Critical Thinking

(How historians, or critical thinkers in general, approach research.  I’m using steps to lay it out, but these don’t need to be done in any particular order necessarily.)

Step One:

  • have an open mind towards new and/or opposing views; stay curious

Step Two:

  • question everything, have healthy skepticism

Don’t believe something just because someone or some textbook, even if they are in a position of authority, told you.

Step Three:

  • collect information from multiple accredited sources, try to find the closest thing to a first hand account

Try to find the closest thing to a first hand account.  Try to find many verified peer-reviewed legitimate sources.  If these are impossible and/or if the subject matter is more subjective in nature, try to find sources from multiple sides of the issue, read the pro and con arguments (ex. see what opponents and proponents say, read sources from those who won the battle and those who lost it, read/hear from Republicans and Democrats and others etc.)

Step Four:

  • realize that every source has a bias, and find the bias of the author

Discover the bias/biases of the source and take that into account when reading their material (did they support or oppose this, did they win or lose the battle, do they have a certain perspective or system of beliefs that would skew their interpretation of events).  (Bear in mind that usually the winners of a battle, and/or the wealthy, well-educated, and literate, are those who write the history.  You don’t often hear history from the peasants’ point of view, though this approach has been adopted by some historians and might be gaining traction.)

Step Five:

  • Find and examine your own bias and take that into account

Are you reading what is there and being open-minded to views other than your own, or are you seeing what you want to see, or only finding sources that support your viewpoint?  How might your perception or interpretation of the material be skewed, and try to account for your own bias.

Step Six:

  • scientific method (also known as evidence-based)

After accumulating various data from accredited sources, analyze the data, draw a conclusion and support that conclusion with evidence.  When the matter at hand is more subjective in nature (ex. political beliefs), still try to support your position with evidence, to have an informed opinion.

Lastly, an old friend of mine had a mantra that was, “Nothing is either as good or as bad as it seems.”  I try to live by his motto and try to think that, in many cases (granted, notable exceptions), the truth is somewhere in between the hyperbolic points of view.

After that… it’s up to you as to what to do with it.  Keep your privacy, broadcast your beliefs, stay true to your beliefs, be open to changing your beliefs, engage with people who agree with you and support you, engage in constructive debate with people who hold opposing views, advocate tolerance for all opinions, fight for your views and protest against those you feel should be protested against, write your doctrine, let it not get to you and realize there are other things to worry about, pick your battles…whatever…up to you.

Now, after all that, (speaking of unaccredited sources, but just for fun), here’s a political quiz site, which I liked because it was a bit thorough.

http://www.isidewith.com/

Related Links:

Bruinius, H. (2/7/17). Why ‘fake news’ is now ensnaring liberals, Christian Science Monitor, Yahoo! News, (yahoo.com)

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