So the new term and new academic year is now in full flow and you will soon find yourself with a whole pile of new course work. That being the case I thought it may be a good time to revisit September’s post ‘critical thinking – prepare for success’. Shortly after we published our blog the media focused in on a ruling as to whether a defendant was required to remove her face veil when giving her evidence from behind a screen. The lesson to learn here is that you should not take your lead from the media. What the ensuing debate chose to ignore, was that the judge didn’t pass his verdict without first considering the competing interests of the prosecution who deemed that allowing it would prejudice their case and the defence who deemed it their client’s right. The reality is that the judge heard arguments from both sides and having examined the relevant precedent, he then came to a view. This is essential and applies to you if are asked to critically analyse anything, you must consider and evaluate the claims made by the academics, ‘experts’, official bodies, journalists etc. and ask yourself if the basis of these claims is sound and whether they apply or are relevant to the situation you are examining. It is not enough to simply include references to other writers and summaries of their criticisms; whilst this is necessary, if it is all you do, then you’ll find yourself arguing a mutated general point that has nothing to do with the topic you are being asked to analyse.
In the court case in question every paper, news report and morning chat show was asking whether we would be happy to be taught by teachers or treated by doctors wearing Niqabs. Nobody on any of the reports I watched or read asked how many teachers or doctors worn a Niqab to work or, indeed, whether there were any that did! The entire country appeared to be caught up in an entirely theoretical debate.
A few weeks have passed and now the question has morphed into an analysis of whether the face veil should be worn in any situation at all. By divorcing debate from specificity, we end up with theoretical solutions to perceived problems rather than existing ones. When writing essays or analysing work problems it is usually useful to remember that even though the basic proposition may be true, the resulting claims may be false or only partly true and if the basic idea or claim is faulty, then the whole argument will be faulty. For example, if you show that someone has based an argument on the false hypothesis that “all house prices have fallen below 2007 prices as a result of the recession” (some have but some have not), then you have critically analysed the claim.