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					Critical reading & evaluation of
research arguments


       Communication Research
             Week 6
    What are arguments?
   The use of reasoning to establish the validity of
    an argument in terms of its bias, logic and
    supporting evidence, is an important part of the
    communication process, especially in academic
    writing and speaking.
   These processes are central to persuasion and
    are an obvious component in advertising and
    the mass media generally.


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    What are arguments?
   It is important to be aware of the processes of
    fallacy and faulty reasoning when evaluating
    articles and secondary research.
   The ability to differentiate fact from opinion, to
    evaluate the validity of a claim or the
    worthiness of an opinion and to be able to
    evaluate stated causal links between stated
    points, is an important critical skill.


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A critical reader …
   attempts to understand and analyse the
    reasoning in the text
   evaluates the evidence offered
   recognises assumptions
   takes a challenging and questioning attitude
    towards the text




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    A critical reader doesn‟t …
   accept the authority of the text without
    question
   take a passive and purely receptive role
    towards the text
   „write off‟ the text immediately if the writer‟s
    meaning is not immediately clear
   quickly dismiss the text because the views do
    not match his/her own


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    To what extent do these everyday reading
    tasks require a critical reading approach?
   reading the instructions to set the thermostat on your
    heating boiler
   reading a local newspaper report about an attack on
    an Asian shopkeeper
   reading a primary school prospectus for your child
   reading a course outline
   reading descriptions of two sofas in different
    furniture catalogues
   finding out the train times on a website


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Critical Reading
 So all texts, to a certain extent require critical
 reading. It is not about criticising everything
 you read but it‟s about asking questions
 about the text: its purpose, the claims made
 and the evidence presented.




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Some general questions to think about
   Can I believe everything I read?
   Are experts always right?
   What makes me take more notice of one
    academic writer and less of another?
   What makes a scholarly, rigorous piece of
    research, and what makes research findings
    weak or strong?



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Some questions to think about when
surveying a text
   Who is the writer writing for?
   Who is the publisher?
   Is it in the interests of the author/publisher to make a
    particular claim?
   Which sources has the writer cited?
   What sort of adjectives are used?
   How does the writer rely on authority?
   What does the writer present as fact?
   How does the writer select evidence?



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 Some questions you can use to
 interrogate the text…
 does this follow? how do you know?
 where is your evidence?
 who exactly said this and when?
 is this a fact or an opinion?
 why? why not? what exactly?
 are you assuming x is true here?
 where can I check this out?
 what‟s been missed out?

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Applying critical reading strategies
Before you read the short extract entitled „The
Nuclear Solution‟ by Tony Ryan, briefly
discuss your own views on the topic with the
person next to you.

Now read the extract and interrogate the text




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The Nuclear Solution by Tony
Ryan
Nuclear energy is the bridging solution between a fossil powered
past and a solar future. The French generate 80 per cent of their
electricity from nuclear power, but are now running it down due to
public pressure. However, world famous ecologist, James
Lovelock, says that nuclear power is the most environmentally
friendly option. It has zero emissions and a minimal waste problem.
For example, a teraWatt hour of electricity yields 20 tonnes of
nuclear waste as opposed to 10 million tonnes of CO2 from fossil
fuels. The one real fear with nuclear energy is the potential for
terrorist intervention. To mitigate that we need better security and a
means to localise any release.

http://www.rsc.org/chemistryworld/Issues/2005/February/Thenuclearsolution.asp




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Interacting with the text
You don‟t have to fully agree or disagree with
what the writer is saying but you can raise
questions about the claims that s/he makes
based on the evidence there is to support
you.

Examine the following statements that
Professor Ryan makes:

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How did you react to these?
„Nuclear energy is the the bridging solution…‟

„It has zero emissions and a minimal waste
problem.‟

„The one real fear with nuclear energy is the
potential for terrorist intervention.‟



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Reading Critically

                             In what ways has
                             this short reading
                             exercise been
                             similar or different to
                             the way you have
                             read academic texts
                             in the past?


