Critical Thinking, Higher Education

Evidence, Argument, and Instruction, Oh My.

Just after the January 6th assault on the US Capitol, I wrote a blog in which I discussed what I felt were the limits of “truthiness.” In my thinking, our cultural habit of embracing the laughter that accompanies the snarkiness of that term (a feeling I truly love, by the way), was not helping us anymore. While truthiness summarizes an important moment in the history of politics and the news, it also seems to leave us at the laughing stage, which is not the right place to stop. We’ve gotten complacent about taking that important next step of questioning the thinking behind “truthy” claims and arguments. Now more than ever we need to commit to that hard work.

I was calling for my colleagues in higher education to commit to teaching informal logic. As a young adult, I remember that before I had the tools that I gleaned from that foundational philosophy class, I often felt bullied by arguments I sensed were wrong. I just couldn’t break them down properly. Those many years ago, I remember the awakening I felt in Dr. James Freeman’s class at Hunter College. In mapping out the structure of arguments, I suddenly felt able to defend myself, and to think things through. I kept his book, Thinking Logically: Basic Concepts for Reasoning, on my shelf for many years.

Well, to my delight an old family friend, Dr. Mark Battersby (emeritus faculty from Capilano University), who has spent his career teaching philosophy and trying to further the instruction in critical thinking and its necessary components argument and evidence responded to that column. Mark and his frequent writing partner, Dr. Sharon Bailin have written several texts addressing the teaching of critical thinking, most recently Reason in the Balance: An Inquiry Approach to Critical Thinking (2nd Edition). Well, Mark wanted to remind me that without attention to evaluating evidence, mapping arguments will not get us very far. Indeed!

Evaluating evidence should be the heart of all that we do in higher education. No amount of diagramming arguments or participating in debates will work if we cannot distinguish between good and bad (better or worse) evidence. Whether considering probabilities, the validity of a scientific experiment, or the basis for making an ethical judgement, evidence is the critical element in our decision making. I would suggest that this particular skill is almost the entire point of an undergraduate degree.

Nevertheless, we have a way of neglecting the direct instruction necessary to build the capacity of our students to evaluate evidence. We seem to get bogged down in “covering material” instead of evaluating it. Or we focus on the techniques of math (statistics) or experimental design, while neglecting the frameworks for the questions that these techniques are meant to help us explore. Then there are those who feel that indirect instruction is best. The thinking seems to be that modeling the evaluation of evidence and arguments in our lectures and class discussions is sufficient for student enlightenment.

Well, I just don’t think these approaches are sufficient. The barrage of (mis)information that we encounter every day, and the assault on authority of all kinds, as an extension of the US commitment to individuality and independence, are testing the limits of our collective skills at evaluation of evidence. It is too much to handle by osmosis. We need to hone a toolkit.

At WCSU, we have at least four general education competencies that are rooted in the evaluation of arguments and evidence. Information Literacy takes on sources and ethical use of information. Writing Tier 1 (Composition I) connects the writing process to critical thinking. Oral Communication requires students to determine “the boundaries of arguments” and “identify and site relevant and appropriate evidence.” Critical Thinking asks students to “distinguish between arguments and unsupported claims” and “evaluate assumptions and the quality and reliability of evidence.” I should add that Scientific Inquiry and Quantitative Reasoning also play an important role in laying the foundations for competence in evaluating evidence. Given that we only have a few other categories in the general education curriculum, it seems that we care deeply about fostering the habits of mind and the skills necessary for critical thinking.

What is missing, however, is evidence that we are offering direct instruction in these topics. We are mostly relying on osmosis, and in this high speed internet world, with no true habits of reflection, only reaction, it is too easy to miss the logical leaps and faulty claims if we don’t know how to label them as such.

Let me commit, again, to the importance of direct instruction in the dissection of arguments and strategies to evaluate evidence. Our students need the vocabulary that comes from informal logic and an understanding of probabilities to even begin tearing apart and rebuilding arguments. These foundations are as essential as basic literacy and arithmetic. They are the building blocks for a successful college career.

Now I don’t have an opinion on which courses or disciplines are the best contexts for laying these foundations. It is possible to cultivate these skills in any discipline, and at WCSU, where we have adopted a competencies-across-the-curriculum approach, this instruction is dispersed. That’s fine. But those who take it on should make it central to the class, not a brief unit for a few weeks, and there should be a common vocabulary in the end. And, since the knowledge is foundational, students should encounter and develop their initial skills with these ideas in the first year.

