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Image by Markus Winkler on Unsplash.

I’ve heard people say that aging confers wisdom. And I don’t believe it (as I wrote in this article). But people of all ages need to appreciate the value of Critical Thinking…something that’s not taught in schools. At least not enough.

Critical Thinking means you know how to assess information so you can make choices.

Once a medical assistant, from the lofty perspective of her young millennial age, scoffed at me: “The Internet? There’s a lot of bad stuff on the Internet.”

She was obviously picking up on what she’d heard from her senior peers. But she was showing her own ignorance.

The problem isn’t with the Internet. It’s with our ability to evaluate sources and judge what’s likely to be solid information, versus buying into the latest quack salesmanship.

When you read an article in a magazine, you need to question the quality of the magazine and the author. Is the author qualified? Does he work for a company with an interest in the topic under discussion? Does she seem to have an ax to grind?

You need that ability whether you’re on the Internet, facing someone wearing a white coat with an office wall of advanced degrees, or deciding who to support in an election campaign.

If you’re learning about the latest medical discovery, are you reading an article in a peer-reviewed medical journal? Or are you reading a tabloid? If you’re reading a book about medical invention, is the author affiliated with a reputable institution?

If you’re reading an article about the wonderful new opportunities for seniors to get jobs, does the author refer to published studies? Or does he use anecdotes that might be one-of-a-kind? Does she support an organization, such as AARP, which promotes an optimism that’s not always tied to reality?

For example, one of the worst career books I ever read and reviewed was The Dummies Guide To Get A Good Job After 50. It’s got a big. red endorsement from AARP on the cover. It’s part of a well-chosen series of books. 

Critical thinking skills would alert you to be suspicious. You might suspect the book is biased when you see AARP’s endorsement on the cover. To attract members, AARP offers discounts for all sorts of travel and recreation. What kinds of people will respond to those inducements? What image of seniors does AARP want to promote? That’s AARP’s target market.

Critical thinking is a skill you can master. You can even take courses online through Coursera or The Great Courses. Once you’ve learned to think critically, you can go anywhere to learn about whatever challenge you’re facing. You can search your library or talk to “experts.”

Critical thinking helps you spot red flags. If someone’s trying to scam you, they’re pretty obvious in what they do. If you consider hiring a service, you look for signals. Did they answer your questions? Did they seem interested in helping you?

Most important, you learn what questions to ask when you’re dealing with advice.

When you’re advised to buy a certain financial instrument, you actively search out criticisms so you can make a wise decision.  When your doctor advises you to take a certain test, you ask about the research behind the recommendation. You ask about the NNT. 

In both cases, you question, “Does the person who’s advising me have a financial incentive to point me in one direction or another?” 

Critical thinking? It’s more important than wisdom. And it’s not relate to your age, background, or experience. You need it.