Thursday, February 25, 2010

Blogging, the 10 Fallacies, and Comments (and a brief note to the trolls)

I've been working on a couple of lengthy posts on personality disorders and mental health and a couple of unrelated issues, but keep getting distracted by other posts I want to write. I am also working on my book, so if my posts are not as regular as they have been, that is why. This post is in response to something that has been building for awhile and I believe, relevant to a lot of the activity on this site and elsewhere.

I've commented here and there on numerous blogs and other websites that accept comments, but do not have the time to stay on a blog to maintain a conversation as many are able to do so don't have a lot of people dropping by here to comment. I started this blog for myself as a form of self-expression but linked to it on a couple of boards whose posters I respect. Over time, I have generated quite a bit of traffic through links from other blogs, comments I leave, and Google searches. I receive comments from maybe 1% of my readers and although I am always happy to know what people think and would be delighted to generate some good dialogue, I've been around the tubes long enough to know that comments are not my driving force.

That said, I do not moderate my comments and leave up everything I receive. I respond to some if I have anything to say, but not everything. As a sociologist, I am fascinated by people and how they behave, and as a counselor, I'm always interested in what makes people do what they do. I have no problem with anything people have to say to me and will leave up all the ad hominem attacks I receive unless they are really over the line (and yes, I get to decide where that line is). I will however, delete immediately any comments that attack anyone else who leaves a comment.

If I think someone has made a comment with a good argument, I'll respond. I do not feed trolls nor respond to posters whose comments are completely fallacious. While I don't take down posts that attack, neither will I respond to them (again, I don't feed the trolls). I am realizing that many people do not understand logic, reason, and fallacies and I cannot really expect my readers to understand them either when most of the media is as guilty of building straw men, using unwarranted assumptions, mindless conformity, and overgeneralization as they report and comment on the news. In that effort, below is a list of the 10 basic fallacies to be alert for when listening to what you hear and read. Obviously, comments based completely on fallacies will be ignored. Carefully reading of what you are commenting on is appropriate as well.

As the late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan said," Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but not their own facts." Lately, we seem to be getting not only a lot of opinion, but a lot of opinion presented as fact. Politicians, pundits, and others throw facts around to support their arguments with no regard to the truth.

The 10 Major Fallacies

The fallacy of Inappropriate Authority
  • Use of an 'authority' who is not actually an expert in the field in which they are presented. An appropriate authority generally has credentials such as degrees, certificates, or other qualifications required to speak with authority on the subject. An inappropriate authority would be using a TV doctor to sell aspirin, or Sam Waterston selling financial services. We see someone who we are used to seeing as a doctor, so trust his word about headache medicine, or someone who plays a role on television that has authority, so we respect him in other areas. This fallacy also occurs when someone with a lot of credibility in one field uses that credibility in an area they know nothing about.
The fallacy of Appeal to Force
  • Appeals to accept a conclusion based on a threat of force. The threat may not be physical, but could be emotional, psychological, or social. If you do not do something, then some other action may or may not occur. The Republicans have used this tactic as they use the fear of 'death panels' and loss of Medicare for seniors to achieve their legislative agenda.
The fallacy of Attacking the Person
  • This is often called an ad hominem attack and is used in attacking the individual by demeaning their character, intelligence or perhaps their social standing. Another common use is attacking the individual's sincerity, i.e., "How can you object to X if you do Y?" Suggesting that two wrongs make a right.
The fallacy of Oversimplification
  • This happens when something complex is reduced to a simplistic, trite statement, often with the use of "one-liners" that then become over-used and meaningless (Obamacare). This then trivializes important issues, minimizes them, and if an issue that is emotionally loaded, can be used to generate that emotion by use of the "one-liner." The conclusions reached then usually have little to do with the complexity of the overarching issue.
The fallacy of Shifting the Burden of Proof
  • This fallacy says that the burden of proof is shifted to the opponent to disprove the conclusion: if they cannot, then the conclusion is true. In other words, prove a negative. You cannot prove there are no ghosts, therefore, ghosts exist.
The fallacy of the Straw Man
  • A straw man is a weak imitation. Straw men are one of the fallacies that are deliberate attempts to deceive as the individual "building" the straw man is misinterpreting or misrepresenting someone's words or point of view--often because of negative assessments of the individual and a lack of empathy. This is a frequent device used in the media and by politicians attacking our current administration as they put their own "spin" on the president's actions or words in a deliberate attempt to make him look bad, inept, or incompetent. They create a "straw man" to attack, an imaginary character that they can assign their own characteristics to and thus tear apart.
The fallacy of Mindless Conformity
  • We all want to "fit in" and so tend to agree with those around us. Society depends on our need to fit in as we follow the mores, customs, and laws that hold us together. Mindless conformity, however, occurs when this need is taken to the extreme and we accept all ideas because they are popular, because they are what our friends, our neighbors or group, or our party tell us to believe. This particular fallacy has been studied extensively by social psychologists and I could do a whole post simply on some of the work done on the dangers of groupthink and conformity, however, the current Tea Party movement and many of those who watch Fox News are classic examples of mindless conformity.
The fallacy of Irrelevant Emotion
  • This consists of using emotion to support your argument to divert attention from the situation to play on the emotion of the other person. Pleading with someone in authority to forgive the crime/accident/mistake because of some emotional manipulation designed to make the authority figure feel pity. Note the word irrelevant. I am not suggesting that emotion be removed from arguments--an expressive premise is appropriate if relevant to the argument, i.e., studies on child abuse typically make people angry and sad and generate feelings that child abuse is wrong. There is nothing wrong with these feelings and if these emotions generate action, then they are not irrelevant because the argument was built on studies. Irrelevant emotion is emotion brought in deliberately to manipulate the conclusion--emotional blackmail if you will. The fear of healthcare reform killing grandma, death panels.
The fallacy of Overgeneralization
  • Applying the features of one to the entire group. These are called broad statements and are not necessarily bad. Some groups form because of common characteristics. The negative aspect is when the generalization is made over characteristics that the individual has no control over. Descriptors have to do with quantities (all, a majority, everyone, many, some). An overgeneralization exaggerates those characteristics (all dogs..., all blacks..., All Americans...) when it is obvious that not all dogs (or blacks or Americans) could all share the same characteristics other than all dogs are dogs and all Americans are people. A biased overgeneralization occurs when an attack on the person is also included. Overgeneralizations usually occur in the conclusion and occur when the evidence does not support the conclusion. This is the most common fallacy of reasoning as the broader the statement, the more support the statement needs. Schools don't..., Muslims...
 The fallacy of Unwarranted Assumption
  • Found when the conclusion is based on information that is not known, that is false, and that is often controversial. The argument makes assumptions of fact in error. For example, if something is commonly understood, but is applied inappropriately as the basis of the argument, the whole argument falls apart. Many arguments made by the extreme right-wing today on social issues are based on unwarranted assumptions--that is, assumptions of something as proof that many other arguments are built on (the earth is 10,000 years old, therefore evolution is faulty science).

