Critical Thinking to Pump Up the Value of Collaboration

Critical thinking is something that comes naturally to me as a trained chemical engineer who has made a career out of facilitating collaboration. My background in science has provided me with a valuable perspective for collaboration. The demand for this perspective has grown over time. I wondered why. I think it is because it is difficult to pick a topic for collaboration today that doesn’t touch science in some way.

Just as scientific knowledge is built on an understanding of prior scientific knowledge, our understanding of science as a discipline continues to evolve. Consider the following explanation of science (from ‘Science is a broad grouping of disciplines containing many different areas that are all linked together by a single concept: the scientific method. The scientific method represents an investigative method based on observation, deduction, hypothesizing, and experimentation that can be applied to all areas of life.’ This source also talks about how to categorize science as follows: ‘Though there are many ways to look at science, one of the most common is to divide it into three broad categories, each of which contains numerous subdisciplines: formal science, natural science, and social science.’ The source defines each of these categories as follows:

  • ‘Formal science represents those disciplines that deal with symbols and theoretical ideas and their applications in the real world. Its inclusion as a science is often contested, but aspects of it are used in all other scientific disciplines. Formal science includes computer science, mathematics, and statistics.’
  • ‘Natural science is the science that people usually think of when they hear the term. Those studying it use the scientific method to understand nature and the physical world. Natural science and its subdisciplines are sometimes referred to as “hard sciences” by their proponents, and it includes biology, chemistry, geology, and physics.’
  • ‘Social science is the study of societies and the interactions within them, be they on a group or individual basis. It is sometimes referred to as a “soft science” by detractors. Social science includes anthropology, psychology, and sociology.’

I think science as explained above is powerful because it enables you to separate the objective, content based on fact, from the subjective, content based on opinion. This separation enables you to understand what is and is not known and helps guide you to where creativity can produce the most authentic value. Not everyone chooses to become a scientist, but everyone can choose to become scientifically literate. An important part of becoming scientifically literate is learning and practicing the art of critical thinking. Let’s discuss scientific literacy, critical thinking, and the role scientific literacy plays in collaboration.

First, scientific literacy has been discussed by many. For example, the National Academy of Sciences (see provides the following information about science literacy:

  • ‘Scientific literacy is the knowledge and understanding of scientific concepts and processes required for personal decision making, participation in civic and cultural affairs, and economic productivity.’
  • ‘Scientific literacy means that a person can ask, find, or determine answers to questions derived from curiosity about everyday experiences. It means that a person has the ability to describe, explain, and predict natural phenomena.’
  • ‘Scientific literacy entails being able to read with understanding articles about science in the popular press and to engage in social conversation about the validity of the conclusions.’
  • ‘Scientific literacy implies that a person can identify scientific issues underlying national and local decisions and express positions that are scientifically and technologically informed.’
  • ‘A literate citizen should be able to evaluate the quality of scientific information on the basis of its source and the methods used to generate it.’
  • ‘Scientific literacy also implies the capacity to pose and evaluate arguments based on evidence and to apply conclusions from such arguments appropriately.’

Similarly, the International Council of Associations for Science Education has defined scientific literacy as follows: ‘the capability to function with understanding and confidence, and at appropriate levels, in ways that bring about empowerment in the man-made world and in the world of scientific and technological ideas’ (see, or Holbrook, J. ‘Meeting Challenges to Sustainable Development through Science and Technology Education,’ Vol.20, No.1/2, December 2009, p. 44-59). More recently, the concept of climate science literacy has been defined as (see ‘an understanding of your influence on climate and climate’s influence on you and society.’ The different definitions of scientific literacy have in common that literacy is not just about being able to gain knowledge and understanding about a topic; literacy includes being able to use that knowledge and understanding in constructive ways to benefit oneself and society.

To bridge from the topic of scientific literacy to the topic of critical thinking, let’s look at the role critical thinking plays in the context of how to read about science in a way that promotes scientific literacy (see or Jurecki, K. et al, “Science Literacy, Critical Thinking, and Scientific Literature: Guidelines for Evaluating Scientific Literature in the Classroom,” Vol.60, 2012, p.100-105). Karenann Jurecki and Matthew Wander propose a two-tier review approach for scientific literature to improve the capacity of the average citizen to evaluate information critically, sorting the good from the bad. The first tier focuses on the quality of the source of the information. The first tier establishes whether or not the material is original research and whether or not the material is published in an authoritative source. A checklist is provided to assess if the material is original research or not. In addition, the standard of authority used in this approach, consistent with that used by the academic community, is publication in a peer-reviewed, refereed, or juried journal. The second tier focuses on the quality of the information. The second tier evaluates the objectivity and validity of the information which requires critical thinking. In order to use scientific knowledge and understanding in a constructive way, critical thinking must first be used to insure that the information upon which that knowledge and understanding is based is objective and valid.

Second, critical thinking is thinking for the purpose of evaluation or assessment. One of the most well-known methods of critical thinking is the Socratic Method (see and The Socratic Method is inquiry that is based on six different types of questions. The six different types of questions are questions of clarification, questions that probe assumptions, questions that probe reasons and evidence, questions that probe viewpoints and perspectives, questions that probe implications and consequences, and questions about the question.

Finally, let’s look at the role of scientific literacy in collaboration. Scientific literacy has both a ‘what’ role and a ‘how’ role to play in collaboration. The ‘what’ role has to do with the ‘supporting focused content’ branch of the values tree of collaboration (see Getting to the key science disciplines most important to your collaboration topic and drilling down to the relevant content from there will help insure that the supporting focused content is the result of a comprehensive approach based on credible information (e.g., the two-tiered approach developed by Karenann Jurecki and Matthew Wander and decribed above). The ‘how’ role of scientific literacy has to do with critical thinking. If critical thinking is applied to all the branches of the Values Tree of Collaboration, then the results of the collaboration will have the best chance of delivering high authentic value to the organization. This is because critical thinking leads to learning, and learning is a pre-requisite to delivering value.

Science is everywhere in our world today and is constantly evolving. To be scientifically literate in today’s world means to be able to use critical thinking to separate the good information from the bad information. What you can learn from the good information can be very important to the success of your organization in the short-term and in the long-term. Trevor Bond said: ‘Learning is primarily a process of change. When effective it results in changes to world view, understanding, knowledge, beliefs, values, attitudes and behaviours or skills.’ He also said: ‘It is thinking that produces learning, the better the thinking the better the learning, the richer the deeper the thinking the richer the deeper the learning’ (see If you would like to learn more about how critical thinking and scientific literacy can produce the kind of learning that will deliver new value to your organization, contact Valerie Patrick at Fulcrum Connection LLC (412-742-9675 or