Critical thinking is the ability to evaluate, compare, analyze, critique, and synthesize information.
Critical thinkers analyze the evidence supporting their beliefs, they question assumptions, and they look for alternate conclusions.
True knowledge comes from constantly revising and improving our understanding of the world. As Susan Blackmore (2001) said when her studies caused her to abondon some long held beliefs, "Admitting you are wrong is always hard, even though it's a skill that every human being has to learn."
Critical thinking is built on four basic principles (Gill, 1991; Shore, 1990):
- Few "truths" transcend the need for empirical testing.
- Judging the quality of evidence is crucial
- Authority or claimed expertise does not automatically make an idea true.
- Critical thinking requires an open mind.
Most of us may be tempted to "buy" outrageous claims about topics such as the occult, the Bermuda Triangle, UFOs, herbal "cures", Tarot cards, healing crystals, "miraculous" therapies, and so forth!
To put the principles of science and critical thinking into action, here are some questions to ask over and over again as you evaluate new information (Bartz, 1990).
- What claims are being made?
- What test of these claims has been made?
- Who did the test? How good is the evidence?
- What was the nature and quality of the tests? Are they credible? Can they be repeated?
- How reliable and trustworthy were the investigators?
- Has any other independent researcher duplicated the findings?
- How much credibility can the claim be given.