According to Dictionary.com, Critical Thinking is: a noun – 1. Disciplined thinking that is clear, rational, open-minded and informed by evidence.
It is essential to use critical thinking about any news topic – especially controversial ones that draw opinions from both sides of the debate. Breed-specific legislation (BSL) is one of those topics and you have probably heard many claims, rumours and even statistics that have left you wondering what to believe.
These days, not everything we read, hear or are told is credible. And unfortunately, personal or political agendas can come into play. Often information that is shared is done so in a way that is meant to influence you to make a specific decision or to support a particular perspective or side.
In order to make sure that you aren’t being swayed by errors, inaccuracies or untruths, it is important to remember that people see the world through the lens of their own experience, emotions and value system. It is important to question everything – especially when statements are being made about controversial or emotional subject matter.
Several questions to ask yourself are:
- Who said it?
Is this someone you know, trust and understand? Is this someone in a position of power or authority? Is this person an expert in this field? Does this person have some type of clear or hidden agenda? Does this person have something to gain from saying this? Does this person have a personal or emotional connection to this subject matter? Has this person previously come out “for” or “against” this topic? Does this person appear to be neutral or unbiased?
- What was said?
Did the person provide accurate facts that can be verified or did they quote opinions, anecdotes or unconfirmed numbers? Did this person provide all the facts that are known or just specific ones that support their opinion? Has anything been left out of what is being shared about the subject matter?
If facts or stats were shared, it is important to remember that by sharing only certain facts, stats or details of the study or survey, the information can be manipulated to support a specific agenda or opinion.
There are millions of studies in the world, ranging from 10 people surveyed to hundreds of thousands of people carefully studied. Anyone can find or manipulate one or more studies or surveys to support a specific point of view. Don’t take numbers at face value. Look at multiple sources and, when possible, look for published, peer-reviewed studies that use legitimate data sets. (More information on evaluating data credibility and “soundbite science” can be found here: http://hugabull.com/bsl/statistics-and-soundbites/.)
- When did this person say it?
Is timing important regarding when this statement was made? Was it prior to an important event, initiative or vote? Was it in response to an emotional or frightening situation?
- Why did this person say it?
Has the person previously spoken out (for or against) about this issue? Do they have accurate information and facts that support their reasoning or is it just an opinion or speculation? Were they trying to inflame the situation, defuse it, or provide neutral information or context? Do they have an agenda regarding this situation/issue and will they somehow benefit by speaking out?
- How was it communicated?
Was the person calm and thoughtful, angry or upset, or afraid or concerned? If it was a news report, were there dramatic and sensational words used or was it a neutral retelling of a situation or incident?
Unfortunately, some individuals, groups, associations or media outlets rely on emotional appeal to tell a story. While anecdotes and personal stories have an important place, they are often exploited and used to sensationalize an event or incident. As human beings, we are hardwired to empathize and are naturally affected by the experiences of others. However, it is important to remember that a single story, or even a small set of stories, doesn’t always show the whole picture. In the case of dog bites, we only hear about a handful of serious attacks each year, but the numbers indicate that every week in BC, several people are hospitalized because of dog attacks. The media and other groups may only focus on a subset of the incidents – and usually the ones that will grab our attention – but it is the responsibility of a critical thinking public to consider the wider context and ask about the dog bites or attacks that aren’t being promoted, publicized or reported on, before forming an opinion.
Taking these elements into consideration will help you to decide about the credibility, validity and accuracy of information and news that you see, hear and read about. Whether it is from a neighbour, a colleague at work, on social media, in your daily newspaper, or on the evening news, don’t take anything at face value. Always ask the questions above – they will help you to make informed decisions and to have opinions that are based on fact.