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.
Credibility does not hinge on wearing sleeves
Quick wardrobe change needed today. I'm going sleeveless on Beyond 100 Days.
According to the former Canadian Prime Minister Kim Campbell, I'm taking a risk.
Ms Campbell came under fire for an approving tweet about a blog post that appeared to suggest people who wear more clothes are seen as smarter.
Which raises the question - would a burka raise my perceived IQ?
I anchor a daily news show, sometimes I wear sleeves, sometimes I wear sleeveless.
I am not aware that either my ability or my talent change according to my outfit
I am not aware of any studies that show a woman's IQ is diminished by the length of her sleeve
Ms Campbell's point is that bare arms are distracting
But this is a slippery slope argument that has been used throughout history, and around the world, to keep women covered up.
When Katie Couric, the legendary anchor of NBC's hit morning programme, The Today Show, first went on set without stockings in the 1990s, she became the object of similar criticism.
Her bare legs were seen as a distraction. Now, it would be laughable to suggest a lack of stockings undermines a woman's credibility.
I suspect women had the same pushback when they shed their gloves and their hats too.
It's not just that a woman's gravitas is erroneously linked to what she wears, it's more that every time women's fashion removes some article of clothing, gloves, hats, stockings, sleeves, we face criticism that we are somehow undermining our seriousness
Men don't have this issue because they are stuck in suits; it's a bit of a red herring to argue women should do the same.
It's the difference between male and female fashion, and it's part of our culture.
It's actually quite a pain dressing for TV everyday as a woman. There's an expectation that you won't just wear the same thing every day.
I have wardrobes full of dresses and tops I only ever wear for TV and if I limited myself to only tops with sleeves, the choice would be even narrower.
I grew up in the Middle East where my mother, who also worked as a journalist, had to wear long dresses with long sleeves every time she left the house.
The argument there was that any show of her flesh was a distraction to men - the assumption being, I suppose, that they wouldn't be able to control themselves. Which always made me wonder why this wasn't their problem, not my mum's.
There are echoes of that in Ms Campbell's critique. But haven't we moved beyond that notion?
These TV anchors aren't wearing bikinis, they are wearing dresses that have no sleeves.
Really, that's it.
Put like that, this whole row sounds a bit ridiculous.