Asking the Right Questions

Asking The Right Questions – A guide to critical thinking

M. Neil Browne & Stuart M. Keeley

Refrain from reverse logic, reasons then conclusions, not conclusions then supporting reasons

Find Issue

Find Conclusion

Find Supporting Reasons

  • Ask Why?

Find ambiguity in reasons

  • abstract terms
  • multiple meanings

Find the value and descriptive assumptions

  • Value assumpion: implicit preference for one value over another in a particular context (should be’s)
  • Description assumption: beliefs about the way the world is, was or will be.
  • Look for gap between conclusions and reason

Are there any reasoning fallacies?

  • Ad Hominem – Personal attack
  • Slippery Slope – This leads to that when procedures do not exist to prevent
  • Searching for perfect solution
  • Equivocation – a key word or phrase is used w/ tow or more meanings that don’t make sense
  • Appeal to Popularity – Ad populum
  • Appeal to Questionable Authority
  • Appeal to Emotions
  • Straw Person – attack point of view that doesn’t truly exist
  • Either / Or – Assuming only two alternatives
  • Wishful thinking – assuming that because we wish x to be true / false it is
  • Explaining by naming – assuming because you have named something you have explained it
  • Glittering Generality – using emotionally appealing virtue words
  • Red Herring – An irrelevant topic introduced to divert attention from original issue
  • Begging the question – an argument in which the conclusion is assumed in the reasoning

How good is the evidence?

  • Intuition
  • Experience
  • Testimonials
  • Appeals to authority
  • Personal observation (group of 1)
  • Research studies
  • Case examples
  • Analogies

Are there rival causes?

  • x has the effect of x leads to x influences x is linked to
    x deters x increases likelyhood x determines x is associated with
  • The cause of a cause?
  • Confusing causation with association tend to see events that go together as causing each other
  • Confusion of cause and effect
  • Neglect of a common cause – two events may be related by the effects of a common third factor
  • Post hoc fallacy – assuming event b is caused by event a since it follows it

Are the statistics deceptive?

  • Unknowable or biased statistics
  • Confusing averages
  • Mean Median Mode
  • Statistics prove something other than conclusion
  • Omitting information
  • Risk statistics – 50% increase could be from 1 to 1.5%

What other significant info is missing?

  1. Common counter arguments – what arguments would someone who disagrees offer?
  2. Missing definitions – what if key terms defined differently?
  3. Missing value preferences or perspective – what would different mean?
  4. Origins of facts – what is the source?
  5. Procedure for gathering facts
  6. Alternative techniques to gather facts
  7. Missing or incomplete data
  8. Omitted effects, positive and negative short and long term
  9. Omission of prediction failures when special prediction skill advocated

What reasonable conclusions are possible?

  • No dichotomous thinking
  • More than two sides / options
  • Using if to conditionals conclusion – I believe x if y
  • Not all conclusions are equal!

Overcoming obstacles to critical thinking

  • + Avoid group think
  • + Listen to people you don’t like
  • + Don’t rush to judgement (too impatient)
  • – Personal experience is a sample size of one
  • – Choice supportive bias
  • – Belief in a just world
  • – Stereotypes
  • – Wishful thinking
  • – Urge to simplicity
  • – Belief persaverence is most
  • – Availability Hueristic
  • – Bias toward which is most available
  • – Everyone believes they are better than average