an apartment on State Street. If she learns that any of the links along that chain of rea- soning is not well connected, then she may well decide to reconsider and rent someplace else.

A diagram like Map 3, which shows a chain of reason- ing, suggests that we might want to reserve the word con- clusion for that claim that the speaker is ultimately trying to establish. The other claims along the way are intermedi- ate relative to the conclusion. OK, we could do that. But, on the other hand, every additional tweak or restriction on how we will use any given word raises the question: Why? Can’t we make ourselves understood to more people with- out that rule?

MAPPING IMPLICIT IDEAS In natural conversational contexts when people give their reasons for a claim, they typically offer a specific fact, opinion, observation, or belief. “Thin crust pizza costs less.” “It’s quiet in the library.” “The state can get sales tax.” “Optimus Prime and Bumblebee are Transformers.” The speaker typically believes that he or she has said enough, given the context, the purpose of

the communication, and the understandings shared with the others in the conversation. That is, unless someone asks for a clarification. In the case of argument #7 about the Transformers, if we did not know the movie reference, we might well ask how the person jumped all the way to “So, Optimus Prime and Bumblebee are made of metal.” The response would be to articulate the implicit but unspoken premise, “All transformers are made of metal.” But for the most part, most days, in most contexts, we get it. Argument making and reason giving are highly efficient processes.

So, cutting to the chase, how should we map argument #7 if we want to show both the expressed premise and the

People over 21 could buy pot legally, just like

with alcohol

The state could regulate it [pot production] to assure the pot-buying public gets

consistent quality.

The state can get sales tax [when people buy pot],

just like with alcohol.

Pot should be legalized.

Map 2

I need quiet when I study.

It’s quiet in the Library.

I love to study in the Library

I should rent a place near the Library

Anything that disturbs the quiet causes me

to be distracted.

[Among the choices I have] the apartment on State Street

is the rental closest to the Library.

So, I should rent the apartment on

State Street.

Map 3

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implied premise? We can simply put both statements in the oval. To note that the speaker implicitly relied on an idea, but did not actually express that thought, we can use a cloud shape, like in a comic strip. The cloud shape is one of the devices we can use to keep track of things we have added to the analysis beyond what the speaker actually said. Looking at the cloud shapes, we will know exactly which ideas we have attributed to the speaker, and we can double-check to see whether our interpretations are rea- sonable or need to be refined. Map 4 describes argument #7 about the two Transformers characters.

Interpreting Unspoken Reasons and Claims in Context Teammates are talking about next Saturday’s softball game. One says, “Look, we shut out State last week, and the week before that State buried Western. So, Saturday should be easy.” Before we can map this argument, we need to inter- pret it so that the reasoning is more fully expressed, and we may have to restate it for the sake of clarity.

Our team defeated State’s team last week.

State’s team defeated Western’s team the week before that.



How many reasons does the speaker use to support the claim? Only one. The context permitted the speaker to communicate successfully by offering only two facts. Our interpretation of what she said revealed that the team’s shared knowledge of their game schedule enabled the speaker to omit the third fact. Map 5 shows that this argu- ment includes both of the elements not spoken in the origi- nal: a premise and the conclusion itself.

When we give reasons, we naturally assume that the others in our conversation understand us. Much is left unsaid because it very often does not need to be said, given factors like context, shared experiences, common knowledge, and similarities of cultural backgrounds. But, obviously, what we leave unspoken can cause problems. From time to time, we all have experienced such a situa- tion. Either we get someone else’s unspoken assumptions wrong, or they are mistaken about our unspoken assump- tions. Fortunately, these problems are easy to spot and easy to fix. Going back to the pot example, clarification could go like this: “Karen, are you saying that the state should raise

Saturday should be easy.

We will probably defeat

Western on Saturday

We defeated State last week. State

defeated Western the week before.

We play Western on Saturday

Map 5

Optimus Prime and Bumblebee are transformers.

Optimus Prime and Bumblebee

are made of metal. All transformers

are made of metal.

Map 4

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the sales tax?” “No, I’m saying that an entirely new source of revenue, namely a tax on the sale of pot, will be benefi- cial to the state budget.”

Interpreting the Use of Irony, Humor, Sarcasm, and More It would be a naïve to always take what people say literally. If we were unable to interpret irony, wit, humor, and sarcasm, then Stephen Colbert, Sarah Silverman, Dennis Miller, Seth Meyers, Jimmy Fallon, Amy Schuler, and most other come- dians would be out of work. Unlike computers, we humans enjoy spicing up our conversations with smack talk, innuendo, double entendre, exaggerations, understatement, slang, imag- ery, emotion, provocation, and much more. These language tools can give an expression many different meanings. For example, the words “Nice tat!” can mean that a person thinks your tattoo is awesome, thinks your tattoo is silly, thinks your tattoo should not be showing, thinks your tattoo makes a poi- gnant statement, and so on. As we did with the softball team example above, interpretation and restatement are vital pre- liminary activities to analysis and mapping. Unfortunately, our explicit analysis may take the fun out of the comedian’s shtick. Often the conclusion is left to the audience to figure out and then enjoy. If we have to explain a joke, it isn’t nearly as funny. But this realization only reinforces the realization that human communication, and particularly the reasoning woven into it, is wonderfully, and often joyfully, complex.

Before mapping an ironic or sarcastic comment, switch the statement from the positive that was spoken to the neg- ative that was intended (or from the negative spoken to the positive that was intended). For example, in one context “He was wonderfully diplomatic” can be meant as sincere praise. In this context it supports the claim “Let him repre- sent us.” But in another context it can be intended sarcasti- cally. There the speaker would be using it to support the opposite claim: “Don’t let him represent us.” In the latter

case, since the correct analysis must reflect the speaker’s intent, and since we know the speaker was making a nega- tive comment, we would restate the reason as, “He was [not at all] wonderfully diplomatic.”

As we have already done a couple of times above, we can use words in [brackets] to clarify a statement so that it can be read in the argument map the way the speaker intended it to be understood. We can also use bracketed text to describe the impact on the reasoning process of non- verbal cues. For example, people frown, scoff, cross their arms, or roll their eyes to show that they disagree. Such nonverbal cues can be represented in an argument map in this way: “[Arms are crossed and he’s shaking his head— John strongly disagrees with Karen about legalizing pot.]”

5.3 Analyzing Arguments in Context

Asking someone about their reasons and having them share their thinking honestly and fully are complex human social interactions. A gesture, a look, a facial expression, the past history between people, unspoken assumptions, and all kinds of other things can enter into how we inter- pret what people really mean. As we mature, we gain the skills, knowledge, and experience to understand others and to express ourselves better. As our skills advance, we can handle more challenging arguments.

The El Train Argument The famous El Train scene from 12 Angry Men offers exam- ples of sarcasm, irony, expressive body language, and raw emotion, all of which may or may not be influencing the thinking of the various members of the jury as they deliber- ate.10 Let’s apply our argument-mapping techniques to the argument offered in support of the claim that the old man was lying when he testified that he actually heard the defen- dant threaten to kill the victim. In the classic 1957 film ver- sion, the scene runs from 39:30 [minute: second] to 43:00.

One of the responsibilities of any jury is to determine the facts of a case. Using testimony and their good judg- ment, the jurors must decide whom to believe. In the El Train scene the jury is trying to determine whether to believe the testimony of an older gentleman who lives in the apartment building where the murder had taken place. The old man tes- tified under oath that he heard the accused shout that he was going to kill the victim just one second before he heard the victim’s body hit the floor. The jury wonders whether the old man could have heard the accused make such a threat. Is it possible for a person in one apartment to hear what someone in another apartment is shouting? Well, yes, under ordinary circumstances it might be possible, the jury reasons, partic- ularly if the apartment windows are open. And they were

We beat State. State beat Western. Saturday should be easy.

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open, according to the witnesses. So perhaps the old man heard the threat through his open window. The jury has vital information about the moments during which the threat was supposed to have been heard. Another witness has testified that the murder occurred just as a noisy elevated train went shrieking past the window of the apartment where the vic- tim was killed. Several members of the jury comment about how incredibly noisy an elevated train can be, and this train passed so close to the side of the apartment building that the clatter of its passing might have been unbearably loud. So the question becomes: Could the old man have heard the killer shout a threat over the racket made by the passing train? The jury determines that it took the train roughly ten seconds to pass the apartment window. According to the testimony of the other witness the killing happened just as the last part of the train passed by the window. Putting the testimony of the old man together with what the other witness said implies that the threat was shouted while the train was roaring past the window. Not possible, reasons the jury. We have a major conflict in the testimony of these two witnesses. Either we believe the eyewitness who said that the murder occurred

just as the train went past the window, or we believe that the old man could hear the threat being shouted over the roar of a passing train. No, the jury decides, the old man’s testimony is not credible. Because of the noise of the train the old man could not possibly have heard anything people in another apartment were saying, even if they were shouting threats.

The summary of the scene we have provided here leaves out things that the playwright has the characters doing while the argument was unfolding. For example, two of them start playing tic-tac-toe instead of paying attention. The summary also omits the snide comments and exaspera- tion some of the jurors express, which also interrupts the flow of the reasoning. But even with these distractions not present in our summary, many of us would still have a dif- ficult time following the twists and turns of a complicated argument like this one when all we have is a long paragraph of text. We need some way to organize the ideas, to diagram the flow of the reasoning, to clarify and to display for our- selves and others our analyses of relationships between rea- sons and claims. Argument maps provide the solution. And, because the reasoning is presented using simple shapes and

The noise from the train passing his

open window would have prevented the old man from hearing the accused man’s

voice through that open window.

Either the other witness who said the murder

took place as the train passed the window was mistaken, or the old man who said he heard the threat being shouted a second before the body

hit the floor was mistaken.

When an elevated train roars

by an open window the noise is almost unbearable.

This means that the old

man would have had to hear the boy make his threat over the noise of

the train roaring past his open window. The train was

roaring by the open window of the old man’s apartment for nearly ten seconds before the body of

the victim hit the floor.

The old man did not hear the accused

threaten the victim.

Map 6

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arrows, the flow of the thinking quickly becomes appar- ent. It is easier to collaborate on the analysis of complicated arguments using visuals, which can spread across a page in all directions, versus a text-based approach, which can only move from left to right and from top to bottom line by line.

Of course, to appreciate the advantages of visual map- ping when analyzing more complicated passages, one must understand the mapping process. Practice. That’s the ticket. So, how about we try to map an argument for not believing the testimony of the old man from our summary of the El Train scene?

Here are a few tips. It often works best to begin an argu ment map by identifying the speaker’s final conclu- sion. In this case, it is easy because the whole scene builds up to the claim the old man did not hear the accused make the threatening statement. Let’s put that down first, and then, working backward from that conclusion, let’s add the two strands of reasoning, which collide at the point where the old man’s testimony about what he says he heard conflicts with the fact of how noisy it is when an El Train roars by. The dilemma for the jury is that they either have to reject the facts about noisy trains or reject the old man’s testimony. Map 6 shows that dilemma too.

Map 6 is a start, but it needs work. The scene includes arguments that lead to the two ovals with “The train was roaring by . . .” and “When an elevated train . . .” Try for yourself to map each of those lines of reasoning back to their respective starting points. Expect to do more than one or two drafts before you are satisfied with your analysis. Mapping is like writing. The key to quality comes from drafting and redrafting.

The “Guns for Kids” Conversation One of us authors abhors guns and would never permit one in the house where the kids might find it. For the other of us a favorite summer camp activity was visiting the shooting range where we used bolt lock rifles and .22-long ammunition to bang away at the paper targets. But we campers did not own the guns; and there were always adults supervising our use of the rifles at the range. We share this with you because the next example is as difficult for us as it is for oth- ers who have an initial positive or negative reaction to the idea of children using guns. But, reminding ourselves that our task here is to analyze, and not to evaluate, we push forward. Difficult topics that have emotional overtones are exactly what call most for purposeful reflective judgment.

Is six too young to own a gun? Is eleven too young to buy a gun? In state houses throughout the nation gun industry lobbyists are urging that state laws be liberalized. They argue that it should be legal for children and adolescents to own guns, buy guns,

and participate in shooting sports provided there is adult supervision and that the child has completed a course in gun safety. The National Shooting Sports Foundation is one of the driving forces behind the concerted effort to put more guns in the hands of America’s children. An Internet search of “guns for children” produces ads for firearms designed and marketed to appeal to children and news stories about the issue of guns for kids run by CNN, ABC News, NBC News, and other media. Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel (HBO) presented a 15-minute segment illustrating the strongly held views on all sides of the guns for children issue. (Search for episode #203, February 25, 2014.)

Imagine the following conversation between two friends, Josh and Nick. They are sitting in the stands watching their twelve year old sons play Little League baseball. Nick has just told Josh that he is buying his son a hunting rifle for his next birthday.

JOSH: Why on earth would you give your boy a gun? Think of the risks. An accident and, God forbid, the boy hurts himself or another kid. Look, these days we parents do everything we can to protect our kids. I don’t get it. Why do you want to give your boy a gun?

NICK: If you don’t want guns in your house, that’s fine. But the laws allow kids to have guns for hunting. I want to take my boy hunting and I want him to have the right equipment. Really, it’s not so different than any other sport, when you think of it. You bought your boy his own aluminum baseball bat. If he misuses it to hurt other people, well that would not be the bat’s fault. A lot more kids are hurt playing high school football each year than are hurt in hunting accidents.

JOSH: I get it, you’re his Dad. You can buy your boy whatever you want. But I don’t like the idea that your son will have a gun. I’m sure he’ll tell the other boys and they will

.22-caliber rifle manufactured and marketed for young children

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want guns too. Next thing you know some messed up middle school kid skateboards off to a gun show to buy an AR-15. That’s legal, you know. We have laws against minors buying beer, cigarettes, pornography, and lottery tickets. But any kid can buy a gun! That’s crazy. Guns are no different, they are dangerous. The law should protect kids from buying dangerous products including guns.

NICK: No argument there. Selling guns to kids should be illegal.

JOSH: So, we agree on that. But what about a thirteen year old possessing an AR-15? You’re not going to tell me an AR-15 is designed for hunting rabbits. It’s a military assault weapon. In fact, isn’t an AR-15 the kind of gun that boy used to kill all those children in Newtown, Connecticut?

NICK: That guy was 20 years old. JOSH: Yeah, and he was around guns all his life. NICK: He was unstable. And that incident, tragic as it was,

is the exception, not the rule. JOSH: Our country is averaging one incident a month

where some child takes a gun to school to shoot other kids. Where are the so-called responsible adults? What happened to all that wonderful gun safety training?

NICK: Look, Josh, I know you don’t like guns. But there are nearly 2 million kids ages six to fifteen years old who

Using battle and assault imagery, ads for for AR-15- style semi-automatic rifles tend to tout their speed, size, accuracy, and durability, but omit mentioning accident risks or criminal violence.

I want my son to have the right equipment

when I take him hunting.

Laws permit children to have guns.

If it were unreasonable, it would probably be illegal.

Your son will tell his friends and they

will be envious and want guns too. Sooner or later some messed up kid

will buy an AR-15.

The risk of a tragic accident increases if a child

has a gun. These days we parents do everything we can to protect

our kids.

A messed up kid with an AR-15 endangers everyone.

It is a reasonable idea to give my son a gun for


In general it is a bad idea to give a

child a gun.

A gun is like a baseball bat, just another piece of sports

equipment. It’s not the gun’s fault if it is misused.

Map 7

have hunting rifles and use them safely. Look at the numbers.

JOSH: No, you look at the numbers. Two million is terrify- ing. It only takes one troubled kid with a gun to kill my son! And I wish I could give you more stats on suicides, sibling killings, and the other terrible things that easy access to guns causes. But the NRA lobbied Congress in 1996 to prevent the CDC from funding research on gun violence and public health.

NICK: Those laws were changed.

JOSH: But there is no funding yet to gather the kinds of numbers that will put this in perspective.

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NICK: Look, what exactly is your point? Are you opposed to kids having guns, or buying guns, or guns in general, or what?

JOSH: I don’t have problems with gun ownership. In fact, I own one myself. But kids should not own guns and the manufacturers should be barred from targeting kids, just like cigarette companies are barred from advertising to children.

NICK: Wait a minute. Guns are legal to manufacture and to sell. It’s legal for kids of have guns. Every business has the right to explore new markets.

JOSH: I do not know if it is insane or just immoral to market weapons to children.

NICK: Neither, Josh. Look, I was brought up in a family where we all hunted. There were hunting rifles in our house and all of us children were taught how to handle them safely. Learning to hunt was as natural as learn- ing to ride a bike. So, again, what’s the problem here?

JOSH: Look, the problem is ownership. Ownership implies control over when and how the gun is used. Kids just are not mature enough to be given that kind of control. The whole thing just puts the kid, the family and the community at greater risk unnecessarily. You mix the emotional ups and downs of a middle school or high school kid with easy access to a lethal weapon and you are just begging for something tragic to happen.

To initiate mapping the arguments woven into the fabric of this complex conversation, we begin with two key ques- tions: What is the fundamental conclusion Josh is trying to establish, and what is the conclusion Nick is arguing for? What reasons do each of them present in support of their respective conclusions? Map 7 illustrates our analysis of each father’s basic position. These positions are articulated early in the conversation. After Map 7, we will explore the second part of the conversation, where Josh and Nick talk about the AR-15 and the issue of marketing guns to children.

Map 7 presents the conclusion Josh is arguing for and the conclusion Nick is trying to establish as two separate rectangles. Note that both could be true in this particular situation. Josh presents two reasons for his more general conclusion. Nick presents three considerations to justify his decision regarding his son specifically. Map 7 shows “Laws permit children to have guns” as one of Nick’s reasons. Nick seems to be thinking that if giving a gun to a child was unreasonable, it would probably be illegal. We may or may not agree with that. But it seems fair to attribute that belief to Nick, otherwise it is difficult to imagine why Nick thought it was relevant to mention what the law permits at all.

Map 7 omits the part of the conversation where Josh and Nick agree that it should be illegal for children to buy guns. The rationale for that point of agreement is the principle that one of the purposes of the law is to protect

children from harming themselves with dangerous, but otherwise legal, products like cigarettes, alcoholic bever- ages, gambling, and pornography. Josh and Nick appear to agree that guns fall into the category of dangerous prod- ucts. Map 8 captures this moment of agreement.

As often happens in a conversation, a word or men- tal image triggers another idea by association. The men- tal image of the troubled boy on a skateboard with an AR-15, and the simple mention of the AR-15 prompted two thoughts in Josh. One was the realization that an AR-15 was not designed as a sport hunting rifle, and the second was a vivid memory of the tragic shooting in Newtown, CT where so many innocent young children died. These ideas are relevant to Josh’s main conclusion. The image of killing defenseless children with an AR-15 is repulsive. Josh evokes that image as part of his effort to persuade Nick that it is not a good idea to give a gun to a child. To further bolster his position Josh notes the rate of school shooting incidents that do involve children. Our analysis of Josh’s position requires that we represent these three considerations in our map. It appears from the context that Josh intends that this particu- lar set of reasons should function as mutually supporting considerations, rather than as entirely independent.

Nick reminds Josh that the shooter in the Newtown tragedy was an adult, not a child, and that he was an unstable individual. Nick does not dispute the character- ization of the AR-15 as an assault weapon. But Nick does challenge the numbers. In contrast to the two million

Selling guns to kids should be illegal.

We have laws against minors buying

beer, cigarettes, pornography, and lottery tickets. Guns are

no different.

They [guns] are dangerous. The law should

protect kids from buying dangerous products

including guns.

Map 8

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Analyze Arguments and Diagram Decisions 101

[We need the] stats on suicides, sibling

killings, and other terrible things that easy access to guns

causes. But the NRA lobbied Congress in 1 996 to prevent the

CDC from funding research on gun violence and

public health Those laws have changed.

An AR-15 is an assault weapon, not a hunting rifle.

No child should own an assault rifle.

Think about the Newtown school tragedy. That

shooter used an AR-15.

Our country is averaging one incident a month where some

child takes a gun school to shoot other kids.

The killer was a troubled 20 year old [with an assault weapon], not a child

[with a hunting rifle].

There are nearly 2 million kids who safely own hunting rifles. [The

incidents you are talking about are rare exceptions.]

Two million [kids with guns] is terrifying. It only takes one troubled kid with a gun to kill

my son!

But there is no funding yet to gather the numbers that will

put this in perspective.

If we had the statistics we would see how big

this problem really was.

I want my son to have the right equipment

when I take him hunting.

Laws permit children to have guns.

If it were unreasonable, it would probably be illegal.

Your son will tell his friends and they

will be envious and want guns too. Sooner or later some messed up kid

will buy an AR-15.

The risk of a tragic accident increases if a child

has a gun. These days we parents do everything we can to protect

our kids.

A messed up kid with an AR-15 endangers everyone.

It is reasonable idea to give my son a gun for


In general it is a bad idea to give a

child a gun.

A gun is like a baseball bat, just another piece of sports

equipment. It’s not the gun’s fault if it is misused.

Map 9

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children who have guns but do not take them to school to do violence, the Newtown case and the other incidents Josh mentions are extremely rare exceptions.

Josh counters Nick by bringing up the restrictions, which had been in place for many years that prohibited the CDC from using public funds to study gun violence and its impact on public health. Josh’s point is that the NRA lobbied successfully to prevent us from knowing all the relevant facts. Map 9 expands Map 7 by adding this seg- ment of the conversation.

Map 9 introduces two new mapping conventions. The first new element is a way of depicting the push back that comes when a speaker presents a counterargument or an objection to something the other speaker said. Although we could use ovals to represent objections and counter- arguments, an oval undersells the intended inferential force of these elements. Objections and counterarguments are intended to show that something the other person said is seriously flawed. Objections and counterarguments are used to defend one’s position by metaphorically reversing the flow of the reasoning. We offer objections and make counterarguments by giving reasons to disprove, refute, invalidate, or otherwise show that a given claim is not true. Let’s use a wide arrow with words inside to depict objections and counterarguments. Map 9 incorporates the arrow device in its analysis to show how Josh and Nick are both pushing back at what the other is saying.

The second new mapping convention is the position- ing of the shapes. Map 9 shows ovals overlapping other ovals and an oval overlapping a wide arrow. The overlap convention suggests visually that the analyst has inter- preted the speaker’s reasons as mutually supportive and not as independent considerations. (Recall the example of the unappreciative boss and the long commute earlier.) The oval that begins “[We need the] stats on suicide.…” overlaps the wide arrow that begins “Two million kids.…” We are interpreting Josh as intending that these two con- siderations should work together as an objection. Josh thinks Nick is trivializing the risks and that with good data this would become obvious.

After the flurry of objections and counterarguments, Nick, is becoming irritated and exasperated. As often hap- pens in this kind of a conversation, one party of the other decides that it is time to step back and begin again. In this case Nick does that by asking Josh, “What exactly is your point?” Josh then presents a claim that is broader and stron- ger than his first conclusion. Map 10 completes the analysis of the conversation by representing the final set of arguments.

Before moving on, we do want to acknowledge that it was tough for us, and probably for you too, to go through the “Guns for Kids” conversation in such detail without evaluating the case each side was making. So many ideas cried out for clarification, so many distinctions should have been made, so many strong emotions were evoked. One

lesson, reinforced again and again over the years, is that those with whom we disagree are almost never as evil or as ignorant as we are tempted to imagine. Strong critical thinkers know that it is never wise to demonize, underesti- mate, or disrespect those arguing for a different conclusion.

Expressions that Often Signal Objections or Counterarguments Examples

But As in Map 9, “But there is no funding yet to gather the numbers that will put this problem in perspective”

However You say you heard the body hit the floor, how- ever the El Train was roaring by your open apartment window at precisely that moment.

Yet The body hit the floor just as the El Train was roaring by the open window. All that noise and yet the old man heard the body hit the floor? No, I don’t think so.

On the other hand Public polls do support legalizing medical mari- juana. On the other hand the majority of people in our state do not support total legalization of all uses of pot.

Nevertheless Public polls support legalizing medical mari- juana. Nevertheless it remains a dangerous drug.

Notwithstanding “Notwithstanding the importance of respect for free choice, the life of the fetus is the central consideration.”

Regardless of “Regardless of the risks to other children, I have to put the safety of my children first.”

Still As in Map 13, “No he doesn’t. We still have the problem about . . .”

Despite “Despite what the esteemed ambassador is saying, according to reports from independent journalists the facts on the ground are quite different.”

If we were to accept the view that . . . , then . . .

If we accept the view that an embryo has all the rights of a fully developed human person, then abortion at any time during a pregnancy is unethical.

. . . , all the same . . . An option may be unethical, all the same it can still be legal.

Be that as it may . . . The Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant passed all inspections. Be that as it may, the plant was not prepared for the 2011 tsunami.

That being said, . . . The international community generously re- sponded with millions of dollars in relief after the Haiti hurricane disaster. That being said, the international response to the Haitian cholera epidemic that followed was far from impressive.

JOURNAL Evaluate the Cases Take a moment and evaluate the case each side is making in the “Guns for Kids” example. What clarifications or distinctions would you add? What emotions did this example evoke? What important considerations might have been left out? How did you avoid demonizing, underestimating, or disrespecting one or the other side of this issue?

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Analyze Arguments and Diagram Decisions 103

It is neither [insane nor immoral].

Kids should not own guns and manufacturers should be barred from

targeting kids.

Guns are legal to manufacture and to sell.

It is legal for kids to own guns.

A business [that is operating within the law] has the right to

explore new markets.

Guns are dangerous like cigarettes. The law should treat gun manufacturers the same as

cigarette manufacturers.

Cigarette companies are barred from advertising to children.

It is either insane or immoral to market guns to


In my family we all hunted. I learned gun safety.

Learning to hunt was as natural in my family as learning to

ride a bike. The problem is ownership.

Ownership implies control over when and how the gun is used. Kids are just not mature enough to be given that kind of control. You mix the emotional ups and downs of a middle school or high school kid with easy access to

a lethal weapon and you are just begging for something tragic to happen.

The whole thing just puts the kid, the family and the community at greater

risk unnecessarily.

Map 10

5.4 Analyzing and Mapping Decisions

When people are interviewed about difficult decisions they have made, they often talk about how they considered vari- ous options and, for various reasons, came to select one rather than any of the others.11 In effect, they are describing

a series of arguments. A decision map depicts all the arguments, pro or con, which are used in the decision-making process during the consideration of various options and the selection of the final choice. Decision maps can be thought of as argument maps used to analyze and depict the deliberations involved in indi- vidual or group decision making. To show how to build deci- sion maps, and for more practice mapping critical thinking, consider the following extended example about a spring trip.

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“We Should Cancel the Spring Trip” #1 The planning committee of a student club called the High Sierra Hikers is talking about a camping trip the club hopes to take during spring break. Eve is the chairperson of the group, Melissa is the treasurer, and James and Felix are the trip coordinators.


EVE: How are the plans coming for the spring camping trip?

FELIX: Bad news. The room rates at the Base Camp Lodge have doubled since last year.

MELISSA: Yes, and the money we’ve set aside for the trip won’t cover the difference. Our budget is already a problem because of the all other events we have planned.

FELIX: Even if we could get the money, the Lodge has no available rooms during spring break. The only avail- able rooms are during finals week.

JAMES: But wait. We’ve been planning this trip for almost a year. People are all excited about going. It’s going to be a lot of fun.

EVE: So, Felix, you’re saying we have to cancel the trip. What about other places we can stay?

FELIX: Yes, I am. There aren’t enough rooms in any one other place. We’d have to split up our group.

MELISSA: It would be a hassle to organize transportation from different sites. And we could use the money for the other events this year.

EVE: OK, we’ll cancel. I agree with Melissa, let’s use the money we would’ve spent on the camping trip some other way.

An analysis of this transcript reveals that the plan- ning committee is making a decision between cancel- ing and not canceling the trip that the club had planned for spring break. They are alerted to the need to make a decision when Felix responds with, “Bad news” to Eve’s question. We can interpret the expression “Bad news” in this context to mean, “There’s a problem about our spring trip.” At this early point in the conversation, though, we would not know what that problem might be. We could use an oval to represent that idea. But, as before, an oval

does not seem to suggest enough about the impact of this realization on the reasoning process. Recall the line from Apollo 13 when the pilot calls down to Mission Control in Houston to say there is a problem. The rather common- place assertion that there was a problem was actually a stunning realization. That declaration alerted everyone that they needed to be thinking about what could possibly be happening.

To capture the sense that some assertions put us on notice that we have to start thinking—although we may not yet know which direction our thinking will go, or what the nature of the problem really is—we can opt for a more dramatic shape than the humble oval. As illustrated in Map 11, we can use a diamond to represent the realiza- tion that a decision needs to be made or the realization that deliberation is needed. The content is typically a statement that is neutral relative to the various options and draws atten- tion to the opportunity, need, or appropriateness of engag- ing in decision making with regard to the issue at hand.

In the final map of a decision there will be lines of reasoning flowing toward each of the options considered. One of them will end up being the choice that is made, and the others will be options not selected. We already have the rectangle shape for the final conclusion of an argu- ment map, so let’s continue to use that shape for each of the options. This gives us the fundamental structure of the decision at hand. Since we know that the group decided to cancel the trip, we can represent the rejected option by a shaded rectangle. If the group had considered a couple of other options, we would have put them in as rectangles. The only one we would not have shaded would be the option that the group actually chose.

After we have this, we can add the argument for and against the options. When the reasoning to be mapped is more complex, as it is here, it takes a couple of drafts to design an effective decision map. Redrafting helps refine the analysis and clarify exactly what is being said. Redrafting also lets you move the shapes around on the page so that the flow of the reasoning, as you have ana- lyzed it, can be seen more readily.

Decision Map 12 emerged after producing two or three earlier versions. Same for the El Train scene map and the maps of the guns and kids issue; in each case there were two or three preliminary drafts.

Map 11

Don’t cancel the spring break trip.

Cancel the spring break trip.

Bad news [There's a problem about

our spring trip.]

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Analyze Arguments and Diagram Decisions 105

“We Should Cancel the Spring Trip” #2 Surely, we could make a plausible case not to cancel the trip. Maybe the logistical problems could be overcome, and it might not be so bad if the whole group wasn’t able to be in the same hotel. Perhaps some money could be shifted from those other events toward this spring trip. But, as decision analysts, it’s not our job to solve the problems, but rather to uncover the reasoning process behind them.

Suppose that James, still wanting to go, pushes the group to reconsider.


JAMES: I know we have to think about the budget. But we could pay for this year’s trip using next year’s funds.

MELISSA: That would be great. Let’s just raid the coffers for next year.

FELIX: Spoken like a true graduating senior, James!

EVE: Calm down, you guys. Maybe James has a point.

FELIX: No, Eve, he doesn’t. We can’t take the trip during finals week. And we still have problems with where to stay if we go during spring break. It just doesn’t make sense.

JAMES: Forget it.

James begins by acknowledging there’s a budget prob- lem. From this point of consensus, arguments could flow in either direction, so we can treat it as another invitation to the group to engage in deliberation. We will use the dia- mond shape for this when we map the group’s decision- making process. It opens up the possibility that a new decision can be made. But James’s invitation to reconsider is immediately met with a flurry of objections and coun- terarguments. From the context we can interpret Melissa’s “That would be great” as something not meant to be taken literally. Using irony and the slanted and emotionally charged word raid, she rejects James’ proposal. Felix joins in with his contemptuous “graduating senior” remark. Felix is implying that James doesn’t care about what future problems he might be making for the club because he will have graduated and left. Eve tries to keep things civil and to reopen the deliberation with a respectfully neutral observation, “Maybe James has a point.” But Felix coun- ters by reminding everyone about the issues James’s pro- posal simply ignored. In the end James abandons the effort to salvage the trip. He’s so frustrated he says, “Forget it.”

How should we map that remark? “Forget it” is a powerful signal that James is abandoning the effort to salvage the trip. Discontinuing a line of reasoning can be a very important turning point in the decision-making

Map 12

Cancel the spring break trip. {Chosen}

Don’t cancel the spring break trip.


People are all excited

about going.

We’ve been planning for this

trip for almost a year.

It would be difficult logistically

if we split up the group.

No other place can accommodate our

whole group. They don’t have enough rooms.

We would have to split up the group, [if we decided to use other places to stay].

We don’t have the money in the budget to cover the increased

room rates.

The Lodge is available only

during finals week, not during

spring break.

We can’t go on a camping trip during final’s


It’s going to be a lot

of fun.

There is no other place

to stay.

A bummer

Bad news [There's a problem about

our spring trip.]

Other projects this year could

use money.

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We have to think about our budget.

Maybe James has a point.

Cancel the spring break trip. {Chosen}

Don’t cancel the spring break trip.


Forget it


James’ proposal just doesn’t make sense.

We can pay for this year’s trip out of next year’s funds.

No he doesn’t. We can’t take the trip

during finals week.

No he doesn’t. We still have the problem about

where we’re going to stay during spring break.

That would [not] be good. It would raid next year’s budget.

It’s just like a senior not to care about

our club’s needs after you’re gone.

Map 13

process. We could map it with an oval, but that would not fully convey the force of this element in the group’s criti- cal thinking about the trip. Another shape would be better. We will use a hexagon to convey that a line of reasoning has been abandoned. A hexagon marks an ending point of a line of reasoning that otherwise would have even- tually connected to a conclusion. See Map 13.12 Be sure to position the red hexagons indicating abandoned lines of reasoning near the shaded rectangle that represents the conclusion not chosen. The best maps, when viewed holis- tically, show immediately which lines of reasoning were abandoned before they reached their potential conclusion.

To separate any notes or interpretive comments added by the analyst from what the speakers themselves said, sim- ply put the analyst’s notations inside {braces} . The hexa- gon with the word silence inside the braces is the analyst’s way of showing that the group abandoned the possibility

of moving in that direction, toward not canceling the trip, after Eve’s suggestion that James might have a point.

Looking for more example maps? There are several in the Appendix that display real decisions people have made about important personal and public issues. This Appendix also illustrates some creative ways to use and to extend the basic argument and decision-making system presented in this chapter.

The map of a human decision can display the realiza- tion that a decision or deliberation is needed. It can show the lines of reasoning pursued, the implicit but unspo- ken ideas relied upon, the choice selected and those not selected, the objections or counterarguments advanced, and lines of reasoning that may have been abandoned. Thus, by providing good analyses, argument and decision maps position us individually and working collaboratively to make informed and comprehensive evaluations.

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Analyze Arguments and Diagram Decisions 107

Summing up this chapter, an argument is a claim and the reason or reasons offered in support of the truth of that claim. We make arguments and offer reasons to justify our decisions and to explain the basis for our opinions. Offering arguments is like inviting others to consider the inferences we have drawn. Because human communication is highly expeditious, in a given context, people will express aloud some, but not all, of the elements of their arguments. We must take con- text and purpose into account when interpreting and ana- lyzing arguments that occur in conversations because so much is implicit and understood by the people with whom one is conversing. To respectfully and correctly interpret what people mean and to analyze their arguments in an objective, complete, and fair-minded way, we must make

explicit all the premises contained in a person’s reason and all the unspoken assumptions that the person relies upon to support a given conclusion.

Mapping is a technique for analyzing and displaying the reasoning used when making arguments and deci- sions. In mapping reasons and claims are made explicit and accessible. The map shows the flow of the inferences from reasons through intermediate claims to the final con- clusion. Argument mapping offers many advantages sim- ply reading or listening to arguments. Making the maps aids us in our interpretation and analysis of a person’s thinking or a group’s thinking. Map making can be collab- orative. Working with others refines and strengthens our core critical thinking skills of interpretation and analysis.

Key Concepts make an argument refers to the process of giving one or more reasons in support of a claim.

claim refers to the statement that the maker of the argument is seeking to show to be true or probably true.

conclusion is another way of referring to an argument’s claim.

reason those sentences in the argument that are used to show that the conclusion is true or that it is probably true,

considerations or rationale are other terms used to refer to reasons.

argument refers to the combination of a person’s claim and the reason or reasons a person presents in support of that claim.
























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Applications Reflective Log In regard to a choice a friend has made, ask, “Why do you decide to do that?” After the friend gives his or her initial response, ask that she or he elaborates so that you can understand his or her thinking. In your log, explain why you decided to ask that friend about that particular decision, describe the context within which your conversation occurred, and write down the ques- tions you used to get a full and accurate understand- ing of your friend’s reasoning. Then write your friend’s response as fully as possible. Capture not only the option chosen, but the other options considered and the reasons leading to rejecting those options and selecting the option chosen. Carefully analyze what your friend said, but do not evaluate. In your log, map the decision your friend made, showing the reasoning process as objectively and fair-mindedly as possible, whether you agree or disagree with it. In fact, go out of your way not to reveal your evaluation of your friend’s decision.

Share a draft of the map with your friend and explain to your friend how to interpret it. Listen to your friend’s comments about the accuracy of your analysis as it is revealed in the draft decision map you made. Note in your log all the amendments or revisions your friend wants to offer. Make another draft of the decision map in your log and compare the two side by side. Reflect on what you learned by allowing your friend to view and comment on your analysis. Did your friend change his or her story, add more reasons in favor of the selected choice, add more reasons opposed to rejected choices, ask you to remove argument strands that looked like weak reasons, or ask you to bolster argument strands that looked flimsy?

Using the Holistic Critical Thinking Scoring Rubric from Section 1, add a final part to your reflective log in, which you permit yourself a few evaluative comments on your friend’s decision making.

Individual Exercises Analyze and map the arguments in these quotes:

1. “Swimming is a great workout. When you swim you use all your muscles.”

2. “If it weren’t for how much it costs and how big it is, I’d buy that TV for our bedroom.”

3. Why did Billboard stop listing older albums on its “Billboard 200” web page? Simple—it’s about money. The recording companies make money selling the most popular new albums. There is no money for them in the old releases people can download from iTunes.

4. “Michael Jackson was truly the ‘king of pop.’ Just look at all that he achieved. He was a pop sensation by the time he was 11 years old. His album, Thriller, was the best-selling album of all time. He started out in show business when he was only 5, and he performed for more than 40 years. And he had millions of fans all over the world.”

5. “People believe that small class sizes are essential for better learning. I’m not convinced. I say that a good teacher with a large group can be just as effective as a lousy teacher with a small group.”

6. “A study in the San Mateo County schools of second grade students’ reading and math skills shows that

students from classes averaging 15 to 20 students scored significantly higher than students from classes averaging 25 to 35 students. A second study looking at the same test scores for fourth and fifth grade students in the Fresno County schools showed the same results. Kids from the schools with average class sizes around 30 had significantly lower scores, on average, than did kids coming from schools with class sizes around 17. Three other studies, all of them conducted several years ago in Los Angeles, San Diego, and Anaheim, reported similar findings. So, it is reasonable to conclude that average class size makes a difference when it comes to elementary school students’ test score results in math and reading.”

7. “Everyone knows that if we ever needed change in Washington DC, it is now. And, everyone believes that change is possible. So, elect me! I can bring the change we need in Washington DC.”

8. “The university’s anti-bias policy goes too far. I agree that campus clubs should be open to anyone. But the part of the anti-bias policy that says that leadership positions in those clubs must be open to anyone is the problem. What about religious clubs. Should a Palestinian be permitted to hold a

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Analyze Arguments and Diagram Decisions 109

leadership position in the campus club for Jewish students? If a conservative Christian fellowship club wants to ban gays from leadership positions, it should have the right to do so without being kicked-off campus.”14

9. “Nobody really believes in climate change. You can tell that by how people act. Political leaders don’t pass the legislation needed to change our nation’s dependence on carbon-based fuels. Cities do not require solar heating in all new construction. We keep building condos along the ocean in places that will flood as the sea levels rise. We pave over our farms to build suburbs. Instead of wearing a sweater, we keep the thermostat too high in the winter. Instead of taking off our suit jackets, we keep office buildings too cold in the summer.”

10. “Many families who have pet dogs also have children. Julio and Teresa have a cute pet dog named Bowser. I know because Teresa was talking about Bowser and how he loves to put his paws on the windowsill and bark at the passing cars. I overheard her telling Arnold about Bowser and the cars last week. So, long story short, Julio and Teresa probably have a couple of kids, too.”

11. “I need a break! It’s been nothing but nonstop work since last Thursday. I didn’t even get a weekend. My parents visited unexpectedly, and that was majorly stressful.”

12. “So, let me get this right. You’re Harvey’s sister’s husband. And you’re saying that Harvey is actually my uncle. So, this makes his sister my aunt. And, I guess that makes you my uncle, too. Wow.”

13. “ A 2014 study in the Journal of Urban Health linked Missouri’s 2007 repeal of gun permit background checks to an increase of 60 murders per year statewide. During the same years homicide rates nationally decreased. Homicide rates involving guns remained steady in neighboring states where laws were not changed. Other possible explanations for the increase in gun related homicides in Missouri, such as incarceration rates, were ruled out statistically. Therefore, gun control regulations save lives.15

14. The new store manager called the staff together and said, “Looking at our marketing, I think we need to make some changes. First, the display in the store window looks like something out of the 1980s. It’s dated and shabby looking. Second, our in- store signage isn’t colorful. There are no pictures of happy people. The signs are so small they are hard to read. And they are positioned in places that make them unnecessarily hard for our customers to find. Third, we have to do something about our Web site.

When was the last time it was updated—2008? It is clunky, confusing, wordy, and has lots of out-of-date information. Our phone number on the Web site is wrong, for heaven’s sake! Finally, our newspaper ads are a total waste of money. Why are we paying graphic designers and printers to produce things nobody pays any attention to? We keep printing 10 percent coupons in those newspaper ads but we have not had any customers bring in a coupon from one of those ads in over three months.”

15. “Everyone has two biological parents. Each of them in turn had two biological parents. So, it must be true that in our grandparents’ day there were four times as many people as there are today!”

16. “I was about to register online for music updates, but decided not to. The thing was that if you registered they gave you an e-mail account. You couldn’t use any of your existing e-mail accounts. And the last thing I wanted was one more e-mail account. It takes too much of my day to check the three I already have.”

17. Frontline, the PBS documentary series, describes how for-profit colleges are changing how Americans think about higher education. The PBS website highlights the May 4, 2010 Frontline broadcast, “College Inc.” with “The business of higher education is booming. It’s a $400 billion industry fueled by taxpayer money.” Analyze and map the arguments and counterarguments as presented in that PBS documentary for the claim that the for-profit college business is booming and that its boom is being fueled by taxpayer money.

18. The 2012 historical film Lincoln, includes a scene where President Lincoln explains why he wants the Thirteenth Amendment passed by Congress before the end of the Civil War. If you can get access to the film, which is enjoyable in its own right, locate that scene and write down the arguments pro and con that the characters articulate. Then map those arguments.

19. The long-running Showtime series Penn & Teller: Bullshit! examines the arguments for some of the most cherished urban myths, popular misconceptions, and “Internet Truisms” in our culture. The show is definitely not PG. There is always a dollop of vulgarity and sexual explicitness to these broadcasts. But each show does make an argument, not necessarily a strong argument, but an argument nevertheless. In the case of show 10 of season 8, “Vaccinations” (August 28, 2010), Penn and Teller argue that the anti-vaccination movement is, well, not to put too fine a point on it, thoroughly mistaken.

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Analyze and map their arguments as objectively as possible. You can access this show and many episodes directly from the Showtime website.

Explain the mistake. Here are five misconceptions about argument analysis and mapping. Write a brief explanation of why each is wrong.

1. A good analyst will fix the obvious mistakes in a person’s argument.

2. Every line of reasoning in a map eventually connects to a conclusion.

3. Unless people actually say what’s on their minds, we can’t tell what they are thinking.

4. Every sentence in an argument gets represented by an oval.

5. Argument maps differ from decision maps because argument maps are used when an individual’s

reasoning is being displayed, but decision maps are used when a group’s reasoning is being displayed.

But what does Fox and MSNBC say? Every election year offers strong critical thinkers plenty of delicious arguments. They are made by proponents and opponents of both sides of every ballot initiative and the supporters and detractors of every major candidate. Radio and tele- vision entertainers/commentators on Comedy Central, Fox, HBO, MSNBC, and CNN comment extravagantly, provocatively, and convincingly (to some). Pick an issue or a candidate. Locate an editorial/discussion/debate as presented on one or more of the networks listed, and map the arguments presented. This exercise may challenge not only your analytical skills but also your ability to remain objective and “above the fray” as you dig out the reasons, counterarguments, intermediary claims, and, most impor- tantly, the unspoken assumptions.

Group Exercises Three-person group: Working in a team with two other students, identify an issue in this week’s campus news- paper. Then, go to the office of the faculty members or administrators involved and respectfully ask for 15 or 20 minutes to talk about the issue. Bring a tape recorder or a phone with voice recording capability and ask permission to record the person’s comments. Be open about this; never secretly record conversations. Explain that the purpose is so that you can be accurate in your portrayal of the person’s point of view. Then inter- view the person with particular emphasis on questions such as:

Why did you think that? Why did you do that? Why is that a problem?

Why is that a good way to resolve the issue?

After the interview, transcribe the things the person said and number each sentence or statement made so you can refer to that statement more easily in your analysis. Then make a map of the person’s reasoning. If the inter- view transcript is too long, focus instead on shorter seg- ments, as we did in the “Guns for Kids” example.

Analyze and map the decision making decision to join ROTC:

ANA: Hey, girl! Guess what? I just came from the recruit- ment office. I think I should join ROTC. I have always been interested in the Army.

CAROLINE: It’s just . . .

ANA: What?

CAROLINE: I don’t know. There is still a war going on, even if our troops are not in combat. You could be sent. Isn’t that, like, dangerous?

ANA: This is the best time to join—when I can make a difference.

CAROLINE: I could so totally see you in fatigues, looking cute.

ANA: Be serious.

CAROLINE: I am being serious, at least about the danger part. I’d be afraid.

ANA: ROTC is a way to pay for my education. By the time I graduate, the war will be over anyway.

CAROLINE: Whatever. It’s not for me. But you’d be great, Lieutenant!

SHARED RESPONSE Irony and Sarcasm in Arguments Give an example of the use of irony and sarcasm to make an argument. You might want to find something by writers like Tina Fey, Lewis C.K., Lady Roz G., Ellen DeGeneres, Kevin Hart, John Oliver, Steven Colbert, or Ariana Huffington. Analyze your example showing how the argument is constructed. And, comment respectfully on the examples others offer.

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Decision to buy a gun: A young woman who lives alone hears that a neighbor’s apartment was broken into. She knows that neighbor. The woman is just like her—single, full-time job, pet cat, and part-time student. Not one of those old-white-guy-NRA-gun-nuts by any means. It’s terrifying to think that somebody is breaking into apartments in the neighborhood. What does the person want, money? What if it’s a rapist? So, the young woman decides to purchase a gun and keep it, loaded, in the top drawer of her nightstand. She thought about moving, but that would have cost her a lot of money, and it would have been really disruptive and time consuming. She thought about getting a watch dog, but then she would have all the responsibilities that go along with having another pet. Dogs are more trouble than cats by a lot. She thought about trying to find a roommate, but she wasn’t sure she could find anyone whom she really would want to share her apartment with. And finding someone would take a lot of time and effort, too. Forget that, the burglar-rapist- whatever-jerk is in the neighborhood right now. And she thought about just doing nothing; after all she has a deadbolt on the door and she’s on the third floor so sleeping with a window open isn’t that much of a risk.

Decision not to have heart valve surgery: An elderly wid- ower sits alone in his silent house. He is short of breath, and sleeping is difficult because aortic heart valve stenosis has caused fluid to accumulate in his chest. The cardiolo- gist he saw earlier in the week recommended surgery. Yes, he knows he must decide whether to have the operation before it is too late. The doctor said in a year or so without an operation his heart will fail completely, and he will die. His children, now all middle-aged and living far away, have phoned to urge him to have the surgery. He knows they are worried about him and that they are trying to talk some sense into him. Ah, but they are young. Is it really worth all the pain and bother of heart surgery just so that afterward he can return to his current life? He’ll still be alone most days. He’ll still be struggling with the problems of old age. He might not survive the surgery. He thinks not.

Decisions to donate a live kidney to a friend: “Ah, well, I found that, um, I saw a very dear friend of mine in trouble and, ah . . . I didn’t like the uh, the uh, prospects for him if he didn’t get a live donor. I didn’t like the idea of him being on dialysis or waiting for a kidney for several years. And I love him and I love his wife and his baby daughter. And I felt that I’ve got two kidneys, I don’t need both and it was, it was a decision that I made in about 60 seconds or so. Yeah. . . . So, as soon as I found out from him, . . . He said, “And it looks like I’m going to need a transplant,” I thought about it for maybe 60 seconds and said, “Well, count me in as a pos- sible donor if you want to have a test done on me.”16

Decision to buy the 2013 model instead of the 2016: “You see, I need a car to get to work and school. And I plan to keep it a long time; I’ll probably drive it till the wheels

come off or I get to 250,000 miles. Beside durability, I’m big on safety. So I visited www.SaferCar.gov to see which mod- els had 5-star ratings, and a Honda Civic seemed the best way to go. It was affordable—which is big—and reliable; and it had good safety ratings too. Then I went to www. Cars.com, www.Edmunds.com, and www.AutoTrader. com to find out more about the Civic and a few other makes and models, just to compare prices. I even went to the home pages of Honda, Acura, Nissan, Mazda, Subaru, Ford, Hyundai, Chevrolet, Dodge, and Chrysler. That took a lot of time! I used the “build your own” feature, which they all have, to see what it would cost to get exactly what I was looking for. Long story short, it turns out I’m back looking at Civics. The other makes and models each had some good features, but none that I could find were able to combine price, reliability, trade-in value, safety, size, style, and fuel efficiency the way the Civic did. So I settled on looking at Civics. I liked the Si Coupe, which is very sporty. I found I could get a 2015 for about $31,500, includ- ing leather seats and 6-speed manual transmission. That is very fun to drive! There were a few very basic 2016 models available, but the prices were about the same as the 2015 Si Coupe. Then I found this great-looking racing-blue 2013 Civic Si. It’s a four door, not a coupe, but that’s not a prob- lem. The dealer had used it as a demo model and it was fully loaded with all the accessories. The car had only 100 miles on it, too, which is as good as new as far as mileage goes. The price was $25,500 out the door, and that includes taxes, fees, and destination charges. I figured I could save $6,000 and get a machine that was in every way identical to the 2016. And in a color I like a lot better! So that’s how I decided to buy the 2013 for $25,500.”

[Hint: This passage includes a description of a process of fact finding and a series of arguments whereby the speaker narrows the choices until eventually deciding on one in particular. Your challenge is to sort through the passage and find the reasons, the intermediary claims, and the con- necting points that show why the one option was selected and all others rejected. This is a challenging passage and your map will probably go through three or four revisions. Although not an easy decision to map, it is authentic. It comes from an interview with a person who spent sev- eral days learning the facts and reflecting on options. To that person it was effort well spent because of how much money the car would cost and because of how long the person expected to have the car.]

Video and analyze: We all know people with whom we dis- agree. For this exercise identify one such person in your life. Perhaps it’s a friend, classmate, sibling, whomever. The two conditions are that the person has to be articulate enough to make arguments that you do not accept and that the person has to agree to help you with this exercise. With the person’s knowledge, permission, and consent, video the person and

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yourself discussing a topic about which you disagree. Your job in the videotape is to interview the person. Explain to the person that you will be asking the person to give reasons for their point of view on the topic. But you will not be debat- ing the person. Instead you will be asking questions aimed at eliciting the person’s assumptions and premises and the person’s counterarguments to the most obvious objections. But, again, remind the person that you are not bringing up

the objections to make the opposite argument. Only to make explicit the fullness of the person’s own position. Then, after the video session, and after the person agrees that indeed it does capture his or her thinking, map out the person’s argu- ments for his or her claim. Save the videotape because you may well want to review the tape to practice your argument evaluation skills.

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Learning Outcomes

6.1 List the characteristics that qualify a person or source who is making claims about a given topic as trustworthy.

6.2 Explain how to decide which claims standing on their own, absent reasons or

a credible source, should be believed and which should not.

6.3 Explain how to evaluate the plausibility of a claim independently.

Chapter 6

Evaluate the Credibility of Claims and Sources

WHICH sources should I trust?

WHICH claims should I believe?

HOW can I evaluate a claim’s truth or falsity for myself?

World War II Women Air Force Service Pilot (WASP) Elizabeth L. Gardner from Rockford, Illinois, before takeoff in the cockpit of her plane at Harlingen Air Field, Texas.-Photo, undated (c. 1944).

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“1976: USAF admits first female to pilot training.” With that claim the Air Force signaled a major policy. In keeping with society’s demands for equal employment rights for women, the Air Force would train women to fly military aircraft. It was difficult to move up the officer ranks in the Air Force if a person had not been a pilot. But to become a pilot, a person had to be male, or at least that had been the Air Force’s policy until 1976.1

But, wait a minute. Is it true that the Air Force did not have any women pilots before 1976? Well, actually, no. In 1942 the US Air Force formed a unit of highly skilled and experienced women pilots known as the Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron (WAFS). The WAFS became the Women’s Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs) in 1943. Before it was disbanded over 1000 women flyers served in the WASPs. During World War II the women flew every kind of military aircraft, includ- ing an experimental jet fighter.2 The unit was disbanded in December of 1944 and the records were sealed until 1977.3 The historical wrong was not set right until 1977, when the WASPs were finally recognized by Congress as military veterans. In 2009 the unit was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal.

