Scientific Research Needs Critical Scrutiny


A few days ago, I was invited to Kathmandu University to interact with students studying "Media Studies," and to discuss critical thinking in research. I spoke about the significance of critical thinking for accurate and meaningful arguments. Alongside, I had the opportunity to share my experiences with Dr. Kay Traille, a professor from Kennesaw State University. Among approximately 16 student participants, I shared my insights on the changes brought about by higher education, which I hoped would serve as inspiration for students engaged in academic pursuits. During this time, I felt a renewal of my own knowledge, particularly in critical thinking topics.

Critical thinking involves posing challenging questions without biases toward individuals, society, objects, or ideas. It's a type of inquiry that challenges the questioner themselves. It involves questioning one's own actions, questions, and behaviours to foster doubt, challenge, and explore alternative subjects. The term "critical thinking" was introduced by American philosopher John Dewey (1910), who originally referred to it as "reflective thinking." Edward Glaser, in his writing defining critical thinking, states that critical thinking is the analysis of facts, evidence, observations, and arguments so that decisions can be made through reasoned, skeptical, and impartial analysis and evaluation.

Critical mindset

Individuals with critical thinking abilities don't just think, they think critically. They delve into subjects or topics without prejudgment, interpret, analyse, debate, and reflect, fostering a critical mindset. It's an active, continuous, and cautious process of thought. A person engaging in critical questioning wears the crown of freedom, stepping into an open field. They aren't trapped or pressured by others. They step out of a closed box to observe the subject matter from outside. The qualities of critical thinking embody this. It's what makes it democratic and revolutionary, scientifically speaking. It doesn't enslave anyone. It enables one to soar like a bird in the open sky.

Individuals with critical thinking aren't influenced by societal status quo or oppressive powers. Where critical thinking isn't practiced or available, society doesn't become democratic, and scientific progress isn't desired. Non-democratic and unprogressive individuals rehearse in superficial and conventional arguments, wanting to keep themselves comfortable in one herd, rather than exploring alternative subjects. They neither question nor feel discomfort when others question. Such individuals lack critical thinking. Arguments from such individuals don't become scientific. Consequently, society lags behind since unscientific arguments don't lead society toward being scientific.

As much as society fosters critical thinkers, to that extent, it becomes civilised, and inclined towards science. Great thinkers were born with critical thinking. Plato, Aristotle, Socrates were born to ask questions, and they taught others to do so. After them, many other great thinkers were born, such as David Hume, Rousseau, Friedrich Nietzsche, Michel Foucault, etc. They questioned themselves, re-evaluated, and taught others to do the same, to look and see the world. The virtue of critical thinking gives birth to scientists and inventors, one after another, one argument after another. That's how respect and discovery in science occur, one after another, one argument after another. Thinkers like Albert Einstein, Newton, Karl Marx, Martin Heidegger, etc., were born from critical thinking. A thinker is also a philosopher. Thinkers born from critical thinking are close to philosophy. They are also philosophers.

The critical thinker can offer arguments against new theories. For example, Michel Foucault's thinking has helped raise issues regarding marginalised subjects, meaning that if we accept the customs of society and engage in its practices, those subjects continue to influence our lives and thoughts and regulate them. Through his arguments, he suggests that when someone upholds these beliefs, they continue to reinforce them and remain constantly engaged in practice, thus becoming enslaved to illusions. His ideas have become crucial principles for the study of sexual and gender subjects. Similarly, Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak and her subaltern theory have originated from her critical thinking. Her theory has aided in hearing the voice of the voiceless.

Determining how we construct or deconstruct society is a task that critical thinking supports. Are we merely surviving on logic? Are we providing society with logical reasoning for some time? This understanding is essential. Today, when thousands of scholars are being born who have dedicated themselves to research, it's crucial to understand whether they have been able to provide society and the nation with anything substantial. How much has society been able to produce scientists? This is an essential issue. Critical thinking is necessary to ask the right questions. The right questions lead to the right solutions to problems. Asking wrong questions ruins and corrupts society. Are we discussing critical thinking when conducting research and discussions at the university level? Are researchers' thoughts and arguments rather guided by emotion and favoritism? 

Conscious societies

If critical thinking is not employed properly, one tends to be guided by emotions. Have researchers been able to give scientific arguments in workshops on critical thinking? Scientific arguments demand and search for scientific explanations. Scientific explanations strengthen arguments. They make them believable and robust. They defeat fallacies. They provide new knowledge. They shed light. They give consciousness and knowledge. Critical thinking is indispensable in the face of falsehood. Critical thinking is essential for the scientific society. The possibility of science, the construction of conscious societies, and different perspectives remain crucial through critical thinking. 

However, our everyday critical thinking is deteriorating. Our arguments are not guided by critical thinking. Therefore, our arguments are not scientific. They are superficial and emotional. They are directed by hatred, anger, envy, and revenge. They are driven by personal emotions and prejudices. Consequently, our arguments are as feeble as straw. Such arguments do not strengthen politics, do not change society, nor do they offer society new perspectives. Lack of quality education is the reason behind the scarcity of critical thinking practice. Without critical thinking, society falls behind, pushing society backward instead of forward towards enlightenment. Therefore, starting today, let's search and practice critical thinking for scientific arguments.

(Acharya is a writer, professor, and director of Social Sciences at NIRI.)

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