To a large extent in the academic and business world things move forward by a thorough critique of the existing body of knowledge or by taking apart the position people take on a particular issue (usually in hindsight). Often very strong positions are held based on very shaky ground and expertise claimed based on little supporting evidence. I think it is always interesting when you look at a newspaper report or an article in the trade press one can always determine the authors own position vis a vis the issue being discussed as well as the position they take in the field of knowledge they are advancing.
What we need to do when we look at a report being presented to us at work, or even on the nightly television bulletin, is to learn how to evaluate what people say and weigh the truth and merit of the argument they are proposing.
When we listen to these arguments try to assess:
- What are the assumptions being mobilised by the author from her own perspective to support the case and what approach is being taken in the construction of the argument as far as evidence is concerned.
- What is the purpose of the review or report – what is it for and for whom is it written?
- What is being included or excluded from the author under scrutiny in terms of the body of knowledge and alternative views?
- How are countervailing views dealt with and what form of words is being used to describe them – dismissive, pejorative or supportive?
- How gaps in our understanding of the issue are explained – or are they glossed over and simplified in order to trivialise opposition?
- What is the actual or implied call to action – what is it the writer wishes you to buy or accept that forms the core of the message?
I personally also ask – so what have you brought to the party, what contribution have you added to my understanding of this topic?
The way to read a newspaper follows the same approach – it means we engage with the author and as a consequence perhaps we will learn something. Remember we should not accept any assertions, claims, or recourses to expertise from any authors of these papers or articles unless they demonstrate their expertise with erudite argument. We need to look at all of them with a skeptical eye and try to get behind the purpose of the message and how it is aimed to persuade and orient opinion in a certain way and in business to ensure the ‘right’ decision is made.