Best practices are not inherently above scrutiny

Josh Ducharme posted a few thoughts about best practices the other day that got me thinking.

The concept of a ‘best practice’ is both critically important and insidiously limiting. Once you know you are conducting your work under parameters set by best practices, why bother being critical, curious, or interrogating the efficacy of your practice further? Logically, what can top ‘the best’?

In truth, I think we can agree that best practices evolve all the time. (Exhibit A: the history of medicine.) We call some practices the ‘best’ in a temporal sense: they are only the best right now, and it is nonsense to imagine that any given practice today will necessarily hold its grip on the throne of ‘bestness’ forever. A more honest label would be: as-good-as-we’ve-got-so-far practices.

Just because a protocol or procedure wins the label of ‘best practice’ ought not mean that it is no longer subject to scrutiny.

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Critical Thinking: A Cheatsheet

  1. What would it take to convince me that I am wrong? (Falsifiability)

  2. How could I empirically prove the exact opposite of what I suspect to be true? (Null hypothesis)

  3. How could someone else argue that my position is illogical or irrational? (Self-debate)

  4. Who benefits the most when I hold this belief? (Critical discourse analysis)

  5. How would a rational person who holds an opposing viewpoint explain and justify their position? (Empathy)

  6. Can I conceptualize an alternative position that does not yield a binary ‘true or false’ dichotomy? (Non-dualism)

  7. How does my position and experience in society inform my assumptions and perspective? (Reflexive intersectionality)

  8. What unconscious mental shortcuts can I identify in my reasoning and rationale? (Cognitive bias mitigation)

  9. How can I guard myself against the illusion that I am reasoning objectively? (Skepticism)

  10. What beliefs have I already unconsciously accepted in order to arrive at my present position? (Presuppositions, tacit assumptions)

  11. What do the words that I use to express my beliefs connote implicitly that they do not denote explicitly? (Semantics, pragmatics)

  12. What are the psychological, social, institutional, or cultural costs of changing my mind? (Motivated reasoning)

  13. How would my identity be threatened if my beliefs or reasoning were shown to be flawed? (Externalize epistemology)

  14. If faced with sufficient counter-evidence, would I care about truth enough to abandon my present beliefs? (Ideological commitments)

  15. Who is framing, shaping, and informing the questions that I can even think to ask? (Social influence)

  16. What questions am I most afraid to ask? (Courage)

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