GEOG 882
Geographic Foundations of Geospatial Intelligence

2.5 Critical Thinking


Critical thinking is an important skill in graduate study, but it is an even more important skill for the geospatial intelligence practitioner. Oftentimes, geospatial intelligence analysis, evaluations, and recommendations help decision-makers in government or relief agencies literally make life and death decisions. But what is critical thinking?

According to a panel of experts, here is a statement regarding critical thinking and the ideal critical thinker:

We understand critical thinking to be purposeful, self-regulatory judgment which results in interpretation, analysis, evaluation, and inference, as well as explanation of the evidential, conceptual, methodological, criteriological, or contextual considerations upon which that judgment is based. CT is essential as a tool of inquiry. As such, CT is a liberating force in education and a powerful resource in one's personal and civic life. While not synonymous with good thinking, CT is a pervasive and self rectifying human phenomenon. The ideal critical thinker is habitually inquisitive, well-informed, trustful of reason, open minded, flexible, fair-minded in evaluation, honest in facing personal biases, prudent in making judgments, willing to reconsider, clear about issues, orderly in complex matters, diligent in seeking relevant information, reasonable in the selection of criteria, focused in inquiry, and persistent in seeking results which are as precise as the subject and the circumstances of inquiry permit. Thus, educating good critical thinkers means working toward this ideal. It combines developing CT skills with nurturing those dispositions which consistently yield useful insights and which are the basis of a rational and democratic society.
Credit: Critical Thinking: A Statement of Expert Consensus for Purposes of Educational Assessment and Instruction. Peter A. Facione, principle investigator, The California Academic Press, Millbrae, CA, 1990.

According to Peter A. Facione in Critical Thinking: What is It and Why It Counts (Millbrae, CA. California Academic Press, 1998, pp. 1-16.), the expert panel cited above says a critical thinker has mastered six cognitive skills (core thinking skills) and has seven affective dispositions towards critical thinking.

Cognitive Skills

  • Interpretation
  • Analysis
  • Evaluation
  • Inference
  • Explanation
  • Self-Regulation

Interpretation is to comprehend and express the meaning or significance of a wide variety of experiences, situations, data, events, judgments, conventions, beliefs, rules procedures, or criteria. The three sub-skills of interpretation are categorization, decoding significance, and clarifying meaning.

Analysis is to identify the intended and actual inferential relationships among statements, questions, concepts, descriptions, or other forms of representation intended to express belief, judgment, experiences, reasons, information, or opinions. The three sub-skills of analysis are examining ideas, detecting arguments, and analyzing arguments.

Evaluation is to assess the credibility of statements or other representations which are accounts or descriptions of a person, perception, experience, situation, judgment, belief, or opinion; and to assess the logical strength of the actual or intended inferential relationships among statements, descriptions, questions or other forms of representation.

Inference is to identify and secure elements needed to draw reasonable conclusions; to form conjectures and hypotheses; to consider relevant information and to educe the consequences flowing from data, statements, principles, evidence, judgments, beliefs, opinions, concepts, descriptions, questions, or other forms of representation. The three sub-skills of inference are querying evidence, conjecturing alternatives, and drawing conclusions.

Explanation is to state the results of one's reasoning; to justify that reasoning in terms of the evidential, conceptual, methodological, criteriological, and contextual considerations upon which one's results were based; and to present one's reasoning in the form of cogent arguments. The sub-skills under explanation are stating results, justifying procedures, and presenting arguments.

Self-Regulation is to self-consciously monitor one's cognitive activities, the elements used in those activities, and the results educed, particularly by applying skills in analysis, and evaluation to one's own inferential judgments with a view toward questioning, confirming, validation, or correcting either one's reasoning or one's results. The two sub-skills here are self-examination and self-correction.

The experts also said that a true critical thinker has a critical spirit. This is not to say that they are by any means negative or mean. It does mean that they have "a probing inquisitiveness, keenness of mind, a zealous dedication to reason, and a hunger or eagerness for reliable information."

Dispositions Toward Critical Thinking

  • Inquisitive
  • Systematic
  • Analytical
  • Open-minded
  • Judicious
  • Truth seeking
  • Confident in reasoning

As you read various articles, examine data, listen to the ideas of your classmates and continue in your coursework, do so with a critical eye. Ask yourself:

  • What is the essential element of an argument or position?
  • Is there a hidden agenda?
  • What is the essential information to support the argument?
  • Are the facts true or are they only assumptions?
  • What information would weaken or refute the argument?
  • Is this information available elsewhere, but not provided in the article?
  • What information would significantly strengthen the argument?
  • Is it available and is it false or true?
  • What correlation or associations are suggested?

Even more important than challenging the thought of others is to challenge your own thinking and your own assumptions (Self Regulation!). Ask these questions and you will have applied a critical thinking model.

Below is a reading and several helpful websites.

Take a look at the website for "The Critical Thinking Community"(Last accessed August 4, 2013). As you can see, there is a lot of thought and effort that goes into this important topic. The Foundation for Critical Thinking (that is their website above) publishes a series of excellent small books such as:

  • Paul, Richard and Linda Elder. The Thinker's Guide For Students On How to Study & Learn. Dillon Beach, CA: The Foundation for Critical Thinking, 2003.
  • Paul, Richard and Linda Elder. The Thinker's Guide to The Nature and Functions of Critical & Creative Thinking. Dillon Beach, CA: The Foundation for Critical Thinking, 2004, pp. 21-47.

Here is "A Guide to Critical Thinking About What You See on the Web." Just because it is on the web does not make it a good resource. Check this guidance for use of the web:

Required Reading

Please read Facione, Peter A. Critical Thinking: What it Is and Why it Counts. Millbrae, CA. California Academic Press, 2013, pp. 1-28. The reading can be accessed from the Lesson 02 Checklist.