Вы находитесь на странице: 1из 6



Tim van Gelder

Abstract. skills, particularly critical-thinking skills.

Almost everyone also agrees that stu-
dents do not acquire these skills as much
as they could and should. The difficult
part is knowing what to do about it.
Apparently, we need to generally
improve our teaching and our education-
al systems. But in what ways? What
enhancements would best promote the
development of critical thinking skills?
One sensible strategy is to look to sci-
ence for some guidance. The relevant sci-
ence in this case is cognitive science, the
interdisciplinary science of thinking:
what it is, how it works, and how it
develops. As John Breuer [AQ: Bruer in
refs] has argued, cognitive science is the

best source we have for genuine knowl-
urprise quiz: Why, except during a have in mind an explanatory hypothesis
edge about “what works and why” in
full moon, is part of the moon in a and that before accepting it as true, they
teaching (Bruer [AQ: Breuer?] 1993);
shadow? ought to compare it with others. Another
critical thinking is just a special case.
The most common answer, even hypothesis is that we are seeing the moon
I do not think that cognitive science
among smart undergraduates at the best from its side (assuming the moon’s
offers the full story by any means. For
institutions, is something like this: The “front” is facing the sun), and the dark-
one thing, it is incomplete and in a con-
Earth blocks light from the sun, causing a ness is the shadow the moon necessarily
tinual state of flux. It gives us provision-
shadow, and the moon happens to sit on creates on itself—the “dark side of the
al insights, not the final word. Also, cog-
the boundary of that shadow; hence, part Moon.” To see how this works, take an
nitive science provides general or
of the moon is lit up, while the rest is in orange or a tennis ball and hold it up near
theoretical information, not any kind of
darkness. a bright light. The shadow, and the reason
detailed recipe for actual teaching. Its
This answer is, of course, wrong. It for it, is obvious. This alternative hypoth-
findings must be carefully blended with
reflects a widely held misconception esis is not hard to think up, and students
the practical wisdom that teachers have
about basic astronomy. More interesting- immediately see that it is more plausible.
accumulated, both as a profession and as
ly, it illustrates a typical failure to think They then realize that they had accepted
experienced individuals. Third, surpris-
critically. Students are unaware that they the first without really thinking about it—
ingly, cognitive scientists do not study
that is, uncritically.
critical thinking much, at least not as a
Tim van Gelder is an associate professor in the Almost everyone agrees that one of the
topic in its own right. This is partly
Department of Philosophy at the University main goals of education, at whatever
because the topic is too broad and open-
level, is to help develop general thinking

Vol. 45/ No. 1 1

ended to be captured by the cognitive sci- to provide some evidence to back it up— entists call a “higher-order skill.” That is,
entist’s tightly focused techniques. Partly, more than half of the population flounder. critical thinking is a complex activity
it also is because critical thinking in gen- They have plenty of responses to the built up out of other skills that are simpler
eral is a neglected topic, despite its request for evidence, but what they say is and easier to acquire. For example, to
importance and broad relevance. not evidence (let alone good evidence). respond critically to a letter to the news-
Nevertheless, cognitive scientists do Such people are not incapable of reason. paper, you must already be able to read
have some contributions to make. They They can easily follow, or produce, ele- and understand the letter (text compre-
have developed some very general mentary inferences such as, “You don’t hension), which is built on skills such as
insights into how we think and how we have a ticket, therefore you can’t go in to being able to recognize words, which in
learn, and these can be carried over to the theater.” The problem is that they do turn…[AQ: please finish sentence] If
critical thinking. They also have studied not have a general grasp of the notion of these lower-level skills are not properly
many phenomena that are particular evidence and what would properly count bedded down, critical thinking is not just
aspects or dimensions of critical thinking. as providing evidence in support of their going to happen; you may as well ask
I have summarized in six succinct view on a nontrivial issue such as truancy. your dog to answer your e-mails.
