It’s Brand New!

Today’s Logical Fallacy is known as Appeal To Popularity. Since some of my readers are intimidated by X’s, today’s X will be played by baby ducks. The format of Appeal to Popularity looks like this:

1) Baby Ducks (X) are new.

2)Therefore Baby Ducks (X) are correct or better.

This type of reasoning is false because a new item or idea is not always, by default, better than something older. It should also not be presumed that old things are better than new things (see Appeal to Tradition).

A real world example might look something like this: Marketing approach Baby Ducks is new, therefor, because it is new, it will automatically work better.

This approach is fallacious because there is no evidence to support the claim that Baby Ducks is the best marketing approach over the previous marketing agenda.  Beyond that,  “This sort of “reasoning” is appealing for many reasons. First, “western culture” includes a very powerful comittment to the notion that new things must be better than old things. Second, the notion of progress (which seems to have come, in part, from the notion of evolution) implies that newer things will be superior to older things. Third, media advertising often sends the message that newer must be better. Because of these three factors (and others) people often accept that a new thing (idea, product, concept, etc.) must be better because it is new. Hence, Novelty is a somewhat common fallacy, especially in advertising.”, according to http://www.nizkor.org/features/fallacies/appeal-to-novelty.html

For some things age *does* have a bearing on the context. Fresh food is better for human consumption than food that has rotted. To follow that line of reasoning someone would, obviously, not be committing the flawed appeal to popularity “reasoning”.  So as you can see, even though they are cute and fuzzy, Baby Ducks are not automatically better that Grown Up Ducks.

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Appeal to Ridicule

Unfortunately I have seen this logical fallacy used on both sides of the skeptic/believer debate. It occurs when ridicule or mockery is used in place of evidence in an “argument”.

As usual I will substitute the X’s for something cute and fuzzy.

The Appeal to Ridicule has the following format where X equals puppies:

1) Puppies (X), as some form of mockery, is aimed at the claim (C).

2) Therefor Claim (C) is false.

This sort of “argument” is fallacious because ridiculing a claim is not provable evidence that said claim is actually false. An obvious example would look like this “1+1=2?? That’s the most patently ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard!”

This argument is of course based in the idea that we are working with a Base 10 system of counting.

I have heard this fallacy used as an argument so many times even in my own household. A real world example looks like this:

“Evolution is absurd! I’ve never heard of a monkey giving birth to a human!”

The ridicule here occurs in both the use of the word ‘absurd’ and the dismissiveness of the concept of human evolution as a whole.  Usually that argument is made by Creationists who simply have not educated themselves or have chosen not to be educated on the current theory of evolution.

Another form of this argument is “reductio ad absurdum” or “reducing to absurdity”. This site http://bit.ly/2x6CEY has an excellent example of it. I’ll quote it here:

One form of this line of reasoning is known as a “reductio ad absurdum” (“reducing to absurdity”). In this sort of argument, the idea is to show that a contradiction (a statement that must be false) or an absurd result follows from a claim. For example: “Bill claims that a member of a minority group cannot be a racist. However, this is absurd. Think about this: white males are a minority in the world. Given Bill’s claim, it would follow that no white males could be racists. Hence, the Klan, Nazis, and white supremists are not racist organizations.”

Since the claim that the Klan, Nazis, and white supremists are not racist organizations is clearly absurd, it can be concluded that the claim that a member of a minority cannot be a racist is false.

The Men Who Stare At Goats

As a skeptic this movie had me practically rolling on the floor. When Clooney’s character talks about stabbing an enemy in the neck with a pen to create “Psychic disincentive”, I practically fell out of my chair. Of COURSE if you cause someone severe pain they will be less lakely to attack you. They will, instead, be grabbing the pen in their neck and screaming.

The movie “The Men Who Stare At Goats” is based on the book, The Crazy Rulers of the World” by Jon Ronson. The main character, Lyn Cassady, (whose real name is Glenn Wheaton) played by George Clooney, claims to have witnessed a Green Beret kill a goat simply by staring at it.

