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6 logical fallacies politicians often use—and how to guard yourself against them
Logical fallacies will be everywhere this election season. Here's how to find the bad arguments and beat them.
Election season in the United States brings many things, some good and some bad. Among the things which we citizens must endure each time are poor arguments using logical fallacies. While bad arguments are far too common, many of them are easy to identify. With just a little knowledge and effort you can sniff out the faulty reasoning and avoid getting fooled.
Here are six logical fallacies that are commonly used in politics. Included are examples of how these fallacies are used and suggestions on how to avoid being taken in.
One of the most common and pettiest fallacies known to humanity. This fallacy occurs when the traits of the person holding a position are attacked rather than the merits of the argument they make. It can also be used against organizations or institutions.
Mr. Jones’ tax plan isn’t worth considering. What could a person who works for the government know about taxes?
As you can see, no argument against the tax plan is given. All we have been told is something about one person who supports the idea. This says nothing about the merits or failings of the proposal.
How do I not get tricked?
The best way to get around this is to remain focused on the issues and not on the personalities of the people running for office. While some personality traits might be more desirable than others, the fact that a person has them or not has little bearing on the merits of the arguments they make.
A very slippery slope. (Getty Images)
A pervasive fallacy that regularly fools millions. This is the argument that if one action is taken another, absurd or undesirable, action will inevitably follow. Therefore, we ought to not take that first step.
If we let women vote, the next thing you know we’ll let animals vote!
This argument can be hard to spot but always relies on the idea that one event will necessarily follow from another. The fallacy lies in that some actions are not connected by necessity but are presented as such.
How do I avoid getting tricked?
When you hear this setup, be sure to check that the second event is necessary. If it isn’t, the speaker is trying to fool you.
Remember, there has to be a logical reason that the next step must follow the first. In the above case, there is nothing that forces legislators to enfranchize dogs just because they enfranchize women; making it a fallacious argument.
A strawman (MIGUEL RIOPA/AFP/Getty Images)
Some arguments are so bad that nobody makes them. They could be pointed out as absurd just by saying what they are. The Strawman fallacy takes advantage of this. This fallacy occurs when another argument is exaggerated or presented bizarrely in an attempt to discredit it. Other times, a position that nobody holds will be presented as the one held by an opponent, and that position will be attacked in place of their actual one.
Person One: I think people should eat fewer fatty hamburgers.
Person two: You don’t think people should eat meat? Are you trying to put farmers out of work? Trying to disrespect the culture and work of barbeque chiefs everywhere? You vegetarians and your moralizing, soon you’ll complain when people drink water!
As you can see, the second person misrepresented the point person one made and then attacked that point. By exaggerating the first person's position, they have created a strawman which is easier to attack than the first person's real stances. The original argument is ignored and not disproven.
How can I avoid getting fooled?
This fallacy relies on misrepresenting one argument and replacing it with another one. The simplest way to not be taken in is to study the first argument yourself, without the chance of an opposing candidate scrambling it.
There are always more than two options. This fellow, for example, could choose to turn around and go back where they started.
We’ve all heard this fallacy before. We are given two options, one much worse than the other. It is then said or heavily implied that we must select the option that is the lesser evil. Potential third options are left out.
The choice is simple; either we let dogs vote, or we’ll slide into a dictatorship!
As you might suppose, there are plenty of other options. Perhaps we can retain democracy without enfranchising animals, for example. The speaker, however, is trying to railroad you towards supporting a position they hold by only presenting two options.
How can I avoid getting tricked?
The simplest method for dealing with this fallacy is always to make sure that the options on the table are your only options. You should also pay attention when people say that the choice is simple, a false dilemma is probably close at hand.
Also known as the bandwagon appeal, this is the false claim that what is popular is good. This fallacy is widespread and sometimes blatant. The famous “I like Ike” television commercials were nothing but this fallacy set to a snappy jingle.
Everybody likes Mr. Jones! You should vote for him too!
This appeal to popularity suggests that the popular choice is the good one. When you hear this argument, you’re likely to hear more about how popular they are than what their qualifications are.
How do I avoid getting tricked?
The best defense against this trick is to focus on the qualifications of a candidate. An unqualified candidate who is popular is still a lousy candidate.
These two both have noses, does that make them morally equivalent? (FILIPPO MONTEFORTE/AFP/Getty Images/BigThink)
This fallacy is when two stances are presented as equivalent when they are not. During campaigns, you will often hear people comparing two candidates using this fallacy.