“lessons” some of the most important of Humans are not naturally critical. Furthermore, even if the lower-level
these insights. The lessons are partly Indeed, like ballet, critical thinking is a skills have been mastered, they have to be
about critical thinking itself, partly about highly contrived activity. Running is nat- combined in the right way. With critical
how critical-thinking skills are acquired, ural; nightclub dancing is less so; but bal- thinking, as with so many other things,
and partly about how critical thinking is let is something people can only do well the whole is definitely more than the
taught best. They are intended for teach- with many years of painful, expensive, mere aggregate of its parts. Think about
ers who wish to help their students dedicated training. Evolution did not tennis, which is a higher-order skill. To be
strengthen their critical thinking; who intend us to walk on the ends of our toes, able to play tennis, you must be able to do
understand roughly what critical thinking and whatever Aristotle might have said, things like run, hit a forehand, hit a back-
is but have not investigated the matter we were not designed to be all that criti- hand, and watch your opponent. But mas-
closely; and who are not especially famil- cal either. Evolution does not waste effort tering each of these things separately is
iar with cognitive science. The list is not making things better than they need to be, not enough. You must be able to combine
definitive; there are other important and homo sapiens evolved to be just log- them into the coherent, fluid assemblies
results from cognitive science, and others ical enough to survive, while competitors that make up a whole point. Likewise,
might make a different selections. such as Neanderthals and mastodons died critical thinking involves skillfully exer-
out. cising various lower-level cognitive
Lesson 1: Critical Thinking Is So, if humans are not naturally critical, capacities in integrated wholes.
Hard what kind of thinkers are they? Michael Because critical thinking is so difficult,
The first, and perhaps most important, Shermer describes us as “pattern-seeking, it takes a long time to become good at it.
lesson is that critical thinking is hard. story-telling animals” (2002, AQ: page As a rule of thumb, my guess is that mas-
Although it can seem quite basic, it actu- #?). We like things to make sense, and the tering critical thinking is about as diffi-
ally is a complicated process, and most kinds of sense we grasp most easily are cult as becoming fluent in a second lan-
people are just not very good at it. simple, familiar patterns or narratives. guage. Remember all that effort that one
The best research on this topic is a huge The problem arises when we do not spon- puts into learning—or trying to learn—
study conducted by Deanna Kuhn and taneously (and do not know how to) go French, German, or Mandarin back at
reported in her book The Skills of Argu- on to ask whether an apparent pattern is school? Well, that is roughly how diffi-
ment (1991). Kuhn took a diverse selec- really there or whether a story is actually cult it is to become a good critical thinker.
tion of 160 people and, in extended, struc- true. We tend to be comfortable with the The upshot for teaching critical think-
tured interviews, gave them every first account that seems right, and we ing is that we should not look for magic
opportunity to demonstrate their ability to rarely pursue the matter further. Educa- bullets. Our students will not become
argue in support of their own opinions. tional theorist David Perkins [AQ: Allen Carl Sagans overnight, and no fancy new
She gathered a huge amount of data, and Hafner also?] described this as a technology or teaching technique is going
which I summarize as follows: A majori- “makes-sense epistemology”; in empiri- to produce dramatic transformations
ty of people cannot, even when prompted, cal studies, he found that students tend to without the necessary time and effort
reliably exhibit basic skills of general rea- act as though the test of truth is that a being applied. Critical thinking is more of
soning and argumentation. For example, proposition makes intuitive sense, sounds a lifelong journey than something picked
most people, when asked, have an opin- right, rings true. They see no need to criti- up in a two-week module. However, just
ion on a topic such as why some kids stay cize or revise accounts that do make because mastery takes such a long time, it
away from school. A typical opinion sense—the intuitive feel of fit suffices. is never too early—or too late—to start
(Perkins, Allen, and Hafner 1983)
would be something such as, “Some kids working on it.
stay away from school because their par- Even if humans were naturally inclined to
ents do not provide discipline.” When think critically, it would still be difficult Lesson 2: Practice Makes
asked to justify their opinion, however— to master because it is what cognitive sci- Perfect

Critical thinking may be difficult, but it er, and easier activities are mastered otherwise, education would be an exceed-
certainly is not impossible. Some people through repetition before harder ones ingly laborious business. The problem is
do get quite good at it. What does this are practiced. that it happens much less than one might
take? naively expect (Detterman 1993). This
4. There is close guidance and timely,
The key is hidden behind the little affects critical thinking as much as any
accurate feedback on performance.