Fortunately in this case we have documentary evi- dence in the form of photographs taken by the Air Force itself, and we have the testimony of the women who served as WASPs to set the record straight. But more often than not claims are presented without any reasons or back- ground information given at all. As critical thinkers, how can we evaluate claims like these? Answering this question is the focus of this chapter.

6.1 Assessing the Source: Whom Should I Trust?

As critical thinkers, we are inquisitive truth-seekers with a healthy sense of skepticism. Positive critical thinking habits of mind incline us not to accept naively every claim someone may happen to make. Like a store clerk exam- ining a twenty dollar bill to be sure it is not counterfeit, strong critical thinkers use their knowledge and skills to assess the credibility of the source and the plausibility of the claim itself.

Claims without Reasons In Chapter 5 on analyzing arguments, we defined the term argument as the combination of a claim plus the rea- son or reasons given to support that claim. But what if the speaker simply makes the claim and does not give any reasons? An announcement, a headline, a tweet, a sound bite, a poster, a passing comment, a billboard, a rumor—there are so many situations when people make claims without giving their reasons. Here are some examples:

1. Salesclerk to customer trying on a sports jacket: “That looks great on you.”

2. Political commentator speaking about a member of the opposition party: “So-and-so’s proposal will crip- ple the economy.”

3. Person under arrest to police investigator after hear- ing that if he implicates others he will receive a lighter sentence: “Well, now that I think of it. There was this guy. He calls himself ‘B-Lucky.’ The whole thing was his idea in the first place.”

4a. Witness #1: “I remember exactly what the defendant shouted as he rushed the victim waving a huge hunt- ing knife.”

4b. Witness #2: “I saw the defendant sitting quietly wait- ing for the bus when the victim charged at him from behind.”

5. Posting on Yelp: “This place sucks.”

6. Best friend: “You really need to do something about how much you drink at parties.”

7. Parent to daughter in the eighth grade: “No, it is not a good idea to go out with a high school junior.”

8. Co-worker to new employee: “Everybody here plays fantasy football using their office computer.”

Madge Moore showing the Daedalian Fighter Flight (Nellis AFB, NV) WASP Congressional Gold Medal she was presented in Washington, D.C. in 2009.

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9. Roommate: “The apartment manager was looking for you this morning.”

10. Doctor to patient: “The lab test came back positive.”

The question that comes to mind for critical thinkers when they hear a claim made but no reason given is, “Can I trust this person to be telling me the truth or even to know the truth?” Looking back over those ten examples, we can think of reasons why we probably can or probably cannot trust the speaker in each case. For example, in #1 maybe the salesclerk’s compliment is nothing more than an insincere sales tactic used to get the customer to buy the jacket. Maybe the salesclerk would have said the same thing if the jacket looked dreadful. In #2, unfortunate as it may be, the criticism that a political commentator repre- senting one party hurls at a member of the other party is occasionally exaggerated, inaccurate, and alarmist. In #3, the person who was arrested might say anything that the police would find credible to reduce his sentence. So, in the first three examples we might be inclined to discount the claims because each of the speakers has an ulterior motive: to make a sale, to prevent you from voting for or supporting the other party, to receive a lesser punishment.

It is becoming apparent from the research on memory and eye witness testimony that when two people disagree the difference in recollection of the event can be explained by the fact that we as humans tend to be influenced by our prior beliefs and therefore focus on different bits of evidence. In other words, we are primed to remember evidence that fits with our beliefs or strong emotions than evidence that doesn’t fit as well. Our memory can be influenced by height- ened states of emotion.4 The witness in #4a might have been so frightened by seeing the knife that his memory of the defendant’s exact words could be mistaken. But witness #4b reports remembering events very differently. Memories are vulnerable to influence and distortion because of our prior beliefs, emotions, and even information that is learned after the event such as details that appear in a news story or are

shared between a group of people who all had varying lev- els of engagement with an event. All of these factors and evidence that well-intentioned people who are recounting an event can vividly remember things that never actually happened has made many rethink the emphasis placed on eyewitness testimony during legal proceedings.5

“Yelp admits that a quarter of submitted reviews could be fake.”6 “The court said anonymous users were not protected by the First Amendment … if the review was based on a false statement [such as if the posting was by someone who was never a customer].”7

Virginia Court of Appeals

On the other hand, in #7 why shouldn’t the daugh- ter trust her parent’s judgment in that case? She may not like the advice at all. And she may ignore it. But there is no obvious reason in normal circumstances to think that the parent has some ulterior motive that makes the parent untrustworthy. In fact, the opposite. Typically a parent has the child’s best interests at heart, even if the child does not like the guidance the parent is offer- ing and even if the parent can anticipate an unpleasant confrontation will ensue. In #10, the doctor example, we would also expect that the doctor has no ulterior motive. In normal circumstances, why would the patient not trust the doctor about the lab results? Yes, we can imagine a scenario or two in which a child should not trust her parent and a patient should not trust the doc- tor. But more likely than not, such scenarios would be implausible—interesting as movie scripts, but not likely to happen to most people in real life. When we do not know if a claim is true or false, and if we cannot inde- pendently evaluate it, then the question becomes one of trust. We ask ourselves how can we use our critical

The sales clerk’s compliment may be disingenuously intended only to make the sale and thereby only to earn herself a commission. But the physician earns her salary whether or not the patient likes what the doctor has to say.

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thinking skills to evaluate the credibility of the source of the claim? Whom should we trust? Whom should we not trust?

Cognitive Development and Healthy Skepticism The issue of trust, and in particular, trust of authorities, is con- nected to our maturation. The table “Levels of Thinking and Knowing” describes seven stages of maturation.8 For children in those early stages, trust in authority figures— primarily their parents and teachers—is a major factor in shaping what young minds believe. Karen Kitchener and Patricia King, on whose work the “Levels of Thinking and Knowing” table is primarily based on, report that most students entering college are in stage 3 or stage 4, what we are calling “Feelers” and “Collectors.” Many college students become “Relativists” as their studies progress. And there is still room for growth. Even the “Truth-Seeker” stage, which critical thinkers greatly value, is not the highest we can achieve.

Strong critical thinkers cultivate a healthy sense of skepticism. They do not trust the word of authority fig- ures in the same uncritical way that those in the early stages of their cognitive development might. Nor are strong critical thinkers satisfied merely to collect infor- mation, even though it is important to be well informed.

While valuing context and perspective, strong critical thinkers understand that some reasons, perspectives, and theories are actually superior to others. Strong critical thinking habits of mind—such as truth seeking, inquisi- tiveness, and judiciousness—impel us to try to apply our critical thinking skills to the question of trustworthiness. We know that there are many reasons why we should not always trust everything that anyone might tell us. Some people lie, some speak of things about which they have no expertise, some say things under duress that are not true, and some may have been deceived themselves and pass on misinformation unwittingly. We can be skeptical without being cynical. And certainly one good time to keep this in mind is when it comes to evaluating the cred- ibility of sources.

Authority and Expertise We have been using the word authority to refer to a person who is potentially a trustworthy source of information and good advice. In the context of cognitive development, the typical examples of authorities for children would be parents, grandparents, teachers, ministers, and police officers. But that is where “authority,” as we have been using it, begins to reveal its problematic ambiguity and problematic vagueness.

Levels of Thinking and Knowing (7) “Sages”—We can seek and discover many truths and we can address ill-structured problems with greater or lesser levels of success. But

even what we call “knowledge” inevitably contains elements of uncertainty, for as we build from the known toward the unknown, new ways of organizing knowledge often yield unforeseen conceptual revolutions. Even well-informed opinion is subject to interpretation and reasoned revision. Yet, justifiable claims about the relative merits of alternative arguments can be made. We can assert with justifiable confidence that some judgments are rightly to be regarded as more reasonable, more warranted, more justifiable, more sensible, or wiser than others. We solve problems the way a truth-seeker does, but we realize that judgments must often be made in contexts of risk and uncertainty, that some issues admit greater precision than others, that at times we must reconsider our judgments and revise them, and that at other times we must hold firm in our judgments. Wisdom comes as we learn which are which.

(6) “Truth-Seekers”—Some claims are true and some are not; some evaluations or approaches are not as good as others. Some reasons, perspectives, and theories are actually superior to others. Information is essential, uncertainty is real, and context is important. But not everything is context bound. We can reasonably and rationally compare evidence, opinions, theories, and arguments across contexts. We solve problems by following the reasons and the evidence with courage wherever they lead, by asking the tough questions, by being inquisitive, by being open- minded and tolerant about a wide range of ideas and possible explanations, by being persistent and systematic in our inquiry, and by not fearing what this process will turn up as possible answers.

(5) “Relativists”—Facts exist, but always and only in context. Everything is relative. There are no absolutes. Ill-structured problems abound. Every theory and every perspective is as good as every other theory or perspective. Proof and evidence are entirely context dependent. Disagreements about basic theories and fundamental principles cannot be resolved by any rational means because the criteria themselves are perpetually contested.

(4) “Collectors”—All knowledge is idiosyncratic—a collection of isolated facts to be memorized for later retrieval if needed. There are many separate databases—for example, scientific, business, political, and religious. They are not combinable. Information in one of them may or may not be consistent with information in another one of them. Uncertainty is real; external validation is impossible. So-called authorities and experts are just as limited as everyone else. To solve any problem, look for all the information you can find about that topic.

(3) “Feelers”—Authorities know everything that can be known now, but the evidence is incomplete, even to the authorities. Some things may never be known because of the limitations of the human mind. Uncertainty is real, so we need to be cautious or we are apt to stray and make mistakes. The best policy is to stick with beliefs that feel right to us because they are familiar, comfortable, and conform to what everyone else in our peer group thinks.

(2) “Trusters”—Truth is knowable. We have absolute confidence in the authorities who share the truth with us. All problems have solutions, and all questions have answers. What we do not know today will someday be known by somebody. Anyone who disagrees with the truth as presented by our authorities must be wrong. To question any element of the truth is to abandon all of it. We must learn to defend ourselves from any person or idea that threatens the truth.

(1) “Touchers”—To touch is to know. Knowledge is nothing but direct personal experience. Facts are absolute, concrete, and readily available. There are no lenses on experience; things are exactly as they appear to be.

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“Authority” can also mean “a person with the right- ful power to control the behavior of another.” Parents and teachers have authority, in that sense of the word, over children. But as we mature, we realize that a police officer, our boss at work, our landlord, or even a teacher or par- ent may have the rightful power to control our behavior, but that does not necessarily make the person more knowl- edgeable than we are on a given topic.

The sense of the word authority we are looking for is “person with expertise.” To a child, parents, ministers, teachers, and police officers are authorities in both senses of the term; children perceive them to be experts with the power to control behavior. Okay. But we are not children anymore. The authorities we may wish to trust are those with expertise.

As a starting point, Wikipedia offers a discussion of expertise, including this characterization:

An expert is a person with extensive knowledge or ability in a particular area of study. Experts are called in for advice on their respective subject, but they do not always agree on the particulars of a field of study. An expert can be, by virtue of training, education, profession, publication or experience, believed to have special knowledge of a subject beyond that of the average person, sufficient that others may officially (and legally) rely upon the individual’s opinion. Historically, an expert was referred to as a sage. The individual was usually a profound thinker distinguished for wisdom and sound judgment. . . . An expert is someone widely recognized as a reliable source of technique or

skill whose faculty for judging or deciding rightly, justly, or wisely is accorded authority and status by professional peers or the public in a specific well distinguished domain. . . . Experts have a pro- longed or intense experience through practice and education in a particular field.9

LEARNED AND EXPERIENCED Being learned with regard to a given topic and having significant relevant expe- rience with the application of that knowledge are the two conditions a person must establish to be recognized as an expert on a given topic. The first condition, being learned, can be accomplished through formal education or through training under the guidance of good mentors and coaches. The second condition, having relevant experience, means that the person is not a novice or a beginner when it comes to the activities and practices associated with that topic.

We will use the word expert to refer to someone who is both experienced and learned in a given subject mat- ter area or field of professional practice. Establishing that a person is both learned and experienced is important in the legal context, because that person’s expert testimony on matters within the domain of his or her expertise can be relied upon by juries when they deliberate the guilt or innocence of a person accused of a crime. We all have seen courtroom dramas where a pathologist, a fingerprint expert, or a psychiatrist is put on the witness stand to pro- vide expert opinion with regard to the cause of death, the match of the fingerprints found at the scene of the crime and the fingerprints of the accused, or the mental state of the accused at the time of the crime. In standard examples, the people whom the defense or the prosecution attorneys

THINKING CRITICALLY Wikipedia! OMG! The bitter irony of citing Wikipedia in a discussion about the trustworthiness of sources screams out. Why should we trust Wikipedia, you may well wonder. Wikipedia is not a source; it’s a vehicle. Anyone can edit a Wikipedia entry. How can we know if what it says is actually true? It might be plagiarized, it might be wrong in some important but subtle ways. Hey, it might be outright fiction! In fact, that’s the same problem we have for everything we see on the Internet or in print: Who wrote that, and can we trust that person (or that government agency, corporation, or organization)? These days there is so much untruth, disinformation, misdirection, propaganda, and outright deceit on the Internet that we dare not believe it sim- ply because we see it in Wikipedia or anywhere else on the Internet or in a tweet, text message, or TV infomercial.

Your challenge in this exercise is to fact-check the Wikipedia entry for “expertise” for its accuracy. We suggest

you use three different ways to do this: (1) Go to the entry itself and see if you can tell who wrote it and what references are used. Fact-check those references and Google the authors using Google Scholar to see if they are credible authorities on the topic of expertise. (2) Seek independent confirmation by looking up “expertise” in other, more trusted sources, including dictionaries, encyclopedias, and books on expertise. (3) Show the Wikipedia characterization of “expertise” to people who have expertise in their various fields, like your professors, and ask them if they would agree with the Wikipedia interpretation. If all three ways point to the accuracy of the entry, then good, we’ll go with it. If the three ways diverge or contradict each other, we have problems. Use your analytical and interpretive skills to articulate an accurate understanding of “expertise” if the one in Wikipedia is defective.

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introduce as expert witnesses are considered to be quali- fied due to their many years of professional experience, formal education, and relevant state licenses.

As the movie My Cousin Vinny so aptly and humor- ously illustrates, on-the-job training and many years of practical experience can qualify a person as an expert in certain domains. Marisa Tomei, who plays a hairdresser and the fiancée of the defense attorney, played by Joe Pesci, is put on the witness stand as an expert in automo- biles. The prosecuting attorney tries to discredit her as an expert, but fails. The judge accepts her as an expert on automobiles. We’re told that this clip might be on Netflix, YouTube, Hulu, or other online sources.

Determining that a person qualifies as an expert witness is a matter of serious concern for strong critical thinkers because the person’s expertise, if established, gives us a good reason to consider putting our trust in what the person has to say regarding the area of his or her expertise.

Assuming that a person qualifies as an expert on X by virtue of prolonged, relevant experience, training, or educa- tion, what else could go wrong that would lead us not to find the person credible? Lots of things!

The expert on X may be speaking about some other, unrelated topic.

The expert, having qualified long ago, may have failed to stay current on X.

The expert on X may not be able to articulate exactly how X is done.

The expert may be biased.

The expert may lie or intentionally mislead.

The expert may have a conflicting personal interest.

The expert may knowingly give advice that is not in the best interest of his or her client.

The expert may be under duress, threatened, or constrained in some way.

The expert may be uniformed or misinformed about the facts of the specific situation.

The expert may have become mentally unstable.

ON-TOPIC, UP-TO-DATE, AND CAPABLE OF EXPLAINING Expertise with regard to a topic, X, implies that the expert is knowledgeable about X. But suppose that someone—say, an accom- plished musical virtuoso—makes the claim, “The best way to eliminate pesky aphids from a rose garden is by spraying on a mix of water, mineral oil, and Murphy’s soap.” That concoction might work. But wait—gardening is not the virtuoso’s area of expertise. Whatever measure of trust we

would reasonably extend to the expert, were she or he speaking about music, does not carry over to claims the expert may make that are off-topic. Regarding garden- ing, the musical virtuoso is no more or less of an expert than any other person. To be credible, the expert must be speaking on-topic.

A good friend of ours was an accomplished phy- sician. She retired about 15 years ago and moved to Sarasota to enjoy her retirement playing golf and bridge. One of her friends asked her the other day about a can- cer treatment that another physician had recommended. Unlike traditional chemotherapy, the treatment was one of the newer pharmacological approaches that tar- gets the protein receptors on the cancer cells. Our friend rightly declined to offer an expert opinion about the new treatment method. Why? Because she knew that she had not kept up-to-date about advances in cancer treatment since her retirement. Although as a doctor she had the credentials to provide an expert opinion about cancer treatment in general, as a responsible expert she knew that it would be wrong for her friend to rely on her expertise in this case.

“In government institutions and in teaching, you need to inspire confidence. To achieve credibility, you have to very clearly explain what you are doing and why. The same principles apply to businesses.”

Janet Yellen, Chair of the Federal Reserve10

We trust experts when they speak within their areas of expertise in part because we assume that, were they chal- lenged, they could explain exactly why their claim is true or their advice is good. The capacity to explain why is a critical component of expertise. The second half of the My Cousin

Marisa Tomei takes the stand as an expert witness in My Cousin Vinny.

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Vinny video clip illustrates this. Marisa Tomei offers the expert opinion that the defense’s theory of the crime does not hold water. So the defense attorney, Joe Pesci, who had called her as a defense witness, demands that she explain exactly why she thinks that. She draws upon her extensive knowledge and experience as an expert to provide a factual, precise, and cogent explanation. And, in the process, the explanation she offers exonerates the defendants as well.

What if the expert cannot articulate the explana- tion? For example, a superstar athlete fails as a head coach and we learn afterward that the star was not able to teach others all that he or she knew about the game. The successful head coach turns out, instead, to be a former athlete who was good but not great. Unlike the person blessed with extraordinary natural ability, this person had to think constantly as a player about how to maximize his or her own talents to compete effectively against other, more skilled players. And those years of reflective practice translate later into the ability to teach and coach others.

As the Nobel Laureate, Daniel Kahneman, reminds us, there are many reasons why experts may fail to provide adequate explanations.11 Because Kahneman’s insights are important to strong critical thinking, not just for experts but for all of us, in the chapter on snap judgments we will explore the kinds of mistakes we humans are apt to make. But, for the moment, here are a five ways that experts in particular can err:

Some may never have developed the practice of reflecting on their experiences to explain to them- selves why events occurred as they did.

Lacking the critical thinking habit of being foresight- ful, they may have failed to anticipate the likely effects of decisions and actions.

Lacking the critical thinking habit of inquisitiveness, they may have failed to examine the implications of new information for their field of expertise.

Experts who have weak skills in self-monitoring and self-correcting may not take the time to be sure that they can explain their current beliefs to themselves.

Being unreflective, they may describe their own think- ing using expressions like “I go with my gut” or “I just instinctively knew what I had to do.” Unfortunately, statements like those explain nothing and teach nothing.12

It is difficult to place trust in experts when they cannot explain why they believe what they believe or why they do what they do. For the same reason, it is challenging to learn from these experts. Although we may be able to copy what they are doing, and it may even work, what we most need for learning is to know why it works. And these experts have a difficult time communicating that.

Consider this example: Suppose it is the first day of class and your Biology professor says, “This course will require more time than most other courses. So if you haven’t got a job, don’t bother getting one. If you thought you could work and study Biology in my class, think again.” Suppose that someone asks the professor to explain the basis for that advice. Here are two possible responses:

Professor #1 offered nothing more than a statement of his or her own past practice and a veiled threat. Professor #2 explained why the course would demand a lot of time and why taking on outside responsibilities could become a problem for a student enrolled in this course.

We now have five conditions to check when we are deciding whether or not a source is credible when that source makes a claim about topic X: Is the source expe- rienced, learned, on-topic, up-to-date, and capable of explaining why his or her opinion on the matter is right?

Does earning an advanced degree, a professional license, or a certification of advanced training mean that one is an expert?

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Professor #2: “Working puts great demands on your time. In this course, you have three lecture hours each week plus a required lab each week. I demand experiments in each lab, and the reports from these experiments must be submitted in written form each week. If you do not pass in-class pop quizzes, I require you to attend review sessions. Our goal together is for you to learn biology, and I provide

you with every opportunity to be successful. But I will not lower my standards, nor will I accept any excuses about

your being too busy with other obligations. I grade on a curve and this course attracts the most serious and

academically competitive students in biology. You will have to put a lot of time into this

course just to get a passing grade. So I recommend that you not take on other

responsibilities, like a job, that will pull you away from your studies.”

Professor #1: “Why did I say that? Because I say it to every class to warn them. I give out F’s to people who can’t perform in my class.

Professor #2: “Working puts great demands on your time. In this course, you have three lecture hours each week plus a required lab each week. I demand experiments in each lab, and the reports from these experiments must be submitted in written form each week. If you do not pass in-class pop quizzes, I require you to attend review sessions. Our goal together is for you to learn biology, and I provide

h every opportunity to be successful. But I will not er my standards, nor will I accept any excuses about ur being too busy with other obligations. I grade on a urve and this course attracts the most serious and

academically competitive students in biology. You will have to put a lot of time into this

course just to get a passing grade. So I recommend that you not take on other

responsibilities, like a job, that will pull you away from your studies.”

g you with

lowe you cu

Professor #1: “Why did I say that? Because I say it to every class to warn them. I give out F’s to people who can’t perform in my class.

UNBIASED AND TRUTHFUL Experts are human beings and, like the rest of us, they may have biases. Olympic gymnastics and figure skating judges, each an expert in the sport, are often accused of showing favoritism toward more experienced athletes and being tougher when evalu- ating the performances of athletes who may be newer to that high level of competition. Ask anyone who has tried to umpire a baseball game or referee a high school basket- ball game, and they will tell you that accusations of bias are a regular feature of officiating.

If an expert is called as a witness in a trial and that expert happens to be biased in favor of or against defen- dants of a certain race or age or socioeconomic status, that fact alone should be enough to cause the jury not to trust that expert’s testimony. Expert claims are supposed to be grounded in learning and experience, not in prejudices, biases, or favoritism of any kind.

But even unbiased experts may elect not to speak the truth. Recall that great scene in the 1992 film A Few Good Men where Jack Nicholson tells Tom Cruise that he couldn’t handle the truth. Nicholson’s character, a senior military officer and clearly an expert by training and experience, loses his temper. In his outburst, he explains why Tom Cruise, like so many of his complacent coun- trymen, does not want to know the truth about what, in Nicholson’s opinion, the military must do to keep this nation safe and free. In other words, Nicholson’s character is condoning our nation’s defense experts’ practice of mis- directing and lying to the American people.

We can interpret Nicholson’s character as practicing the “Noble Lie,” as proposed by Plato in The Republic.13 In Plato’s opinion, most people do not recognize their own best interests, nor can they fully comprehend what is in society’s best inter- ests. Plato’s recommendation was that well-informed leaders

who know the whole truth should guide the rest of us by using, when necessary, the “Noble

Lie.” That is, Plato proposes that the leaders should flat out lie to the peo-

ple, if they are impelled by the most beneficent and purest of motives. In other words, the Noble Lie is a lie our leaders tell us because the lie is in our best interests. Not knowing the truth, we would be passive, con-

tent, and compliant. Social harmony would be preserved, unrest and dis-

content prevented. Of course, when the lie is discovered, the people may become

more than a little disenchanted with their “benevolent” leaders. The leaders would surely

lose all credibility. We should not trust an expert source who believes that lying and misdirecting are acceptable when mak- ing expert claims and offering expert opinions.

Edward Snowden, Tim Berners-Lee, and WikiLeaks notwithstanding, there are a great many things that cor- porations, governments, and individual people have good reason not to make public—for example, the plans for developing and marketing new products, military battle strategies and contingency plans, the vulnerabilities of public buildings, the answers to the final exam, personal medical information, bank account PIN numbers. But hold on for a moment! The Noble Lie! My, how convenient for totalitarian leaders who are intent above all on maintain- ing power for themselves. Surely they would be able to rationalize just about any propaganda they wished to put out as being “in the best interests of the people.” A little healthy skepticism would be very useful about here!

FREE OF CONFLICTS OF INTEREST, AND ACTING IN THE CLIENT’S INTEREST If an expert’s personal inter- ests diverge from the interests of the person he or she is

An angry Jack Nicholson on the witness stand in A Few Good Men.

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advising, then there is good reason not to trust what that expert may have to say. Suppose you are interested in applying for a job and you know someone who already works for that company. So you ask that person what it is like working for that company and you ask too if the person knows about the job opening. Suppose the person says good things about working for that company, but dis- courages you from applying for the job by saying that you do not have the kind of work experience needed for that position. So, you decide not to apply, but you thank the person for the advice. And then, later you discover that the person’s intention was to keep you from applying for the job so that some friend of that person would have a better chance to get the job. The person’s advice was not intended to be in your interest. In fact, it was intended to be in someone else’s. Now take that same scenario and assume instead that the person to whom you go for advice wants to apply for that same job. So, again, the person advises you not apply. Again, the advice is not in your interest, but rather in the interest of the person who is giv- ing the advice. That person wants the job too!

Experts, being human, have interests. Perhaps they want something for themselves, or perhaps they want something for a friend or family member or business associate. There is nothing wrong in having interests. We all have interests. The problem comes in when an expert, while appearing to be giving you information or advice so that you can advance your own interests, is in fact mislead- ing you so that the expert’s interests are served instead. For the most part, we know to be cautious when seeking help. We know there are people who will pretend to be our friends and pretend to be acting on our behalf or in our interest, when actually they are not.

But what about situations, which call for very special- ized expertise? Situations, for example, involving legal issues, buying or selling cars or houses, or medical situ- ations? That is where the law steps in to protect us from unscrupulous experts who might give us bad advice. There are laws that require that health care profession- als, real estate professionals, bankers, lawyers, high-level executives, government officials, and members of boards of directors act in the interests of their clients or in the interests of their organizations. Under the law, this obliga- tion is called their fiduciary responsibility. The president of the university has a fiduciary responsibility as the insti- tution’s chief executive officer to make decisions that are in the best interests of the university. A doctor has a fidu- ciary responsibility to make medical decisions and offer medical advice that is in the best interests of the patient.

If the university president makes decisions that are not in the university’s best interests, but rather are in the best interest of some other organization (e.g., the city, the employees of the institution, the department of athlet- ics, or to some other organization to showcase his own

reputation) to the detriment of the university as a whole, then the president has failed to fulfill his or her legal obli- gations. Having broken trust with the institution by that decision, the president might be fired. If a doctor gives medical advice that is in the best interest of a scientific experiment but not in the best interest of the patient, then the doctor has broken trust. If a lawyer reveals confiden- tial information about a client, the lawyer can be disbarred and may do jail time. In cases where the expert makes claims or offers opinions that are not in the best interest of the person or organization to which the expert owes a fiduciary responsibility, the expert cannot be trusted as a reliable source of truthful information or sound advice.

“Inconsistency on the part of pastors and the faithful between what they say and what they do, between word and manner of life, is undermining the Church’s credibility.”

Pope Francis14

Money Subverts Objectivity: Objectivity suffers when experts become hired guns. Today corporations with economic goals and individuals with political ambitions fund specialized organizations to advance those corpo- rate or personal interests. Whether they are called political action committees, think-tanks, foundations, alliances, or industry institutes, many organizations today exist simply to promote the interests of their benefactors. Their strategy is to influence public opinion, to promote legislation that is favorable to the moneyed interests, and to derail govern- ment regulations that threaten profits. These organizations lobby legislators, blog and issue press releases, publish “white papers” and “newsletters” (advertisements), host “conferences” (sales events), and make “speakers” (sales- people) available.

The Hartland Institute just might be an example of such an organization. Its primary funders, before they were concealed behind an intermediary foundation that is not obligated by law to list its sources of money, were known to be large multinational petroleum corporations and people, like the Koch brothers, with billion dollar interests in fossil fuel industries. James Taylor, an attor- ney, works for the Hartland Institute. Mr. Taylor, the edi- tor of the Hartland Institute’s Environmental and Climate News, describes himself as an expert who is skeptical about the science behind wind and solar energy. The Hartland Institute pays Mr. Taylor to travel from state legislature to state legislature sharing his doubts, just like agents for tobacco companies did years ago when their employers did not want the public to trust the sci- ence that said smoking caused health problems. Tobacco companies, like Phillip Morris, knew that public doubt

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THINKING CRITICALLY Who Checks What the Experts Claim? We tend to think of our elected leaders and those who comment regularly on Washington issues as people with expertise and experience. But because of conflicts of interest, we have reason to be skeptical. After all, aren’t the first three rules of politics “Get Elected, Get Re-elected, and Get Re- Re-elected?” And aren’t the first three values in broadcasting “Ratings, Ratings, and Ratings?” So when we hear claims like these, what can we do to check the facts?

Under current policies “we’re going to reduce the over- all debt of the United States by $3 trillion over the next 10 years.” –Senator Richard Durbin, D-IL.

“About 47 percent of able-bodied people in the state of Maine don’t work.” –Gov. Paul LePage.

“In Oregon, students are skipping math class to learn about the Bible.” – Hemant Mehta.

“Mitch McConnell voted with Harry Reid to infringe on our gun rights.” –Matt Bevin, R-KY.

“No doctors who went to an American medical school will be accepting Obamacare.” –Ann Coulter.

“What we said was, you can keep (your plan) if it hasn’t changed since the law passed.” –President Obama.

“Obamacare will question your sex life.” –Betsy McCaughey.

The United States has seen “a net loss of people with health insurance” because of Obamacare. –Rep. John Boehner, R-OH.

“Millions of Americans are paying more and getting less under Obamacare.” –Americans for Prosperity.

The Keystone Pipeline will create 39,000 jobs. –US State Department.

The Keystone Pipeline will create 50 jobs. –Opponents of the project.

The Keystone Pipeline will create 120,000 jobs. –Support- ers of the project.

To see which of the above statements were “Barely True” and which were “Pants on Fire False,” visit the Web site of

the Tampa Bay Times’ Pulitzer Prize–winning politifact.com, or visit FactCheck.org, which is a project of the Annenberg Public Policy Center. When you are visiting these sites notice the quality of the evidence that is presented in order to back up their evaluations. Those sites pull together documenta- tion and statistical evidence to support its assessment about the truth or falsity of the claims being made—far more work than any of us individually could undertake on our own, but necessary to the democracy so we voters can make informed decisions.

We were talking with a political observer the other day who cynically suggested that one or both of the major political parties might intentionally dissuade young people and inde- pendents from voting. Here is what that person said:

By repeatedly making outlandish claims, one of the parties, or maybe both, is trying to turn off independents and young voters. That party wants these two groups to become so cynical about Washington politics that they decide not to support any candidate. Because this party (or these parties) believes that young voters and independents will not support their party’s slate, they just want those voters out of the mix entirely. “If they will not vote for us, let’s be sure that they don’t vote for the other guys either” seems to be the strategy. “So let’s turn them off and tune them out.” The tactic is to make Washington politics so scummy and fraudulent that young people and independents will not want to be contaminated by the rot and the stench. “It’s not important that what we say is true, it’s only important that we get media attention, excite our base to go out and vote for us, and to repel independent thinkers and young people from voting at all.”

What do you think? Are the two major U.S. political par- ties (the Democratic Party and the Republican Party, including the Tea Party) trying to drive young people and independents away from the national political process? Or, the opposite? Is one or both trying to appeal to those groups? Since opinions without reasons are thin soup at best, how might you investi- gate this question and get some hard evidence upon which to base an informed opinion?

alone was enough to stall or derail regulatory action. Yes, we could predict that regulatory delay would result in more tobacco related illnesses and deaths. But, we could also predict that delay would result in greater tobacco industry quarterly and annual profits. Question: Should Mr. Taylor be regarded as a credible expert on alternative energy sources? Search and watch episode 6, “Winds of Change,” of the Showtime series Years of Dangerously. In that episode America Ferrera profiles Mr. Taylor and uses

strong critical thinking to investigate his credibility. For the other side, search “Hartland Institute James Taylor.” After watching the episode, and after checking out Mr. Taylor’s credentials at the Hartland Institute’s website, ask yourself if you think Mr. Taylor should be trusted as a credible source of expert information given in the best interests of the public, or if Mr. Taylor is simply promot- ing the economic interests of natural gas and oil indus- try giants.

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Very important to remember, nothing here is illegal. Lobbying is not illegal. It is not illegal for corporations or individuals to get their points of view out to the general public. There is nothing illegal about seeking to advance one's own interests. Free speech as an incredibly valuable Constitutional right, one that we definitely do not want to lose or to compromise. And so, it is clearly our responsibility to evaluate the credibility of sources.

to give this particular person the right advice. The expert must also become informed about this particular person’s individual circumstances and condition. To use another example, general advice about how to prepare for a job interview may or may not be the right advice to give one particular person who is preparing for one specific inter- view for one specific job. An expert’s claims and advice gain credibility if the expert has taken the time to inform himself or herself about the specific case at hand.

Mentally Stable: We have come quite a long way in developing our list of things to think about when evaluat- ing the credibility of a source. And there is only one more issue to add, and that is that the expert is mentally com- petent, unimpaired, and, to use a layman’s term, “stable.” Drugs and alcohol can impair judgment, including expert judgment. Psychosis, severe clinical depression, and recent traumatic experiences can cause people who may ordinarily have good judgment to make mistakes. Senile dementia can render an expert unfit any longer to be pro- viding credible guidance. And, as research with health care providers and pilots shows, long hours in stress- ful situations and sleep deprivation are associated with increased risk of errors. An expert who is not mentally stable cannot be trusted to provide reliable information or advice.

TWELVE CHARACTERISTICS OF A TRUSTWORTHY SOURCE In summary, when evaluating a trusted source on topic X, it would be reasonable for us to trust a person (or the words of a person) who fulfills all 12 of the criteria below.

1. Learned in topic X

2. Experienced in topic X

3. Speaking about X

4. Up-to-date about X

5. Capable of explaining the basis for their claim or their advice about X

6. Unbiased

7. Truthful

8. Free of conflicts of interest

9. Acting in accord with our interests

10. Unconstrained

11. Informed about the specifics of the case at hand

12. Mentally stable

This may seem like a formidable list, but asking people who have a healthy skepticism to take a person’s claims and advice on faith is a sizable request. So it is rea- sonable that we should have high standards when it comes to establishing and maintaining trust. You may already have noted many of these positive characteristics in people whose advice you trust.

JOURNAL A Disinterested Party - or Not? A “disinterested party” is an individual or a group that does not stand to benefit from the resolution of a dispute. Three examples would be: an expert witness who gives information, a referee who is paid for officiating regardless of which team wins, or a good friend who offers advice genuinely and exclusively con- cerned to help without any expectation of personal gain.

How can you tell if an expert who is offering you information or advice is a disinterested party? Write an example of when a person had represented themselves as a disinterested party, but on closer review turned out to have a vested interest in the outcome.


Constrained: When being tortured, people say whatever their tormentor wants to hear to stop the pain. Intelligence services, knowing this, have devised other tactics to extract accurate and useful information. Torture is one form of constraint that can cause an expert to make claims that are not reliable. Also, an expert may be legally constrained from offering advice or information on a given topic. For example, the expert may have signed an agree- ment with a former employer that prohibits the expert from revealing proprietary business secrets that are the property of the former employer for a certain period of time, typically a year or two. In this case, even if the expert goes to work for a new employer, the expert cannot legally violate the agree- ment with the previous employer. Under this constraint, the expert’s claims will not rely on the expert’s full range of knowledge. Legal or physical constraint is a reason not to fully trust what the expert has to say.

Informed about the Case at Hand: A friend of ours is a personal trainer with great expertise. People he happens to meet often ask him casually for advice. They want to know which exercises to do to gain greater strength, speed, or endurance. He could give them broad general answers, but he declines. Why? Because in these causal encounters, he does not have the opportunity to fully evaluate the person’s physical status, so he worries that any advice he may offer or any claims he may make might be wrong for this particular person. As an expert, he realizes that know- ing a lot about exercise in general is not always enough

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An Expert on Hate in America “They are dirty, promiscuous, lazy, ignorant, immoral, impulsively violent, and sexually deviant. They are destroying our way of life! We must protect ourselves. They must be stopped!”

At one time or another throughout history frightening claims like these have been used to dehumanize every eth- nic, religious, racial, and national group. Fear and hate under- cut our sense that we all should treat others as we would wish to be treated ourselves. Why? Because “They” are not people—at least, not people like “Us.” History shows repeat- edly that when hate and fear dominate, beatings, killings, rapes, mob violence, reprisals, revenge, lawlessness, war, and even genocide too often follow. The gruesome reports from the Central African Republic are one bloody example of that pattern. But we have plenty of bitter examples of hate induced violence right here at home in the U.S. The Pew Research Center reported that there were 293,790 reported hate crimes in the U.S. in 2012. 28% of these were rooted in religious bias, 26% in gender bias, and 51% in ethnic bias (defined as relating to the victim’s “ancestral, cultural, social or national affiliation”).

Who keeps track of hate groups in America? Who has the courage to call them out for spreading their poison?

There may be no one organization monitoring every hate group in the world, but at least one organization is not afraid to identify the hate groups in America. The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) is “a nonprofit civil rights organization dedicated to fighting hatred and bigotry, and to seeking jus- tice for the most vulnerable members of society. Founded by civil rights lawyers Morris Dees and Joseph Levin, Jr. in 1971, the SPLC is internationally known for tracking and exposing

the activities of hate groups.” In recent years it has focused its legal efforts on overturning anti-LGBT and Jim-Crow policies and practices.

To promote tolerance and respect in our nation’s schools, “the Center produces and distributes documentary films, books, lesson plans and other materials free of charge.” The disturbing but engaging 2011 documentary film, Erasing Hate, “chronicles the redemptive story of a violent, racist skinhead” who risks his life to renounce the white power movement. Over a period of almost two years “he undergoes an excru- ciating series of laser treatments to remove the racist tattoos that covered his face and hands.”

In 2014 the SPLC identified 939 active hate groups in the United States, among them the groups affiliated with the Ku Klux Klan, New-Nazi, White Nationalist, Racist Skinhead, Christian Identity, New-Confederate, and Black Separatist organizations. The SPLC defines a hate group as an organi- zation that has “beliefs or practices that attack or malign an entire class of people, typically for their immutable characteris- tics.” The Center compiled its 2014 list “using hate group pub- lications and Web sites, citizen and law enforcement reports, field sources and news reports.” According to the SPLC, “hate group activities can include criminal acts, marches, rallies, speeches, meetings, leafleting or publishing.” Appearing on the SPLC list “does not imply a group advocates or engages in violence or other criminal activity.”

The number of “Patriot” movement groups identified in 2014 was 1096. These are self-described armed militias, “sovereign citizens,” and other conspiracy-minded organiza- tions that regard the government, and in particular the federal

government, as an enemy. While over 2000 groups were identified, the SPLC list does not attempt to represent everyone engaged in spewing hateful or violent messages. The SPLC notes “Web sites appearing to be merely the work of a single individual, rather than the publication of a group, are not included in this list.”

Citations are from the Pew Research Center report on hate crimes February 21, 2014, the SPLC Report, Spring 2014 edition, and from the Southern Poverty Law Center Web site: http://www.splcenter.org. See also, “The Invisible Hate Crime: How to combat hate crimes against people with disabilities,” Jack Levin, Miller-McCune, March- April 2011, page 50.

Dr. Facione, the lead author of Think Critically, a finan- cial supporter of the SPLC for decades, has arranged for the Center’s founder, Morris Dees, to speak on college campuses and to national organizations of academic lead- ers. Knowing where you can learn more about the SPLC for yourself, and knowing about Dr. Facione’s endorsement and support of the Center’s work, independently evaluate this claim made by Dr. Facione: “The SPLC is an expert on hate in America.”

For more than forty years Morris Dees and the SPLC have provided pro bono (free) legal services to victims of hate crimes.

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6.2 Assessing the Substance—What Should I Believe?

In the previous section, we focused on assessing the credibil- ity of the person who makes an assertion without supplying reasons. Here we ask how strong critical thinking can help us evaluate the credibility of a claim when it stands alone. It might be posted on the Internet, cut from an e-mail and for- warded, printed in a poster, scrawling across the TV screen, included in an ad paid for by some political PAC, whispered as a rumor. Whatever, its source is unknown, and no rea- sons are supplied. Here are a few examples:

1. “Rumor has it that the dean is going to resign.”

2. “I heard that she was so angry with her boyfriend that she keyed his new car.”

3. “An unnamed source close to the police investiga- tion told us that murder indictments were going to be handed down soon for as many as 35 gang members.”

4. “According to a high-ranking administration official, the President is not happy with the leadership of his own party.”

5. “Wind power generation of electricity will cost so much to implement that reliance on coal is financially a better option.”

6. A global ebola epidemic could kill half of the human beings on the planet.

7. “The nursing staff knows that what happened today in room 314 was assisted suicide.”

8. “The patient in 314 was dying of cancer and had less than a week to live.”

9. “Doctors recommend getting your annual flu shot early this year.”

10. “A huge killer anaconda lives in the utility tunnels under the main campus quad.”

In this section, we will look at ways of evaluating the truth or falsity of assertions in the absence of supporting reasons and in the absence of identifiable sources.

Personal Muck and Gunk Monitor Except for two rare situations that we will take up momen- tarily, there is no reliable way of telling that a claim, standing alone, is true or false. We may have some ini- tial impressions or some common-sense notions—for example, that a claim like #10, about a killer anaconda, is highly unlikely and that a claim like #9, about getting a flu shot early, seems plausible. But initial impressions are not proof, and so-called common sense is not something that a person with a healthy sense of skepticism is going to rely upon. In fact, a healthy sense of skepticism (which is the alternative name for our “Personal Muck and Gunk Monitor”) turns out to be our best defense against being deceived by false or misleading claims.

A strong critical thinker with a healthy sense of skepti- cism would probably respond to the 10 numbered claims by asking probing questions. Here are some examples. Note that some questions focus on trying to identify the source of the claim and that others focus on the plausibility of the claim itself.

1. Who said that about the dean and how would that person know?

2. Who told you that? Did the person actually see her key the car? Are we sure that the car was keyed? If so, might it not have been someone else who vandalized his car?

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Self-Contradictions and Tautologies We said that there were two rare situations where we actu- ally could know that a given claim was false or was true just by what it says. The first situation is when the claim is self-contradictory, as in these examples:

No point on the circumference of a circle is the same distance from the center of the circle as any other point on the circumference of the circle.

The moon orbits the earth and does not orbit the earth.

Everyone in our club despises our club president, and only a couple of club members still admire her.

A self-contradictory statement cannot be true. The self-contradiction comes about because of the meanings of the words used to form the claim. For example, the defini- tion of the word circle is not consistent with the notion that the circumference is variable distances from the center. Conveniently, self-contradictions, when you stop and think carefully about them, do not make sense. As they stand, they are un-interpretable. In real life, if someone happens to make a self-contradictory claim, strong critical thinkers use their question-asking skills to seek clarification from the speaker.

If you are talking about a circle, then by definition every point on the circumference is the same distance from the center. Or else you are not talking about a circle. Which is it?

Which is it, does the moon orbit the earth or not? Pick one. Both can’t be true.

That does not make any sense. You can’t say that everyone despises the president but some do not. How can you despise a person and admire the person at the same time? What are you trying to say?

Some may worry that they will not always be able to identify self-contradictions in real life. But as a practi- cal matter, what is important is that we recognize that a person’s claim is not making sense to us for whatever rea- son. As we saw in Chapter 4 on clarifying and interpreting ideas, whenever we are trying to interpret a claim cor- rectly, we should be prepared to ask the author respectful but challenging questions about what the author intends to communicate, by making the claim that we find to be confusing or self-contradictory.

Just as some claims cannot be true by virtue of what their words mean, other claims cannot be false by virtue of what their words mean. Here are examples:

Every student enrolled in this university is a student enrolled in this university.

Two straight lines on a plane that are not parallel to each other intersect at one and only one point.

If God is all-powerful, then there is nothing that God cannot do.

3. Why would the police leak information like that to anyone? Revealing their plans for a major bust would only cause the suspects to flee, if they knew that they were going to be arrested.

4. Did anyone else in the President’s administration con- firm that rumor? Isn’t the President the leader of his political party, so you’re saying he’s unhappy with himself?

5. Can you show me the financial projections that sup- port this?

6. Perhaps, but doesn’t that assume that guarantees will fail, that the virus will continue to be virulent, that we will not have found a vaccine, and that known meth- ods of caring for ebola victims effectively will have been abandoned? And, if so, why only half the popu- lation? What will stop the epidemic from killing even more people than that?

7. Oh, and how do you know that?

8. Did someone on the hospital staff share information about that patient’s diagnosis with you?

9. Which doctors, the ones working for the pharma- ceutical company, doctors with independent prac- tices, or doctors working in the CDC? Why do they recommend getting a flu shot? And, who should get flu shots? Everyone? What does “early” mean? September? December?

10. Right. And it devours what food? Freshmen spelunk- ing those tunnels?

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The first example almost sounds as redundant as “if a student is enrolled, then a student is enrolled.” The sec- ond is a truth of plane geometry. The third is equivalent to saying “If God is all-powerful, then God is all-powerful” except that a definition for “all-powerful” is used in the predicate. In each of these cases, the statements must be true based simply on what the words mean.

A statement that is true entirely because of the mean- ings of the words it contains is called a tautology. Here’s one more example:

You gotta do what you gotta do.

Imagine the late James Gandolfini playing his famous character, Tony Soprano, saying something like this to one of his HBO series Mafia lieutenants. Yes, technically he is speaking a tautology. But we might ask ourselves, “Why?” In context, people use statements like these for purposes other than to communicate informational content. Here, the Mafia don may be giving a murderous assignment to that underling, saying, in effect, “This decision to act is abso- lutely necessary.” From the point of view of critical think- ing and to make a full and accurate interpretation, we must always consider context and purpose, as was emphasized in Chapter 4, rather than only the literal meaning of a claim.

A more serious threat to good judgment is generated by speakers whose claims appear to be information culled from careful observation, but in reality turn out instead to be empty tautologies. I listened to a professional motiva- tional speaker recently during a conference for upward- climbing corporate junior managers. They were looking for ideas about how to get ahead in their careers. The speaker had made a name for himself advising business audiences just like this one. As the next speaker on the pro- gram, I had the opportunity to listen to what he was telling our audience and to watch their reactions. I wrote down some of the claims he made. Here are three: “Every job pays exactly what it is worth in terms of its contribution to society.” “There is no skill you cannot learn.” “We all start off equal in life.”

Whoa, I thought. Those claims are not true. A teacher is worth far more to society than what he or she is paid, and, arguably, a Wall Street financier who trades in junk bonds and mortgage derivatives is worth far less to soci- ety than the salary and bonus taken home. Given that the context is not just fumbling through a skill like a begin- ner, but becoming professionally competent at the skill, then his second claim is false. No, not everyone can play basketball at the level of a college or professional athlete, not everyone can write a best seller novel, and not every- one can perform a concert-quality violin sonata. And, in terms of the third claim, a child born in a peaceful and prosperous community with nurturing parents and to a household that enjoys a modest but adequate income starts off life in a far better position than a child born in a

war-ravaged land, orphaned at birth, and struggling each day to scrounge for food while at the same time trying not to be maimed, raped, or killed.

The speaker, it seemed to me, was either an idiot or a charlatan. He was no idiot. And yet the more than 300 people in the audience seemed to be eating up every word. Why? I wondered. Why do they not see that either his claims are objectively false, or if true, they are noth- ing more than empty tautologies? If he meant to say that a teacher is worth no more nor less than she is paid when we factor her value into the mathematical formula for calculating the gross national product (GNP), then okay, I can understand that. It is only one small piece of how economists calculate GNP. But his way of saying it was a gross disservice to underpaid teachers. And absurd to advise corporate executives to equate their value to soci- ety with their take home pay. People are not awarded the Medal of Honor or the Nobel Prize based on their salary.

If the speaker meant to say that something is not a skill unless it can be learned, then thanks, but that’s an empty tautology. Or, if he is only telling the audience that they can learn to be more effective negotiators or bet- ter at doing their current jobs, sure. That’s probably true. But that will not guarantee you the senior VP job. If the speaker meant that each individual’s economic contribu- tions at birth is equal, that is zero, then, as the dolphins said in the Restaurant at the End of the Universe, “Good bye and thanks for all the fish.”

By the way, not a one of those listening to that moti- vational speaker stack up the donkey excrement raised a hand to challenge his economic gospel. I felt sad for them—they seemed so innocent and gullible. That speaker appeared to want everyone in his audience to believe that he or she could become the corporate CEO by working hard and acquiring the requisite skills. Do the numbers people! That’s nuts. Even if you do work hard and build all the skills, there are 300 of you in this audience, and only one senior VP over all of you. And only a handful of senior VPs all of whom report to only one CEO.

We absolutely agree with working hard and improving your skills. But, for realistic reasons. Earning your pay and keep- ing your job are good reasons to put in a decent effort. A fair day’s work for a fair day’s pay is a matter of justice. And, as jobs become more complex, you have to work at your skills to continue to be effective. And, for many of us, striving for excellence in what we do is, quite simply, moti- vation enough.

The speaker did motivate me to do something! That was to include this warning in Think Critically: Be vigilant! Do not let yourself be misled by empty tautolo- gies masquerading as informative facts. A strong critical thinker maintains a healthy skepticism. Do not be afraid to ask, “What exactly do you mean when you say . . . ?” If

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you have ever found yourself arguing with someone only to discover that what she or he is saying is, in that per- son’s view, true by definition then you understand the problem.

Marketing, Spin, Disinformation, and Propaganda Claims without supporting reasons are the stock and trade of people who have ulterior motives. A marketer, wanting us to purchase something, makes claims about the virtues of the product. Extremist organizations eager to discredit someone make claims about the opponent’s position on controversial issues. Sports promoters trying to generate press coverage and audience interest for a forthcoming game exaggerate the rivalry between the competing teams and over-interpret the significance of the game. Typical examples:

Over 75 percent of the cars we make are still on the road.

Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor supports Puerto Rican terrorists.

This week’s grudge match between the Bears and the Lions could determine which team will make it to the Super Bowl.

Those with a healthy sense of skepticism are ever on the alert for the donkey excrement being distributed by people with ulterior motives. Whether they wrap it in humor, sincerity, or vitriolic rhetoric, it comes to the same thing: They are unsubstantiated claims made specifically for the purpose of getting us to do something that we oth- erwise would not do—such as to buy something we do not need, to vote for something we don’t believe in, or to sup- port a cause we might not otherwise support. Or, perhaps it is simply a way of responding to the desire some have to be the center of everyone’s attention.

Skepticism is not cynicism. We need to remember that open-mindedness is a positive critical thinking habit of mind. So, when we evaluate the plausibility or implausi- bility of claims, we must discipline ourselves to be open- minded. Fortum, a Scandinavian energy company, won a Clio Award for its ad that features that claim that Fortum...

fills its brand with positive energy by activating its customers rather than only sending them bills.

Is this only a clever marketing gimmick, or might there be something more to the idea? Before you propose an evaluation, you will need to understand how to interpret Fortum’s curious claim. We suggest you begin by watch- ing the ad yourself. If you search Fortum and Clio Award you probably will find it. Given that consumers can become

Really? Your pizza is all these things? You must be joking!

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jaded and skeptical, marketers often try to separate us from our money using humor and entertainment, rather than with extravagant claims. This is particularly true if the prod- uct being marketed is something familiar, rather than a new program as in the Fortum example. Many Clio Award–qual- ity commercials employ entertainment value and humor. We easily found many great examples by visiting YouTube and searching “Clio Award Commercials.” The Guinness “tipping point” ad, Dr. Pepper’s take-off on the “Hunchback of Notre Dame,” and the Skittles “touch” commercial were some of our favorites. Does it make sense that we should be more inclined to purchase a product after seeing a funny and entertaining ad? And if so, why? It often takes imagina- tion, good critical thinking, a team of professionals, and mil- lions of dollars to produce commercials of this quality. What does it take not to be drawn in by them?

Slanted Language and Loaded Expressions It can be difficult to evaluate claims that use language that carries a positive or negative emotional charge. Some expressions are so loaded down with social and cultural baggage that the very use of them excites strong positive or negative reactions. Here are sets of three statements each. The first in each set is intended to elicit a generally positive response to the topic, the second is neutrally fac- tual, and the third is slanted negatively.

John is a true American hero.

John is a New York City firefighter.

John is just another overpaid municipal employee working in public safety.

