Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Species identification - Lousy arguments

We've all heard about logical fallacies and rhetorical tricks. The straw man argument, ad hominem attacks, exaggeration, etc. I'd like to catalog more of these arguing tactics. Reader suggestions and verbatim examples are strongly encouraged:
  1. Straw man - An opponent raises up a terribly weak point in your favor and busts it down. It's like punching a kid.
  2. Ad hominem attack - You're a complete jerk, or moron, or traitor, or ... Your opponent may be a complete jerk too, but it doesn't make the underlying argument better or worse.
  3. Correlation is causation - Obama caused the recession, the debt, etc. This is a big one because it can be used in so many situations.
  4. Case closed - Annoying, one-sided closure of the argument.Variant: End of story, Period.
  5. Irrelevant - Annoying, one-sided judgment of what the boundaries of an argument will be.
  6. Limit choices argument -- Status quo or my candidate. EPA overreach or no EPA. Keep all the Bush tax cuts or none of them. You can reframe the argument: someone is offering 0% or 100% and ignoring all the possibilities in between.
  7. Demand for proof - This can be legitimate, for example when someone asserts a fact, like 47% of people pay no income tax, or makes other kinds of assertions. But it's also used to derail the argument. It can be used as a straw man, an offhand assertion that isn't central to the argument, but an opponent picks it as a weak point and demands data.
  8. Ignoring context - This is major, and is related to declaring information irrelevant. No extenuating circumstances matter. For example, unemployment was under 8% when Obama was elected and soared to 10%.
  9. Creating a diversion, or "look over there, something worse" - Someone is clearly desperate when they try to distract you and steal your chess pieces. Point out the maneuver, and hammer the point you just made. It was probably a winner.
  10. False comparisons - Our poor people are richer than 95% of the world. Implication is that they aren't poor, so the money shouldn't be spent on them. A give-away is the mention of different countries or  different eras.
  11. Exaggeration - Making what is bad infinitely worse. Example: Taking away our freedoms, ruined the economy, if it wasn't for medicare we would all die.
  12. False assertion - Claiming something that isn't true or is only an opinion. This is a case when demanding evidence is a good idea. Ex. Obama is the worst president in my lifetime. 
Look at Europe and Cuba and every other place that has government run health care, they are in big financial trouble. - Correlation is causation.

13.  It's common sense - Common sense always supports your side. This is similar to asserting something without evidence and declaring "case closed."
14. The well-known "No true Scotsman" argument. This is used to discredit someone so you don't have to listen to their point. All Americans should rally around the president. But here's an American who isn't rallying around. Must not be a true American.
15. Gotcha question - A question meant to derail a discussion rather than clarify positions or weak points. A gotcha question isn't on an important point in the argument, but on trivia. It functions similarly to the demand for proof (#7), and is similarly obnoxious in having a know-it-all smell to it. Example: "Pop quiz time: When MLK was in jail, ... which 1960 presidential candidate called Coretta Scott King to express sympathy and support: JFK, or RMN? Take all the time you need before responding...."

If you'd like, add  your own examples in the comments.

Links to the 13 or 20 top fallacies. Link to a good list of 42 fallacies with excellent examples and very little Latin.


Couves said...

Begging the question, which is almost always used incorrectly:

Don't even get me going on the misguided plural usage of "data"... ;)

ModeratePoli said...


I intentionally didn't look at the standard list, but created my own list based on my extensive reading of blogs comments.

It was a fun exercise, actually. The standard lists aren't fun: they remind me of the most dreadful parts of philosophy class and Latin class all rolled into one. [shudder]

ModeratePoli said...

Part of a comment at Atlantic demonstrating the "No True Scotsman" fallacy:

"Free Americans who actually research their candidates instead of having them described to us by said enemy-collaborating shills KNOW that Ron Paul didn't write those letters..."

And I thought I knew what "free" means.

ModeratePoli said...

An example of "correlation is causation" (#3). Joe the plumber says gun control caused the holocaust. I am not making this up.