Join Date: Jun 2007
51. Argument By Selective Observation:
also called cherry picking, the enumeration of favorable circumstances, or as the philosopher Francis Bacon described it, counting the hits and forgetting the misses. For example, a state boasts of the Presidents it has produced, but is silent about its serial killers. Or, the claim "Technology brings happiness". (Now, there's something with hits and misses.)
Casinos encourage this human tendency. There are bells and whistles to announce slot machine jackpots, but losing happens silently. This makes it much easier to think that the odds of winning are good.
52. Argument By Selective Reading:
making it seem as if the weakest of an opponent's arguments was the best he had. Suppose the opponent gave a strong argument X and also a weaker argument Y. Simply rebut Y and then say the opponent has made a weak case.
This is a relative of Argument By Selective Observation, in that the arguer overlooks arguments that he does not like. It is also related to Straw Man (Fallacy Of Extension), in that the opponent's argument is not being fairly represented.
53. Argument By Generalization:
drawing a broad conclusion from a small number of perhaps unrepresentative cases. (The cases may be unrepresentative because of Selective Observation.) For example, "They say 1 out of every 5 people is Chinese. How is this possible? I know hundreds of people, and none of them is Chinese." So, by generalization, there aren't any Chinese anywhere. This is connected to the Fallacy Of The General Rule.
Similarly, "Because we allow terminally ill patients to use heroin, we should allow everyone to use heroin."
It is also possible to under-generalize. For example,
"A man who had killed both of his grandmothers declared himself rehabilitated, on the grounds that he could not conceivably repeat his offense in the absence of any further grandmothers."
-- "Ports Of Call" by Jack Vance
54. Argument From Small Numbers:
"I've thrown three sevens in a row. Tonight I can't lose." This is Argument By Generalization, but it assumes that small numbers are the same as big numbers. (Three sevens is actually a common occurrence. Thirty three sevens is not.)
Or: "After treatment with the drug, one-third of the mice were cured, one-third died, and the third mouse escaped." Does this mean that if we treated a thousand mice, 333 would be cured? Well, no.
55. Misunderstanding The Nature Of Statistics:
President Dwight Eisenhower expressed astonishment and alarm on discovering that fully half of all Americans had below average intelligence. Similarly, some people get fearful when they learn that their doctor wasn't in the top half of his class. (But that's half of them.)
"Statistics show that of those who contract the habit of eating, very few survive." -- Wallace Irwin.
Very few people seem to understand "regression to the mean". This is the idea that things tend to go back to normal. If you feel normal today, does it really mean that the headache cure you took yesterday performed wonders? Or is it just that your headaches are always gone the next day?
for example, the declining life expectancy in the former Soviet Union is due to the failures of communism. But, the quite high infant mortality rate in the United States is not a failure of capitalism.
This is related to Internal Contradiction.
57. Non Sequitur:
something that just does not follow. For example, "Tens of thousands of Americans have seen lights in the night sky which they could not identify. The existence of life on other planets is fast becoming certainty!"
Another example: arguing at length that your religion is of great help to many people. Then, concluding that the teachings of your religion are undoubtably true.
Or: "Bill lives in a large building, so his apartment must be large."
58. Meaningless Questions:
irresistible forces meeting immovable objects, and the like.
59. Argument By Poetic Language:
if it sounds good, it must be right. Songs often use this effect to create a sort of credibility - for example, "Don't Fear The Reaper" by Blue Oyster Cult. Politically oriented songs should be taken with a grain of salt, precisely because they sound good.
60. Argument By Slogan:
if it's short, and connects to an argument, it must be an argument. (But slogans risk the Reductive Fallacy.)
Being short, a slogan increases the effectiveness of Argument By Repetition. It also helps Argument By Emotive Language (Appeal To The People), since emotional appeals need to be punchy. (Also, the gallery can chant a short slogan.) Using an old slogan is Cliche Thinking.
