As various thought fallacies and flawed arguments are constantly being exposed, used, debunked or otherwise referenced during our ethics discussions and debates—the Ethics Alarms compendium is here––this looked like something readers would enjoy. I probably should dedicate this post to former blog Commenter of the Year tgt, in appreciation for his ending—maybe just briefly, we shall see—his latest sabbatical with a flurry of 70 comments while I was lecturing in Newport last week. I didn’t have time to properly engage him or even read all the comments, but he seemed in characteristic form.
Tgt loves the fallacies and delights in slapping them down whenever they occur. His favorite is “No True Scotsman.” I immediately thought of him when I stumbled upon “An Illustrated Book of Bad Arguments” by the multi-talented Ali Almossawi. Tgt’s pet fallacy is here, as well as ad hominem, appeals to authority, the straw man, equivocation and others, some under different names than those I am used to. I haven’t read it carefully: there may be one or two that needs to be added to the Ethics Alarms list.
This is a well-researched and written exposition of some major fallacies with lovely illustrations, presented like a vintage children’s book. Someone should actually publish a children’s book like this: I would have been grateful for one when my son was a boy, or when I was a boy. I’m grateful for this now.
You can find this amazing work of art, ethics, rhetoric and logic here. I’ve already sent the link around to many friends, young and old, and you may want to do the same.
This is Johns Hopkins, who already had to deal with his parents putting an s after his first name, and now the Bloomberg School of Public Health attaches a bogus study to his name. Poor guy.
If you want a graphic example of why climate change skeptics distrust—and are right to distrust— the studies and computer models on the subject indicating that we are doomed unless we adopt Draconian measures, look no further than the Washington Posts’ embarrassing story on a study released this week in the American Journal of Public Health.
It is deceptive, biased, misleading and incompetent from the headline: “Gun killings fell by 40 percent after Connecticut passed this law.” The headline is designed to fool anyone so ignorant and unschooled, not to mention devoid of critical thought, to fall for the classic fallacy of “post hoc ergo propter hoc,” which means “after this, thus because of this.” The thesis of the study in question, swallowed whole by the gun-control shills on the Washington Post staff, is that because gun deaths in Connecticut fell after a mid-summer 1994 state law was passed requiring a purchasing license before a citizen could buy a handgun, the law was the reason. Of course, the rates also fell after the baseball players strike that same summer: one could make an equally valid argument that stopping baseball limits deaths by gunfire.
The story, and the study, epitomize biased journalism hyping bad research. You see, since rates of deaths by gunfire also fell after the Connecticut law in 39 states where no such laws existed, the claim that Connecticut’s limits caused that state’s drop is impossible to prove, and irresponsible to assert. Especially since… Continue reading →
I realized it was time to post the definitive Ethics Alarms List of Debate Cheats and Fallacies after once again having to point out to an indignant commenter that calling him a jerk based on a jerkish comment was not an ad hominem attack, and that saying idiotic things on-line carry that risk. Here, at last, is the current list, adapted from multiple sources. As with the Rationalizations List, with which this occasionally overlaps, I invite additions. Participants here should feel free to refer to the various fallacious arguments by number, and to apply critically them to my posts as well as the comments of others. Am I immune from occasionally falling into one or more of these bad debate techniques and rhetorical habits? No. The other reason I wanted to get the list up was to reinforce my own efforts to be persuasive without being manipulative.
1. Ad Hominem Attack
An ad hominem attack means that one is substituting the character or quality of an adversary’s thought for the argument the adversary is presenting. This is unfair, as well as misleading. “Your argument is invalid because you are a crook, a fool, an idiot” is an ad hominem attack. It is not an ad hominem attack to prove an argument idiotic, and conclude, on the basis of signature significance, (which requires that an argument be so idiotic that no non-idiot would conceive such a thing and dare express it),that the one making the argument is an idiot, since only an idiot would make such an argument. Confusing the true ad hominem attack with the latter is a useful deflection by poor advocates of the fair consequence of their advocacy. Idiots can still hold valid positions, and disproving the position has nothing to do with proving they are idiots.
1 a. The Toxic Introduction.
A more subtle application of the ad hominem attack is The Toxic Introduction, where the argument of another is introduced by noting a negative quality about the individual. The effect is to undermine the argument before it has even been heard, by its association with a less than impressive advocate.
