Issues Magazine

Articles about Critical Thinking

The truth is out there - So how do you debunk a myth?

By John Cook

John Cook set out to debunk two climate myths by exploiting the psychology of misinformation.

Debunking myths requires an understanding of the psychological research into misinformation. But getting your refutation out in front of lots of eyeballs is a whole other matter.

Here, I look at two contrasting case studies in debunking climate myths.

If you don’t do it right, you run the risk of actually reinforcing the myth. Fortunately, there are a number of steps you can take to avoid any potential backfire effects.

Lies, Damn Lies, and Science

By Stephan Lewandowsky, Gilles Gignac & Klaus Oberauer

Conspiratorial thinking is a major element in the rejection of a broad range of scientific findings, from climate change to tobacco, vaccinations, GM foods and the moon landing. But why?

Prince Phillip runs the world drug trade, the 9/11 attacks in the US were an “inside job” of the Bush administration, and US President Barak Obama’s Hawaiian birth certificate is a forgery. Oh, and climate change is a hoax perpetrated by corrupt scientists who just want more government grant money.

Stephan Lewandowsky is a Winthrop Professor at the University of Western Australia. Gilles Gignac earned his PhD at Swinburne University, and now specialises in statistics and psychometrics. Klaus Oberauer is Professor of Cognitive Psychology at the University of Zurich.

Understand the Numbers

By Peter Bowditch

Understand the numbers? Don’t count on it.

Philosopher Douglas Hofstader is credited with inventing the word “innumeracy”, the numerical equivalent of illiteracy. That is, the inability to understand numbers. Three stories that are perennial media favourites got me thinking about how the public can be confused by numbers, and sometimes even deliberately misled.

This article was first published in Australasian Science.

Visualising the Critical Thinking Process

By Fiona J. Patterson

What is the nature of critical thinking and how is it done? Argument mapping is a tool that can guide and instruct our thinking and be an empowering gift from educators to students.

The first thing I tell my critical thinking students is that they should watch out for gorillas; that gorillas can be seen in the most unlikely places, and that they abound, even in lecture theatres.

Mind Muse is an education consulting firm specialising in thinking skills ( Email

Help needed: can you fix the science/ society divide?

By Will J Grant and Luke Menzies

Does more information on scientific issues inform or polarise public opinion further? A documentary is examining the communication of science and how to can be done better.

Want to help fix the science/ society divide? We’re making a documentary looking at how we might do this, and we’re looking for your help. Why? Well …

You don’t need to be a rocket sociologist to know that things aren’t entirely smooth between science and society these days.

This article was originally published at The Conversation.

Where is the proof in pseudoscience?

By Peter Ellerton

An understanding of the process underpinning science can help us recognise anti-science movements that masquerade as science to sway public opinion on issues such as climate change and vaccination.

The word “pseudoscience” is used to describe something that is portrayed as scientific but fails to meet scientific criteria.

This misrepresentation occurs because actual science has creditability (which is to say it works), and pseudoscience attempts to ride on the back of this credibility without subjecting itself to the hard intellectual scrutiny that real science demands.

Thinking about Thinking

By Deborah Graham

Unless we stop and think about thinking, critical thinking can be elusive.

Thinking about thinking is a form of metacognition. It requires effortful understanding of the thinking process and an ability to exert control over it.

The Science of Why We Don’t Believe Science

By Chris Mooney

How our brains fool us on climate, creationism and the vaccine-autism link.

This article was first published at

The True Believers

By Krissy Wilson

Are we pre-programmed to believe in weird and wonderful things that lack any significant scientific basis, and are some of us more likely to believe than others?

Unwavering belief in phenomena that contradict known scientific laws and principles is a common feature of all western societies, and there is little evidence to suggest that widespread paranormal beliefs are on the wane. While there remains little, if any, evidence to suggest that any of these claims support known, provable phenomena, recent opinion polls suggest that such commonly held beliefs are on the increase.

This is an edited version of an article published in Australasian Science.

Health News in the Media: A Dose of Critical Thinking Is the Best Treatment

By Amanda Wilson (1) and Jane Robertson (2)

Health information is everywhere – in newspapers, television, magazines, online, streaming and blogs. Access is quick, cheap and easy, but not all reporting is good quality. A few simple questions can help people take a more critical view of this information and make better choices about treatments and health behaviours.

Problem-Based Learning in Secondary Science

By Caroline Cotton

Problem-based learning is a strategy arising from the failure of some traditional learning methods to teach students to apply their knowledge elsewhere.

