The surprising archenemy of critical thinking: Armchairs

In the midst of the current coronavirus crisis, I have seen several articles talking about “armchair epidemiologists”–and despising them, of course. And I have just realized how damaging this term is.

Whenever something important happens, people learn a bit about it, talk about it, theorize, discuss. And of course, not being experts, they make mistakes. It’s easy to laugh about the armchair generals bred by distant wars, the armchair political strategists arising before every election, and the armchair nuclear scientists surging from every nuclear mishap. And of course, the current armchair epidemiologists discussing the advantages and disadvantages of “flattering the curve”.

And of course, it’s true that most of these people are wrong and uninformed, when you compare them to the true experts.

But then, we also fill our mouths about the importance of critical thinking. That we must not just accept what we are told, but evaluate it. That we must try to learn about the world and make our own opinions. How do you do that? You learn a bit, talk about it, theorize, discuss. You make mistakes, and others tell you about them. You correct accordingly (or you don’t).

What’s the alternative? To shut up and do as you’re told. Is that the society we want?

For one, I’m loving all those people filling twitter with their thoughts, their graphs, and their theories. And with their strong opinions, overinterpretations, and mistakes. That’s what critical thinking smells like.


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