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Is it Real, or is it Bull Crap?: Sharpening your “Fallacy” Detectors


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June 14, 2013

Proof by Lack of Evidence— Proving a negative. For example: “What proof do you have that your daughter didn’t give birth to the baby you call your own?”

2obama The 2002 book by Nathaniel and Hans Bluedorn, “The Fallacy Detective,”  is a primer in how to detect various fallacy types in modern rhetoric. As the country is in meltdown mode and opposing sides are increasing polarized, it’s useful to be able to identity and thwart the rhetorical weapons of the enemies of liberty. Here are but a few:

Fallacy Types:

TuQuoque–Saying “You are just as bad”–Avoiding a truth about the object of criticism by an unrelated personal attack on the criticizer or an alliance of the criticizer. For example: “Yeah sure, Barack Obama is subverting the Fourth Amendment by snooping on millions of Americans who are not suspected of any crime, but the “Patriot Act” was George Bush’s idea, so it’s really his fault.” Genetic Fallacy–Who or how or where the argument began, not whether it is relevant to the point.  For example: In answer to a question about crushing national debt, a Liberal might say, “Big government got us out of the Great Depression and helped win World War II.” Ad Hominem–Attack the person making the argument instead of the subject. For example: “You just oppose giving amnesty to illegal aliens because you hate people who look different than you!” Red Herring–It may be true, but is irrelevant to the subject and avoids the question. For example: In an argument about government snooping into private data a Liberal might say, “George W. Bush lied about WMDs in Iraq!” Faulty Appeal to Authority–Quoting someone who is not an expert on the subject at hand just because he is an authority in another area. For example: “Al Gore says that global warming is destroying the earth, and since he was Vice President, he knows what he’s talking about.” Appeal to the People–Our view is right because many others agree. For example: “Well, a majority of Americans believe that homosexual marriage is inevitable, so that proves it’s the right thing to do.” Straw Man–Exaggerating your opponent’s position to make him look unreasonable or extreme. For example: “You oppose tax payer funding of Planned Parenthood because you believe that women should be enslaved in patriarchal, sexist cage where they stay barefoot and pregnant forever.” Assumptions–Be aware of your assumptions; incomplete of incorrect information that misleads your readers or listeners. For example: “Christianity is oppressive because it teaches people to hate homosexuals.” Circular Reasoning–If P is true and Q is true, then P must be true because Q must be true. For example: “The President can’t be against working people because he’s a liberal and liberals are always for working people.” or “How do I know he’s for working people?” “Because he’s a liberal.” Loaded Question–Present an assumption hidden inside a misleading question, which assumption cannot be denied without addressing the misleading question. For example: “When did you stop beating your wife?” Part to Whole–What is true of part of the debated subject must be true of the whole thing. For example: “That right-wing nut job blew up and abortion clinic so all right-wingers are murderous crazy people.” Whole to Part–A conclusion about part of the whole based on what is true of the whole.  For example: “Traditions are good and Muslims are very traditional, therefore all traditions practiced by Muslims are good.” Either/or–You must choose between only two options when there may be more than that. For example: “If you oppose increased welfare funding it’s because you either hate poor people or you’re a racist.” Generalization–Reaching a conclusion about everyone in a group based on a few examples. For example: “No Republicans can be trusted! Just look at McCain and Graham! Those guys are filthy RINOS!” Post Hoc Ergo Propter Hoc–(after this, therefore, because of this) For example: “My kid was diagnosed with Autism after he got his vaccines, therefore the vaccinations caused his Autism.” or “The decrease in abortions since 1987 shows that government funding of Planned Parenthood successfully stemmed the number of unplanned pregnancies.” Proof by Lack of Evidence–Proving a negative. For example: “What proof do you have that your daughter didn’t give birth to the baby you call your own?”

Propaganda:  Any means of inculcating beliefs or ideas, manipulation of information, news reports, statistics, etc.

Manipulating Emotions— Generating agreement without a thoughtful assessment of the facts through targeting easy emotions. Repetition–Brainwashing through ceaselessly repeating a lie, or an item of information. Authority/Experts–Manipulation through convincing people that an “expert” has the last word on a topic. Appeal to Fear–Indirect threat to reputation or well being if you do not respond in a certain way. Appeal to Pity–Doing something through pity or feeling guilty because someone else suffers while you do not. Bandwagon–Doing something to feel included in a group or as a result of mob mentality. Exigency–Hurry and agree or fulfill a directive because you have been told bad things will happen if the time runs out. Transfer–The transference of positive or negative feelings about one thing to an unrelated thing. Snob Appeal–Opposite of bandwagon; doing something because it elevates you above the “unwashed masses.” Appeal to Tradition or to Modern “High-Tech”–Do something associated with the past because it’s time tested, whether or not it was good. Applying the same approach to cutting-edge technology because it’s the latest thing, not because it’s the best thing. As you study this summary of main points from “The Fallacy Detective,” you will recognize them as techniques used in politics, news, and even education. Having the understanding that these are techniques used to drive narrative, and form public opinion, with help you and your friends to both be on guard for rhetorical tricks used by adversaries, as well as acquiring a few persuasive tools of your own. Note to readers: “The Fallacy Detective” is available at Amazon.com. This summary is used with permission of the authors. Reposted with permission by Marjorie Haun  6/14/13

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