Critical Thinking, by Adam Wiggins
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Putting It All Together

You now know how to classify a statement as data, a conclusion, or an argument. You know how to build conclusions up from data using logical rules. You know that arguments presented without data or improperly formatted arguments are of no value unless they can be restated. And you know that your data and conclusions must all fit together like a puzzle or a well-oiled machine. When new pieces arrive, they must either fit into the puzzle (possibly by discarding old pieces) or be discarded themselves. The decision of which to discard is based on the merit of each piece, not on which one was in your mind first.

So how do you put this into action? Although the obvious path is to start sifting through your own mind and critically analyzing what is already there, I would instead recommend first getting some practice by analyzing external information for which you have no or little current knowledge. The emotional challenge of tackling what already exists in your head can cloud your reason, so it's better to start by honing your skills on information unlikely to evoke such emotion. So, pick up a newspaper, or go to a news website, and read an article at random. Complete the following checklist:

Here's a made-up example of a news clipping. Run down the checklist and see what you come up with, then compare your results with the listing below.

"An asteroid is on a collision course with Earth, say scientists. Dubbed AB175, the space rock has been measured at 30 kilometers wide and may weigh up to 1 million kilograms. 'Our calculations show that its trajectory will put it within 100,000 kilometers of the Earth in March of 2012,' says Dr. John Smith of the Westville Observatory. Dr. Joe Williams of Easttown University says, 'An asteroid like this one wiped out the dinosaurs millions of years ago. Humanity could be next if we don't do something about it.'"

Run through the checklist, and write down your answers. When you're done, compare your results to those shown below.


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