This does mean reprioritizing some of the things that we do but imagine how much more fun we can have in later courses if students have these tools to draw on! If we do it right, we will also see improvement in student success overall. And perhaps most important of all, our graduates will be prepared to make informed decisions and arguments for the rest of their lives. Now that’s a learning outcome I would love.

Critical Thinking, Dialogue, Higher Education

The Trouble with Truthiness

When Stephen Colbert coined the term “truthiness” in 2005, I had a good laugh. Indeed, it was at the high point of my laughing at the nightly parodies of the ridiculousness of the political world, seen on The Daily Show and The Colbert Report. Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert were adept at selecting clips from news briefings and news coverage to tell stories of hypocrisy, absurdity, and outright lies put forth by, well it seems like everyone, but particularly conservatives at the time.

Those evening news parodies were an interesting development. Comedy Central was taking on the mainstream and less mainstream media, when those traditional outlets seemed to have abdicated their responsibility to get at, well, the truth. Mainstream media had become all that Neil Postman described in his classic book, Amusing Ourselves to Death. Spurred on by the 24-hour news cycle and the profit-making imperative supported by the erosion of the Fairness Doctrine, regular news had devolved into soundbites with no analysis and lots of snappy hairdos. Stewart and Colbert filled a cultural void, calling out the media as much as the politicians they were skewering.

It was a deliciously sarcastic position and I laughed. But eventually, I stopped watching. As great as some of the follow-up programs have been with Trevor Noah, John Oliver, and even Colbert, slowly but surely my ability to laugh faded away. It just wasn’t funny anymore. My sense of humor seemed to be signaling to me the world that was to come–one devoid of any commitment to reason and facts at all. In other words, I left that wonderful world of parody before 2016. Apparently, I could see what was coming.

Now here we are at a shocking moment in US history and all I can think about is the notion of truthiness.

Truthiness is defined by Wikipedia as follows:

Truthiness is the belief or assertion that a particular statement is true based on the intuition or perceptions of some individual or individuals, without regard to evidencelogicintellectual examination, or facts.[1][2] Truthiness can range from ignorant assertions of falsehoods to deliberate duplicity or propaganda intended to sway opinions.”

Yes, I chose Wikipedia over Webster’s in deference to the original presentation on The Colbert Report, in which books were called elitist (I can still laugh at some things).

Now the joke was meant to name a practice that was (is) widespread, calling it out so we might guard against it, or at least notice it. (I take the liberty of claiming that intention, but I think I have read the strategies of irony correctly.) Unfortunately, what seems to have happened is a complete embrace of the “gut feelings” that Colbert cited in his announcement of this word in 2005, without any desire to consider the (f)actual arguments that might undermine those feelings.

The trouble is the joke only works if there is a commitment to the habits of logical reasoning. As any media ecologist can recite, while the roots of good argument are debated in Ancient Greece, the habits of logical reasoning for the masses emerged with mass literacy and mass education. Moving away from mass literacy and toward television and social media has undermined the very idea of logical arguments and makes seeking truth look silly. Indeed, truth is almost impossible to pursue in a world where there is no time allotted to evaluation. Instead, we focus on the new, the next, the statement devoid of context. As we replaced sustained arguments with decontextualized “conversations” that take place in brief videos, inflammatory Facebook posts, and impulsive tweets, we made truthiness the standard, not the joke.

We are in a pickle folks because truthiness is no way to run a democracy, fight a pandemic, or resolve injustice. Something’s got to give.

Now don’t get me wrong, we have always operated on the gut feelings that trigger truthiness. It is the starting place for most (all) opinions. We all live in a worldview that shapes those gut feelings, and they are not without biases. These worldviews shape everything from food preferences to ideas about international political structures and there is no sense in fighting those initial feelings. They are, indeed, our reality. No, I am not trying to suggest that our connection to our gut feelings is new, nor are they without value. However, I am suggesting that what happens next is what matters.

What happens next must be a commitment to the thorough investigation of those feelings. Those investigations must include a well-developed understanding of logic and contradictions. They must include at basic understanding of statistics and probabilities. It must have a foundation in how science works. It must engage the moral frameworks that are shaping how we see the world. And yes, it must include some clarity on how political systems work.

