Are you prepared to be wrong? 2

We are all wrong about something at some point in time, there are no exceptions, it is part of being human. Information is presented, we come to a conclusion and take a stance. But what if you are wrong, what then?

Do you save face and stick to your position come what may, or do you seriously consider the information presented and reconsider you stance?

Throughout our lives we face a constant flow of conflicting information that we need to filter, for example religious claims, miracle cures, supernatural claims, claims regarding new scientific discoveries, claims regarding events that might or might not have actually happened, political claims, etc… Nobody really remains neutral and we all adopt a specific position on such issues. So how do you work out what is factual and so filter out the bovine waste?

Lets cut to the chase: unless you are practicing critical thinking, or evidence-based thinking, you are at extreme risk of embracing complete nonsense as truth.

Ah but what exactly do terms such as “Critical Thinking” or “Evidence based thinking” really mean when put into practice? In order to get a good understanding perhaps the best place to start is by describing some scenarios where evidence based thinking is not simply a luxury, but is the generally accepted norm.

If you sat on the jury of a murder trial, how comfortable would you feel if the accused was found guilty by your peers on the basis that he looked a bit shifty?

If you were seriously ill, would you choose care from a fully qualified and highly experienced medical doctor, or would you accept faith-healing from a witch doctor on the basis that a close friend recommended it as a highly effective alternative to proper medical care?

In the above scenarios, solid evidence determines the obvious answers. Opinion, bias or belief just doesn’t make the grade. We all expect it, and can understand why this is so in these life and death contexts. After all, who truly wants to play roulette with their health or somebody else’s life? Sentencing somebody to prison for life on the basis that they look a bit guilty is not acceptable by any standards. When seeking medical care, you also need to be sure you are dealing with an experienced knowledgeable individual. Imagine walking into a doctor’s office and discovering that he had just finished reading a copy of “The Dummies Guide to General Practice”. You were his first ever patient and he was now ready to give it a go. How thrilled would you be if you found yourself participating in such an awe inspiring scenario! Quite rightly, you have an expectation of competence and professionalism. Such expectations are not exclusive to the law or medicine, they echo across into many other professions as well. If some chap has just finished building his first bridge after reading a copy of “The Idiots guide to Civil Engineering”, how confident would you feel if you were invited to be the first to test his skills by driving over it? Any sane person would first demand some proof that the bridge was solid.

You are scheduled to fly to New York on the 8:15 flight. While boarding, you discover that your pilot today will be a 16 year old called Tom who is giving it a go as part of his one week work experience for his GCSE. Would you opt to stay on board for take-off? Of Course such a scenario would never happen, that is the way we expect things to be.

Much of what happens in the world is done by professionals who must first provide evidence that they have the knowledge and skills to do the job. To ensure consistently high standards, those who are new, never just give it a go and learn from their mistakes. They are fully trained, and when all the classes have been completed, they must prove they have successfully absorbed the required skills by passing exams. Even then they are not let loose upon the public, but are instead mentored and monitored by more experienced colleagues.

Now we come to the heart of the matter. This expectation is not universal and does not apply everywhere. Most would be horrified at the very thought of receiving treatment from an unqualified doctor, yet often quite happy to embrace totally unproven and completely ineffective treatments such as Homeopathy, Reflexology and other similar forms of bogus medicine from complete quacks. Why is this?

As individuals we appear to be very prone to embracing certain things and just believing in them without seeking any real evidence that they are logical or true. Do a random survey and ask “Do you believe in X” where ‘X’ is a modern myth such as Ghosts, UFO’s, the Loch Ness Monster or Climate Change. Despite the complete lack of any credible evidence, you will still get a high percentage who affirm that they do indeed believe, or at least consider the possibility.

OK, now I do hope you choked a bit on the last paragraph. While there might be no real evidence for Ghosts, UFO’s, or Nessy, there is indeed solid evidence for Climate Change. If you choked on my assertion that Climate Change is a myth, then well done. You just applied a bit of good Critical Thinking. It means you are off to a flying start here, so stick with it and do not just embrace random opinions, but instead look for evidence.

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