word “skill.” Everyone knows that mas- other skill. Indeed, critical thinking is
tering a skill takes practice, and lots of it. especially vulnerable to the problem of
Ericsson found that achieving the high-
“Practice makes perfect” is a nugget of transfer because critical thinking is intrin-
est levels of excellence in many different
folk wisdom that has been extensively sically general in nature. Critical-thinking
fields was strongly related to the quantity
investigated by science, and it has come skills are, by definition, ones that apply in
of deliberate practice. Interestingly, Eric-
out vindicated: You will not get better a very wide range of domains, contexts,
sson even found a remarkable uniformity
without practice, and getting really good and so on, and so there is plenty of terri-
across fields in the amount of practice
takes lots of practice. The skills of critical tory into which they can fail to transfer.
required to reach the very highest levels;
thinking are no exception. The closest thing we have to a solution
it generally takes about ten years of prac-
This has one immediate implication for to the transfer problem is the recognition
ticing for approximately four hours a day.
teaching critical thinking. For students to that there is a problem that must be con-
Although Ericsson did not study criti-
improve, they must engage in critical fronted head-on. As psychologist Dianne
cal thinking specifically, it is reasonable
thinking itself. It is not enough to learn Halpern put it, we must “teach for trans-
to assume that his conclusions will hold
about critical thinking. Many college pro- fer” (1998, AQ: page #?). We cannot
true for critical thinking. This means that
fessors seem unaware of this point; they simply hope and expect that critical-
our students will improve their critical-
teach a course on the theory of critical thinking skills, once learned in a particu-
thinking skills most effectively just to the
thinking and assume that their students lar situation, will be applied spontaneous-
extent that they engage in lots of deliber-
will end up better critical thinkers. Other ly in others. Rather, students also must
ate practice in critical thinking. Crucially,
teachers make a similar mistake: They practice the art of transferring the skills
this is not just thinking critically about
expose their students to examples of good from one situation to another. If they can
some topic (for example, being “critical”
critical thinking (for example, having master that higher-order skill of transfer,
in writing a philosophy essay). It also
them read articles by professional then they do not have a problem of trans-
involves doing special exercises whose
philosophers), hoping that students will fer for the primary skill.
main point is to improve critical-thinking
learn by imitation. These strategies are This might sound mysterious, but it
skills themselves.
about as effective as working on your ten- often can be quite straightforward. For
Thus, critical thinking cannot be treat-
nis by watching Wimbledon. Unless the example, first have students practice a
ed as just a kind of gloss on educational
students are actively doing the thinking primary critical-thinking skill in some
content made up of other “real” subjects.
themselves, they will never improve. specific context, such as assessing the
Students will not become excellent criti-
The scientists who study skills have credibility of authors of letters in the
cal thinkers merely by studying history,
not simply rediscovered folk wisdom. day’s newspaper, but do not stop there.
marketing, or nursing, even if their
They have learned quite a bit about the Next, get them to abstract for themselves
instruction is given a “critical” emphasis
nature and quantity of the practice need- what they have been doing in such a way
(as it should be). Critical thinking must be
ed for mastery. The foremost expert in that they can see that they had been doing
studied and practiced in its own right; it
this area is Karl Anders Ericsson, who something general, which just happened
must be an explicit part of the curriculum.
with his colleagues has studied at great to have been applied to authors of letters.
length how the very top people in many Lesson 3: Practice for Transfer Then, challenge them to identify some
different fields become as good as they other context or domain in which that
One of the biggest challenges in learn-
are (Ericsson and Charness 1994). He has abstracted skill might be properly
ing new skills, particularly general skills
found that excellence results primarily applied, and go ahead and apply it. For
such as critical thinking, is the problem of
from a special sort of practice, which he example, a student might recognize that
transfer. In a nutshell, the problem is that
calls “deliberate.” The characteristics of the credibility of a textbook’s author
an insight or skill picked up in one situa-
deliberate practice are well defined: being used in another of their subjects can
tion is not, or cannot be, applied in anoth-
be assessed in a similar way.
1. It is done with full concentration and is er situation. For example, if someone has
aimed at generating improvement. just learned how to calculate the per-kilo- Lesson 4: Practical Theory
gram price for packaged nuts, they should
2. It is not only engaging in the skill itself Many people enjoy beer, but very few
then be able to calculate the per-kilogram
but also doing special exercises know much about beer itself. Even peo-
price for packaged chips; if they cannot,
designed to improve performance in ple who consume lots of beer typically do
we would say that the learning has failed
the skill. not know that much about it. They are, in
to transfer from nuts to chips.
this sense, unsophisticated beer drinkers.
