Thinking Critically about a General Election

Here in the UK we’re in the middle of campaign fever as we have a General Election on the 12th of December.

Its pretty important election, with some big topics being used as political weapons so I’m currently trying to gather as much knowledge as I can in order to make an informed decision on who to vote for.

This post is about how i’m applying the critical thinking skills & tactics I use in my day job to test claims made by politcal parties.

Heads up, I won’t be sharing my political views in this post.

TLDR

I use the 5 bums on the rugby post across multiple news / media sources in attempt to see the pros & cons in each parties arguments & claims which will help me make a judgement call on December the 12th.

Critical Thinking Defined

I like this definition from Richard Paul:

“Critical thinking is thinking about your thinking, while you’re thinking, in order to make your thinking better”

But actually, Wikipedia is sufficient for this post:

“Critical thinking is the analysis of facts to form a judgement.”

People

Obviously, with it being a general election, nearly everybody has an opinion, even if they choose not to share it publicly.

I purposefully seek out people who disagree with my beliefs & ideas in order to understand where they are coming from & hopefully discover new sources of information that I can use myself.

I can’t emphasis enough the importance of engaging with people who you disagree with.

Only speaking with those who share your viewpoint leads to a skewed view of the world, largely because of our cognitive biases – when our mental shortcuts let us down. Examples of these biases present in this context include:

  • Echo chamber – in media, beliefs are reinforced by repeated communication within a closed system. 
  • Confirmation bias – when we seek out information that match our beliefs & hypotheses (easier in an echo chamber)
  • Groupthink – when a group of people desire conformity to the extent that their decision-making becomes dysfunctional (members of the echo chamber)
  • Duning-Kruger effect – when you greatly overestimate your cognitive ability.

This post suggests 17 cognitive biases that explain Brexit – it’s an interesting read. I don’t know the author, but it’s interesting to see them reflecting on their opinions & heaven forbid, changing their mind!

Process

I tend to start with a Twitter hashtag for a newsworthy event or something trending. This gives a high level overview of the topic.

From here I dive into the different commentary, both for & against the event.

For example, at the time of writing, the parties were publishing their manifestos. These are newsworthy events & as such are trending on Twitter.

Using the hashtags, I was able to see both support & opposition for each of the manifestos at a glance. From here I can dive into each of the claims & arguments for & against those claims.

When I see a claim / argument, I instinctively agree or disagree with it. I now need to go and find counter claims / arguments to disprove my beliefs (breaking confirmation bias).

Sometimes I end up having a discussion in real life – this is a great way to quickly realise what you do & do not know!

If I am having a discussion & I feel comfortable with the topic, I’ll use the counter argument as a devils advocate to spice up the conversation, break the echo chamber & see if my understanding of both sides is correct. 

Tools

Sources of Information

Most of my media consumption is online. This is largely due to convenience, but also due to the fact that the political landscape is shifting so rapidly on a day-to-day basis that the printed word is out of date before the ink is dry.

So here’s some of the sources I get my information from:

  • Hashtags on Twitter – used by people for all sides of the discussion (obviously some are clearly partisan)
    • includes links out to blogs & news / media outlets
  • People on Twitter – openly biased is ok so long as they have well formed arguments
    • includes links out to blogs & news / media outlets
    • take the ranters with some caution, but remember they’re getting their news from somewhere!
    • Keep an eye out for Twitter bots! (yes, people have been known to argue with a bot)
  • News / media outlets on Twitter – be sure you know their bias. They may try to convey themselves as neutral, but most lean one way or the other
  • Videos on Youtube
    • commentary on political news & announcements from vloggers
    • news / media outlets (sometimes comments are closed)
    • satire / comedians (see claims from a different angle)

Critical Thinking

I like the simplicity of the 5 bums on the rugby post, somewhat better put by Kipling:

“I keep six honest serving-men
(They taught me all I knew);
Their names are What and Why and When
And How and Where and Who.”

  • Who said it? known to you? famous? authority?
  • What did they say? facts or opinions? all the facts?
  • Where did they say it? public or private?
  • When did they say it? important event? in a group?
  • Why did they say it? explain their opinions?
  • How did they say it? emotions? volume?

Paul & Elder Critical Thinking Framework

I loosely follow the Paul & Elder framework & their elements of reasoning.

Wrap up

Unlike iterative delivery, this is going to be a big-bang release, the date of which can’t be shifted. We need to ensure we have the necessary facts in order to make an informed decision on December 12th.

What other tools & techniques are you using to help you gather the information you need to make your decision?

Duncs

p.s. don’t forget to register to vote