Critical Thinking and the question of ‘fact’

In the UK ‘Times’ of 14 December, you will find an article by the former UK Home Secretary Michael Howard entitled ‘More prisoners equals less crime. It’s a fact’. The author provides various correlations between levels of crime and the size of the prison population to argue that ‘there is a direct link between the rate of imprisonment and the rate of crime’. I looked at this question in some detail in my most recent book ‘Advanced Critical Thinking Skills’ (pages 56-60). There I looked in particular at the relationship between the murder rate and imprisonment rate of different countries and found that, quite simply, there is not a simple correlation between the two. For example, the US has the highest imprisonment rate in the world (at least as far as published figures are reliable) but not a very low murder rate. Iceland, on the other hand, has a very low imprisonment rate but also one of the lowest murder rates in the world.

Critical Thinking can usefully inform this debate by showing that what might seem to be ‘facts’ are nothing of the sort. It is unfortunate that, on this occasion, it was absent from the analysis.

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