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Critical Thinking Read And Discussion

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 Study this article (attached), then post a 200-word entry in two parts:

1) Write about one thing you learned in this article and

2) Describe a specific personal example of significant missing information from your own past experiences

What Significant Information is Omitted?

How compelling are the following advertisements?

Try Happyme, the number one doctor prescribed treatment for depression. See Kingdom of Heaven, the best action film of the year!

The purpose of the advertisements is, of course, to persuade you to buy more of the designated product and to see the designated movie. Even before your critical-thinking skills developed to their current level, you knew that such advertisements tell less than the whole truth. For example, if the Happyme Company gives a bigger discount to psychiatrists than do other pharmaceutical companies, provides psychiatrists with greater numbers of free samples, or provides cruises for psychiatrists who use their product, you are unlikely to see this information included in the ad. You will not see that information, but it is quite relevant to your decision about what to take for your depression.

While critical thinkers are seeking the strength of autonomy, they cannot do so if they are making decisions on the basis of highly limited information. Almost any conclusion or product has some positive characteristics. Those who have an interest in telling us only the information they want us to know will tell us all of these positive characteristics in great and vivid detail. But they will hide the negative aspects of their conclusions. Thus, actual autonomy requires our persistent searching for what is being hidden, either accidentally or on purpose.

Critical Question: What significant information is omitted?

The Benefits of Detecting Omitted Information

You should remember that almost any information that you encounter has a purpose. In other words, its organization was selected and organized by someone who hoped that it would affect your thinking in some way. Hence, your task is to decide whether you wish to be an instrument of the chosen purpose. Often that purpose is to persuade you.

 Advertisers, teachers, politicians, authors, speakers, and parents all organize information to shape your decisions. It is a natural and highly predictable desire on their part. Thus, those trying to persuade you will almost always try to present their position in the strongest possible light. So when you find what you believe to be persuasive reasons—those gold nuggets for which you are prospecting—it’s wise to hesitate and to think about what the author may not have told you, something that your critical questioning has not yet revealed.

By significant omitted information, we mean information that would affect whether you should be influenced by a speaker’s or writer’s arguments, that is, information that shapes the reasoning. Interspersed throughout the chapter will be examples of reasoning that is not very convincing, not because of what is said but because of what is omitted. Study the examples carefully and notice how in each case the failure to look for omitted information would have resulted in your making a premature and potentially erroneous judgment.

The Certainty of Incomplete Reasoning

Incomplete reasoning is inevitable for several reasons.

First, there is the limitation imposed by time and space. Arguments are incomplete because communicators do not have forever to organize them, nor do they have unlimited space or time in which to present their reasons.

Second, most of us have a very limited attention span; we get bored when messages are too long. Thus, communicators often feel a need to get their message across quickly. Advertisements and editorials reflect both these factors. For example, editorials are limited to a specific number of words, and the argument must both be interesting and make the author’s point. Editorial writers, therefore, engage in many annoying omissions. Television commentators are notorious for making highly complicated issues sound as if they are simple. They have very little time to provide the degree of accurate information that you will need to form a reasonable conclusion. So, our minds need to do a lot of extra work to fill in the many gaps in what they have to say in these situations.

 A third reason for the inevitability of missing information is that the knowledge possessed by the person making the argument will always be incomplete.

A fourth reason why information may be omitted is because of an outright attempt to deceive. Advertisers know they are omitting key bits of information. If they were to describe all the chemicals or cheap component parts that go into their products, you would be less likely to buy them. Experts in every field consciously omit information when open disclosure would weaken the persuasive effect of their advice. Such omissions are particularly tempting if those trying to advise you see you as a “sponge.”

A final important reason why omitted information is so prevalent is that the values, beliefs, and attitudes of those trying to advise or persuade you are frequently different from yours. You can expect, therefore, that their reasoning will be guided by different assumptions from those you would have brought to the same question. Critical thinkers value curiosity and reasonableness; those working to persuade you often want to extinguish your curiosity and to encourage you to rely on unreasonable emotional responses to shape your choices.