3. It is graduated, in the sense that prac- A transfer of acquired knowledge and
Of course, there is nothing intrinsically
ticed activities gradually become hard- skills certainly does occur to some extent;
wrong with that. There is no obligation to

Vol. 45/No. 1 3
know the difference between hops, bar- dent who does not understand what we dling arguments. By “argument,” I do not
ley, and wort. However, if you do choose are saying about critical thinking cannot mean an angry dispute; rather, I use the
to investigate beer, you usually will find follow our instructions or respond to our term the way logicians do, to refer to a
that you can appreciate your beer more. feedback; they cannot be guided, beyond logical structure. As defined in the classic
Furthermore, knowing about beer will a certain point. Monty Python sketch “The Argument
allow you to do things you cannot other- I suggested earlier that college instruc- Clinic,”
wise do—for example, match beer with tors often make the mistake of thinking A: An argument is a connected series of
food, produce your own beer, or even run that they can teach critical-thinking skills statements intended to establish a definite
your own microbrewery. by teaching the theory of critical thinking, proposition.
Getting into beer is, in part, learning but the real mistake is not teaching theory
what in an academic vein we might call as such. The mistake, rather, is to only B: No it isn’t.
the theory of beer. You have to learn a teach theory or to overemphasize theory
new vocabulary, that is, new words and relative to practice. It [AQ: The mis- A: Yes it is!
the corresponding concepts, and under- take?] is to think that skills naturally fol-
standing the concepts means mastering a low from knowing the theory. They do [AQ?] etc. (Chapman and Python 1989)
body of knowledge, including the rele- not (Dreyfus and Dreyfus 1986). Howev- Arguments constitute a body of evi-
vant parts of chemistry and biology. er, the all-important practice is more dence in relation to some proposition (an
Much the same is true of critical thinking: effective when supplemented by appro- idea that is true or false). The proposition
beyond a certain point, improvement priate levels of theoretical understanding. is expressed in some claim (for example,
demands acquiring some theory. The seri- If you like, a bit of theory is like the the claim that Houdini was a fraud) and
ous critical thinker understands the theo- yeast that makes bread rise. You only need the evidence is expressed in other claims
ry of critical thinking. This means, in a small amount relative to the other ingre- (Nobody could have escaped from a
part, acquiring the specialist vocabulary. dients, but that small amount is crucial for locked trunk under a frozen river.). The
Instead of saying, “That argument sucks,” a good loaf. Note also that if you have evidence can form a complex web or hier-
the critical thinker can say that she does nothing but yeast, you have no loaf at all. archy, with some claims both supporting
not accept the conclusion, even though Is this just stating the obvious? No, others and being supported by further
she grants the premises, because the because in actual practice, we do not pro- claims (that nobody could have escaped
inference is an example of the fallacy of vide students with any, or nearly enough, from a locked trunk under a frozen river
post hoc ergo propter hoc. What is so theory. Most students never undergo any may itself be supported by further claims).
good about having the theory? Why does dedicated instruction in critical thinking There is a feature of the way we handle
it help improve critical thinking? and stumble through their entire school arguments that is so automatic and perva-
Knowledge of the theory allows you to and college educations without ever sive that it is almost invisible: Arguments
perceive more of what is going on. In the learning much about what they are trying are presented or expressed in streams of
case of beer, understanding the vocabu- to do (Graff 2003). The way we general- words, whether written or spoken. Here
lary of beer flavors helps you distinguish ly go about cultivating critical thinking is are some mundane examples:
flavors that, although always present, are to expect that students somehow will pick
invisible to the naive drinker. In critical it all up through some mysterious process • writing a letter to the editor of a news-
thinking, having command of the “lingo” of intellectual osmosis. The lesson from paper, arguing for a certain point;
is like having x-ray vision into thinking. cognitive science is that if we want stu- • publishing an article in a journal or
For example, if you know what “affirming dents to substantially improve their skills, defending a position in an academic
the consequent” is, you can more easily we must at some point help them develop debate;
spot examples of poor reasoning, because theoretical understanding as a comple-
reasoning fitting that particular pattern ment to the crucial hands-on know-how • making a speech in Parliament support-
will be more likely to jump out at you. (Anderson, Reder, and Simon, AQ: ing some new law; or
This improved insight is the basis for year?). As Deanna Kuhn put it, • arguing your position in a family dis-
self-monitoring and correction. As The best approach . . . may be to work from pute around the kitchen table.
