sarahmichigan: (Default)
If you liked my series on logical fallacies a while back, you might enjoy an article I wrote and had published. I compiled 7 common logical fallacies in one piece about critical thinking, here.
sarahmichigan: (Default)
 I can't believe that back when I was doing my "Fallacy of the Day" series, I didn't cover "The Straw Man"! If the "ad hominem attack" is one of the top fallacies encountered in internet debates, the Straw Man can't be far behind.

Basically, the Straw Man Fallacy is when Person A attacks and knocks down a distorted, weaker version of Person B's argument for or against some proposition instead of refuting Person B's actual argument.

The reason I'm thinking about this is that President Bush's use of the Straw Man was recently pointed out in an article I read about common fallacies in the media and how these fallacies distort the public's views on current events. In one of Bush's speeches, he said he thought that his opponents' plan to "Pull the troops out immediately" was a bad and dangerous idea. That is a Straw Man, because very few if any of those who want to see the Iraq war end were calling for "immediate" withdrawal of the troops. They just wanted a gradual pulling out of the troops on a faster timeline than the Bush administration had in mind.

 
sarahmichigan: (Default)
I know that even as skeptical as I am about a number of issues and beliefs (alternative medicine, the supernatural, and so on), that I am not immune to believing things without having good proof for them, or believing them for emotional reasons. I think this article does a good job of explaining how someone can be very skeptical and logical in one area of life while being a bit of a sucker in other areas-- think Arthur Conan Doyle, who created the eminently logical Sherlock Holmes, and yet who was also scammed by little girls who faked a fairy sighting.

There is the issue of "confirmation bias", to be sure. We tend to remember and emphasize evidence that bolsters what we already believe and disregard evidence that would disprove our belief.

Also relevant is the issue of "argument by emotion"- we often believe things because of some strong emotion we have about a subject rather than because the facts.

However, something I've thought about before but hadn't really put into words is that we don't have the time or expertise to be able to be skeptical about everything. It's sort of a time-saving shortcut to believe the conventional wisdom on a variety of things because nobody has the time to skeptically investigate every claim, every belief. And I don't have expertise on every area of life to know whether a claim is reasonable or not- I could be totally scammed about an economic theory, for instance, because it's not an area I've studied much.

Here's an example: I have little boxes of baking soda in my fridge and my freezer. I'd always been told that they keep your fridge and freezer smelling better. But where is the proof? What scientific study has been done? Or is this just propaganda by Arm and Hammer to keep sales up? It hadn't even occurred to me to be skeptical about this claim until I read an article that mentioned in passing the fact that the claim hadn't been tested.
sarahmichigan: (Default)
Someone tried to use the "Appeal to Antiquity" on me the other day in an argument about acupuncture. I found it wholly unconvincing.

After all, it was believed that the earth was the center of the universe for millenia as well, but that doesn't mean that the theory of "geocentrism" is correct.

(For those of you bored by my fallacy series earlier this year, don't worry; I'm not making it a regular thing, but I think it's fun to note them when I find real-life examples.)
sarahmichigan: (Default)
"Confirmation Bias" is not, strictly speaking, one of the logical fallacies often listed in a logic class. It is, however, an example of sort of illogical thought-pattern or selective thinking.

If you only notice the anecdotal evidence that supports your theory but don't pay attention to incidents that disprove your theory about how something works, you're falling into the illogical trap of "confirmation bias." This is the sort of illogical thinking that makes people believe that people get crazier during the full moon or makes people remember their predictive dreams that "come true" while completely discounting the ten previous dreams that didn't "come true."

http://skepdic.com/confirmbias.html

I find this phenomenon fascinating, because I notice that even highly-intelligent, highly-educated people who understand the scientific method clearly and are skeptical of other people's superstitious tendencies (and I include myself here) often fall into this trap.
sarahmichigan: (Default)
I hadn't heard this term before, but it might be because it's similar to or just a variation on the "hasty generalization." If you think that all homosexual men are screaming drag queens and all lesbians are leather dykes on bikes because you've seen one Gay Pride parade on TV, you're falling victim to the "Spotlight" fallacy.

I see people falling into this fallacy all the time, most recently, stereotyping all Muslims as violent because of a few bad apples who are in the media spotlight.

More discussion on the fallacy here:

http://www.nizkor.org/features/fallacies/spotlight.html
sarahmichigan: (Default)
This one drives me up the wall. I noticed an example of it in, of all things, Babylon 5, season 4. Captain Sheridan tells the alien Lorien that the first duty of a prisoner is to escape. Lorien then launches into a completely moronic speech about, "If you're a captive of love, should you try to escape to solitude?" and so on, using terribly flawed analogies and abusing the prisoner metaphor to within an inch of its life.

