Critical Thinking and the Three Types of Lies – something interesting from our inbox

Usually people ask to be guests on our blog, and quite often we say yes – we’re nice people. Sometimes we come across something that’s interesting enough to share without being asked. This from Pearson Talentlens being a case in point. According to them, critical thinking is the #1 skill of the 21st century. We tend to agree*.

*actually I tend to agree, there is no ‘we’ since I didn’t consult with any of my colleagues before posting this. Did you know that? Of course not. Easy, isn’t it? Now read on…

The use of relevant statistics is usually a good way to quantify information. See for example the following infographic:


Infographic showing spurious statistical information

The infographic presents a number of interesting statistics. For example, the phrase “In the time it will take you … 150-190 litres of ocean water will evaporate … 96 billion dollars worth of wealth will change hands … 54 billion of these dollars will be going to somebody more wealthy than the one parting with it.”

Although it is not clear what these figures really mean, they appear as compelling, perhaps even shocking, statistics. At the end of the infographic there is more clarity: “And finally, in the amount of time it will take you to read this, 247,000 people on the internet will read some sort of information chart, graphic, or presentation that is wildly inaccurate and has absolutely no reference to any scientific studies.”

In other words, when a message looks interesting, it does not necessarily mean that the content is accurate. Many people are naturally inclined to rely on what is presented as quantified or factual information (rather than opinions). The danger of this is the potential for incorrect opinions, preconceptions and ultimately, decisions.

In order to qualify any presented information [meaning any information, from any source, however benign it may seem at first sight – ed.] it is therefore important to ask oneself questions such as:

  • What do these statistics mean?
  • How has the research been carried out?
  • Who asked the questions and who answered them?
  • What were the questions asked?

These are important questions that would be asked by good Critical Thinkers. Those who think less critically tend to ignore this and often take positions based on – at first sight – interesting, but often incorrect facts. By recognising assumptions, evaluating arguments and drawing conclusions from them you can look beyond such statistics and thereby reveal inaccuracies, assumptions, distortions and other types of fiction.

As Benjamin Disraeli once said: “There are three kinds of lies: lies, bigger lies and statistics”. Or did he?!*

Do you want to discover more about Critical Thinking and learn how you can improve the quality of the decisions you make? Then subscribe for the next Critical Thinking webinar or reach out to one of our consultants!

*possibly, maybe, probably not, or it was Mark Twain – and it’s actually ‘damned lies’, maybe Pearson think you’re delicate blooms who don’t like cuss words? Awww. – ed.

…and there you have it. So the next time you read another clanging-chimes-of-doom headline about graduate unemployment, or any one of a bazillion hot button topics I’m not about to touch with any number of ten foot poles, ask yourself the four questions above – and go looking for an answer. And then critique that information. We could all be here a while. Anyone else feel like running away to an island and growing potatoes? I’ll race ya to the boat…

critical thinkingdataemployabilityinformationmedia

Paul Rothwell • 30/07/2018

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