Given the range of financial swindles that have occurred over the past couple of years and the more recent rumblings about “death panels” and other supposedly evil aspects of Obama’s healthcare reform efforts, it seems like many of us could stand to bone up on our critical thinking skills a bit.
And for the average Lifelong Learner 2.0, of course, good critical thinking skills are essential for cutting through the noise on the Web and getting to resources that are actually trustworthy and accurate.
So here are ten resources I found valuable as I searched the Web for tools to help with sharpening my critical thinking skills. I hope you find them useful, too – and please comment with any others you think are valuable.
I recommend starting things off with a quick quiz before heading into the other resources:
An interesting, 26-question online quiz provided by the College of Forestry at Oregon State University. (It’s good to know that forestry graduates will have a grounding in critical thinking!) Take the time to think about them a bit – which, of course, is the point – and you will probably be able to answer most of these correctly. There are a few tough ones in there, though!
“Sure, you use the Internet all the time, but you need to wise up to the web when you use it for your university or college work. Use this free Internet tutorial to learn to discern the good, the bad and the ugly for your online research.” This tutorial is intended to help college students hone their Internet research skills, but I think it is equal useful for their parents, friends, and siblings.
As the site explains, “Zeno of Elea, a pre-Socratic philosopher, was born about 490 B.C. His style of argument was to assume, provisionally, the position of the opponent, and then to derive impossible conclusions from it, thus establishing the absurdity of the assumption. In the spirit of this Reductio Ad Absurdum dialectical approach to critical thinking, our Coffeehouse activities will tackle from time to time so-called ‘common sense views,’ analyzed critically. The mental gymnastics will be good exercise!” The site won’t win any visual design awards, but it is a fascinating place to visit and engage.
“We examine arguments. If you’ve got an argument you’d like us to look at, type it into the space below or e-mail a copy to the waiting room. We’ll get to it as soon as we can. Once we’re done, we’ll let you know the results of the exam. We may find that the argument is as sound as a dollar (or maybe even sounder than that!). On the other hand, it might limp along so badly that we’ll have to face facts and declare it an invalid, or perhaps more precisely, just plain old invalid. Of course there are intermediate possibilities too. But you get the idea.” A very interesting concept!
OpenCourseWare on critical thinking, logic, and creativity. “This educational web site provides over 100 free online tutorials on critical thinking, logic, scientific reasoning, creativity, and other aspects of thinking skills.” A nice coolection of resources from Hong Kong University. You might want to give the world’s most difficult logic puzzle a try! This one is also available in traditional and simplified Chinese.
“The goal of Mission: Critical is to create a “virtual lab,” capable of familiarizing users with the basic concepts of critical thinking in a self-paced, interactive environment.” The interface on this one leaves something to be desired (at least on a Mac), but it provides a good overview of different types of reasoning, along with a lot of practice exercises.
Blends a ”collection of named fallacies—such as “ad hominem“—that is, types of bad reasoning which someone has thought distinctive and interesting enough to name and describe” and a “collection of fallacious, or otherwise bad, arguments…” This is a very good site for developing an understanding of “logical fallacies” – i.e., errors in reasoning. I particularly like the Fallacy Watch section.
Another site focused on fallacies. This one features the complete text from Fallacy Tutorial Pro 3.0 organized as a menu of links. There is also an Italian version of this site. http://www.linux.it/~della/fallacies/index.html
This tutorial from Humboldt State University provides a brief review of major critical thinking concepts and then a set of quizzes to test your understanding. Warning: Turn down your volume if you are using this in a public place. Answers are punctuated with Simpson- like sounds (which personally I find a bit annoying).
“BlueStorm is a mostly free introduction to critical thinking and elementary sentential logic. This is a huge collection of tutorials and quizzes on critical thinking divided into 14 topic areas.” Recommended for readers who really want to dig in and get serious about mastering argumentation and reasoning.
The Skeptics Dictionary
Finally, you can find other resources, some of which overlap with those above, at AusThink and EpistemeLinks. The ones here represent the sites that I felt readers would find most immediately useful and accessible.
Believe me, you can’t go wrong with these sites. (And if you are willing to believe me that easily, I’ve also got some great land in Florida I’d be willing to let you have for cheap…)
posted on September 1, 2009
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