8 barriers to critical thinking

Eight Barriers to Critical Thinking Part II

Eight Barriers to Critical Thinking
Part 2 of 2
by Mike Saxton, PhD

In a previous blog article, I presented the first four of eight critical thinking barriers that I caution my students about at the beginning of each term. (Click here to go to Part 1 of “Eight Barriers to Critical Thinking.”) Below we examine the remaining barriers.

Ad Homonym Fallacy
Admittedly, this is an area in which I myself could use improvement — evaluating a statement based on who said it instead of on the merits of the statement itself. In this case, people accept a statement as true, simply because they like or respect the person who said it (regardless of whether the statement is actually true). In contrast, they reject a similar statement when it comes from a person they do not respect. I experienced this once when I agreed with a co-worker about a change in staff training. The rest of the staff went along with the idea, simply because both of us had done well with training in the past. This change, which involved extended training hours, did not go over well, however. Fortunately, we were able to roll it back in future trainings, but we should not have implemented the change in the first place because we had not explored all the possible outcomes and risks.

Heavy Reliance on IQ
For many years, Intelligence Quotient (IQ) was the single measurement used to determine a person’s intelligence. Fortunately, over the years, it has been widely accepted that intelligence has multiple dimensions. The relatively familiar model from Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligence lists eight, but I’ve seen others identified, like Spiritual Quotient (Taheri Lari & Ahmadian, 2012). We can no longer look at intelligence from just one perspective. Unfortunately, despite vast research into other forms of intelligence, some individuals and companies still rely on the IQ measurement. Dependency on a single dimension of intelligence can cause managers to miss out on someone who could have been an excellent employee because that individual was gifted in an area that went unmeasured. Goodwin University’s commitment to the Universal Design for Learning model of pedagogy empowers learners to demonstrate their mastery of knowledge in ways that best relate to their thinking preferences.

Universality of Experience
Whenever I discuss this topic, I find some people get defensive. Nothing here is meant to indicate that experience is not to be valued. Experience has its place, but should not be relied on solely.

How many times have we heard “in my experience” as a precursor to an argument that the individual expects to be accepted? The issue is that one individual’s experience is not necessarily a representative sample of what happens outside of that person’s sphere of influence. Research studies can easily yield results in direct contrast any single person’s own experience, even if it was vast. Everyone is different. Geographical regions are different. On a personal level, “experience has taught me” that the more I learn, the more I realize I do not know!

Appeals to Authority
This fallacy probably concerns me the most: blind, or near-blind, acceptance of someone’s view or assertion based on their level of authority. Think of the “formal” authority of the president of a company who claims to understand the organization’s environment but presents no real evidence of this knowledge. It’s similar to the ad homonym fallacy but is based more on the person’s position than respect or admiration. I have been seeing this fallacy in practice quite often lately.

You may ask what the problem is with accepting the viewpoint of an “expert.” The truth is, there is nothing wrong with accepting the viewpoint; the problem comes when we are not allowed to question it.

In the scientific world, experts seldom agree. That is what pushes science forward — disagreement sparks additional research. The idea that we must take a single opinion as solid fact is absurd. What we need to do is evaluate. Ask yourself: have you ever sought a second opinion on a medical condition because the first one did not sit well with you? Have you ever taken your car to a different mechanic because the first one seemed off? You do not have to be an expert or in a position of authority to ask questions.

Questions you should regularly ask:
“Does this person have an agenda?” (The answer is often yes.)
“Are there reasonable, alternative explanations, or options that this person (or group) is ignoring?”
“Is this person telling me what I want to hear as opposed to the truth?”

The desired takeaway from this blog article is that there is far more that we do not know than what we do. As Mark Twain said, “It’s not what you know that kills you. It’s what you know for sure that ain’t so.”

Taheri Lari, M., & Ahmadian, E. (2012). Spiritual quotient and entrepreneurship (A case study). Interdisciplinary Journal of Contemporary Research in Business, 4(5), 881-891.

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