It should not surprise anyone that what I am calling for is a commitment to education that truly weaves together the arts and sciences that make up our understandings of the world. In the last week, there have been many voices in higher education who are reminding us of the value of the liberal arts, and the humanities in particular. I don’t disagree, but I want to be just a little more specific. We need to commit to direct instruction in logical reasoning.

In a world that is no longer situated in the assumptions of a literate culture and its habitual search for coherence, higher education must teach these skills directly. We cannot assume that our students are getting the structure of arguments through our investigations of texts or through their exposure to laboratory procedures. No, we need to lay the foundations of logical reasoning as deliberately as we once taught sentence diagramming.

Education must commit to exposing and wrestling with contradictions in every class. We need to dig into the limits and the strengths of making decisions on probabilities wherever those decisions are present. We must not shy away from engaging disagreements in moral codes, but rather hold them up as questions to be wrestled with. We need to fully commit, not just to offering a liberal arts education, but to seeing that our students are developing the habits of mind that such an education should foster.

There is nothing new here. It is a classical liberal arts education that I am describing. But the context has changed, and the urgency of the understandings we hope to foster is clear. So, I’m giving up truthiness as a joke. It isn’t funny anymore. It represents an abdication of responsibility for seeking actual truth. But it is a useful idea and it neatly describes all that has occurred in the last week.

So let’s not laugh about truthiness anymore. Instead, I am asking all of us to commit to using the idea of truthiness to start the important conversations about logic and belief that must be the point of education. I am also asking us to be accountable for the changes we must make to our curriculum to make it happen. We can do this, and we must. The future of our country is at stake.

Critical Thinking, Higher Education

Back to Basics

As I listened to the news this morning, an old concern of mine re-emerged. From reports on vote tallies, to COVID-19 vaccine results, to the interpretation of census data and the potential impact on representation, I kept hearing statements that only partially captured the reasoning underneath. News reporting in every medium simplifies the story for the audiences involved, but that simplification leaves me worried about the conclusions people are drawing.

Today’s big news is about the results of Moderna’s vaccine trials. It is exciting to hear that, of the treatment group, @ 15,000 people, only 11 contracted COVID-19 and of those 11, none became severely ill. So, the short version is, this thing is 94% effective, and the next steps are for emergency approval. Yippee, I say. There is a light at the end of this semi-quarantined tunnel.

But here’s the thing, about 42% of Americans say they won’t take the vaccine, expressing a deep distrust of the science. Among those who distrust the results are groups of people who have historically been denied appropriate care or been deliberately abused by those testing treatments for various illnesses. Certainly, there is good reason for their skepticism. Memories are appropriately long, and trust is hard to regain. Nevertheless, I think the larger component of distrust stems from a lack of skill in evaluating evidence, probabilities, and arguments in general.

Consider the pre-COVID-19 world when we were discussing the growing opposition to vaccinations. For at least 20 years, we have been experiencing an erosion in trust of our vaccination protocols. While some argue from a freedom perspective, many more revert to arguments about safety. The feeling seems to be that since a very small percent of people who do get the vaccine either get the illness anyway or experience side-effects, then the vaccinations are unsafe. These exceptions, however small, seem to undermine the entirety of the vaccination argument for this group.

But what about the 95-98% effectiveness? Can we not build comfort in those probabilities? What about the fact that side effects are usually sore arms and low fevers? Can we not ease fears when the consequences appear so limited? What about the greater good created by herd immunity, protecting those who might be unable to take the vaccine due to other conditions? Can we not appeal to a sense of community to persuade? No, for the frightened parent, those assurances aren’t enough. That tiny, tiny chance of a bad outcome is enough to persuade them. The exceptions hold sway.

Ok, I understand. I raised children and I remember that deep breath I took when I held my child as the doctor administered vaccinations. For me, the fear still existed, but all those other things persuaded me to act. I also let my kids go to the playground, where thousands are injured each year. I let them ride in cars, where thousands are killed each year. I also lived by a lake knowing that accidental drownings are not uncommon. Perhaps, it was knowing that I play the probabilities all the time, helped me commit to vaccinations. Maybe.

Reflecting on this habit of focusing on the exceptions, I am once again driven to the conclusion that higher education needs to work a little harder at developing strong reasoning skills in our students. We need to help them understand that there are always uncertainties, but uncertainty should not lead to paralysis. Instead, it should help us make informed choices based on the best information we have at the time.

