Assessing your thinking
Chapter 4 asks you to examine the following sentence – ‘I went on holiday to another country. I generally don’t like holidays by the beach. This was a good holiday, though.’ – and determine whether the statements below are:
Unknown or uncertain
Probably untrue, or
Definitely untrue … BASED ON THE INFORMATION PROVIDED.
1. This was a holiday by the beach.
Probably True. But you cannot say for certain. The inclusion of the word ‘though’ and mention of ‘the beach’ in one of only three sentences here lead you to the assumption that this was a beach holiday, but it is only an assumption. You cannot say for sure.
2. I enjoyed this holiday.
Definitely True. The reasons are similar to those given for the answer above, but the final sentence indicates that this was a ‘good holiday’, which strongly implies that you enjoyed it. It might have been a good holiday for other reasons, but it is difficult to suggest that a ‘good holiday’ is not an enjoyable one.
3. I travelled on an airliner.
Uncertain. There is no information given. The fact that you went to ‘another country’ is insufficient to argue that you travelled by plane.
4. I don’t like beach holidays because my skin gets burnt.
Uncertain. There is no information as to why you ‘don’t like holidays by the beach’ and there could be a large number of reasons for this.
5. I needed my passport to get to my holiday.
Uncertain. In many cases, going on holiday ‘to another country’ would require your passport (i.e. definitely true), but individuals don’t need to produce their passport when travelling from England to Wales or Scotland, and within the EU there is rarely a need to show your passport. However, from these three sentences you simply cannot tell.
6. I travelled with my family.
Uncertain. There is no information given regarding this. You could guess, perhaps, that this individual did not travel with their family, based on the fact that the sentences make no reference to any family, but that is a big assumption to make. There are only three short sentences anyway.
7. I really enjoy holidays away from the beach.
Uncertain. There is no information given about this. The argument that someone doesn’t (negative) like holidays ‘at the beach’ does not mean that the opposite (holidays away from the beach) is true. This individual might not like holidays at all.
8. I regularly travel to other countries.
Uncertain. You have no information about this and cannot take a view.
9. I needed to change money when I went on holiday.
Uncertain. Again, the argument is similar to that for item 5: you could argue that going to another country requires a change of money, but regardless of whether that is always true, never true or true only some of the time, you are simply not being given any information about this.
10. I did not expect this to be a good holiday.
Probably true. The reasoning here is similar to that for item 1. The use of the word ‘though’ implies that this exceeded expectations.
Getting the answer correct is about checking the assumptions we make. A great deal of critical thinking is about recognising and checking assumptions in order to ensure that we come to correct conclusions.
Interviews for food research
You are asked to indicate whether the following are strong or weak arguments for using interviews as a research method, using a scale of 0-10 (where 10 is a very strong argument and 0 is extremely poor).
1. Asking questions is easy.
 This is not only a weak argument, it is factually incorrect as well. Asking questions in a research study requires a great deal of thought, and usually careful piloting, to ensure that your respondents are understanding exactly your meaning as well as your words.
2. There are very few other ways of doing this research accurately.
 This is also incorrect. You could ask individuals to keep diaries or examine the leftovers after the meals or video record them at mealtimes. Most research methods for most research topics have some weaknesses, but to say that there are few other ways of doing this research accurately means that you ignore other ideas.
3. Any other way will cost too much.
 That may be true – though in fact conducting interviews tends to be a very costly way to do research as well. Some might also argue that the cost is irrelevant, but many will try to balance that cost against the quality of the result.
4. I can’t send out any questionnaires; I don’t have enough time.
 Developing good quality questionnaires does take time, so it might seem that there is a good point being made here – although it is important to note that they do not talk about developing questionnaires, only sending them out. However, if you don’t have time to send out (and/or develop) questionnaires, then why would you have time to conduct interviews? There are also other research methods (in addition to interviews and questionnaires) which could be used. It is a weak argument.
5. Going through rubbish bags on a Monday night is disgusting and dirty.
 Most people would agree with the statement, but does that make it a good argument to use interviews? After all, there are other research methods to be adopted, so the argument should not be framed as a ‘Doing interviews OR looking at rubbish’ discussion. You could also make the point that leftover food could be kept aside for analysis, rather than being thrown into the rubbish bin. It is not a strong argument.
6. Going to watch what other people eat so that I can write it down is silly.
 Perhaps one of the weakest arguments of all. If your aim is to gather accurate and reliable information, then it should not matter whether what you do appears to be ‘silly’ or not. The statement shows a lack of understanding regarding the purposes and nature of research.
7. By conducting interviews, I can get lots of information quickly.
 This is true. Of course, your aim is to ensure that you gather accurate and reliable information, and interviews may not give you accurate information all the time – especially in a case like this where you would be relying on memory – but interviews will allow you to probe deeply and gather a lot of information. However, you should never confuse speed with the quality of information, and good interviews will take time to prepare, conduct and analyse.
8. I can triangulate the results of the interviews with other data later, but I need to start somewhere.
 The word ‘triangulate’ really means ‘to check with other sources of information’, so this comment not only recognises that interviews might have some weaknesses in terms of their accuracy and indicates that other methods could be used, it also balances those issues against practical ones in deciding on what method to start with.
