Tackling the Question of Assertibility

By Martin Cohen

Part of Critical Thinking Skills For Dummies Cheat Sheet

How do Critical Thinkers separate out cranky views that aren’t supported by evidence from reasonable theories that maybe worth serious consideration? This problem is sometimes called the Assertibility Question (AQ), because you’re asking what evidence allows you to assert that the claim is true.

Here’s a useful checklist for testing scientific theories:

  • How well does the idea fit with common sense? Is the idea nutty?

  • Who proposed the idea, and does the person have a built-in bias towards it being true?

  • Do proposers use statistics in an honest way? Do they back it up with references to other work that supports the approach?

  • Does the idea explain too much — or too little — to be useful?

  • How open are the proponents of the idea about their methods and data?

  • How many free parameters exist? That is, how many artificially decided settings that constrain and affect the theory?