Tag Archives: Fallacy fallacy fallacy

Fallacy Man

Existential Comics has a nice series on Fallacy Man, a guy dressed as Zoro who jumps into conversations to point out fallacies.  It’s a nice way to show the dialectical error of only pointing out fallacies – namely, that naming a fallacy form isn’t helpful feedback for the argument.  You’ve got to explain why a premise is irrelevant, or how some forms of inference are based on incorrect data.  Those are all dialectical requirements of reason – exchange.  The best part, of course, is that there’s also the problem of the fallacy fallacy. (You’ve got to read to the end of the comic.)

Now, the fallacy fallacy requires additional dialectical baggage, and I don’t see it in the comic posted.  Here’s the basic form of fallacy fallacy:

Premise: The opposition’s case for their view (P) is fallacious. (Then the list of the fallacy forms identified).

Conclusion 1: The opposition’s view, P, is false.

Conclusion 2: And, further, my view is true.

Now, so far, just listing all the fallacy forms you identify in the opposition’s case isn’t yet proof that their view is false or that your view is true.  BUT: there are a number of considerations that might undercut that.  Note, the opposition may have the entirety of the burden of proof.  And so, were the opposition to have the view that, say, there’s an elephant in the room, and they can’t prove it except fallaciously, then there’s reason to believe that there’s no elephant in the room.  (Otherwise, there’d be evidence).  Or consider this in a legal context — all the defense has to do is point out the failures of argument from the prosecution, because the burden of proof is entirely on those who argue for guilty.  In those cases, there are default conclusions, and when the case to the contrary fails, we revert to them.  So in those cases, fallacy fallacy is no fallacy. To further clarify John’s got a great post on the Fallacy Fallacy Fallacy.

I heard you like fallacies

This is part of the reason why we can't have intelligent discussions about climate change:

Christopher Monckton, Viscount of Brenchley, is a climate disruption denier in multiple ways. He’s denied that climate change is happening. He’s denied that human beings are causing the (unchanging) climate to change by pinning the cause on the Sun. He’s denied that global polar ice extent is declining. He’s repeatedly misrepresented published papers and hasn’t retracted his statements even after some authors pointed out that he was misusing their work. He’s also hit one of my personal buttons by misunderstanding and cheapening the real history of the Nazis by labeling peaceful, if rowdy, protesters as “Hitler Youth.” And we cannot forget that Monckton wanted to quarantine AIDS victims in the late 1980s, believes that President Obama probably isn’t a U.S. citizen, alleges that NASA crashed their own carbon dioxide-monitoring satellite, and claims to be developing a drug that will cure not only his Grave’s Disease and multiple sclerosis, but HIV, influenza, and the common cold too. Monckton also maintains that he’s a member of the UK House of Lords even though Parliament stripped most of the hereditary peers of their membership in 1999 and the House of Lords says that Monckton has never been a member (he’s now been reduced to saying that Parliament’s legislation was itself illegal).

This guy is such a super troll that if you try to point out his foundational wrongness, he accuses you of logical fallacies–that, as I think we might have noted before, is the fallacy fallacy fallacy.

Over the last few years, I’ve been repeatedly tempted to check every single one of Monckton’s references and see just how bad his understanding of climate science really is. But Monckton makes liberal use of the “proof by intimidation” fallacy whereby he presents so much information in a form that’s so hard to understand that it’s impossible to refute without taking days, weeks, or months to fact-check his claims. Life is too short to fact-check every single claim Monckton has made, so I decided to leave this particular task to others.

And thankfully, a number of others have done so. Barry Bickmore, a geology professor at Brigham Young University, has dissected much of what Monckton said in testimony to the Utah state legislature and found it to be largely inaccurate. Arthur Smith went paragraph-by-paragraph through Monckton’s 2008 Physics and Society article and found 125 logical fallacies, irrelevant statements, and outright errors. Peter Sinclair, creator of the YouTube climate science video series Climate Crock of the Week, did a two-part video just on Monckton (videos included below). But several months ago, John Abraham, Associate Professor at the University of St. Thomas, set the curve when it comes to debunking Monckton. In response to a presentation Monckton made in Minnesota, Abraham checked nearly every one of Monckton’s claims and references in order to see where Monckton got the science right vs. where he got it wrong. The result of all this research was a nearly 90 minute-long rebuttal where Abraham dissects dozens of Mockton’s claims from a speech a year ago and finds that nearly everything Monckton said in his Minnesota presentation was wrong. Abraham’s original presentation, plus a slightly shorter and revised version, are presently available at Abraham’s UST website.

To say that Monckton’s initial response to Abraham’s rebuttal was over-the-top is being far too kind – ludicrous might be the better description. Monckton accused Abraham of engaging in ad hominem attacks while simultaneously insulting Abraham and another of Monckton’s critics, George Monbiot of the Guardian newspaper.

That's putting a fallacy in your fallacy.

Fallacy fallacy fallacy

The fallacy fallacy consists in thinking a conclusion false because it is the product of a fallacious argument.  I often get accused of that.  Such accusations reveal a manifest ignorance of how proving stuff works.  The fallacy fallacy fallacy consists in thinking it fallacious (usually an ad hominem) to accuse people of having committed fallacies.  So if I point out, for instance, that someone has reasoned poorly, and that person responds that I am attacking them personally, then that person has committed the fallacy fallacy fallacy.  I think in fact that this occurs quite often.  Here, for instance, is an imperfect example from that intellectual giant, Sarah Palin:

Palin told WMAL-AM that her criticism of Obama's associations, like those with 1960s radical Bill Ayers and the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, should not be considered negative attacks. Rather, for reporters or columnists to suggest that it is going negative may constitute an attack that threatens a candidate's free speech rights under the Constitution, Palin said.

"If [the media] convince enough voters that that is negative campaigning, for me to call Barack Obama out on his associations," Palin told host Chris Plante, "then I don't know what the future of our country would be in terms of First Amendment rights and our ability to ask questions without fear of attacks by the mainstream media."

Got that?  You can't criticize Palin's guilt-by-association tactics, because that's "attacking the person."  Dumb.

For the fallacy fallacy, all the credit goes to Humbugonline.  For the above Palin quotation, the Washington Monthly.