JR'S Free Thought Pages
Always be on the lookout for questions that have not been answered in the textbooks, by the experts in the field or by the media. Be willing to ask "what's wrong here?' and/or "Why is this the way it is, and how did it come to be that way?"
An inadequate formulation of a question can produce misleading or incomplete answers. Ask neutral questions that don't presuppose answers. Be clear about the meaning of terms and concepts.
Ask yourself, "What evidence supports or refutes this argument and its opposition?" Just because many people believe, including so-called experts, it doesn't make it so. If you must appeal to authority make sure that source is a reliable honest one. Simply because one is in authority it does not necessarily imply that person is an authority.
All of us are subject to biases, beliefs that prevent us from being impartial. Evaluate the assumptions and biases that lie behind arguments, including those of your culture as well as your own.
Passionate commitment to a view can motivate a person to think boldly without fear of what others will say, but when "gut feelings" replace clear thinking, the results can be disastrous. Persecutions, wars and lynchings are invariable the result of "gut feeling". Beware of mindless conformity and following the "crowd" - people will do things in a crowd they would never do as individuals. Emotional attachments to cherished beliefs, particularly those that comfort us, can be a serious barrier to our intellectual integrity. For example, people rarely expose their comforting religious beliefs to critical inquiry - they believe because they "want to believe".
Look beyond the obvious, resist easy generalizations, stereotypes and either/or thinking. Don't argue by anecdote or heresay.
Formulate hypotheses that offer reasonable explanations of characteristics, behavior, and events. Look for an explanation that accounts for the most evidence with the fewest assumptions. Is the hypothesis plausible and consistent with our best scientific knowledge?
Sometimes the evidence merely allows us to draw tentative conclusions. Don't be afraid to say "I don't know." Don't demand "the " answer. Be prepared to change your mind if conflicting or new evidence and arguments are presented - this is the essence of the scientific spirit.
Before you accept an hypothesis, consider these criteria followed by all good scientists:
must be possible to conceive of finding evidence that would prove the claim
argument offered as evidence in support of any claim must be sound.
claim must be made in light of ALL of the currently available evidence.
evidence offered in support of any claim must be evaluated without
the evidence for any claim is based upon an experimental result, or if the
evidence offered in support of any claim could logically be explained as
coincidental, then it is necessary for the evidence to be repeated in subsequent
experiments or trials that are designed to separate out alternative
The evidence offered in support of any claim must be adequate to establish the truth of that claim, with these stipulations: 1) the burden of proof for any claim rests upon the claimant; (2) extraordinary claims demand extraordinary evidence, (3) evidence based upon authority and/or individual testimony is always inadequate support for a claim (4) claims without any apparent empirical testable consequences risk vacuity.