The Supreme Court nominee is being accused of awful conduct. He is denying it. What do we do with that?
This situation is just one of countless others. We constantly need to sift through data, analyze information, and weigh evidence. When we want to make a wise decision, draw a reasonable conclusion, or make a fair judgment about something, we must employ certain skills.
These are skills I teach in my critical thinking course. Here are some steps to effective analysis taken from the lesson “Figure it Out”:
- Identify your biases, and set them aside.
- Make sure that you know what kind of statements you’re dealing with (Facts, Errors, Theses, Beliefs, Opinions).
- Make sure that you are dealing with verified facts.
- Make sure that you have all of the available facts.
- Conduct research when necessary to verify facts and gain more knowledge.
- Take time to think about the facts. As best you can, determine which ones are relevant. Look at them as puzzle pieces. Consider how they relate to each other.
- Ask the right questions, understanding that there is value in unanswered questions, as well.
- Employ reason. Ask, Does this make sense?
- Understand that you might not have enough facts to form a correct conclusion and that you might have to form a preliminary conclusion and adjust it as more facts become available.
- When an absolute conclusion is not possible, carefully consider possibilities and probabilities. Leave room for a logical conclusion, and get comfortable with uncertainty.
If you are not willing or able to go through these steps, it is best to avoid making a judgment or drawing a conclusion. Certainly don’t act on it.
You might speak philosophically on the matters involved (“Sexual assault is horrible”, “False accusations are devastating”), but be careful when you do. Consider how your words will be taken by others, and be sure to add that you are not necessarily speaking about this particular situation because you don’t know the whole story.
It’s troublesome that many people seem to be sure
that they know the truth of this situation.
When it’s a scenario such as Ford vs. Kavanaugh, with two parties asserting conflicting claims, consider whether each party has a reason to lie, whether each one could be mistaken but sincerely believe he or she is telling the truth, and whether memory could be problematic.
As you can see, this is complicated business because there are so many variables, considerations, and unavailable facts. It’s troublesome that many people seem to be sure that they know the truth of this situation. I blame the failure to think critically. This typically is due to laziness and/or a lack of skills. Perhaps the chief factor in this particular scenario is bias precluding thought. It’s easy to believe what we want to believe because of our preferences, alliances, and agendas.
To properly handle the onslaught of information and misinformation out there, we must develop a habit of critical thinking and a bias for truth. In that way, we can avoid being part of the problem and instead be part of the solution.