Of course, no analogy is perfect, but some are better than others. More discussion on this fallacy can be found here:

http://www.fallacyfiles.org/wanalogy.html
sarahmichigan: (Default)
If you've been enjoying this series so far, please give me your thoughts one or more of the following questions:

1. Which fallacy (already discussed or another I haven't touched on yet) is one you think you're most prone to commit?

2. Which fallacy is a pet peeve and/or one you run into often in discussions?

3. Which fallacy do you think is insidious and/or hard to counter when you run into it?

I think I probably am most prone to Read more... )
sarahmichigan: (Default)
The "argument from ignorance" goes something like this:

"Statement X can't be true because there's no proof for it."
or
"Statement Z must be true because there's no proof that it isn't true."

An example might be, "Psychic phenomena don't exist because there's no proof that they're real." There might be other, valid, arguments against the realness of psychic phenomena, but this isn't a valid argument.

Or, "God exists because nobody has proven that he doesn't." Of course, it's as consistent (and equally fallacious) to argue, "Oh yeah? Well, God doesn't exist because nobody has proved that he does."

More examples and further explantion here:
http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/mathew/logic.html#ignorantiam
http://www.logicalfallacies.info/argumentfromignorance.html

During an argument, the burden of proof is on the person making the initial assertion, say, "Gray aliens rule the White House." If person A is arguing this point, and person B is skeptical, Person A might then say, "If you don't believe me, then where's your proof that gray aliens are NOT ruling the White House?" Person A would be committing the fallacy (really just a sub-set of argument from ignorance) of shifting the burden of proof.

http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/mathew/logic.html#shifting
sarahmichigan: (Default)
Wow, do I see this one in on-line arguments all the time!

If someone is making a universal statement, such as "All Volvos are always reliable" and you can find one counter-example, then that's a valid tack to take. But often anecdotal counter-examples are raised as if they somehow invalidate a generalization, such as "Volvos, on the whole, tend to be reliable, and they're rated highly by Consumer Reports." Merely hearing one counter-example about a lemon Volvo does not invalidate the generalized statement that Volvos, in general, tend to be more reliable than most other makes of car.

Say for instance I make the statement that, statistically speaking, fat and even obese people who exercise regularly have about the same mortality rates and risk for many diseases as thinner active people, and they have much better health than thin, sedentary people. Someone may come along and cite the case of her Aunt Mary who was 350 pounds and could barely get out of bed and died at age 52 of heart disease. This is as fallacious an argument as someone else who comes back and says, "Oh yeah? Well my Grandpa Mortimer weighed 375 pounds, and he was healthy as a horse up until about the last month or two of his life, and he lived to be 90!"

More discussion and examples here:
http://www.cuyamaca.edu/bruce.thompson/Fallacies/anecdotal.asp
sarahmichigan: (Default)
When pro-lifers/anti-abortionists put up big photos of mangled fetuses, they're appealing to your emotions/pity, rather than arguing about abortion law based on the facts.

http://www.logicalfallacies.info/appealtopity.html

This is a fallacy I think it's really easy to commit. I've been guilty of this a bit myself when appealing to your feelings of pity for small children when I advocate mandating childhood vaccines. Including a bit of emotional appeal is a long-standing tactic in debates, political speeches, and in persuaive speaking generally. It can be an effective technique, but that doesn't mean you're making a logical argument.
sarahmichigan: (Default)
The classic example of this is "When ice cream sales are high, so are murder rates. So ice cream consumption must cause murders." Of course, there's no causation there; ice cream sales and murder rates just both happen to go up when the weather is hot. Other examples can be found here:

http://www.don-lindsay-archive.org/skeptic/arguments.html#correlation

There are a lot of arguments about the dangers of obesity that rely on this fallacy. People assume that because there's some (but not as much as we're lead to believe by the popular media) correlation between increasing weight and increasing incidents of certain diseases and premature death that obesity causes these diseases and premature death. But when you factor out certain lifestyle elements, such as activity, consumption of fruit and vegetables, and smoking, the picture becomes more complicated. It's more likely that lack of activity and poor eating habits both contribute to obesity and to ill health, not that obesity causes ill health in and of itself, since people who are obese but who exercise regularly have virtually the same life expectancy as thinner, active people.

This fallacy has also mislead some people to be anti-vaccination because of the supposed correlation between exposure to mercury in vaccines and the rising rates of autism. As more children have been vaccinated, the argument goes, more cases of autism have occurred. Therefore, the mercury in vaccines must be causing autism. There are no well done studies that show any link between the mercury in vaccines and autism. What is more likely going on is that over the years, screening is catching more cases of autism in children AND the criteria for diagnosing mild forms of autism have broadened, resulting in larger numbers of children being diagnosed as autistic, not necessarily that there are many, many more causes of autism occurring than in previous years.

On the other hand, you can't entirely ignore strong correlations in medical studies; this is exactly how we found out that tobacco smoking causes cancer. The strong correlative evidence between cigarette smoking an rates of cancer is something like *900 times stronger thank the link between obesity and most diseases it supposedly contributes to. And, we also understand something more about the mechanism of how tobacco smoking causes cancer, which lends additional evidence besides the correlative evidence to the smoking/cancer link.

* I remember the numbers being something close to that according to Glenn Gaesser in "Big Fat Lies" but I don't have the actual number in front of me. Post to be updated with exact number when I can track it down.

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