Critical Thinking Part 3: Accurately Evaluate the Information

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iStock_000004645645SmallThere is an old joke about a biologist who trained a frog to jump on command. He then started an experiment by surgically removing one of the frog’s limbs, and comparing the length of the frog’s jump to the length of the jump before surgery. He proceeded to remove the other limbs, recording the length of the jump after each limb was removed. Upon removing the fourth and final limb, the biologist again commanded the frog to jump. The frog didn’t move at all. In writing up the results of the experiment, the biologist wrote, “A frog with no limbs loses its hearing.”

At the heart of critical thinking is the ability to accurately evaluate the information obtained about an issue or a problem. Evaluation involves taking all the information you have gathered and figuring out what it really means. Are there patterns in the data and correlations that would lead to conclusions?

There are a number of pitfalls that we have to avoid to accurately evaluate the information we have gathered.

  • Avoid Personal Biases, Emotions, and Assumptions: You have to keep an open mind and not let your desires, wishes, and objectives determine your “reality.” Too often we only look at information that we believe supports our current views—and ignore any contrary evidence.
  • Don’t Assume Cause and Effect Associations: Just because two things are highly correlated doesn’t mean one causes the other. It might be something completely different that causes both. The loss of hearing did not cause the non-jumping frog.
  • Don’t Generalize from a Single Example: Just because something happens once doesn’t mean it will always happen. This is a corollary of the “cause-andeffect” problem. Just because you had low-tenant turnover during a colder than usual winter, doesn’t mean you should always hope for a cold winter.
  • Don’t Rely on Conventional Wisdom: Don’t assume that what is commonly accepted as truth is actually true. See beyond labels and stereotypes that can obscure the truth. Just because someone rides up to your apartment building on a motorcycle, wearing a black leather jacket, doesn’t mean they would make for a disruptive resident.
  • Don’t Over-Analyze: Sometimes you have to trust your intuition. “Paralysis by analysis” can keep us from making timely decisions

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