A particular perspective is like a pair of blinders on a horse. The blinders improve the tendency of the horse to focus on what is directly in front of it. Yet, an individual’s perspective, like blinders on a horse, prevents that person from noting certain information that would be important to those who reason from a different frame of reference. Unless your perspective is identical to that of the person trying to persuade you, important omissions of information are to be expected.

Let’s review. Omitted information is inevitable for at least five reasons.

1. time and space limitations,

2. limited attention span,

3. inadequacies in human knowledge,

4. deception and

5. existence of different perspectives.

Questions that Identify Omitted Information

If you are now convinced that reasoning will necessarily be incomplete, you may ask, “What am I supposed to do?” Well, initially you have to remind yourself that regardless of how attractive the reasons supporting a particular decision or opinion may seem at first glance, it’s necessary to take another look in search of omitted information.

How do you search, and what can you expect to find? You ask questions to help decide what additional information you need, and then ask questions designed to reveal that information.

Isn’t it silly to ask questions of an author who cannot answer? Not at all! Although the writer won’t answer your questions, asking him has positive results.

· First, you may be able to supply the missing information because of what you already know.

· Second, searching for omitted information in persuasive writing gives you good practice for when you are able to search for omitted information face-to-face with a teacher or anyone else who is trying to persuade you orally.

Even more importantly, searching for missing information prevents you from making up your mind too soon. By asking such questions of written material, you are reminding yourself that the information provided is incomplete and that whatever conclusion you reach on the basis of incomplete information will necessarily be very tentative.

There are many different kinds of questions you can use to identify relevant omitted information. Some questions you have already learned to ask will highlight important omitted information. For example, asking critical questions about ambiguity, the use of evidence, and the quality of assumptions usually identifies relevant omitted information. In addition, to help you determine omitted information that might get overlooked by other critical questions, we provide you below with a list of some important kinds of omitted information and some examples of questions to help detect them.

Being aware of these specific types should help you a lot in locating relevant omitted information. Because there are so many kinds of important omitted information, however, you should always ask yourself the general question, “Has the speaker or writer left out any other information that I need to know before I judge the quality of his reasoning?”

Let’s examine some arguments that have omitted some of the types of information just listed and watch how each omission might cause us to form a faulty conclusion. Only by asking that omitted information be supplied in each case could you avoid this danger. Initially, let’s look at an advertising claim.

Zitout brand facial cleanser’s commercials claim that the cleanser removes 95 percent of deep-down dirt and oil, helping to fight unsightly blemishes.

Should we all run out and buy Zitout facial cleanser? Wait just a minute! Among many omissions, the advertisement fails to include any of the following pieces of information:

1. what percentage of deep-down dirt and oil other facial cleansers remove; maybe they remove 99 percent of dirt and oil;

2. amount of dirt and oil removed by washing with soap alone; it might be possible that faces can be cleaned adequately with normal soap;

3. potential negative consequences of using this specific product; it is possible that some of the ingredients might cause excessive dryness or pose cancer risks;

4. other sources of blemishes; perhaps dirt and oil are not the highest concerns when washing one’s face;

5. how much dirt and oil is necessary to cause blemishes; maybe five percent will still cause a significant number of blemishes; and

6. other advantages or disadvantages of the facial cleanser, such as smell, price, and length of effective action. The advertiser has omitted much significant data that you would need if you were to buy wisely.

Do you see how advertising phrases like “4 out of 5 doctors agree,” “all natural,” “fat free,” “low in carbs,” “good for your heart,” “number 1 leading brand,” “ADA approved,” and “no added preservatives” may all be accurate but misleading because of omitted information?

It’s pretty obvious that advertising omits much relevant information. Let’s now take a look at a more complicated reasoning example. Read the following excerpt and ask yourself what has been omitted, referring to our list for clues to your search.

