[Originally posted on Twitter]
When news first started spreading of a novel coronavirus I was admittedly unconcerned because I heard it was no worse than ‘flu. Of course I did some research, listened to professionals, and came to the conclusion that my lack of concern was wrong. Critical thinking works, kids. You’re allowed to be wrong about things if new information comes along. There’s even a term for it: strong opinions loosely held.
In other words, you can change your mind and acknowledge your previous error, and move on with the knowledge that you learned something. It means to not take things at face value. Trust the source of information if it seems legit, but verify. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. You won’t find answers on hour-long screeds on YouTube.
Critical thinking means to question the information or logical connections and see if you can come to the same conclusion(s) yourself. If I say 1+1=2, there is a mathematical proof to support it. Yelling on YouTube for an hour isn’t going to change that.
Context is a significant component of critical thought. The information you’re verifying has to be considered along with the messenger providing that information. That’s where bias comes in. Maybe it’s unconscious bias, or wishful thinking.
It is possible for someone to have all the correct information and still draw the incorrect conclusion. This is a function of faulty logic. There are thousands of years of logical fallacies you can study, and even check off the most obvious ones from a Wikipedia list! Circular references (also known as begging the question) are common. So are appeals to authority, appeals to emotion, and anecdotal evidence. The last one is interesting because it’s very easy to fall into this trap.
A Long Time Ago I was involved in a business venture where the creator of a system had “tens of thousands of case studies” relating to a personality profile system he’d developed. For legal reasons I can’t be more specific but this is where I was caught out. I took those case studies as scientific evidence, when in fact they were just confirmation bias, in each and every case. The entire thing was based on the same type of technique that card magicians use to convince you what card to pick.
There was no double-blind study done (subjects and researchers are unable to influence the outcome of the study), and the personality profile terminology played on emotional reactions. A good mentalist can suggest you into a line of discussion that you thought was your idea. So while we were on daytime television and made a bit of money, I was thinking, and of course when the long con came to bear and he left me hanging out to dry, I learned just like every other victim in his dusty trail.
Con artists, or confidence tricksters, are the best—but usually unfortunate—way to learn about critical thought. If someone takes money from you promising something too good to be true, it is and you’re a sucker. I’ve been a sucker.
For all the good intentioned wishful thinking about this virus and economics and capitalism, I want you to stay safe. When you’re safe, I want you to think, rationally, about where you want to see yourself as a person in the world. Trust, but verify.
A lot of scientific literature has multiple sources to confirm their theories. The scientific method requires that experiments are repeatable in order to confirm the theory. If a theory cannot be proved, or an experiment was flawed, the theory is disproved. Scientists are not magicians. If something disproves the theory, then they change the theory so that it becomes possible to prove it. Maybe a better theory comes along.
COVID-19 started as a respiratory illness. After experiments and data gathering, it was established that it is airborne. It was established that it causes blood clots. Evidence points to it likely being a vascular disease affecting the blood, not the chest. Evidence has also shown that wearing masks consistently, AND social distancing, AND being in an area with good circulation, reduces your chances of contracting it. However, you can still get it through the nose and eyes if you spend too long around someone who is infected.
This is the scientific method in action, coming up with a theory until something else disproves it, and then changing the theory. That is only possible through rigorous experimentation and critical thinking skills.
You can pray if it makes you feel better. Faith is not going to heal you from COVID-19.
You can choose not to take one of the vaccines. It’s your choice. If you make this choice, you must appreciate the consequences of your actions. Your right to cough on people is balanced by my right not to be coughed on. That’s why we wear masks and keep our distance. If you choose not to take the vaccine, you lose the right to participate in activities reserved for people who have taken the vaccine. You’ll see social activities like international travel, attending schools and concerts, visiting your grandma in hospital, require vaccination.
Critical thinking is about thinking for yourself, but it must be tempered with thinking about other people too. We need social structures to exist. We need to work from a common base. We need to have mutual understanding, and if not respect, then tolerance.