Let's reason out of our pressing issues


We did it. We showed the world our resolve. I remain in awe of the indomitable Kenyan spirit and devotion to civic duty as millions of citizens across the nation queued up to exercise valuable democratic rights and responsibilities and cast their indelible vote with some of the highest voter turnout rates in the world.

As Kenyans we conclude this round of elections and eagerly look forward to the next five or 10 years of new national leadership, we will need a robust scientific approach to tackle the leading issues of our day from climate change, global and regional conflict, corruption, public health, food insecurity, water scarcity, human rights, among a myriad of others.

We must surely harness thousands of creative thinkers, the likes of Rosemary Chepkorir Sang, Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o, George Warimwe, and Washington Yotto Ochieng, among many more. Then coupled with political resolve and willing communities, fully and comprehensively make the unique, innovative, and possibly difficult decisions to secure Kenya’s future for the rest of this century.

But often times scientific inquiry and solutions are met with obstinance and a refusal to acknowledge tested and proven facts. The climate crisis stands as a poignant example of resistance to scientific reasoning and susceptibility to conspiracy theories.

Yet different commentators often lay the blame for anti-science stances on political ideology. Watch an hour of CNN or MSNBC and one would likely feel that the Republic Party in America is to blame for all assaults on science.

Conversely, watch Fox News or Newsmax in the US who blame the Democrats. Here in Kenya, we see attacks on opinion polling science and Covid-19 vaccine efficacy.

Even academics find ways to blame one’s political opinions on how they view science and response to factual inquiry. However, in a groundbreaking study, Gordon Pennycook, Bence Bago, and Jonathon McPhetres found that cognitive sophistication was related to proscience beliefs rather than dominated by political ideology.

The study compared individuals across the political spectrum on a range of controversial issues not just global warming or vaccines, but also gender identity, human intelligence, genetics, nuclear power, genetically modified food, essential oils, stereotypes, the big bang theory, and evolution.

The scientists used several methods to determine reasoning ability including Gordon Pennycook, James Cheyne, Derek Koehler, and Jonathan Fugelsang’s “Actively Open-Minded Think-ing About Evidence Scale”.

Try a few of the statements: It is important to persevere in your beliefs even when evidence is brought to bear against them. Certain beliefs are just too important to abandon no matter how good a case can be made against them.

One should disregard evidence that conflicts with your established beliefs. No one can talk me out of something I know is right. I believe that loyalty to one’s ideals and principles is more important than open-mindedness.

If you disagreed with most of these five statements, then you are higher in openness and critical thinking. If you agreed with most, then you are more closed.

The study further asked questions pertaining to reasoning ability. The more sophisticated a thinker, regardless of their political affiliation, then the more adept she or he is at evaluating scientific research evidence.

Also, the study found that basic science knowledge, even rudimentary scientific understanding, helps reduce future adult learning biases.

Now, what is the solution? Do we just blindly accept scientific findings as they come across our computer screens, mobile phones, or lecture halls? Absolutely not.

We investigate the data, peer into the methodology, and question the results. To get societies to follow this process in larger proportions, we must teach critical thinking skills.

Including reasoning skills in our primary, secondary, and tertiary education curriculum can prove vital to a future informed and non-radicalised citizenry.

Further, incorporating reasoning skills into our corporate training curriculum, civic engagement education, and community empowerment seminars by government and civil society can aid in depolarising populations. A population armed with critical reasoning capabilities can make the world of tomorrow more worth living in.

Dr Bellows is an Assistant Professor of Management at USIU