CSICOP: Judging Authority

Just a short note about an article in the Skeptical Inquirer on the subject of "Judging Authority" and the necessity of critical thinking.

Living well requires that we be able to evaluate our environment rationally. Simple things, like crossing the street, shopping, eating, and listening to our doctors, involve three skills: critical thinking, evidential reasoning, and judging authority. Many people, including previous authors writing for the Skeptical Inquirer (Lett 1990; Wade and Tavris 1990), have discussed the first two of these. Here I focus on the last of them, judging authority, but I must revisit the other two first because they are central to it. These same skills are fundamental to scientific reasoning as well, since the ordinary person and the scientist both need to understand our personal or scientific surroundings. Indeed this short article is an outgrowth of material I present to science students first learning the methods of science, but this should not discourage the nonscience reader, for science and everyday life are far closer in function than most would suppose.

The article then goes on to list the skills required in critical thinking as well as how to judge authority (specifically scientific authority) and extraordinary claims.

In the section on Evidential Reasoning, the author lists the following:

1. Falsifiability
2. Logic
3. Comprehensiveness
4. Honesty
5. Replicability
6. Sufficiency

Now obviously, in the case of MBH98, it’s the issue of replicability that is most at issue. On sufficiency the author notes that the burden of proof is upon the claimant, and that authority and/or testimony is alway inadequate.

The article is at this link


  1. L Nettles
    Posted Mar 28, 2005 at 6:38 AM | Permalink

    Here is the direct link to the article


  2. N. Joseph Potts
    Posted Mar 28, 2005 at 9:54 AM | Permalink

    The “Judging Authority” section at the end of this article is disappointing. It essentially suggests one confirm the pertinent certifications. This in turn is unfortunately merely a review of the trappings of authority in an issue and, in my experience (much including climatology), tends to establish not authority, but interest in inculcating, or appearing to support, views approved by hierarchies.

    The article is a lot of platitudes that are valid as far as they go, but they don’t go as far as they should.


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