A fallacy is a "serious error in the quality of an implication" (Stratton, 1999). It is important to note as well, that not all fallacies are used to deceive--although there are many times when they are--but often simply errors in judgment. What is important, is to understand that logical, critical examination of the evidence will detect the fallacy and therefore, answer the argument. If the premise is untrustworthy, then so are the conclusions.

Thanks for stopping by. Come back soon.


  1. Well how about this then Kyra? Your mixing in of your political persuasion with your comments above make it all sound a bit disengenous. No, I'm not a rightie; I'm not even American so I can comment with a little more crediblity than someone who agrees or disagrees with your political slant. And in the end analysis, it's shallow and it makes you shallow.

    I'm quite a bit older than you are and I've been around the forums and the blogs for a lot longer than you. That allows me to say that I've seen this sort of juvenile empassioned plea many times in the past. Why Kyra, ten years ago I tried the same thing and that makes me blush in private still today. Cool it girl, there's hardly anyone reading and even less will be agreeing.

    Something worthwhile for you to do: Your country is a pariah nation which is running roughshod over too many small countries in the world today. If you could be defeated by warring you would be nothing more than the equivalent of Nazi Germany or Imperialistic WW2 Japan. But you won't be defeated militarily and so if or when the Muslim freedom fighters do N.Y. or Chicago or Washington, D.C. with a smuggled in nuke killing millions upon millions, you will live to fight another day.

    The message: You should be spending your time attempting to bring sanity to your country. Not wasting your time making up visions of how your dirty little world should be. Your government, your party, the other party, and especially your country are all corrupt. You're a part of it all and this fluff of yours is a waste of your time.

    Forget trying to make Palin into a psychotic of some kind. Have your own head shrunk first. Or just say less until you become a little older.

    Straight Goods.

  2. Oh, and stop using the word 'troll'. It's nothing more than a insulting term that has been devised to demonize your political (or other) opponent. Try thinking of the word as a falacious way to attack others when you are lacking in something more substantial. Think of it as something a teenager would do.


  3. The two commentors(?) above amply prove your points Kyra. Thank you!

  4. Should have said comments above - not two persons. :) Thanks!

  5. It's o.k. Kat, Kyra is still just a young person trying to make the world over so she won't need her rose coloured glasses anymore. We all go through that phase and then later we settle down and start directing our energies toward more realistic goals. Some even go on to do some good in this world.

    Hope that's not getting too deep for you Kat.


  6. So Kyra, when are you going to do the Palin psychoanalysis for us? You know I'm waiting to get a good laugh out of your pseudo-pro opinions again!