In the martial art of critical thinking, you are...
A black belt in evidence analysis!
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The main claim of an article is what everything else is pointing towards: the big idea.
Claims can be surprisingly hard to spot. They're typically near the beginning or, sometimes, near the end – though occasionally can be found almost anywhere.
They often have a strong thematic connection to the headline – but not always.
They're sometimes signalled with special phrases such as "to sum up" or "the main point is" or "our conclusion is". But not always.
They're often shorter and punchier than other sentences.
Look for what the author is trying to convey as the take-home message – what do they want you to remember about this article if you only remember a single thing?
this example from the Moral Maze where where the witness marks her main claim very clearly with "I still have to conclude..." The software will then guide you to what it thinks is the main claim by marking it with a wavy red line.
The claim is backed up by reasons. There are usually several reasons backing up the main claim of an article.
There is often a part of a reason that ties in very closely with a part of a claim – a claim that, say, pineapple imports from Cost Rica have been increasing, might be supported by evidence talking about pineapples or about Costa Rica.
Sometimes evidence and reasons are introduced with special phrases such as "a key reason is" or "that's because" or "due to". But not always.
Reasons can involve things like statements from people or reports, statistical details, personal experience and more.
Look for what the author of the article is supplying to get you to understand or believe the main claim.
this example from the Moral Maze where in his introduction, Michael Buerk lays out the issue and then (after 30 seconds) the most important reason. You can also listen to this
example, in which a series of reasons are introduced, each marked by "because". The software will then guide you to what it thinks are the reasons by marking them with a wavy red line.
Reasons are connected to claims in many different ways. The Evidence Toolkit allows you to tease apart two different broad categories of reasons: those that are presented as facts and those presented as opinions. Facts should in principle be objectively checkable; opinions are intrinsically subjective. (Though there is more grey area than you might expect...)
Within the category of facts, there are several specific types of reasoning. Statistical reasoning uses evidence from a sample of a population; example-based reasoning uses just a single case to justify a claim. There are many other types of factual reasoning though – here we lump them together as 'Other'. Click to hear how statistical , example and other fact-based reasoning can be used effectively in debates from the Moral Maze.
Within the category of opinions, there are three more specific types depending on whose opinions are being used. Expert opinions carry a lot of weight if the expert is appropriately qualified. Popular opinion can be influential too, although we need to be more careful how we treat it. And personal opinion can be valuable but only gives a narrow, limited evidence base. Click to hear how expert, popular, and personal opinion-based reasoning can be put into practice with illustrations from the Moral Maze.
One part of being impartial and balanced is considering alternative opinions. These are sometimes known as 'objections.' Authors might not agree with objections to their claim, but might nevertheless mention them (either to partly concede, to emphasise that other opinions exist, or to subsequently provide counterarguments of their own).
These objections are sometimes introduced with special phrases such as "on the other hand" or "admittedly" or "to some extent". But not always.
Objections are usually mentioned in the middle or towards the end of an article.
Click here to hear an example of such balance, in which Douglas Murray agrees with his opponent, Giles Fraser, and concedes that the Qur’an, has passages, which are "highly inflammatory" whilst maintaining his point that that’s not a reason to ban the book (or any other book, for that matter).
The goal of The Evidence Toolkit is to encourage thinking about thinking, and in particular to stimulate and scaffold critical thinking of print and online media. To do this, we have carefully selected articles representing different political and thematic orientations, both news and op-ed, including one article that is satirical. For each article, we have designed the software, the lesson plans and the teacher notes to encourage students to ask deep questions of the content and its context. Students are guided towards answers to those questions that have been assembled by a team of experts. Help is available in the form of illustrations of each concept taken from episodes of the BBC Radio 4 radio programme, The Moral Maze, in which combative, provocative and engaging live debate depends upon the quick witted reasoning skills of the participants. (To listen to these clips you will need flashplayer installed so that you can use iPlayer. You will need to stop the clips manually). Finally, after having worked on the pre-prepared articles, students are invited to try out their skills on articles of their choosing, where there is no longer guidance from experts, only hints and tips on the process from the software. At that point the training wheels are off, and the students are free to exercise their new-found skills of critical thinking.
The Evidence Toolkit
Tools for getting from news to truth
The first task is to find the main claim in the article: what's the article really saying?
You can select a fragment of text in the article that you think is expressing the main claim. If you click “Help me!” over on the right, the Reason Checker will suggest what it thinks is the main claim by underlining it with a wavy red line. You can then select the text if you agree. Finally, click "I'm done" to see how you've done.
Fake beggars are exploiting the British public - and the real homeless
There is no doubt that it is heartbreaking, especially when the weather is this harsh, to see a person sleeping rough, bundled up in layers of blankets among cigarette butts and street debris.
Stop to speak to these poor souls and you'll discover tales of neglect and misfortune, often addiction, sometimes abuse. Offer them a cup of hot soup or a coffee and they will gladly accept. Quickly, you see the human being behind the suffering.
There is no crime in being poor or homeless. But lately, a new and different breed has become visible on the streets of Britain: the professional beggar. Criminals who prey on the public's natural desire to help them by giving all the appearance of being homeless and destitute — while they are actually nothing of the kind
Their victims are not only the tourists and commuters who fall for their pitiful patter; but also the real homeless, who suffer because the fake beggars sap the goodwill of passers-by.
Popular tourist destinations including Cambridge, London, Windsor and Ely — where recent attempts by the authorities to rid the streets of them have made national headlines — are plagued by these charlatans
Anyone who dares confront the problem — like the two local business owners in Torquay who exposed those posing as beggars by naming and shaming them on social media — risks getting it in the neck from charities with vested interests and from hard-line Left-wingers.
For these supposed moral guardians, the reality of the situation is irrelevant — just as long as they can parade their concern and highlight the evils of 'austerity Britain' and a heartless Conservative government that doesn't care.
Yet the facts appear indisputable: of the 17 'homeless' identified in Torquay, just two — two! — turned out to be genuine
And, as Angela Parmenter, Ely's frustrated housing manager, put it, these people don't want her council's support because 'it is possible to earn substantial amounts of money on the streets'
Of course, organised gangs of beggars — many from Albania or Romania — have long been a problem in poorer European countries such as Italy, Portugal and Greece. There, women with babes in arms will follow you in the street, harass customers in restaurants, or thrust worthless trinkets into your hand, demanding money in exchange.
Often they are bound up in other criminal activities, such as prostitution and drug dealing.
While I don't condone such behaviour, on one level I can at least understand it: such countries have only very basic levels of healthcare, while proper jobs are hard to come by and charities are hopelessly oversubscribed
But in Britain this is simply not the case. We have a generous welfare system, a health service whose workers flog themselves half to death in their dedication to help those in need and a well-funded, highly organised charity sector.
We also happen to be very generous to those in need. Which is probably why so many professional beggars have come here from Europe: to them we are a soft-hearted nation whose streets are paved with gold.
We are sops, easy touches and naive trusting mugs like my daughter who, when she started secondary school and began travelling alone by train, was thoroughly taken in by a 'homeless' person at Victoria station.
Like any child would, she believed this woman. More than once she gave her the remainder of her lunch money, until one day she happened to follow her out of the station and saw her emptying her pockets into a rucksack — before climbing into a BMW.
So let's not be fools about this. Genuine homelessness is a tragedy that deserves all our attention. But it should not blind us to the unsavoury reality that for every individual who needs help, there are sadly all too many prepared to exploit their suffering — and our good nature.