Basketball combines finesse, grace, power, and skill.

Basketball combines passing, dribbling, shooting, and defense.

Basketball combines sweat, aggression, cunning, and brute force.

Love is you and me together happily forever in each other’s arms.

Love is a strong emotional attachment to another.

Love is that stupefying feeling you had before you really knew the bastard.

Slanted language and loaded expressions are not always easy to recognize. The problem for all of us is that if we happen to agree with what is being said, we have great difficulties seeing anything particularly unfair, loaded, or egregious with the claims being made. Everyone likes to think of himself or herself as objective and able to see all sides of an issue. But the psychological fact is that most of us have a very difficult time putting ourselves in the minds of people with whom we disagree. Rather, we tend

to prefer to make an idiot out of our opposition in our own minds, underestimating the merits of what the person may be saying and overestimating the clarity and strength of our own views. We saw a little of this in the “Guns for Kids” debate in Chapter 5 and we will learn more about the psychology behind this common human propensity in the chapter on snap judgments. That said, evaluating claims that tug at our emotions, either positively or nega- tively, by virtue of the language those claims employ must be done with care. A strong truth-seeking habit of mind can dispose us to approach this evaluation more objectively.

Political attack ads are particularly offensive because they often combine emotional messages with misleading claims. Speaking for their generation and all that have fol- lowed, the rock band The Who captured our disgust and our vulnerability with lyrics warning us not to be fooled again. We could provide wagonloads of examples of mar- keting half-truths and political assault ads, like the ad in the 2014 Michigan primary where a strongly anti-abortion candidate was accused by a political rival of supporting “gender-election abortions.”15 But we knew you could find plenty of examples of this just by watching the bar- rage of mean-spirited, attack ads that precede every elec- tion. The 2012 comedy, The Campaign, with Will Farrell and Zach Galifianakis is a humorous, but not entirely untrue, reminder of how ambition trumps truth when votes are on the line.

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The outrageously false claims, accusations, and innu- endos in some political attack ads are so pernicious and incendiary that they approach hate speech. By dividing us one from another, these slanders and falsehoods rip away at the very fabric of our pluralistic democracy. So outra- geous are the claims made by the religious, ethic, national- istic, racial and political fear merchants and hatemongers, so thick is their muck and gunk that thankfully the great majority of us recognize them for the lies that they are. Most of us are not swayed by the vitriolic “Us-vs-Them” rhetoric. But, sadly, some believe those claims. And too often, when that happens, violence follows. One filmmaker, Rachel Lyon, has taken on the challenge of examining hate crimes in America and the role of the media in exploiting our fears and prejudices with exaggerated claims and inflam- matory reporting. Her 2014 documentary “Hate Crimes in the Heartland.” tells the story of two tragic events that occurred in Tulsa, Oklahoma, but over 90 years apart.

To sum up, we need a healthy skepticism when trying to evaluate claims that stand alone, without their authors and without reasons. Except for self-contradictions and tau- tologies, it is almost impossible to evaluate the claims by themselves as either true or false. Through tough question- ing, we may find some claims more plausible and others less plausible. But even then, other factors, including the ulterior motives of the people who are making the claims and the emotion-laden language that is often used, make it difficult, if not impossible, to evaluate a claim standing alone.

Almost, but not entirely impossible. There is one other quite excellent strategy, and that is to take upon ourselves to investigate the claim independently.

6.3 Independent Verification Suppose we encounter a claim on the Internet and we hear it repeated by friends and talked about in the media. Assume that on its face the claim appears plausible, yet we are skep- tical. We know no claim is true simply because it is widely believed and frequently repeated. What can we do if we need to make a decision and this particular claim, if true, would lead us to make one decision, but, if false, would lead us to make a different decision? Is there any other way to fig- ure out if we should believe the claim or not? Yes. One way to do this is to ask if the claim can be confirmed. The other is to ask if it can be disconfirmed. Let’s look briefly at both.

The best, and funniest, example how one might inde- pendently attempt to verify or to disconfirm an apparently incredible claim is John Oliver’s look at the claim: “The Miss America Pageant is one of the world’s largest provid- ers of scholarship assistance for young women.” The claim appears on the Miss America organization website. It was repeated many times in news stories and by by talk show personalities during the week of the annual pageant. They all appeared to have swallowed the claim as given, with- out checking it out first. But Oliver was skeptical. Watch the September 21, 2014 episode of HBO’s This Week Tonight. Oliver and his staff do just about everything one can imag- ine in their effort to confirm or to disconfirm that claim.

Can the Claim Be Confirmed? A claim becomes more plausible if we can find confirma- tory information or information that is consistent with the claim. For example, suppose someone claims:

Mother’s Day is the most popular holiday celebrated in the United States.

How might we go about finding confirmation for this? First, we would need a measure of “popularity” as applied to holidays. For example, we could use the number of greeting cards sold per holiday, the money spent sending flowers per holiday, restaurant revenues per holiday, tele- phone calls made per holiday, or an opinion survey with an appropriately structured sample.

Another approach when attempting to confirm a claim is to ask ourselves if the claim in question is consistent with other things we may know. If it is, then the claim takes on more plausibility in our minds. Consider this claim:

Samuel was the last person to leave this morning, and he forgot to lock the apartment door.

To confirm this claim, we might begin by asking how many people live in Samuel’s apartment, and then we might

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ask each of those people what time he or she left the apartment this morning and whether he or she noticed who was still there when he or she left. But suppose that this line of questioning results in uncer- tainty because people can’t recall the exact time they left or because they are not sure if others may or may not have been in the apartment when they left. Then we would go to things we know about Samuel, looking for something that may be consistent with the claim being evaluated. For example, we may learn that Samuel is often the last one to leave in the morning because he does not have any early classes. We may learn that in the recent past Samuel admit- ted to having forgotten to lock the apartment door when he left. And we may learn that Samuel is a generally irresponsible and unreliable person, often neglecting his responsibilities and not keeping his promises. If things should turn out this way upon investigation, then we would have reason to evalu- ate the claim as highly plausible.

One difficulty with seeking confirmation is that, even if we find it, the claim might still not be true. We can say that the claim is consistent with the facts as we know them. But, there may be more facts, or the way that the facts were measured was less than adequate. For example, judging only form the money spent, Christmas is the most popular holiday in the Unites States. But there are plenty of people who will tell you, if asked, that they really do not like Christmas all that much. It is a lot of work, for one. And too often the cost of the gifts is not com- mensurate with the affection felt. Rather some gifts are given more out of a feeling of obligation than of love. Or, consider the other example, about Samuel. It is highly plausible that he left the door unlocked. But what if we learn that one of the other people who live there suddenly remembers need- ing to come back to the apartment after Samuel had already gone. Then, in a hurry, the person confesses that he rushed out again and forgot to lock the door.

Finding confirmatory evidence is great. It is certainly a lot better than deciding if something is true or false based on no independent information at all. But is there something better than confirmation? Yes. The strategy scientists use: devising ways to gather evidence, which would disconfirm the claim.

Can the Claim Be Disconfirmed? An alternative to trying to confirm that the claim is true is setting about trying to establish that it is false. Consider these two claims:

You are the person who murdered Mrs. X on Sunday at noon in her home in Boston.

President Obama does not have a valid U.S. birth certificate.

In the first case, to disconfirm the accusation, the accused would have to establish a solid alibi. For example, “No, sir, I did not kill Mrs. X. I was onstage in Orlando, making a speech to 2000 people exactly on the date and time that the murder occurred in Boston. My proof is the videotape of the speech, which is date-stamped, and the testimony of the audience members and technical support staff who were present at the time.”

Some claims, like the second example about the President Obama’s birth certificate, are more challenging to disconfirm for reasons that go beyond the substance of the claim itself. All that would appear to be required to disconfirm that claim would be presenting the President’s birth certificate for public inspection. Although we may not personally be able to access the president’s birth records, presumably the President or his attorney can. “Public inspection” in a case like this would then be the responsibility of the news media, or some trustworthy and unbiased expert panel.

Prior to the general election in November 2008, the Chicago Tribune’s Washington Bureau did post a story confirming that both presidential candidates were natu- ral-born U.S. citizens, Mr. Obama having been born in the state of Hawaii and Mr. McCain at a naval hospital in the then U.S.-controlled Panama Canal Zone.16 And settled the matter at least for all legal purposes relating to their eligibility to run for president.

But if your purposes are different, then let the games begin, or should we say “continue.” In the summer of 2009 a U.S. Army reserve soldier named Stefan Cook, a “Birther,” refused to be deployed to Afghanistan on the

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grounds that he was being sent by a commander-in-chief who was not eligible to be president because he was not a native-born U.S. citizen. It turned out that Mr. Cook was misleading the public, for he had in fact volunteered for the military assignment in Afghanistan. And when he changed his mind about volunteering for military ser- vice in that country, his orders to deploy to Afghanistan were revoked, which is standard policy in the case of volunteers.17 But with the media attention to the initial story, these subsequent facts went relatively unnoticed and the rumors about Mr. Obama’s birth certificate lived on. Then, in 2011, the celebrity publicity seeker, Donald Trump, jumped on the Birthers bandwagon. But when the President again released his birth certificate, the tea- pot tempest settled down. Mr. Trump almost hurt himself by vigorously patting himself on the back in self-congrat- ulations for having sorted all of that out on behalf of the nation. If someone were to claim that the Trump-Birther episode helped the Republican Party, they might be sur- prised to discover that influential Republicans like Karl Rove, Colin Powel, and Jeb Bush repeatedly expressed concern in 2011 and for years afterward that what they called “birther nonsense” harmed the party.18

The durability of claims like the one about Mr. Obama and his birth certificate is fascinating in its own right. Some claims—call them “urban legends”—seem to endure no matter what investigative findings reveal. Even when the claim has been plausibly refuted, there are those who will not accept the evidence. Alex Koppelman offers an inter- esting analysis of why “conspiracy theorists” will never be satisfied about the validity of the birth certificate or the eli- gibility of Mr. Obama to be president.19

But with due respect to the conspiracy theorists of every stripe, there is a major difference between healthy skepticism and stubborn refusal to abandon a discredited position. The skeptic is asserting uncertainty about the truth of the matter. The skeptic will continue to be uncer- tain until the question is suitably investigated. But then the skeptic will be able to determine which side of the issue has more credibility. The conspiracy theorist, on the other hand, is making a very bold claim. And it is often a claim that can be neither confirmed nor disconfirmed. The con- spiracy theorist is saying that a certain version of events is the truth and that all other versions are false. This puts an enormous burden of proof on the conspiracy theorist, not the skeptic. The conspiracy theorist must do much more than discredit all other known, plausible, or possible ver- sions of events. The conspiracy theorist must confirm the truth of the one version of events he or she is putting for- ward. This work is seldom done. Too often the conspiracy theorist picks and pecks at some of the more plausible ver- sions as a way of making space for the version he or she wants everyone to believe, but never gets around to pro- viding solid confirmation for that version.

More than a Healthy Sense of Skepticism Only Web pages and blogs can be posted by reliable and informed experts and by unscrupulous people bent on fraud, hate, or mischief. Truths and falsehoods spread as people cite other Web pages as their sources, as they e-mail URLs to friends, and as they post, blog, tweet, and com- ment about things they have seen on the Web. Blogs and Web sites can provide pros and cons for almost any idea. Question: In addition to healthy skepticism, what are the most reasonable, most reliable, and smartest strategies to determine what on the Web can and cannot be trusted?

Let’s practice those strategies you’ve identified. Each of the following claims may be true. But as they stand, cut off from any of the reasons their sources may have sup- plied, it is difficult to know whether they are true or false. For each claim, write four questions that, if answered, are likely to yield information that would tend to confirm or to disconfirm the claim and thus aid you to evaluate the claim’s plausibility or implausibility.

1. At the present time electric cars are not, on balance, environmentally sound.20

2. “As a society, we [in the US] live and breathe the idea of religious freedom and religious tolerance.”21

3. “The USA is not the best country in the world”— Spoken by Jeff Daniels playing news anchor Will McAvoy on the HBO series The Newsroom.22

4. “The health risks of obesity have been underesti- mated.”23

5. Your presence will be powerfully felt by your loved ones if you eliminate that which does not add value to your life.

6. Subscriptions to online pornography Internet sites are more prevalent in states “where surveys indicate conservative positions on religion, gender roles, and sexuality.”24

7. “Forgiveness liberates the soul. It removes fear.”— Spoken by Morgan Freeman playing Nelson Mandela in the 2010 film about South Africa, Invictus.

8. As the nurse in rural Michigan kissed the dying patient’s forehead, the patient’s Muslim family in Iran, watching this simple act of compassion on a laptop, wept. Later, at the funeral an Episcopal priest read Muslim prayers.25

9. Unlike the protests for just ice, dignity and equality  by  San Jose State University student- athletes, Tommie Smith and John Carlos, at the Mexico City 1968 Olympic Games, not a single athlete at the Sochi Russia 2014 Olympic Games protested for gay rights.

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10. If you exhume my father’s grave and move his casket to another location, he will never rest in peace again.

11. The vulnerable workers in Zimbabwe’s diamond fields are protected from external violence and law- lessness by the presence of Zimbabwe’s military, which has restored order in the Marange district.

12. More children between the ages of 13 and 17 have been killed playing football in the past 60 years than have been killed by other children with firearms.

13. Teen virginity pledges are effective in reducing the percentage of teens who have sex and in reducing the number of unwanted pregnancies among teenagers.

14. Unaware of how long they have to live and not knowing how chemotherapy will affect their lives, more than 20 percent of Medicare patients who have advanced cancer start a new chemotherapy regimen two weeks before they die.

15. Seamus Hogan of Rathkeale, County Limerick, Ireland claims that the tree stump with the image of the

Blessed Virgin Mary brings people of all ages, races, and religions together in prayer. Seamus adds that as far as he can tell it is doing no harm.26

16. When choosing colors for your favorite room, remem- ber that “the antidote to fog is color. . . . A warmer color temperature in a room is a really good approach, so you don’t feel like you’re living on a glacier.”27

17. Permanently restore your hair with Bosley.

18. Playing a musical instrument improves kids’ brains.28

19. Iraqi rights groups protest legislation, which would permit girls as young as nine to be married.

20. For-profit colleges blocked legislation that would have penalized colleges if their graduates are not able to find jobs that pay well enough to enable those gradu- ates to pay off student loans.

We have been learning about the importance of con- ducting our own independent investigations to see if we can confirm or disconfirm claims evoke strong emotional responses. But what about others, including our friends? How can we guide them to use their critical thinking skills to be less reactive and more reflective about the claims they encounter.

Independent Investigation and the Q-Ray Bracelet Case The case of the Q-Ray bracelet offers us an excellent example of the value of independent investigation into the veracity of the claims people make to promote prod- ucts and reap profits at the expense of gullible consum- ers. Perhaps you have seen the ads for the Q-Ray bracelet. Millions of Q-Ray bracelets have been marketed and sold, at prices ranging from $50.00 to $250.00, to people seeking relief from chronic pain caused by a variety of illnesses and medical conditions, including pain from chemother- apy. Its inventor, an infomercial entrepreneur, formed a company, QT Inc., to manufacture and sell the Q-Ray bracelets. Initially, the bracelets had been described as having been made from special metals that offer natural and effective pain relief. The fundamental claim made in the promotional infomercials and on the Q-Ray Web site between the years 2000 and 2003 was that an “acti- vated” Q-Ray bracelet relieves pain. Whether or not the Q-Ray works or not turned out to be a multimillion-dollar question because of lawsuits charging that the product was ineffective. In 2002, the Mayo Clinic conducted an independent investigation into the effectiveness of the “ionized” Q-Ray bracelet as to whether it did or did not relieve pain.29

The independent Mayo Clinic researchers set up a clinical trial like the ones used to test the effectiveness of pharmaceuticals and medical devices. Subjects (peo- ple with chronic pain) were randomly assigned to two

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different groups. The first group of subjects was given authentic activated Q-Ray bracelets to wear. The other group was given non-active replicas of Q-Ray bracelets to wear. At the end of the trial, 75 percent of the people in the first group reported experiencing pain relief. None of the subjects knew whether he or she had an “activated” or “non-active” bracelet.

What do you suppose was the percentage of people in the group with the non-active replicas that reported expe- riencing pain relief? It turned out to be the same: 75 per- cent! This investigation established that the Q-Ray bracelet has a placebo effect only. It is the equivalent of taking a sugar pill instead of taking medication that has been dem- onstrated to be effective. Based on the research at the Mayo Clinic, the judge dealing with the lawsuits ruled that the

Q-Ray promoters were guilty of false advertising.30 Did this put an end to the sale of Q-Ray bracelets? Hardly. To see for yourself what new claims are being made search “Q-Ray Wellness Bracelet.”

Why use metal when rubber bands are cheaper? Remember “Power Bracelets?” On November 21, 2011 the company that produced athletic power bracelets filed for bankruptcy. The founders admitted that claims that the rubber wristbands improved flexibility, balance, and strength were unsubstantiated. The bankruptcy meant that celebrities, like LA Laker star Kobe Bryant who had $400,000 endorsement deal, would not be paid their fees. Customers could apply for refunds. Good luck with that. Our question is not “What went wrong?” but instead, “How could we be so gullible?” Really, a rubber band on the wrist is the secret to athletic success! What about human decision making that enables such obvious non- sense to separate people from their hard earned money so easily?31

Suspending Judgment Judgments in contexts of uncertainty are unavoidable, given the human condition. The critical thinking habit of judiciousness disposes us toward prudence and caution when deciding what to believe or what to do. Our healthy sense of skepticism tells us that if we can neither confirm nor disconfirm a claim through independent investigation, then the wisest course would be to suspend judgment with regard to that claim. The best judgment about the plausi- bility or implausibility of some claims may be to make no judgment at all.

Summing up this chapter, strong critical thinkers with a healthy sense of skepticism have three options when presented with a claim absent any reasons. One is to evaluate the credibility of the per- son or source of the claim. Is the person an expert whom we can trust? We established a dozen considerations to guide us when considering the credibility of the person or source of the claim. Or, second, we can examine the claim itself, interrogating its plausibility by inquiring into the context within which the claim is positioned and

the possible ulterior motives behind the use of the claim. The second option can present difficulties because so much is unknown and because “common sense,” “every- one agrees,” and “feels right” are notoriously unreliable guides. The third option, which is often the best option, is to investigate the claim independently, seeing if we can lend it some plausibility by confirming it, or seeing if we can establish that it is very likely untrue by discon- firming it.

Key Concepts expert refers to someone who is both experienced and learned in a given subject matter area or professional prac- tice field.

trusted source on topic X is a person (or the words of a person) who is learned in X, experienced in X, speaking about X, up-to-date about X, capable of explaining the

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basis for their claim or their advice about X, unbiased, truthful, free of conflicts of interest, acting in accord with our interests, unconstrained, informed about the specifics of the case at hand, and mentally stable.

self-contradictory statement is a sentence that is false entirely because of the grammatical construction and the meanings of the words used to form the sentence.

tautology is a statement that is necessarily true because of the meanings of the words.

Applications Reflective Log Your favorite nutritional supplement32 The ads and testimonials for nutritional supplements are among the most effective marketing tools ever, as is supported by the unprecedented growth in the sales of energy drinks, dietary supplements, vitamin beverages, and stimu- lants. Select for this exercise one of these products you are already purchasing for your own use or any product of this kind that interests you. Use information provided on the product label and from the product’s Web site as needed to respond to these questions in your log:

1. What claims are made about the benefits of the product?

2. What research is cited or what evidence is supplied to support the truth of these claims?

3. Who are the people who have provided testimonials in support of the product?

4. What level of expertise do these individuals have with regard to human nutrition?

5. Were any of these individuals paid to provide their endorsement?

6. What warnings, risks, or potentially harmful side ef- fects are presented?

7. What ingredients does the supplement contain?

8. Biologically and nutritionally, what does each ingredi- ent do? In other words, what is its function?

9. Is the supplement “specially formulated” in any way that is purported to enhance its efficacy?

10. Who are the target consumers of the supplement? Who should use it?

11. What have you been told about the supplement by friends, coaches, and salespeople?

12. Who produces/manufactures the supplement? What is that producer’s reputation?

13. Is the supplement approved as “safe and effective” by the federal Food and Drug Administration?

14. In terms of the nutritional benefits and risks, how does the supplement compare to the items on this list: orange juice, milk, coffee, standard multivitamin tab- lets, carrots, apples, broccoli, ordinary yogurt, cottage cheese, peanut butter, tuna fish, baked turkey breast, and wheat bread?

15. Reflect on your answers to questions #2–14 and then evaluate the claims you wrote down in #1. Are they true, plausible, implausible, or untrue, or should you suspend judgment about those claims?

Individual Exercises What’s wrong here? For each of the following, explain the mistake that makes it untrue.

1. A statement is a tautology if it is true.

2. A statement that is self-contradictory is seldom true.

3. We can tell if a claim is true or false by looking at what it means.

4. If a claim cannot be confirmed by an independent investigation, then it must be false.

5. If an independent investigation produces evidence that is consistent with a given claim, then the claim must be true.

6. Experts have the rightful authority to impose their beliefs on other people.

7. Relativism is the highest stage of cognitive develop- ment college students can achieve.

8. To doubt the truthfulness of a rightful authority means that a person is being disrespectful.

9. If a celebrity endorses a product, you can be sure that the product is of high quality.

10. If we do not believe that a claim is true, then we must believe that the claim is false.

11. No one can evaluate emotionally charged claims.

12. Critical thinking forces people to be cynical.

Your best and worst commercials: We see or hear dozens of ads and commercials each day on TV, on the radio, on Web pages, in the newspaper, on T-shirts, on billboards,

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etc. (Have you ever asked yourself why we pay for cloth- ing that sports a logo or promotes a brand name, instead of demanding that the corporation pay us to wear that clothing?) Mark the time. For the next 24 hours, keep track of the ads and commercials you see or hear. Focus on the ones you think are the very best and the ones that are the very worst. Keep two lists and refine the lists by crossing off and adding candidates as you hear or see another that is better or worse. After 24 hours, analyze your top three and your bottom three. What makes them the “best” and the “worst” in your mind? Were they funny, informative, creative, and effective in influencing you to want the prod- uct they were promoting? Or were they boring, stupid, confusing, and ineffective?

Selling risk with the Evening News: Watch the national news on CBS, NBC, or ABC. Focus on the commercials and make a list of each one and what it is advertising. In each case, the product can benefit people, and yet each comes with a measure of risk. The job of the commercial is to lead us to desire the product in spite of its inherent risks. When a commercial for a drug or medical device comes on, listen very carefully to the list of side effects and cautions. Write down as many as you can for each drug or medical device that is advertised. When a car commercial comes on, note what the manufacturer is using to sell the car (e.g., sex, power, prestige, popularity, comfort, fuel economy, safety, or resale value). When a banking or investment com- mercial comes on, record the disclaimers, cautions, and exceptions, like “not a guarantee,” “read the prospectus carefully before investing,” and “rates and conditions sub- ject to change without notice.” After the news broadcast is over, review your lists. Which of the commercials, in your judgment, was the most misleading with regard to the risks associated with the product? Why? Which company provided the least substantive guarantees with regards to the product’s expected benefits in its commercial? Explain your choices.

In whom do you trust? When you think about it, you have known a great many people now and throughout the years, such as family, friends, teachers, co-workers, and classmates. Identify two people you trust. Then review the list of 12 criteria of a credible and trustworthy source and see how many of them are fulfilled by each of the people on your list. Did either of those people do things or say things that lead you to evaluate them highly on one or more of the 12 criteria? Did either ever do anything that would disqualify them from being trusted by you because they missed on one or another of the 12 items? Next, think of two people you do not trust. Has either done something or said something relating to one or more of the 12 crite- ria that leads you to regard him or her as untrustworthy? What did he or she do and how did you connect that to being untrustworthy? Do you notice that it takes much effort to build trust and little effort to lose it?

Pacific Northwest tree octopus endangered! “The Pacific Northwest tree octopus (Octopus paxarbolis) can be found in the temperate rainforests of the Olympic Peninsula on the west coast of North America. Their habitat lies on the Eastern side of the Olympic mountain range, adjacent to Hood Canal. These solitary cephalopods reach an aver- age size (measured from arm-tip to mantle-tip,) of 12–13 in. (30–33 cm). Unlike most other cephalopods, tree octo- puses are amphibious, spending only their early life and the period of their mating season in their ancestral aquatic environment. Because of the moistness of the rainforests and specialized skin adaptations, they are able to keep from becoming desiccated for prolonged periods of time, but given the chance they would prefer resting in pooled water.” For remarkable pictures and background info on this problem search “Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus.” Seriously, why did the tree octopus problem cause such a stir among teachers?

Group Exercises Claims cost money and cause pain #1: Occasionally rep- utable sources present apparently divergent claims. But strong critical thinkers can still sort through the diver- gent claims and assess them by looking for the reasons and evidence upon which they are based. Many reputable

investigators have looked into the health claims for the dietary supplement ginkgo biloba. It is said to improve cognitive functioning, assist memory, and help focus atten- tion. Google “Ginkgo biloba health study” and review the research published in respected sources over the past

SHARED RESPONSE Two Better Than One? Evaluate the claim “It is better for children to be raised in a two-parent household.” Be sure to provide your reason(s), not just your opinion. And, comment respectfully on the reasons others offer.

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four years. Focus on Web sites that provide information to the educated public, but which are not simply promot- ing particular products or medical services. You will find some serious research studies, some excellent summaries of multiple studies, and some detailed criticisms about the methods or the analyses of other studies. As strong criti- cal thinkers, work through those reports and make a well- reasoned and thoughtful evaluation of the claim, “Ginkgo biloba supplements are beneficial for human cognitive functioning.”

Claims cost money and cause pain #2: Autism is a heart- breaking diagnosis and a growing medical problem. How do the 12 characteristics of a trustworthy source factor into a parent’s decision about seeking care for an autistic child? In its January 14–21, 2011 issue, the San Francisco Business Times ran a story, “In Autism’s Storm,” about a wealthy CEO and philanthropist, Zach Nelson, and his wife, who are advocates for families with autistic chil- dren. The Nelsons support the work of British physician, Andrew Wakefield, who claims, contrary to what many physicians and medical researchers believe, that autism originates from digestive problems and can be cured. Dr. Wakefield has written a book, Callous Disregard: Autism and Vaccines—The Truth Behind the Tragedy, and the Nelsons, along with filmmaker Elizabeth Horn, have produced a film, setup a Web site, and raised money in support of his work. Meanwhile, the British Medical Journal published an editorial denouncing Wakefield, and Wakefield has been stripped of his license to practice medicine by the British medical authorities. Search the article by its title and apply the 12 characteristics to evaluate the trustworthiness of claims made by the Nelsons, Ms. Horn, and Dr. Wakefield.

Claims cost money and cause pain #3: Dr. Mark Geier of Maryland developed a drug called Lupron for the treat- ment of autism and he is marketing the “Lupron Protocol” across the country by opening clinics in several states. Dr. Geier ’s theory is that autism is caused by a harm- ful link between testosterone and mercury, according to a story that appeared in the Los Angeles Times on May 24, 2009. Leading pediatric endocrinologists say that the Lupron Protocol is baseless. Experts warn that the proto- col can have harmful effects on young children, “disrupt

normal development, interfering with natural puberty and potentially putting children’s hearts and bones at risk.” But the protocol is FDA approved, albeit for the treatment of an extremely rare condition that has little if anything to do with autism. Like Dr. Wakefield, defend- ers of Dr. Geier claim that mainstream medicine condemns his work because he has been vocal about his criticism of “pediatricians, health officials, and drug companies” for “covering up the link between vaccines and autism.” What is a desperate parent to do? Who should a parent believe? How can parents who love their autistic child and want only the best, decide whether or not to try the Lupron Protocol? Research the Lupron Protocol and Dr. Geier on the Internet, and apply the 12 characteristics of a trustwor- thy source to Dr. Geier’s claims.

The most popular holiday on campus: Suppose you see a claim in the campus paper, published on February 10 that says “Valentine’s Day is the most popular holiday on this campus.” Develop a strategy by which you can determine which holiday is the most popular among the students enrolled in your university or college. Write up your recommended procedure in draft form. Work with up to two other students to combine the best ideas from your approach and their approaches. Then, develop a final recommendation for how to conduct the investigation. The critical thinking involved in this strategy includes the question, “What sorts of evidence should we be able to find if we assume that the claim is true?” And our answer to that question in the Mother’s Day example was evidence about cards, flowers, phone calls, etc., which would reflect that if people valued this holiday, they would show that in their behavior. The strategy is a good one if cards, flowers, phone calls, etc., are part of other holidays too. As you dis- covered in doing the exercise, another aspect of attempt- ing to confirm or disconfirm a claim is to be sure exactly what the claim means. Interpreting the expression “most popular” required finding a way to measure popularity. Interpreting “holiday on this campus” required coming up with a list of holidays, some of which might have been unique to your specific campus (e.g., a “Founders Day” holiday or a religious holiday not celebrated at other col- leges or universities).

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Learning Outcomes

7.1 Explain the four presumptions about argument making we all rely upon when offering one another reasons to support our claims.

7.2 Evaluate the worthiness of arguments by applying the four tests: Truthfulness of the

Premises, Logical Strength, Relevance, and Non-Circularity.

7.3 Recognize common reasoning mistakes known as fallacies of relevance.

Chapter 7

Evaluate Arguments: Four Basic Tests

WHAT presumptions are we making when we offer one another reasons to support our claims?

WHAT four tests must an argument pass to be worthy of acceptance?

HOW can we recognize common reasoning mistakes more readily?

Every worthwhile activity has its own standards for success. What makes an argument successful?

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“I don’t get why you want to quit,” said Malcolm. “You came here to play volleyball. Volleyball is all you ever want to talk about! Now suddenly you want to quit?”

Caitlin looked at Malcolm. He couldn’t possibly be this dense. “Look, I explained it all to you already.”

“You said that you didn’t like Coach Williams. So what? She’s your head coach. Nobody likes a head coach. I don’t like the marching band director, but you don’t see me quitting the band,” said Malcolm.

“Coach was screaming at everyone again. She’s so negative, always screaming at the players, and that doesn’t motivate me to try harder. I just hate all her yelling! Anyway, it’s the setter, Jenny; she kept putting the ball too far from the net. It messes up everybody. But coach kept yelling at the rest of us, when it was all Jenny’s fault.”

“So,” said Malcolm, “you’re quitting because the coach yells at you? Williams has been a screamer since she took over as head coach two seasons ago. Her yelling never bothered you before. Or is it something else?”

“Yes! No. I don’t know,” replied Caitlin in exaspera- tion. “Who cares? It’s not like I have a future in volleyball after college.”

“What does that have to do with anything? You knew a spot on the Olympic team or the AVP beach volleyball pro tour was like a near-impossible long shot before you came here. And another thing: Don’t tell me you don’t get moti- vated when the coach is fired up. I’ve seen you in games. You’re angry because you know you can play Jenny’s posi- tion better than she can. But the coach doesn’t let you. So, you’re pissed at the coach. It’s not about the yelling.”

“You’re right. Jenny’s terrible. I don’t understand how she ever made the team.”

“But, Caitlin, nobody can spike and defend at the net like you. Coach knows that, and so does everyone else on the team. So, you’re going to play the front line. Which is great. I’ll bet that Jenny wishes she could play where you play.”

“Well, I don’t care about any of that anymore. I’m quitting and therefore I’m quitting. End of story. Let’s talk about something else. . . . Tell me how your marching band practice was today.”

“Fine, I hear you. You’re going to quit. And, yes, we can change the subject. But let me just say for the record that I still don’t think you’re really being honest about why you’re leaving the team and the sport you love. And just saying over and over again that you plan to quit does not explain why you plan to quit.”

In the scene that just played out, Caitlin explains her decision to quit the college volleyball team. Her stated reason is that she is not motivated to play harder by the coach’s constant criticism. Ergo, she’s going to quit the team. That may be a reasonably logical argument, if we also assume that Caitlin is the kind of athlete who does

not respond well to that coaching style. But her friend Malcolm knows better. He does not accept her argument because he has seen her respond positively to the coach’s style in game situations. The truth is that Caitlin does get motivated to play harder when the coach is fired up. Although Malcolm does not make the point, we might observe that the word yelling is negatively slanted. It fits Caitlin’s current negative attitude toward the coach. But “yelling” is probably not the best word to use when talk- ing about those times when the coach is successful in motivating Caitlin.

Caitlin offers another argument, saying that she has no future in volleyball. Malcolm points out the irrelevance of that consideration, and then he suggests that her real rea- son for being upset with her coach has to do with which position she wants to play. Caitlin ends the conversation about volleyball with a definitive and somewhat defensive, “I’m quitting and so I’m quitting.” Malcolm makes it clear that her final statement forcefully affirms her intention, but it is not an acceptable answer to the question “Why?”

Throughout their conversation Malcolm has been evaluating his friend Caitlin’s arguments. This chapter focuses on building argument evaluation skills. It presents a comprehensive and straightforward evaluative process that we can apply in everyday situations, much in the way that Malcolm did in the opening conversation with Caitlin. The process includes four specific tests. An argument must pass all four tests to be considered worthy of acceptance as proof that its conclusion is true or very probably true. Each of these four criteria is rooted in the natural and universal human practice of making arguments and giving reasons. Because critical thinking requires skill at evaluating argu- ments in real-life contexts, we begin with the expectations and responsibilities associated with giving reasons and making arguments.

7.1 Giving Reasons and Making Arguments

The dynamic conversational practice of explaining to one another the reasons for our claims—that is of making arguments—is part of every human civilization and cul- ture. Every natural human language includes terminol- ogy and social conventions for making arguments as well as for evaluating them. But argument making is sensible only because of a set of presumptions we all implicitly rely upon to engage in this practice successfully. These presumptions are operative wherever and whenever peo- ple engage in a sincere effort to make arguments to one another regarding a decision about something of serious mutual concern. These presumptions form the basis for the expectations the listener has—and the responsibilities

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the argument maker has—when offering reasons to explain why the argument’s claim is worthy of acceptance as true or very probably true.

Truthfulness The practice of argument making rests in part on the presumption upon which so much of human discourse depends, namely that the speaker is telling the truth. In other words, when making arguments we expect that the statements offered as part of any reason are, in fact, true. As a rule, people collaborating with one another to think something through do not intentionally use erroneous information or lie to one another. If a disagreement about the truth of any statement that is part of a reason should arise, then the people involved have two options. They can make an effort to find out if that statement is true, or they can qualify the force with which they assert and maintain any claims in the line of reasoning that relies on that state- ment. Of course, people do lie on occasion. And so this presumption often goes unfulfilled.

In Chapter 5 we used the familiar term premise to refer to a statement, either explicit or implicit, that is a compo- nent of a reason. Another way to express the truthfulness presumption is like this: In a conversation that involves making arguments, we expect that all the premises offered are in fact true.1

The assumption that premises are true provides a reasonable basis for moving to consider whether those premises imply that the conclusion is true or very prob- ably true. But without first really considering the truth- fulness of the premises, it becomes only a conceptual exercise, rather than a matter of practical significance, to consider the argument’s logical strength. Here are two arguments with true premises.

Chicago is north of St. Louis. St. Louis is north of New Orleans. Therefore, Chicago is north of New Orleans.

There are 325 children registered in grades 1 through 6 at the Carver Elementary School. We have tested 40 percent of these children for reading skills. We also have taken a number of physiological measurements of each of those same children. Our data show that there is a strong positive statistical correlation be- tween the size of a child’s feet and the child’s reading skill level.

Not sure if the premises in the first example are true? No problem. We can check a map or pull up Google Earth and find the relative position of the three cities mentioned. Regarding the second example, one obvious question is whether the measurements mentioned in the third sentence included foot size. If not, we may want to call into question the truthfulness of what the speaker is saying. If the speaker does not have any information about the children’s foot sizes, then the speaker’s argu- ment falls apart.

Logical Strength Consider the following example. In this case, were we to take the premises to be true, then its conclusion would have to be taken as true as well.

We have been keeping track of how often the weekday 6:56 am Caltrain from San Francisco arrives late at the Millbrae station. We conducted three 6-week surveys over the past 12 months. In each survey the week- day train arrived at the Millbrae station late 24 out of 30 times. Therefore, there is an 80 percent probability that the weekday 6:56 am Caltrain will arrive late at the Millbrae station.

In this next example let’s assume that what the speaker is saying about John is true and let’s assume that we agree with the speaker about the pattern of behavior that is the precursor to a breakup. If so, then it seems reasonable to conclude that the relationship with John will not endure.

Physical development and reading level—how are they related?

All of us make arguments when explaining the reasons for our decisions or beliefs.

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This is not the first time someone has broken up with me. I recognize the pattern. First the person is too busy to do things together. Then the person doesn’t return texts or phone calls. Then the person “forgets” that we had plans. And then comes the “we can still be friends” conversation. John has progressed to the “too busy” phase. As much as I don’t want to believe it, my rela- tionship with John is probably heading for a break up.

Assume, for this next example, that there was a comet one night and that the next day the king took ill. So the premises are true. But the reasoning is an unacceptable leap from those observations to a claimed causal relation- ship. The premises of this argument do not logically justify accepting conclusion as true.

I saw a strange light streak across the midnight sky last night. And, look, this morning the king became deathly ill. This can only mean that the strange light in the night sky caused our king’s sickness.

When someone offers an argument, the speaker ’s reason is supposed to be the logical basis for the speak- er ’s claim. The point of giving reasons for our claims is that the reasons support the claims. The second

presupposition of the practice of argument making is that the speaker ’s reason, if true, is the logical basis for the speaker ’s claim. Notice that this is hypotheti- cal. Were we to assume that the reason a person gives for his or her claim is true, that assumption would then imply that the person’s claim is probably or necessarily true as well. In the language of logic, this presupposition is expressed this way: The assumed truth of the premises of an argument justifies or implies that the conclusion of the argument also be taken as true.

Most people would sooner die than think; in fact, they do so.

Bertrand Russell, Author, Mathematician, & Philosopher2

Relevance It happens that a conclusion might be true independent of whether the premises are true or whether the premises logically support the conclusion; because this is so, when we make arguments we also presume that the truth of the reason is relevant to the claim. This presumption might be called the “So What?” presumption. Consider this

THINKING CRITICALLY It’s All Thanks to the Ionians! Where did our persistent practice of trying to resolve problems by making arguments and giving reasons originate? Today the practical “pro-and-con” approach is applied to problems of every kind by people throughout the globe. Human beings have tried other ways of deciding what to believe during the long history of civilization, like accepting as true whatever the king, high priest, or soothsayer declared. Today in many places around the world people are less inclined to accept an authority figure’s declarations on blind faith. The public give-and-take of mak- ing arguments and offering reasons to try to solve practical problems, while not unknown in more ancient times, is a three-thousand- year-old cultural legacy of the Ionians. Locate and watch the fascinating video “The Way We Are,” for an entertaining historical account of the rise and the impact of this approach to resolving practical problems. Search for epi- sode 1 of the series The Day the Universe Changed hosted by James Burke.

Questions: How would we decide, individually or as a community, what to believe or what to do if we did not have the practice of reason giving and argument making? Would we go

back to the servile trust of our rulers? Or would we perhaps try to invent some other method for discovering truth? And, now, in the twenty-first century, given all that we know about using science to understand, explain, predict and control so many things, why do so many of us still rely on non-scientific or even anti-scientific sources for our beliefs?

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establish the acceptability of the claim. But we do not use the claim to explain the reason. We use the premises of the argument to support the conclu- sion, not the conclusion to support the premises. In other words, there is directionality to argument making. The flow of reasoning is from rea- son toward claim, not the other way around. All the examples of mapped arguments in Chapter 5 show this,

because in mapping arguments we used the arrow con- vention to display the intended directionality of the argu- ment maker’s reasoning.

In the Dilbert’s cartoon strip the boss criticizes Dilbert’s presentation for being full of technical words and way too long. We naturally think that the boss came to those conclusions about the presentation by having seen it and evaluated it. But no. The boss then turns around and uses those same two claims as his reasons for not seeing or evaluating the presentation. It makes no sense to give a reason as the basis for one’s claim and then to use that claim as the basis for one’s reason. In a comic strip, circular reasoning is funny, and in real life it can be infuriating.

7.2 The Four Tests for Evaluating Arguments

The four presumptions about argument making as an interpersonal human activity form the bases for the four evaluative criteria applicable to all arguments. In other words, it would be reasonable to accept a person’s argu- ment if it met all four of the conditions implied by those presumptions. Given a reason offered in support of a claim, these are the four conditions that must be met:

1. To the best of our knowledge and understanding, the reason is true.

2. The logical relationship between the reason and claim is such that the reason implies, entails, strongly warrants or strongly supports the claim, such that the claim must be true or very probably true if the reason is as- sumed to be true.

3. The relevance of the reason to the claim is such that the truth of the claim actually depends on the truth of the reason.

4. The f low of the reasoning is such that truth of reason must not depend on the truth of the claim.

An argument that satisfies all four conditions is wor- thy of our acceptance as a proof that its claim is true or very probably true. We will apply the adjectives good and

example, where the premises are true and the conclusion is true, but the reason is not relevant to the claim.

To many around the world, the Statue of Liberty sym- bolizes the welcome our nation extends to all freedom- loving people. So, as the great Yogi Berra says, “You can observe a lot just by watching.”

This argument is so odd that it would get a squawk out of the Aflac duck. The reason given has no relevance to the truth of the claim. Their only connection is that Yogi Berra happened to have been a player for the New York Yankees, and the Statue of Liberty happens to be in New York. That happenstance is not sufficient to say that the one is relevant to the other. If anyone were to seriously present this rea- son as the basis for the truth of the conclusion we would say, “So what? That’s not relevant!” And this reveals our third presupposition: the listener takes the reason given by the speaker to be relevant in believing the speaker’s claim.

There is no point to giving reasons if the listener is not going to rely on those reasons in deciding what to believe with regard to the claim. Recall that in our opening example, Caitlin changed her story about why she wanted to quit the volleyball team. At first she talked about how the coach’s yelling and berating players was her issue. But then she gave a different reason, saying that she was going to quit because she did not anticipate a future as a professional volleyball player. Malcolm challenged her on that, noting that it was not even relevant, in his view. A future in professional volleyball was never her reason for joining the college team, and the absence of that opportu- nity is not relevant to why Caitlin now wants to quit the team. Everyone, including Caitlin, may believe that Caitlin wants to quit the volleyball team. But nobody, not even Caitlin, believes that whether or not she has a future in professional volleyball has anything to do with her want- ing to quit at this point in time.

Non-Circularity Our fourth precondition when we give reasons for our claims is that the claim must not be part of the basis for believ- ing in the truth of the reason. Argument making in real life is essentially a one-way street: The reasons are used to

Anyone ever say something circular like this to you at school, home, or work?

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I only drink beer.

Someone who only drinks beer cannot be an alcoholic.

I’ve never been drunk in my life.

A person who has never been drunk cannot be an alcoholic.

I’m not an alcoholic.

worthy to those arguments. A good argument or a worthy argument is an argument that merits being accepted as a proof that its conclusion is true or very probably true. The four conditions listed to define four tests to apply when evaluating arguments are to be applied in the order given. As soon as an argument fails to meet one of the four, it is no longer eligible to be considered a good or worthy argument. Let’s see how to apply each of these four to determine whether or not an argument is worthy of acceptance.

Test #1: Truthfulness of the Premises In everyday situations, the truth or falsity of premises is our first concern. If one or more of the premises of an argu- ment is not true, then, for all practical purposes, there is little point in moving forward to evaluate other aspects of the argument. Our first job is to get our information straight. The critical thinking habits of truth-seeking and inquisitiveness demand that we cou- rageously endeavor to learn what we can before mov- ing forward with claims and arguments based on incomplete knowledge.

The Test of the Truth- fulness of the Premises is a favorite in police dra- mas. We have all seen the scene in which detectives interrogate someone who gives a lame alibi like this one: “My friends and I were at a movie the night the crime took place.” The detectives check the story and discover it is a lie. Having

exposed his lack of truthfulness, the detectives no longer accept the person’s alibi and may even make the liar their prime suspect.

Test #2: Logical Strength One practical way to apply the Test for Logical Strength is to challenge yourself to imagine a situation, if possible, in which all the premises of an argument are true, but the con- clusion is false. If there is no possible scenario in which all the premises of an argument can be true while at the same time its conclusion is false, or if such a scenario is extremely improbable, then the argument passes the Test of Logical Strength.3 However, to the extent that such a scenario is possible, plausible, likely, or actually true, the argument fails this test.4 If there is a possible scenario, but it is remote and implausible, perhaps as unlikely as 1 chance in 20 or 1 chance in a 1,000, then we can maintain a comparable degree of confidence in the argument’s logical strength. Logicians call an argument with true premises that has also passed the Test of Logical Strength a sound argument.5 Sound is used here in the sense of “healthy,” meaning that such an argument ordinarily is rather robust and deserves our attention as we deliberate what to do or what to believe.

What if there is more than one independent reason given to support a claim? Does discovering that one reason has a false premise make the claim unacceptable? Consider this example; here a claim is supported by two reasons, which the speaker wants the listener to take as indepen- dent considerations.

“I’m not an alcoholic. First of all, I only drink beer. And, second, I’ve never been drunk in my life.”

Map #1 shows the two reasons as independently sup- porting the claim.

Suppose we discover that the speaker is telling the truth when he says that he only drinks beer. However, the implicit but unspoken premise (“Someone who only drinks beer

Map 1

Like a commuter train moving only in one direction and stopping at each local station along the track, the four tests must be applied in a specific order.

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cannot be an alcoholic”) is false. So, the first argument fails the Test of the Truthfulness of the Premises. Suppose we then discover that the speaker is also being truthful when he says that he has never been drunk in his life. This, along with the generally accepted truth of the implicit, but unspoken, prem- ise “A person who has never been drunk cannot be an alco- holic,” indicates that his second argument passes the Test of Truthfulness of the Premises.

The Test of Logical Strength comes next, and the sec- ond argument also passes that test. It is difficult to imag- ine a case where a person who has never been drunk is an alcoholic, although it is not impossible to imagine such a case. So, it would seem reasonable to accept that our speaker is not an alcoholic, even though one of his reasons (that he only drinks beer) was poor. His second argument, based on the other reason (he has never been drunk in his life), which is independent of the first, was sound.

People often provide multiple independent reasons for a given claim and some of those reasons may turn out to be false. One may be inclined to dismiss the claim itself, having heard the speaker present one unsound argument.

Dismissing an otherwise-worthy claim simply because one or more of the arguments made on its behalf contains false reasons is one of the most common human reasoning errors. Before determining that a claim should be rejected, a strong critical thinker would first need to find problems with the soundness of all the arguments being advanced.

Because there are so many important varieties of argu- ments, which require special attention when testing for logi- cal strength, we will suspend this discussion at this point but return to it again in the coming chapters. We will devote Chapters 8 and 9 to the evaluation of inferences. And then later we will look more closely at inferences based on pat- tern recognition, ideological reasoning, and empirical rea- soning. For the moment, let’s complete our review of the four basic tests of an argument’s worthiness to be accepted.

Test #3: Relevance The Test of Relevance requires making a reasoned judg- ment that the truth of the conclusion depends upon the truth of the reason given. If an argument passes the first two

THINKING CRITICALLY Logical Strength and The Name of the Rose Consider an example from Umberto Eco’s renowned play The Name of the Rose. The feature film by the same name stars Sean Connery, Christian Slater, and F. Murray Abraham. Early in the story the abbot in charge of a fourteenth-century monastery comes to a visiting Franciscan scholar-detective, played by Sean Connery, to explain why he believes that a recent death was caused by the devil. The abbot’s attribution of the cause of death to a supernatural intervention occurs about 9 minutes and 15 seconds into the film version.

Using your critical thinking problem solving skills, Google search and locate the play or the video, find the relevant scene, and then consider carefully the abbot’s argument. The abbot begins by describing how the monks were shocked and terrified when they discovered the body of their dead brother after a violent hailstorm. The abbot’s argument is only a few lines. Transcribe it so that you can have the language in front of you. Map it and then evaluate it for logical strength by asking yourself if you can think of how the monk might have died other than at the hand of the devil given what little other information you have at that point in the story. Is there a set of circumstances such that all the premises of the abbot’s argument could remain true but the claim still be false? How plausible or implausible are those circumstances? For example, if someone were to answer, “Yes, an alien from another galaxy could have transported into the closed room and killed the monk,” we probably would regard that as highly implausible.

As you watch the film, new information is presented. But the key piece of information is supplied visually, not verbally.

The director gives us a shot looking up a steep ravine at the monastery, which wraps around the crest of the hills above the ravine. There appear to be two towers. Sean Connery’s character and the viewer can use that information to show the logical flaw in the abbot’s argument about the death being caused by the devil. Connery as he completes his alternative explanation to his young apprentice, played by Christian Slater, says that there’s no need of the devil to explain this death. The death was from far more natural causes. Go 6 minutes and 29 seconds further into the movie and view this short scene. Transcribe Connery’s alternative explanation. Map his argument and evaluate it for logical strength.

What is Connery’s argument for the claim that there is no need for the devil?

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tests, then The Test of Relevance is the next one to apply. Recall that the presumption we are seeking to fulfill is that the author’s reason is, in fact, the basis for believing the claim. And the listener must judge if accepting the claim as true depends on support derived from that reason. For example, the following example passes the Test of Relevance.

A study from the Harvard Center of Risk Analysis estimates that cell phone use while driving contributes to 6 percent of crashes, which equates to 636,000 crashes, 330,000 injuries, 12,000 serious injuries, and 2,600 deaths each year. The study also put the annual financial toll of cell phone– related crashes at $43 billion. The research investigated whether or not a hands-free device was less dangerous. The statistical evidence suggests not. It appears from the data that the fact that the driver was distracted by the conversation was a greater factor than was the type of cell phone technology, hands-free or not, that was being used. The researchers concluded that using cell phone technol- ogy of any kind while driving was associated with a greater risk of automobile accidents.6

By contrast, the next argument fails the Test of Relevance.

Yeah, I’m looking forward to visiting Italy, you know, Old Europe. Why is too obvious. See, I’ve been work- ing part-time at the Golden Gate Park in San Francisco. It’s incredible there. Beautiful, open, free. There’s this one garden there that kind of reminds me of pictures I’ve seen of Italy. I love being outside in the spring, the flowers and the fresh air, the smell of fresh-cut grass. And all that makes me think how great it would be to just live slow and relaxed, like they do in Europe, tak- ing life as it comes. You know what I mean?

That the research on car accidents and cell phone usage is relevant to the conclusion in the first example is obvious in the first example. The connection between visit- ing Italy and working part-time in Golden Gate Park in the second example seems to be tenuous at best, more based on the person’s free association of ideas than on any actual evidence. Even if the speaker imagines a connection, the listener can judge that the reason given, even if true, is not a basis for believing that the speaker wants to visit Italy. In fact, if the speaker had simply said, “I want to visit Italy,” that might have been more credible than his having come up with the far-fetched and irrelevant dissertation about the glories of a part-time job in a city park—even if it is one of the greatest public parks in this nation.

Applying the Test of Relevance is substantially easier for people with knowledge and experience appropriate to the context and issues under discussion. For example, U.S. laws prohibiting using gender as the basis for workplace promotions express American society’s judgment that a per- son’s gender is not a relevant consideration when deciding whether the person merits a promotion. In another country with a different set of cultural mores, gender-based promo- tion decisions might be considered both legal and reason- able. The Test of Relevance is important because people often make the argument that they should be excused from

Is it reasonable or ethical for another driver to expose you to greater risk just so he or she can text a friend?

So, how does a person connect San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park with a trip to the Botoli Garden in Florence, Italy? Find out about the influence that unreflective associational thinking has on human decision making in Chapter 10.

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responsibility for certain actions. However, as a people, having heard these arguments before, we have come to the judgment that certain reasons are not going to be accepted as relevant. For example:

Claiming that one was following the direct orders of one’s superior is not a relevant defense against charges of war crimes.

Claiming that one’s judgment was impaired by drugs or alcohol is not a relevant defense against charges of vehicular manslaughter resulting from driving while under the influence.

Claiming that one must protect his or her GPA because one plans to become a doctor is not a relevant defense against charges of academic dishonesty in any course, including general education elective courses.

Test #4: Non-Circularity The fourth and final test of an argument’s acceptability is the Test of Non-Circularity. This test requires that a claim is not being relied upon either implicitly or explicitly as part of a chain of reasoning used to support its own rea- son. If such a chain looping back on itself is found, then the argument maker is reasoning in a circle. An argument is like a river that flows in one direction, from reasons and

evidence toward the conclusion. A river cannot feed itself and still be described as a river; rather, it becomes a stag- nant moat. So it is with good arguments: Claims cannot be the bases for their own reasons. If they were, then the rea- soning would simply be stagnant and self-justifying in the most unflattering sense.