described above, improvement requires both ends at once—from a bottom-up
lots of deliberate practice. The better you anchoring in regular practice of what is In all of these cases and endless others
can “see” what is going on, the more being preached so that skills are exercised,
strengthened, and consolidated as well as like them, the argument (the abstract log-
effectively you can understand what you ical structure) is expressed in sequences
from a top-down fostering of understand-
are doing and how you can do it better. ing and intellectual values that play a major of words or sentences that stream out
Similarly, a grasp of the theory pro- role in whether these skills will be used. either as ink on the page or as sounds in
vides the foundation for explicit guidance (1999, AQ: page?) the air. Argumentation, in short, is “one
and feedback from a teacher or coach. damn word after another.” [AQ: source?]
Instructions must be expressed verbally, Lesson 5: Map it Out Nothing could be more natural, it
and the more nuanced the vocabulary, the seems, than expressing the argument in a
A core part of critical thinking is han-
more that can be communicated. The stu-

linear verbal sequence. Indeed, most peo- students in conventional classes (Twardy, matter, representing arguments in dia-
ple have not the faintest idea that there is forthcoming; van Gelder, Bissett, and grams tends to be slow and cumbersome.
any alternative. However, there is an Cumming, forthcoming). Indeed, one This is starting to change, however, with
alternative, one that is obvious enough semester of instruction based on argu- personal computers more widely avail-
after a little reflection. If evidence forms ment mapping can yield reasoning skill able and the emergence of software pack-
complex hierarchical structures, then gains of the same magnitude as would ages specially designed to support argu-
those structures can be diagrammed. Put normally be expected to occur over an ment mapping (Kirschner, Buckingham
another way, we can draw maps that entire undergraduate education. Shum, and Carr 2002).
make the logical structure of the argu- What is the source of this advantage? From a practical perspective, this
ment completely explicit. From a learning perspective, argument means that wherever feasible, arguments
For example, consider the following maps have a number of advantages over should be displayed in the form of argu-
passage: standard verbal presentations: ment maps. One strategy is to require stu-
How much is your life worth to you? On dents to provide a map of their reasoning
1. They make reasoning more easily
the face of it, that’s an idiotic question. No whenever they hand in a piece of written
understandable. Students can focus
amount of money could compensate you work that involves presenting some kind
for the loss of your life, for the simple rea- their attention on critical thinking
of reasoning or argument.
son that the money would be no good to rather than getting bogged down just
you if you were dead. (Holt 2004) trying to understand the reasoning as Lesson 6: Belief Preservation
presented in ordinary text.
The passage expresses in a verbal Francis Bacon, the great seventeenth-
stream an argument about the origin of 2. Once students can see the reasoning, century philosopher of science, once said,
some unusual waves. Here is the same they can more easily identify important The mind of man is far from the nature of a
argument laid out in an argument map issues, such as whether an assumption clear and equal glass, wherein the beams of
(figure 1). has been articulated, whether a premise things should reflect according to their true
Like any map, this diagram adopts a needs further support, or whether an incidence; nay, it is rather like an enchanted
objection has been addressed. glass, full of superstition and imposture, if it
particular set of conventions. One is that be not delivered and reduced. (Bacon 1974)
the main point being asserted is put at the 3. When arguments are presented in dia-
top (or, more technically, at the root of the grammatic form, students are better
In other words, the mind has intrinsic
argument “tree”). The arrows indicate able to follow extended critical-think-
tendencies toward illusion, distortion, and
that one claim, or group of claims, is evi- ing procedures. For example, evaluat-
error. To some extent, these are just fea-
dence in relation to another; the word tures of the “hard-wired” neural equip-
ing a multilayered argument involves
“reason” and the use of the color green ment we inherited through the accidental
many distinct steps that should be done
[AQ: can’t use green; other way to process of evolution. To some extent, they
in a certain order.
