Anyone likely to be in Melbourne on Feb 19 is welcome to join the Victorian Skeptics for an informal talk:


The abstract is

Academic philosophers, like most professionals, think they’re pretty good at what they do. I’ll present some general reasons for scepticism on this score. Then I’ll focus on one particular respect in which philosophers think they’re pretty good – teaching critical thinking. I’ll show detailed empirical evidence on critical thinking skills gains, which suggests that if you want students to get better at critical thinking, you should teach them critical thinking (not philosophy) and if you want them to get even better, you should teach them using argument mapping.

The talk is a blending of two things. First, a talk I gave about five years ago to various philosophy departments in Australia, in which I challenged the audience to come up with positive reasons to think that they are, in their core professional activities, any better than investment professionals such as stockbrokers, fund managers and the ilk, which have been shown by mountains of evidence to be useless at choosing superior investments, even if they are quite good at skimming vast sums of money from the savings of others. In response, philosophers generally came up with, at best, the kind of lame arguments they’d instantly ridicule others for making; the main outcome of all this, as far as I could tell, was resentment towards me for even raising the topic, which may partly explain why I haven’t been invited to talk at any philosophy department ever since.

The second thing is the work of a Masters student at the University of Melbourne, Claudia Alvarez, who has written on whether studying philosophy is, as philosophers claim, especially effective in developing critical thinking skills. Claudia did (or at least, carried through to completion) a meta-analysis which gives us the best available fix on whether this claim is true. In fact, if you make reasonable comparisons, it is hard to make a strong case that philosophy is especially effective, and it is markedly less effective than certain other strategies, such as… teaching critical thinking. The thesis will be completed and available very soon. (I’m happy to give a talk on this material at philosophy departments, but I don’t expect to be swamped with offers.)

It should be fun…