The final argument Caitlin made about quitting the volleyball team was “I’m quitting and therefore I’m quit- ting.” Here the circle is so tight that the reason and the

THINKING CRITICALLY Pythagoras and the Shape of Immortal Perfection Pythagoras, the controversial Greek metaphysician (570 to ca. 490 BCE) and his followers, the Pythagoreans, have had a sig- nificant influence on Western thinking. They were among the first to suggest that human beings possessed immortal souls, that the heavens moved with harmonious mathematical pre- cision, and that unchanging stability was a characteristic of divine perfection. The Pythagoreans took a special interest in mathematical relationships (e.g., the Pythagorean Theorem) and often attributed moral characteristics to them. They noted that certain two-dimensional shapes could be converted into three-dimensional solids: a circle into a sphere, a triangle with three equal sides into a three-sided pyramid, a square into a box. Noting these relationships, the Pythagoreans considered the circle, triangle, and square to be “Perfect” shapes. And, because perfection was evident in the universe, it made sense to them to infer that the only possible source of such perfec- tion had to be divine. Hence what Carl Sagan called the “God- Hypothesis” in the first episode of the original 1980 Cosmos series. Today we might take issue with a leap from geometric observations to theology. We would question the relevance of the one to the other. Likewise, we might question the leap from “unchanging” to “incorruptible” to “immortal” and on to

“perfect.” We would perhaps challenge an unspoken assump- tion by asking, “Why would the attribute of being unchanging be considered relevant to the concept of perfection?” What do you think? Might there be reason to think that adaptability is a superior quality?

For more on this extremely influential and fascinating, even if illogical, progression of ideas from geometric shapes to divine perfection, search, locate and watch the episode 1 of the original 1980 Cosmos where Carl Sagan is talking about the influence of the ancient Greek philosophers on modern thinking. (The 2014 Neil deGrasse Tyson FOX Network remake of Cosmos is terrific too. We reference it in other chapters.)

Circular reasoning, like a noxious moat around a castle, is stagnant thinking.

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claim are identical. The map of her circular argument would look something like Map 2.

We can interpret this way of speaking as a way of emphasizing one’s claim, but not as a way of proving one’s claim. It is like saying “I’m quitting” real loud. But volume is not proof.

Reasoning in a circle results most frequently from the use of multiple arguments in combination with each other. At times people lose track of the reasons for their beliefs, forgetting, for example, that their basis for believ- ing one idea, X, was because they accepted another idea, Y, and that their reason for accepting Y had been their belief in X. The result is that the person has high con- fidence, although misplaced, in both ideas. However, because their support for X is Y and their support for Y is X, the reasonable thing would be to have no confidence in either. For example, consider the pair of arguments in this passage:

I’m sure we can make this marriage work. That’s why we’re talking through our problems, which shows that we still care for each other. And that’s why I’m sure we can make this marriage work.

The speaker’s reason for the claim that the marriage is salvageable is the belief that both parties still care for each other. And the basis for believing that goes back to the idea that the marriage can be saved. If we were to map

these arguments, it would look like Map 3. This reasoning is as fragile as a house of cards; touch it in the least with an analytical finger and it collapses upon itself.

Argument Making Contexts There is nothing about argument making that demands that the format be a debate. There is nothing about argument making that requires that it be an adver- sarial confrontation either. In fact, it does a great dis- service to decision making and collaborative effort to imagine the process must be oppositional or confronta- tional. In an adversarial context, it is too easy to forgo truth-seeking in the false belief that argument making is simply the search for facts that support one’s preconcep- tions. Too often, the courageous desire for best knowl- edge is trumped by the competitive need to vanquish the opposition. In that case, the honest pursuit of reasons and evidence, wherever they may lead, even if the rea- sons and evidence go against one’s preconceptions or interests, is abandoned because intellectual honesty and integrity are not always suitable virtues for warriors who must bring home the victory for their side. Just like win- ning a legal action does not guarantee that justice has been done, winning an argument does not guarantee that we have made the best decision or that we have dis- covered the truth. Taking a page from the best practices of scientists and criminal investigators, optimal decision

I’m quitting I’m quitting

Map 2 Map 3

We can make this marriage work.

We’re talking through our problems.

We still care for each other.

Four Tests of an Argument’s Worthiness

Test Name Order of Application Test Condition

Test of Truthfulness of the Premises First The reason is true in each of its premises, explicit and implicit.

Test of Logical Strength Second If the reason were true, it would imply, entail, strongly warrant, or strongly support the conclusion making the conclusion (claim) true or very probably true.

Test of Relevance Third The truth of the claim depends on the truth of the reason.

Test of Non-Circularity Fourth The truth of the reason does not depend on the truth of the claim.

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making and problem solving are more likely to occur when we are fully invested, focused, and yet objective about our argument making.

Good arguments—subtle and yet effective as solid proofs that their claims are worthy of being accepted as true—can be expressed in so many ways that listing them all may be impossible. In natural language contexts argument making can take the form of a personable and convivial conversation between friends as they explore options and consider ideas. Good argument making can occur in front of juries and judges in the push and pull of a legal dispute. Managers seeking budget approvals present arguments for more funding. Fundraisers seek- ing donations offer reasons that tug at our minds and our hearts for why we should contribute to their chari- ties. Researchers present complex and detailed argu- ments when reporting their findings in professional journals. Good argument making can be embedded in warnings, ironic commentary, allegorical dramas, one- line counterexamples, recommendations, policy state- ment preambles, public addresses, conversations, group meetings, negotiations, comic monologues, serious pro- and-con debates, meandering reflections, and even the lyrics of songs.7

The vocabulary we use to evaluate arguments must be as flexible as our understanding of the wide variety of contexts within which argument making can be found. A conversation with a colleague about an impending deci- sion can be helpful, even if we would not think about calling it valid, or persuasive. Natural language offers such richness in its evaluative repertoire that it seems wise, at least at this early point, not to close our options by prematurely stipulating a set of evaluative categories. Thus, with the understanding that the terms listed in the table “Evaluative Adjectives for Arguments and Their Elements” are not meant to be interpreted rigidly or in some special technical way, let us simply go forward with our evaluation of arguments using common language. The table offers suggestions regarding the range of evaluative adjectives that might reasonably be applied when evaluat- ing the different elements of major concern, data, warrants, claims, and arguments.

7.3 Common Reasoning Errors

Humans learn from their mistakes. We can capitalize on that truism to strengthen our skill in evaluating arguments by studying those errors of reasoning that have over the centuries earned themselves a reputation as alluringly deceptive and misleading. As a group they are called “fal- lacies.” Fallacies are deceptive arguments that appear logi- cal and seem at times to be persuasive, but, upon closer analysis, fail to demonstrate their conclusions. Many types of fallacies have their own name, as we shall see.

Learning to recognize common fallacies and learning how to explain in ordinary, non-technical terms the mis- taken reasoning they contain is a great aid to evaluating arguments. The seven fallacies of relevance described in this chapter are types of arguments that will fail the Test of Relevance. In Chapters 8 and 9, to help with the appli- cation of the Test of Logical Strength, we will expand the list of fallacies to include several more.8 Skill in recogniz- ing when someone is making a fallacious argument is a strong defense against being misled about what to believe or what to do.

Fallacies of Relevance Like alerts warning of bad weather, for centuries logi- cians have supplied lists of the kinds of deceptive argu- ments that tend to mislead people.9 When it comes to being deceived by the rhetoric of gifted speakers, elo- quent writers, or clever advertisements, many of us are no wiser or more sophisticated than people were in Aristotle’s time. Yet in our effort to make an honest argument to another person about what to believe or what to do, we are asking that person to accept the truth of the claim because of the reason given. This expectation of relevance at times goes unfilled. Instead we provide a reason that is not relevant. Creative questioning is a powerful tool for uncovering the false assumptions that lie at the core of fallacies of relevance. Whatever the spe- cific application of the question, the fundamental issue is “What does that reason actually have to do with that

Evaluative Adjectives for Arguments and Their Elements


True, Possible, Probable, Verifiable, Believable, Precise, Clear, Accurate, Factual, etc. False, Improbable, Self-Contradictory, Fanciful, Fabricated, Vague, Ambiguous, Unknowable, etc.


Certain, True, Probable, Verifiable, Relevant, Wise, Sensible, Well-Applied, Plausible, Believable, etc. False, Irrelevant, Improbable, Self-Contradictory, Poorly Applied, Foolish, Irrational, Fanciful, Unknowable, Vague, Equivocal, Ill-Conceived, etc.



Well-Documented, Strongly Supported, Well-Argued, Certain, True, Reasonable, Plausible, Probable, etc. Improbable, Poorly Supported, Unfounded, Self-Contradictory, Uncertain, False, Biased, Preposterous, Implausible, etc.


Worthy, Good, Acceptable, Sound, Valid, Warranted, Logical, Strong, Persuasive, Reasonable, etc. Unworthy, Poor, Unacceptable, Unsound, Fallacious, Illogical, Incomplete, Unreasonable, Bad, Circular, etc.

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claim?” From this fundamental concern we can derive a number of more specific queries.

It is impossible to list all the ways that the reason given might be irrelevant to the claim being made. There are too many ways to be irrelevant. Some arguments appeal to tra- dition, others, particularly in marketing, try to sell us some- thing simply because it is new. Some use emotions such as fear to move us to accept the claim being made. Others try flattery, praise, trust, or affection to move us to accept a claim that we otherwise would not believe. Some challenge our ability to quickly come up with an alternative. Or they toss in an irrelevant cliché. Others barrage us with true but irrelevant statements anticipating we will accept the conclu- sion sooner or later out of sheer mental fatigue.

Nice idea, but it’s not for us. We don’t change horses in midstream.

Try the mushroom, jalapeño, mango margarita. It’s new!

It would be a grave mistake to think that there is no Hell. In fact, an eternal error.

Hey, trust me. Would I lie to you, baby?

Absolutely she was the one who told that lie about you. Who else would have done that?

Many kinds of irrelevant appeal fallacies are so notori- ous that they have earned their own name. The name can be helpful to remembering the type of mistaken assump- tion being made.

APPEALS TO IGNORANCE It is false to assume that the mere absence of a reason for (or against) an idea should itself count as a reason against (or for) the idea. Consider these examples:

We know we have a corporate spy someplace in the organization, probably on the management team itself. There is no evidence that it is Francesca. In fact, she’s too clean, if you know what I mean. We should fire Francesca; she’s got to be the spy.

Someone here took my computer and I need it back. Who was it, John? Was it you? No, you say. Well prove it! Aha, you have no proof to offer. Well then, John, it was you. And I want it back now! Impressionism, and especially French Impressionism, is the best form of art. You don’t believe me? Then name some other form that has been proven to be more beautiful. You can’t, can you? So, I’m right.

APPEALS TO THE MOB It is false to assume that because a large group of people believes something or does some- thing that their opinion or their behavior is necessarily cor- rect or appropriate. Here are two examples of the Fallacy of Appeal to the Mob, also known as the Bandwagon Fallacy. This seems like such an obvious mistake that it may be hard to imagine that people can be so gullible as to think

something is true just because everyone believes it. That is, right up until you remember the power that mythology and superstition still have in this world.

Everyone knows that a black quarterback will not be able to lead an all-white team. So we will not put Doug Williams at the quarterback position.10

All the kids at school are getting tattoos. Every one of my friends has one, and some have two. I see adult men and women with tattoos. So, I’m thinking that it’s about time that I get a tattoo.

A lot of people like Michigan State to win the Big 10 Championship this year. So I guess I’ve got to go with the Spartans as my pick too.

Everyone believes Martha might be practicing witch- craft, so be careful how you act when she’s around.

APPEALS TO EMOTION It is false to assume that our initial emotional response to an idea, event, story, person, image, or proposal is necessarily the best guide for form- ing reflective fair-minded judgments. Chapter 10 discusses this in greater detail, because the relationship between our emotional responses and our decisions about what to believe and what to do are complex. Because gut reaction and reasoned reflection are both real factors in human deci- sion making, strong critical thinkers learn to draw on both of those resources. But, at times, people offer fallacious argu- ments that provide nothing more by way of a reason than

If you cannot name a superior art form, does that imply that French Impressionism is the best art form?

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an appeal to one’s unreflective emotional response. Here are some examples of the Appeal to Emotion fallacy, which tends to rely on emotionally loaded words and expressions.

I love you like the son I never had, and so I believe you. No, I must believe you. Love leaves no other option.

He’s a lousy, rotten terrorist. One of those people. So, there’s no question but that he deserves to die.

Watch out—the political right is populated by a dan- gerous pack of hate-mongering jackals. They will destroy this nation because they have no respect for the truth or common decency. You can’t believe any- thing they say.

Watch out—the political left is a goose-stepping gag- gle of dangerous tax-and-spend activists. They will destroy this nation with their bloated, ineffective social programs that we hardworking taxpayers can’t afford. You can’t believe anything they say.

I know you have your heart set on going to Stanford; it’s something you talked about since you were in the ninth grade. You kept up your grades, aced the SATs and did everything you could to be admitted. And, I’m so proud of you, you did it. Everyone is. And you know what, I don’t care what it takes or what the fam- ily has to do, we’ll mortgage the house, get another

job, anything. But somehow, some way, whatever it takes and whatever the consequences for me or for your younger brothers and sisters, we are going to find the money so you can go to Stanford. I’ve made up my mind. That’s what we’ll do!

AD HOMINEM ATTACKS It is false to assume that because the person making the argument is deficient in some real or imagined way, the person’s argument, work product, or views should not be accepted on their own merits. Ad hominem is Latin for “against the person” and it expresses the error this fallacy makes, which is to claim that a person’s ideas must be tainted because the person has some vice or flaw. The opposite would be equally falla- cious, which is to assume that because the person making the argument is virtuous the argument must be good, too. Strong critical thinking no more obliges us to reject every argument a convicted felon makes than to accept every argument the Dalai Lama might make. Arguments are to be judged on their own merits, not on the merits of their pro- ducers. The Ad hominem fallacy is a favorite verbal assault weapon in the arsenal of talk-radio hosts.

I don’t trust you because of what you did last week at the party. Don’t bother trying to explain yourself. As far as I’m concerned, anything you say is a lie.

THINKING CRITICALLY Is Competitive Cheerleading a Sport? Many activities that are recognized as sports include artistic and musical components—for example, synchronized swim- ming and figure skating. With hundreds of thousands of junior high school, high school, and college students participating in cheerleading, why is cheerleading, at least in its com- petitive format, not a recognized varsity sport? Cheerleading is as physically demanding as many varsity sports (more than some, such as golf) and certainly every bit as dangerous as football and hockey in terms of the number of serious injuries each year. Is it tradition, gender politics, pressure by the companies that make money off of cheerleading compe- titions, what?

Research the arguments for and against recognizing cheerleading as a high school and college sport. Map and evaluate the arguments on both sides of this issue. Be on the lookout for the fallacies discussed in this section, you should spot a few. You might begin with

“Cheerleading: Controversy and Competition” from the ESPN series, Outside the Lines. Search "cheerleading as a sport debate" for multiple resources and references.

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The Senator was spotted drunk in a Bangkok bordello. There are pictures on the Web already. So we can’t believe anything he says about environmental prob- lems or clean energy solutions.

You have nothing of value to contribute to this conver- sation about minority race relations. You’re not black, Latino, Asian, Native American, or anything. You’re white.

I’m sorry, but I don’t find his income and expense pro- jections credible. I don’t see how he could have done those numbers correctly. After all, we know he’s look- ing for another job. He has no company loyalty.

STRAW MAN FALLACY This fallacy relies on the false assumption that, by refuting a weaker argument among several independent reasons given in support of a claim, one has successfully refuted all the reasons for that claim. For example:

Look, we can’t approve your request for additional advertising funds. You said that one of the four mar- keting options you were reviewing was Web page design. But we have a policy not to support any fur- ther Web-based development.

You said that legalizing pot was a good idea, because then pot could be regulated for quality and taxed. And you said it would permit us to shift law enforce- ment resources toward preventing other more harm- ful criminal behaviors. But I’m opposed to new taxes of any kind. So, I cannot agree with you about legal- izing pot.

A variation on the theme, also called the Straw Man Fallacy, is the pernicious practice of attributing to the opposition an argument that is not theirs, and then demolishing that argument. The misattribution may be mistaken, or worse, intentional. From this the per- son committing the fallacy misleadingly then argues that he or she has destroyed the opposition’s position entirely. Besides being intellectually dishonest and incon- sistent with the critical thinking virtue of truth-seek- ing, this practice violates the values of objectivity and fair-mindedness.

Adopting the strategy of trying to make an idiot out of your opposition can be risky. To use straw men and mis- representations when presenting the opposition’s argu- ments can lead one’s listeners, and at times one’s self, to the

Use Creative Questioning to Challenge the Relevance of Reason to Claim

Here are six examples of arguments we might hear in everyday situations. In every case the reason given is not relevant to the claim asserted. By asking “What does the reason actually have to do with the claim?” we can focus the issue of relevance in each case.

1 Claudia, a beautiful model for Victoria’s Secret, endorses Brand XYZ motor oil. So, Brand XYZ motor oil is an excellent product.

What about being a successful lingerie model makes one an expert on motor oil?

2 Students are always saying how much they enjoy Professor Smith’s classes. She’s really popular. So, Professor Smith must do an excellent job getting her students to learn the material.

What about being popular implies that a professor is effective in getting students to learn? What if the professor was just an easy grader or funny or likable, but actually a lousy teacher?

3 I can’t think of any practical alternatives to gasoline as a vehicle fuel. So, there is no practical alternative automotive fuel.

Are the limits of the possibilities for alternative fuels to be equated with the limits of my imagination?

4 Yesterday in class when we were working on our project, you didn’t say a word. So, you must not know anything about the topic.

Could there not have been many reasons, other than ignorance of the topic, why a person does not speak up during group project time in class?

5 If we look around us, we see that people everywhere value human life. So, it is right that we should defend this value over all others.

Why does the fact that many people value something make it imperative that it be regarded as the highest of all possible values? Would we say the same for other things people everywhere value, such as a true friend, a respectful and appreciative supervisor, or satisfying dinner followed by delightful entertainment and a good night’s sleep?

6 We chose to go to the moon not because it is easy, but because it is hard.

Just because something is difficult, should we now choose to do that thing? Yes it was difficult, but that was not the basis for our decision to choose to go to the moon.

The Claim Might Still Be True!

Dismissing an otherwise-worthy claim simply because one or more of the arguments made on its behalf contains false reasons is one of the most common human reasoning errors.

The guy’s a lazy, rich moron, and an egomaniac. He’ll never be elected. So why are you bothering to try to understand his proposals on tax reform and immigra- tion? They have to be total garbage.

I’ll grant you that President’s nominee is a widely respected Harvard educated physician. And that he is known for his many years of working to improve medical services for the poor. But a few years ago he once tweeted that hand guns were an urban health hazard. So as far as I’m concerned, that comment alone shows he is not qualified to be Surgeon General.

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THINKING CRITICALLY Bluster, Bark, Badger, and Whine Strong critical thinkers lament the incivility, degradation, and degeneration of today’s political discussions in the media. Too often the best-known political commentators engage in falla- cious argumentation. They can be recognized by their reck- less and irresponsible rhetorical tactics: Instead of carefully presenting the best arguments for both sides of an important issue, these commentators stridently, if not also irrationally, defend one side and verbally assault the other. Their opinions are laced with ridicule and ad hominem attacks. They dismiss out of hand any evidentiary facts, which the opposition might present, and often they insist their own untrue “facts” instead. They opine loudly. Redefine terminology. Interrupt often. They rudely talk over any representative of the other side who might be present. They whine about being victimized by the other side and yet they complain that the other side whines about being victimized. They scoff at divergent opinions. And they disrespect anyone and everyone who disagrees. To see exam- ples of these abusive and misleading tactics in action Google “Top 10 political commentators.” If you wish to insert adjec- tives like “crazy,” “opinionated” or “hated” in front of “politi- cal,” of course, you may.

In episode 203 (February 18, 2011) of Real Time, the political commentator Bill Maher takes on Liberals for their wishy-washy relativism in regard to the rights of women in the Middle East. Search “Episode 203 Real Time Bill Maher.”

Watch his commentary after the “New Rules” segment that comes toward the end. As a challenge exercise, map and evaluate Maher’s arguments. While you have episode 203 cued up, look for elements of bluster, badger, interrupt, whine, and scoff in that episode. One of the biggest risks to effectively analyzing and evaluating the strength of the other side’s perspectives is to regard those who disagree as either “evil” or “stupid.” Does Bill Maher or any of his guests in Episode 203 make this mistake? State your argument by providing reasons and evidence.

mistaken belief that there is little or no merit to the opposi- tion’s view. In the vicious health care reform debates dur- ing the summer of 2009, those opposed to “death panels” demonized the proposed legislation for a provision that, as it turned out, was already part of existing Medicare law. The actual provision to which they objected provided for reimbursement to health care providers if patients volun- tarily sought end-of-life counseling about such matters as living wills, power of attorney, do not resuscitate (DNR) orders, or hospice care. When the dust settled, even some who had raised the specter of government death panels backed away from that overly dramatic straw man criti- cism. Others, however, continued to believe wrongly that the proposed legislation would mandate euthanasia.

Underestimating one’s opponent in a debate or dis- pute can backfire. One reason is that listeners can be alienated when they realize that we have not been fair or objective. A second reason is that we may become overconfident. Strong critical thinkers try not to mislead themselves. They school themselves to follow the politi- cal adage, “Never believe your own press releases.” In so doing, strong critical thinkers try not to confuse defeating

a straw man argument with giving due consideration to the opposition’s array of worthy arguments.

PLAYING WITH WORDS FALLACY Vagueness and ambiguity can be problematic in certain contexts. The Playing with Words Fallacy exploits problematic vague- ness, problematic ambiguity, donkey cart expressions, stereotyping, and slanted language in attempting to sup- port a claim. Because Playing with Words Fallacies are so varied and so vexing, we devoted Chapter 4 to learning how to apply our critical thinking skills to resolve those problems. Here are three more quick examples of argu- ments that are fallacious because they exploit problematic uses of key terminology.

Everyone who is in prison can still be free, for true freedom is the knowledge of one’s situation. The more one knows about one’s self, the more one is truly free.

I’m selfish, you’re selfish. When you really look at it, everybody tries to meet their own needs. So, we are wrong to be so harsh on a guy just because he spends all his money on nice clothes and fine food for

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himself while letting his children run around hungry and in rags.

We cannot know that others experience the world as we do. To truly know is to be inside the minds of oth- ers. And that is simply not possible.

MISUSE OF AUTHORITY FALLACY One version of the Misuse of Authority Fallacy relies on the false assump- tion that if a powerful or popular person makes a claim, then the claim must be true. In addition to this error, there are other ways that expertise can be misrepresented and misused. We talked about the many characteristics of an authority whose word should, in all probability, be accepted. Because reliance on the word of another is such an important part of how people decide what to do or what to believe, critical thinkers are alert to the falla- cies of Misuse of Authority. Here are a couple more quick examples:

When asked why the curriculum had been changed, the Superintendent of Schools replied that the city’s Chamber of Commerce had advised that the stu- dents in the Junior High School would be education- ally better served if all teachers used more class time to prepare students to take standardized math tests and less time on American History, Creative Writing, Social Studies, Art, Leisure Reading, or Health Education.11

In the annual NCAA March Madness office pool, the boss picked North Carolina State to win it all. I’m go- ing to pick the same team she picked. After all, she’s the boss.

The written historical record shows that the ques- tion of how to evaluate arguments goes back at least 2,500 years to the birth of the field study today known as logic. Logic, with its historical roots in rhetoric and argumenta- tion, explores the question of how to decide whether or not the claims based on various kinds of arguments should be accepted. More specifically, it focuses on one of the four presumptions of the practice of argument making: If the premises of an argument are taken to be true, that implies that the argument’s conclusion is probably or necessarily true as well.12

The wisdom and intellectual treasures of many of the world’s great cultures and civilizations are evident in the rich history of logic. Fortunately, there are many impor- tant and enduring lessons that critical thinking can draw from the study of logic with regard to testing the logi- cal strength of different kinds of arguments, recognizing common fallacies, and understanding the conditions for using various methods of reasoning correctly. Drawing on those enduring lessons, we have begun to assemble our tool kit for evaluating arguments in this chapter. Later, we will add some precision tools for the evaluation of arguments.

Better than Memorizing—Analyze, Internalize, and Explain Here and in the next two chapters we introduce a great many names traditionally used to categorize reliable argument patterns and unreliable fallacious varieties of arguments. The terminology of logicians and other scholars who study arguments is valuable to the extent that it helps us remember the underlying ideas. But the key to learning is to practice and internalize the process of interpreting people’s words correctly so that we can understand exactly what their arguments are, and then evaluating those arguments fair-mindedly. People with strong critical thinking skills are good at evaluating arguments because they can recognize logically correct forms of arguments as well as common mistakes that make an argument invalid, unwarranted, or fallacious. And, they can explain in their own words why one form is reliable and

another is fallacious. All around the planet, there are people who are skilled at evaluating arguments, but who may never have learned the academic terminology to classify arguments. Unfortunately, there are others who can recite the textbook definitions of the rules and terms from memory but yet, in practice, lack skill at evaluating arguments.

Being able to explain why an argument is unworthy of acceptance is a stronger demonstration of one’s critical thinking skills than being able to remember the names of the different types of fallacies. Exercising one’s skills in analysis and explanation leads to stronger critical thinking and better communication of one’s thinking in daily life. Rote memo- rization, which is valuable for other things, is not a critical thinking skill.

JOURNAL Weak Thinking Give an example of an argument someone recently offered to you that fails one or more of the four tests for evaluating arguments. State the argument and explain which test or tests it failed and why.

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Summing up this chapter, the universal human practice of reasoning with a friend or colleague to seek the truth reveals how, in argument making and reason giving, four important presump- tions support the expectations and responsibilities that make that practice work in real life. The reasons we give should be true. The arguments we use should be logical. The reason given should be a relevant basis for accepting the truth of the conclusion. And the conclu- sion should not be used to lend support or credence to the reason. These four conditions ground the applica- tion of four straightforward tests to determine whether

an argument is worthy of being accepted. The four are the Test of Truthfulness, the Test of Logical Strength, the Test of Relevance, and the Test of Non-Circularity. The tests, which are to be applied in a particular order, must all be passed if an argument is to be worthy of accep- tance as a demonstration that its conclusion is true or is very probably true. To help with the application of the Test of Relevance, we examined seven common fallacies of relevance. Arguments that manifest these notoriously fallacious approaches to presenting reasons and claims often beguile and mislead us.

Key Concepts good argument/worthy argument is an argument that merits being accepted as a proof that its conclusion is true or very probably true.

sound argument is an argument with true premises that also passes the Test of Logical Strength.

fallacies are deceptive arguments that appear logi- cal, but upon closer analysis, fail to demonstrate their conclusions.

Applications Reflective Log The ethics of fallacious argumentation: What if we dis- covered that we could manipulate the voting public more effectively by the use of fallacious arguments than by the use of worthy arguments? Consider the political impact of the “death panels” issue described under the Straw Man Fallacy. The entire episode generated more heat than light. And, yet, it may have achieved its political pur- pose. Many who heard and believed that the proposed legislation envisioned a eugenics program akin to that advanced by Nazi Germany showed up at town meetings to vent their anger and voice their objections. If the goal was to delay or derail the Democratic legislative agenda,

then the strategy succeeded. This is only one example of using one’s skills at argument making to achieve one’s goals. Defense attorneys who get juries to acquit crimi- nals is another, as are prosecuting attorneys who get juries to convict innocent people accused of crimes. The ethical question for all critical thinkers is: To what pur- poses ought I to put my powerful critical thinking skills? This question is analogous to the question: To what pur- poses ought I to put my college education? These are, in part, ethical questions and, in part, questions about one’s sense of how to make the meaning of one’s life. And what are your answers? Why?

Individual Exercises Evaluate argument worthiness and explain—Tests 2, 3, and 4: Assume that all the premises that are asserted are true. Apply the remaining three tests to evaluate each argument to see if it is worthy of acceptance. Remember, if the argument fails a test, you do not have to apply any fur- ther tests because at that point the argument is not worthy to be accepted. In each case, give a detailed explanation to

support your evaluation. State in your own words why the argument is worthy of acceptance, or why it is not a good argument.

1. When I stop at a traffic light, I hear this funny rattling sound coming from under my car. It is sort of in the middle or maybe toward the back, but definitely not

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toward the front. I only hear it when the car is idling, not when I’m driving along at a reasonable speed. My dad said once that the metal baffles inside a muffler can loosen up if the muffler is old and rusty. He said that a loose baffle makes a rattling sound when it vibrates, like when the engine is idling or when the tires are out of alignment. My muffler is at least nine years old. So, I’m thinking that probably the rattling sound is coming from the muffler.

2. In a perfect world, the government should investigate whether any laws were broken relating to the treatment of wartime detainees. But this is not a perfect world. So, it would be a mistake for the government to engage in such an investigation.

3. Having turned up some new information, a cold case homicide detective interviewed the victim’s husband some years after his wife’s death. The distraught husband said, “I have been praying all these years, asking God to send us something. My wife’s murder could not have been simply a random accident. God would not permit that.”13

4. If God intended marriage for the sole purpose of human reproduction, and if same-sex couples are entirely incapable of human reproduction, then it follows that God did not intend marriage for same- sex couples.

5. As you all know, there has been a successful Chinese experiment that used a single cell from a laboratory rat to generate a living chimera of that rat. In the chimera, which lived to adulthood, 95 percent of its genetic material was identical to the donor rat. Noted cell biologist Dr. Kastenzakis believes tinkering with nature is just what scientists do. Therefore the Chinese experiment raises no ethical questions and poses no ethical risks.

6. In the past whenever the TV news programs in Chicago ran headline stories featuring a sketch artist’s drawing of a fugitive, the Chicago Police Department (CPD) hotline received over 200 phone calls from people all over the city who said that they spotted the person. Tonight the Chicago TV news programs are going to feature a sketch artist’s drawing of a fugitive whom the police are trying to locate. This will probably yield hundreds of calls on the CPD hotline.

7. Suppose we imagine electricity flowing through wires in the way that water flows through pipes. With this analogy in mind, it would be reasonable to infer that wires that are larger in circumference should be capable of carrying greater electrical loads.

8. Former NFL quarterback James Harris tells a story about how he committed to throwing footballs until his arm hurt. Knowing that the NFL regarded

the down-and-out pass pattern as one of the more difficult passes for the quarterback, Harris visited the local park and, while nobody watched, he tested himself. He targeted a tree and threw at it blindfolded. He knew that if he missed, he would have to walk a long way downfield to pick up the football. And he did miss the first time. So he wondered whether it was a good idea to even try again. But he did try. And when he heard the ball hit the tree that sound gave Harris a ton of confidence.14

9. My client did not intend to use the weapon, and so he is not guilty of armed robbery. Yes, we agree with the prosecution that he committed the robbery. And, yes, we agree that he was carrying a weapon and that he brandished the weapon to intimidate the store clerk and the customers. We agree that the law reads, “Anyone who carries a weapon in the commission of a robbery shall be guilty of armed robbery.” And, yes we admit that he shouted, “Everyone down on the floor or I’ll shoot.” But, and here is the key fact, the weapon was not loaded. He did not have ammunition anyplace on his person or in his possessions. He never intended to use that weapon. And, therefore, the crime that he is guilty of is robbery, but not armed robbery.

10. Look, officer, you can’t arrest me on felony rape charges just because she’s 17 and I’m 21. Yes we had sex. But it was consensual. And anyway, in two weeks she’s going to be 18, and we plan to get married.

11. I like the President’s approach to trade with China, and I haven’t heard anyone give any evidence that his approach is not going to be effective. So, it must be the right thing for our country to do at this time.

12. Not every argument is of equal quality. Therefore, at least one argument is better than at least one other argument.

Using all four tests, evaluate argument worthiness and explain: Evaluate the following arguments using all four tests, applied in their proper sequence. In each case, give a detailed explanation to support your evaluation. State in your own words why the argument is worthy of accep- tance, or why it is not a good argument.

1. Being a sports writer offers challenges that writing standard news stories do not. Here’s why. Unlike with standard news stories where the writer is telling the reader something that the reader does not yet know, most of the time the reader knows who won the game before reading your article. Readers probably watched the game on TV. This means a sports writer has to find some angle or some clever and captivating way of telling the story.

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2. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer and Denver Rocky Mountain News are going to close unless they find a buyer. Same for the San Francisco Chronicle and the Miami Herald. The Minneapolis Star-Tribune may file for bankruptcy. The Los Angeles Times Sunday edition has shrunk to half its former size. And the list of newspapers in financial trouble goes on and on. I think it is safe to say that the newspaper business may be dying.

3. Torturing prisoners of war often results in poor- quality intelligence. Experience has shown that people in pain will say anything to get the pain to stop. The pain can be either physical or psychological—it does not matter. People crack under the pressure of an experienced interrogator using torture methods. So, we cannot trust the information that comes from that source.

4. Torturing prisoners is against the Geneva Conventions, but it can be a useful means of gathering potentially valuable intelligence. There have been cases where the information given to us by prisoners who have been repeatedly waterboarded, for example, has turned out to be correct. Therefore, we are justified in using torture on prisoners even if our laws explicitly prohibit such methods.

5. More than transferring genes from one organism to another, biologists have successfully engineered synthetic chromosomes into yeast, replacing 16 original chromosomes.15 Our species now knows how to alter the DNA of living cells using synthetically manufactured chromosomes. Synthetic bio-engineering makes possible new biofuels, new medicines, and other genetic improvements.

Therefore this landmark scientific achievement is a very good thing.

6. More than transferring genes from one organism to another, biologists have successfully engineered synthetic chromosomes into yeast, replacing 16 original chromosomes. Our species now knows how to alter the DNA of living cells using synthetically manufactured chromosomes. Synthetic bio-engineering is tampering with nature in a way that goes beyond all previous methods. Nobody knows what damage might be done to our species and to other animals and plants. Therefore this landmark scientific recklessness is a very bad thing.

Should DUI homicide be prosecuted as murder? What do you think? A prosecuting attorney in New York is bringing charges of murder against individuals who have killed other people while driving under the influence. The attorney argues that everyone understands that driving while under the influence poses risks for the driver and for other people, including the risk of a fatal accident. The statutes provide for charges of “depraved indifference” when one’s behavior results in the unintended but fore- seeable death of another human being. Defense attorneys argue, among other things, that the laws pertaining to murder were never intended to be applied in this way. The debate was captured by CBS’s 60 Minutes in a segment that aired on August 2, 2009. Search "Should DUI Homicide be Prosecuted as Murder 60 Minutes" to locate and watch that segment. Map out the reasoning for both sides of this debate. Evaluate the reasoning using the four tests for evaluating arguments. After completing your evaluation, present your own reasoned views on the matter.

Group Exercises Should DUI homicide be prosecuted as murder? What do others think? This exercise works best with a five person group. Each member of the group, having seen the 60 Minutes video and worked on the individual exercise will

have thoroughly considered the issue of homicidal DUI as murder. But for this project, you must first set aside your individual opinions on this matter. This project involves interviewing people for whom this issue is much more

SHARED RESPONSE Not So Cool Any More Joseph P. Allen, a psychology professor at the University of Virginia, makes the argument that pseudo mature behavior observed in early teen years is positively correlated with relationship troubles, substance abuse and other social problems for those children when they reach their early twenties. Such outcomes were remarkably likely among the sample of 184 children from ages 13 to 23 who were followed in this study. You can find news about this study on the web by searching “Cool at 13, Adrift at 23.” The exact reference is Allen, J.P., et. al., “Whatever happened to the ’Cool’ kids? – Long-term sequelae of early adolescent pseudomature behavior,” Child Development, 2014 DOI: 10.1111/CDEV.12250.

Does one counter-example of a “cool” kid who turned out just fine invalidate the professor’s argument? Link your answer to the four tests for evaluating arguments. Comment respectfully on the examples and reasons given by others.

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than a textbook’s abstraction. So you and the other mem- bers of your group need to focus on what you hear in the interviews without letting your personal opinions get in the way.

Your group will conduct four sets of interviews. You must always have at least two members of your group par- ticipate in each interview. This is so that you can help each other remember what the person being interviewed said.

First set of interviews: Locate at least one person— two or three if possible—who has been arrested for driv- ing while under the influence of alcohol or drugs even if not for homicide. Find out what that person or those peo- ple think. Listen to their arguments, and then write them down and evaluate those arguments. Be objective and fair-minded in your evaluation, regardless of whether you agree or disagree with the person’s position.

Second set of interviews: Locate at least one person— two or three if possible—who is a former drinker. Interview that person the same way. Get his or her views on the matter, write down the person’s arguments, and evaluate those arguments objectively and fair-mindedly.

Next, contact Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) or some other volunteer organization that is known for its stance on issues relating to drunk driving. Follow the same drill. Get that organization’s arguments down and evaluate them.

Finally, contact the office of your local prosecuting attorney, or the state police and, again, conduct your inter- view and evaluate the arguments you hear.

Having talked directly with people who are close to this issue, your group must now assemble all the argu- ments that came forward in the various interviews. In light of these perspectives, take a stance individually and as a group on whether or not homicide by DUI should be prosecuted as murder. Write out the group’s opinion and give the reasons. Write out your individual opinion, if you disagree, and give your reasons. Whatever you finally decide, use strong critical thinking and sound reasons.

Assisted suicide: Assisted suicide is legal in Oregon and in Sweden, but not in many other places. There are argu- ments pro and con. Begin this exercise by familiarizing yourself with those arguments. Map and evaluate the most common arguments on both sides. Then interview two or more people over the age of 60, two or more peo- ple between the ages of 18 and 30. With their permission, record the interviews so that you can check the accuracy of your analysis and interpretation of their perspectives. Ask each person to consider whether or not they would agree with a law that permitted a competent adult to seek and to receive suicide assistance from a licensed health care professional, if that adult knew with a very high level of confidence that she or he had a medical condi- tion that would result in painful death in less than three months. Map and evaluate, using the four tests of the worthiness of arguments presented in this chapter, the set of arguments you collect from the eight people. Is there a pattern?

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Learning Outcomes

8.1 Evaluate the logical strength of inferences presented to imply or entail that their conclusions must certainly be true if we take all their premises to be true.

8.2 Recognize reasoning fallacies masquerading as valid inferences.

Chapter 8

Valid Inferences

HOW do we evaluate the logical strength of infer- ences offered as if their conclusions are certain?

HOW can we recognize common fallacies related to these inferences?

The dilemma that opens this chapter illustrates how facts and logic can lead us to have certainty in our conclusions even when we might want very much not to face the results of our reasoning process.

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You need a liver lobe now! Imagine that you, like 78,000 other Americans each year, overdose on acetamin- ophen, the active ingredient in Tylenol. Imagine you are one of the 33,000 whose overdose is so severe that you are rushed to the hospital.1 You go into acute liver fail- ure. Fortunately you survive. Your liver, however, does not. You need an organ transplant. Specifically, you need a liver lobe. You have three and only three options: You must get on the waiting list here in the United States and hope that you do not die before a donor liver is found for you. Your second option is to travel overseas where you can be assured of receiving a liver transplant. Your third option is to die. But, let’s assume that you cannot be put on the waiting list for a liver here in the United States because you have other medical issues. Disqualified from the wait- ing list option, that door is closed. And let’s assume that you do not want to die. So Door #3 is closed. The only pos- sible conclusion from this set of assumptions is that you have but one option: travel overseas where you can be

assured of receiving a liver transplant. Apart from chang- ing the premises, there is no logical way of escaping that conclusion. Of course, that conclusion implies an ethically repugnant result, which is that you must now become a buyer in the international marketplace for human organs. The liver lobes sold in that marketplace are harvested from healthy but desperate people living in abject poverty who sell their body parts to feed their families. (To learn more, search and watch “Tales from the Organ Trade,” an HBO documentary.2)

In this chapter and the next, we will be refining our argument evaluation skills. Here our attention will be on arguments that are structured in such a way that their premises guarantee the truth of the conclusion. In every- day language we would say that the premises imply the conclusion or entail the conclusion, meaning that there is no possibility that all the premises could be true and the con- clusion false. The opening scenario is structured so that you have exactly three possible options. But two of them

Deductive Reasoning To learn to think well we must accept the challenge of digging deeply into core ideas and key questions.

The core idea in Chapter 8 is this: An important group of inferences logically require that their conclusion must be true if their premises are all true. The key critical thinking question is how to recognize and evaluate those inferences.

Logicians, mathemati- cians, computer engineers, and many others mean to convey that core idea by using words like “imply” and “entail.” The core idea is captured in technical vocabulary too. Traditionally the term “deduc- tion” named this class of inferences. Without deductive reasoning our species would not have sequenced DNA, traveled to the Moon, spanned the Golden Gate, or built shin- ing towers into the sky.

Like Chapter 8, Chapter 13 “Ideological Reasoning” and Chapter 17 “The Logic of Declarative Statements” are about deduction. Why, you might ask, is the topic of deduction spread over three non-sequential chapters? If our purpose had been to cover the topic of deduction like an encyclopedia, then, yes, we would have grouped the three chapters together. And we may have added a fourth or fifth taking you further into formal logic.

But our purpose is different. The goal is the development of your critical thinking skills and habits of mind.

The evidence from testing hundreds of thousands of col- lege students with the California Critical Thinking Skills Test tells us that evaluation is initially their strongest skill area. Good teachers and coaches know it is important to build on a person’s strengths. So, beginning in Chapter 1 and continuing in the early exercises we used an evaluation rubric. We started focusing on other skills in Chapter 4. By Chapter 7 it was time to expand your argument evaluation skills with the four tests. In this chapter and the next, we work on applying the Test of Logical Strength.

This chapter offers a sampling of deductive inferences. But, like cross training athletes, critical thinkers develop stron- ger inference skills by exercising across the full range of infer- ences. Deductive inferences are only one kind of inference. Chapters 9 through 12 introduce other kinds. Chapters 10 and 11 connect inference and the other critical thinking skills to decision making. This sets the stage for the bigger real world (game time) issues addressed in Chapters 13 and 14.

How do we understand deductive reasoning? Here is what we wrote after decades of research: “Decision making in precisely defined contexts where rules, operating condi- tions, core beliefs, values, policies, principles, procedures, and terminology completely determine the outcome depends on strong deductive reasoning skills. Deductive reasoning moves with exacting precision from the assumed truth of a set of beliefs to a conclusion which cannot be false if those beliefs are true. Deductive validity is rigorously logical and clear-cut. Deductive validity leaves no room for uncertainty, unless one alters the meanings of words or the grammar of the language.”

Source: California Critical Thinking Skills Test User Manual, San Jose, CA: Insight Assessment. 2014. Page 22.Used with permission from Insight Assess- ment-Measuring thinking worldwide. www.insightassessment.com.

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turn out to be closed to you. Therefore we can infer with certainty that your one and only choice is to go overseas for the organ transplant. The situation is structured like this: There are only three doors: #1, #2, and #3. You must select one of the three doors. Door #1 is nailed shut and so is Door #2. Therefore Door #3 is your only option.

If the assumption that all the premises are true makes it impossible for the conclusion to be false, that is, if the prem- ises entail or imply that conclusion, we will evaluate that argument or inference as valid.3 Needless to say, a valid argument passes the Test of Logical Strength. In this chapter we will learn how to recognize valid arguments by the way the inference is structured and we will consider a group of common fallacies that masquerade as valid inferences.

8.1 The Structure of the Reasoning

One important distinguishing feature of valid arguments is that if the conclusion is false, then one or more of the premises must also have been false.

Consider MAP #1, which shows the structure of the organ transplant scenario. Trace the reasoning backward, against the flow of the arrows. What can we infer if we assume that the claim “I must go overseas for a trans- plant,” is false? That may mean that you decided to accept your fate and embrace death. If so, then the premise “I want to live” has turned out to be false. Or perhaps you were invited to join a clinical trial for a newly invented synthetic liver. If so, then the premise “A transplant is my only option” is false. Or maybe you received the unex- pected news that the US organ donor policies had been changed so that you could now be put on the waiting list. If so, then the premise “I am not eligible for a transplant in the United States” is false. Or maybe your physician calls to say that your liver function has unexpectedly improved to a level that you no longer require an immediate trans- plant. In that case the starting point assertion “I need a

liver lobe now” is false. This is an example of the principle that if the conclusion of a valid argument turns out to be false, then one or more of its premises must be false too.

As they say in the TV infomercials, “But wait! There’s more.” Suppose you are so distressed about needing to go overseas for a liver transplant that you cannot sleep. Late one night you see a commercial that promises a “miracle cure.” For only $19.95 plus shipping you can buy “liver seeds.” The hawker, dressed in a white lab coat, says “these seeds take root in your body and grow into a healthy new liver.” The hawker goes on, “Yes, this is the first truly sur- gery free transplant!” Wow, have we found something that makes the conclusion false but permits all the premises to still be true. No. Even this ridiculousness makes the prem- ise “A transplant is my only option” false. Remember don- key cart words from another chapter? The bogus “truly surgery free transplant” is not a transplant in the standard medical definition of that term. What changed is the struc- ture of the argument. Adding the “miracle cure” is like adding the clinical trial option, it alters the structure of the reasoning by creating Door #4.

Inferences Offered as Certain “Aristarchus deduced that the Sun was much larger than the Earth,” explains Carl Sagan in the 1980 Cosmos series.4 We often attribute the idea that the Earth is a planet revolv- ing around the Sun to the fifteenth-century Polish astrono- mer–priest named Copernicus. But, in fact, the first scientist known to have reasoned with certainty to a Sun-centered view of the solar system was the Greek astronomer– mathematician Aristarchus (310–230 bce). More than two millennia earlier than Copernicus, and using no telescope, but only his own eyes and the then newly invented math- ematics we call Geometry, Aristarchus considered the size of the Earth’s shadow on the Moon during a lunar eclipse. He then concluded that the only possible explanation for the size of the shadow of the Earth on the Moon during a lunar eclipse was that the source of light shining toward the Earth and the Moon from a very great distance away

I could resign myself to my fate and accept death.

Accept death.

I need a liver lobe


Perhaps I could get a transplant in the United States.

I could get a transplant overseas.

A transplant is the only


I must go overseas for a


No. I am not eligible for a transplant in the United


{Forget that. I

want to live.}

Map #1: My Liver Lobe Transplant Options

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must itself be of immense size. Must be. We are not talk- ing high degrees of probability here. This was certitude. If you assume that light travels in a straight line, and if you know anything about shadows, then you must infer with certitude that the Sun is gigantic as compared to the Earth and that it is very much further from the Earth than is our Moon.

There are times, perhaps not many, when a person makes an argument believing that truth of the prem- ises completely guarantees the truth of the conclusion.5 The Sagan quote in the Aristarchus example is one such instance. Sagan meant that there was no other possible explanation, no other inference Aristarchus could draw except that the Sun was very large and very far away. One important caution, however. Thoughtful and fair- minded interpretation is important. People do not always speak with the logical precision Sagan used. So we need to keep in mind the context and the intention of the argument maker. Strong critical thinking requires that we not attribute more than the argument maker intends. A friend of ours uses the expression “that must be what happened” when he means only “that is prob- ably what happened.”

Although at times we all have wished otherwise, none of us can suspend the laws of nature or the laws of logic. In business, a company that is losing money may have absolutely no choice but to lay off good employees. In a medical emergency, health care professionals have to decide which of the victims to treat first, knowing that they cannot get to everyone in need. Military leaders have to send brave soldiers into combat knowing with certainty that there will be casualties. Regardless of our feelings in the matter, there are times in our lives when the facts and

the logic of a given situation force us to entertain options we had hoped never to face. In those situations we can- not afford to be wrong about the facts or about the logical strength of our reasoning.

In this chapter we will assume that the examples are inferences and arguments presented to show that their conclusions must be certain, given the premises. From the perspective of building critical thinking skills, the impor- tant question is how to evaluate the logical strength of an infer- ence or argument offered as certain. Because the argument maker is asserting that there is no possibility whatsoever that the premises could all be true and yet the conclusion turns out to be false, our evaluative task is clear. If we can come up with a counterexample, namely a scenario in which all the premises are true but the conclusion is false, then the argument is not valid. It is not logically certain! Given that counterexample, we know that the premises do not imply the conclusion.

Because this chapter focuses on the Test of Logical Strength only, we will assume that the examples used here have already passed the Test of the Truthfulness of the Premises. This will be a lot to swallow, because some of the premises are patently false. But, for the educational purpose of focusing on the logic strength of the example arguments, let us entertain the fiction within the context of this chapter.

It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.6

Aristotle, Philosopher, Physicist, & Zoologist (384–322 bce)

Reasoning with Declarative Statements The first group of valid argument templates7 we will con- sider include those that derive their valid structures from the way simple statements interact grammatically when we use prepositions or adverbs that have logical force. These include the words and, or, not, and if . . . then. . .

DENYING THE CONSEQUENT8 One valid argument tem- plate we rely on regularly produces arguments structured like this:

Premise #1: If A, then B. Premise #2: Not B, Conclusion: Therefore, not A.9

The argument template uses the capital letters A and B to stand for simple positive declarative statements, like A = “The city has a reliable public transportation sys- tem.” And B = “I will use the city’s public transportation

Moon crater Aristarchus

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system.” Substituting those two statements in the template for A and for B produces this argument:

Premise #1: If the city has a reliable public transpor- tation system, then I will use the city’s public trans- portation system.

Premise #2: It is not the case I will use the city’s pub- lic transportation system.

Conclusion: Therefore it is not the case that the city has a reliable public transportation system.

In each of the examples below, the blue statement is A and the orange statement is B. Here are three more exam- ples of valid arguments built by substituting declarative statements into the Denying the Consequent argument template.

If Richard graduated with honors, then Richard maintained a GPA of 3.2 or higher. It is not the case that Richard maintained a GPA of 3.2 or higher. Therefore, Richard did not graduate with honors.

If you have been promoted to the rank of captain, then you have served for at least a year. You have not served for at least a year. It follows then that you have not been promoted to the rank of captain.

If the sun shines on the far side of the moon, then red roses grow inside the barns in Iowa. It is not true that red roses grow inside the barns in Iowa. So, it is not true that the sun shines on the far side of the moon.

This last example is curious because it is structurally valid, but in fact we would not rely on it as a proof that the sun does not shine on the far side of the moon. The argu- ment is not acceptable because even if it were true that no red roses grew in any Iowa barns, the first premise is not true. This example is a quick reminder that logical strength, while essential, is not the only consideration that strong critical thinkers have in mind when evaluating arguments in real life. Again, in all the examples here and to follow we are maintaining our focus on the logic while assuming that all the premises are true.Yes, it can be challenging to assume that the premises are true, but that is why we separated the Test of the Truthfulness of the Premises from the Test of Logical Strength. Facts and logic are two different things.

Using short declarative statements fill in the argu- ment template to create two valid Denying the Consequent examples of your own.

If , then . It is not the case that .

Therefore it is not the case that . If , then . It is not the case that . Therefore it is not the case that .

AFFIRMING THE ANTECEDENT10 A second very com- monly used argument template also relies on the meaning and grammatical power of “if…, then…” expressions. In this case, however, the second premise affirms that the “if” part is true.

Premise #1: If A, then B. Premise #2: A. Conclusion: Therefore, B.

Here are three arguments that are valid on the basis of affirming the antecedent argument template.

If the price quote from College Insignias is lower than the price quote from University Logos, then we will get the T-shirts for our ACS Relay for Life team printed at College Insignias. The price quote from College Insignias is lower than the price quote from University Logos.

Therefore, we will get the T-shirts for our ACS Relay for Lifeteam printed at College Insignias.

If you are eligible to graduate with honors, then you will receive notification from the Registrar. You are eligible to graduate with honors. So, it follows that you will receive notification from the Registrar.

If the sun shines on the far side of the moon, then carrier pigeons get high in Denver. The sun shines on the far side of the moon. So, carrier pigeons get high in Denver.

As with pre-algebra, we are substituting values for the variables in the formula. In pre-algebra the result was an

Relay for Life team marching to support American Cancer Society.

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equation; here the result is a valid argument. Using short declarative statements, fill in the Affirming the Antecedent argument template to create two valid examples of your own.

If , then . .

Therefore, .

If , then . .

Therefore, .

DISJUNCTIVE SYLLOGISM When we are presented with various alternatives and then learn that one or more of those alternatives will not work, it is logical to reduce our options. The argument template for this valid structure produces arguments with this pattern:

Premise #1: Either A or B. Premise #2: Not A. Conclusion: Therefore, B.

Here are two examples of arguments that are valid by vir- tue of the Disjunctive Syllogism argument template.

Either we’ll go to Miami for spring break, or we will go to Myrtle Beach. We are not going to Miami for spring break. So, we will go to Myrtle Beach.

Either I’ll take organic chemistry over the summer, or I’ll register for that course next fall. No way will I take organic chemistry over the summer. So, I’ll register for that course next fall.