Yes, Mr. Smith is a serial embezzler, but Mr. Jones once littered in the park. They’re practically the same!
Embezzlement is a serious crime while littering, while wrong, is poor manners at worst. The argument in the example, however, is that both offenses make the perpetrators equally bad. While this does mean that both people have done things they should not have, they are far from equally bad; especially if they are trying to be in charge of public funds.
How to avoid getting taken in
This fallacy is tricky, as it can only be used when there is a superficial similarity between two stances. However, as with the above example, looking a little more closely reveals that the positions are far from identical.
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Construction of the $500 billion dollar tech city-state of the future is moving ahead.
- The futuristic megacity Neom is being built in Saudi Arabia.
- The city will be fully automated, leading in health, education and quality of life.
- It will feature an artificial moon, cloud seeding, robotic gladiators and flying taxis.
The Red Sea area where Neom will be built:
Saudi Arabia Plans Futuristic City, "Neom" (Full Promotional Video)<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="c646d528d230c1bf66c75422bc4ccf6f"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/N53DzL3_BHA?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
Frequent shopping for single items adds to our carbon footprint.
- A new study shows e-commerce sites like Amazon leave larger greenhouse gas footprints than retail stores.
- Ordering online from retail stores has an even smaller footprint than going to the store yourself.
- Greening efforts by major e-commerce sites won't curb wasteful consumer habits. Consolidating online orders can make a difference.
A pile of recycled cardboard sits on the ground at Recology's Recycle Central on January 4, 2018 in San Francisco, California.
Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images<p>A large part of the reason is speed. In a competitive market, pure players use the equation, <em>speed + convenience</em>, to drive adoption. This is especially relevant to the "last mile" GHG footprint: the distance between the distribution center and the consumer.</p><p>Interestingly, the smallest GHG footprint occurs when you order directly from a physical store—even smaller than going there yourself. Pure players, such as Amazon, are the greatest offenders. Variables like geographic location matter; the team looked at shopping in the UK, the US, China, and the Netherlands. </p><p>Sadegh Shahmohammadi, a PhD student at the Netherlands' Radboud University and corresponding author of the paper, <a href="https://www.cnn.com/2020/02/26/tech/greenhouse-gas-emissions-retail/index.html" target="_blank">says</a> the above "pattern holds true in countries where people mostly drive. It really depends on the country and consumer behavior there."</p><p>The researchers write that this year-and-a-half long study pushes back on previous research that claims online shopping to be better in terms of GHG footprints.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"They have, however, compared the GHG emissions per shopping event and did not consider the link between the retail channels and the basket size, which leads to a different conclusion than that of the current study."</p><p>Online retail is where convenience trumps environment: people tend to order one item at a time when shopping on pure player sites, whereas they stock up on multiple items when visiting a store. Consumers will sometimes order a number of separate items over the course of a week rather than making one trip to purchase everything they need. </p><p>While greening efforts by online retailers are important, until a shift in consumer attitude changes, the current carbon footprint will be a hard obstacle to overcome. Amazon is trying to have it both ways—carbon-free and convenience addicted—and the math isn't adding up. If you need to order things, do it online, but try to consolidate your purchases as much as possible.</p><p>--</p><p><em>Stay in touch with Derek on <a href="http://www.twitter.com/derekberes" target="_blank">Twitter</a>, <a href="https://www.facebook.com/DerekBeresdotcom" target="_blank">Facebook</a> and <a href="https://derekberes.substack.com/" target="_blank">Substack</a>. His next book is</em> "<em>Hero's Dose: The Case For Psychedelics in Ritual and Therapy."</em></p>
Building a personal connection with students can counteract some negative side effects of remote learning.
- Not being able to engage with students in-person due to the pandemic has presented several new challenges for educators, both technical and social. Digital tools have changed the way we all think about learning, but George Couros argues that more needs to be done to make up for what has been lost during "emergency remote teaching."
- One interesting way he has seen to bridge that gap and strengthen teacher-student and student-student relationships is through an event called Identity Day. Giving students the opportunity to share something they are passionate about makes them feel more connected and gets them involved in their education.
- "My hope is that we take these skills and these abilities we're developing through this process and we actually become so much better for our kids when we get back to our face-to-face setting," Couros says. He adds that while no one can predict the future, we can all do our part to adapt to it.
Chronic irregular sleep in children was associated with psychotic experiences in adolescence, according to a recent study out of the University of Birmingham's School of Psychology.