BART - Article 2 Teaching skepticism via the CRITIC acronym...

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1 Article 2 Teaching skepticism via the CRITIC acronym and the Skeptical Inquirer Wayne R. Bartz T he CRITIC acronym provides neophyte skeptical students with an easy-to-remember, step-by-step format for applied crit- ical thinking. Practice applying this simple method of critical analysis can include writing CRITIC reports on the feature arti- cles found in the SKEPTICAL INQUIRER. Most college students slouch into the first day of class as- suming they already know a great deal about the world around them. As a result they may have to unlearn an accumulated wealth of misinformation in addition to absorbing the priceless new pearls of wisdom teachers toss their way. An improvement in critical thinking skills should facilitate that sometimes painful process. When it comes to widely accepted extraordinary claims, the sources bombarding today’s students are rich, the speculations boundless, and critical analysis is generally lacking. Dubious claims familiar to readers of the SKEPTICAL INQUIRER abound: Exposure to “crystal energy” improves health and mental functioning; gifted “psychics” can describe your inner- most desires, divine the future, or speak with the dead; basic “personality traits” can be revealed by studying the features of an individual’s face. Students routinely assume such claims to be true, or else they would not be prominently featured on radio and TV, in books, newspapers, and magazines. Rarely is the slightest critical thought demonstrated in credulous media por- trayals of paranormal events (recent television network exam- ples include NBC’s The Others and Mysterious Ways). The challenge for an educator is to motivate students to critically evaluate interesting claims without having the benefit of back- ground courses in research methodology and statistics (which most students never take). Introductory psychology classes have always stressed a scien- tific approach to the study of behavior, with skeptical modes of thought being emphasized long before “critical thinking” became a buzzword in education. Some years ago a panel of psycholo- gists assembled by the American Psychological Association con- cluded that the primary objective of an undergraduate psychology degree is graduates who could be described as “amiable skeptics about much of what they encounter.” We in the skeptical commu- nity might hope this outcome would occur no matter what college major a young person selects, but widespread acceptance of fan- ciful notions by college-educated adults suggests this is a vain hope. During three decades of teaching college psychology courses and encouraging the development of “amiable skeptics,” I devised a practical system of applied critical thought based upon the easy-to-remember acronym CRITIC. It could be used in a va- riety of courses, is readily understood by most college students,
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This note was uploaded on 12/02/2009 for the course PPE 4412 taught by Professor Rice during the Spring '09 term at University of Florida.

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BART - Article 2 Teaching skepticism via the CRITIC acronym...

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