The next example is a variation on the second. Instead of the first alternative being eliminated so that the second emerges as the only remaining option, in this case the sec- ond alternative was eliminated so that the first emerged log- ically as the only remaining option. The template for this is:

Premise #1: Either A or B. Premise #2: Not B. Conclusion: Therefore, A.

Either I’ll take organic chemistry over the summer, or I’ll take that course next fall. There’s no way I can take that course next fall. So, I’ll take organic chemistry over the summer.

In context “that course” refers to organic chemistry. In actual practice, when we make arguments, we seldom repeat statements verbatim. Instead, we use internal refer- ences that are contextually unproblematic.

The chapter “The Logic of Declarative Statements,” extends the discussion above into the discipline of Logic. That chapter presents a method for expressing the key logi- cal relationships between simple declarative sentences using symbols. And it provides a surefire way of evaluating the validity of arguments expressed in that symbolic notation.

Reasoning about Classes of Objects Other arguments derive their valid structures from the meanings of words in the language used to show the inter- action of groups of objects. Words like some and all are used to express our ideas about how individual objects and groups of objects relate.

Grammatically Equivalent Structures

These pairs of logically equivalent grammatical structures . . .

. . . give us two ways to say the same thing.

A unless B A or B The dishwasher is still full unless you emptied it.

Either the dishwasher is still full or you emptied it.

Not A unless B If A then B The table is not set unless Grandma set it. If the table is set, then Grandma set it.

A only if B If A then B It is time to eat only if Dad is done grilling the steaks.

If it is time to eat then Dad is done grilling the steaks.

If A then B Either A or not B If it is time to clear the table then we are done eating our meal.

Either it is time to clear the table or we are not done eating our meal.

Neither A nor B Not A and not B Neither Bill nor Sue likes singing. Bill does not like singing and Sue does not like singing.

Not both A and B Either not A or not B We cannot buy both a car and a boat. Either we cannot buy a car or we cannot buy a boat.

A if and only if B If A then B, and if B then A We will rent a cottage if and only if our vacations coincide.

If we will rent a cottage, then our vacations coincide, and if our vacations coincide we will rent a cottage.

If A then not B If B then not A If the rent is due then we cannot afford to go out to dinner.

If we can afford to go out to dinner, then the rent is not due.

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APPLYING A GENERALIZATION Consider this example of reasoning about individual objects and groups of objects:

All the books by Michael Connelly feature his fictional hard-boiled LAPD detective, Hieronymus Bosch.11 Echo Park is a book by Michael Connelly. So, Echo Park features Detective Bosch.

In this example the first premise states every member of a class of objects (books by Connelly) has a specific attri- bute (features Detective Bosch). The second premise iden- tifies a specific member of that class (Echo Park). And the conclusion that follows necessarily from those two premises is that Echo Park features Detective Bosch. Whenever we have a generalization that asserts that a given characteristic applies to each of the members of a class of objects, we can logically assert that a given individual or subgroup of individuals that are members of that class has that characteristic. For example:

Everyone who installs attic insulation runs the risk of inhaling potentially harmful dust and fiberglass particles. Angela and Jennifer install attic insula- tion. This means that both of them run that risk.

Every young woman living in a Muslim coun- try who played in a successful Western style rock band was subjected to numerous hate mes- sages, slurs, and death threats. The young women Aneega, Noma, and Farah lived in a Muslim country and played in the successful Western style rock band known as Pragaash. So Aneega, Noma, and Farah were subjected to numerous hate mes- sages, slurs and death threats.12 [In this case the

premises are true. The Grand Mufti Bashiruddin Ahmad declared a fatwa on the band and advised its Muslim members to sing only inside their homes to the other female members of the family, and to wear veils when going out in public.13]

If F and G stand for classes of objects, and if X stands for an individual object, then the argument template for Applying a Generalization would work like this:

Premise #1: Every member of group F is a member of group G.

Premise #2: Individual object X is a member of F. Conclusion: So, the object X is a member of G.

THINKING CRITICALLY Neither, Unless, and Only There are other terms that, when used correctly, can be used in valid argument templates. Create five arguments by first filling in the templates using the three declarative state- ments provided. If you are not sure whether a given argu- ment in this group of five is valid, then first check the table “Grammatically Equivalent Structures” to be sure you are interpreting the words correctly. And, if you are, then describe a scenario such that all the premises are true but the conclu- sion is false. Hint: It should not be possible to accomplish that without changing the grammar of the language or the meanings of the words.

Statement A: Tuition increases 5 percent per academic year. Statement B: I must graduate in no more than two years. Statement C: I have legal access to unlimited amounts

of cash.

1. Either A, B, or C. Not C. So, A or B. 2. It is not the case that both A and B are true. So, either A is

not true or B is not true. 3. Neither B nor C is true. So, B is false. 4. B unless C. Not B. So, C. 5. A only if B. A. Therefore, B.

Write three short declarative statements about any topic which interests you. Fill in the five templates using your statements. Now evaluate each of the arguments created. Is it possible in any of those cases that the argument’s conclusion could be false if you assume that all argument’s premises are true? The answer should be “no” in all cases. We say that with certainty because validity for these kinds of inferences is based on the structure of our language, not on the topic being talked about.

Muslim women in the rock band Pragaash were advised to sing only inside of their own homes.

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APPLYING AN EXCEPTION If we know that every mem- ber of a given class of objects has a certain characteristic, and we also know that one or more specific objects do not have that characteristic, we can logically infer that they are not members of that class. For example:

Everyone who waits tables has experienced the chal- lenge of trying to be respectful to a rude customer. Alex has never experienced that chal lenge. That implies that Alex has never worked as a waiter.

Everyone who works as an attic insulation installer risks inhaling potentially harmful dust and fiberglass particles. Angela and Jennifer have jobs that do not put them at risk for inhaling anything that is poten- tially harmful. So, Jennifer and Angela do not install attic insulation.

The numbers 5, 7, 13, and 37 are not divisible by 2 without a remainder. Every even number is divisible by 2 with no remainder. So, 5, 7, 13, and 37 are not even numbers.

The argument template for Applying an Exception works like this:

Premise #1: Every member of group F is a member of group G.

Premise #2: The object X is not a member of G. Conclusion: So, the object X is not a member of F.

THE POWER OF ONLY Only is one of the most interest- ing words in the language. That word has the power to change the meaning of a sentence depending on where it is placed. Consider this four-part example. Here, first, is a simple sentence:

Some people objected to being forced to attend.

Now watch how the meanings change depending on where only is positioned.

Location of Only to Change Meaning

Interpretation of New Statement

Only some people objected to being forced to attend.

Others people did not object.

Some people only objected to being forced to attend.

They did not quit, go on strike, or boycott.

Some people objected only to being forced to attend.

They would have preferred to have been asked or invited to attend voluntarily.

Some people objected to being forced only to attend.

They wanted to do more than attend; they wanted to participate actively.

Here is another example, but this time you fill in the left-hand side of the table by showing where the word only would be located to enable the interpretation on the right.

Some who are students pursue excellence.

Location of Only to Change Meaning

Interpretation of New Statement

Some who are students pursue excellence.

They do nothing but pursue.

Some who are students pursue excellence.

The one thing they pursue is excellence.

Some who are students pursue excellence.

Some students do not pursue excellence.

Some who are students pursue excellence.

They have no other identity besides being students.

Reasoning about Relationships Natural languages are rich with terms that describe relation- ships. We use our understanding of the meanings of these terms to make valid inferences about the objects to which


Let F be fun-loving people. Let G be college graduates. Let H be high-paid professionals. Let X stand for Xavier. Let Y stand for Yolanda.

Create arguments using each of these templates. Some of the arguments will turn out to be valid, and others will not. Evaluate each using the Test for Logical Strength. Which are not valid? Perhaps none! If you can describe a counterexam- ple, then the argument is valid. Hint: It should be easy to come up with a counterexample showing that #5 is not a valid argu- ment template.

1. If anyone is an F, then that person is a G. Both X and Y are G. So, X is an F, and Y is also.

2. Some who are F are also G. Some who are G are also H. So, some who are F are H.

3. If X is an F and a G, then X is an H. As it turns out, X is an F but not a G. So, X is not an H.

4. Few H are F. But Y is an H and a G. If anyone is a G, then he or she is an F. So, Y is an F.

5. All F are H. All G are H. So, all F are G.

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the terms apply. For example, the arguments below are valid because of the meanings of the relational terms like sibling, brother, sister, shorter than, older than, taller than, younger than, greater than, or equals. Notice that in ordinary discourse it is not necessary to specify generalizations like “Anyone who is a person’s brother is that person’s sibling,” because those relationships are part of the meanings of the terms. Our understanding of the logical implications of relational terms is part of our comprehension of language. We seldom, if ever, attend to the logical complexity embedded in natural language. Here are some examples of valid arguments built on the meanings of the relational terms these arguments use.

John is Susan’s younger brother. So, they must have the same mother or the same father.

Fresno is north of Bakersfield. Bakersfield is west of Phoenix. So, Phoenix is southeast of Fresno.

Six is greater than five. Five is greater than four. Therefore, six is greater than four.

(4 + 6) = 10. (2 × 5) = 10. Therefore, (4 = 6) = (2 × 5).

TRANSITIVITY, REFLEXIVITY, AND IDENTITY Three relational characteristics we rely upon regularly when using valid reasoning are named Transitivity, Reflexivity, and Identity. Here are two examples of valid arguments based on each, beginning with two examples of transitiv- ity, then a description of the transitivity relationship. After each pair of examples, the relationship is described.

Tomas is taller than Jose. Jose is taller than Miguel. So, Tomas is taller than Miguel.

Susan is Joan’s ancestor. Joan is Philip’s ancestor. So, Susan is Philip’s ancestor.

Transitivity Relationship = If x has a transitive relationship to y, and y has the same transitive relationship to z, then x has the same transitive relationship to z.

David is Stanley’s neighbor. So, Stanley is David’s neighbor.

Sara is Helena’s roommate. So, Helena is Sara’s roommate.

Reflexivity Relationship = If x has a ref lexive relationship to y, then y has the same reflexive relationship to x.

Leonardo DiCaprio played Jordan Belfort in the 2013 film The Wolf of Wall Street. The actor who played Jordan Belfort in that film was nominated for an Oscar. So, Leonardo DiCaprio received an Oscar nomination for his performance in that film.

The President of the United States was assassinated in 1963. People still remember where they were and what they were doing when they heard that shocking news. John F. Kennedy was the President who was killed that tragic November day in Dallas. So, people still remem- ber where they were and what they were doing the day they heard that Kennedy had been assassinated.

Identity Relationship = If x is y, then y is x.

Leonardo DiCaprio, Oscar nominated actor John F. Kennedy, 35th President of the United States

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But A may not be the only condition that brings about B. So, it does not make logical sense to believe that A must be true simply because B is true. Here are more examples of the fallacy of Affirming the Consequent.

If we put an American on Mars before the end of the twentieth century, then we have a successful space program. We do have a successful space program. So it must be true that we put an American on Mars before the end of the twentieth century.

If I am a good person, then God favors me with friends, wealth, and fame. God has favored me with friends, wealth, and fame. Therefore, I must be a good person.

DENYING THE ANTECEDENT Suppose the same hypo- thetical as before: “If the river continues to rise, then the carpet will get wet.” And suppose that we receive the good news that the river has crested and is now receding. It does not follow that the carpet will not get wet. We still must contend with the leaky dishwasher, the open window, and dear old Uncle Joe, the sofa watering man.

The fallacy of Denying the Antecedent follows this invalid pattern:

Premise #1: If A, then B. Premise #2: Not A. Conclusion: Therefore not B.

As before, A may not be the only condition that brings about B. So, it does not make logical sense to think that just because A does not happen, B cannot happen. Here are two more examples of the fallacy of Denying the Antecedent.

If everyone who lived in Mississippi drank red wine daily, then the wine industry would be booming. But some Mississippians never drink red wine. So, the wine industry is not booming.

If we see a light in the window, we know that there is someone at home. But we do not see a light in the window. So, no one is home.

Fallacies When Reasoning about Classes of Objects Just as there are logically correct ways of reasoning about classes of objects and their members, there are familiar mistakes we often hear being made. Here are examples of fallacious reasoning about classes of objects. These com- mon errors have earned their own names.

FALSE CLASSIFICATION Suppose “Criminals enjoy mafia movies” and “Cassandra enjoys mafia movies” are both true. It does not follow that Cassandra is a criminal. The same feature or attribute can be true of two groups or two individuals without requiring that one group must

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous detective calls the arguments he put forth with certainty “deductions.” He describes the process of deductive reasoning this way:

“Eliminate all other factors, and the one which remains must be the truth.”

Sherlock Holmes14

8.2 Fallacies Masquerading as Valid Arguments

Just as there are valid argument templates, there are falla- cious argument templates. Analysis of the meanings of the terms used and the grammatical rules of the language reveal the source of the error. Precision of thought and expression is the key to avoiding these mistakes when making or evaluat- ing arguments offered as valid inferences. Often, a counter- example that mirrors the fallacious argument template will have the power to reveal the illogical structure, expose the fallacy, and squelch the argument’s apparent persuasiveness. As before, in this section please assume that the premises of the example arguments are all true, so that we can focus on their logical flaws rather than their factual inaccuracies.

Fallacies When Reasoning with Declarative Statements We saw that affirming the antecedent and denying the con- sequent were two logically correct ways of reasoning with declarative statements. There is a pair of familiar fallacies that mimic those logically correct templates.

AFFIRMING THE CONSEQUENT Suppose it is true that “If the river continues to rise, then the carpet will get wet.” And suppose that we observe that the carpet is wet. It does not follow that the water that wet the carpet came from the river. The wetness may have come from an entirely different source, for example, the dishwasher overflowing, a pitcher of water being spilled, rain coming in an open window, or even old and sadly confused Uncle Joe bringing in the garden hose yet again to water the sofa with flower-patterned upholstery.

The fallacy of Affirming the Consequent follows this invalid pattern:

Premise #1: If A, then B. Premise #2: B. Conclusion: Therefore, A.

JOURNAL It’s Elementary! Is it even possible to follow the advice of Sherlock Holmes on how to figure out the one right answer to a problem? Explain.

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be classified as part of the other group or that the two indi- viduals must be grouped together in all ways. The facts that Emile attended the campus concert and so did 50 stu- dents from the local high school does not make Emile a high school student.

Here are three more examples of the False Classification fallacy.

A good number of residents of Iowa enjoy reading popular fiction. Some who enjoy popular fiction also enjoy windsurfing on their local beaches. So, a good number of residents of Iowa enjoy windsurfing on their local beaches.

The police profiler said that the rapist was a white male, age 25–35, and aggressive. The suspect is a white male, 28 years old, and aggressive. This estab- lishes that the suspect must be the rapist.

There are ways of telling whether or not she is a witch. Wood burns and so do witches burn. So how do we tell if she is made of wood? Well, wood floats. And ducks

float. So, if she floats, then she weighs the same as a duck and therefore she is made of wood. And there- fore . . . , she is a witch! (Condensed from Monty Python and the Holy Grail Scene 5: “She’s a Witch,” 1975.)

Affirming the Consequent Could Be Called the “House M.D. Fallacy” Between abusing his subordinates, manipulating his friends, and being rude to his boss, Dr. House, played by Hugh Laurie, is called on to diagnose and treat some of the most rare and exotic diseases in the TV series House M.D. The popular series ran from 2004 to 2012. The question that drives the drama in each episode is whether or not House will make the right diagnosis before his trial-and-error treatments kill the patient. In the initial scenes of every show Dr. House gives his approval for his team to start medications or do surgeries based on their mistaken ideas about what is really wrong with the patient. Why all the mistakes—apart from there would be no story if he got the diagnosis right the first time? Answer: the fallacy of affirming the consequent. The reasoning pattern the junior physicians on House’s team apply goes more or less like this: “If the patient has condition X, then we would see symptoms A, B, C, and D. We do see symptoms, A, B, C, and D. So the patient must have condition X.” Watch an episode of House M.D. and see if you can pick out the fallacy.

Police dramas often rely on the same fallacy to drive the plot. Early in the stories the detectives reason more or less like this: “If suspect X did the deed, then we would find evidence A, B, C, and D. And, yes, look, here is evidence A, B, C, and D. So suspect X is the felon.”

What saves the patient or exonerates the suspect? Strong diagnostic reasoning, which is a thinking strategy that com- bines pattern recognition with testing aimed at trying to rule out possibilities. For example, something in a medical test—e.g., a given protein showing up in a blood test—implies that the patient could not possibly have condition X. Or the fact that a person was at some other location when the crime was com- mitted definitely rules that person out as a suspect. The testing

used in strong diagnostic reasoning is based on the valid argu- ment pattern we described as Denying the Consequent.

Apart from making for enjoyable drama, what prob- lems in real life can result from the fallacy of Affirming the Consequent? Well, if missed medical diagnoses leading to expensive but ineffective medical treatments and the arrests of innocent people were not bad enough already, how about adding comparable mistakes made by other professionals? Have you ever paid an auto mechanic for a repair job only to find out that the mechanic’s diagnosis of your car’s problem was an honest mistake?

Getting the problem right just might be the most impor- tant step in problem solving. We know how to solve all kinds of problems. But applying a solution that does not fit the problem can result in making things worse, not better.

In comedy and in real life, there is no surviving fallacious thinking.

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Millions have enjoyed the humor that Monty Python created out of this fallacy in the famous “She’s a Witch” scene from Monty Python and the Holy Grail. If you Google "Witch Monty Python" chances are you will find the scene.

The Monty Python knight’s reasoning implies certain death for the poor woman accused of witchcraft, but only if all three premises are true.

Premise #1: If she floats, then she is a witch and we shall burn her. Premise #2: If she does not float, she’ll drown. Premise #3: Either she will float or she will not float. [Unspoken.] Conclusion: Ergo, she dies.

FALLACIES OF COMPOSITION AND DIVISION Rea soning about the relationships of parts and wholes can appear to be valid, but fail because the attribute that

applies to the parts may not apply to the whole, or vice versa. Here are some examples:

It is in each person’s financial interest to cheat a little on his or her income tax return. So, it is financially good for the nation if people cheat on their taxes.

No muscle or joint or organ or cell in your body has the right to give its individual informed consent to a medical procedure. So, why should you, who are com- posed entirely of those many parts, have such a right?

In the first example, an attribute of individual peo- ple who pay taxes is being illogically attributed to the class of objects (“the nation”). The good of each is not necessarily the good of all. The second attempts to with- hold from individuals the right to give informed con- sent because none of our body parts have that right. These examples of the Fallacy of Composition, so called because these fallacious arguments err by reasoning

An Act of Mercy? Any sparks of humor we might find in the Monty Python si l l iness are quickly extinguished by the real ization that Christians really did burn women to death whom they considered to be witches. Women suspected of witchcraft were first tortured and interrogated to the point of exhaustion. Misfortunes that may have befallen others in their community were interpreted as evidence that the accused had put a witch’s evil spell on that unfortunate person. Any blemish on the accused woman’s body—a bruise, a birthmark, or a scar from an old wound or burn— could be interpreted as the “mark of Satan,” for further confirmation of her guilt.

The tenth and final episode of James Burke’s landmark series, The Day the Universe Changed, illustrates, given our twenty-first-century worldview, the burning of a woman alive is a horrific killing of an innocent person. But, given their seventeenth-century worldview, the people living in Scotland only four centuries ago interpreted the very same event as an act of mercy. The laws of logic are the same here and now as they were then and there. What has changed? The differences in how the event is seen result from the vastly divergent set of implicit unspoken assumptions that constitute the two world- views. It is within the context of our “truths” about the world that the laws of logic function. Today in parts of the world where a non-scientific worldview prevails, beliefs in voodoo and magic have a very real influence over the lives and decisions people make. In those communities, it would be “common sense” to fear that some might have the power to cause harm or misfor- tune simply by thinking evil thoughts and incanting spells. There were witch burnings in Kenya, and New Guinea in 2013 and in Serbia and Russia in 2014. (Google “witch burning” followed by location and year for the news reports.)

Learning to make logical inferences is vital. But logic alone is not enough. Strong critical thinking requires more than skillful inference, analysis, explanation, and interpretation. It requires courageous truth-seeking and the intellectual honesty to reflect from time to time on our own most cherished beliefs and unspo- ken assumptions. Which of our twenty-first century practices that we see as righteous and sensible will the people in the twenty- fourth century look back on in horror? Google “Witch burning Day Universe Changed” to locate the scene. It is the second scene in the episode titled “Changing Knowledge, Changing Reality.” Be advised that the images may be disturbing.

Kepari Leniata being burnt to death in Papua New Guinea for the crime of sorcery. Google “Kepari Leniata Papua New Guinea sorcery” for multiple news reports on this killing, including a report in the Huffington Post by Meredith Bennett-Smith on February 7, 2013.

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that a group has exactly the same attributes that each of its members have. “I don’t know, Bill. Everyone on the Budget Committee is really smart. But, wow, that Committee makes stupid decisions. How can that be?” Simple. What is true of individuals is necessarily true of groups, including how well the group performs. Now consider these three examples:

The president of the large corporation sent a memo to every vice president, director, manager, and supervi- sor saying, “In corporations of our size with hundreds of employees we can be certain that 10 percent of our total workforce is performing at a substandard level. Therefore, I am directing everyone in charge of a unit of 10 or more people to immediately terminate one person of every 10 in the unit. Forward the names of your substandard employees to Human Resources by 5:00 pm tomorrow.”

The United States of America has the right to enter into treaties and to declare war. Therefore each of the 50 states has the right individually to declare war or to enter into treaties.

The average class size at the university is 35 people. Therefore, every class you are taking this term must have 34 other people enrolled in it.

These three examples illustrate the Fallacy of Division, which is the same error, but committed in the opposite direction. Fallacies of Division attribute to each individual member of a group a characteristic that is true of the group as a whole. In the first, an attribute of the class of objects known as the corporation’s total workforce is being illogi- cally attributed to each individual small department or unit. In the second, an attribute of our nation as a whole— the authority to enter into treaties—is being ascribed to each of the states that form our nation. In the third, the average class size, which is an attribute of the university, is illogically attributed to each and every class being offered, as if small seminars and large lectures did not exist.

Fallacies of False Reference Fallacies of false reference occur when reasoning about relationships like identity, reflexivity, or transitivity these most often occur when people think they are talk- ing about the same thing, but in fact are not. The ambi- guity of the expressions like “When did we see it?” or “I did it yesterday.” can be the source of a mistaken infer- ence if different people interpret “it” to be referring to different things. In another chapter we used an example from My Cousin Vinny to illustrate the miscommunica- tion that can arise out of just such an error. In that film the sheriff thought that a young man was confessing to murder when, in fact, he was only saying that he had inadvertently shoplifted a can of tuna fish. A comparable

reasoning mistake occurs when people are not aware that the same object, person, or event may be identified using multiple descriptions.

Suppose that “The dean knows that this year the School of Engineering award for Best Senior Project should go to Team Steelheads.” And suppose that “The four mem- bers of the team are Karen, Anna, Dwight, and Angela” is true. It does not follow that the dean knows that Karen, Anna, Dwight, and Angela are winners of this year ’s award. Why? Because the dean may not know that they are the members of Team Steelhead. Knowing, believing, wanting, or intending something when it is described or named in one way does not imply that the person neces- sarily knows, believes, wants, or intends that very same thing as described or named in another way. That is, unless we add that the person is aware that the two descriptions actually refer to the same thing. Here are two more exam- ples of the fallacy of False Reference.

Tyler at age 10 has often told his Mom that in col- lege he wants to learn how big buildings and bridges are built. These are subjects addressed in civil engi- neering. Therefore, Tyler has announced that he plans to major in civil engineering in college. [No. Young Tyler has no idea what "civil engine ering" is.]

Anthony heard that a winner of the 2010 Tour de France used banned performance-enhancing sub- stances. The winner of the 2010 Tour de France is Andy Schleck. Therefore Anthony heard that Andy Schleck used banned performance-enhancing sub- stances. [It is not logical to suppose that Anthony knows anything about the cyclist Andy Schleck, including that he is the 2010 winner. As it happens, however, we cannot leave this example without clari- fying something. Andy Schleck is the winner of 2010 Tour de France. But he was awarded the win after Alberto Contador, the original winner, was disquali- fied for doping.15]

Personal Infallibility? We Don’t Think So Relying on the grammatical structures of our language, the meanings of key terms, and the laws of mathematics and physics our powers of reasoning enable humans to achieve wondrous technological, computational, and engineering successes. Our species is capable of inferring with certainty the implications of rules, laws, principles, and regulations. This same capability provides endless hours of enjoy- ment working puzzles and playing games like Sudoku, Spider solitaire, Go, and Chess. The structures defined by the rules of those games determine with certainty the choices we can make as players and the outcomes of each possible choice.

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But our power to reason with certainty can have more ominous results too. At times, like a freight train thundering recklessly down the tracks, our capacity for certainty drives us headlong toward conclusions that turn out to be patently wrongheaded. We are cer- tain that our assumptions imply those conclusions, so we move ahead perhaps not thinking about whether those conclusions make any sense in their own right. Consider, for example, the ideologically based reason- ing used to perpetuate the deprivation and abuse of women and girls.16

How can we prevent that ideological freight train from reaching the wrong destination? The answer lies at the starting point. Are all of our beliefs, values, assump- tions, and interpretations true? A healthy sense of skepti- cism, the study of human history, and a great deal of life experience suggests that the probability of personal infal- libility approximates zero. Even the most learned, saintly, and wise among us can be mistaken. The chapter on Ideological Reasoning takes up this important theme as it explores the captivating certainty and the often dreadful outcomes our species derives from ideological reasoning.

Summing up this chapter, when a person offers an argument believing that the truth of the premises completely guarantees the truth of the conclusion how might we evaluate the logical strength of that argument? The answer is clear: If we can find a coun- terexample, then the argument fails to show that its con- clusion must be true given the truth of the premises. But, if there is no possible scenario in which the premises all are true and the conclusion false, then we would say that

the premises do imply or entail the conclusion. In that case we describe the argument as valid. Because validity depends on the meanings of structure of the argument, including the words and the grammar of our language, we first examined a number of valid reasoning templates. Then, to arm ourselves against their tempting deceits, we reviewed a roster of fallacies that masquerade as valid arguments.

Key Concept valid describes an argument or inference such that the truth of the premises entails or implies that conclusion

must be true; in other words, it impossible for the conclu- sion to be false if all the premises are true.

Applications Reflective Log Getting the Problem Wrong: The risks associated with what the Fallacy of Affirming the Consequent (which we renamed in honor of the TV character “The House M.D. Fallacy”) were the extra expense, unnecessary trauma, and risk of death associated with mistaken diagnosis. Review that Thinking Critically box and think about whether you might have ever committed that fallacy or whether you

might have been victimized by that fallacy. In either or both cases, describe the situation. What was the fallacious reasoning? What happened as a result? What might you have done differently to have avoided making that mis- take? What might the other person have done differently so that you would not have been victimized by their falla- cious reasoning?

Author, Jimmy Carter, won the 2002 Nobel Peace Prize and served as our 39th president.

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Individual Exercises Evaluate arguments: Determine which of these arguments are valid and which are fallacious. In each case assume that all the premises are true, even if it strikes you that one or another of them is actually rather implausible. In each case indicate which valid argument template or which fal- lacy is exemplified.

1. Everyone who owns a car needs car insurance. Joe just purchased a car. Therefore Joe needs car insurance.

2. Gatorade® is thirst quenching. Tap water is thirst quenching. So Gatorade is tap water.

3. If we drive on the Pacific Coast Highway near San Francisco we can see islands off the Pacific Coast. We can see islands off the Pacific Coast. So we are driving on the Pacific Coast Highway near San Francisco.

4. “I believe the one who brings the hotdogs is supposed to bring the buns too. Somebody messed up,” said John. “So, what you’re saying is that my mother messed up,” said Mary.

5. There are a lot of repossessed condos on the market. The one on Maple Street is less expensive than the place we saw on Palm Ave. And that cute one on Oak Blvd. is priced even lower than that. So the most expensive of the three is the place on Maple.

6. Tweets are short, at most 140 characters. I counted the characters in your last e-mail and there were 1,400. That implies that your last e-mail is nothing but 10 tweets.

7. “Either we’ll finish the yard work in time to go to the movie, or we’ll enjoy a quiet evening at home,” said John. “I don’t see us finishing in time for the movie,” said Malaya. “It’s a quiet evening at home then,” said John.

8. If Pepsi tasted better than Coke, then more people would select Pepsi in a blind taste test. And that’s just what happened. So, it must taste better.

9. If Pepsi tasted better than Coke, then it would outsell Coke. But Pepsi does not taste better than Coke. So it will not outsell Coke.

10. If the tuition goes up next year, then next fall the freshmen class enrollment will drop. But the freshmen class enrollment will be as high as ever next fall. Therefore next year the tuition will not increase.

Devil and angel: Having died, you find yourself in a room with no windows. You see two identical doors in front of you. There is someone guarding each door. The two guards are wearing identical uniforms. They look exactly alike. A voice, which you recognize as the voice of God suddenly fills the room. God says, “Welcome. An angel guards the door to Heaven. A devil guards the door to Hell. The angel never lies. The devil never speaks the truth. You may ask only one guard only one question. If you ask correctly, the door to Heaven will be opened for you. Good luck, I hope to see you soon.” What one question do you ask to identify the door to Heaven with absolute certainty? To see this puzzle worked out watch, after searching, the epi- sode of the Ricky Gervais Show that HBO broadcasted on January 28, 2011.

SHARED RESPONSE Valid Argument or Fallacy? 1. Write one short argument that exemplifies either a valid argument template or one of the fallacies described in this chapter. Post

it without identifying what it exemplifies. 2. Select a post by another student and identify the valid argument template or the fallacy which that student used for their example. 3. After your example has received comment, be sure to return and explain what you had intended to exemplify.

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Group Exercises Create your own valid inference examples: Write two valid arguments based on each of the eight valid argument templates described in the chapter:

Denying the Consequent Affirming the Antecedent Disjunctive Syllogism Applying a Generalization Applying an Exception Transitivity Relationship Reflexivity Relationship Identity Relationship

Create your own examples of fallacies: Write two falla- cious arguments exemplifying each of these six errors:

The Fallacy of Affirming the Consequent The Fallacy of Denying the Antecedent The Fallacy of False Classification The Fallacy of Composition The Fallacy of Division

The Fallacy of False Reference

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Learning Outcomes

9.1 Evaluate the logical strength of inferences presented to justify or support the belief that their conclusions are very probably, but not necessarily, true if we take their premises to be true.

9.2 Recognize reasoning fallacies masquerading as warranted inferences.

Chapter 9

Warranted Inferences

HOW do we evaluate the logical strength of inferences offered as if their conclusions are very probably but not necessarily true?

HOW can we recognize common fallacies related to these inferences?

When you do the numbers, which looks like it is probably the better deal, the public university or the private university? The answer is hidden in the details.

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“Why would you think that Indiana State is less expensive for you than Butler University?” asked Justin.

“Easy,” replied his brother Silas. “The in-state tuition and fees at ISU come to something like $8,500, and at Butler, which is private, the tuition and fees are more like $34,500.1

Advantage ISU by $26,000 per year! You have to fig- ure that the cost of room and board is a wash. So it comes down to tuition.”

“That’s not true. You forgot to consider financial aid. My grades are good enough, maybe I will get a scholar- ship. I’ve already talked with the financial aid offices at both universities. The people at Butler are saying I’ll prob- ably get about $14,500 in scholarship money. For me that brings Butler’s tuition down to $20,000. The ISU people were less certain about the status of my scholarship appli- cation. They wanted to be conservative, so they talked about maybe $2,500 in scholarships. If that’s how it goes, then my ISU tuition would be $6,000. Now the difference is only $14,000 per year.”

“So? That’s still a lot.” “Yes, but there are student loans too. Both places just

about guaranteed that I could make up the rest of what I’d need that way,” said Justin.

Silas said, “Which means you can defer starting to pay back the loans until six months after you graduate, right?”

“Right. And let’s look at how long it will take me to graduate. I’ll transfer in from Ivy Tech with enough credits to be a junior. I could graduate from Butler in two years for sure.”

“Well,” said Silas, “then it would be two years at ISU too.”

“Not necessarily,” replied Justin. “I’ve heard that because the state budget cut backs it is more difficult to get required courses at ISU. It might take an extra year at ISU. But private colleges like Butler work hard to get everyone graduated on time.”

“Alright, let’s assume that it would take you three years to graduate from ISU, but only two to graduate from Butler. So considering only the tuition minus the scholar- ships, you’re still looking at borrowing $14,000 each year for two years at Butler as compared to $6,000 each year for three years at ISU. It seems clear to me that $28,000 in loans is a bigger problem than $18,000. All in all ISU looks like the better deal financially by about $10,000.”

“No, you forgot one other thing,” said Justin. “What?” asked Silas. “If I graduate from Butler a year earlier, then I can get

a full-time job that much sooner. And suppose I find a job that pays maybe $30,000. Or, who knows? Maybe $35,000. In one year of working I will have covered that $10,000 spread. I realize that there are risks and uncertainties. I could be wrong. But financially speaking Butler is prob- ably the better choice given my particular situation.”

In this chapter we focus on arguments such that the premises supply enough support or justification for us to infer with confidence that the conclusion is very probably true, but not necessarily true.2 From the context and the evidence at hand we accept these inferences knowing that it is pos- sible that the conclusion might turn out to be false, even if all the premises are true. In the opening example about selecting a college the argument maker, Justin, uses the word “probably” to qualify the force of his claim. Justin is not absolutely certain that Butler University is the best choice financially. And yet, Justin is justified in thinking that Butler probably is the better choice for him financially given the evidence currently at hand.

If the assumption that all the premises are true makes it very probable or highly likely that the conclusion is true, that is if the premises justify or strongly support confi- dently taking the conclusion to be true, then we will eval- uate the argument or inference as warranted. Warranted arguments pass the Test of Logical Strength. In this chap- ter we will expand our tool kit for evaluating the logical strength of arguments and inferences. Our focus here will be on arguments presented to show that their conclusions are very probably, but not necessarily, true. We will also examine a group of common and beguiling fallacies that masquerade as warranted arguments.

9.1 The Evidence Currently at Hand

One way warranted arguments can be distinguished from valid arguments (Chapter 8) is by how new information impacts the reasoning. With warranted arguments new information can lead us to reconsider our conclusions without abandoning any of our original premises. With new information in hand, we may reasonably determine that our original conclusion was mistaken, even though all of our original premises remain true. As you recall from Chapter 8, that cannot happen with valid argu- ments. With valid arguments, the conclusion is implied or entailed by the premises which means that if the con- clusion is false, then one or more of the premises must be false too.

A moment ago we said Justin’s conclusion that Butler was probably the best place for him financially was war- ranted, given the information he had at the time. Let’s revisit that example and add some new information. Good news, Justin. Indiana State has decided to award you a full scholarship. Notice that the new information does not contradict anything Justin knew before. It is still true that when he talked to the people at ISU they were uncertain and gave him a conservative response. The news of the full scholarship only expands and updates Justin’s knowledge.

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None of the premises changed from true to false. Yet Justin’s conclusion regarding which institution is the bet- ter financial choice for him does change. With a full ride, he can now more confidently conclude that ISU would be better for him financially.

The “Weight of Evidence” Consider this example, based on a story from the CBS series CSI.3

A man is found dead of a gunshot wound to the stomach, his body in a seated position at the base of

a tree in a forest. It is deer hunting season. Except for not wearing an orange safety vest, he is dressed like a hunter. His hunting rifle, never having been fired, lies on the ground at his side. The evidence strongly suggests that his death resulted from a hunting acci- dent. The investigator infers that had the man been wearing his orange safety vest, he probably would be alive today.

The investigator’s inference is plausible. Although we can imagine alternative scenarios, but in the absence of any further information, we have no basis for evaluat- ing the investigator’s inference as other than warranted.

Inductive Reasoning The core idea here is this: A large, important and quite diverse group of inferences justify the confident belief that their con- clusion is very probably true given that their premises are all true. The key critical thinking question is how to recognize and evaluate those inferences.

Traditionally the term “induction” named this vast class of inferences. But, as endnote 2 for this chapter indicates, logi- cians often use more specific names for some of the major sub-groupings. Without inductive reasoning our species would not be able to explain, predict, and in some cases control natural phenomena. We would not have the basic scientific, agricultural, and logistical knowledge that enables us to grow, preserve, and distribute food efficiently. We would not have the scientific and medical knowledge or equipment to enable us to predict, diagnose, manage, and treat diseases. We would not have discovered the multiple contributing factors to climate change and, in turn, the capacity to build models that help us anticipate the impact climate change will have on long term global weather patterns, sea levels, and the habitats of

thousands of species of plants and animals, including our own species and those upon which we rely for food.

There are five chapters on various aspects of induc- tive reasoning in this book: This one, and the chapters on “Comparative Reasoning,” “Empirical Reasoning,” “Critical Thinking in the Social Sciences,” and “Critical Thinking in the Natural Sciences.” The organization of the book is driven by its purpose, which is the development of your critical thinking skills and habits of mind. We drew on decades of experience teaching for thinking and no small measure of professional expertise in learning theory when organizing the topics, exam- ples, and exercises. But, yes, if the book were for a different purpose we would of course have organized it differently. For example, had our purpose been to crystallize information into a catalogue of kinds of probabilistic inferences, we probably would have grouped together the five chapters listed above.

How do we understand inductive reasoning? We wrote this after decades of research: “Decision making in contexts of uncertainty relies on inductive reasoning. We use inductive rea-

soning skills when we draw inferences about what we think is probably true based on analogies, case studies, prior experience, sta- tistical analyses, simulations, hypotheticals, and patterns recognized in familiar objects, events, experiences, and behaviors. As long as there is the possibility, however remote, that a highly probable conclusion might be mistaken even though the evidence at hand is unchanged, the reasoning is  inductive. Although it does not yield certainty, inductive reasoning can provide a confident basis for solid belief in our conclusions and a reason- able basis for action.”*

*Source: California Critical Thinking Skills Test User Manual, San Jose, CA: Insight Assessment. 2014. Page 22. Used with permission from Insight Assessment-Measuring thinking worldwide. www.insightassessment.com.

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As you could have predicted with a TV cop drama, so it is with the CSI story. New facts come to light:

The time of death was mid-afternoon, a time when deer are not hunted. Deer are hunted at dawn and at dusk. The dead man had not purchased a hunting license. There was gunshot residue on the man’s clothing, which indicates that he was shot at very close range. The gun that shot him could not have been more than a foot or two from his body. A $1,000,000 insurance policy had been purchased on his life only two weeks prior to his death. The policy had been paid for with his wife’s credit card. The wife is the beneficiary who would receive the money if he should die by illness or by accident.

The initial conclusion, death by accident, looks mis- taken in the light of this new information. Now a more plausible conclusion would be that the man had been mur- dered by his wife or perhaps by someone she hired. Her motive, of course, would be the insurance money.

In the CSI example and in the ISU–Butler example, we can say that the weight of evidence leads us toward one conclusion rather than another. Of course “weight of evi- dence” is a metaphor. We do not have a method to apply to either example that allows us to measure how much confi- dence we should have in our conclusion. We know it is not 100 percent, because some other new information might turn up leading us to change our minds again. And we know that our confidence is greater than 50 percent. In the university example, with a full scholarship to ISU, Justin would not say the financial advantage of ISU vs. Butler is nothing but a coin-flip. With the physical gunshot residue evidence and the $1,000.000 insurance policy as motivation,

the detective would not say that the odds that the shooting was murder were only 50-50. How high would you esti- mate the detective’s confidence should be, given the evi- dence at hand? 75 percent? 90 percent? What do you think?

One tool that would makes it easier to evaluate the logi- cal strength of probabilistic arguments is a systematic method for assigning levels of confidence. We do not have standards in every professional field, but some do. The law, for example, provides a set of increasingly stronger standards that must be met to justify taking various legal actions.4 The lowest level is “reasonable suspicion.” A police officer who observes a vehicle weaving across the lane lines may have a reason- able suspicion that the driver is drunk. If the police officer stops the driver and places the driver under arrest, then the police officer may have “reason to believe” that a search of the vehicle might provide more evidence regarding the DUI, for example, an open container. The standards of evidence continue up from these lower levels to “probable cause for arrest,” “credible evidence,” and “substantial evidence.”

Continuing up the legal standards progression, next comes “preponderance of evidence.” As used in legal pro- ceedings “preponderance of evidence” means evidence that provides more than a 50-50 chance that the conclusion is true. That is hardly enough to convict a person of a crime. But it is enough to get an indictment from a grand jury and it is enough to win disputes in civil court over money. A higher standard is “clear and convincing evidence.” A jury might base a finding of fact on a witness’ testimony because the jury regarded the testimony as substantially more true than false. The highest standard of evidence in legal proceedings is, of course, “proof beyond a reasonable doubt.” At this level the evidence is so convincing that there is no plausible or reasonable basis for doubting the truth of the conclusion. Proof beyond a reasonable doubt is strong enough that we would rely upon it and use it as a basis for action.5

Notice how much the legal standards at each level call for an unbiased, informed, and fair-minded reasoned judgment, rather than a precise mathematical calculation. All the critical thinking skills and all the positive habits of mind are essential for applying the legal standards well.

Proof beyond a reasonable doubt is enough to put a criminal in prison for life. But even this high standard is not 100 percent certitude. A great many people who are found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt really are guilty. Even so, new information may come to light years later to demon- strate that, in some cases, the guilty verdict was mistaken. In 2014 the prizefighter Rubin “Hurricane” Carter died a free man. He was exonerated after spending 19 years in prison, wrongly convicted for a triple murder. During his life Carter became a worldwide symbol of racial injustice.6 To learn more about Hurricane Carter search the 1999 film starring Denzel Washington. His story inspired others to work, as he did, to achieve justice for people wrongly convicted of murder and other serious crimes. The Innocence Project,

In the eyes of the law, “probable cause for arrest” is a much lower legal standard than “clear and convincing evidence.” Check out “How Courts Work” at www .uscourts.gov.

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which has exonerated hundreds of innocent people wrongly convicted, is a sobering reminder to us about how difficult and yet how important it is to evaluate the logical strength of arguments carefully. A strong but fair criminal justice sys- tem is essential to the rule of law. But a weak or unfair sys- tem undermines respect for law enforcement and undercuts trust in the court system. To learn more about the causes of wrongful convictions, such as eye witness misidentifications, improper forensics, false confessions, government miscon- duct, and self-interested informants, one place to begin your search at the Innocence Project website. Or, Google “social justice film awards” for a rich array of high quality media.

Evaluating Generalizations A generalization may be based on data gathered system- atically or unsystematically. We would be wise to place greater confidence in the claim if it were supported by data gathered more systematically, rather than on simply one or two happenstance personal observations. Consider the following three generalizations. Their conclusions, which are bolded, are supported by premises that report personal experiences, conversations focused on these topics, or infor- mation derived from historical records or opinion surveys.

1. People over the age of 60 tend to prefer to listen to oldies. This claim is based on the data gathered in telephone surveys of persons between the

ages of 60 and 90, which were conducted in Florida, Arizona, Ohio, and Connecticut. In all, 435 inter- views were conducted. Participants were asked to identify which type of music they preferred to listen to most. They were given eight choices: Classical, Pop, R&B, Country, Oldies, Broadway, Religious, and Top 40.

2. In May, inspectors from the city sanita- tion department made unannounced visits to all 20 hotels in the downtown area and to 10 of the other 30 hotels within the city limits. The 10 were representative of the type and quality ratings of those other 30 hotels. The inspectors by law could demand access to any room in the hotel to look for pests and to evaluate cleanliness. Careful records were kept of each room inspected. In all, 2,000 beds were exam- ined for bedbugs. 1,460 beds tested positive. Based on the data from these inspections, we estimate that 73 percent of the hotel room beds in this city are infested with bedbugs.

3. I have vis i ted San F r a n c i s c o m a y b e seven times over the past 25 years. It is one of my favorite vaca- tion cities. I’ve gone in the summer and in the winter. And I can tell you one thing, bring a jacket because it’s probably going to be cloudy and cold in San Francisco if you go in August.

Notice that in the first example we have a somewhat modest assertion about what people over the age of 60 “tend to” prefer. The second says that it applies to 73 per- cent of the hotel beds, but not that the infected beds are evenly distributed among the city’s 50 hotels. And the third says that it is “probably” going to be cold in San Francisco in August. It is easy to imagine scenarios in which the information in the premises is true but the con- clusion may not apply. We can conjure the possibility that someone over 60 does not like oldies. We can imagine that there may be one hotel in the city where most of the beds are not infested. It is no problem to think of the possibility that there should be at least one warm sunny August day in San Francisco. But, developing a possible counterexam- ple does not necessarily diminish the logical strength of a warranted argument.

How does the Innocence Project use critical thinking to free dead men walking who are innocent? Yes, “innocent until proven guilty” is the legal standard to be applied to everyone accused of a crime. But how does our system actually function? Locate and watch the HBO award winning documentary Gideon’s Army for an accurate portrayal of efforts to correct structural injustices in our legal system.

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To evaluate the logical strength of probabilistic gen- eralizations, we need to do more than find one or two counterexamples. We must, instead, examine whether the sampling of cases reported in the premises is adequate to support the probabilistic inferences that are drawn. This means asking four questions and finding satisfactory answers to each of them.

Was the correct group sampled?

Were the data obtained in an effective way?

Were enough cases considered?

Was the sample representatively structured?

WAS THE CORRECT GROUP SAMPLED? The first exam- ple makes a claim about people over the age of 60. The prem- ises tell us that adults between the ages of 60 and 90 were sampled. That is the correct group to sample if one wishes to make generalizations about persons in that age range. It would not do, obviously, to sample people under the age of 60 and then present those data as a basis for a claim about peo- ple over that age. One would think that sampling the wrong population would not be a mistake commonly made. But for years, pharmaceutical companies made inferences about children’s drug dosages and the effects of various medica- tions on women based largely on studies conducted on adult males. More recently, we have learned that there are genetic factors that affect the rate at which common pain relievers, like the ibuprofen in Motrin, are metabolized. This new find- ing should influence dosage recommendations for those who are poor metabolizers (e.g., 6 to 10 percent of Caucasians).7

WERE THE DATA OBTAINED IN AN EFFECTIVE WAY? In our example about the music listening preferences of adults over 60, we see that the data were obtained via telephone surveys. We might think that a telephone sur- vey may not be as efficient as using a Web-based survey, which would reach many more people and be much more cost-effective. But, upon reflection, it seems reasonable to use the telephone to reach older adults, many of whom may not be comfortable with the use of computers and Web-based survey tools. Finding an effective method to gather data from the sample is often a major challenge for researchers.8 For example, consider how difficult it is to gather high-quality data about the state of mind of combat veterans in the year after their return from a war zone.

WERE ENOUGH CASES CONSIDERED? In general, the more cases the better. But there comes a point of diminishing returns. If we are trying to make a reasonable generalization about millions of people who live in major metropolitan areas like Boston, New York, Chicago, or Los Angeles, it is neither necessary nor cost-effective to survey even one percent of a group so large. At some point the distribution of responses simply adds numbers, but the proportions of

responses selecting each possible answer do not change sig- nificantly. Social scientists have worked out sophisticated statistical methods to provide a precise answer to the ques- tion of sample size. The answer establishes a minimum nec- essary depending on the kinds of statistical analysis to be conducted and the degree of accuracy needed for the ques- tion at hand. For example, to keep us up to date on the likely voting patterns in a forthcoming election, it is sufficient to track what likely voters are going to do within a margin of error of plus or minus 2 percent. Called a “power analysis,” the calculations social scientists make begin with a projection of the number of cases expected to fall randomly into each possible category. Scientists can then determine whether the observed distribution varies significantly from the expected random distribution.9 As a rough rule of thumb, they would want at least 25 cases per possible response category. In our “Oldies” example there are eight categories of music. So, we would need a sample of at least 200 individuals. We have 435, so the sample size is adequate. But we do not have a claim that reports a percentage. In our example the claim reports a tendency. Social scientists would not regard a ten- dency as being a strong enough deviation from random to be called “statistically significant.”

WAS THE SAMPLE REPRESENTATIVELY STRUCTURED? We said that 435 was an adequate sample size for our example, but were the 435 representative of the popula- tion being talked about in the claim? The claim talks about everyone over the age of 60. Because more than half of the people between 60 and 90 are women, and because women might have different music listening preferences, we would need to be satisfied that the 435 reflected the actual ratio of women and men in that age group. We do not know that

In general, do men and women over 60 like the same genre of music? If we needed to sample at least 400 people when there were eight possible response categories (classical, pop, etc.), now we would need to sample at least 800 people because the number of response categories just doubled. Namely: Men who like classical, women who like classical, men who like pop, women who like pop, and so on.

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from the information given. If we hypothesize that music- listening preferences might be related to educational back- ground, race, ethnicity, or socioeconomic status, then we would want to assure ourselves that the sample of 435 was representative of the distribution of those factors among the target population. Because we do not know if 435 is a representative sample, we cannot answer this fourth ques- tion in the affirmative. And, as a result, example #1 is not logically strong.

Coincidences, Patterns, Correlations, and Causes Decades ago scientists first observed that there were a number of cases of heart disease where, coincidentally, the person was a smoker. Further systematic research demonstrated a strong positive correlation between smoking and heart disease. Scientists hypothesized that perhaps smoking was a contributing factor. However, before making a defensible argument that quitting smok- ing would reduce a person’s chances of heart disease, researchers had to explain scientifically how smoking caused heart disease. Researchers demonstrated scien- tifically that nicotine constricts blood vessels in the heart, which reduces blood flow to the heart muscle, thus caus- ing heart attacks.

The progression from coincidence to correlation to causal explanations marks our progress in being able to explain and to predict events. At first we may observe two events and think that their occurrence might merely be a chance coin- cidence. Then, as more data are systematically gathered and analyzed, we may discover that the two events are in fact statistically correlated. And, with further experimental

investigation, we may learn that what had at first seemed like a coincidence actually occurs because of important causal factors. When and if we reach that stage we will have generated a causal explanation.

COINCIDENCES If two events happen to occur to gether by chance, we call that a coincidence. For exam- ple, in 2013 a total of 23 people were killed by lightning in the United States.10 In 2013 what are the chances that a given individual would have been killed by lightning in the United States, given that the population is roughly 317,300,000? That coincidence has roughly one chance in 13,800,000 of occurring, all else being equal. The qualifier “all else being equal” means that weather patterns do not change substantially and that substantial numbers of people do not behave in ways which increase or decrease their chances of being killed by lightning in the United States, such as becoming residents of another country or standing in an open field holding aluminum rods in the air during lightning storms. But, all things being equal, we can use probabilistic reasoning and statistical facts to calculate the probabilities that a given coincidence might occur.

Although we cannot predict with certainty that the next time you flip a coin it will come up heads, we can predict with a high level of confidence what will happen 50 percent of the time in the long run. We know how to calculate mathematical probabilities for events such as these because we know that each individual outcome occurs randomly with equal frequency. If we roll two reg- ular dice, the result will be two 6s 1 time out of 36 rolls over the long haul. We calculate that by multiplying the chance of rolling a 6 on die #1, which is 1 out of 6, times the chance of rolling a 6 on die #2, which is also 1 out of 6. Then we multiply those odds to get the mathemati- cal probability of both outcomes happening together—the product is 1 out of 36.

PATTERNS Occasionally we see patterns in events that initially appear to be random coincidences. For example, lightning does strike more than once in the same place. That’s why people put lightning rods on the tops of build- ings. The lightning rod offers an attractive location for lightning to strike. Because the lightning rod is connected to the ground by a sturdy wire, the electrical charge from the lightning is directed safely into the earth, instead of causing damage to the tall building or starting a fire. We do not know where or when the lightning will strike, but we know there will be storms and lightning every year. And we have observed the pattern that lightning is much more likely to strike tall, pointy, isolated objects, like barns in the prairie or skyscrapers in cities.11 To ignore that pattern would be foolish of us.

In the heartland people know that lightning can strike twice or more often in the same place.

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The Nurses’ Health Study—Decades of Data One powerful example of research that uses statistical anal- ysis is the Nurses’ Health Study (NHS). This project is per- haps the most comprehensive descriptive investigation of health-related behavior ever conducted. Since its inception in 1976, over 238,000 nurses have provided information. The NHS reports findings based on statistical analyses of millions of data points. Some remarkable, unexpected, and impor- tant correlations were discovered. Measured expressions like “investigations … suggested …”, “… is associated with reduced risk …”, and “strong correlations … support …” char- acterize the annual reports. The scientists who conducted this research are presenting probabilistic conclusions. Their con- clusions are warranted because the statistical analyses pro- vide sufficient confidence to assert that the relationships on which they report are highly unlikely to have occurred by ran- dom chance. Google “Nurses’ Health Study” for the website at Harvard.

