Communications as "Arguments"
The vast majority of communications that we receive attempt to lead us to a particular conclusion or point of view. This is true not only of scientific articles and presentations, but also of of many types of media including books, films, speeches, magazine articles, etc. The authors want us to accept and embrace their conclusions, beliefs, or their point of view. In a sense, all of these communications can be thought of as arguments with an assertion or conclusion and supporting elements consisting of evidence and reasons for interpreting the evidence in a way that moves you closer to the authors' conclusions.
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An ideal communication will do the following:
- Raise important questions.
- Present accurate, relevant information and interpret it correctly.
- Consider the limitations of the data or alternative conclusions.
- Come to well-reasoned conclusions.
- Communicate clearly.
Nevertheless, many communications fail on one or more of these points. Consciously or unconsciously, the authors may lead us toward invalid conclusions by:
- Citing evidence that is inaccurate
- Selectively citing only evidence that supports their point of view
- Appealing to emotion
- Flawed reasoning.
- Is the purpose clearly stated?
- What supporting evidence is presented? (Facts? Opinions?)
- What sources of information were used?
- Is the information of high quality?
- Is it up to date?
- Can the facts be verified for accuracy?
- Is th information complete?
- What other information would you like to have?
- Is statistical analysis used or cited? Is it appropriate?
- Are there opinions?
- Are there vested interests?
- "Expert" testimony? What are the credential of the experts?
- Is the writing slanted? (Provocative language? Forceful? Mocking? Dismissive? Authoritative?
- Does the language evoke anger, fear, or pity?
- Do the authors acknowledge the limitations of the information?
- Are alternative perspectives discussed, refuted, or at least acknowledged?
- Are you fully convinced?
- Are there alternative perspectives that were not presented or addressed?
- Is the reasoning sound?
- Do the arguments rest on unproven or shaky assumptions?
- What propaganda techniques are used?