CRITIC: Learning to Evaluate Claims

How to Remember Key Steps in Skeptical Critiques

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Critical thinking is very important — every day we are confronted with a host of claims which we need to be able to evaluate. We need to consider political claims, economic claims, religious claims, commercial claims, and so forth. Is there any way people can learn to do a better and more consistent job? Ideally, everyone would receive a solid grounding in critical thinking while still in school, but that's not likely to happen.

Adults must learn how to improve the skills they already have.

In the May/June 2005 issue of Skeptical Inquirer, Brad Matthies offers a mnemonic method for evaluating claims which are based upon one developed by Wayne R. Bartz. CRITIC asks:

  1. Claim?
  2. Role of the claimant?
  3. Information backing the claim?
  4. Testing?
  5. Independent verification?
  6. Conclusion?

Matthies explains how each step can work:

Claim

What is your source saying? Is the source's claim both timely and relevant to your particular question or thesis? Has the source presented the claim in a clear and reasonable manner, or is there evidence of motivationally biased language?

Role of the Claimant

Is the author of the information clearly identifiable? If so, can his or her credibility be established? Also, based on your prior examination of the claim, is there any reason to suspect bias on the part of the author?

Information Backing the Claim

What information does the source present to back the claim?

Is it information that can be verified, or does this source rely on testimony or anecdotal evidence? If this source presents original research, does the source explain how the author gathered the data? If the source is an article, does it cite references and are they credible? If the source is a journal article, is the journal peer-reviewed?

Testing

How might you test the claim your source is making? Conduct your own qualitative or quantitative research (e.g., marketing research, statistical analysis, design a research study, etc.).

Independent Verification

Has another reputable information source evaluated the claims the source is making? Does this source support or refute the original claim? After conducting a review of the literature, what do the experts have to say about the claim? Are the experts basing their opinions on detailed analysis and testing, or are they just presenting opinions with little or no evidence? Moreover, are the experts truly experts on the topic, or are they presenting opinions about a topic they are not qualified to discuss?

Conclusion

What is your conclusion about the source? Taking into account the first five steps of CRITIC which apply to your source, make a judgment: Should this source be used in a paper or report? Information evaluation can be very subjective, so it is important to consider all of the ascertainable facts.

Matthies makes a lot of important points above. These are all basic principles of critical thinking, many of which seem to be forgotten by so many people. To what extent are people simply ignorant of them and to what extent do they understand what they should be doing but refuse because the results would be inconvenient?

Either way, a mnemonic can help: it will reinforce something they don't know well or keep reminding them of something they'd rather forget.

As already noted, in an ideal world such mnemonic devices wouldn't be necessary because we'd all receive a good education in how to think critically while still in school, but even so, this does provide an interesting way for organizing and structuring how we can approach claims. Even when a person is already good at critical thinking, something like CRITIC can help ensure that the skeptical process goes as it should.