critical thinking

How to critically evaluate a text

Almost a century ago, writer Virginia Woolf noticed people’s tendency to approach books “with clouded and divided minds, asking fiction to be true, poetry to be false, biographies to be flattering and history to chime with prejudices.”

Thinking as self-defence

No one has ever seen a thought, not even a neurosurgeon. However, today we know more about the way we think than what we were able to visualise, yet still less than we would like to know.

The most arrogant of all sophisms: the false accusation of logical error

In practice, people often accuse each other of making logical errors, but sometimes the accusation is false. Such an accusation is made by someone who does not understand what logical fallacies are and how they work, or by a manipulative person who takes advantage of the ignorance of those in the first category.

Reading polls: How do we evaluate surveys carefully?

Many news programs, speeches, or press articles refer to at least one poll. When designed and conducted well, surveys are an excellent means of measuring public opinion on a particular topic. Unfortunately, not all surveys are well compiled, relevant, representative, or honest.

The false cause fallacy: Is dawn summoned by the rooster’s song?

From an early age I learned, from the advice of adults or from my own experiences—and sometimes the hard way—the relationship between cause and effect. It's simple: if you touch the hot oven door, you’ll get burned! Subsequently, I discovered that there are a multitude of pressing uncertainties all around us in daily life. To figure out what actually causes the things that go on around us is added to the long list of life’s complicated issues.

Accurate statistics and faulty interpreters

Even the most rigorously researched statistics are not immune from misinterpretation, and they can often be used in a way that obscures the truth.

The questionable cause fallacy: Correlation does not equal causation

The questionable cause fallacy, described by the Latin phrase cum hoc ergo propter hoc, is an error of thought which leads us to believe that one event causes another event simply because the two events occur simultaneously. This error can easily be reinforced if the simultaneity of the two events is often repeated.

Biased statistics and false truths

A few years ago, the American Statistical Association carried out research on the history of statistics, tracing their use throughout the course of human society’s development. The results of the study are displayed in the form of a chart called the Timeline of statistics, available on the association's website.

The false analogy: when the apple insists on being a pear

The false analogy or the faulty analogy consists of the incorrect use of the analogy argumentative scheme without first meeting the requirements of a correct comparison.

The biased sample: why science should not be practised on friends

The biased sample is a kind of unrepresentative sample, either for quantitative reasons (as is the case with the too-small sample), or for qualitative ones, when its structure does not represent the structure of the real population that is the object of the research.

The false dilemma: Are there really only two choices?

The false dilemma fallacy presents an issue as if there are only two ways to solve it—often, two opposite ways—when, in fact, there are more ways than that. The conflict between the two ways presented is also false.

The small sample and the slender majority

In scientific research, sampling is the primary method used when research cannot be conducted on a one-to-one scale. The facts discovered at the level of the sample are presumed to apply in general.

The appeal to novelty: How can it be faulty when it’s so bright and shiny?

To make an argument by appealing to the novelty of an idea— to the innovation it brings to a certain area—is not necessarily wrong. The visionary thinker Alvin Toffler coined the wonderful phrase nostalgia for the future, referring to his appreciation of the adventure the future promises through the desire many of us have to merge with 'the new' that is still developing (in statu nascendi).

Everything relevant to know about the irrelevant conclusion

What we call an “irrelevant conclusion” is an argument that gives the impression of having something to do with an idea it aims to support, but which actually shifts attention to something else.

Circular arguments: a vicious cycle of faulty logic

A circular argument is an argument forming part of a thesis which has not been established, but still needs to be argued for.