2009—Early Life Factors and Risk of Breast Cancer “Epidemiologic investigations conducted by our group and others have suggested that during childhood and early adult life breast tissue is particularly sensitive to factors that influ- ence the likelihood of developing cancer many years later. For example, if the breast is exposed to multiple x-rays or other types of radiation during this early period, the risk of breast cancer rises steadily with higher doses, but after age 40 radiation has little effect. Also, we have seen that being overweight before age 20 is paradoxically associated with a reduced risk of breast cancer for the rest of a woman’s life, although subsequent weight gain and becoming over- weight after menopause increases risk of breast cancer in these later years. These findings led us to develop sets of questions focusing on diet and physical activity during the high school years. . . . In addition, to assess the validity of the recalled dietary data, we invited a sample of mothers of NHS II participants to also complete a questionnaire about the high school diets of their NHS II daughters; strong correlation between the mother–daughter reports supported the validity of our dietary data.

We have now begun to examine the relation of high school diet and activity patterns to subsequent risk of breast cancer. We have seen that higher intake of red meat during high school years is related to a greater risk of pre- menopausal breast cancer. Also, higher levels of physical activity during high school were associated with lower risk of breast cancer before menopause. This is particularly important, as many schools do not include regular physical activity in the curriculum, and many girls are now quite inac- tive during these years.” (Nurses’ Health Study Newsletter Volume 16, 2009)

2013—Adolescent Alcohol Intake and Benign Breast Disease Based on the findings reported in 2009 and on the addi- tional data collected about school diets from the daughters of the participants of NSH II, further research was possible. Good science progresses carefully. Five years later this report appeared.

“Alcohol consumption during adulthood is a well- established risk factor for breast cancer. However, less research has been conducted about alcohol consumption during adoles- cence (when breast cells undergo rapid growth) and later risk of breast cancer. In the NHS II, we found that higher levels of alcohol consumption between ages 18 and 22 was associated with increased risk of proliferative benign breast disease (BBD), a type of breast lesion that is a known risk marker for invasive breast cancer. Compared to non-drinkers, moderate drinkers (less than ½ drink per day) had an 11 percent greater risk of developing proliferative BBD, whereas heavier drinkers (more than ½ drink per day) had a 36 percent greater risk. Each addi- tional drink consumed per day was associated with a 15 percent increase in risk of proliferative BBD. An assessment of alcohol consumption in young women in the Growing Up Today Study, or GUTS (children of the NHS II participants), also showed that drinking between ages 16 and 22 years was associated with increased risk of BBD. These results provide evidence that drinking alcohol during adolescence may increase the risk of BBD. (Nurses’ Health Study Newsletter Volume 20 2013.)

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Another pattern that is difficult to miss is the con- centration of multi-million dollar luxury casinos in Las Vegas, Atlantic City, and other gambling hubs. Casinos are monuments to the reliability, over the long run, of these calculated coincidences. If 98 percent of the money bet in a casino on any given day goes back to the players as winnings that day, then on an average day the casino can be very confident of retaining 2 percent of every dol- lar bet. The more money bet, the more dollars that 2 per- cent represents. Unless more than 100 percent of the money bet is returned to the bettors as winnings, we can be sure that over the long run the bettors go home los- ers, not winners, and not “breaking even.” An individual person winning a specific bet is, considered in itself, a random coincidence. The totality of all those coincidences can be aggregated into a large and highly predictable profit margin for the casino. The best generalization to infer is that, in the end, the casino will very likely sepa- rate the chronic gambler from more and more of his or her money.

“Fables should be taught as fables, myths as myths, and miracles as poetic fantasies. To teach superstitions as truths is a most terrible thing. The child mind accepts and believes them, and only through great pain and perhaps tragedy can he be in after years relieved of them.”

Hypatia of Alexandria, (370–415), Mathematician and Philosopher.12

CORRELATIONS As in the smoking and heart attack example, when the same coincidence is observed over and

over again, that is, when people see a pattern, they begin to suspect that the events may be related by something more than pure random chance. Even before knowing that one event may be the cause of another, we can determine whether the two are correlated.

Correlations, calculated using statistical analyses, describe the degree to which two different sets of events are aligned. For example, scores on critical thinking skills tests are positively correlated with student success on state licensure exams in a number of health sciences pro- fessions.13 We might wish to speculate about the possible causal relationships of critical thinking skill to academic or professional success. But simply having the correlation in hand can be valuable to those professional programs that have more applicants than can be accepted. The admis- sions committees can use an applicant’s critical thinking skills test score in the way that it uses GPAs or letters of reference, namely as another valuable data point to con- sider when making its decision to admit or not to admit an applicant.14

When a research project reports that a statistically significant correlation has been found between events of kind #1 (scores on a critical thinking skills test) and events of kind #2 (scores on a state’s professional licen- sure examination), that means that the relationship between the two kinds of events is viewed as not likely to be happenstance or chance. Of course, there could be an error in this estimate, but typically the largest thresh- old for this error is a slim 5 percent. We can be 95 per- cent confident that the two events are really correlated. Even greater confidence that the events reported did not happen by mere chance can be found in many fields of research in which statistical significance is reported with 99 percent confidence, at 1 percent, or even less (0.001) chance of error. Even so, we remain in the realm of probabilistic reasoning because the warranted infer- ence, which is logically very strong, holds open the pos- sibility that the findings reported may have happened by mere chance. The odds are very definitely against that possibility, however. If the 0.001 confidence level is reached, then the odds that the conclusion is mistaken are 1 in 1,000.

Using statistical correlations as their basis for con- fidence in their products, manufacturers of over the counter medical test kits do a thriving business. Drug stores like Walgreens sell home tests kits for pregnancy, paternity, colon disease, illegal drugs, blood alcohol levels, and ovulation. These products are used by mil- lions of people. And although these products can be highly reliable, most advertising themselves as 99 per- cent accurate, that still leaves a 1 percent chance for mistakes. At 1 percent, that comes to 10,000 errors out of 1,000,000 tests. Although the possibilities are remote, a test might be a false positive, meaning that that the

Is it only luck that generated the hundreds of millions of dollars needed to build these lavish hotel casinos?

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test indicates that someone is a biological parent, is pregnant, is using illegal drugs, is drunk, or has ovu- lated when those results are not true. Or a test might come back false negative, meaning that the test failed to indicate that the person was in fact a biological par- ent, pregnant, etc. Rare as false positives and false nega- tives are, they illustrate the difference between “highly confident but possibly mistaken” warranted inferences and the certainty, which characterizes valid inferences. Depending on one’s appetite for risk, with 1 chance in 100 of the test results being wrong, a person might be wise to double check before basing a major life decision on a single test’s outcome.

Well-researched correlations can be powerful tools. Consider this possibility. Suppose that writing assign- ments, which employ grammatically complex construc- tions, use expected words and expressions, include sentences with greater average word counts, and include fewer spelling mistakes are statistically significantly cor- related with higher grades. And suppose that assign- ments that are missing one or more of those features are

statistically correlated with lower grades. Based on this, we can design computer programs that assign grades by parsing grammar and counting words.15 The computer does not need to understand the meaning of the essay nor does it have to evaluate the quality of arguments used. The grades assigned by computers can then be checked

THINKING CRITICALLY The Devil Is in the Details! Ever wonder what the return on investment is for graduates from your university with your major? On its public website PayScale.com lists the annual return on investment by major for hun- dreds of institutions. (Navigate to the College ROI Report and select “Best ROI’s by Major” from the dropdown menu.) With data from 113 insti- tutions, the top annual ROI for Humanities and English majors is 10.1 percent and the lowest was -3.9 percent. Looking at 840 institutions, for Business majors the top ROI was 12.3 percent down to -3.8 percent per year. Whoa! Does this mean that a humanities major, like Philosophy, is financially comparable to a major in Business?

What’s It Worth? The Economic Value of College Majors, a study by the Center on Education in the Workforce at Georgetown University, looked at full-time full-year workers who had completed bachelor’s degrees in dif- ferent fields. That report paints a very different picture. In the Georgetown report, the median salary for Business majors as a group is $60,000. The median annual salary for Humanities and English majors was $47,000. That’s 21 percent lower. You can find the Georgetown report on the web by Googling its name.

Why such huge differences? Which one is closer to the truth? Assuming both sources have provided accurate information based on the data available to them, how can we make sense out of the

huge differences between what each says about the median salary by major? Hint: “The devil is in the details.” Check out the sample sizes and the sources of the information each report uses. This will help you evaluate which is the more credible source.

The Georgetown report showed earnings by major and gender and by race. How do we explain the differences by gender as reflected in this chart from the Georgetown report?



*Full-time, full-year workers with a terminal Bachelor’s Degree.

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Female Median Earnings Male Median Earnings



*Source: From What’s It Worth? The Economic Value of College Majors, by the Georgetown Center for Education & Workforce. http://cew.georgetown.edu/whatsitworth/. Reprinted by permission.

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against the grades that human evaluators assign to those same essays. Refinements can then be made in the com- puter program’s grading algorithms to achieve ever closer

approximation to the results human beings would have produced. When the computer program is refined to the extent that it assigns the same grades as well- qualified human beings to 99.9 percent of the essays, then essay grading can be automated. To assign you the grade your professor would have assigned, the computer never needs to understand what you wrote. This is not science fiction. Automated grading is used by the Educational Testing Service.16

CAUSES Documenting that a causal relationship exists between events requires more than demonstrating a strong correlation. The intellectual challenge of design- ing research, which is capable of revealing the causal mechanisms at work in nature is important and interest- ing work. Perhaps this is why many strong critical think- ers find careers in scientific and technical fields attractive. Causal explanations are desirable because they enable us to explain, predict, and control parts of the natural world. In Chapter 14 entitled “Empirical Reasoning” we will explore the powerful investigatory methods used by scientists to achieve causal explanations. In the two con- cluding chapters we explore the differences between how social scientists and natural scientists seek the best expla- nations possible.

It is not always possible to move all the way from coin- cidence to correlation to causal explanation in every field

Grading Written Submissions If the purpose of grading is to identify which essays fall into which broad groups—for example, “Fail, Pass, High Pass” or “F, D, C, B, A”—and if a computer can manage this faster, with greater consistency, and with an accuracy that matches a well- trained human reader, it seems reasonable to use the computer.

If, on the other hand, the purpose of grading is to advance learning through commenting on the content and presentation of the student’s written work, then automated grading does not seem to be a feasible nor desirable alternative. To provide useful feedback, the grader must understand the content being pre- sented, follow the reasoning and the evidence presented, and be able to interpret, evaluate, and comment accurately and usefully.

Well-programmed computers and well-trained graders may assign different grades under certain conditions. These represent threats to the validity of the assigned grade. For example, essays that use information that is not factual may receive higher grades from the computer than human read- ers who recognized those factual errors. Essays that rely on irony, hyperbole, sarcasm, and humor may receive very different grades from humans and from machines, which presumably would neither recognize nor attend to those stylistic differences. Essays that use plagiarized material might receive a lower grade from the computer because it

can check for the replication of text published elsewhere, as compared to a human grader who may not recognize the pla- giarized material.

There are threats to the reliability of human graders because humans can become fatigued and less attentive as they grade written submissions for long periods of time. Different human graders may give the same essay different grades because they disagree on the relative importance of various elements in the essay. Humans may be influenced by their personal beliefs, tend- ing to give somewhat higher grades to essays that reflect their point of view. Computers do not suffer from these problems.

If the purpose of grading written submissions is to deter- mine which candidates shall be admitted to highly competi- tive programs and which shall be excluded, then the threats to validity identified here may lead to unfortunate mistakes. If the purpose of grading written submissions is to determine who shall receive honors, awards, financial support, grant funding, publication, or special privileges, then categorizing essays into broad groups must be refined so that the most meritorious can be validly and reliably identified.

No one would want to be denied admission, funding, or the honor she or he was due because the grader (computer or human) failed to give a written submission its true score.

Today writing samples, like those on college admissions tests, can be graded by computer. Sophisticated computer grading programs can generate the same grades as well- qualified humans 99.9 percent of the time, but the computer does its processing without comprehending the meaning of what is written and without applying the four tests of the quality of arguments presented.

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of inquiry. For example, predicting the behavior of the stock market remains a hazardous and uncertain adven- ture. Because we do not really know how all the factors that influence the market interact, we are not able to pre- dict with high levels of confidence what the market will do on any given day. Some financial analysts turn out to be right, while others are wrong. Often, it seems as though the analysts announce why the market reacted as it did on a given day only after the day’s trading is completed. Then, we hear that the market responded to changes in the jobless rate, the prime interest rate, consumer confidence level, or something else. But those same analysts are not able to use those same factors to predict accurately what the market will do in the future. If their explanations of the past behav- ior of the market were correct, one would expect that they would be able to make reliable predictions about the mar- ket’s future behavior. That we are not able to make good predictions about the future leads us to suspect that we do not yet know, beyond the level of coincidences and correla- tions, what causal factors, individually or in combination with other causal factors, are relevant to explaining the behavior of the stock market. One can only wonder how relevant the factors those prognosticators identify as causes really are.

“The seeker after truth is not one who studies the writings of the ancients and, following his natural disposition, puts his trust in them, but rather the one who suspects his faith in them and questions what he gathers from them, the one who submits to argument and demonstration.”

Ibn al-Haytham, (965–1040), Astronomer and Mathematician.17

9.2 Fallacies Masquerading as Warranted Arguments

Just as some fallacies are presented as valid arguments, others are presented as warranted arguments. They draw their power to deceive and persuade from how closely they resemble the genuine article. Detailed analysis often helps us avoid being misled by the following fallacies.

ERRONEOUS GENERALIZATION Generalizations, even those based on solid evidence and vivid experiences, can be deceptively fallacious, too. At times, we make hasty and erroneous generalizations by relying on far too little information or by exaggerating the importance of one or two particular experiences. The result is a claim that goes

beyond what the data can support. Erroneous generaliza- tions tend to spring from and to reinforce preconceptions. Consider these examples:

The paper showed a picture of the CEO in chains doing the perp walk as he was being led off to jail. Another middle-aged white guy with a $400 hair- cut! Same as Bernard Madoff, the guy who swindled $170 million out of rich people with his Ponzi scheme. All those corporate thieves are overpaid white guys.

Many medical professionals recommend a healthy diet and regular exercise. More is always better, right? So the way to be super healthy is to go on a crash diet and exercise as much as possible! Yes?

Seventy-one percent of the students enrolled in my educational methods course are women. So, women really like my courses.

In each of these cases, even if the premises were true, the conclusion goes unjustifiably beyond what those prem- ises could support. If a person were interested in investi- gating independently the truth of the claims expressed as conclusions of these generalizations, is there a systematic and effective way to search for the evidence, which might confirm or disconfirm those claims?

PLAYING WITH NUMBERS Arguments, which use raw numbers when percentages would present a more fair- minded description, or use percentages when the raw numbers would present the more fair-minded description, can be evaluated as fallacies of Playing with Numbers. Arguments that cite statistics or numbers but do not pro- vide sufficient information to make a good judgment about the significance of those numerical data are species of the Playing with Numbers Fallacy as well. For example:

Six hundred people are affected by the decision you made prohibiting pythons as pets in this apartment complex. I want you to know that 80 percent of the people surveyed said that they wanted you to recon- sider your decision. Exactly how many people, you ask? Well, I personally talked to my four roommates and three agreed with me, which makes 4 out of 5, including myself, and that’s 80 percent.

The average salary for postal workers is 5.6 percent higher than the average salary for the employees of the Transportation Safety Administration. This estab- lishes that postal workers are overpaid.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that there were 30,800 motor vehicle fatali- ties in 2012. Of those 4,957 were motorcyclist fatali- ties.18 This means that driving or riding in a car or a truck is six times more dangerous than riding a motorcycle.

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Review these examples and add premises or restate the conclusion, or do both to transform each into a war- ranted argument that gives reasonable justification for believing that the claim—as you may have restated it— is now very probably true. For the third example about traffic fatalities visit the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration website nhtsa.gov to get the relevant details. For example note the ratio of motorcycles to other vehicles, or the ratio of total miles per year driven by the different types of vehicles.

FALSE DILEMMA A real dilemma is a situation in which all our choices are bad, like a person trapped on a window ledge of one of the upper floors of a burning building. But, at times we may think we are facing a terrible dilemma when we are not. Often the world offers more options than we may perceive at first. At times, the consequences of one or another of our options may not be nearly as dreadful as we initially imagine them to be. As the following examples indicate, upon closer analysis at times what appears to be a real dilemma turns out to be a false dilemma.

The kidnappers have taken eight people hostage and are holding them at a farmhouse just outside town. If the SWAT team assaults the farmhouse, the hostages could be killed. But if we give into the kidnappers’ demands for ransom and safe passage out of the coun- try, we’ll only be encouraging more kidnappings of innocent people. What can we do?

If I go to the job interview laid-back and unprepared, I’ll blow it. But if I prepare for the interview I could overdo it and be so nervous that I’ll blow it any- way. I’m a mess. There’s no way to get ready for this interview.

As these examples show, another good name for this fallacy is “The Either/Or Fallacy” because the situations often appear to be limited to one option or another, but on further examination, additional options emerge. This is true of the first example. Assaulting the farmhouse and giving in are not the only possible options. Negotiating for the release of some or all of the hostages is an option. Waiting until those inside the farmhouse run out of food or water is another option. Blasting the farmhouse with mega decibels of sound and shooting tear gas in through the win- dows might force the occupants out. In other words, a little creativity can often reveal a way out of a false dilemma.

THE GAMBLER’S FALLACY Random events, by defini- tion, are not patterned, correlated, or causally connected. But, at times, we make arguments that wrongly assume that what happens by chance is somehow connected with things we can control. We can use “Gambler’s Fallacy” as an umbrella term to remind ourselves that random events are, in fact, random and that drawing inferences based on the assumption that they are patterned, corre- lated, or causally connected is a mistake. Here are some examples of fallacious inferences that attribute more to mere chance coincidences than strong reasoning would warrant.

If we’re going to Vegas, I’ll bring my blue socks to wear in the casino. You know, the pair with the word “Winner” embroidered on the side. They’re my lucky socks. Although I’ve lost money plenty of times wear- ing them, I’ve never won at slots without those blue socks. So, I won’t win a dime from the slots if I don’t wear those socks!

Whenever I leave the apartment, I rub the tummy of the little statue of bronze Buddha we have on the table near the door. It makes me happy to do that because I know that it brings me good karma.

I just flipped a coin twice and it came up heads both times. So, the next two times I flip it, the coin will come up tails because the chances are 50-50.

Miguel Cabrera is batting for the Detroit Tigers. Cabrera’s batting average this year is .333. This is his third trip to the plate this game. He grounded into a double play his first trip and struck out his second time. So, he’s going to get a hit this time.

FALSE CAUSE This fallacy is one of the most common obstacles to good thinking. The False Cause fallacy is to assume that two events are causally related just because one happens right after the other. This mistake is jumping to the conclusion that the first event must have caused the second event.Statistically, who is more at risk, car drivers or motorcyclists?

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Look, I put the CD into the player and the windshield wipers wouldn’t turn on. It has to be that the problem with the wipers is somehow connected to the CD player.

It’s hard to know exactly what made her so angry. She seemed fine when we were talking earlier about what a jerk her former boyfriend was. Then you came in and boom! She exploded. I think it’s your fault.

Called “Post hoc, propter hoc” [“After this, because of this”], confusing temporal proximity with causality is one of several mistakes grouped together under the heading False Cause Fallacies. Another mistake is to confuse a cor- relation with a cause.

Our information shows that in times of economic growth, the hemlines on women’s skirts go from below the knee to above the knee. And in times of a bear market when the economy slows down, the hem- lines that are considered stylish go down below the knee, at times to mid-calf or even ankle height. I know how we can cure the current recession! All we need to do to pull out of the current recession is to make the fashion designers raise hemlines.

Other mistakes often grouped under the broad heading of False Cause Fallacies result from confusing symptoms, outcomes, or intentions with causes. Here are examples:

The pressure was intense that day. I had to get from the university to my job, a drive that normally took 25 minutes. But the professor kept us late and then my car wouldn’t start. You know there had to be a traffic jam on the freeway that day. And I needed to get to work because I had to make this major presen- tation. My head was aching and my heart was beat- ing so fast. I felt all sweaty and it was getting harder and harder to breathe. I think that it was all because I couldn’t get any air. That’s where the pressure was coming from. No air.

THINKING CRITICALLY Dilemmas Heighten the Drama The 2010 film Extraordinary Measures is based on the true life story of a father’s desperate struggle to find a cure for Pompe Disease, a form of Muscular Dystrophy that limits a child’s life span to about nine years. Harrison Ford plays the part of Dr. Robert Stonehill, who believes his research may lead to a cure. But Stonehill’s research takes a lot of money, more than the father, played by Brandon Frasier, and the researcher are able to get from donations alone. So they formed a research company and then persuaded a ven- ture capitalist to back them with $10 million. But the work was difficult and the expenses were high. There is a dramatic scene about 57 minutes into the story where the father and the researcher face a bitter dilemma. The venture capitalist gives them a choice: Meet an impossibly short deadline to complete their work or sell their company to pay back the venture capitalist. Both options are ter- rible from the perspective of Harrison Ford’s char- acter. He sees this as a dilemma from which there is no escape. But Brandon Frasier’s character, the

father of the sick child, sees it as a false dilemma. Locate that scene in the movie and see how Frasier’s character and Ford’s character grapple with the decision they must make.

JOURNAL Post Hoc, Propter Hoc? Give an example of when you connected some action you took with a positive result and then found yourself repeating that action in the hope of producing a similar positive outcome. How did that associational inference work out for you? Was it a warranted inference or was it the result of one of the fallacies that we describe in this chapter? Give reasons to support your conclusion.

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Three years ago we instituted a policy of Zero Tolerance for binge drinking in campus-controlled housing units. Simultaneously, we instituted a non- punitive program of substance abuse counseling. Today we have been hon- ored by the state legislature because the reported incidents of binge drinking have dropped 32 percent compared to numbers from three years ago. The counseling pro- gram is why. That program has greatly reduced the number of incidents of binge drinking in campus-controlled housing.

We wanted it more than they did! And that’s why we won.

SLIPPERY SLOPE Everyone knows that sim- ply beginning something is no assurance that it will be completed. For a variety of reasons, too many good students never finish their degree programs. Not everyone who takes a drink becomes an alcoholic. Not everyone who buys a gun becomes a killer. The Slippery Slope Fallacy makes the false assumption that events are linked together so that the first step in the process neces- sarily results in some significant, usually bad, result way down the road somewhere. The image conjured by this fal- lacy is of walking along the edge of a muddy wet ridge. One step over that edge and we slide on our butts all the way to the bottom. Another image associated with this fal- lacy is the “camel’s nose under the tent” image. Once the camel gets its nose under the tent, there is no way to pre- vent the whole, huge clumsy animal from entering one’s well-ordered abode. There is wisdom in avoiding situa- tions that can lead us down the path to major problems. But the fallacy fails to remember that even when we are headed toward trouble we have the power to turn our- selves around.

If you ever smoke a joint, then you are on the path to perdition. One puff and there is no stopping the inevi- table fall. Next it will be snorting coke, then shooting up heroin, leading to addiction with track marks in your arms and hepatitis or worse from contaminated needles.

I warn you, you had better come to every training ses- sion. We start lessons Monday. If you miss the first day, then you’ll be behind and you will never catch up.

A person can make a mistake and recover from it. And some of the initial stages that are alleged to be dreadful turn out not to be problems at all. And the middle ground is often the best place to make one’s stand. To quote Terence of ancient Rome, “Moderation in all things.”

20 Fallacies—Common Yet Misleading Errors of Reasoning (Chapters 7, 8, & 9 Combined)

Arguments that Fail the Test of Relevance

Fallacies of Relevance

Appeals to Ignorance Appeals to the Mob Appeals to Emotion Ad Hominem Attacks

The Straw Man Fallacy Playing with Words Misuse of Authority

Arguments that Fail the Test of Logical Strength

Fallacies Masquerading as Valid Arguments

Affirming the Consequent Denying the Antecedent False Classification

Fallacy of Composition Fallacy of Division False Reference

Fallacies Masquerading as Warranted Arguments

Erroneous Generalization Playing with Numbers False Dilemma

Gambler’s Fallacy False Cause Slippery Slope

Fail the Test of Non-Circularity Circular Reasoning

The only reason I failed

my critical thinking test

is because

I didn’t wear my lucky brown socks

that day!

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Warranted Inferences 189

Summing up this chapter, the evaluation of probabilistic reasoning occurs each day of our lives. We evaluate inferences as warranted or unwar- ranted when talking with friends, working on projects, enduring television commercials, or reasoning through a decision. In this chapter we first worked to strengthen our critical thinking skill of evaluation by considering the impact of new information on extended examples of probabilistic reasoning. It is natural for our minds to think in terms of the progression from coincidence, to perceived pattern, to demonstrated correlation, and then to causal

explanation. Although, often it is a mistake to jump to conclusions that events are connected when, in fact they are not. That is why we then worked on the evaluation of arguments that offer to generalize from a limited number of experiences and samplings of data to reach justified claims about the characteristics of larger populations. To protect ourselves from being easily deceived, we reviewed the collection of common fallacies that masquerade as war- ranted arguments.

Key Concept warranted describes an inference or argument such that the truth of the premises justifies or strongly supports

confidently accepting the conclusion as very probably true, but not necessarily true.

Applications Reflective Log To Kill a Mockingbird: Gregory Peck plays the defense attorney, Atticus Finch, in the classic film To Kill a Mockingbird. The story is about a young man accused of rape. Toward the end of the trial there is a courtroom scene where Atticus Finch gives his summation to the jury. He must be careful not to alienate the members of the jury, whom he regards as potentially biased against the defen- dant because of his race. Atticus first argues that the prosecution has not proved that a crime was actually com- mitted. He then argues that the accused, Tom Robinson, could not physically have done the things that the prose- cution claims. Atticus, believing that he must do more than make claims and logical arguments establishing reason- able doubt, then addresses a key question. Why would the young woman accuser, a White woman, have lied about being raped by the accused Tom Robinson, a Black man? Atticus says he has pity for the victim and then he argues that by accusing Tom Robinson, she was attempting to rid herself of her own guilt. The defense then attempts to challenge the prejudicial assumption: In the language of those days, “Negros cannot be trusted.” Locate the film

and listen carefully to the claims and arguments made by Atticus Finch in his speech to the jury. Transcribe them and then analyze and map the arguments. After the mapping, evaluate them using the skills developed in Chapters 7, 8, and 9. Explain your analysis and your evaluation. Would you have made the summation differently? If so, how?

Individual Exercises Evaluate the worthiness and explain: Assume that all the premises that are asserted in the arguments below are true. Apply the remaining three tests to evaluate each argument to determine which are worthy of acceptance.

Begin with the Test of Logical Strength. Remember, if the argument fails a test you do not have to apply any further tests because, at that point, the argument has been found to be unworthy of acceptance. In each case, give a detailed

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explanation to support your evaluation. State in your own words why each argument is worthy or unworthy of acceptance. Hint: Be prepared to add implicit but unspo- ken premises and assumptions. Keep in mind all the things we learned about fallacies and about logical strength from this chapter and the previous two.

1. Anthony was at risk of dying from the severe fall that he took when he was climbing. Many who had the same near-fatal experience become averse to climbing afterward. So, Anthony will surely become averse to climbing after his fall.

2. Susan is John’s younger sister. Linda is John’s elder sister. So, Linda is Susan’s elder sister.

3. I want to buy a boat and you want to buy a car. If we buy a car we can’t use it for fishing or to go tubing. But if we buy a boat we can’t use it in the city or anywhere else but at the lake. Either way we’re stuck.

4. Blood samples taken from the crime scene were type AB. The accused person’s blood is type AB. Therefore, the accused was at the scene of the crime.

5. Either we’ll study together tonight for tomorrow’s exam, or we will both blow it off. I’m too tired to study tonight. So, we’re going to blow it off.

6. Whenever I play the lottery, the number I put in is my birthday. If that’s not my lucky number, then I don’t have one.

7. Randolph knows that John Glenn was a senator. John Glenn was an astronaut. Therefore Randolph knows that John Glenn was an astronaut.

8. Every member of the House of Representatives is under the age of 90. Therefore, the House of Representatives is an organ of government that was created less than 90 years ago.

9. Seventy-three percent of the people surveyed said that they wanted universal health care coverage. Fifty-four percent said that they were worried about the cost of the program or the quality of the care that would be provided. Therefore, the American people are opposed to the President’s health care reform legislation.

10. The Mayor has been in office for three months, and our city’s economic recession has not gone away. The Mayor needs to take full responsibility for the sorry state of the city’s economy.

11. My dear old Uncle Joe has a statue of the Red Faced Warrior on his kitchen table. It faces the side door, and he says that it keeps bad people from coming into his house. He also has a picture of St. Christopher taped to the dashboard of his old Buick and a rosary draped

over the rearview mirror. More protection he claims. On the other hand, he never locks his house, and he needs to get his eyes checked!

12. But if we don’t study together, then I’m not going to get through the course. And if I don’t get through the course, then I’m going to ruin my GPA and lose my financial aid. So if we don’t study together tonight, then I’m going to lose my financial aid.

13. We’ve lost six games in a row; our luck has to change today.

14. We didn’t know what to do to improve sales. So, we all started wearing bow ties and navy blue sweaters to work. And look, three weeks later sales are way up. I’m sure it’s our new office dress code.

15. It is March tenth and already this year six people have ordered new glasses with plastic frames. Last year only four people had ordered plastic frames by this date. That’s an increase of 50 percent. We had better stock up. It’s going to be a busy year.

16. Everyone loves ice cream. Children love ice cream. So, everyone’s a child.

17. Water is our most precious resource. So, a towel on the rack means “I’ll use it again” and a towel on the floor means, “Please replace.”

18. The archeological theory that the Clovis people of North America were related to the Solutrean culture of Ice Age France and Spain was based on the similarities in the stone tools used. But new DNA evidence suggests that theory is mistaken. The DNA evidence indicates that the ancestors of the Clovis people came from Siberia in Asia. Since present day Native Americans are descended from the Clovis people, their ancestors were Asian.19

19. The suspect has a history of drug abuse. He has no alibi for the time of the murder. The suspect owns a collection of ceremonial knives and the murder weapon was a ceremonial knife. The suspect may have no motive as far as we know right now, but remember that his father was a serial killer. We found fibers at the crime scene, which are consistent with the brand of blue jeans the suspect wears. An eye witness places the suspect at the Fairfield Mall just one hour before the murder. So the suspect must be guilty.

20. Everyone believes that pornography harms people by modeling sexually aggressive behavior in men. But the evidence from recent studies suggests that pornography can have that effect only on men who are already prone to aggressive behavior. Therefore pornography is probably not the problem. Male aggressiveness is the problem.20

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21. Biologists observed that male crickets on Kauai and Oahu no longer sing. This is due to mutations in their wings, different on the two islands, but both with the same result. Over 20 generations crickets with these wing mutations survived and procreated while the male crickets without the wing mutation all but disappeared. Why? the biologists asked. The answer was that the singing male crickets attracted a species of fly that sprayed baby maggots onto the singing cricket’s back. The maggots burrowed into the cricket to feed. Thus killing the cricket. Biologists see this as more evidence that evolution is a natural process that continues to this very day.21

What’s the truth about colon cleansing? On most issues we can find seemingly credible sources presenting substantially different information. We become confused about what to believe. And if we are unable or unwilling to evaluate the arguments and reasons being presented, we might find our- selves wasting our money or backing the candidate who does not have our interests at heart. But a strong critical thinker sees it as a challenge when two apparently credible sources present highly divergent information: Which is closer to the

truth? If selecting an academic major based on faulty informa- tion about potential future earnings is not bad enough, mak- ing personal health care decisions based on faulty information and weak arguments only adds to one’s problems. A service increasingly offered by spas and clinics that seems to be grow- ing in popularity is colon cleansing or colonic hydrotherapy. Lots of colon cleansing products are marketed with celebrity endorsements. The arguments and reasons in support of colon cleansing include enhancing personal well-being, weight loss, and flushing bodily toxins. But there are reasons why colon cleansing is not recommended—for example, that the process itself can cause internal injuries and that its alleged benefits cannot be demonstrated.

You be the judge. Research the reasons given for and against the practice and evaluate them. Figure out which side in this issue is closer to the truth. Search “Colon Cleansing” for spa ads and claims about its advantages. For the other side see, for example, “The Dangers of Colon Cleansing,” published in the Journal of Family Practice. This is not a 50/50 issue. As compared to those urging caution, those promoting a non-essential service, activity, or prod- uct have the greater burden. For they must prove that we ought to do what we need not do.22

SHARED RESPONSE More Than Just a Couple of Cases To evaluate the logical strength of probabilistic generalizations, we need to do more than find one or two counterexamples. We must, instead, examine whether the sampling of cases reported in the premises is adequate to support the probabilistic inferences that are drawn. This means asking four questions and finding satisfactory answers to each of them.

Was the correct group sampled?

Were the data obtained in an effective way?

Were enough cases considered?

Was the sample representatively structured?

In an earlier shared response exercise, you evaluated the argument that pseudo mature young teens are more likely to experience a variety of problems as young adults. There we asked if one counter example invalidated the probabilistic generalization. Re-evaluate the generalization in light of these four questions. Comment respectfully on other peoples’ shared responses.

Group Exercises Create your own examples of fallacies: Write two falla- cious arguments exemplifying each of these six errors

The Erroneous Generalization Fallacy The Playing with Numbers Fallacy The False Dilemma Fallacy The Gambler’s Fallacy The False Cause Fallacy The Slippery Slope Fallacy

Bedbugs and cold days in August: Evaluate the bedbug example and the San Francisco in August weather exam- ple. In each case ask:

Was the correct group sampled? Were the data obtained in an effective way? Were enough cases considered? Was the sample representatively structured?

When the premises do not provide enough information for a satisfactory answer, explain what information one would have to find, as we did when we noted what would be needed for the sample of 435 to be considered representa- tive of the population of people over the age of 60.

How should the United States conduct the 2020 census? There are two ways to conduct a census. Contact everyone

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and gather the data being sought, or generalize from well- structured representative samples. This group project invites you to evaluate the methodology used by the U.S. govern- ment for conducting the 2010 Census. You are invited to make recommendations for improving that methodology. If you come up with some good suggestions, offer them to your Congressional representatives and the U.S. Census Bureau. Begin your investigation at the U.S. government’s census website census.gov. Navigate to the methodology page.

To fully evaluate the methodology and make rea- sonable recommendations, your group will want to con- sider first and foremost the logical strength of the two

alternatives (count absolutely everyone possible vs. make estimates based on samples.) When considering the sam- pling alternative, keep in mind the importance of sample size and representative structure. For both alternatives, keep in mind the question of the method of gathering data. For example, going door to door will ensure that homeless Americans are systematically excluded.

Other considerations that may weigh on your ulti- mate recommendations: You should consider the cost (money and time) of the two alternatives, the political consequences of each, and the social value associated with enlisting volunteers in an effort of national scope.

Bonus Exercise The debate over the “Public Option”

At the end of the July 24, 2009, episode of HBO’s Real Time with Bill Maher, Maher argues in support of the “pub- lic option” to be included in the health care reform legisla- tion, which at that time was being fiercely debated.

The “public option,” a provision not included in the final Obamacare (Affordable Care Act) law, would have given tens of millions of uninsured and underinsured Americans the option of purchasing health care insurance at an affordable price. Either the government would provide the program through a not-for-profit agency, or the legislation would permit the establishing of co-ops. Maher’s barbed state- ments included these: “If conservatives get to call universal health care ’socialized medicine,’ I get to call private, for- profit healthcare ’soulless, vampire bastards making money off human pain.” “I would love to have some journalist ask a Republican who talks about socialized medicine: If it’s so awful, how come it’s what we have for our veterans?”

Locate and watch Bill Maher’s commentary in epi- sode 161 of Real Time with Bill Maher. In as fair-minded and nonincendiary a way as possible, present his arguments in support of the “public option.” Map his reasons using the techniques presented in the chapter, “Analyze Arguments and Diagram Decisions.” Then evaluate his arguments using the four-test process presented in the chapter,

“Evaluate Arguments: Four Basic Tests.” Remain objec- tive. Resist permitting your personal views on the subject to interfere with the objectivity of your analysis of Maher’s views or your evaluation of his arguments.

During the summer of 2009 many conservative politi- cal commentators spoke out against the “public option.” Research the web for videos and written editorials by political conservatives like Bill O’Reilly, Dennis Miller, and Sean Hannity. With the same concern not to be caught up in the rhetoric, but instead to dig for their reasons and evidence, analyze and map their main arguments in oppo- sition to the “public option.” Once you have those argu- ments analyzed, apply all four of the tests for evaluating arguments. As with the arguments offered by Maher, here too arguments may fail because one or more of their prem- ises are untrue, because the argument is illogical, because the reason is irrelevant, or because the argument is circular. To assist with these tests you might search for commen- taries on the arguments, since many media outlets pub- lished editorials during those days to refute the arguments of the other side. One example focusing on Sean Hannity that we quickly found five years later was posted by the Media Matters Organization. Google “mediamatters.org/ research/200910080006.”

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Learning Outcomes

10.1 Explain, using examples, the difference between System-1 and System-2 decision making.

10.2 Explain, using examples, each of the cognitive heuristics described in this chapter, including its potential benefits and risks.

Chapter 10

Snap Judgments: Risks and Benefits of Heuristic Thinking

HOW does human decision making work, and where does critical thinking fit?

HOW do cognitive heuristics help and harm strong decision making?

Making snap judgments is like riding a bicycle, once learned we can continue making them with unreflective ease.

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Many good judgments we make every day are automatic or reactive, rather than reflective. Consider the ease with which well-trained pilots fly complicated machines safely taking millions of us to our destina- tions every day. Through training and repetition, vet- eran pilots have internalized and made automatic a series of complex analyses, inferences, and quick effec- tive judgments that novice pilots often find mentally all-consuming. Automatic reactions are also seen in more “grounded” drivers and in other situations. For example, bike riders often pedal along, paying more attention to the beauty of their surroundings than on shifting gears or maintaining their balance. The pro- cess of e-mailing friends is another example. Our fin- gers tap the keys, but our minds are focused more on composing our messages than on locating the let- ters on the keyboards. Human beings do not make all their decisions using only their capacity for delib- erative reflective thought. Human decision making is more complex.1 Some judgments, including many good ones, are quick and reactive, not deliberative or reflective. Although some judgments are best made more automatically or reactively, some are best made reflectively.2 Our real-life critical thinking question is “Which of our reactive judgments ought we to make reflectively?”

For any of us to maximize our personal potential for developing and applying critical thinking to real-life decision making, we first must understand how human problem solving and decision making function in real life. We know that critical thinking, or reflective pur- poseful judgment, can and ought to be applied to a very large array of vital issues and important decisions. And we know from our experience that we do not always use critical thinking. The fact that we do not use critical thinking does not imply that we ought not to be using critical thinking.

This chapter and the next one focus on the skill of self-regulation, because monitoring our own decision making and correcting our own decision making turn out to be essential. Taking a moment to “stop and think” is excellent advice for every one of us, authors included. We begin this chapter with a brief synopsis of the cogni- tive science research on decision making so that we can position critical thinking, and in particular the skill of self-regulation, within that context. We will learn that many reactive judgments are good judgments. But, in some circumstances, reactive judgments can lead to unnecessary risks and mistaken biases. Our work in this chapter is to use self-regulation to become more aware of those circumstances so we can correct ourselves reflectively, using critical thinking, before we make a mistake.

10.1 Our Two Human Decision-Making Systems

Human decision making emerges from the interplay of two cognitive drivers. One is our human propensity toward self- explanation known as argument making. The other driver is the influence on our decision making of mental “shortcuts” known as cognitive heuristics. Argument making, as we saw in the previous chapters, is the effort to be logical—that is, to rely on the relevant reasons and facts as we see them when mak- ing our decisions. In general, humans value making important decisions as rationally as the circumstances, significance, and content of their judgments permit. This is not to say that we are always successful in this effort. In fact, we often are not. And yet we explain our choices and judgments to ourselves, if not to others, in terms of the relevant reasons and facts—again, as we see them. For example, you ask me why I stayed overnight at a friend’s house in another city instead of driving home. I reply that it was late and I was very tired, too tired to drive.

Heuristic thinking is the tendency, which is at times quite useful, of relying on highly efficient and generally reliable cognitive shortcuts when reaching a decision. In the research literature, these mental shortcuts are known as cognitive heuristics. These mental maneuvers are as much a part of the human reasoning process as argument making. Cognitive heuristics often enable us to make judg- ments and decisions more expeditiously and efficiently. Their influences, while often positive, can introduce errors and biases into human decision making.

The “Two-Systems” Approach to Human Decision Making Research on human decisions made in naturalistic, every- day contexts, describes the interaction of two overlapping decision-making systems.3 One is reactive, instinctive, quick, and holistic (System-1). The other is reflective, deliberative, analytical, and procedural (System-2). Both valuable systems function simultaneously, often checking and balancing each other.

REACTIVE (SYSTEM-1) THINKING System-1 thinking relies heavily on situational cues, salient memories, and heuristic thinking to arrive quickly and confidently at judg- ments, particularly when situations are familiar and immedi- ate action is required. Many freeway accidents are avoided because drivers are able to see and react to dangerous situ- ations quickly. Good decisions emerging from System-1 thinking often feel intuitive.4 Decisions good drivers make in those moments of crisis, just like the decisions practiced ath- letes make in the flow of a game or the decisions that a gifted

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teacher makes while interacting with students, are born of expertise, training, and practice. Often we decide first, quickly, and reactively, and then, if asked about our decisions, we explain how we analyzed the situation and we provide the reasons and arguments to explain those snap judgments, which are System-1 decisions. You are suddenly and unex- pectedly confronted with an attack dog, you instantly react defensively. It is natural. So what if the owner tries to reas- sure you with a confident “He won’t bite.” Your System-1 decision making self-protective reaction kicked in, flooding your body with adrenalin and triggering your natural “fight or flee” reaction. If our ancestors had waited around debat- ing what to do when attacked by ferocious carnivorous pred- ators, our species probably would not be around today. Overt explanations using rationalistic argument making in the case of System-1 decisions are retrospective. We look back at what we did and explain the instantaneous System-1 inferences we made at the heat of the moment.

REFLECTIVE (SYSTEM-2) THINKING System-2 think- ing is useful for judgments in unfamiliar situations, for pro- cessing abstract concepts, and for deliberating when there is time for planning and more comprehensive consideration. Humans use heuristic maneuvers in System-2 thinking as well, often integrated as components of their logical argu- ments. Argument making is often part of the inference and deliberation process when making System-2 decisions. And, of course, explanations involve making arguments and giv- ing the reasons we used during our deliberations. When we share our reflective interpretations, analyses, evalua- tions, and inferences, we are offering explanations. Because of this, critical thinking is self-regulated System-2 thinking. Critical thinking is System-2 thinking focused on resolv- ing the problem at hand and at the same time monitoring

and self-correcting one’s own process of thinking about that problem.

As you think about the “two-systems” approach, please avoid all the harsh, rigid, stereotypic, divisive, commercialized oppositional, oversimplified, pop cul- ture dichotomies. We are not characterizing human deci- sion making by expressions and false dichotomies such as “emotion vs. reason,” “head vs. heart,” “feeling vs. judg- ment,” “intuitive vs. logical,” “expansive vs. linear,” “cre- ative vs. critical,” “right brained vs. left brained,” “warm vs. cold,” “from Venus vs. from Mars,” or “blink vs. wide- eyed.” Human decision making is neither this superficial nor this simplistic. We are not saying that normal human thinking is schizophrenic or psychologically disordered in any way. We are not suggesting that some people are only System-1 thinkers while others are only System-2 thinkers.

Normal human beings have and use both systems in problem solving and decision making every day. The two- systems approach to understanding human decision mak- ing accounts for the pushes and pulls that normal human beings often describe as part of their decision making. System-1 is the rapid-fire decision making we all experi- ence on some occasions, while System-2 is the more reflec- tive decision making we all experience on other occasions.

Because it is considered more useful for addressing novel and complex problems in a reflective and methodi- cal way, System-2 is the mode of reasoned, informed, and thoughtful problem solving and decision making that a broad undergraduate liberal arts and sciences educa- tion cultivates. System-2 is also the mode addressed by

Our self-protective response to any kind of a sudden and unexpected attack is a System-1 decision—automatic and reactive.

When we make thoughtfully reflective choices, including applying our critical thinking skills, we are using our System-2 decision making.

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the evidence-based practice and research methods com- ponents of one’s professional or graduate studies. All levels of education, which aim at improving one’s criti- cal thinking—improving one’s skills and dispositions to engage successfully in purposeful reflective judgment— is education focused directly on strengthening System-2 problem solving and decision making.

Is the two-systems approach only a helpful way of imagining how our minds work, or is there some basis for it in the neural chemistry of the human brain? In fact, it is the second. Using functional MRI scans scientists can now see the changes in brain activity as a person’s think- ing moves from one system to the other during learn- ing.5 System-1 processing appears highly reactive, like a reflex automatically triggered by a stimulus. By contrast, System-2 reasoning is described as much more reflective, analytical, mindful, and meta-cognitive. But System-2 can override System-1, which gives all of us hope that our decisions can be more than knee-jerk reactions.

The Value of Each System System-1 and System-2 are vital decision-making tools, par- ticularly when stakes are high and uncertainty is an issue. We can often rely on System-1 to get us through our day-to-day activities while engaging System-2 on some other topic of con- cern. People report they can drive from home to work without remembering any of the hundreds of routine automobile oper- ating decisions necessary to make the trip. Others report being able to drink a cup of coffee and finish a bowl of breakfast cereal almost without noticing because they are so engrossed in the morning news. Have you ever had any of these kinds of experiences in your life—experiences where you did some- thing “without really thinking about it” while your mind was preoccupied with a completely different problem or issue?

We do not store the memories of our System-1 guided actions if we are simultaneously engaged in deliberating about something using System-2. For example, when we are thinking about something else, like a work assignment, a relationship issue, or a financial problem, we are distracted

Rote Training and Practice

Cognitive Heuristics

Critical Thinking


Reflective Deliberative Analytical



Reactive Instinctive

Quick Holistic

Resulting decision or judgment about what to believe or what to do.

Prospective or retrospective articulation of decision or judgment in terms of reasons,

options, and whatever the person considers to be a relevant consideration.

Range of potential factors and inputs: beliefs, aspirations, observations, experiences, attitudes, aptitudes,

interpersonal dynamics, emotions, education, knowledge, health, energy level, distractions, disabilities, goals, interests, etc., which constitute the circumstances, context, and parameters of the specific decision or

judgment to be made by this decision maker at this time.

Model of Two-System Human Decision Making

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from the simpler System-1 decision making we may be doing, like walking in a familiar place, driving home on a familiar route, or eating lunch. Our mental focus is on the System-2 work, and, during those times, System-1 oper- ates in the background. This is why we may not remember routine System-1 judgments, like why we’ve walked into a room, whether we’ve already passed our freeway exit, or if we’ve already put sugar in our coffee.

System-1 functions in the background or “behind the scenes” more than System-2, but each system is capable of overriding the other. Conflicted decision-making contexts have, through the ages, been described in different ways— ”temptation” being only one example. We are drawn one way, but at the same time, pulled the other way. Although we do not accept the implication that the colloquial expres- sions are scientifically accurate, we can spot oblique refer- ences to the behind-the-scenes pushes and pulls of the two systems in the way people ordinarily talk about their deci- sion making. We have all heard people say things like “My gut says to do X, but my brain says to do Y”; “We looked at all the evidence and all the options and yet we don’t feel comfortable with where the deliberations are head- ing”; or “Emotionally I want to do this, but rationally I think I should do that.” Some theorists suggest these com- mon ways of talking are evidence that, in certain kinds of ambiguous or complex situations, the two systems might conflict, drawing the decision maker in different directions. In general, this is thought to be an advantage that reduces the chance of making poor, suboptimal, or even dangerous errors in judgment—a natural system of checks and bal- ances, as it were.

Even a good thinker makes both System-1 and System-2 errors from time to time. We misinterpret things, overestimate or underestimate our chances of succeeding, rely on mistaken analogies, reject options out of hand, trust feelings and hunches, judge things credible when they are not, etc. Often mistakes like these are directly related to the influences and misapplications of cognitive heuristics. We all share the propensity to use these heuristics as we make decisions, because at times the heuristics seem to be

hardwired into our species. Since the critical thinking skill of self-regulation can help us avoid some of these errors if we become more familiar with how they look in practice, let’s examine several in closer detail.

“To paraphrase Socrates, the unexamined thought is not worth thinking.”

Pat Croskerry, MD.6

10.2 Heuristics: Their Benefits and Risks

Shakespeare called humans the paragon of animals. Aristotle said “rational animals.” For Plato, “featherless bipeds” was good enough. Perhaps not the most honorific descriptions, yet humbling and useful reminders that there are times when we base our judgments on unfounded assumptions and fallacious reasoning. The long list of argument fallacies in the table we put at the end of the Chapter 9 titled “Warranted Inferences” does not include all the ways that our decision making can go astray. In the current chapter we consider a whole new set of biases and errors emerging from the misapplication of those ordinarily reliable reasoning maneuvers known as “heuristics.” Given the natural limitations of human rationality, it turns out that errors in heuristic thinking can result in serious problems when the risks are great and the stakes are high.

The correct application of cognitive heuristics is abso- lutely essential for day-to-day living. We would exhaust ourselves mentally and accomplish very little if every single judgment was a full-blown reflective decision. We get through the routine parts of our day making quick, automatic reactive heuristic judgments. We rely on these snap judgments because (a) most of the time they are good enough for the purpose at hand; (b) we need to conserve our mental energy for bigger, more important, and less familiar problems that life throws our way; and (c) often,

Example of System-2 Thinking: Experienced policy makers carefully considering possible responses to budget challenges.

Example of System-1 Thinking: A well-trained soldier reacting quickly and correctly under fire.

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we have no time for reflective thought. This will be clearer as you review the examples and do the exercises in con- junction with each of the following heuristics.

Individual Cognitive Heuristics Cognitive heuristics are natural human decision- making shortcuts we all rely upon in real life to expedite our judgments about what to believe or what to do. There are potentially beneficial consequences associated with rely- ing on the cognitive shortcuts we’ll discuss. In each case we examine the heuristic shortcut or maneuver itself and note potential advantages and disadvantages of relying on the heuristic. A brief, true-to-life vignette and other examples illustrate how that heuristic looks in real life. In most cases a short exercise invites you to apply your critical thinking— and in particular your skill at reflective self-regulation—to occasions in your own life when reliance on that particular heuristic may have resulted in outcomes that were less suc- cessful than you had hoped. There are 17 common heuris- tics described in this chapter. Each is likely quite familiar.

1. SATISFICING AND 2. TEMPORIZING The first time he was at the beach, young Jerome darted down to the wet sand and watched as a small wave washed up toward him. A wave came in and lapped at his toes and ankles, the chilly wet water sending him scurrying up the sand. He turned and cautiously approached the water a second time. Again he got close enough to just let the water touch the tips of his toes, and scooted up the sand. But not nearly as far as the first time. The third time he approached the surf he anticipated the wave as it approached and, instead of turning to run, he back-pedaled a few steps. Just far enough not to be hit by the salty bubbles. He went just far enough! The kid satisficed, I thought, and, more interestingly, nobody taught him how.

The Satisficing Heuristic: Having found an option that is good enough, we take it. We human beings typically do only what must be done to achieve our purposes. In day-to-day living, when faced with choices, instead of expending the resources necessary to identify and then attain the maximally optimal alternative, we decide in favor of an alternative we deem satisfactory.7 How many times have we read the whole menu in a restaurant compared to reading along only until we spot an entrée that strikes our fancy? We tend to divide the world into “good enough” and “not good enough” and search for a solution until a solution is found that is good enough to attain the desired outcome. Truisms like “If it isn’t broken, don’t fix it,” and “Perfect is the enemy of good” reflect the satisficing cognitive maneuver. Humans satisfice in System-1 and System-2 decision making situations.

Example (System-1): Being thirsty, how much water would we drink? Only enough to slake our thirst.

Example (System-2): Seeking a new job, how hard would we look? Only hard enough to find one

that meets whatever are our basic criteria for pay, proximity to home, nature of the work, etc.

Example (System-2): Having arrested a suspect who had the means, motive, and opportunity to commit the crime, how hard can we expect police detectives to strive to locate other suspects? Satisficing sug- gests hardly at all because they have a stack of other crime cases needing their attention. The question of the actual guilt or innocence of the subject becomes the concern of the prosecuting attorney and the courts.

The Temporizing Heuristic: Deciding that a given option is “good enough for now,” or temporizing is satisficing’s running mate. We often move through life satisficing and temporizing. At times, we look back on our situations and wonder why it is that we have settled for far less than we might have. If we had only studied harder, worked out a little more, or taken better care of our relationships and ourselves, perhaps we would not be living as we are now. But at the time, each of the decisions along the way was “good enough for the time being.”

