Some Key Questions to Ask When Pursuing Information
One of the most important skills in critical thinking is that of evaluating information. This skill begins with the important recognition that information and fact, information and verification, are not the same thing. It requires also the important recognition that everything presented as fact or as true is not. A third important recognition is that the prestige or setting in which information is asserted, as well as the prestige of the person or group asserting it, are no guarantee of accuracy or reliability. Consider the following, very helpful, maxim: An educated person is one who has learned that information almost always turns out to be at best incomplete and very often false, misleading, fictitious, and mendacious—that is, information is often just dead wrong.
Careful professionals use a wide variety of safeguards in the disciplines in which they work. It is not possible to learn these safeguards separately from an actual study of the disciplines. However, it is possible to develop a healthy skepticism about information in general, especially about information presented in support of a belief that serves the vested interests of a person or group. This skepticism is given in the regular asking of key questions about information presented to us:
These questions, both singly and as a group, are no panacea. Everything depends on how we follow up on them. Used with good judgment, they help us to lower the number of mistakes we make in assessing information. They do not prevent us from making such mistakes. In later chapters, we will follow up on these concerns in a deeper way. You should begin now, however, to practice asking the above questions when information is presented to you as true and important.