President and CEO's Blog

By Daniel Gentry, PhD, MHA posted 09-29-2021 12:53

  

The quality of your LIFE is determined by the quality of your DECISIONS, and the quality of your decisions is determined by the quality of your THINKING. 

This quote is from one of my favorite books about science, the scientific method, and critical thinking, not only in our scholarship and professional lives, but also in our personal lives, communities, and society. The book, How to Think about Weird Things: Critical Thinking for a New Age, by Theodore Schick and Lewis Vaughn, now in its 8th edition, is considered a masterpiece of critical thinking. It was one of a dozen books that I had my doctoral students at Saint Louis University and the University of Memphis read for a seminar I taught in “Science, Theory, and Public Health Research,” along with Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, C. Wright Mills’ The Sociological Imagination, and more contemporary books on public health challenges - epidemics, chronic disease, our “accidental” health system in the U.S., and so forth.  

I’ve been thinking about that seminar a lot these past few months, as I’ve been reflecting on the past few years. I think I’m searching for both explanation and hope for this liminal, “in-between” time we find ourselves in, all of us traumatized at some level by the pandemic, racial and social injustice, social unrest, violence, the impacts of climate change, and a divisive politic that seems to seep into every aspect of our lives. 

The quality of our lives in the U.S. has, of recent, decreased; there’s evidence of increased morbidity and mortality and decreased life expectancy. And where there were already inequities and disparities, they have been amplified. These societal effects and their outcomes are not experienced equally.

For me, and for all of us as scholars and educators, there is hope in science, improved critical thinking, and better decision-making. C. Wright Mills, writing around the middle of the 20th century, predicted much of what we are experiencing. He identified politics, wars, epidemics, the media, and other societal factors that challenge our ability and “stick-to-it-ness” to think critically and base decisions on the best science. He also advocated strongly that scholars should not shy away from the public discourse, that we should weigh in on public policy, and call out those who misuse scientific data, manipulate findings, and draw erroneous conclusions for their own purposes.

Thomas Kuhn wrote so eloquently and persistently (to the point of making your head hurt), that science is far from perfect, or complete. It isn’t static. We are constantly moving forward, and sometimes back and forth, either incrementally in periods of “normal science,” or with big leaps with regard to shifts in scientific paradigms. The legitimacy of science is grounded in the method - the scientific method. 

 We all are entitled to our opinions, but we are not entitled to our own facts that have no basis in evidence. And not all thinking is qualitatively equal. Critical thinking based in the scientific method is the gold standard. Adam Grant, an organizational psychologist at U Penn’s Wharton School, whose TED Talks and lectures I have listened to and who I follow on LinkedIn (Get this, he has 4.8 million followers!), wrote recently “A balanced argument doesn’t weigh two sides equally. It weighs the strongest evidence more heavily. Critical thinking isn’t about representing every view. It’s about recognizing your biases and giving serious consideration to facts that contradict your hopes and beliefs.”

 As AUPHA CEO, I’m responsible for crafting the closing section of the AUPHA Annual Report. For the 2020-2021 Report, I wrote about what I hope will be an “AUPHA renaissance” as we move away from the worst of COVID-19 and as we approach the 75th Anniversary of AUPHA. Like “THE Renaissance,” the foundation for any “renaissance” must include an embrace of, and valuing for, science and reasoning - enlightenment. 

I challenge the AUPHA community to hold ourselves to the highest standards for our approaches, methods, and dissemination of scholarship; our teaching, learning, and assessment methods; our impact on healthcare management and health policy practice; and, our leadership of the academy. I am going to think about how we might be more intentional in this pursuit. Please join me and share your thoughts at dgentry@aupha.org.

Fiat lux - “Let there be light.”

Dan

 

1 comment
20 views

Permalink

Comments

Great blog post, Dan! You succinctly convey essential ideas for us as researchers and educators, but more importantly, for every single citizen. Your lead quotation from Schick and Vaughn: The quality of your LIFE is determined by the quality of your DECISIONS, and the quality of your decisions is determined by the quality of your THINKING, is something that I have thought about quite frequently this past year. Given the quality of thinking and reasoning I have observed since this pandemic began, I am amazed that many Americans are able to even function in their day-to-day lives. Maybe high school/college science education leaves students with the idea that science is a known collection of immutable "facts" (you know or you don't know) as opposed to a dynamic system of discovery (a la Kuhn)? Who knows? Everyone could benefit from a good Philosophy of Science course - and a good Research Methods course, for that matter.

Adam Grant's views of evidence and critical thinking is something everyone should take to heart - it would improve the quality of our thinking and our collective lives. (I also liked his rebuttal to Joseph Epstein, who asked that Jill Biden stop using the title "Dr."

https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/yes-women-doctorates-should-called-dr-adam-grant )

Given the current environment, it is more important than ever to keep challenging ourselves to adhere to the highest standards.

As you said: "LET THERE BE LIGHT!"

Stephen O'Connor