From the perspective of a skeptic, I have to wonder what else was going on in the room at the time. I have seen news stories about a breed of goat that suffers from a condition mytonia congenita. When startled these goats faint. They become rigid and drop over for a period of 10 seconds or more. (http://www-personal.umich.edu/~jimknapp/goats.html). While it is not an actual ‘faint’, it could be interpreted as the goat having died. So if someone startled the goat while the Green Beret was trying to kill it with his mind, the sudden tipping over of the goat could have been interpreted as success.

If anyone else has more information on the book, the movie or the people involved, I would love to hear it.

Flattery Will Get You Nowhere

Since I had to write a brief article for a newspaper I’m applying to, I thought I’d post it for your enjoyment as well.

Today’s logical fallacy is called Appeal To Flattery. This fallacy has the following form:

1) Person A is flattered by person B.

2) Person B makes claim X.

3) Therefore X is true.

A real life example looks something like this:

1) A job applicant (Person B) claims the following while applying for a position with The Examiner: The Examiner.com (Person A) is the best online news magazine EVER! (Claim X) It deserves a Pulitzer!

2) The claimant is applying for a writing position with the magazine.

3) Therefore the claimant feels they deserve the job.

The basic idea behind this fallacy is that flattery is presented in the place of evidence. This sort of “reasoning” is fallacious because flattery is not, in fact, evidence for a claim.

In other words, the claimant is not necessarily the best person for the job based solely on the applicants use of flattery. The claimant is using a logical fallacy as a basis for their qualifications for hiring.

Let’s break this down further. The job applicant (Person B) is making a statement designed solely for flattery. Claim X would be that the magazine is the best ever and deserves a Pulitzer. Simply because Person B made Claim X, the claimant then posits the argument that they deserve the job because they offered some form of flattery: In this case, the claim that the magazine deserved a Pulitzer.

31 Flavors Of Skeptic

Just like Baskin-Robbins, there are many different flavors or types of skepticism. As a whole skepticism can be described as making a judgement about a claim based on the evidence presented. That evidence must be testable. Those results must also be repeatable within a specific margin of error ala statistics. In other words it is a logical fallacy to claim that just because one test yielded a specific result, that result proves the claim conclusively. (For new readers please see previous entries concerning the various types of logical fallacies.)

For instance I read on a science forum that some people are able to see into the near infra-red spectrum. This could explain the claim of being able to see auras. I have not had an opportunity to investigate this claim. There may be evidence to support this. There may not be. In the mean time I am keeping an open mind.

There is a fine line between skepticism and cynicism. A cynic dismisses claims out of hand because they may sound far-fetched like seeing “auras” in the above example. A skeptic, on the other hand, does the research and examines the data looking for credible sources to either verify or refute a claim. It can be really difficult not to be dismissive of a claim that you have already dismissed or accepted. That’s part of being a good skeptic though; learning how to put aside what you think you know and investigating the data even if it is personally uncomfortable or even painful.

I use to believe in all manner of things that do not have supporting testable scientific data. UFOs, magic, Reiki, crystal healing, psychics…name the woo and most of it I believed. Thanks to Penn & Teller’s “Bullshit” on Showtime I was introduced to the reality of psychics, auras and many other things. I was also introduced to logical thinking and skepticism. Their shows are a great place to start out. So is George Hrab’s Geologic Podcast http://www.geologicpodcast.com/

As I mentioned in the title of this post, there are many different flavors or types of skepticism. James “The Amazing” Randi, a personal hero of mine, has spent his life debunking psychics and those who cause harm with that practice. Other skeptics “debunk” ghosts, UFOs, Bigfoot, and Nessie.

Other skeptics work on educating the public. At http://www.whatstheharm.net there is information on the kind of harm caused by medical quackery like homeopathy. There are case studies and articles about people who have been permanently harmed or killed by colloidal silver, homeopathy and more.