indicate?] indicate that they are support- are the result of common patterns of
ing evidence. Once you are familiar with 4. When arguments are laid out in dia- growth and adaptation—the way our
these elementary conventions, you imme- grams following strict conventions, a brains develop as we grow up on a planet
diately can “see” the logical structure of teacher immediately can “see” what like Earth. To some extent, they also are
the reasoning. the student is thinking. One instructor “nurtured,” that is, inculcated by our soci-
In this example, the reasoning is quite has described argument mapping as eties and cultures. Yet, whatever their ori-
simple in its basic structure, and the dia- giving “x-ray vision into the students’ gin, they are universal and ineradicable
gram may seem to provide little added minds.” This clarity of insight allows features of our cognitive machinery, usu-
benefit. The more complex reasoning the teacher to give much more rapid ally operating quite invisibly to corrupt
becomes, however, the more it helps pre- and targeted feedback, and the student our thinking and contaminate our beliefs.
sent the structure visually. Analogously, if understands better where the feedback These tendencies are known generical-
a stranger asks for directions, verbal applies and what needs to be done to ly as “cognitive biases and blindspots.”
instructions may suffice if their destina- correct problems. They obviously are important for the crit-
tion is just around the corner, but a jour- ical thinker, who ought to be aware of
ney across town needs a proper map. In short, argument maps are a more them and either eliminate them entirely, if
Now, the crucial result from cognitive transparent and effective way to represent possible, or at least compensate for their
science is that students’ critical-thinking arguments, and so they make the core influence, much as a skilful archer adjusts
skills improve faster when instruction is operations of critical thinking more her aim to allow for a breeze.
based on argument mapping. The main straightforward, resulting in faster growth There are literally dozens of biases and
evidence for this comes from studies in in critical-thinking skills. blindspots, some operating as powerful
which students are tested before and after If argument maps are so great, why are traps, others as subtle tendencies (see, for
a one-semester undergraduate critical- they not used much? An important part of example, Piatelli-Palmarini 1994). An
thinking course. Students in classes based the explanation is that it usually is a lot introduction to critical metacognition
heavily on argument mapping consistent- easier to work in the purely verbal medi- easily could occupy this whole essay, but
ly improve their skills much faster than um rather than in diagrams. As a practical I will discuss just one bias, one of the

Vol. 45/No. 1 5
most profound and pervasive of the lot: some support, no matter how slender. A Bacon, F. 1974. The advancement of learning,
belief preservation. dramatic example from World War II is and New Atlantis. Oxford: Clarendon.
Bruer, J. T. 1993. Schools for thought: A sci-
At root, belief preservation is the ten- Stalin’s calamitous insistence that
ence of learning in the classroom. Cam-
dency to make evidence subservient to Hitler was not going to invade the bridge, MA: MIT Press.
belief, rather than the other way around. Soviet Union, despite the clear evi- Chapman, G., and M. Python. 1989. The com-
Put another way, it is the tendency to use dence of German forces massing on the plete Monty Python’s flying circus: All the
evidence to preserve our opinions rather border. Stalin’s mistake was not that he words, volume 2. New York: Pantheon.
Detterman, D. K. 1993. The case for the pros-
than guide them (Douglas 2000). It is had no basis for thinking Hitler would
ecution: Transfer as an epiphenomenon. In
nicely illustrated by this story from Stuart not invade; rather, it was failing to sur- Transfer on trial: Intelligence, cognition
Sutherland: render that belief when that basis was and instruction, ed. D. K. Detterman and R.
When I was quite young, I conducted a rou- outweighed by contrary indications. J. Sternberg, 1–24. Norwood, NJ: Ablex.
Douglas, N. L. 2000. Enemies of critical
tine piece of motivation research on a well-
thinking: Lessons from social psychology
known brand of gin. I interviewed people Belief preservation strikes right at the
research. Reading Psychology 21:129–44.
throughout Britain to obtain their reactions heart of our general processes of rational Dreyfus, H. L., and S. E. Dreyfus. 1986. Mind
to the bottle and label, and to ascertain the deliberation. The ideal critical thinker is over machine: The power of human intu-
product’s “brand image.” I gave an oral
presentation of my results to a party from aware of the phenomenon, actively mon- ition and expertise in the era of the comput-
itors her thinking to detect its pernicious er. New York: Free Press.
the distiller’s company, which was headed
Ericsson, K. A., and N. Charness. 1994.