A great way to keep a buzz going for longer is to mix energy drinks with alcohol. The energy from the drink allows you to party longer as the alcohol does not affect you as much as it would without the energy drink. Plus, the added stimulants in the energy drink keep you alert, preventing you from becoming impaired due to alcohol consumption. Studies have shown that people mixing energy drinks with alcohol can party 65 percent longer. Also, energy drinks prevent hangovers, as surveys have shown that people who mix alcohol and energy drinks report 75 percent fewer hangovers than drinking alcohol alone causes, while maintaining a buzz 59 percent longer. Furthermore, Super Stim, a leading brand of energy drink, does not mention anything about negative health consequences on their website from mixing their drink with alcohol.

Clearly, there is much good and no harm in mixing energy drinks and alcohol. What important information do you need to know before you can decide whether mixing energy drinks and alcohol is helpful and safe? Let us suggest some questions.

What common counterarguments or counterexamples might doctors or other specialists use to refute this reasoning? We can imagine counterarguments highlighting that hangovers are a result of dehydration, and that caffeine, commonly found in large quantities in energy drinks, is a diuretic, also causing dehydration. Also, the stimulants will keep people alert, but do not prevent impairment, giving people a false sense of being more sober than they really are.

What are possible health risks associated with mixing stimulants and depressants? It is important to know that researchers at Ball State University have recently released statements saying the mixing of stimulants and depressants in energy drinks and alcohol respectively can cause cardiopulmonary and cardiovascular failures. What counts as an “energy drink?” What value assumptions does the argument contain that lead to an advocating of mixing energy drinks and alcohol?

What is the origin of the facts alluded to in the argument? How does the author know that people can party 65 percent longer, and people experience 75 percent fewer hangovers? Also, how confident can we be of the survey reports of fewer hangovers? We know nothing about the research cited. So, we cannot judge the quality of the statistics provided.

For example, is it helpful to you to know that in numerous recent studies, researchers have demonstrated how mixing energy drinks can lead to increased heart and liver problems? It is also important to realize that there is little specific evidence on whether energy drinks are helpful or harmful, on their own, to one’s health. We would certainly want to examine these other studies, as well as the ones cited in the passage, to better evaluate all of the evidence available regarding the mixing of energy drinks and alcohol.

Would other research methods give us a different view of the safety of mixing energy drinks and alcoholic beverages? Would survey data results differ from tests performed in a laboratory on the interactions of chemicals in energy drinks and alcohol? Would a double-blind study giving people various drinks involving mixes of alcohol, stimulants, or a placebo liquid accurately provide statistics on risks from mixing energy drinks and alcohol? We also know nothing about the author. It is relevant to find out any possible associations the author has with energy drink companies or providers of alcohol as these connections might bias the research. Also, if the author is a doctor unattached to either energy drink or alcohol companies, this information might lend credibility to the author’s claims. The author has presented us with a very incomplete picture. Unless you complete the picture, your decision about the safety of mixing energy drinks and alcohol will be uninformed.

Omitted Information That Remains Missing

Just because you are able to request important missing information does not guarantee a satisfactory response. It is quite possible that your probing questions cannot be answered. Do not despair! You did your part. You requested information that you needed to make up your mind; you must now decide whether it is possible to arrive at a conclusion without the missing information. We warned you earlier that reasoning is always incomplete. Therefore, to claim automatically that you cannot make a decision as long as information is missing would prevent you from ever forming any opinions.


What Significant Information Is Omitted?

When an author is trying to persuade you of something, she often leaves out important information. This information is often useful in assessing the worth of the conclusion. By explicitly looking for omitted information, you can determine whether the author has provided you with enough information to support the reasoning. If she has left out too much information, you cannot accept the reasons as support for the conclusion. Consequently, you should choose to reject her conclusion

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