Critical Thinking 101


In an illness fraught with misinformation, anecdotal stories, and speculative alternative health treatments to choose from, critical thinking is imperative.  Critical thinking provides  a means to evaluate information, weed out anecdotal evidence from testimonial, and choose treatments that are safe and appropriate.

Critical thinking can also help counter the reactions of others which may include unsupported arguments, misguided (though well-intentioned) suggestions, and medical advice that seems to miss the mark altogether.  Evaluating the information you have and how it is of use to you may assist you in understanding why someone’s assumptions about your experience and your illness are faulty.  It will not necessarily convince others to understand your situation, but it may help you accept why someone will not reach the same conclusion as you, despite having the same information.

There are specific critical thinking skills that may be helpful in navigating these rather uncharted, but frequently chartered waters.

Understanding Poor Logic and Fallacies

Understanding what the common flaws in logic are can be helpful for a couple of reasons.  Logic may help you:

  1. See the flaws in another person’s arguments.  This may help you feel calmer and argue your case logically.  You may feel less frustrated that your arguments are being eroded because you understand why.  This doesn’t mean you will necessarily be able to convince the other person of your point of view but it can help the conversation not seem so mind-boggling;
  2. Guide the conversation to more logical statements;
  3. Share information about your health condition in a clearer and more succinct way that is less susceptible to poor logic.  In part, this is because you’ll be aware of your own fallacious arguments;
  4. Evaluate evidence and health claims for therapies you are considering.  Although this moves more into the area of “health literacy”, understanding the biases, and logic statem or plaents in journal articles and on-line health websites will allow you to have a critical eye towards good science and bad.


Evaluating Risk Versus Benefit

decisiondefinitionDecisions will need to be made.  You will need to make these decisions with, at times, less information than you want, with little or no empirical evidence, and with conflicting reports (among professionals and among patients).

Questions to ask yourself when making decisions.  Answering a question in a particular way does not suggest the method is worth trying or is best avoided.  They are, however, intended to provoke critical thinking and aid in making an informed decision.

Death of Socrates

  1. What are the possible benefits?
  2. What are the costs, side-effects, or risks?
  3. Can you afford to try this approach (financially and in terms of risk of it not working, or risk of it making things worse)?
  4. What benefits are supported by empirical evidence?
  5. Does the person suggesting this appear logical, rigorous, empirical?
  6. Do you trust the person/people suggesting this approach?
  7. Does this person have a financial interest in this approach?
  8. Are there ways to reduce the risks of this approach?
  9. Is someone suggesting this approach is a panacea for your problems or that everyone should ‘try it’?
  10. Does the person making this suggestion have professional training?
  11. Are there many people who have reported benefit from this approach?
  12. Are there many people who have reported negative experiences with this approach?