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.
Homelessness is now the public face of this Tory era
Conservatives give another £10bn to the help-to-buy scheme, benefiting their voters. Imagine what that money could do in the hands of charities the Guardian is supporting.
Generous donations are flowing into the Guardian’s appeal for three homeless charities, bursting past £750,000 less than a fortnight after its launch. But what is the government doing? Looking after their own voters, again
The chancellor is pouring another £10bn into the help-to-buy programme next year, despite the government’s own evidence that the last £10bn helped largely better-off buyers who would have bought anyway
. Help to buy offers an interest-free government loan worth up to 20% of a property’s value for new-build homes. But of those using it, one in five are already homeowners: Shelter finds their incomes are higher than those of young renters in the English regions where the scheme is used most
It has made things worse for the rest of the would-be first-time buyers, pushing up house prices further beyond their reach. Even for those in the scheme, it has inflated the price of properties they buy: new-build has outstripped secondhand by 15% since the start of help to buy.
Who benefited most? The biggest house builders, wallowing in cash poured straight into their pockets
: their profits tripled since the scheme began. Persimmon hit the news when its chief executive, Jeff Fairburn, took a bonus of £110m, corporate looting straight from the taxpayer via help to buy. Some 150 senior Persimmon staff shared another £500m from the same trough. The chair resigned when his plea to Fairburn to donate to charity fell on stony ground. But as all greedy executives find, the cash is well worth one day’s embarrassing news, one blush-making annual meeting. Theresa May’s new name-and-shame list of corporate rapacity will probably not cost them much sleep, as there’s safety in numbers.
That’s just normal business as usual. The real shocker is that despite all the evidence, the government chooses to put another £10bn into the same well-filled pockets. Even the Adam Smith institute calls it "throwing petrol onto a bonfire". If originally the scheme was to kickstart house building, it did a bit
, but its main intent was to help the young who would never afford to buy. There is no possible excuse for redoubling a scheme they know largely helps the better-off buy bigger homes sooner.
What could that £10bn buy? Shelter says 125,000 new social homes could be built by councils or housing associations for those on housing waiting lists. But few of them are Tory voters. Help to buy is another help to vote Tory policy for the children of their people.
So much madness in the housing “market” is a direct cause of government action. The price of land has tripled since 1995 – and there is never more land, only inflation. The misuse of quantitative easing money not to invest in creative and productive growth, but to inflate property assets should stand as a text-book case of what never to do again.
Imagine what that £10bn could do in the hands of the charities we are raising money for this Christmas. Donations are magnificent, but what an affront donors must feel at this gross misuse of so much state money. At our telethon appeal on Saturday we listened to readers’ distress at the multiplying numbers of rough sleepers in doorways all round the country.
Homelessness – the well-predicted result of housing benefit and other benefit cuts – becomes politically dangerous when destitution floods onto the streets for all to see. Famously the last Tory government had their own MPs complaining about having to step over sleeping bags when they came out of the opera house in Covent Garden. Foreign film crews piled into Waterloo’s cardboard city as the perfect symbol of Thatcherism. Food banks and rough sleeping are now the public face of this Tory era, that will end as changing public attitudes show rising concern at so much deliberately induced destitution.