9. Interviews are quick to do, so I shall do them.
 The emphasis here is different from that for statement 7. This comment ignores anything other than speed as an argument for using them, whilst statement 7 also argues that you can get lots of information. As a method of research, interviews done quickly would probably not collect a lot of deep information, may not have been piloted properly, interviewees may not have been selected or sourced in an appropriate way, and may not collect accurate responses.
10. I enjoy talking to people.
 That is nice to know, but not a reason for using this as a research method. Interviews are a very focused and analytical activity designed to gather accurate information. They are not intended to be informal and rambling conversations – such ‘conversations’ would probably not gather the kinds of information which would be useful.
11. Interviews gather information that is more accurate than questionnaires.
 Established researchers sometimes have very strong views on this question, with some opting for the former idea (interviews) and others preferring questionnaires. The two methods have different strengths and weaknesses when it comes to choosing a research method, but both can be accurate if done well. An interview that gathers only limited data and does not ask relevant questions is as useless as a questionnaire where the meanings of questions are not clear or where respondents don’t get a chance to add any additional information that they think is relevant. Discussions around research methodology usually relate to ‘which method is most suitable for the research questions I want to answer?’ Both can be accurate, so the argument is not a strong one.
12. Everyone likes to talk, so I can just ask people and get lots of information quickly.
 This may have some limited truth to it, but the really important questions are about the relevance and accuracy of that information. This argument for using interviews has similarities with some of the other ideas given above, but as an argument for using interviews it is weak. Even if people do like to talk (and this is not universally true – especially not to strangers), no good researcher will suggest that they can simply talk and gather a great deal of accurate and relevant information.
Ranking of credible sources
The following information gives some reasons as to why the sources of information are ranked as they are in Table 4.1 in your textbook. They are listed in the order that they appear in that table, from most credible to least credible.
These are seen as highly credible, since an article cannot be published unless it has been approved as ‘research of a high standard’ by other academics. Of course, this does not mean that all published research is of a high standard and you will need to consider some additional research issues discussed later in this chapter (e.g. methodology, research samples, etc.), and a tutor would generally be excited to see a discussion debating the validity of contradictory pieces of research in your work.
These are generally accurate and are reviewed by other experts in the subject area before being published.
Your tutors and lecturers will be engaging in research and their lectures should include reference to journal articles and research supporting the theories that they advise you to learn. However, your lecturers will be trying to get you to think for yourself about the information they give you.
Discussions with tutors
Highly credible, mainly because they will have undertaken research into areas related to their teaching and/or will personally know other people who have.
Discussions with business leaders
Discussions with individuals who are leading organisations can be a rich and highly valid source of information. Depending on who is talked to, they may or may not have vast experience of dealing with certain issues, but they will generally be able to give examples (anonymised if necessary) of how those issues have been dealt with, and the outcomes.
Interviewing business leaders is something that academics might well do regularly as part of their own research activities: the more leaders that are spoken to, the stronger the evidence for the conclusions reached.
TV – ‘factual’/documentary/news
The credibility of this rests or falls on the extent to which you – as a viewer – find the evidence for what you are being told convincing, and two experts can have very different (and sometimes very emotive) views on the same story. Part of the issue with accepting at face value everything that you see relates to the fact that the media sometimes try to condense complex situations into shorter pieces that will fit a news schedule (or the printed page). Another part is that there may be personal or political reasons for a story being reported in a particular way. Non-political documentaries do tend to have some credibility, but it would be better to use any original sources cited in the programme (and a good programme would do so) than the programme itself.
These can be accurate, but their typical brevity does not necessarily develop the depth of thinking that this chapter suggests as sufficient.
Discussions with other students
These can be potentially great for clarifying misunderstandings, but painful if those discussions give you ideas which are not supported by evidence. If the discussions can enable you to debate and discuss the evidence you have for the beliefs you hold, then that can be very helpful.
This can be accurate, but not always. If you ever use this in an assignment (and some lecturers do not allow this website to be referenced – beware!), then you will need to give some evaluation of the information you are using.
As with the use of rumour to support your arguments, ‘common sense’ is not a suitable source of evidence. There is a cliché which suggests that common sense is not that common anyway, but the greatest issue here is that it is based on subjective opinion and does not seek to take account of any evidence.
Popular magazines (e.g. Cosmopolitan or Q)
Some of the comment in such magazines can have limited supporting evidence, but the evidence is not always referred to and the agenda for such magazines is often to sell popular content, rather than give scientific evidence. This would not be a strong source of evidence.
‘Popular’ programmes (depending on your definition of popular) are generally as credible as popular magazines and have limited credibility. Again, if a source of evidence is given, then it is better to go to the original source.
Blogs really go into the same strength of evidence as rumour and common sense, unless they are based on cited evidence. They should not be used as a credible source of information unless the evidence is given for the views held by the individual authors (in which case it is a better idea to go straight to the original source anyway).
Comment on Facebook, Weibo etc.
These again are personal opinions, and while they may be interesting to read, are often as helpful or unhelpful as rumours. Some comments are inaccurate, others may be untrue, and some may of course be considered slanderous.
Rumours and opinions
These are not credible, but are used in the national political media. Phrases such as ‘informed sources’ or ‘sources close to the government’ can be used to substantiate anything without leaving a strong trail of evidence to follow up. In business, comments can be made which have no real foundation and will need to be dealt with appropriately, but as a source of information for assignments and essays, rumour would be seen as very weak. As a manager, repeated rumours still lack credibility because they may simply come from different people with the same source of gossip.