In general the definition of critical thinking is this, as defined by the National Council for Excellence in Critical Thinking. “Critical thinking is the intellectually disciplined process of actively and skillfully conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and/or evaluating information gathered from, or generated by, observation, experience, reflection, reasoning, or communication, as a (guide) to belief and action. When grounded in selfish motives, it is often manifested in the skillful manipulation of ideas in service of one’s (own) or (one’s groups’) vested interest. As such it is typically intellectually flawed however pragmatically successful it might be. When ground in fair-mindedness and intellectual integrity, it is typically of higher order intellectually.”
What is terribly lacking in beekeeping is the ability or will to do critical thinking on the part of many in beekeeping. We see this on many fronts as it pertains to various subjects and ideas as these ideas are presented for discussion. Some in beekeeping become belligerent or offensive/defensive as their ideas are questioned as if it were an attack to their character or person. Ideas that cannot successfully or adequately be defended or explained by the person presenting them should reasonably be questioned by all, as to its validity.
Opposites can be true! Often the beekeeper with questions migrate from beekeeper to beekeeper asking what he, she may think is the same question expecting the same or similar answer without realizing the formula has changed and one or both parties has changed the criteria, for example. Do you use queen excluders or do you like queen excluders is not the same question! As well, answers can vary, I hate queen excluders, but I use them, maybe the beekeeper answering the question was referring to comb honey production when he was referring to using excluders and hated its use in the normal extracting process. The person asking questions needs to be specific in the questions asked, and constant in any format or presentation when asking any question. The adage, you ask one hundred beekeepers one question and you will get one hundred different answers may be miss stated, maybe it is not just one question but many similar questions with many different answers.
A more refined question will certainly bring about a more detailed answer, for example maybe the above question should have started with, what is a queen excluder? Then, who would use a queen excluder? Then, in normal use how is a queen excluder used? Then, are there other uses or circumstances a queen excluder may be used? Etc. Wanting the short answer to a general question will render no specific solutions.
A look at a few examples that may spur debate in beekeeping, there certainly is no shortage of controversial ideas, race of bee, queen excluders, size boxes, 8 frame vs. 10 frame, package vs. nuc and we can go on for almost every aspect of beekeeping to the confusion of many and disdain of all. Much of this has NEVER been adequately debated in a public forum for the benefit if not for the humor of all as well. It is of great interest to watch some individual squirm and fidget as the try to defend an indefensible idea of which they are particularly fond.
Critical thinking can be learned, it is a discipline, and should be applied to all areas of life, the most basic form of critical thinking would be to ask questions, specific questions, question your own thinking, resist the desire to form opinions without sufficient input from all sides, define and explain words. Treat all that offer information as you would any business transaction such as a used car salesman, or banker, examine the fine print again and again, results should always be the same if the same question is asked, if the information is correct, or maybe you should refine the question. If enough questions are ask and accurate information sought after the information is available for the sincere researcher.
I know this sounds silly but when you deal with the public as I do, or you instruct/teach, words convey ideas and thoughts and if the meaning is not clearly understood it results in confusion and misunderstanding which can be costly in more ways than one. May times I start a class with “I am only responsible for what I say, not what you hear” listeners many times will pick a word out of a whole conversation and repeat it out context, which in turn can mean entirely something else. I hear this over and over in a one on one conversation. I have been quoted in the media as having said some of the most outlandish things.