evaluating health risks requires critical thinking

In a recent article in The Times ‘Treating us like children won’t keep us safe’ , Joanna Williams (the author of ‘Academic Freedom in an Age of Conformity’) has argued that, in the UK, we are not expected to have any need to understand complex issues. In the context of the Covid-19 issues, the government does not see the need to present evidence to us for us to consider and reflect upon, since we are seen as incapable of doing this. We are, in this way, being treated as children who are not competent to understand the significance of evidence and the nature of risk. One problem that results from this approach is that people make incorrect judgements of the statistics. For example, British people believe that 7 per cent of the population have died from Covid, but this figure is 100 times higher than the real figure. The government is happy to continue to treat us as incompetent decision-makers since, as Williams, argues ‘good citizens have been expected to practise obedience, not critical thinking’. The great philosopher Immanuel Kant would have recognised the real dangers with the authoritarian denial of individual critical thinking when he stressed that to emerge from immature thinking we need people to have the freedom to make use of their own reasoning in all matters. There is now an urgent need for the value of critical thinking to be stressed and defended.

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