Beware and Aware

As we enter into the nastiness of campaigns on both sides of the 49th parallel be on the look out for illogical arguments, empty rhetoric and logical fallacies. All these mean that the speaker has nothing of substance to say and is resorting to childishness.

debate

Some specific things to watch for;

ad hominem: Latin for “to the man.” An arguer who uses ad hominems attacks the person instead of the argument. Whenever an arguer cannot defend his position with evidence, facts or reason, he or she may resort to attacking an opponent either through: labeling, straw man arguments, name calling, offensive remarks and anger.

appeal to ignorance (argumentum ex silentio) appealing to ignorance as evidence for something. (e.g., We have no evidence that God doesn’t exist, therefore, he must exist. Or: Because we have no knowledge of alien visitors, that means they do not exist). Ignorance about something says nothing about its existence or non-existence.

confusion of correlation and causation: (e.g., More men play chess than women, therefore, men make better chess players than women. Or: Children who watch violence on TV tend to act violently when they grow up.) But does television programming cause violence or do violence oriented children prefer to watch violent programs? Perhaps an entirely different reason creates violence not related to television at all. Stephen Jay Gould called the invalid assumption that correlation implies cause as “probably among the two or three most serious and common errors of human reasoning” (The Mismeasure of Man).

non sequitur: Latin for “It does not follow.” An inference or conclusion that does not follow from established premises or evidence. (e.g., there occured an increase of births during the full moon. Conclusion: full moons cause birth rates to rise.) But does a full moon actually cause more births, or did it occur for other reasons, perhaps from expected statistical variations?

statistics of small numbers: similar to observational selection (e.g., My parents smoked all their lives and they never got cancer. Or: I don’t care what others say about Yugos, my Yugo has never had a problem.) Simply because someone can point to a few favorable numbers says nothing about the overall chances.

Let the toxic and ridiculous begin,

B

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