Commentary: Critical Thinking while Reading

"Critical thinking" is the process of evaluating the merit and reliability of a stated fact and deciding whether the fact should be accepted or rejected.

In other words, don't believe everything you read. Be a critical thinker and a critical reader!

In doing some background research for a riding safety article, I came across a 1995 Emergency Radiology journal that stated there were 30 million horseback riders in the United States. Intriguing. Surely the footnote would refer me to a statistical source. Surprisingly, the reference was to another horseback riding injury article in the Center for Disease Control and Prevention's Morbidity and Mortality Report of May 1990. I found that article online, which indeed stated "...an estimated 30 million persons ride horses." Their reference was a 1987 article in the American Family Physician journal that also stated the 30 million figure but actually referenced a believable source, the American Horse Council's 1985 Horse Industry Directory. Wanting to see the actual data (30 million is a lot of riders, even in 1985), I have searched but am still trying to find a hard copy to see the actual data!

Referenced facts should lead directly back to their original source.

Lesson learned—Evaluate the "age" of referenced information.

Or consider the evening CNN news, a fairly respectable source of information, or so I thought. They reported a news item that appeared in the National Inquirer, a tabloid noted for sensationalism. Was there independent corroboration of the story by CNN? Who knows?

Lesson learned--Consider the information source in critically evaluating the news.

Last year while in Ireland, I read the Nov. 17 Irish Independent newspaper. One article reported an outbreak of the deadly botulism virus in cattle. Newsworthy, yes; incorrect, absolutely. Clostridium botulinum is a bacterium, not a virus. Although a doctor from the Department of Agriculture in Northern Ireland was quoted, he likely was not allowed to proofread the article for accuracy. Either the writer or a diligent editor should have caught the errors that botulism was referred to twice as a bacterium (correct) and six times as a virus (incorrect) in the same short article. Who knows if there were other more substantial factual errors?

Lesson learned: Questionable details, question the whole.

People are human, and we all make mistakes. However, in this age of instant information, fact-checking has often taken a back seat to writers and reporters wanting to get the breaking "news" out to the public. It behooves us all to critically think about what we read, see and hear. There very well may be 30 million horseback riders in the US today, but those data are 25 years old, and is a horseback rider one who rides once a year or once a week? It makes a huge difference when analyzing horseback rider injury data. The devil is in the details!

Become more of a critical thinker!


This is an excerpt from Equine Disease Quarterly, funded by underwriters at Lloyd's, London, brokers, and their Kentucky agents.

About the Author

Roberta Dwyer, DVM, MS, Dipl. ACVPM

Roberta Dwyer, DVM, MS, Dipl. ACVPM, is a professor within the University of Kentucky's Maxwell H. Gluck Equine Research Center and editor of Equine Disease Quarterly.

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