We must not overlook the important potential advan- tages to satisficing. These include conserving time, money, and energy.8 If you have to put in 10 percent more effort and time to gain only 1 percent more value, your return on that investment of effort may not be worth the cost. The main disadvantage of satisficing is that we may be mis- taken in our estimation of how much is “good enough.” Why did the better team lose the game? Because, in under- estimating its opponent, the team failed to play up to its own potential. Why did we have trouble on the exam? Because we did not do the homework exercises and study hard enough. Why did my boss not give me a better evalu- ation compared to my peers? Because I was not produc- tive enough, even though I had thought all along that I was doing just fine. Using our critical thinking in real time,

The water is so captivating and inviting to the young child. But scary too, like lots of things in life. How far from danger is “far enough”?

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we should take a moment in key situations to be sure our heuristic estimate of “good enough” is really accurate. To achieve greater success we will have to self-correct and recalibrate our sense of how much is enough.

3. AFFECT: “GO WITH YOUR GUT” “I proposed on our first date. She said no. But somehow we both knew that her response was not going to be her final answer. A few months later we were engaged. More than 40 wedding anniversaries later, we are still in love. Perhaps we have been lucky; our marriage could have been a disaster. Whatever was reflec- tive and rational about that decision—as I recall trying to explain it to her folks and mine—had to have been an effort to build a case for a decision we had already made.”

The Affect Heuristic: Making a decision based on your initial affective (“gut”) response.9 There is no question that many different kinds of experiences can cause us to respond with joy or sorrow, with desire or revulsion, with enthusi- asm or dread. A “gut reaction,” that is, an affective response, is a strong System-1 impetus, either positively or negatively, toward the object.10 It is natural to have the response.11 That response may be the “first word” on the matter, but System-2 self-regulation demands that we ask ourselves whether that should necessarily be the final word on the matter.

Example: “Oh, I like those shoes. . . . You know, they would look great with the blue jacket I bought.”

Example: “Did you see his eyes? Pure evil! Made my blood run cold. Believe me, a guy like that, no way should you trust him.”

Example: “Forget it. I don’t want to hear about how you think we can balance the budget. You said the ‘T’ word and I won’t have anything to do with that. Read my lips, ‘No new taxes!’ We all pay too much in taxes as it is.”

Our natural, initial affective response to ideas, ques- tions, images, people, events, etc., can have obvious advantages and disadvantages. Research on the relation- ship between facial and body symmetry, perceived attrac- tiveness, and physical health suggests that first affective impressions we have about another human being as a pos- sible mate are evolutionarily selected for and contributes to the survival of the species. Our System-1 affective reac- tion can influence us toward embracing a choice that “just feels right” or away from an option that appears frighten- ing or repugnant when our System-2 decision making gets bogged down with too many factors to consider, too many divergent criteria, and too much uncertainty. Were it not for this, some of us might never get unstuck and make a decision when one is needed.

But, what if that initially frightening option is actually the best and most reasonable? For example, what if our fear of the anticipated consequences of radiation or chemother- apy influenced us to reject those options when one or both of them were the best possible cancer treatment options? It may take significant amounts of reflective System-2 reason- ing to overcome a powerful System-1 affective response to an idea, but it can be done. And at times it should happen, because there is no guarantee that our affective responses are necessarily always true. Strong critical thinking demands that we check our affective responses. Simply having them is not nearly enough for wise, reflective decision making.

The affect heuristic influences us to make judgments and decisions based on our initial impulsive and sublimi- nal responses. Knowing this, marketing experts coined the expression, “The package is the product,” to indicate

THINK CRITICALLY Examples from Your Life When “enough” was not good enough: Think of two recent occasions when you were disappointed by how your efforts turned out because of misestimating how much on your part was necessary to achieve your goals. Use your critical think- ing skills to make a reasoned judgment regarding how to adjust your sense of “good enough” to increase your likeli- hood of success in the same endeavors the next time.

When your response was an emotional jolt: Think of two recent occasions when you had a strong initial affective

response to an idea, proposal, opportunity, person, or event. Find one that was positive and one that was negative. Did you reflect on that response, evaluate it, and verify that it was the correct response? If not, this exercise provides the opportunity. Apply your System-2 reflective critical thinking skills to both of those responses. Gather needed information and analyze your response in the light of that new information. Call on your habits of truth-seeking and open-mindedness to support your effort to be as objective as possible in evaluating your initial responses.

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how important the wrapping, the container, and the initial appearance of a product are to making the sale.12 Certainly a broken residence hall window and an unkempt campus lawn are not necessarily indicative of an academically sub- standard college. But college recruiters know that these things had better be fixed before prospective students show up for the campus tour. And on reflection, no one would argue that a cabernet in an attractively designed bottle with a classy label is necessarily superior to a caber- net in a generic bottle with a plain looking label.13 There is no question that first impressions count when choosing a college, choosing a wine, or choosing a mate.

4. SIMULATION “I was in center field, my favorite posi- tion, and the runner at third was itching to tag up and dash for home if the batter hit a fly ball. I imagined what I would do if it were hit to me, how I would run in, position my body, make the catch and fire the ball to the plate on one hop so the catcher could handle the throw easily and tag out the runner. The odds were overwhelming that the batter would hit the ball someplace else. But no! The ball was in the air arcing over the infield and sailing out toward center. I darted to my right, took the fly out of the air with my gloved left hand and made my throw toward the plate. The runner had tagged, leaving early I think. But he didn’t have a chance. My throw, just up the third baseline from home, was on target and on time. The catcher put the tag on the runner for the third out. It was like I had made a movie in my mind, watched the movie, and then lived the scene almost exactly.”

The Simulation Heuristic: Estimating the likelihood of a given outcome based on how easy it is to imagine that outcome.14 Simulation is a mental process of imagining ourselves doing something successfully or unsuccessfully. Before giving a speech we might “see ourselves” at the podium talking to the audience with confidence, making our point, and delivering our message effectively. Or we may simulate the opposite, seeing ourselves messing up, getting flustered, and forgetting to say things we had wanted to say. If we experience ease in processing a simulation, this influ- ences us to believe that achieving the anticipated outcome is more likely.15 A person choosing among several options might simulate what it would be like to select an option and then, like making a movie in his or her mind, imagine what life would be like having selected that option. Unless we are being reflective about the actual probabilities that what we picture will actually happen, the simulation heuristic can influence us to select an option that plays out in our minds as the one offering the most desirable result. This might be called “wishful thinking,” but whatever it is called, it is not a reflective and well-informed System-2 decision about the actual probability. The same would be true of pessimisti- cally overestimating the likelihood of a bad outcome.

Example: “You know, I didn’t go there to buy a car. But when I was on the lot looking, this salesman came up to me and invited me to sit behind the wheel. Then we went on a test drive, and I could really see myself tooling along I-70 in this baby. So, here it is. My new set of wheels.”

Marketing experts know that many of our purchasing decisions are based more on our affective response to the packaging than on our rational reflections on what is inside. Soap is just soap, that is, until it is packaged in either a visually attractive or a plain-wrap uninviting way.

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Example: “I don’t know what happened, sir!” said the sales representative to the manager after the failed presentation. “Yesterday I could see myself closing that deal.”

Example: “Day trading. I took it up for a while. Lost a lot of money, too. You know it just seemed like it was going to be so easy. All I had to do was invest in some stocks in the morning and watch them increase in value as the day went along. Then sell them just before the market did its typical end-of-day little dip. Well. Things didn’t turn out that way at all. I think the only people who made money on my day trading were the guys who work at the brokerage house.”

Psychologist Albert Bandura’s research on social learning demonstrates the value and power of simulation to increase attitudes of self-efficacy.16 Mentors and coaches use the simulation heuristic, (they may call it visualiza- tion) as a technique to improve performance and to help people anticipate being able to succeed at challenging things. Successful advertising often depends on stimulat- ing simulation. Car ads, for example, often show someone with demographics just like the intended buyers taking great pleasure in driving the model of car the ad is promot- ing. The idea is that if you match those demographics, you

would then be led to see yourself in that car and then want to buy it. The process of simulation is quick, easy, and need not be reflective. In fact, it might be better for the adver- tiser if you do not reflect too much on the actual costs and benefits of buying that new car. The obvious disadvantage of simulation is the potential to err in estimating the like- lihood of the imagined outcomes. This can result in mis- placed confidence and unwarranted optimism.

Everyone knows that simulating academic success is not a replacement for actually studying, doing the assign- ments, and doing well on exams. But along with those things, simulation can be very helpful. Take a moment and see yourself being a successful student by simulating how you will structure your time so that you can read the text- book and do all the exercises and assignments. Simulate how you will be organized, focused, and highly efficient in your use of that study time. See yourself going to class or taking tests justifiably confident in what you have learned, well prepared and ready to demonstrate your knowl- edge on exams and assignments. Oh, yes, and the critical thinking skill of self-regulation requires that we remind ourselves that we have to carry out the study plans that we have simulated, if we are to have a reasonable shot at achieving the learning and enjoying the success we anticipate.

THINKING CRITICALLY See Yourself . . . Simulate yourself hang gliding off the wind-swept cliffs along the Pacific Ocean. First, see yourself gliding up into the beauti- ful blue sky, enjoying the grand vistas and the glorious ocean, smelling the salty warmth of the sea air, swooping with silent grace toward the surf, and then lifting effortlessly and joyously on a vector of warm wind with the gulls and pelicans. Take your time. Enjoy the flight. Then when you are ready, ease yourself toward the soft sand and glide slowly to a perfect landing and the admiring approval of your friends. On a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being “Yes, absolutely,” how much did playing that movie in your mind incline you toward wanting to try hang gliding? On a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being “easy,” how easy would hang gliding be?

Now envision a second s c e n a r i o . S e e y o u r s e l f blown along, out of control, harnessed below a tissue- thick nylon wing attached to a flimsy aluminum frame, mentally on the edge of panic, your arms aching, and your

back muscles knotted with tension. You are disoriented, high above the jagged rocks and treacherous waves, trying to dodge other hang gliders. Suddenly, you are distracted by the flock of gulls heading your way. You hear the shouts of people below, but are not able to understand what they are saying. You are uncertain about how to land this contraption without breaking both legs. On a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being “Yes, absolutely,” how much did playing that movie in your mind incline you toward wanting to try hang gliding? On a scale of 1 to 10 with 10, being “easy,” how easy would hang gliding be?

Notice that neither simulation supplied any concrete information about hang gliding. Neither detailed the actual risks associated with the sport. Neither explained how one learns to hang glide, whether there are safer or more dangerous places to hang glide, or anything else that would have enabled one to make a reasoned and reflective System-2 analysis and evaluation in response to the question about how easy or difficult it would be.

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5. AVAILABILITY “I was doing 75+ heading eastbound on I-96 from Michigan State back home to Detroit, alone, late at night. Darkness had engulfed the rural stretch of interstate. Occasionally, a car heading west passed by on the other side of the wide grassy median. Eastbound was two lanes, and I liked driving in the left lane because it was smoother since the heavy 18-wheelers had not furrowed and gnawed the pavement. But for rea- sons I’ll never know, I decided that night to do the right thing, the thing I’d been taught in driver’s education back in high school, and I moved back into the right- hand lane. Then, ahead, just over a slight rise in the interstate, I saw the glare of an approaching vehicle’s high beam headlights. It didn’t make sense—there shouldn’t be any traffic heading west directly in front of me. I drove on, never reducing my speed. The lights grew brighter and brighter. I reached the crest of the rise in the freeway just as the other vehicle did. In a shocking blur it roared by, easily doing 75+. Heading west. On the east- bound side of I-96. And, thank God, he was in his right lane too. Moral of the story. Stay to the right, son, or you’ll never know what hit you.”

The Availability Heuristic: Estimating the likelihood of future events based on a vivid memory of a past expe- rience that leaps easily to mind. Let’s experiment with a memory. Imagine a conversation you may have had about foods you can’t stand. Does a particularly awful experience with that food leap to mind? For example: “I hate mush- rooms. Once when I was a kid I got sick on mushrooms at a restaurant.” That quick, automatic connection is a mani- festation of the availability heuristic. “No mushrooms on my pizza! Please.” This heuristic leads us to estimate the likelihood of a future event based on the vividness or ease of recalling a similar past event.17 Because a past experi- ence leaps vividly to mind or because it was so important, we overestimate the probability that future outcomes will be the same as they were back then. People tell stories of things that happened to them or their friends all the time as a way of explaining their own decisions and warning or advising their friends and family about the future. Often these are helpful because they vicariously increase our own range of experiences. The use of stories makes it much easier for us to remember their lessons or morals. Aesop’s fables have more than entertainment value; they remind us not to “cry wolf,” not to devalue what we have by coveting something we cannot get (as did the fox with the grapes), and many other solid bits of wisdom. On the other hand, there is always the risk that in the retelling, the actual events may be mistakenly remembered, misunderstood,

or misinterpreted. Whether accurate or not, stories have an unwarranted amount of influence on decisions about what to expect, what to believe, and what to do.

Availability sells. The news media, knowing the power of a compelling narrative, regularly “put a human face” on news reports. They know it is boring to hear newscasters drone on about statistics and abstractions—for example, about how many homes were damaged by a tornado or how many families lost electric power due to the storm. So instead, the news crew will interview an emotionally distraught person. They will take pictures or video of the person, the damaged home and felled trees in the back- ground, looking lost among the scatterings of furniture and the family’s ruined and irreplaceable mementoes. This makes abstractions like “terrible tornado,” “brutal shoot- ing,” “five alarm fire,” and “devastating flood,” vividly available to us. And because of the availability heuristic, we, unreflectively, jack up our estimate of the chances that we too might become a hapless storm victim—just like that sad person we’re seeing in the news report.

The disadvantage of basing judgments on the avail- ability heuristic is that we will wrongly estimate the actual probabilities that a given outcome will occur.18 Or worse, while we are worrying about the far less likely possibility, we will stop paying attention to threats and problems that are far more likely to happen.

In the aftermath of the horrendous killings of over 30 people at Virginia Tech (VT) in 2007, parents, students, fac- ulty, and staff at the nation’s more than 4,200 colleges and universities sharply revised their estimates of the probabil- ities of a similarly deranged killer’s assault on their own campuses. Campus security increased, counseling centers received more funding, legislators held hearings at the state and national levels, and campus authorities updated emergency plans and conducted readiness drills. Although

“That could be me! What would I do? Where would I go?”

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these might have been good things to do, resources are finite. Were these the most urgent things for a campus to do, given all the other risks and threats out there? Probably not. Fire preparedness, weather disaster preparedness, theft detection and prevention, rape and assault protec- tion, food poisoning prevention, and flu epidemic pre- paredness are just a few projects that address tragically lethal and somewhat more probable eventualities. But all the attention was on the VT situation. It was vividly in mind for administrators, students, parents, and the media. Those other more likely dangers were not on their minds right then. Hence, the disproportionate allocation of time, money, and attention.

the genetic and environmental factors that estimate a per- son’s cancer risks. But absent that self-corrective reflection, we risk allowing the analogical representation heuristic to influence our beliefs and choices unduly.

If the similarity between two things is fundamental and relevant, it’s more likely that the analogy will be reli- able. For example, suppose your co-worker was fired for missing sales targets. You might draw the reasonable con- clusion that you are no different in relevant respects from your co-worker. Thus, if you miss your sales targets, you’ll be fired too. Good thinking.

Or the similarity might be superficial or not connected with the outcome, which would make the analogical infer- ence much weaker. For example, we see a TV commer- cial showing trim, sexy young people enjoying fattening fast foods and infer that because we’re young, too, we can indulge our cravings for fast foods without gaining unhealthy excess poundage. This is another example show- ing that heuristic thought needs to be monitored when it is used to make important decisions. As we develop our critical thinking skill of self-regulation, we become more adept at noticing when our decisions hinge on the analogi- cal representation heuristic. And we can correct ourselves before making a decision that is not well thought out. Self- monitoring and self-correcting one’s thinking can help ensure that conclusions are warranted. In a later section entitled “Comparative Reasoning” we will explore the cri- teria for the evaluation of analogical inferences in detail.

7. ASSOCIATION “We were having a good time, prob- ably on our third beer, Sports Center was on TV someplace nearby, but we’re not really paying attention because Bill was talking about how the girl he was seeing really liked dogs, and he did, too. So, he’s saying that she has a pit bull. And I have no idea what Harry was thinking but he says, ‘How do you think Michael Vick will do this season? He

JOURNAL That Reminds Me of the Time When . . . Provide an example of when someone gave you advice about a really important matter and their only argument was that your situation reminded them of their own or someone else’s situation.

6. REPRESENTATION “Uncle John did not smoke cigars at the track, he chewed them. Today he liked the filly—a sleek 3-year-old who looked fast. He would have to find her name in the racing form. But just watching her in the paddock, she reminded him of a horse he’d seen run so well at Bay Meadows a couple of years back. Same mark- ings, same look of a winner in her dark, intense eyes. Hadn’t he won a couple of Benjamins at 8 to 1 on that filly? To Uncle John it only made sense to put down a bet on this one to win.” Uncle John made the snap judgment that because this horse looked like that other horse, this horse would perform like the other horse.

The Representation Heuristic: Making the snap judgment that X is like Y in every way upon noticing that X is like Y in some way. A perceived similarity becomes the basis for assuming that there is an analogical relation- ship between two things, an analogy that may or may not be warranted.19 For example, some- one might say, “My father and I were alike in so many ways—in our lifestyles and how we thought about things. Dad died a few years ago of lymphoma. He was only 69. You know, as much as I don’t like the idea, I probably have about 30 years before lymphoma gets me, too.” The speaker in this example is overestimating the probability of contracting a fatal lymphoma or even of dying at age 69. This thinking is disconnected from any System-2 analytical reflection on the scientific evidence regarding How about a little “truth in advertising” for a change?

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was amazing his first year back in the NFL, but his third year in Philadelphia was a bust. So the Eagles dump him and the Jets pick him up?’ We all look at Harry because he’s on some other planet and say, ‘Where did that come from?’ And he’s like, ‘Pit bulls, dogs, dog fights, illegal, prison, Michael Vick.’ And then I’m like, ‘I wonder if Tiger Woods will pull off a comeback.’ And now they’re all looking at me. So I’m like, ‘Hey, you know! Michael Vick, troubled athlete, big comeback after major issues. Can Tiger do the same? Which reminds me, are we all still on for golf this weekend?’”

The Association Heuristic: Connecting ideas on the basis of word association and the memories, meanings, or impressions they trigger. We all have experienced con- versations in which one comment seems connected to another by nothing more than word association. Someone might suggest, “Let’s take our drinks outside to the picnic table.” To which someone else might respond, “Remember the picnic three years ago when Grandpa had his heart attack? I’m never going to that park again.” The repre- sentativeness, or associational heuristic maneuver, is trig- gered when a word or idea reminds us of something else. Typically, this is System-1 thinking: reactive, associational, and not critically reflective. For example, one person might associate sunshine with happiness, and another per- son might associate sunshine with sweaty work picking strawberries. Or, as in the example above, “picnic” with Grandpa’s heart attack. The salient negative experience

brought to mind by the mere use of the word picnic influ- enced the speaker to assert the decision never to return to the park where the sad event occurred. This unreflective decision emerged from the System-1 reaction triggered by the word association in this person’s mind.

Associational thinking, an unmonitored nearly stream-of-consciousness mind flushing twitter-blab of ideas, is of very little value, logically speaking. But if the associational thinker is also saying out loud everything that comes to mind, it can be creative, frustrating, and entertaining all at the same time. And way too personal! It is rather commonplace in today’s culture, and yet we seem unconcerned that judgments made using associa- tional thinking can be very flawed. Instead the media report the results of causal twitter fests and “instant polls” as though these represented our best and most informed thinking on a given topic.

8. STEREOTYPING “I met this Marine, a young corporal, and he was an impressive young man. I could tell just talk- ing to this young soldier that our servicemen and service- women are wonderful people.” Stereotypes are general- ized perceptions that members of one group of people have regarding another group. They shape how we see others and how others see us. The System-1 tendency is to think that everyone in the group has the characteristics, positive or negative, associated with the stereotype. Societal stereo- types tend to evolve slowly.20

THINKING CRITICALLY Last Word to First Word Listen attentively to a conversation. But do not focus on the topic being discussed, instead focus on the words as they are said. Pay special attention to the last word or expression in a sentence and count how many times the next speaker uses that word or expression as the first thing they say. An associa- tional thinker—and we use the term thinker advisedly—often interacts conversationally by connecting what he or she says to the last word in the sentence that the previous speaker

uttered. No, this doesn’t make any logical sense. But listen for it nonetheless. Keep a log of which person in the conversation does it the most frequently. And keep track of whether or not the topic of the conversation is actually altered from whatever it was before to whatever topic the associational thinker intro- duces. Put a clock on the topic. See if any topics at all can last more than three minutes when the associational thinker is in full form.

From “pit bull” to “Jet”? System-1, loosened from sound critical thinking, takes full flight with the association heuristic.

➡ ➡ ➡ ➡

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The Stereotyping Heuristic: Making a snap judgment about an entire group based on a single instance. Although an anecdote is not data, we have all heard people draw conclusions about whole groups of people based on their experience with only one or two people who are members of that group. We call this stereotyping or profiling. There are advantages to stereotyping, because it is a highly effi- cient way of thinking. For example, we tend to stereotype grandparents as loving caretakers. So if I say that I am hav- ing Grandma watch my daughter, you are not likely to worry too much about the child. On the other hand, there are risks associated with stereotyping. Profiling groups of people based on unfortunate experiences with one or more of its members can lead to bigotry, prejudice, misunder- standing, and mistrust, to name only a few.

Humans do not have the time to make systematic scientific surveys of everything we may need to know. So, we take the shortcut of basing decisions on relatively few instances. This is what we are doing when we ask a friend if she or he knows a good dentist, doctor, real estate broker, or lawyer. Or if we ask an alumna to tell us how good her college experience was when we are trying to decide where to go to school. The trade-off between effort expended and the reliability of the information derived makes this approach risky. Yes, it’s a starting point to get some preliminary information, but it is not an ending point of a thorough investigation. Here again, monitoring one’s habits of mind is a good idea.

The tendency to think that our personal experience of a single instance is predictive of what we would find were we to sample more systematically a whole class of individuals can undermine decision making in almost any context. We eat a burger at a fast food restaurant and make a snap judgment about everything on the menu there and at every other restaurant in the same chain. Does this work for paintings by a given artist, songs by a given songwriter, and novels by a given author? What about courses taught by a given professor, patient problems treated by a given health care provider, or building proposals by a real estate developer?

One example of false and negative stereotyping in contemporary America is the idea that all Muslims are ter- rorists.21 Like other negative stereotypes based on race, ethnicity, religion, or nationality, this one fuels fear and hatred. In our more reflective moments we realize that Muslim Americans were victims in the 9/11 attacks on the Twin Towers along with Jewish Americans, Christian Americans, and Americans who practiced no religion. We know that Muslim Americans serve with distinction in our armed forces, including side by side with soldiers of other faiths in combat in Afghanistan and Iraq. And we know that millions of American Muslims go to work every day, take care of their families, pay their taxes, and contribute in numerous ways to the quality of our commu- nities. The same is true of millions of African Americans, Jewish Americans, Mexican Americans, Native Americans, Mormon Americans, Catholic Americans, Chinese Americans, etc. But our System-2 reflective considerations about freedom of religion and the rights of others can evaporate if System-1 kicks into overdrive. Negative ste- reotyping can trigger just that kind of kneejerk defensive hostility. And when that happens, occasionally System-2 is dragged into the skirmish, because all of us are naturally inclined to seek rationalizations in support of our unreflec- tive reactions.

Sensationalist media and unscrupulous politicians rel- ish playing on our weakness for stereotypes. Stereotyping, particularly vicious negative stereotyping, sells papers and garners votes. And, say the unethical journalists and poli- ticians, “Who cares who you have to hurt as long as you make money and win election, right?”

We know that it is difficult to root out the System-1 reactive stereotypic responses. On occasion it takes encountering a remarkable person or story to help us real- ize that our kneejerk stereotypes about people can get in the way of good judgment. Recently, for example, a 6-year- old little girl was rescued from a kidnapper by a brave man and his wife. Seeing the kidnapper snatch the child, they took immediate action. He chased the kidnapper while she called the police. The man who pulled the child out of

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the grasp of the kidnapper was honored by the mayor as a hero. The national news picked up the story. Oh, and, as it turns out, he was an illegal immigrant.22

Speaking about jarring counterexamples that chal- lenge strong critical thinkers to examine their unreflec- tive stereotypes about people, do you know who Ayaan Hirsi Ali is? Yes, exactly, she is the former member of the Dutch Parliament, native of Somalia, ex-Muslim, feminist who advocates Islamic–Christian dialogue in America.23 Or do you know Sgt. Maj. Kent Dolasky, retired com- mandant of the US Joint Special Operations Forces Senior Enlisted Academy with multiple combat tours? Right, he’s the army veteran who teaches business at the community college level and founded the Buckets of Hope volun- teer organization to assist the homeless in Tampa.24 And, above all, strong critical thinkers know that none of us are obliged to live out the stereotype that anyone is trying to force upon us.

9. “US VS. THEM” “I went to Congress to lobby for the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act and to sup- port increased funding for Pell Grants and other forms of non-exploitive student aid. I explained that higher educa- tion is a benefit to the person who is fortunate enough to afford to go to college. Research shows consistently higher earnings for college graduates than for those who have not gone to college. But, I added, college education benefits society as a as well. The teachers, nurses, businesspeople, engineers, journalists, social workers, and the like, who attained access to those professions through their college education, provide much needed services for everyone in the community. I was told by one member that he simply did not agree with that. His reason was simple: ‘I’ve heard all that before because it’s what the other side says.’ I asked

the member to help me understand his thinking better and he replied, ‘You see, on the Hill, it’s good guys vs. bad guys. They’re the bad guys. Whatever they say, whatever they want, whatever argument they make, I don’t buy it’.”

The “Us vs. Them” Heuristic: Reducing decisions to the choice between two starkly opposing options and then rejecting whatever option your opposition favors. This could be named the “good guys vs. bad guys” heu- ristic as well because applying this heuristic results in an automatic competitive and oppositional relationship. And our tendency, evolving from the earliest survival instincts of our species, is to band together with “our own people” to fight “those other guys.” Battle lines are drawn with phrases like “Those who are not with me are against me”; “There can be no middle ground”; “Never compromise”; and “There can be no negotiations.”25 Once our minds apply the Us vs. Them heuristic to a situation, many other decisions about the people or issues involved become very simple. We have no obligations toward “them” or toward anything they want or anything they represent. But, if you are one of “us” we will stand by you through thick and thin.26 In its most extreme manifestations, the Us vs. Them heuristic can set up the tendency to regard “them” as non- persons, objects off the ethical radar screen, “others” who can be manipulated or removed without ethical concern. As a nation, we saw this in the torture and prisoner abuses at Abu Ghraib. Called the false polarization effect,27 this tendency to divide the world into two opposing camps can be a very dangerous approach to problem solving and a potentially explosive and negative strategy for a society or a leader to take.

Let us not be naïve about this. If humans are strongly influenced by Us vs. Them thinking, then it would be

Stereotype breaker, Kent Dolasky Stereotype breaker, Ayaan Hirsi Ali

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foolish of us not to take that into consideration when approaching others for the first time. Generosity of spirit and openness are wonderful virtues, but venturing into potentially hostile territory with caution thrown to the wind is seldom likely to be the optimal choice. An advan- tage of this heuristic is that it orients our thoughts and actions in support of our family, our team, our platoon, our business, our community, “our kind.” And, obviously, the disadvantage is that we lose objectivity and impartiality, and we can be prone toward bias and prejudice if we are not reflective. In instances like these, our critical thinking (System-2) must override the pull toward prejudice arising from the misapplication of the Us vs. Them heuristic.

High school might be described as the Kingdom of “Us vs. Them.” In the black-and-white thinking that char- acterizes adolescent cognitive development, the tribal

divisions, loyalties, rituals, and rival- ries of the Us vs. Them mindset flour- ish. For example, search and watch the “Pep Talk” scene from Glory Road. The coach begins by antagonizing his play- ers with racial stereotyping, and their gut response (affect heuristic) is silent anger and resentment. The coach says that they cannot win the national championship, because they cannot think. He describes them losing the game, they can see it hap- pening (simulation) in their minds, and they become even more agitated because he is the authority figure and he is say- ing they will lose. They do not want to lose. This is not “just a game.” Then the coach changes his tone and evokes the Us vs. Them heuristic to rally the players and unify the team. The short scene ends with one of the players making the point

to his teammate that he needs to play good defense (not satisfice), because the usual effort will not be good enough. There are some great “Us vs. Them” moments, simula- tions, and System-1 affect heuristic appeals to be discov- ered if you search for the “best movie pep talks of all time.”

Journalists, politicians, zealots, coaches, and evangelists of all stripes use our natural tendency to mis- trust “those other people”—the ones who are not part of “us,” the ones who are different, the ones with whom we disagree. Unscrupulous people make an enemy of the opposition and ascribe to them evil and dangerous inten- tions. This rallies the troops against the external threat and makes it unnecessary to take seriously what “they” have to say. In the cut-throat competition for high office, campaigners strive to marginalize or even demonize their opposition, engender fear in “us,” lest “they” should “get

THINKING CRITICALLY Is the Infotainment Media Helping or Not?

“If you’re not careful, the newspapers will have you hating the people who are being oppressed, and loving the people who are doing the oppressing.”

Malcolm X

What role does the infotainment media play in promoting or exposing unfair stereotyping and “Us vs. Them” thinking? Consider stereotypes based age, job status, religion, eth- nicity, sexual orientation, educational level, and nationality.

Use evidence, not just personal experience, to come to a fair and accurate evaluation of the role of the media. For example, search “Islamophobia” and read articles on the changes in attitudes toward Muslims over the past 20 years. One perspective is offered by Professor Hatem Bazian in his short piece, “Latent and manifest Islamophobia.” Do the same for “poor people” and for “CEOs.” If you discover that the media have been fanning the flames of fear, rather than promoting harmony and acceptance, see if you can find another social group that the media has treated in the opposite way.

Responsible voters use critical thinking (System-2) to override the partisan reactions triggered in all of us by the Us vs. Them heuristic.

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what they want,” “come to power,” or “take what is right- fully ours.” The risks associated with dualistic thinking are serious, and these risks are compounded when fear and mistrust are set in opposition to loyalty and group identity.

The Us vs. Them Heuristic is a favorite tool of zeal- ots, extremists, hate-mongers, and bigots. Why does it work for them? Too often because, fearing their wrath, the rest of us fail to muster the courage to challenge their caustic and divisive rhetoric with accurate information and sound reasoning. The positive critical thinking habit of truth-seeking requires the courage to ask tough ques- tions and to follow reasons and evidence wherever they lead. History shows us how devastating and explosive religion in the blind service of nationalism can be. That has not changed. So it is not an exaggeration to say that the lives of tens of millions of people may depend on the courage and capacity of educated and truth-seeking men and women to stand up to those whose ambitions or beliefs demand the economic, political, or military anni- hilation of all of “them.”

At this time in our national history the electorate is almost evenly divided between the two major parties. This is why voting is such an important responsibility. In statewide and national elections, political control turns on changing the minds of small percentages of people. A shift of 5 percent one way or the other can empower one party or the other to have control of the one or both houses of Congress, the Presidency, or to win the governorship of a state. Explore how shifting just a few Senate seats can impact control of that house of Congress.

Passing or defeating a statewide referendum or elect- ing a President can depend on shifting just a few percent of the likely voters this way or that. Political parties use wedge issues, like gay marriage, immigration, and mari- juana legalization, play on our System-1 heuristic thinking. Can our collective System-2 critical thinking overcome the divisiveness with reasoned judgment?

10. POWER DIFFERENTIAL “I once worked on a senior management team that was headed by a CEO who was the personification of the ‘alpha male.’ I recall one meet- ing where the other nine vice presidents and I were sitting along both sides of a conference table, with the CEO at the head of the table. He wanted us to discuss a proposal he had come up with the night before. He presented his idea by handing out five pages single-spaced and talking non- stop for half an hour. Then he said, ‘OK, now I’d like to hear from you.’ Nobody spoke. Nobody believed he actu- ally wanted to hear our views. Nobody wanted to rock the boat or risk crossing him by pointing out even the smallest flaw or raising even the most tentative counterargument. The CEO waited less than two seconds. When nobody

responded, he said, ‘OK, then. That’s it. We’ll implement this. Now, next topic.”

The Power Differential Heuristic: Accepting without question a belief as stated by, a problem as presented by, or a solution as proposed by, a superior authority. Social hierarchies abound at home, at work, in government, in religion, and even in recreation. Many are benevolent and respectful. But even in these cases, and certainly in those that are manipulative and abusive, there is a tendency to defer to the individual (or subgroup) in charge. It may be something as benign as agreeing on when to eat dinner or which TV show to watch. The decision to defer—that is, not to dispute or challenge—the decisions of others higher in the social pecking order is natural. It manifests itself in our accepting what “those above us” may decide to have us do. This heuristic leads us to see the world as how our leaders see it and to understand problems and issues the way our leaders describe them to us. Middle managers in a corporate culture are susceptible to similar pressures from senior executives, as are second children from their elder

A Student Body president champions a new resolution. How does the power differential within student organizations affect the work of the group and the sense of group unity?

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sibling, or junior officers relative to their superiors. But “pressure” is not exactly the correct word, for this heuristic makes compliance with authority the automatic reaction. Thus, when one is out of step with one’s “higher-ups,” one often feels more discomfort than when one is “going along to get along.” In a gang, for example, the power differential between the gang leader and his or her followers, when combined with the Us vs. Them heuristic for viewing the world, can strongly influence gang members to internal- ize gang rivalries and to agree with violent responses to perceived threats.

There are some advantages to recognizing the reali- ties of power differentials and not bucking the system. Not only can this save cognitive resources, it might save your job and your domestic happiness as well. After all, if the boss wants the client list updated, why not update it? And if your partner wants to go to a movie that might not have been your first choice, why not go anyway? Having people see things your way may not be the highest of all values, even if you are smarter than they are about some things. Societal harmony and domestic tranquility are values, too.

On the other hand, how many times have we seen clearly that the boss was heading the department in the wrong direction, that the team captain was employing an ineffective strategy, that our elder sibling was wrong, or that our leaders were motivated more by self-interest than by the common good? Any full evaluation of the reason- ing presented by those in power over us—coaches, teach- ers, ministers, managers, governmental authorities, or otherwise—should include consideration of whether the benefits derived from the current power structure rela- tionship warrant continuing that relationship or whether it is time to consider seriously other options. In reviewing one’s options, do not forget the influence that the satisfic- ing heuristic, discussed earlier, can have on our sense that, however flawed our current situation may be, it is “good enough.”

11. ANCHORING WITH ADJUSTMENT “The first book report I wrote as a ninth grader was about the novel Space Cadets. My report earned a C−. The teacher, a lover of eigh- teenth- and nineteenth-century British literature, found scant merit in the silly juvenile novel I had chosen and even

THINKING CRITICALLY Anchoring on First Impressions Your personal reputation, positive or negative, can be one of the most difficult anchors to raise. If you have had the mis- fortune of making a poor first impression at some point in your life, you may know firsthand just how dif- ficult it can be to overcome that unfortunate beginning. But this exercise is about the impres- sions you have of others. Reflect on the people whom you have met over the past year or two. Think of some whom you initially thought highly of and others whom you did not like at first. Has your general impression of any of these people changed? If yes, describe what the per- son did or said that was so memorable that you hauled up your anchor from positive waters and dropped it in negative waters, or vice versa. Now reflect on the others, and ask yourself what it would take for you to radically revise your ini- tial opinion of any of them.

What about celebrities? Our opinions of celebrities often anchor on our first impressions and then adjust very slowly, unless the celebrity does something really “out of character.” Think about Robert Downey, Jr., drug addict and criminal? Or Robert Downey, Jr., Oscar- nominated movie star? Sherlock Holmes! Or

think about Tiger Woods, all-world golfer or Tiger Woods unfaithful husband. Then there is Justin Bieber, a personality still under construction.

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less merit in my futile attempt to state its theme and explore how its author had developed plot and characters. A friend of mine received an A on his report on George Elliot’s (Mary Ann Evans') 1861 novel, Silas Marner. About halfway through the academic year I was consistently making C−, C, or C+ on my work, and my friend was doing A− or A work. So, we switched. I started writing reports using his name and he wrote reports using my name. My grades (that is, the grades he earned for me) edged up into the C+ and B− range. His grades (that is, the grades my reports earned for him) held steady except for one B+ late in April. Our analysis: In the mind of our teacher from the first paper we submitted in September and throughout that whole year, I was a C student and my friend was an A student.”

The Anchoring with Adjustment Heuristic: Having made an evaluation, adjust only as much as is absolutely necessary and then only if new evidence is presented.28 When we are making evaluative judgments, it is natural to locate or anchor our evaluation at some point along whatever scale we are using. If we are being more reflec- tive, we may have established some criteria and we may be working to apply them as fair-mindedly as possible. As other information comes our way, we may adjust our evaluation. The interesting thing about this cognitive maneuver is that we do not normally start over with a fresh evaluation. We have dropped anchor and we may drag it upward or downward a bit, but we do not pull it off the bottom of the sea to relocate our evaluation. First impressions, as the saying goes, cannot easily be undone.

One advantage of this heuristic is that it permits us to move on. We have done the evaluation; there are other things in life that need attention. We could not long endure if we were to constantly reevaluate everything anew. Part of developing expertise is learning to calibrate and nuance one’s judgments, refine one’s criteria, and adjust the cri- teria to fit the complexities of the circumstances of judg- ment. Anchoring with adjustment can reflect a progression toward greater precision, a way to refine not only judg- ments about particular things, but the criteria applied when making those judgments.

The unfortunate thing about this heuristic, however, is that we sometimes drop anchor in the wrong place; we have a hard time giving people a second chance at making a good first impression. How often have we seen it hap- pen that a co-worker’s performance is initially evaluated as sub-par (outstanding) and almost nothing that happens subsequently can move that initial evaluation marker very far from where it started? Subsequent outstanding work (poor work) is regarded as a fluke or an anomaly, not as genuine counterevidence that should result in a thorough reevaluation.

12. ILLUSION OF CONTROL “They hired me because I was known as a corporate gunslinger. I know how to take

a failing organization and turn it around in short order. I kick ass and take names. I hire people who want to bust their butts to get the job done, and I fire the deadwood and anyone who gets in the way of what we’re trying to do. Within 90 days I had reorganized the finance division and the technology division. Sales needed major work. That took another three weeks, but I put in the right people and revised our marketing approach. Then it was time to increase productivity and decrease costs in our manufac- turing operation. In six months I had stopped the bleed- ing. In nine, we had bottomed out and were starting to see the signs of a turnaround. We posted our first net profits at the end of my fourth quarter with the corporation. I stayed another two years and then the job got so boring that I had to move on. So, now I’m on the market looking for another company that needs my skill set to save its cookies.” The gunslinger’s constant references “I did this” and “I did that” give no credit to the team effort it really takes to turn an organization around. Perhaps the gunslinger deserves praise and credit for his or her leadership contributions. But from my own personal experience, I assure you that turning around a large organization that is in real trouble is a group project, not a one-person show. The gunslinger in this example is looking back on the project with an exag- gerated and illusory sense of his or her own personal con- trol over how events turned out.

The Illusion of Control Heuristic: Estimating the con- trol you have over events by the amount of energy and desire you put into trying to shape those events. When used correctly, this heuristic helps calibrate estimates of our effectiveness and thus helps us gauge how hard we should try. When misapplied, the illusion of control heu- ristic leads us into snap judgments that are nothing more than wishful thinking. We frequently overestimate our actual ability to control the outcomes of events because we consistently fail to account for contingencies.29 We overestimate our control of a situation because we underestimate the influences of other people and events. As a result, we imagine wrongly that there is a very strong relationship between whatever we might do and how things are going to ultimately turn out. Wanting a given outcome strongly, we tend to think that decisions we make or actions we take are genuinely instrumental in bringing about or failing to bring about that outcome regardless of the actual contingencies, forces, and factors at work.

13. OPTIMISTIC BIAS AND 14. HINDSIGHT BIAS Please answer these three questions: Are you any more or less likely than others just like you to contract cancer at your age? Are you more or less likely than others just like you to suffer a debilitating injury in a traffic accident? Are you below average or above average in your ability to get along with others?30

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The Optimistic Bias Heuristic: Tendency to underes- timate our own risks and overestimate our own control in dangerous situations.31 Responding to the third ques- tion, most will say they have above average abilities, even though mathematically it cannot be true that most peo- ple are above average. On the first two questions above, approximately 75 percent of us will estimate our risks to be lower and about 25 percent will say higher. But, the true answer is that our risks are neither higher nor lower than persons just like us. This natural tendency toward optimistic bias has the evolutionary advantage for our species of providing us with the cour- age to move ahead in life. The constant dread of serious hazards could be mentally detrimental and debilitating. However, since our risk of hazard is actually no bet- ter and no worse than others’ just like our- selves, all things being equal, this built-in bias results in poorer and perhaps riskier judgments in some situations. Our sense that we will succeed where others have failed, or that we are not as likely as others to suffer misfortune or the ill effects of bad decisions can lead us to take unnecessary risks.

Please answer these questions: Have you ever felt that you did not receive your

fair share of the credit for your contribution to a highly successful project? Were you ever unfairly blamed when things went wrong, even though the unfortunate outcomes were beyond your control?

The Hindsight Bias Heuristic: Tendency to remember suc- cessful events as being the result of the decisions we made and actions that we took and past failures as having resulted from bad luck or someone else’s mistakes.32 Our human

THINKING CRITICALLY In Control of Your ATV Yamaha makes one of today’s most popular ATVs, the Yamaha Rhino. Before going further in this exercise, answer this: Suppose you were given, free of charge, the offer to use as you wish a Yamaha Rhino all day and you had complete access to a beautiful recreational area with hills, streams, ravines, woodlands, and open meadows. Assume that you would not be charged any money, even if you brought the vehicle back damaged. On a scale of 1 to 100, with 100 being “Absolutely, yes!” how likely would you be to accept this offer? After marking down your answer, search and watch the multiple news stories about ATV dangers. (Search “ATV dangers.”) Listen to the riders who are interviewed. Do any of them exhibit indications that they may be suffering the influences of the illusion of control heuristic? Explain why. Now, having seen the video interviews you found online, on the same scale of 1 to 100, how likely would you be to accept the offer of the free use of the Rhino? If you changed your answer from the first time, that is OK. Question: If you changed your answer, why did you change? Reflect on your second decision. Did

any of these heuristics play a role: availability, simulation, representation, anchoring with adjustment? Did your sense of risk and possible loss increase or decrease having seen the news story?

How does our high level of confidence in our ability to control events and our optimistic sense of youthful invincibility impact our decisions regarding health insurance?

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need for accuracy, predictability, and self-justification is believed to motivate this hindsight-biasing behavior.33 Hindsight bias adds fuel to the fire of our false confidence, for it inclines us to believe that our decisions and actions had a strong positive impact on the outcome of events, or, if things did not turn out as hoped, the fault was not ours. The tendency to take undeserved credit for good outcomes or to shift responsibility to others for undesirable outcomes is something we humans seem to have in common.

We do not mean to suggest that we are mistaken every time we feel unfairly blamed nor that we are mis- taken every time we feel in control of a situation. By noting these potentials for wrong judgments, however, we are able to anticipate the possibility of a mistake and correct our thinking before we dig in too deeply to the feelings of pride or resentment that come with being mis- takenly praised or blamed. We can use our self-regulation critical thinking skills to monitor ourselves for optimistic bias and hindsight bias so that our estimations about how much we really can control or how much blame or credit we deserve are made more reflectively, and hopefully, more accurately.

15. ELIMINATION BY ASPECT: “ONE STRIKE AND YOU’RE OUT” “I went on four job interviews, which was great because many of my friends were having trouble getting any interviews. The interviewers all wanted me to make a PowerPoint presentation. And, of course, there was a lot of meeting individuals and groups of people. And the mandatory lunch when you have to remember to order lemonade instead of anything alcoholic. All those parts went fine. But at one place there was this guy who kept interrupting my PowerPoint to ask questions. I don’t want

to work there, not with jerks like him in my work group. This other place was OK, great new computers in fact, but the cubicles were gray and so was the carpet. I just didn’t like how blah it looked—too institutional, you know. So, really, it’s down to the other two places, and I’m hoping to get an offer from one or both of them real soon.”

The Elimination by Aspect Heuristic: Eliminating an option from consideration upon the discovery of one undesirable feature. There are simply too many choices! The Excalibur Hotel in Las Vegas boasts a 500-dish smor- gasbord. DIRECTV and Comcast offer hundreds of chan- nels. Want to buy a car, rent a downtown condo, enroll in an MBA program, or select a can of soup from the grocery shelf? There are thousands from which to pick. How do we move efficiently through this maze of opportunities? Certainly not by giving our full attention and due consid- eration to every aspect of every option. Rather, we hack through the choices individually or in whole bunches at a time, pushing the clutter out of our cognitive path as quickly and efficiently as possible. Elimination by aspect is our heuristic strategy. As soon as we identify a “reason why not,” we dump that option and options like it. The reason does not have to be monumental. I don’t like brown cars or used cars. That’s it. For me, the car-buying choices have just been reduced by tens of thousands. Don’t like cream sauces? Great, that cuts the smorgasbord problem down by a huge percentage. Don’t like to wait behind other folks grazing through the food line? Fine, step around them to an open spot along the buffet and never worry about look- ing back at the dozens of culinary delights you may have skipped.

In situations where we enjoy a plethora of acceptable choices, the cognitive utility of elimination by aspect cannot be overestimated. However, the price we pay for conserving

all that energy and time is clear, too. Applying this heuristic may result in a final selection that does not reflect the best holistic choice we might have made. The used car I refused to consider may have been just as good in every way as a new car of the same make and model, but thou- sands of dollars less expensive. I will never give that car its due consideration, having eliminated it entirely from view when I rejected it along with all others that were labeled “used.” In situ- ations where our choices are limited and where no option is perfect, this heuristic can be a major liability. Because nobody is perfect, balancing the good with the bad is a sign of wisdom. The one strike and you’re out approach denies this reality. Political litmus tests, for example, could paralyze a pluralistic democracy. We would all soon become hermits if we tried to select our employees, friends, and leaders on the principle that any one flaw is a fatal flaw.

Do you think retailers know that too many choices can overwhelm System-2, causing us to fall back to our reactive heuristic-driven System-1 responses? If so, isn’t that exactly what they want—that we should just buy without thinking through our decisions?

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16. LOSS AND RISK AVERSION “Early in my career I was offered an entry-level management position with a new company in a new industry. The company was called Cingular Wireless. I didn’t seek the job. And I was a bit surprised when the offer was extended one evening dur- ing a dinner party. It would have meant a lot more money than I was earning as a part-time instructor. A job like that would have been the ticket to a lucrative corporate career. But I had a job in the field of higher education, and, with a couple years of experience, I was becoming comfort- able in the role of college teacher. I didn’t want to lose the identity I had just begun to create for myself. I wasn’t sure what it would be like to work in the corporate sector, having all my life been either a student or a teacher, and recently a new mother. My daughter was less than a year old at that time. What if the job with Cingular didn’t work out? Somehow the idea of remaking myself into a corpo- rate junior executive seemed too risky and there was too much to lose. So, I thanked the person but declined her offer.”

The Loss and Risk Aversion Heuristic: Avoiding risk and avoiding loss by maintaining the status quo. Not losing any- thing, not going backward, at least staying where we are, for most humans, is the preferred default outcome, particularly under conditions of uncertainty. Research demonstrates that most humans are more likely to pass up an opportunity to make a gain rather than risk a loss.34 Humans psychologi- cally privilege the status quo. Whenever possible, humans take an incremental approach, seeking to avoid uncertainty and the difficult cognitive tasks of weighing and combining information or trading-off conflicting values, rather than opting for more dramatic change. Muddling through per- sonal decisions, attempting to avoid any loss, is the norm rather than the exception. We’ve all heard the old adage “A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.”

Making decisions on the basis of what we do not want to risk losing can have advantages in many circumstances. People do not want to lose control, they do not want to lose their freedom, and they do not want to lose their lives,

their families, their jobs, or their possessions. And so, in real life, we take precautions. Why take unnecessary risks? The odds may not be stacked against us, but the conse- quences of losing at times are so great that we would pre- fer to forgo the possibilities of gain to not lose what we have. Can you think of an example of this in your life?

We are more apt to endure the status quo, even as it slowly deteriorates, than we are to engage in change that we perceive as “radical” or “dangerous.” Loss and risk aversion have the disadvantages of leading to paralysis or delay precisely when action should be taken. Having missed that opportunity to avert a crisis, we discover later that it requires a far greater upheaval to make the necessary transformations once the crisis is upon us. Worse, on occasion, the situation has deteriorated beyond the point of no return. In those situations we find ourselves wondering why we waited so long before doing something about the problem back when it might have been possible to salvage the situation. History has shown time and time again that businesses that avoid risks often are unable to compete successfully against those willing to move more boldly into new markets or into new product lines.

Uncertainty, risk, and fear of loss are the tools of those who oppose change, just as optimistic bias and simulation are the tools of the proponents of change. There were and continue to be abundant example of both in the protracted and highly politicized debate over Obamacare. And, of course, both sides use satisficing, temporizing, affect, avail- ability, representation, stereotyping. and “Us vs. Them.”

17. “ALL OR NOTHING” “I heard that there were going to be budget cuts and layoffs. We all knew that the economy was in the tank. But this is a big university with an annual operating budget over $230,000,000 and more than 1,800 faculty and staff members. So, I figured that the chances that they would cut the course that I was going to take next semester out of the budget had to be about 100,000 to 1. I mean, they probably offer thousands of courses here every

THINKING CRITICALLY Why Privilege the Status Quo? Reflect on a recent experience in your life that involved mak- ing a decision that included some element of risk and poten- tial loss. In a purely objective analysis the status quo is only one possibility among many and should not be given any more value than any other state of affairs. But, as you saw in the “Loss and Risk Aversion” section, for human beings, built as we are with an aversion to loss and risk seemingly in our DNA, that is easier said than done. How did you handle the

decision you faced? Were you able to give the status quo no more or no less value than any other possible state of affairs? How might a stronger application of the critical thinking skill of self-regulation have affected the decision? In other words, what steps can you take to monitor your own decision making for loss aversion? Write out some questions a person might ask himself or herself that would help the person make a good decision in contexts of risk, uncertainty, and potential loss.

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Interrogation–From Confrontation to Confession Have you ever been interrogated by law enforcement personnel, or have you ever interrogated a suspect? Interrogations involve asking a person several times to repeat what they saw, heard, or did. By repetition details emerge, details which can exonerate an innocent person and which can trip up a guilty person. Repetition can be frustrating and fatiguing, and it tends to reinforce memories, both true and false. Fatigue and frustration are tools that investigators use to break down a suspect’s defenses. There is an effective process, known as the Reid technique that interrogators use to move a suspect to confess. At each step in the process both parties are making System-1 and System-2 decisions about what to ask or how to respond.

All things being equal, the advantage goes to the inter- rogator because the interrogator can follow a proven process and because the interrogator does not have to make claims or give reasons. And, because if the interrogator makes a false statement, there is no downside other than that the person being questioned will realize that perhaps the interrogator is lying. As fatigue sets in the person being questioned, however, falls back on snap judgments and unreflective heuristic think- ing. When the interrogator unexpectedly shifts topics or buries a damning assumption deep within a false dilemma, the sus- pect may agree to something or admit something that implies guilt. Since more crimes are solved by confessions than by forensic evidence, the Reid technique is a powerful and impor- tant law enforcement tool. It works so well that its critics say it produces too many false confessions, particularly if applied to children.

The playing field is leveled a bit if the person being ques- tioned knows the nine step process. The person being ques- tioned then knows what the interrogator is trying to do and where the questioning is going to go next. Remember as you read the steps in the process that it is legal for the police to lie to a person suspected of a crime, just as it is mandatory that the police inform the person of their rights, including their right to remain silent and to have legal counsel present.

1. Confront the suspect by claiming to have evidence that the suspect committed the crime. Offer the suspect the opportunity to explain what happened and why. Build in an unspoken assumption that the suspect did commit the crime. For example, “What hap- pened out there? Why did you drive away after the accident with the motorcycle?”

2. Offer the suspect excuses or reasons for the crime. “You didn’t know that the motorcyclist was injured, right?” Or, “Were you late for an important meeting?” “I understand, you were just going home so that you could phone in the accident report. Yes?”

3. Do not let the suspect deny guilt. Or, if the suspect denies guilt, do not let the suspect repeat the denial. Denial only reinforces the suspect in the view that he is not to blame. Shift topics if the suspect appears to want to deny guilt.

