When Claims Conflict
- Many times we need to be able to evaluate an unsupported
claima claim that isn’t backed by an argument. There are several critical
thinking principles that can help us do this. An important one is: If a
claim conflicts with other claims we have good reason to accept, we have
good grounds for doubting it.
- Sometimes there is a conflict between a claim and your
background information. Background information is the large collection of
very-well-supported beliefs that we rely on to inform our actions and
choices. The relevant principle is: If a claim conflicts with our
background information, we have good reason to doubt the claim.
- It’s not reasonable to accept a claim if there is good reason
to doubt it. In the case of claims that we can neither accept nor reject
outright: We should proportion our belief to the evidence.
Experts and Evidence
- An expert is someone who is more knowledgeable in a particular
subject area than most others are. The important principle is: If a
claim conflicts with expert opinion, we have good reason to doubt it.
- We must couple this principle with another one: When the
experts disagree about a claim, we have good reason to doubt it. When
we rely on bogus expert opinion, we commit the fallacy known as the appeal
- Many claims are based on nothing more than personal experience,
ours or someone else’s. We can trust our personal experienceto a point.
The guiding principle is: It’s reasonable to accept the evidence provided
by personal experience only if there’s no reason to doubt it.
- Some common factors that can raise such doubts are impairment
(stress, injury, distraction, emotional upset, and the like), expectation,
and our limited abilities in judging probabilities.
- Some of the common mistakes we make in evaluating claims are
resisting contrary evidence, looking for confirming evidence, and
preferring available evidence.
- To counteract these tendencies, we need to take deliberate
steps to examine critically even our most cherished claims, search for
disconfirming evidence as well as confirming, and look beyond evidence
that is merely the most striking or memorable.
Claims in the News
- Many of the unsupported claims we encounter are in news
reports. Reporters, editors, and producers are under many pressures that
can lead to biased or misleading reporting. The biggest factor is
moneythe drive for profits in news organizations, especially those owned
by larger corporations or conglomerates.
- Reporters themselves may introduce inaccuracies, biases, and
personal opinions. And the people who produce the news may decide not to
cover certain stories (or aspects of stories), which can sometimes provide
a skewed or erroneous picture of an issue or event.
- The best defense against being misled by news reports is a
reasonable skepticism and a critical approach that involves, among other
things, looking for slanting, examining sources, checking for missing
facts, and being on the lookout for false emphasis.
Advertising and Persuasion
- Advertising is another possible source of unsupported or
misleading claims. We should realize that we generally have good reason to
doubt advertising claims and to be wary of advertising’s persuasive