There are those like the Skepchicks http://skepchick.org/blog that covers a wide array of feminine-related skepticism.

There are skeptics that deal solely with religion. They try to educate people about the fallacies in organized religion. As I said, sometimes being a skeptic can be painful. This is one of those sore points with many people, Here on Fledgeling Skeptic I generally try to avoid mentioning religion since it IS such a sore point.

Then there’s skeptics like me. I try to educate those who are new to the skeptic movement. I talk about what logical fallacies are, how to evaluate evidence, how to use skepticism in daily life and in between I talk about my own experiences and thoughts as a Fledgeling Skeptic.

Wishin’ And Hopin’

Today’s Logical Fallacy is known as Wishful Thinking. It is related to one I wrote about a few days ago: Appeal to Consequences of a Belief. Wishful thinking also comes in the guise of “positive thought” and “creative visualization”.

Since the X’s  seem to scare some of my readers, I will be substituting the word “bunnies” in place of the X. This is supposed to be fun and educational. It’s not supposed to be Big Scary Math time here folks.

With bunnies acting as the stand in for X our format looks something like this:

1) I wish that bunnies were true, therefore bunnies is true.

Is that less threatening without the X? I hope so.

A real world example would look like this for 1) If I chant my mantra every day, my true love will come into my life.

Wishful Thinking is an emotion-based argument with the premise that the positive outcome will come to pass simply because you want it really, really badly. Unfortunately Wishful Thinking can also lead to ignoring the evidence against a deeply held belief. In that case it becomes one-sidedness.

From what i”ve garnered from my reading, wishful thinking/positive thought is a great deal like spellcasting when I was a Wiccan. The wisher is trying to bend the world to their will simply by wanting their end goal very, very much.

Obama: The Second Coming

Is there nothing the man can’t do? Now he’s been awarded a Nobel Peace Prize. The committee awarded Obama the prize simply for the “potential” he has to bring peace to the world.

I haven’t seen any of it. To the best of my knowledge the world still hates us. Muslim extremists still want to kill us. If anyone out there has a concrete example of how Obama has changed the world for the better, I would like to see the evidence. On Twitter my assertion is that he hasn’t done anything to call for a Nobel Peace Prize.

Someone popped up and said the following in reply: “except making many things possible that were impossible before, such as a non racist, religiously tolerant, safe, modern world”.

What things were impossible that Obama himself made possible? Racism still exists. This is just one small example of continued racism in the world: http://bit.ly/15QLbh

As for religiously tolerant part of that statement. Read this blog about religious persecutions that have happened so far this month: http://bit.ly/SbEA And how about the ongoing honor killings in the Middle  East? He mentioned a modern world. How “modern” is it when women are still killed because they have been raped?

Finally, the poster claims that Obama has made the world safe. I’m guessing the poster doesn’t watch the news.

I could be insulting and derisive. Trust me, I’m REALLY tempted. But that’s not what a good skeptic does. I am interested to see what concrete evidence people give to justify Obama receiving such a coveted award. This is something that people strive their entire lives for. This is an achievement of a lifetime and I seriously feel that the committee has missed the mark here.

If Obama has improved the world in the way the poster asserts, I just don’t see it.

Bomb The Moon!!

Tomorrow morning at 7:31 NASA’s Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite will crash its Centaur upper-stage rocket into the lunar surface. A mere 4 min. later, the main body of the LCROSS will follow, plummeting through the debris cloud caused by the first crash. It will collect and relaying information back to Earth before crashing into the Cabeus crater close to the south pole of the Moon. The concept behind this excercise is to look for the presence of water in the polar soil.

Already there are people foretelling doom and gloom. The conspiracy theorists are suggesting that the reason we are “bombing” the moon is that we found some sort of technology there years ago. One is also stating that the shapes of various space agency insignia has something to do with the technology that we supposedly found on the moon.

According to one of these people, they think that there will be tidal waves and earthquakes caused by this. There is absolutely no reason to think this will be the case. The Moon suffers impacts almost daily and yet we have no changes here.

