Forbes columns

A compilation of Helen Lee Bouygues’s regular column in Forbes on critical thinking research and education.

“Calling Bullshit,” got its start as a lecture series covering the various ways in which news agencies, corporations, and even scholarly institutions sling, well, bullshit. Now also a college-level course, Calling Bullshit provides people with tools to look critically at what is too often considered unassailable — data. The founding University of Washington professors continue to make a wealth of course materials available online including syllabus readings and case studies.


Last year, the Cornell University SC Johnson College of Business launched an online certificate program that focuses exclusively on developing critical thinking skills. The economy is changing, driving demand for richer forms of reasoning and independent thought. The university recognized that their students would be attractive future employees, whose improved decision making skills would help forge thriving teams and organizations in the professional world.


Concept mapping is far from a new educational approach, but it can help students engage in improved thinking. It typically involves creating diagrams that visually represent a set of ideas. Argument mapping is a variation of concept mapping, and the approach encourages people to create diagrams of an argument’s contentions. A forthcoming research review argues that helping students create online organizers leads to stronger reasoning skills. The authors declare that mapping tools are simply “a very effective way to teach critical thinking.”


The 2002 war game known as the Millennium Challenge exposed gaps in the critical thinking training of the US military. In fact, it has been 100 years since the last comprehensive review of its education system. In the meantime, “conventional warfare” has evolved into adversaries and insurgencies without a discernible front line. The U.S. Navy is now conducting a major study that’s expected to lead to a radical shift in the education of its personnel. The Navy will almost certainly recommend doing far more to emphasize critical thinking skills in its training and development programs.


Cedric Villani is sometimes called the “Lady Gaga” of math. Bearded and long-haired, he typically wears a three-piece suit, a lavallière (a cross between a cravat and a bow tie) and a spider brooch on his lapel. But most importantly, Villani is an educator. As a teacher, Villani has found that math gives young people a way to think more effectively. For Villani, math is not just for thinking, though. It’s also about action. Despite contemporary challenges, such as fake news and complex global problems, the future is ripe with opportunity for better forms of thinking.


Few of us are taking the necessary steps to develop and improve the critical thinking skills that we so covet. A Reboot study found that more than 95 percent of Americans believe critical thinking is necessary in today’s world, but less than 25 percent regularly seeks out views that challenge their own. Furthermore, parents are overconfident about their ability to help their children reason in more effective ways. Most parents believe that they know how to teach critical thinking skills to their children, but only 20 percent frequently or very often ask their children to consider an opposing view.