4. If the suspect offers a reason why he did not commit the crime, attempt to use it to move toward a confession. Ask the suspect to explain in great detail why he could not have committed the crime. If the suspect does not offer a reason, ask for one. Look for inconsistencies. Use any details provided to trip up the suspect.

5. Act as if you are receptive to what the suspect has to say. Appear to be sincere. These are social cues for the suspect to behave in the same way toward you.

6. If the suspect is becoming quiet and listening to the interrogator then move toward offering the suspect different alternative versions of the crime, repeat claims that the evidence is conclusive or that other parties to the offense are implicating the suspect. Interpret crying at this point as implying that the person is guilty.

7. Offer the suspect two options concerning why he committed the crime. Expect the suspect to agree with the more socially acceptable option. But both options imply guilt. The suspect may fail to seize the third option that he is not guilty.

8. Lead the suspect to repeat in front of witnesses his admission of guilt, develop details that corroborate the admission of guilt, and the truthfulness of the confession.

9. Document the confession using video or by getting a written statement.

Source: Based on Zuawski, D., Wicklander, D, et. al., Practical Aspects of Interview and Interrogation, Second edition. CRC Press: Boca Raton. 2002.

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year. And there are so many other places to save money at a university without cutting academics. So, I planned my work hours and day care around taking that course. And then I go to register and it’s not in the schedule. I learned they dropped it for budget reasons. Can you imagine! How am I supposed to complete my program if they cut required courses like that one?”

The “All or Nothing” Heuristic: Simplifying decisions by treating remote probabilities as if they were not even possibilities. By and large, when making decisions, we do not calculate Bayesian probabilities. Computers might, but humans do not. But over the millennia as a species, we humans have done reasonably well for ourselves (so far) by operating as if the exact probabilities did not really mat- ter. Instead of thinking that there is precisely a 92 percent chance of this occurring or a 12 percent chance of that occur- ring, we tend to simplify our estimations and move them toward the extremes. In fact, we behave as if the odds were either 0 (no possibility at all), or 1 (it definitely will happen). Whether the chances are 1 in 100, or 1 in 10,000, do we really think about the mathematical differences in those situa- tions? No. Instead we tend to treat both of them as if the odds were the same, and, in fact, as if they were both zero. The all or nothing heuristic treats these remote possibilities as if they were, for all practical purposes, “impossible.” That is, as if the actual odds were 0 in 100 or 0 in 10,000.

When we stop and really think about things, there are all kinds of risky situations. A person walking across the street could be hit by a car. But, really, what are the chances? They are in fact not equal to zero. But if even the smallest risk of such a great loss as the loss of one’s life were per- ceived, some of us might never venture out into the world. So, we push that decimal point out further and further in our minds, nullifying the risk, treating it as if it were not present at all. I’ve ice-skated hundreds of times, so what are the chances that tonight I’ll fall and crack my skull? There are thousands of commercial flights each day, so what are the chances of a near miss involv- ing my flight? Sadly, if one of those remote and unfortunate possibilities were to occur, we often think, “I never thought that would happen to me.” A main advantage to the all or nothing heuristic is that it balances the paralyzing influ- ences of loss and risk aversion.

Heuristics in Action In real-world conversations in which we focus on our own issues, cognitive heuristics expe- dite our thinking by generating ideas, but not necessarily reflectively. Here is an example of a person explaining why he decided to invest in high-tech stocks in late 2007. What could go wrong?

“I know some businesses fail, particularly those based on technological innovation. But only 3 percent of new ventures failed last year, so I decided that the risk of failure was actually pretty small [All or Nothing], and I decided to go for broke and invest, and . . . you know. . . I’m pretty good at what I do, and I am really watch- ing things closely now so that nothing happens that will threaten my investment. [Illusion of Control] I just don’t think I can miss on this one.” [Optimistic Bias]

True, it was smart to consider the percentage of busi- nesses that failed, and to do all that one can to run a business well. And the business may not fail, but even the speaker himself would not be likely to invest with confidence were it not for the misuse of heuristic thinking, providing hope, a bit of confidence, and a sense of being in control of the investment. The worldwide economic disaster known now as the Great Recession of 2008 demonstrated that the previ- ous reasoning was a house built on sand.

Often, cognitive heuristics work in tandem with one another. For example, parents often worry about their chil- dren getting sick from germs that may be lurking in the environment, like on playground equipment, neighbors’ houses, or in public bathrooms. The gut feeling “Germs = Bad!” is an example of the affect heuristic. Fueled by the illusion of control heuristic, many parents set high stan- dards for cleanliness, especially for their daughters. But research suggests that keeping little girls squeaky clean may in fact be the opposite of what they need.35

In the following example of a casual family conver- sation over morning coffee, several heuristics are in play, including association, affect, and stereotyping:

Husband to wife: “I’m looking forward to retiring. I’ve worked for 35 years in offices without windows, and, when I’m retired I want to be outside. I can see myself on the fifth tee right now!”

Microbes can be good for you!

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Heuristics and Possible Errors from Their Misapplication

Heuristic Cognitive Shortcut Possible Error from Misapplication

Satisficing Having found an option that is good enough, take it. We humans typically do only what must be done to achieve our purposes.

Underestimation of how much is required to satisfy objective.

Temporizing Decide that a given option is good enough for now. Underestimation of the growing problems associated with failing to make a long-term adjustment in a timely way.

Affect Decide based on your initial affective (“gut”) response. First impressions and gut feelings may mislead.

Simulation Estimate the likelihood of a given outcome based on how easy it is to imagine that outcome.

Overestimation of one’s chance of success or likelihood of failure.

Availability Estimate the likelihood of a future event on the vividness or ease of recalling a similar past event.

Mistaken estimations of the chances of events turning out in the future as they are remembered to have turned out in the past.

Representation Make the snap judgment that X is like Y in every way upon noticing that X is like Y in some way.

The analogy may not hold.

Association Connect ideas on the basis of word association and the memories, meanings, or impressions they trigger.

Jumping from one idea to the next absent any genuine logical progression and drawing confused and inaccurate inferences.

Stereotyping From a single salient instance, make a snap judgment about an entire group.

Profiling and misjudging individuals based on one’s beliefs about the group.

“Us vs. Them” Reduce decisions to the choice between two starkly opposing options and then reject the option your opposition favors.

Unnecessary conflict, disrespect for others, polarization, undermining of the possibility of reasonable compromise.

Power Differential Accept without question a belief as stated by, a problem as presented by, or a solution as proposed by a superior authority.

Working on the wrong question or problem, applying a mistaken or inadequate solution.

Anchoring with Adjustment Having made an evaluation, adjust only as much as is absolutely necessary and then only if new evidence is presented.

Failure to reconsider thoroughly, failure to evaluate fair-mindedly.

Illusion of Control Estimate the control you have over events by amount of energy and desire you put into trying to shape those events.

Overestimation of one’s actual power to control or manage events—confusion of desire and effort with effectiveness.

Optimistic Bias The tendency to underestimate our own risks and overestimate our own control in dangerous situations.

Taking unnecessary risks, putting one’s self in unnecessary danger.

Hindsight Bias The tendency to remember successful events as being the result of the decisions one made and actions one took, and to remember past failures as having resulted from bad luck or someone else’s mistakes.

Misjudging the actual extent to which one’s actions contributed either positively or negatively to past events and outcomes.

Elimination by Aspect Eliminate an option from consideration upon the discovery of one undesirable feature.

Failure to give due and full consideration to all the viable options.

Loss and Risk Aversion Avoid risk and avoid loss by maintaining the status quo. Paralysis of decision making, stuck in the deteriorating status quo.

“All or Nothing” Simplify decisions by treating remote probabilities as if they were not even possibilities.

Failure to appreciate the possibilities that events could actually turn out differently than expected—the remote possibility may actually occur.

Wife replies: “Same as my Dad; he used to say how much he hated the winter especially going to work when it was dark outside, working in a windowless office all day, and then coming home when it was dark.”

Mother-in-law: “That senior’s apartment you showed me was terrible. Only one window! I need more light. I’m never moving to an apartment! You’re going to have to drag me out of my house.”

In the first paragraph, availability and simula- tion influence the husband immediately to link the idea of being outside to his vivid and happily remembered hobby [availability]. He sees himself golfing [simulation],

projecting how much easier it will be to play golf when retired. As is common with the availability heuristic, he may be overestimating his opportunities to be on the fifth tee. Meanwhile, his wife is still thinking about the origi- nal topic, namely retirement. However, she connects her husband’s expressed distaste for his windowless office with her father’s similar expressions of distaste for the same work environment [representation]. At that point the mother-in-law introduces a new topic, her mind having jumped from “windowless” to an association with dark- ness [association] and from there to her vividly recalled [availability], negative [affect] experience of recently see- ing one dark apartment. Clearly, she is overestimating the

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likelihood that all apartments will be dark. And, given that she has introduced this new topic, rather than join the conversation, this comment has the ring of a bolster- ing argument for a long-term debate about whether she will agree to move to an apartment. The option of moving to an apartment is off the table as far as she is concerned. And more, not wanting to lose control [loss aversion] over her own life, she expresses her decision to her children— regardless of their obvious age in this context—as a deci- sion she will not permit them to override.

We end this chapter with an example to remind our- selves that heuristic thinking, while generally useful, can lead to some very poor decisions too. Consider this true story. A black high school senior was visiting a college campus with two friends on a recruiting trip. One of the

university’s white undergraduates accosted the three in the parking lot, questioning their purpose and presence. All the while the student video recorded the younger visitors with her cell phone. The visitors asked why they were being videotaped and the college student replied “just in case”. Offended, disillusioned, and a little bit angry about the WWB36 profiling of the college student, the visitors decided to leave. Moments later the three were coming out of a nearby grocery store only to be met by the campus police who had been alerted by the college student to “suspicious behavior.” A series innocent mis- takes and misunderstandings? Perhaps. But one based on stereotyping, association, “Us vs. Them,” and representa- tion on the part of the college student, the visitors, and perhaps the police too.

Summing up this chapter, human decision making uses two cognitive systems: System-1 is reactive and automatic; System-2 is delibera- tive and reflective. System-1 enables us to get through the routine parts of our lives so automatically that we can focus mental energy on difficult problems using the deliberative and reflective powers of System-2. Heuristic thinking is the often quite useful tendency to rely on highly effective cognitive shortcuts when making

judgments. This chapter examined 17 common cognitive heuristics, noting the advantages and disadvantages of each. At times, we misapply one or more of those heuris- tic shortcuts and, so, run the risk that our snap judgments will be mistaken. We can avoid System-1 hasty misap- plications of heuristics by using our System-2 self-regu- lation critical thinking skill to monitor and to correct our judgment-making process.

Key Concepts System-1 thinking is reactive thinking that relies heavily on situational cues, salient memories, and heuristic thinking to arrive quickly and confidently at judgments.

System-2 thinking is reflective critical thinking that is useful for judgments in unfamiliar situations, for

processing abstract concepts, and for deliberating when there is time for planning and more comprehensive consideration.

cognitive heuristics are human decision-making short- cuts people rely on to expedite their judgments about what to believe or what to do.

Applications Reflective Log Two Hours: Today or tomorrow keep a written record of all your actions, judgments, and decisions occur- ring within a two-hour window that begins one hour before your main meal of the day. Make eight very brief log entries, one every 15 minutes. For each entry, list all the actions, judgments, and decisions you made in the prior 15 minutes. Keep track of what you are doing using your System-1 and System-2 thinking. Continue right up

through preparing your meal, eating it, and whatever you do afterward until the two-hour period is completed. For example, did you send a text, use the lavatory, think about a relationship, make weekend plans, open a can of soda, or talk with a friend? Did you imagine what it might be like to have more money, listen to music, fret over a problem, or go for a run? Whatever you did and whatever decisions or judgments you made, write them down.

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Later, after a couple more hours have passed, go back and review your list of all your actions, judgments, and decisions you made. Count the number that you would classify as System-1 and the number you would classify as System-2. Are there any that you classified as System-1

that, in retrospect, you wish that you had reflected about more before acting or deciding as you did? In view of this little personal experiment, are their ways to build more critical thinking self-monitoring and self-correcting into your daily life?

Individual Exercises Estimate your chances: Watch the local or national news on TV this evening and look for the story in which the victim of a crime, a disease, an economic misfortune, or an accident is interviewed. Don’t worry. You’ll find that story because, as they say in the business, “If it bleeds it leads.” The more empathetic the victim, the better. The more the victim is like you in terms of age, gender, socio- economic status, the better. On a scale of 1 to 1,000, with 1,000 being “extremely likely,” estimate the chances of the same or a similar event happening to you. After making your estimate, check on the Internet to find the actual sta- tistical likelihood that such an event will happen to you. We believe you will find that your chances are less than 1 in 1,000.

Have you ever been profiled? Were you ever the object of someone else’s use of the stereotyping heuristic? To answer this, think of a time when you might have been treated a certain way, either positively or negatively, by someone else simply because of something about your age, gender, style of clothing, race, or accent.

Closer to home: Clubs, community groups, and profes- sional organizations are not immune to the dangers of the misapplication of the Us vs. Them heuristic. On the other hand, the benefits of this heuristic include that it gives peo- ple energy and a sense of urgency to be working to defend their own, to compete for resources, and to feel justified in their beliefs and actions. Recall the last decision-making meeting of a club or organization to which you belong. In what ways did the Us vs. Them heuristic influence your group’s thinking about people, about threats or opportuni- ties, about problems or issues? Reflect on those influences. How might your group’s decisions have been different had it not been for the sense of “Us” vs. “Them” that this heuristic engendered?

Leadership’s challenge—Do thinking and motivat- ing get in each other’s way? The capacity to cultivate a group culture that fosters reflective, respectful, and fair-minded decision making and problem solving can be a great asset to a leader. If trusted not to revile, belit- tle, or ridicule subordinates for their ideas and sugges- tions, the leader can benefit immensely. Decisions can be openly discussed and refined before being implemented. Problems can be analyzed and options considered, with each person feeling encouraged to bring his or her best

thinking forward. At the same time, intentionally trig- gering heuristic thinking by using association, “Us vs. Them,” and loss aversion scenarios, for example, can be a powerful tool to motivate people to take action. Based on your own experience, what are some specific things leaders can do to foster a climate that is highly receptive to critical thinking and self-regulation? What are some things that undermine that good climate? Give examples.

Two decimal places too many? Reflect on how often you approach key decisions with your own personal litmus test, sorting choices by looking for a single flaw or reason to eliminate as many as possible as quickly as possible. For example, reducing the list of job applicants this way, “Let’s eliminate every applicant whose GPA is less than 2.70.” In this example, the first important System-2 question is why should we look at GPA at all, and the next reflective ques- tion is why does 2.70 make the cut, but 2.69 not? What is the evidence that GPA is such a precise measure as that? Going back to your own litmus test decisions, apply your critical thinking skills, and ask yourself whether there is good evidence to support using that single criterion as a make-or-break decision point?

Explain it to Grandma or Grandpa: Critical think- ing is nothing new. Human beings have been relying on our reflective System-2 thinking from—well—from our beginning. Today we call this purposeful reflective judgment about what to believe and what to do “criti- cal thinking.” And we talk about its core skills and the positive habits of mind that incline us to use those skills. We caution ourselves against relying too heavily on snap judgments and we discipline ourselves to be reflective and thoughtful. The question is, do our grandparents use critical thinking or not?

If you are fortunate enough to be able to talk with one of your grandparents, please ask him or her if he or she uses critical thinking to solve problems and make deci- sions. Since the chances are overwhelming that he or she will not understand your question if you use the expres- sion critical thinking, you will have to find some other way to ask the question. If you are not able to talk with any of your grandparents about critical thinking, then your chal- lenge is to find someone else with whom you can have the conversation. The catch is that the person has to be at least 40 years older than you.

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The challenges of this exercise, in addition to simply having the conversation, are to explain what you are learn- ing about critical thinking and to see how much of what you

describe is something that the older person may have also learned. Is there something the older person knows about strong critical thinking that you may not yet have learned?

Group Exercises Discussion question—Would you or would you not? Make a snap judgment: Yes or No. Suppose you are thinking about having a child and you can be tested for hundreds of genetic diseases that you might pass on to that child. Assume the genetics test is free. Would you be tested? Now, reflect on the judgment you just made. Which heuristics in your case may have influenced you? Was there an element of fear and risk, afraid of knowing perhaps, even a quick association popping to mind about a genetic disease? Did a stereotype come to mind toward which you perhaps felt some aversion? OK, now put that initial snap judgment aside, and consider reflectively what a responsible person who is thinking about becom- ing a parent would do if given the opportunity. Before you decide this time, first learn more about the potential for genetic tests, and about the options for informed deci- sion making once one has a fuller knowledge of one’s own genetic heritage. Check out the pros and cons of using a commercial genetics ancestry locator company, like 23 and Me, for example, and research the concerns expressed by the Food and Drug Administration and the National Human Genome Research Institute.

Discussion question—How did you decide today? Reflect on the choices you made today—for example, your choices of what you ate at one of your meals. Replay in your minds how you made that decision. Assuming that you are like the rest of us, you probably did not really give equal and due consideration to all of your potential options. That’s OK. Heuristic snap judgments can be good things; for one, they are highly efficient and they conserve time and energy. Think now about the foods that you could have eaten, but decided not to choose. Share with the others in your conversation group the basis upon which you eliminated the ones you did not select. Was it by weighing all the pros and cons of each choice? Or was it via a snap judgment to reject a given option? For example, did association (memory of prior bad experience), affect (“looked gross”), or elimination by aspect (“too large a portion”) play a role in your System-1 decision making? Talk about the choices you did make. Which cogni- tive heuristics played a role in those? For example, represen- tativeness (“reminded me of something my Mom makes that tastes really good, so I thought this would taste good, too.”), or satisficing (“I was in a hurry and I just grabbed the first thing that looked halfway edible”).

SHARED RESPONSE Not All Bad, Not All Good How do cognitive heuristics help and harm strong decision making? Be sure to provide your reason(s), not just your opinion. And, comment respectfully on the reasons others offer.

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Learning Outcomes

11.1 Explain dominance structuring and how it impacts our ability to consider our options in a full and fair-minded way.

11.2 Describe and apply the strategies used by strong critical thinkers thoughtfully to manage, monitor, and self-correct their decision making.

Chapter 11

Reflective Decision Making

WHY do we feel so confident in our choices that we seldom change our minds?

WHAT specific critical thinking strategies can we use to improve our decision making?

All things considered, neighborhood oil rigs on the pathway to beach—a good decision or not?

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“Locals refuse to budge in battle with an oil company.” Hermosa Beach has a decision to make. It has been a long time coming, but the referendum is finally on the ballot. Will we permit E&B Natural Resources to drill for oil, or will we say no? Everyone has heard the arguments pro and con for years. E&B has the legal right to drill. So if the citizens say no, then the city must pay the oil company $17.5 million over the next 20 years. But, if the citizens say yes, then E&B will pay the city as much as $451 million spread over the next 35 years from the billions E&B will be making from the oil. E&B plans to sink 36 wells from a small site, about the size of three lots, located in a quiet res- idential neighborhood at 6th Street and Valley. The shafts will spider out below the homes and arc under the beach and the ocean floor to reach a vast oil deposit in the shale rock 3,000 feet down.1

Opponents warn that property values will plummet. Who will want to buy a house where there could be toxic spills? Think of the fire hazard, the health risks, the eye- sore, the constant noise, and the nasty oil odors fouling air we breathe. Think of globs of thick tarry oil washing on to the sandy beach with every wave. The oil company says the risks are being greatly exaggerated. New technologies and current laws make drilling safe and clean. Sound and sight abatement is already part of the plan. Other commu- nities are benefiting from drilling, why not Hermosa Beach too? Oh, and remember, the money. $3.8 million will go to the schools each year. The rest will go to parks, public ser- vices, and to put all the city’s ugly overhead utility wires

underground. These improvements will increase property values!

The interesting thing is that both sides are locked in. Neither side is listening to the other. Not anymore. Every “fact” is contested, every “study” is flawed, every claim is challenged, and every expert opinion is maligned. All motives are questioned. Yes, we will vote. But, no, we will not be doing any more System-2 deliberating.

For reasons that will be explained in this chapter, it is very hard for human beings to reverse a decision once made. The best opportunity to exercise our critical thinking is while we are still considering options. We can improve decision making by using our critical thinking skills and habits of mind to thoughtfully manage, monitor, and self- correct our own decision-making process. In this chap- ter we are focusing on the quality of the decision-making process. In the second part of this chapter we will explore specific strategies aimed at fostering reflective decision making. When the stakes are high and when we have the time to think things through carefully, our best chances for a good decision-making outcome is to call on the full power of our reflective System-2 thinking, that is on the full power of our critical thinking skills and habits of mind.

But, before getting into the decision-making strategies, we first will explore the psychological phenomenon that is the natural human tendency to lock into a decision. Once we commit to a given decision option, we gain confidence that our choice was the best one and that the other options would have been mistakes. Called dominance structuring,

THINKING CRITICALLY What Can We Learn from Popular Fiction? Are you capable of enduring trust in the face of almost overwhelming contradictory evidence? Some will risk their lives and fortunes believing that the person they love is wor- thy of unconditional loyalty, trust, financial support, and emotional investment. Belief against all odds is the dramatic engine in the amazingly creative and engaging Girl with a Dragon Tattoo/Millennium trilogy by Stieg Larsson. In the sec- ond book of the trilogy, the protagonist Mikael Blomkvist is convinced that his estranged friend, Lisbeth Salander, has been wrongly accused of a triple murder. Despite compel- ling circumstantial evidence and shocking revelations about Lisbeth’s psychological background, Blomkvist believes she is innocent of those crimes. Using his powerfully honed skills as an investigative reporter, he launches his own investigation into the murders. Fortunately for Blomkvist, the lead police investigator, Officer Bublanski, possesses strong critical thinking skills himself. So, while all the other police investi- gators appear to have locked in on the idea that Salander is guilty and while they have set about building the case for her

arrest and prosecution, Bublanski at least tries to maintain an open mind. He urges his colleagues to investigate other pos- s ib le perpet ra to rs—a fool’s errand perhaps, given so much evidence of Salander’s guilt. All three books in this trilogy are great reads, suspense- ful, beautifully plotted, and artfully written. All three remind us about a danger we all risk, namely jumping to mistaken conclusions about other people and what motivates them. Did you ever discover that your judgments about a person were mistaken? How might one avoid making that kind of mistake?

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this is an extremely valuable human characteristic. With confidence in the choice we have made, we are able to take action and to persevere during difficulties. We would hardly be able to accomplish anything were we to con- stantly reconsider every decision and change our minds. Our natural tendency toward dominance structuring helps us to be resolute and to sustain our commitments. But with the benefits come risks. Because dominance structuring tends to lock us into a decision, this tendency can occasion- ally lock us into an unwise decision. The critical thinking skill of self-regulation and the habit of truth-seeking are our best hopes for identifying those occasions and guard- ing against hanging onto poor decisions. In this chapter we first unpack dominance structuring so we can see how it works. Then we consider critical thinking strategies for managing the potentially negative consequences of prema- ture dominance structuring.

11.1 Dominance Structuring: A Fortress of Conviction

Once human beings have made a decision, we almost never change our minds. Looking back on our choice as compared to other options, we often feel that ours was so obvious and others were so poor that it is a wonder that we considered them possibilities at all. Maybe we do not need to work on the skill of self-regulation after all because we are seldom, if ever, wrong. We say to ourselves, “Others may disagree, but that’s their issue.” Things may not turn out as we had expected, but that’s just bad luck or someone else’s screwup. Right? Be honest; there are plenty of times when we all have thought exactly that. Why? Part of the answer may be that we really do a good job of making sound decisions. And part of the answer, whether our decisions are objectively wise or foolish, is our tendency toward dominance structuring. To appreciate the thought- shaping influences of dominance structuring, consider the arguments presented in this next example.

“I Would Definitely Go to the Doctor” A woman who has made a decision was invited to describe her decision-making process in detail to a trained inter- viewer. The narrative below is a brief excerpt from the transcription of that much longer interview.2 The inter- viewer and the woman are talking about the possibility that she might discover a worrisome lump during a breast self-examination. The excerpt begins with the interviewer asking the woman whether she would go to see her health care provider if she were to discover a change in her body that caused her to worry about the possibility of breast cancer.

INTERVIEWER: “You’re very religious. Could you see your- self waiting a while before going to the doctor and praying instead?”

RESPONDENT: “Oh, no. For one thing, God is a wonderful God; he made doctors. You know, my mother-in-law— I’m divorced, I was married then—she had had a heart attack. And, she definitely would pray instead of go to the doctor. She loved the Lord, and she remained in God’s will [and was fortunate not to die]. But at times people have to understand that God doesn’t make things as complicated as people kind of want to make it. And it’s not about religion; it’s about God, your per- sonal relationship with Him. And God, He made some [people] become doctors to want to help. You know that’s how I feel. You know, I’ll say this until the day I die and go back to the Lord. I’m a practicing Christian; I love the Lord. I just know God works within com- mon sense. That’s why He gave us a brain, you know. And I would definitely go to the doctor. “

Review the decision map showing the respondent’s arguments. For this individual the option not selected (“I would pray for a while instead of going to the doctor”) has virtually no support. She considers whether going to the doctor means that she is not being sufficiently trusting in God, but abandons that line of reasoning. She is pulled by the availability heuristic as she recalls what her mother- in-law would do, but she resists that pull, saying that God does not make things that complicated. Although in the end she offers only two arguments directly supporting her decision, it is clear from the interview and the map that all her thinking has moved inexorably and confidently in that direction. Not going to the doctor is, for her, not really an option. The problem in her mind was how to explain that to her deeply religious friends.

Were we to evaluate the arguments the woman makes using the standards and strategies presented in Chapter 7 entitled “Evaluate Arguments: Four Basic Tests,” we would find them wanting. For example, comparing herself to her mother-in-law could well have led the respondent “Yeah, Sure I can be open-minded.”

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to infer that she did not need to see the doctor right away. The mother-in-law, a close family member, and, like her- self, a woman of faith with a potentially severe illness, would delay seeking medical help. Ergo, following out the analogy, the woman being interviewed should also delay. The respondent’s other arguments rely on belief statements about what God intends or how complicated God wishes things. But humans cannot know the mind of God. Therefore, we cannot establish the truth of premises about what God may want, intend, or think. This makes the soundness of those two arguments highly question- able. And yet, whatever their individual logical weak- nesses might be, taken together her arguments are, for her,

persuasive explanations that she would indeed go to the doctor. She is firm in that decision. From the longer narra- tive, which is not reproduced here, we can infer that she is not an uneducated or illogical person; therefore to under- stand what is happening we have to dig deeper into her purposes for telling the story as she does.

As it turns out, this woman is using her reasoning skills to explain a decision, not to make a decision. Going to the doctor was always to her the more sensible of the two choices. For her this was a System-1 decision—Sick? Go to the doctor! What she needed to do was explain that choice in the light of her deeply religious views and in the context of having relatives (and perhaps friends) who use

Decision Map—“I Would Definitely Go to the Doctor.”

It’s not about religion; it’s about

your personal relationship with Godrelationship with God

{Implicit Warrant} Going to the doctor would not be a sign that I’d given up my

trust in God.

My mother-in-law would pray

instead of go to the doctor.

But… God doesn’t make things [as]

complicated as people kind of want to make it.

God gave us a


But… G make

She remained in God’s will [and

was fortunate not to die].

{One plausible alternative choice not articulated.} I would

pray for a while instead of going to

the doctor.

I would definitely go to the doctor.

I love the Lord.

My mother-in-law loved the Lord

[as I do].

God is wonderful.

{Implicit} A truly religious person

would trust him- or herself to

God’s care.

God made some [people] become doctors to want

to help.


God made


God works within common


Abandoned argument


d s a


{Implicit Warrant} God wouldn’t give us things

unless He meant them for our benefit and use.

{Implicit intermediate claim} Although I’m very religious, I do not see myself waiting before going to

the doctor and praying instead.

{Implicit intermediate claim} Common sense

says you do not wait, you go to the doctor.

Availability Heuristic

I’m a practicing Christian.

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religion to delay seeing a doctor for a possibly dangerous symptom. Her cognitive challenge was actually rather for- midable. She had to deal with the issue that some of her friends and the people at her church would interpret her going to the doctor as showing that her faith was weak. Notice that she does not bother to explain why going to the doctor would be valuable to her health, only why it’s OK not to leave it to God. And also notice that she is not doubting her faith. But she does achieve her goal of creat- ing a rationale to support her preferred option.

Explaining and Defending Ourselves Our thinking capacities helped us survive as a species through the many millennia when we were anything but the most formidable species on the planet. Today our capacity for problem solving and decision making helps us achieve our personal goals, whatever they may be. If

learning the truth helps achieve our goals, then we apply our skills to the problem of learning the truth. If needing to feel justified that we have made the right decision, particu- larly if that decision cost people their lives, is vital, we will apply our thinking skills toward creating and sustaining that justification.

Objectivity in decision making is something we prize. Yet objectivity can be very difficult for us when we already have a strongly held opinion on a given issue. Truth-seeking and open-mindedness incline us toward objectivity in the application of our skills of analysis, interpretation, evaluation, inference, and explanation. But unless we also invoke the sixth critical thinking skill, self- regulation, we may fail to achieve the objectivity we seek.

A POORLY CRAFTED ASSIGNMENT For many years I gave my students critical thinking assignments expressed like this example: “Gun control is a controversial issue in our nation. Take a position for or against legislation

THINKING CRITICALLY Pro or Con Let’s try a little thought experiment. Indicate whether you are pro or con on each of the following policy proposals:


1. Legislation permitting death with dignity (assisted suicide)

2. Banning abortion

3. Licensing well-armed private militias

4. Scholarships for immigrant non-citizen college students

5. Legalization of payment for sex between consenting adults

6. Capital punishment

7. Applying campus nondiscrimination policies to religious student clubs

8. Requiring two years of public service of all citizens after high school

9. Increasing the retirement age for Social Security to 70

10. Statehood for Puerto Rico





















Pick one of the 10 proposals and write down all the good reasons for your position, pro or con. All of them, please. After you have finished, write down all the good

reasons for the other position, the one that is not your view of the matter. Thank you, and we’ll come back to this in a moment.

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banning all sales of handguns. Research the issue and defend your position with the best arguments possible. In doing so, please consider the arguments for the other side and explain why they are mistaken.”

As it turned out, that was a terrible way to give a critical thinking assignment. Why? Because my students would do exactly what I had asked, in exactly that order. If they did not already have a point of view on the matter, they would first take one side or the other. Often their System-1 heuristic thinking played a big role in deter- mining which side they took. Some were “pro-gun” and some had poignant personal stories of gun violence that made them “anti-gun.” Some would knock one side or the other out of contention in their minds using the one-rule decision-making tactics of elimination by aspect: “If she’d had a gun to protect herself, she’d be alive today” or “You don’t need an automatic pistol to hunt deer.” Then, after they had taken a side in their minds, they would search for reasons and information that supported their point of view, but not reasons or information that opposed the view they had adopted. This was energetic investiga- tion, but it was neither truth-seeking nor fair-minded. Their minds were pretty much already made up on the subject. Next they would write a paper laying out all the good reasons for their points of view. But, no matter which side they took, they struggled to say anything good about the opposing point of view. Their papers, by the way, were often well organized and logically presented. Like the woman talking about her decision to see the doc- tor, my students could explain their decisions and defend them. But they had not reflected on whether or not they were the best decisions. Critical thinking is not the holding of a belief; it is the process of ref lective judgment by which we come to the belief.

The problem was my own, not my students’. I wanted my students to give due consideration to both sides of a controversial issue and to think about it in a fair-minded, objective, informed, and well-reasoned way. But that was not what the instructions said. What I had done instead was invite students to build a dominance structure around one option and to bolster their perspective by fending off all counterarguments. I should have said, “The right to bear arms has become a major issue in our country. Come to class on Monday next week prepared to discuss this issue. I may ask you to take either the pro side or the con side with regard to a possible piece of legislation relating to gun control. Open your mind to either possibility. Be ready to present either side effectively. And be ready for the third possibility, which is that I will assign you to listen and then to adjudicate the class discussion by evaluating objectively the reasoning presented by your peers. Study the issue, inform yourself about the arguments in favor of and opposed to gun control. Be ready to speak intelligently and fair-mindedly on the topic of the right to bear arms

and gun control legislation, no matter which of the three jobs I give you on Monday in class.” If critical thinking is a process, then I should have found a way for my students to demonstrate that they are able to interpret, analyze, infer, explain, evaluate, and self-regulate. Only after the full, informed, and fair-minded discussion would it have made sense to invite students to then take a reasoned posi- tion on the matter.

“A fanatic is one who can’t change his mind and won’t change the subject.”

Winston Churchill3

The challenge for critical thinking is not unlike the problem of building a new house on a lot where an older house already stands. Without doing damage to the land or the neighborhood, we need to remove the old house, salvaging anything that may be of value, before we can build the new house. It takes similar skill and sensitivity to perform the same operation on opinions. Truth-seeking and open-mindedness need to be cultivated as much as possible so that we can be prepared to revisit our opinions with objectivity and judiciousness. In my life there have been more than a few times when my dearly held but ulti- mately mistaken opinions on controversial matters had to be abandoned so that sounder, more informed, and better- reasoned opinions could take their rightful place. But it is never easy to change one’s mind about an opinion that has been firmly held—and this makes the job of self-regulation that much more difficult. To understand why most of us have a very hard time changing our minds, let’s explore the psychological process of deciding on “the best avail- able option.”

Moving from Decision to Action Whenever we are presented with a problem, our cognitive heuristics and our capacity for logical reasoning play criti- cal roles in the natural human quest to find some resolu- tion that we can assert with plausible confidence to be our best available option. We shall call this option the dominant or superior option in any given context. In decision mak- ing we move, more or less quickly, through a process that includes sorting through options. We discard the implau- sible ones, identify one or more promising options, evalu- ate it or them on the basis of our decision-critical criteria,4 and select the option we come to judge to be superior.5 Psychological research by Henry Montgomery and others, as we shall see, is consistent with the idea that both argu- ment making and cognitive heuristics are central factors in our search for a dominant option—to move us from cognition to action. In times of uncertainty, when action is needed, dominance structuring is a necessary strategy for

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deciding between alternatives and swinging into action. Montgomery describes the human search for a single dominant option among our many possible choices in any given context as having four phases:


identifying one promising option

testing that promising option for dominance

structuring the dominance of the option selected6

PHASE 1: PRE-EDITING In the pre-editing phase, we start by selecting a group of possible options and a number of attributes that we think are going to be important as we decide which option to finally pick. Take, for example, the problem of hiring one new employee from a large applicant pool. We want to interview only a small group of highly qualified candidates. We want them to have relevant work

experience, education, employment test scores, and the like. We may have a concrete set of characteristics in mind for the final choice: someone with strong communication skills, enthusiasm for the position, and a schedule that per- mits that person to work the hours we might require. Our selection of these criteria shows good reasoning, for they are in fact crucial to finding the best person for the job. And we expect further evidence of reasoning in the systematic approach taken to identify potential candidates by adver- tising the position and screening the applicants to cull the list down to a group of interviewees. But when the applica- tions come in, we don’t exhaustively rate every candidate on every decision-critical attribute. Rather, at this early pre-editing stage we look for reasonable ways to make the decision easier and more efficient. We eliminate as many alternatives as possible with as minimal an expenditure of effort as must be committed to the task.


Let’s go back to the exercise in which we requested that you write down all the good reasons for your and for the other side of one policy proposal. Please count up the number of good rea- sons you put down for your opinion and then count all the good reasons for the other side. If you are like most of the rest of us, it was easier to list more reasons in favor of your point of view than against it. Was that true? Did you list more in favor of your view than the opposing view? Do you think you listed the stron- gest reasons against your point of view? Most of us do not take the time necessary to discover exactly what those are. Most of us act as if those who disagree with us have flimsy arguments when compared to our own. But we would unwise to assume that those who disagree with us are idiots.

Now, looking only at your side, what information or what new considerations would lead you to change your mind?

Please attempt to be as forthright and honest as possible. If there is absolutely no possibility, no new information, no event, no change in circumstances, that you could change your mind, then write that down. What about the people with whom you disagree? Assuming they are as reasonable as you are, is there anything that ought to lead them to reconsider and to change their minds? If your point of view is reasonable, fair-minded, and well-founded, then surely if they knew what you know, then they should change their minds. If you agree, then flip it around. If you knew what they know, and if you saw the world the way they do, then perhaps it is you who should agree with them. Both sides cannot be the right side. The whole exercise is predicated on the assumption that there is a pro and a con that diverge. Or, perhaps you have worked out a viable compromise policy position.

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Reflective Decision Making 227

Typically, we use the elimination by aspect heuristic and the satisficing heuristic to make our work go more quickly. We toss every applicant who is missing any single qualifying condition (insufficient education, low employ- ment test scores, or no relevant work experience), and we retain only those we judge to be good enough for a second look. We may cluster the applications into broad categories such as “well-qualified,” “qualified,” and “marginal.” If we do cluster them like that, we will quickly eliminate all but the “well-qualified.” Pre-editing can be brutally expe- ditious, and yet there is good reason for this. In real life we do not have the time or the resources to deliberate in detail about the cases we already know are not going to make the cut. What’s the point?

Our natural eagerness to shortcut through large num- bers of options was captured in a  lyric from “The Boxer” by Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel, where the poets said that we tend to hear what we want or expect to hear and then to ignore or disregard all the rest.

PHASE 2: IDENTIFYING ONE PROMISING OPTION The second phase of the search for dominance is the identifica- tion of a promising option. We do this by finding one alter- native that is more attractive than the others on at least one critically important attribute. There are many reasons why one choice may emerge as very attractive and be judged optimal. Perhaps this choice is most in tune with our val- ues or current desires. Or perhaps the choice is the least threatening or the most economical. Whatever the source of the attraction, once this choice is identified, it becomes our “favored” or “promising” option. Using our hiring example, suppose there are four finalists who have passed through our initial screening process, and we plan that a committee will interview them all. And suppose that can- didate number one has the most job experience, number

two is most energetic, number three is most analytical, and number four is the most congenial. It is possible the com- mittee will immediately discover its consensus candidate. But it is more likely that different members of the commit- tee will find different candidates to be optimal for differ- ent reasons. Each member of the committee has a different favorite. Thus, the stage is set for a difference of opinion as to which candidate should be the one hired.

PHASE 3: TESTING THE PROMISING OPTION Having identified a promising option, we begin almost imme- diately to test it against the other options. We do this by comparing our promising alternative to the other options in terms of the set of decision-critical attributes. Typically, we focus on seeing whether our promising option has any salient disadvantages or major drawbacks. Returning to our hiring example, suppose that five years of relevant work experience is a decision-critical criterion. If our favored candidate has seven years of relevant work expe- rience, we will interpret that to mean that our candidate is not at a disadvantage on that criterion. That our candi- date may not have as many years of experience as some other candidate is not a problem. We are not going to argue the potential positive advantage of more years beyond the minimum five. Our focus will only be to assure ourselves that our favored option does not fall short of the mark on any decision-critical factor. But what if our candidate does fall short? In that case some of us may argue that the disad- vantage is not fatal to our favorite’s candidacy. In fact, if we are attracted to candidate number four because of his or her congeniality, we are likely to argue that even if candidate four has only two years of experience, this is really more than enough. At this point, we are not looking to prove that our candidate is the best; rather we want to be sure that our candidate has no fatal flaws.

Job Candidate Options

Most Experienced Most Energetic Most Analytical Most Congenial

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If our promising alternative is “comparable to the others,” “about as good as the others,” “neither bet- ter nor worse than the others,” or “good enough” on the other decision-critical attributes, the promising alterna- tive becomes the “to be chosen” alternative. Our initial preference for that candidate, who was the first one we found whom we liked, wins out. We become more and more firm in our choice. We will not abandon our “to-be-chosen” option easily. Once we begin to appraise and anchor on a given promising option, we seek to establish a rationale for selecting this promising or “to-be-chosen” option over the others, and this means we transition nearly seamlessly into phase 4.7

The detective “began to worry that he was ‘locking in,’ a problem he saw with other cops all the time, the sure sense that something was just so, when it wasn’t.”

John Sandford, Mortal Prey

PHASE 4: FORTIFYING THE TO-BE-CHOSEN OPTION In the final phase, we restructure our appraisals of the options so as to achieve the dominance of one option over the others.8 This restructuring can be more or less rational, more or less in touch with reality, and, hence, more or less likely to lead to the intended and desirable results.9 One way we restructure the decision so that our “to-be-chosen” candi- date comes out on top is by de-emphasizing those deci- sion-critical attributes on which our promising candidate may be weaker. Another way is to bolster our candidate by increasing the significance of an attribute on which our candidate is stronger. A third way is to collapse attributes into larger groupings; for example, we could combine edu- cation and job experience into the single attribute, “back- ground experience.” Now we can hire someone with more education but very little job experience, overriding our concern for job experience per se. Or, because we do not favor candidate number one who has the most job experi- ence, we may need to diminish this apparent strength. We might argue that work experience is an advantage of can- didate number one, but some detail about that work expe- rience (for instance, that the person had never served in a supervisory role) is a disadvantage, so the one can be said to cancel the other. And, because of this, we might argue, candidate number one is not the person to hire.

The process of de-emphasizing, bolstering, trading off, and collapsing attributes continues until we find that one alterna- tive stands above the others as the dominant choice. Acute reasoning skills are vital to this complex and dynamic pro- cess of making comparisons across attributes. Obviously, one might be able to quantify within a given attribute—for example, by comparing two candidates on the basis of their years of relevant background experience. But it is not clear

how one would compare—for the purposes of possible trade-offs—

communication skills against, s a y, e n e r g y o r

loyalty. And yet, we wil l make arguments in support of the

t o - b e - c h o s e n alternative as the

decision maker ’s search continues for a dominance structure to support this

choice above all others.10 When the decision is being

made by committee, and the stakes are high, this process can become interpersonally difficult,

stressful, political, and, in the worst situations, ruthless.

When is dominance struc- turing complete? There are three indicators. First, unless they are intentionally dissembling, peo-

ple who have made their choice will tend to describe themselves as having decided, rather than as still thinking or as undecided. Second, people who are locked into a given choice tend to dismiss as unimportant, refute, or abandon all arguments that appear to be lead- ing to a decision other than the one they embrace. Third, when asked to explain their choice, people who have built a dominance structure to fortify their selection often pres- ent with some enthusiasm a plurality of arguments sup- porting their chosen decision and they tend to recite rather unconvincingly a minimum number of arguments sup- porting any of the other possible options.

Benefits and Risks of Dominance Structuring The result of dominance structuring is confidence, whether reasonable or unreasonable, in the option we have decided upon. Dominance structuring supplies us with enough confidence to motivate us to act on our decisions and to sustain our efforts. Obviously, the more unreasonable,

JOURNAL Locked In? Give an example of when you locked in on a choice prematu- rely, and then regretted it later. What could you have done differently?

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biased, irrational, and unrealistic we have been in our dominance structuring, the greater the risks of a poor deci- sion. On the other hand, if we have made the effort to be reasonable, truth-seeking, informed, open-minded, and neither too hasty nor too leisurely in coming to our deci- sion, then there is a greater chance that the decision will be a wise one. And we would be foolish not to be confident in it and not to act on the basis of such a decision. It is hard to know what more we could want when we need to make an important decision that involves elements of risk and uncertainty.

It would be a mistake to think of this human process as intentionally self-deceiving or consciously unethical or unfair. Rather, what cognitive scientists like Montgomery offer is a description of how human beings bolster confi- dence in their judgments under conditions of uncertainty. Humans seek to establish a strong and enduring rationale for the belief that one alternative dominates over others. This strong rationale impels us to act and sustains our con- tinuing to act on the basis of that belief. We surround our choice with a rationale for its enduring superiority to the other choices. This strategy allows us then to move for- ward, with confidence in the quality of our decision.

Understanding the power of dominance structuring explains why it is so difficult for us to reconsider a choice once it has been made or why the criticisms of our choices seem unpersuasive. Once we have dominance structured around a choice, the virtues of other options are less compel- ling to us and their vices appear larger than they may in fact be. When the dominance structure has been created, it is not uncommon to hear people describe the results of their delib- erations with phrases like “When we looked at it, we really didn’t have any other choice,” or “Hey, at the end of the day it was a no-brainer!” These mantras are evidence that the decision maker has elevated one option to the top position and discredited or discounted all other options. Having done that, it often is unclear to the decision maker why any of the other options were ever considered viable in the first place.

Searching for dominance in conjunction with elimina- tion by aspect, satisficing, and anchoring with adjustment involves cognitive risks. First, we risk making poor deci- sions due to a lack of due consideration of all reasonable alternatives. Second, we risk being blind to the chance that our choice might be seriously flawed or need revision. At some level, we recognize these potential problems in human decision making. Our judicial system, for example,

THINKING CRITICALLY Organic Foods Proponents of organic foods maintain that they are natural, taste better, healthier, more environmentally sustainable, and pur- chasing them supports local small farmers. We should put aside the first reason, “they are natural.” The Black Plague was natural and so are salmonella and botulism. Tornadoes, polio, and selfishness are natural. Pain and death are natural. The argument “It is natural, therefore it is good” is fal- lacious. But the four other reasons . . . well, those seem plausible. Of course, there’s the issue of cost. Organic foods tend to be more expensive. So, for the sake of this exercise, let’s eliminate that factor from the other side of the equa- tion. Assume that you have plenty of money to spend on food. Would you buy organic? Yes or no? If no, why not? If yes, what would it take for you to change your mind? What if all four reasons were knocked down, would you still buy organic? What if all four reasons disappeared and the assumption that you had plenty of money was removed?

To see dominance structuring in action, after you write your answers to the questions above, search and watch “Organic”

from Penn and Teller: Bullshit! (Showtime, Season 7, Episode 6). Remember, our focus in this chapter is not on the pro or con arguments about buying organic. Our concern is how we humans can hold onto a decision (in this case, to buy organic

foods) even though we come to realize that all of our reasons for doing so are misguided. Unscripted, the people in the video display how our shared, human psychological tendency to dominance structure around a decision continues to have the power to influence our behavior even after we no longer accept our original reasons for that decision. A 2011 NPR-Thomson Reuters Health Poll survey of 3,000 people about their attitudes

regarding organic foods found that their reasons included “(36%) an eagerness to support local farms,” “(34%) desire to avoid toxins,” belief that organic foods were “(17%) better for the environment,” and that organic foods “(13%) taste better.” Why do we believe these things? Is there serious science backing up these claims, or is it just novelty, social conformity, and clever marketing? What would it take for us to change our minds?

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generally provides for appeals to be made to some person or judicial panel other than the one that rendered the ini- tial decision. We know that once people have fixed their minds on given results, it is very difficult for them to change their judgment. In everyday life, who is there to review our decisions for us if we do not do have the habit of truth-seeking and the skill of self-regulation so that we can review them ourselves?

Dominance structuring is a powerful influence on individual and group decision making. Our discussion may seem a harsh critique of human decision making. However, no rebuke is implied or intended. Nor is any praise. The description of dominance structuring is meant to be exactly that: a description of how human decision making works based on empirical investigations. At times we do well, at other times not.

OK, given that we humans naturally engage in dominance structuring, and given that the process has many benefits but some risks, does that mean that we cannot improve our decision making? No. Developing strength in critical thinking is all about improving our decision making process. We are human beings, not machines, so we are not going to replace dominance structuring with some other process. But we can adapt. The question for strong critical thinkers with a positive habit of truth-seeking becomes “What steps can we take to improve our decision making process and realize better outcomes given that we tend toward dominance structuring?”

11.2 Self-Regulation Critical Thinking Skill Strategies

Because dominance structuring is an automatic System-1 tendency, we do not ask ourselves whether we wish to engage in dominance structuring or not. We just do it. And, again, for the most part that is a good thing, par- ticularly in contexts of uncertainty when a decision is needed and action is required. But, sometimes, prema- ture dominance structuring is a mistake. It can lock us into a less than optimal decision. Fortunately, System-2 decision making is capable of overriding and inter- vening. There are many strategies to mitigate the risks of dominance structuring around a less than optimal choice. These strategies rely on the critical thinking skill of self-regulation. Using self-regulation we can moni- tor our individual and group decision making, and we can make corrections in our decision-making processes to protect ourselves against premature dominance struc- turing around a lesser option. Some of these strategies will be familiar and obvious, but others may be new to you. What’s important is that we use our self-regulation skills to monitor decision making and make midcourse corrections should we begin to lock in prematurely. And that can happen, because our preferred option, after all, appears to be rather strong as compared to the others.

Critical Thinking Skills Map to Leadership Decision Making Successful professionals with leadership responsibilities, like those in business or the military, apply all their critical thinking skills to solve problems and to make sound decisions. At the risk of oversimplifying all the ways that our critical thinking intersects with problem solving and leadership decision making, here are some of the more obvious connecting points:

Identify Critical Elements

º Analyze the strategic environment, identify its elements and their relationships

º Interpret events and other elements in the strategic environment for signs of risk, opportunity, weakness, advantage

Project Logical Consequences

º Infer, given what is known with precision and accuracy within the strategic environment, the logical and most predictable consequences of various courses of action

Navigate Risk and Uncertainty

º Infer, given the range of uncertainty and risk in the strategic environment, the full range of the possible and probable consequences of each possible course of action

Assess Decision Options

º Evaluate anticipated results for positive and negative impacts

º Evaluate risks, opportunities, options, consequences

º Explain the rationale (evidence, methodology, criteria, theoretical assumptions, and context) for deciding on the integrated strategic objectives and for the planning and action parameters that compose the strategy

Double Check Everything

º Self-regulate at every step review one’s own thinking and make necessary corrections.

© 2013 Measured Reasons LLC, Hermosa Beach, CA Used with Permission. From Jan 2013 briefing “Critical and Creative Thinking” for Joint Special Operations Forces Senior Enlisted Academy, MacDill AFB.

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So, we will be tempted to take shortcuts and to achieve closure prematurely on our preferred option, fortifying it psychologically even against the onslaught of our origi- nal precautionary intentions.

Precautions When Pre-Editing BE SURE ABOUT “THE PROBLEM” What we take to be the problem can limit our imaginations about possible solutions. For example, if the problem is “Our team is not going to meet the deadline,” our solutions include work- ing harder, putting in more time, or reducing the quality of the work to complete it on time. But if the problem is “Roy is not doing his share of the work,” then our solu- tions include talking with Roy about the importance to the team of his fulfilling his responsibilities, giving some of Roy’s work to other team members, replacing Roy on the team, or excluding Roy from the work effort and the resulting credit for the team’s accomplishments. As we saw in Chapter 2 entitled “Critical Thinking Mindset and Skills” the crew of Apollo 13 was able to identify the right prob- lem; it was the oxygen. But if they had interpreted the prob- lem to be instrumentation, it is difficult to see how they would have survived. Through train- ing and experience, we learn all sorts of ways of solving all kinds of problems. But if we interpret the problem incorrectly, we are very apt to decide upon a solu- tion that will be ineffective or inappropriate.

SPECIFY THE DECISION- CRITICAL ATTRIBUTES Before beginning to work on a solution, be clear about the standards to be applied when evaluating options and minimum thresholds that an acceptable option must meet. If two years of work experience is an expectation for hiring, then say so and stick to it. If a non-stop

flight is, in your judgment, a requirement for your next vacation trip, then don’t compromise on that standard. On the other hand, if a non-stop flight is desirable but not essential, then don’t elevate a secondary criterion to the level of “mandatory.” If the decision must be made after you hear from your friend next week on Monday, but before the opportunity lapses next week Thursday, then hold to that time frame. People with strong critical thinking skills and habits of mind protect themselves from making suboptimal decisions by establishing primary and secondary criteria and negotiating the secondary ones but holding firm to the primary ones.

BE CLEAR ABOUT WHY AN OPTION IS IN OR OUT Even at the pre-editing phase, make a reflective and deliberative judgment as to why each option should remain in conten- tion or be eliminated. It will be impossible in most cases to give full consideration to every conceivable option. We need to eliminate large numbers of options early in the process so we can conserve time and energy to focus on those that remain. Real estate salespeople know this, and so they will ask prospective buyers and renters about their price range and how many bedrooms they need. These two parameters alone will enable agents to avoid wasting their own time and their clients’ time on properties that are too expensive or not the right size.

Suppose you are looking to rent a two-bedroom apartment for less than $900 per month near school. A

computer search or a friend who is a real estate agent can provide a list of a dozen apartments within minutes. Because you were clear about why an option was in (near the campus, two bedrooms) and why an option was out (cost more than $900), each and every one of the apartments will be a viable possibility. Your chances of making a poor decision or falling in love with a place you cannot afford or that does not meet your needs are reduced considerably. Suppose that a safe neighborhood and proximity to the metro system are also major considerations for you. Now, with clarity a b o u t f i v e c r i t e r i a , t h e choices become fewer and the next step, identifying the promising opt ion, is more manageable.

“Apartment Must Haves”

Under $900/mo Two bedrooms Near campus Near m