Have you ever been frustrated as an educator that students are simply absorbing information and regurgitating it?

Teaching Students to Lie: Historical Method through Hoaxes

By T. Mills Kelly

By deliberately making false historical sources, students can learn to think more critically.

What happens when you teach students how to lie? Answer: they become better historians.

More than a decade ago, back in the days of Web 0.5, a student of mine submitted a generally well-written essay on “Ante Pavelić, Great Hero of the Croatian Nation.” Now, if you know your history of World War II, you may remember Pavelić as the leader of the Croatian Ustaše government that was perhaps the most vicious of the puppet regimes aligned with Nazi Germany.

How, I wondered, had she decided that Pavelić was such a great hero?

This article was originally published at The Conversation.

Scrutinising Science in the Media

By Edward Sykes

Journalists need to be as critical of science as scientists are.

Scientific issues permeate every aspect of our lives, yet we are often left bewildered by the way it is portrayed in the news, with climate scientists being accused of alarming people for their own ends and medical experts extolling the dangers of alcohol on one day and its benefits the next.

The opinions expressed here are the personal opinions of the author.

Reason to Think

By Peter Ellerton

Peter Ellerton looks at deduction, induction and critical thinking, and asks why we aren’t teaching it.

There isn’t an educational institution in the world that doesn’t have, somewhere in the glossy pages of its prospectus, the stated intent to produce critical thinkers, independent learners, problem solvers and the like from the malleable minds of its students.

Now, ask them to point to the bits in their courses where this occurs, and you’re bound to get a rather vague answer that probably includes the terms “embedded across the curriculum”, or “rigorous academic standards”, or perhaps “holistic approach to problem solving”.

This article was first presented on ABC’s Ockham’s Razor.

Assessment of Academic Reasoning Skills

By Sam Hambur and Sean Pywell

In academic contexts, reasoning skills can be classified in different ways for testing purposes.

Tests of “academic reasoning” focus on the mental processes that underpin school and tertiary studies, rather than the specific knowledge and skills of particular academic disciplines. They can be thought of as general, generic or cross-curricular reasoning assessments.

Skepticism and Critical Thinking

By Tim Mendham

Critical thinking is an essential part of everyday life, but sometimes it throws up answers that might be uncomfortable.

Critical thinking is not a pursuit reserved solely for the abstractionists or philosophers of this world. Critical thinking is as intrinsic to all of us as breathing ... well, almost.

But in truth, we practice critical thinking every day, in many different ways, from apparently trivial decisions to serious life-determining choices.

Critical thinking requires assessing a claim, weighing the evidence, and making a judgement based on the results of our thought processes. This is the basic underpinning of scientific method.

Homeopathy: Have Consumers Wised Up?

By Rachael Dunlop

One in two Australian adults are turning to the internet to self-diagnose medical conditions, and two in three are investigating their medicines on the web, according to recent figures from Bupa Health Pulse. Health information on the internet is not regulated, so how do you determine what is right and what is not?

Critical Thinking about Weird Things: Teaching “Skepticism, Science and the Paranormal” at University

By Martin Bridgstock

Critical thinking does not transfer easily from one area of thought to another. One teacher decided to approach critical thinking in a particular context – paranormal claims. The effect upon thinking is often devastating.

Critical thinking is almost universally regarded as a good thing. Universities list it as a key requirement for their graduates, and employers and educators are agreed that imparting and improving this ability are imperative.

Where does misinformation come from, and what does it do?

By Ullrich Ecker

Why do people continue to rely on misinformation even when clear retractions have been made?

Obama is a Muslim, vaccinations cause autism, asylum seekers are breaking the law, GM foods cause cancer.

These are all pieces of unsubstantiated misinformation that are commonly encountered on TV, talk-back radio, blogs and other websites.

This article was originally published at The Conversation.

Prey to temptation: Our struggle with irrational health choices

By Dyani Lewis

University of Melbourne

Social epidemiologist Prof Ichiro Kawachi describes how mental short-cuts affect our health choices, often for the worse, and what can be done to help us make better choices.


By Sally Woollett


A glimpse into this edition of Issues.

Critical thinking is hard to pin down. It means different things to different people, it has different purposes and contexts, and it doesn’t always travel well across disciplines. This edition of Issues canvasses critical thinking as a way of “thinking about thinking”, and as a cognitive approach to new information – making a well-informed judgement.