Last Tuesday, ten Leaps In Logic attacks were discussed and this week, another ten Leaps In Logic attacks are being discussed. As readers and visitors read through this next group of ten, and coupled with last week’s group of ten, perhaps it’s easier to understand how misunderstanding, misinterpretations, misperceptions, and misrepresentation happen over the course of a discussion or debate, leaving the facts in the dust. Starting with generalizations, the next group of ten show the nuances that create Leaps In Logic attacks.
Watch for arguments that rely heavily on absolute terms such as always, never, constantly, et al, and denotes a property that a thing either can or cannot have, and cannot be compared. Generalizations imply that they are rooted in pure logic but allow for rough approximations per the views of the person making the generalizations. For these reasons, it’s best to go with facts and steer clear of generalizations.
Statistics are nothing more than data collected within set parameters. The problem is sometimes the parameters that are set and how the questions are asked when collecting the data. George Canning was quoted saying that he could prove anything but the truth with statistics. The reason for this, according to Laurence Peter, is because “facts are stubborn things, but statistics are more pliable.”
The reason statistics can be dangerous is because they oftentimes rely on averages. When former U.S. Labor Secretary Robert Reich said that he and Shaquille O’Neal had an average height of 6 feet, that statement was correct because Shaquille O’Neal is 7’1″ tall and Robert Reich is 4’10” tall. Averaging the two, statistics support the 6 feet tall claim … statistically speaking. It is best to go with facts and not rely on averages and statistics, especially when presented without parameters to understand the statistics … especially when misquoting statistics can lead to flawed conclusions.
Oftentimes random coincidences become part of another logical fallacy known as the anecdotal evidence argument. For example, let’s say that a group of mothers with children suffering from the same diagnosis begin talking about their love of chocolate. One mother might say that she recently realized that her child developed symptoms after being exposed to the chocolate wrapper. A second mother might speak up and say, “What a coincidence! My child also developed symptoms after being exposed to a similar chocolate wrapper.”
It’s a coincidence that the symptoms each child exhibits were noticed after being exposed to chocolate wrappers. The random coincidence may spur a hypothesis, but it is a weak argument since many children suffering from the same diagnosis may not have been exposed to said chocolate wrapper or they may have been exposed to said chocolate wrapper long after they began to exhibit symptoms. While random coincidence is an interesting occurrence, it is not a solid basis from which to base a position in an argument. Go with facts instead.
Morals, ethics and mores rely heavily on the society from which they spring. For example, the morals, ethics and mores in a Middle Eastern country are not the same as the morals, ethics and mores in European country. That being said, the morals in society as a whole do not carry the same weight. One can be against murder and yet allow murder as a defense in cases where the victim is defending his or her life against a perpetrator who is trying to kill the victim. Such a person may not agree with the moral equivalency that states that all acts of violence that end in the loss of life is wrong. It’s best to go with the facts and not rely on moral equivalency arguments.
The non sequitur argument is one many have heard but few recognize by name. The non sequitur is one that relies on the if/then set-up. In other words, when you hear someone say, “If you loved me, then …” that comment is a non sequitur argument. It is just as possible that the person to whom the non sequitur argument is addressed loves the speaker, but for reasons of his or her own, does not feel compelled to comply with the second half of the speaker’s statement. Facts matter most, and rely on them instead of falling back on non sequitur arguments.
Correlation v Causation
Just because two things happen at, or nearly at, the same time does not mean they are related. And just because they may happen at, or nearly at, the same time, does not mean that one is the cause of the other. It’s possible that there is another piece of the puzzle that co-exists with the other two that is responsible for the first two happening at, or nearly at, the same time … and that none of the three has anything to do with flawed conclusions. It’s also possible that either or both of the original two things would happen even if the other did not happen. The most well-known correlation v causation argument over the past 15 years has been that vaccinations cause autism. Again, facts are what should be relied upon and not correlation v causation arguments.
The red herring argument is oftentimes used by those who also engage in elephant stomping debate techniques (to be described at a later date). The red herring appears, at first blush, to be related to the main topic of discussion, however it quickly manages to derail the original debate and reroutes it along the red herring. This effectively distances the participants in the discussion from the topic at hand. Rather than allow a red herring argument to make off with the focus of the discussion, rely on facts and stick to them.
Playing With Words
It’s often suggested that, to clarify a comment, one should rephrase it and ask if the rephrasing is correct. However in the playing with words argument, one important step is purposely missed … that of asking if the rephrasing is correct. Instead, the comment is purposely rephrased incorrectly and then the incorrectly rephrased comment is addressed. Refer to the facts and to the comment in its original form and not play the game of trying to defend your position against a playing with words argument.
Some of you may remember the song from the eighties that insisted that “one thing leads to another.” While it may be so in some cases, it isn’t so in all cases and this is why the slippery slope argument is one to avoid. One change does not necessarily mean that another will inevitably follow. While slippery slopes sometimes happen as a results of certain decisions, it is not a given that it will always happen and for that reason, the focus must stay on the facts and not fall easy prey to the slippery slope argument.
In this argument, rather than go with the rule, the person goes with the exception. Oftentimes the exception has little, or nothing, to do with the discussion. In a discussion about gun control, mentioning that Adolf Hitler supported gun control may have nothing whatsoever to do with the focus of the discussion. If the straw man argument is thrown into the ring, focus on the facts of the rule and not the facts of the exception.
Next Tuesday, believe it or not, I’ll be writing about another group of Leaps In Logic attacks, how to spot them, and how to defend your factual position when confronted with them.
Addressing Offensive Behavior (Part 1)