We have a giraffe problem

Judging by the number of giraffes that have been appearing across Facebook this week, there's a serious lack of critical thinkers out there

It's an epidemic. Hundreds of thousands of people all over the world turning into giraffes.

Well, virtual giraffes. And just for three days.

A simple riddle that's been trending on Facebook since last Saturday requests that people who guess an incorrect answer change their profile pic to that of a giraffe for three days. The riddle itself is fairly straightforward and can be correctly answered with a bit of critical thinking. But therein lies the issue. Judging by the number of giraffes that have been appearing across Facebook this week, there's a serious lack of critical thinkers out there.

Rather like the giraffe itself, critical thinking is a simple beast. At its broadest definition it's a skillset for accurately evaluating information in a logical and disciplined way, using thought processes like analysing, examining, defining, questioning and reasoning. It's something we all do many times a day, mostly with small, relatively insignificant decisions like what to have for lunch.

For many teachers and educators, cultivating critical thinking in students is the ultimate goal of education. A student who learns the answer to a particular problem by rote may well master that particular problem. But if they improve their critical thinking skills, they effectively equip themselves with the tools to find the solutions to an unlimited array of unfamiliar problems.

As the following video explains, "critical thinking isn't just thinking a lot. A person may spend a great deal of intellectual energy defending a flawed position or pursuing a question that actually needs reformulating before progress can begin. If they never examine possible flaws and biases behind their approach, that's not thinking critically. We must want to be better at thinking to pinpoint and minimise any biasing influence on our thought, from culture and upbringing, to seek out and be guided by knowledge and evidence that fits with reality even if it refutes our cherished beliefs. Indeed when we think critically, beliefs tend not to be cherished but held on the understanding that if they're shown to be unfounded, a change of position is the most appropriate response.

Critical thinking isn't just an essential skill for problem-solving. It also makes for better, more engaged citizens. Research in the United States has shown that young people who participated in classroom debates and discussions (an excellent way to cultivate critical thinking) were far more likely than their passive counterparts to sign a written petition, walk, run or ride for charity, or attend a community meeting. (Molly Andolina, PhD, et al., PS: Political Science and Politics, April 2003). Clearly critical thinking is something that benefits all of us, both as individuals and as a society, and goes way beyond fun online puzzles and riddles.

So, be honest now… how many of you out there turned into giraffes? Raise your hooves.