Cultivating Critical Thinking in Science

Through our network of experts, CAST prides itself in assembling, interpreting, and communicating credible, balanced, science-based information. Additionally, we understand the importance of knowing how to effectively analyze and evaluate information from other sources. Doing your own research on the “research” you are receiving from the internet is extremely important.

A recent blog by Jason Riis, a cognitive psychologist, spells out the framework for critical thinking that can be used to assess and develop these articles in the classroom, in media, or in any forum for public disclosure. The framework he provides draws on key principles from society’s thinking institutions (such as the scientific method) and builds on insights from behavioral science that have shown extensive deficiencies in human critical thinking tendencies.

Riis suggests that effective critical thinking involve these three types of activities:

1. Diligent Clarification 

2. Slow Thinking 

3. Humble Self-reflection 

Citing the documentary film What the Health, the blog uses these three approaches to analyze the use of emotion, imagery, and a very selective presentation of facts to try and garner support for the film’s thesis–that the widespread adoption of a vegan diet will all but eliminate chronic disease. 

Riis expresses why this matters to science: “We live in an era where this is staggering public skepticism about science. I believe that the standards of critical thinking about science in the media should be higher than they are. That means we need to talk about what critical thinking is, and call out venues or authors who hurt rather than help that mission. I am suggesting that all forms of media need to engage in careful critical thinking.”

Making the effort to decipher with a critical eye articles that should be honest and an educational read is extremely important. Riis admits that story-telling and humor have their place in public discourse, but we must call out media limitation–especially when they oversimplify casual explanations that have a huge impact on people’s lives. As Wanda Patsche said in a previous guest blog highlighting How to Use Critical Thinking Skills without a Science Background, “Sharpen your critical thinking skills by practicing them often. Understand and challenge your biases and assumptions–it’s healthy.”
Click on this link to read Riis’s full blog, When Critical Thinking is Undermined. 
By: Kylie Peterson

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