A lot of what we do in higher education is about opening our students’ minds to the complexities hidden in the stories they’ve learned all their lives. We dig into the challenging parts of our histories. We uncover the gaps in our exposure to voices from many cultures. We even reveal the non-linearity of scientific discovery, shaking faith in the certainty of that arena. It is a lot. It is a joy. It is necessary.

But those revelations are not enough. Indeed, they need to come second in the hierarchy of learning at college. To help our students see these big picture things, we should commit to some basic instruction in mapping arguments and evaluating evidence. We need to be intentional about developing the following basic skills:

  • Argument Mapping: Like the A, B, Cs, and the multiplication tables, we need to see argument mapping as a foundational skill that is introduced in the first year of college and revisited multiple times thereafter. Logic professors, rejoice. We need you to provide direct instruction in the form of arguments, the nature of fallacies, and the use and abuse of syllogisms.
  • Statistical Reasoning: Our students must develop a reasonable grasp of probability. So much evidence is based on probability, and written in statistical forms, that it would be neglectful to not make it a foundational skill for everyone. This, too, should be introduced early and woven throughout the curriculum thereafter.
  • Information Literacy: Finally, we need to help students understand how to weigh the credibility of a source. This is probably the hardest of all, but our librarians offer excellent, non-partisan ways to start. Yes, year one and repeated thereafter.

These skills must be part of all first year curriculum because they lay the foundation for everything else we do in college. They are also the tools necessary for all the important decisions our students will be faced with after graduation. They are, indeed, the capabilities necessary for life-long learning.

But most of all, we need to commit to these foundations because we don’t want students to take our word for things. We want them to have the right tools to make informed decisions for themselves. That, my friends, is what schools are for.

Critical Thinking, Engagement, Higher Education, Innovative Pedagogies

Productive Conversations

Eons ago (last Tuesday), before we learned that the President and First Lady had COVID-19, I was thinking a lot about the first presidential debate. As an educator, I’ve always encouraged my students to tune into these events as part of their obligation to be informed citizens. As a communication professor, I used to put these debates in context in terms of media employed and the stylistic elements that followed. I would provide them with excerpts from the Lincoln-Douglas debates, show clips from the Nixon and Kennedy debate, and remind them that hyperbole and mudslinging are in no way new. We would discuss the impact of the medium on these events, thinking through the biases of sound, image, and the differences between being in the room or watching from home. We also discussed rhetorical strategies and the key points of argument and persuasion. The students may have groaned at watching the debates, but they perked up in the discussion. It was fun.

Last week we saw what media ecologists might describe as the obvious “debate” style, when living in a world of instant, participatory communication, fueled by for-profit media structures. These media are antithetical to a true investigation of ideas and are devoid of a commitment to evidence. Television fully succumbed to shouting matches when we moved to 24-hour news cycles in the 80s. Time had to be filled, advertisers had to be bought with good ratings, and in the crowded world of cable TV, yelling was the winner. Indeed, through the 90s, I watched most of the shows with any kind of deliberation, become shouting matches or go off the air. Deliberation is lousy TV, after all, and not nearly “amusing” enough to survive. (1) Websites of all kinds then added immediate feedback to these shout-fests, and Facebook and Twitter helped us all promote our shouting to the world. We don’t just watch shouting, we shout along with the debaters, much in the way an audience at a pop concert no longer listens to the music but sings every song with the band. That’s not debate, that’s a chorus.

I am not going to go over what we saw on screen last Tuesday, smarter people have already done their best. What I am really thinking about is how to create some opportunities to foster productive conversations between regular people, off screen, and in non-monetized contexts. It seems to me that education is an important counterweight to all that cyber-yelling. (2) We absolutely cannot stop what is happening in all forms of electronic media. We can, however, model another way.

The good news is that education is the perfect context for this kind of modeling. We are all about argument (not yelling), evidence, and reflecting on different perspectives on a topic. Indeed, if we are not doing this, then we are not doing education. Whether we are talking about critiques of art and literature, arguments among philosophers and political theorists, or competing hypotheses about DNA, we are modeling arguments. As we sort through differences, sometimes the evidence is clear enough that we might even support a side/perspective/hypothesis (at least for now). But, not necessarily. Usually, we live with ambiguity.

But maybe it is time to be even more intentional about this, so that students really see that they are developing some good discussion skills, not just learning about a particular subject. In the past I have mentioned the idea of Debate Across the Curriculum (3) as an interesting educational strategy. Today, I am thinking about the civic learning initiatives from AAC&U. Drawing on A Crucible Moment: College and Democracy’s Future (4), they have spurred on several initiatives to try to promote teaching practices that foster engagement with democratic ideas. Well, it seems to me that productive conversations are at the heart of democratic ideas.

