Confused Fact Finder

The Confused Fact finder is weak in all areas of critical thinking. They have a strong tendency to deny ambiguity. This is particularly true in cases where his or her prior perception is that the subject matter is highly structured with clearly distinguishable right and wrong answers.1

Key Indicators

Overall approach to open-ended problems:

  • Proceeds as if goal is to find the single, “correct” answer

Common weaknesses:

  • Fails to realistically perceive uncertainties/ambiguities and complexities
  • Does not seem to “get it”; recasts an open-ended problem to one having a single “correct” answer
  • Insists that professors, textbooks, or other experts should provide “correct” answer
  • Expresses confusion or futility
  • Provides illogical or contradictory arguments
  • Cannot evaluate or appropriately apply evidence
  • Inappropriately cites textbook, “facts,” or definitions
  • Appears unable to read carefully
  • Concludes based on unexamined authorities' views or what “feels right”

Approach to Reasoning

This student assumes that knowledge is either absolutely certain now, or it is temporarily uncertain until experts find the “correct” answer. Accordingly, he cannot distinguish between highly structured problems that have a “correct” answer and open-ended problems. For example, he may believe that uncertainties about historical events will cease to exist as soon as all of the “facts” become known. He fails to understand that it may not be possible to perfectly observe past events or to understand why even historians often disagree about the meaning of historical events. The Confused Fact-Finder believes it is the job of experts (including professors) to come up with the correct answers to all problems.

The Confused Fact-Finder fails to realistically perceive the complexities and ambiguities of open-ended problems, and he does not understand the legitimacy of different points of view. Sometimes he adopts the unexamined view of a “good” authority and believes that those who hold alternative views are wrong or bad. In cases where he perceives temporary uncertainty, he believes that differences in points of view are unimportant, because the answer is not yet known for sure by anyone. In such cases, the Confused Fact-Finder may become disillusioned with authorities because he views their opinions as capricious. He is unable to recognize qualitative differences or to evaluate evidence.

The Confused Fact-Finder does not acknowledge the need to make a well-founded judgment; all problems have answers that are dichotomous (e.g., right/wrong, good/bad, or smart/stupid). He sees his role in educational settings as finding the correct answer—repeating and paraphrasing textbook information, class notes, and other authoritative sources of information. In cases where he fails to recognize even temporary uncertainty, he is likely to rely on the unexamined opinion of an expert or other authority. If he is highly motivated, he might spend many hours looking for authoritative information that provides the right answer. In other cases where he believes that authorities do not yet know all the right answers, he tends to reach and justify his opinion based on prior beliefs or his “feelings.” He sometimes asserts that his opinion is “logical,” but he does not consistently use logical arguments to reach or to justify a conclusion.

Mental Blocks

Before the Confused Fact Finder can begin applying critical thinking skills, they must overcome the following biases:

  • Knowledgeable persons or experts know or will find correct answers to all problems
  • Uncertainty either does not exist or is merely temporary
  • Until experts can agree, opinions are equally correct or equally biased guesses
  • It is sufficient to view problems without attention to realistic ambiguities and complexities
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