Critical Thinking and Three Kinds of Lies

I’m all about statistics and being able to quantify information, so when the following email appeared in my inbox, I paid close attention.  A few specific bullet points caught my eye and made my mind wander.  For example the email stated “In the time it takes you to read this…150-190 liters of ocean water will evaporate…96 Billion dollars worth of wealth will change hands…54 billion of these dollars will be going to someone more wealthy than the one parting with it.”

I thought, “Wow, those are some interesting statistics to think about….but wait, what does that mean?”  As I read the last sentence of the email I found the meaning: “And finally, in the amount of time it takes you to read this, 247,000 people on the internet will read some sort of informational chart, graphic, or presentation that is wildly inaccurate and has absolutely no reference to any scientific studies.” The message hit home.

Just because the message sounds good, does not mean the content is accurate or without bias.  Because I am naturally more inclined to pay attention to information that is quantified (as opposed to opinions), I may falsely believe I am a better critical thinker than others.  However, if I take that information as fact without asking questions of my own, I fail.  What do those stats mean?  How was the study conducted?  Who asked the questions?  Who answered the questions?  What were the questions?  These are key questions asked by good critical thinkers.

Those who wish to deceive do so skillfully.   Those who lack critical thinking skills lack the ability to see past an artfully crafted statement that uses compelling (yet meaningless) statistics.  By Recognizing Assumptions, Evaluating Arguments, and Drawing Conclusions (RED Model), we can look further than the statements being “sold” to us and uncover biases, assumptions, spin, and other forms of fiction.

British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli said it best:  “There are three kinds of lies:  lies, damned lies, and statistics.” Improve your critical thinking skills and defeat those who wish to deceive you.

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Editor’s Note: Breanne Harris is the Solutions Architect for Pearson TalentLens.  She works with customers to design selection and development plans that incorporate critical thinking assessments and training.  She has a Master’s degree in Organizational Psychology and has experience in recruiting, training, and HR consulting.  She is the chief blogger for Critical Thinkers and occasionally posts at ThinkWatson.  Connect with her on LinkedIn and Twitter for more of her thoughts.
 

2 responses to “Critical Thinking and Three Kinds of Lies”

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