In a nice short summary chart called A Framework for Twenty-First-Century Civic Learning and Democratic Engagement two things really jump out at me (in 5).

  1. Understanding one’s sources of identity and their influence on civic values, assumptions, and responsibilities to a wider public. (Knowledge).
  2. Seeking, engaging, and being informed by multiple perspectives. (Skills).

Both of these are essential to supporting productive conversations. They ask us to think about our opinions/values, examine their sources, and reflect on how they shape our interactions with the world around us. This isn’t just argument for a right answer, it is a path to understanding. It is such a thoughtful phrasing, that does not seek to demean, but rather to examine. This seems like an excellent way to start showing our students that our goal is to prepare them for productive conversations, not yelling.

I think about the times I tried to discuss the semiotics with my students. Roland Barthes is engaging, but sometimes culturally distant from students in the United States (or in the 21st Century). To translate the ideas in Mythologies to my undergraduates, I often talked about hamburgers, yes, hamburgers. As a nearly life-long vegetarian, it is easy for me to access to symbolic value of hamburgers in the US. We usually had a lot of fun unpacking the ways in which refusing a hamburger can be, well, un-American. Then discussions of flags, national anthems, etc., would start to flow.

From this approach, and using myself as a foil, it seems like we could start to honestly discuss things like not standing for the national anthem or skipping the pledge of allegiance without hostility. It is not that we were all convinced of the validity of these moments of dissent, but we were all civil. We could better access understanding of that dissent by looking at our own values, their sources, and then thinking about those who disagree. On a particularly productive day we might even get to that most important of next steps –

3. Deliberation and bridge building across differences. (Skills)

This is the part that is so sorely lacking from our world right now. Our habits, like the media we use, tend toward taking sides and staying there. But important questions don’t have sides, they have nuances, deeply held convictions, counter-evidence and the need for reflection. I know I am not alone in yearning for more opportunities to build understanding with my students, friends, colleagues, and neighbors. So, let’s seize that desire and do something about it.

No, television, Facebook and Twitter “debates” are not going to improve. The media they occupy just do not support the details and the slow transformation that a depth of understanding requires. They are excellent places for slogans and barbs, but not for evaluating policy or supporting community engagement with important ideas.

But education, now that is the right place to be working on this kind of thinking. After all, we love slow. We live in an older kind of discourse that requires evidence, reflection, and fallibility. We absolutely have the time to go ahead and examine why we are disagreeing and potentially identify some paths forward.

So, let’s make modeling productive conversations a priority and let’s make sure our students recognize these as the core of what education does. In doing so we just might make the world a better place.

  1. Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death.
  2. Neil Postman, Teaching as a Conserving Activity
  3. Alfred Snider and Max Schnurer, Many Sides: Debate Across the Curriculum
  4. AAC&U, A Crucible Moment: College and Democracy’s Future
  5. Caryn McTighe Musil, Civic Prompts: Making Civic Learning Routine Across the Curriculum

Critical Thinking, Higher Education

The COVID-19 Toolkit: Critical Thinking

A few years ago, my university adopted a new general education curriculum.  We moved from a distribution model that featured exposure to ideas in different categories (humanities, social sciences, sciences) to a model with defined learning outcomes for ten general education categories (scientific inquiry, mathematical reasoning, oral communication, etc.).  We named this a competency model, which was definitely a mistake, but the change did help us focus on the notion that our students should develop particular skills and habits of mind as part of the general education experience.

Among those “competencies” was critical thinking.  We had a lot of conversation around this one.  As it turns out, every discipline wants to claim that they teach critical thinking. The agreed upon definition, which describes the evaluation of arguments, was twisted to fit into every possible version of critique. The word “argument” was stretched to include every aesthetic choice and there was a general claim that you cannot teach anything without doing critical thinking.  Would that this were so.

In the face of this pandemic, it has become exceedingly clear that as a culture we have failed to teach critical thinking in any meaningful way.  From the misunderstanding of the use of masks to the over-generalization of preliminary scientific investigations to the mistaken notion that this quarantine is designed to stop COVID-19 completely, we are awash in evidence that we do not know what evidence is. And don’t get me started on the idea of trusted sources. We have clearly lost our collective minds on that one. Higher education must remedy this immediately.