2. Butch’s Stratagem (The Straw Man)
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Judge Boyd, being judged. (The earlier photo posted was NOT Judge Boyd. I apologize to the judge, readers, and whoever’s photo that was, for the error)
The newsmedia and blogosphere are going bonkers over the sentence given to Ethan Couch, the 16-year-old Texan who pleaded guilty last week to four counts of intoxication manslaughter and two counts of intoxication assault causing serious bodily injury. He had a blood-alcohol level three times the legal limit (Couch had stolen beer from a Walmart), plus traces of Valium in his system, when he lost control of the Ford F-350 pick-up he was driving (over the speed limit) and slammed into four people trying to fix a disabled car on the shoulder. They were killed; two of his seven passengers were critically injured. Prosecutors proposed 20 years in jail as the proper punishment for Couch, but his attorneys tried a novel defense: they had experts testify that their client suffered from “affluenza,” a malady caused by his rich, amoral, neglectful parents, who taught him (the theory goes) that there are no consequences for anything, if one has enough money.
Rejecting the prosecution’s argument, State District Judge Jean Boyd, presiding over the Fort Worth Juvenile Court, shocked everyone by sentencing Couch to only 10 years of probation—no prison time at all. The gist of the media outrage: once again, the life philosophy of Couch’s sociopathic parents is validated. The rich get away with everything: a poor, minority defendant who engaged in the same conduct would have been imprisoned. This is the injustice of the criminal law system in America.
Maybe. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
I think the judge, despite what we are hearing from the media, may have done her job well.
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I know that Ethics Alarms has been a bit relentless regarding the accusations and the innuendos against Sarah Palin and others in the wake of the Arizona shooting, but it is an unusually widespread out-break of unfair conduct, and the Ethics Dunces are coming in waves, and from all sides and sectors.
We have a sheriff on the scene, Clarence Dupnik, who seems determined to create the assassin’s defense for him, by claiming, in the face of much evidence to the contrary, that he was driven to violence by inflammatory political rhetoric. Watch Loughner’s crack criminal defense team run with that. We have the nation’s supposedly premiere news source, the New York Times, running a revolting editorial describing Loughner’s attack as political, when this is clearly not true. (An excellent condemnation of the Times piece by James Taranto can and should be read here). Not to be outdone, Rep. James Clyburn (S.C.), the third-ranking House Democrat, took the same low road. Referencing defeated G.O.P. Senate candidate Sharron Angle’s justly criticized “Second Amendment solution” statement from the campaign (it probably, and justly, lost her the election), Clyburn tied it to Jared Loughner’s attack. Continue reading →
“And then one night
The kid in right
Lies sprawling in the dirt.
The fastball struck him square—he’s down!
Is Tony badly hurt?”
Just about everyone who lived in Boston, Massachusetts in 1967 knows that bit of doggerel, an epic poem written to commemorate the Boston Red Sox miracle “Impossible Dream” pennant that year. Tony, “the kid in right,” was Tony Conigliaro, or Tony C. for short, the 22-year-old Italian stud from nearby Swampscott who was ticketed for the Hall of Fame. Tony had everything: looks, talent, an adoring hometown public and a flair for the dramatic—everything but luck. On August 19, 43 years ago today, an errant pitch from Angels starter Jack Hamilton struck him in the face, nearly killing him. The beaning began a series of events that turned “The Tony Conigliaro Story” from a feel-good romp to an epic tragedy. He was never quite the same after the beaning, though he bravely played three more seasons with a hole in his vision he never told anyone about. He quit, tried pitching, actually made a second comeback that was derailed by injuries, and quit again. He was about to become the Red Sox cable TV color man when he suffered an inexplicable heart attack that left him brain-damaged and an invalid until his death, at only 45, in 1990.
Since 1967, there has been a storyline connected with Tony C.’s beaning, and it resurfaces every year. Let’s have an enthusiastic Red Sox blogger tell the tale: Continue reading →
I don’t think this is the same “Theodoric of York” who authored this excellent “Comment of the Day”…at least I hope it isn’t.
The heat/ light ratio in the comments to the post about the controversial sentencing of a 16-year-old scofflaw in Texas has been depressing, but among the rational, measured, well-considered and thought-provoking responses by those who actually read the post, this one, by new commenter Theodoric of York, is a winner. His politeness is especially appreciated among all the posts calling me names that would shock my mother. I hope he comes again, and often.
I’ll have some further comments after he’s had his say. Meanwhile, here is Theodoric of York’s Comment or the Day on the post Ethics Observations on the “Affluenza” Sentence.