61. Argument By Prestigious Jargon:
using big complicated words so that you will seem to be an expert. Why do people use "utilize" when they could utilize "use" ?
For example, crackpots used to claim they had a Unified Field Theory (after Einstein). Then the word Quantum was popular. Lately it seems to be Zero Point Fields.
62. Argument By Gibberish (Bafflement):
this is the extreme version of Argument By Prestigious Jargon. An invented vocabulary helps the effect, and some net.kooks use lots of CAPitaLIZation. However, perfectly ordinary words can be used to baffle. For example, "Omniscience is greater than omnipotence, and the difference is two. Omnipotence plus two equals omniscience. META = 2." [From R. Buckminster Fuller's No More Secondhand God.]
Gibberish may come from people who can't find meaning in technical jargon, so they think they should copy style instead of meaning. It can also be a "snow job", AKA "baffle them with BS", by someone actually familiar with the jargon. Or it could be Argument By Poetic Language.
An example of poetic gibberish: "Each autonomous individual emerges holographically within egoless ontological consciousness as a non-dimensional geometric point within the transcendental thought-wave matrix."
using a word to mean one thing, and then later using it to mean something different. For example, sometimes "Free software" costs nothing, and sometimes it is without restrictions. Some examples:
"The sign said 'fine for parking here', and since it was fine, I parked there."
All trees have bark.
All dogs bark.
Therefore, all dogs are trees.
"Consider that two wrongs never make a right, but that three lefts do."
- "Deteriorata", National Lampoon
the use of words that sound better. The lab rat wasn't killed, it was sacrificed. Mass murder wasn't genocide, it was ethnic cleansing. The death of innocent bystanders is collateral damage. Microsoft doesn't find bugs, or problems, or security vulnerabilities: they just discover an issue with a piece of software.
This is related to Argument By Emotive Language, since the effect is to make a concept emotionally palatable.
65. Weasel Wording:
this is very much like Euphemism, except that the word changes are done to claim a new, different concept rather than soften the old concept. For example, an American President may not legally conduct a war without a declaration of Congress. So, various Presidents have conducted "police actions", "armed incursions", "protective reaction strikes," "pacification," "safeguarding American interests," and a wide variety of "operations". Similarly, War Departments have become Departments of Defense, and untested medicines have become alternative medicines. The book "1984" has some particularly good examples.
66. Error Of Fact:
for example, "No one knows how old the Pyramids of Egypt are." (Except, of course, for the historians who've read the records written by the ancient Egyptians themselves.) Typically, the presence of one error means that there are other errors to be uncovered.
intentional Errors of Fact.
If the speaker thinks that lying serves a moral end, this would be a Pious Fraud.
68. Hypothesis Contrary To Fact:
arguing from something that might have happened, but didn't.
69. Internal Contradiction:
saying two contradictory things in the same argument. For example, claiming that Archaeopteryx is a dinosaur with hoaxed feathers, and also saying in the same book that it is a "true bird". Or another author who said on page 59, "Sir Arthur Conan Doyle writes in his autobiography that he never saw a ghost." But on page 200 we find "Sir Arthur's first encounter with a ghost came when he was 25, surgeon of a whaling ship in the Arctic.."
This is much like saying "I never borrowed his car, and it already had that dent when I got it."
This is related to Inconsistency.
70. Changing The Subject (Digression, Red Herring, Misdirection, False Emphasis):
this is sometimes used to avoid having to defend a claim, or to avoid making good on a promise. In general, there is something you are not supposed to notice.
For example, I got a bill which had a big announcement about how some tax had gone up by 5%, and the costs would have to be passed on to me. But a quick calculation showed that the increased tax was only costing me a dime, while a different part of the the bill had silently gone up by $10.
It is connected to various rhetorical tricks, such as announcing that there cannot be a question period because the speaker must leave. (But then he doesn't leave.)
"A witty saying proves nothing."