The person in this video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ggc1-jB2lhQ: clearly is NOT using deductive reasoning. His arguments are based in misinformation, conspiracy theory and fallacy. There are SO many logical fallacies in his argument that I cannot begin to name them.

This IS an excellent example of one of the formats of “Appeal to Consequence of a Belief”, though.  Here’s an idea. See how many logical fallacies you can find in his argument and post them here.

It MUST Be True!!!

Today’s Logical Fallacy is called “Appeal to Consequence of a Belief”.  It has the following format:

1) X is true because if people did not accept X as being true then there would be negative consequences.

2) X is false because if people did not accept X as being false, then there would be negative consequences.

3) X is true because accepting that X is true has positive consequences.

4) X is false because accepting that X is false has positive consequences.

Examples of this belief set look something like this:

1) God MUST be real! If God isn’t real then no one would know the difference between right and wrong! The world would be a terrible place!

2) Bad things like I see on the news won’t happen in our neighborhood. If I believed things like that could happen here, I would be too afraid to go anywhere or do anything.

3) I believe that if I am a good person and follow the teachings of the church I will go to Heaven.

4)I agree that I have no science-based proof for the existence of fairies and dragons. However I REALLY want to believe in those things. So it MUST be true!!

This line of “reasoning” is a fallacy because the supposed consequences of the beliefs have no impact on whether the stated belief is true or false. For instance, say I tell you I believe with all my heart that there is an invisible pink Unicorn in my backyard that only eats the purple flowers in my garden. If the Unicorn doesn’t really exist then I would be broken hearted and very depressed. Since I would be SO broken-hearted, the Unicorn MUST exist.

It’s pretty obvious that using feelings and emotions to justify a line of reasoning  isn’t useful in a logical argument. Also, the consequences in question are consequences that stem from belief.

It is important to distinguish between a rational reason to believe (RRB) something (evidence) to be true and a prudential (motivational) reason to believe. A RRB is evidence that objectively and logically supports the claim. A PRB is a reason to accept the belief because of some external factor (such as fear, a threat, or a benefit or harm that may stem from the belief) that is relevant to what a person values but is not relevant to the truth or falsity of the claim.

If Your Friends Jumped Off A Cliff….

The Logical Fallacy for today is called The Appeal To Common Practice. The format looks like this:

1) X is a common action.

2)Therefore X is correct/moral/justified/reasonable, etc.

The basis of this fallacy is that since most people do/say X then X is the right or acceptable thing to do or say.

This fallacy is used to promote and justify bigotry, inequitable practices and general assholery. A more formal model looks like this:

1) It is common practice to treat people of type Y in manner X and to treat people of type Z in a different manner.

2)There is no relevant difference between people of type Y and type Z.

3) Therefore people of type Z should be treated in manner X, too.

An example would be: “Sure, some people buy into that equality crap. However, we know that everyone pays women (type Y) less (manner X) than men (type Z). It’s okay, too. Since everyone does it, it can’t really be wrong.”

This is a nested example and can be a bit confusing. In this argument it is acceptable for Women (Type Y) to be paid less (Manner X) than Men (Type Z) because “everyone does it”.

The logical part of the argument continues that because there is no relative difference between women (Type Y) and men (Type Z), therefor men should be paid less (Manner X) too.

Unfortunately because “everybody does it”, it is socially/morally.ethically acceptable. This, dear reader, is a logical fallacy. Just like your Momma used to say “If all your friends jumped off a cliff would you do the same thing?” Simply because everyone else is doing something doesn’t automatically presume the correctness of the action or attitude.

I know…I know.. Some of you out there are thinking “Well if I had a parachute or a hang glider…” If you had one of those items, then sure, jump off the cliff. Just don’t let yourself “fall” into using that fallacy to justify an argument. Always reference the data. Find out what the correct information is. Don’t take everyone else’s word for something until YOU know it to be true or false.

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