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    Forms of argument – inductive
    reasoning
   Is basic to scientific method
   Argues from the particular to the general
   Assembles facts one after the other until a conclusion
    is reached
        Facts:
             Obese people have diets that are high in fat
             Obese people have an excessively high kilojoule intake
             Obese people do not exercise regularly
        Conclusion:
             Obesity is a result of overindulging in fatty foods and lack
              of exercise

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Forms of argument – deductive
reasoning
   Deductive reasoning starts with an accepted
    principle and then applies that accepted law to a
    specific situation
      Accepted:

           Obesity is a consequence of excessive kilojoule
            intake, lack of exercise and consumption of
            foods high in fat.
       Deduced
           If we overeat and under-exercise we will
            become obese


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        Aspects of arguments – 1
   Fact – a statement that rests of evidence
       eg “oranges have pips” – they can be seen and felt
   Opinion – a statement that rests on belief rather
    than evidence
       eg “an apple a day keeps the doctor away” – based
        on belief rather than any particular empirical study




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    Aspects of argument – 2
   Generalisation – a form of inductive reasoning and is
    when we draw conclusions about a whole class of
    people based on particular evidence.
   Some cases generalizations are more valid than others
    depending on the amount of evidence or qualification
      the statement „black dogs are friendly‟ is obviously

       invalid due to insufficient evidence




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        Aspects of argument – 3
   Analogy – a form of argument where you use some of the
    similarities between two things or processes to draw a
    conclusion about further similarities
       eg „Just as a car needs fuel to run, so a person needs food.
        The engine‟s pistons are the muscles, the fuel pump is the
        heart, the air filter is the lungs.‟
   With this analogy, there are important similarities but what
    about the obvious differences which may weaken the
    argument
       eg what about the importance or relevance of the brain in this
        analogy?


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        Common fallacies in argument – 1
   Argument against the person – attacking an argument by trying
    to destroy the arguers‟ reputation
       eg „you are bound to support the argument for unemployment
        benefits – you‟ve never worked a day in your life!‟
   Misuse of an authority – a person‟s name used as an authority
    should only be used when they are an authority on a subject
       eg using a famous sportsperson to endorse a financial scheme
   Citing an authority – but it was in the newspaper/on the TV/in
    the media, therefore it must be true!
       “Alan Jones said that …”

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     Common fallacies in argument – 2
   Appeal to commonsense –
       “Everyone knows …”;
       “All concerned citizens would agree …”
       “All patriotic Australians would support …”
       “Every good mother knows …‟
   The implication is that if members of these generic groups
    agree with the proposition or statement, by implication if
    you don‟t, you can‟t be a „good mother‟ or a „patriotic
    Australian‟.


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    Common fallacies in argument – 3
   Criticism forestaller – use of words or terms which
    make criticism of an argument difficult
      eg signing a letter in favour of participation in a

       war, „ANZAC veteran‟
      labeling an emotive argument or statement as

       being from a „Mother of Five‟




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     Common fallacies in argument – 4
   Emotive language – the use of words of expressions with
    which certain strong feelings or emotions are associated,
    make rational debate impossible
      „do-gooders‟, „greenies‟, „dole bludgers‟

   Absolute terms – usually illogical are there are very few
    absolutes
      always, never, infinite

      “Here comes Jones. He never has anything sensible to

       say”.


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    Common fallacies in argument – 5
   Faulty generalisations – either based on too little
    evidence or based on evidence not typical of the whole
      “Small people are aggressive to make up for their lack

       of height”
   The “after this, therefore because of this fallacy” –
    assuming that because one thing happens before
    another, it is the cause of it
      turn on the lights and the TV goes off – are the two

       events necessarily related?


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    Common fallacies in argument – 6
   False analogy – an argument resting on a comparison of
    two situations that are essentially different
   Presenting a choice of two – “If you don‟t support the
    Aust Government‟s policy on War in Iraq, you must
    support Saddam Hussein”




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         Common fallacies in argument – 7
   Using incomplete or misquoted statistics
       “Something is very wrong with the new management of the firm
        – there have been 100% more resignations since they took
        over.” (Perhaps there was only one resignation before they took
        over)
   Ensure you know …
            how the statistics were gathered (ie sample size etc),
            when they were gathered (ie time)
            in what context/ for what purpose they were gathered



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 Further Reading


Critical Thinking: An Introduction: Alec Fisher CUP 2001 – an easy- to-read overview
Critical Reading Checklist: http://unilearning.uow.edu.au/critical/2b.html
from the Unilearning site (an Australian website) academic skills) – a useful list of
questions
Critical reading: questions to ask of yourself and the text: Romy Clark 1993
www.lancs.ac.uk/depts/celt/sldc/materials/reading/critical.htm -
questions to think about before, after and during reading (focus on linguistic analysis of
texts)
Reading Academically: University of Southampton 2003 Section 5 Being a Critical
Reader




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