by the managing director, a large bluff influence, and deploys compensatory
Expert performance. American Psycholo-
Scotsman. When I said anything with strategies. Thus, the ideal critical thinker gist 49:725–47.
which he agreed, he would turn to his col-
Graff, G. 2003. Clueless in academe: How
leagues and announce with much rolling of • puts extra effort into searching for and
schooling obscures the life of the mind.
r’s, “Dr. Sutherland’s a very smart man. attending to evidence that contradicts New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
He’s absolutely right.” When, however, my what she currently believes; Halpern, D. F. 1998. Teaching critical thinking
findings disagreed with his own views, he
for transfer across domains. American Psy-
said “Rubbish. Absolute rubbish.” I need • when “weighing up” the arguments for chologist 53 (4): 449–55.
never have undertaken the study, for all the and against, gives some “extra credit” Holt, J. 2004. The human factor. New York
notice he took of it. (1992, AQ: page?)
for those arguments that go against her Times, March 28, [AQ: page?].
When we strongly believe something position; and Hutchings, E., ed. 1997. Surely you’re joking,
Mr. Feynman. New York: Norton.
(or strongly desire it to be true), then we
• cultivates a willingness to change her Kirschner, P. J., S. J. Buckingham Shum, and
tend to do the following: C. S. Carr, eds. 2002. Visualizing argumen-
mind when the evidence starts mount-
tation: Software tools for collaborative and
1. We seek evidence that supports what ing against her.
educational sense-making. London:
we believe and do not seek, avoid, or Springer-Verlag.
ignore evidence that goes against it. Activities like these do not come easily. Kuhn, D. 1991. The skills of argument. Cam-
For example, the socialist seeks evi- Indeed, following these strategies often bridge: Cambridge University Press.
dence that capitalism is unjust and ill- feels quite perverse. However, they are ———. 1999. A developmental model of crit-
ical thinking. Educational Researcher 28
fated and ignores or denies evidence of there for self-protection; they can help
(2): 16–26.
its success; the capitalist tends to do you protect your own beliefs against your Lomborg, B. 2001. The skeptical environmen-
exactly the reverse. tendency to self-deception, a bias that is talist: Measuring the real state of the world.
your automatic inheritance as a human New York: Cambridge University Press.
2. We rate evidence as good or bad Perkins, D. N., R. Allen, and J. Hafner. 1983.
being. As Richard Feynman said, “The
depending on whether it supports or Difficulties in everyday reasoning. In
first principle is that you must not fool
conflicts with our belief. That is, the Thinking: The expanding frontier, ed. W.
yourself—and you are the easiest person Maxwell and J. Bruner, 177–89. Philadel-
belief dictates our evaluation of the evi-
to fool” (Hutchings 1997). phia, PA: Franklin Institute Press.
dence, rather than our evaluation of the Piatelli-Palmarini, M. 1994. Inevitable illu-
evidence determining what we should Key words: critical thinking, cognitive sions: How mistakes of reason rule our
believe. For example, Bjørn Lomborg’s science mind. New York: Wiley.
book The Skeptical Environmentalist Shermer, M. 2002. Why people believe weird
(2001) presented lots of evidence run- things: Pseudoscience, superstition, and
NOTE other confusions of our time. New York:
ning counter to standard “green” posi- Freeman.
This paper was produced with generous
tions. Predictably enough, when support from Hong Kong University. It was Sutherland, S. 1992. Irrationality: The enemy
reviewing the book, environmentalists much improved in light of suggestions from within. London: Penguin.
tended to regard the data and arguments Neil Thomason. Twardy, C. Forthcoming. Argument maps
as much worse than did their anti-envi- improve critical thinking. Teaching Philos-
REFERENCES ophy. [AQ: volume? Pages?]
ronmentalist counterparts. van Gelder, T. J., M. Bissett, and G. Cum-
Anderson, J. R., L. M. Reder, and H. A. ming. Forthcoming. Cultivating expertise
3. We stick with our beliefs even in the Simon. Applications and misapplications of in informal reasoning. Canadian Journal of
face of overwhelming contrary evi- cognitive psychology to mathematics edu- Experimental Psychology. [AQ: vol?
dence as long as we can find at least cation. Manuscript. [AQ: year, place?] Page?]