Here is where I think we went wrong.  We do teach the basics of critical thinking, but we do not always connect those basics in humanities classes, to the hypothesis testing in science classes, or to the structure of probabilities in statistics. We also seem to be satisfied with the starting principles (often black and white/true or false constructs), and less committed to the complications of the gray areas.*

For example, most of our students have had an experience of science that involves hypothesis testing. This is good because hypothesis testing is the primary mechanism for moving knowledge forward in the sciences.  It is an important method because it can yield both positive and negative results. To put it plainly, if there is no option to find your hypothesis wanting, you do not really have a hypothesis.

The trouble is  our basic understanding of hypothesis testing often leads to the faulty idea that hypotheses yield true or false conclusions. This is rarely the case.  They lead to conclusions that are more likely to be true or more likely to be false.  A good research protocol continues to build on those likelihoods until there is enough evidence to propose an action or at least a reasonable working assumption.  That leaves a lot of gray area, yes gray area is science.

Then there are the informal logic classes.  These focus on the structure of arguments, and the incredibly important tool of the syllogism.  You all remember a variation of this one:

  • All human beings are mortal.
  • Socrates is a human being.
  • Therefore, Socrates is mortal.

It is such a simple and elegant tool.  I remember when I first encountered it.  It was as if I suddenly had the tools to defend myself from arguments that I had felt bullied into accepting.  I went on to learn about manipulations of syllogisms, which abound in the world of politics and advertising, and the abuses of language that can mislead (weasel words), and I was properly empowered.

The trouble is most of our knowledge is not as simple as this construct allows. True and false are rarely the conclusions of an argument. More true and less true are the much more common realities. As much as I love the syllogism, it has a way of suggesting certainty where none exists.

Then there are our statistics classes. We have determined that statistics is foundational for many research programs (business, psychology, communication, and so on), because it is how ideas move forward in these disciplines. Basic understandings of T-Tests or Chi-Squares or ANOVAs are important tools for many career paths, and students who pay attention in these classes will develop their ability to use these tools. This is to the good. Unfortunately, we do not seem to be succeeding with the other important part of statistics–decoding and interpreting probabilities.

The person not tasked with doing statistics must still be able to interpret them. In all cases, what we are interpreting is the strength of the findings–the probability that we could get the same result with another, similar sample. Understanding how to determine the strength of a finding is so important to our lives, that I would call it an essential learning outcome. As we consider the barrage of “information” about COVID-19, essential learning becomes a matter of life and death.

Take the question of the effectiveness of face masks. Masks are a containment measure, but not an absolute one. They contain the spray we emit from our mouths and noses when talking, coughing, sneezing, etc. The argument for wearing them is to protect others from you in case you are an unknowing carrier of COVID-19. The argument is not that the masks will prevent all spread of COVID-19, but early studies suggest that it is a good tool in the effort to reduce the spread of this virus.

But wearing masks is not enough. We must use masks properly (cover nose and mouth).  We must remember not to touch our faces, even if we are wearing a mask, because we may encounter droplets spread by someone else.  We should probably stay 6 feet apart even with masks on (although, I think this argument is conflated with the typical spray range of 6 feet, and may be nullified by the wearing of masks), because that will remind us not to touch each other.  If we are in a high risk category, we should probably continue to stay home.

In other words, it is not as simple as

  • Wearing a mask will stop people from spreading COVID-19.
  • Everyone is wearing a mask.
  • Therefore, we will stop the spread of COVID-19.

The truth is more like

  • Wearing a mask will help to limit the spread of COVID-19.
  • Most people will wear a mask (I hope).
  • Therefore, we will limit the spread of COVID-19.

What the second syllogism needs to help us all feel a little better is some well-supported testing results that yield some probabilities that we can be comfortable with.  We are also going to need some points of comparison to help us live with results that are less than 100% perfect, because 100% effective is never a result of anything. We are going to need reminders of the things we already do that are not 100% safe and those statistics need to be calibrated to reasonableness (please do not give us car accidents).

We need to understand the connection between probabilities and hypotheses and/or syllogisms, and the realities of the vast gray areas in which we live. That is the only way we will be able to move out of our quarantined world. Critical thinking is the best tool we have for navigating the gray areas in which we live.  Higher education must address this habit of mind directly and often because our lives are at stake. To ignore this urgent need would be a dereliction of duty.

*Apologies for the simplification of logic, hypothesis testing, and probabilities. This is an essay. We all need to full courses.