Tag Archives: nut-picking

Mixed nuts

 

assorted nuts

This post at Talking Points Memo is pretty much the essence of nut picking.  A taste:

Republican politicians have tried to pay homage on Facebook to the late Nelson Mandela since his death on Thursday, but many of their conservative supporters want to hear none of it.

Peruse through comment sections of the GOP’s Facebook tributes to Mandela, and there’s a good chance you’ll find plenty of vitriol for the former South African president and for the politicians who praised him.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) wrote that Mandela “will live in history as an inspiration for defenders of liberty around the globe.” One commenter took a different view of the anti-apartheid leader’s legacy, urging “all you Mandela lovers head on over to South Africa and see what’s going on now that ‘Mandela’s people’ have control of the nation.”

No kidding.  “Peruse through the comments on Facebook” tells you all you need to know. More interesting, however, are the actual comments from the Republicans themselves over the years.  See here for that.

More on nut picking here.

Guns & Ammo

Dick Metcalf, an editor at Guns & Ammo of all places, argued in an editorial for the fairly obvious (well, at least to most people) claim that even constitutionally guaranteed rights–such the rights to freedom of religion and to a well-regulated militia–ought to be, er, regulated some (but not very much). Not every instance of speech is allowed; to use the author’s example, you cannot shout “fire” in a crowded theater.

Metcalf’s argument didn’t sit well with the Guns&Ammo crowd.  You can view selected responses here.  It would be charitable to nut pick them.  Why bother anyway, in response to their many reasonable interventions, Guns & Ammo fired Dick Metcalf.

Not surprising that a bunch of gun fanatics would turn to the ad baculum.

Nut picking

Nut picking is a variety of straw man fallacy where one selects the looniest advocates of a position as representative of the best or the majority of the opposition.  Fear of nut picking often leads to iron manning–purposely ignoring the degraded state of someone's argument so as not to be guilty of nut picking.  Fear of nut picking also often forces people to look the other way, for fear of playing the race card.  The race card is what Bob Somerby accuses the left of doing exclusively and obsessively.  Somerby's Daily Howler is one of the inspirations for the iron man.  Here was the original idea.

With those caveats, look with horror on the reactions of many Fox News commenters on the death of Whitney Houston.  Here is an example:

A tragedy is when someones passes away from a terminal disease or something else that no one saw coming. Whitney is just an inferior lo w life ni gg er that needed to go,no tragedy,no loss.

For more look here.

via Little Green Footballs, Leiter.

Daily Show on Nutpicking

Watch at this link for a fun back-and-forth between Jon Stewart and Bill O'Reilly on the argumentum ad Hitlerum. 

TL;DR for O'Reilly, his Nazi invocation (about "the left") is just fine because his assistants found an anonymous commenter at a blog who called Nancy Reagan evil and wished that she die soon (of natural causes).  What that has to do with the Nazis is beyond me. 

That, of course, is some classic nut picking, or as the experts call it, weak manning.  What makes it especially fallacious (if that is possible) is that it's deployed in an ideologically monochrome (should I drop this phrase? Should I not comment on my sentence during my sentence?) context in order to disqualify an opposing arguer on account of the very bad arguments they make.  This last part being critical to the nutpicker.   

More nutpicking

Here's an almost definitional instance of nutpicking:

'NUTPICKING' HASN'T GONE AWAY…. I'd hoped we were past this.

Yesterday, ThinkProgress reported news that a Muslim cab driver in New York City had been assaulted by a passenger simply because of his faith. [...]

Today on Fox News, right-wing blogger Michelle Malkin discussed the incident and argued that the real story is not about the hate crime, but rather, the progressive blogosphere. "Something really ugly happened," she said. "Time and again, when something like this happens — any random incident of violence — there are people on the left with a knee-jerk impulse to indict the right." As evidence, Malkin pointed to comments left on ThinkProgress.

Note, Malkin wasn't offended by what ThinkProgress wrote; she was offended when she dug through the comments section and found reactions she found distasteful.

Classy.

Nut Picking

I love meta commentary–that's why it's so much fun to read George Will and Charles Krauthammer–that's what they do: they make (usally wrong) observations on the logic of argument.  Well, at least someone is doing it.  For this reason I was glad to run across a phrase close to our heart here, "nut picking."  It appears in a Dave Weigel column in the Washington Post concerning misconceptions about the "Tea Party Movement." 

The tea party is racist.

2. It's a phenomenon that some activists call "nutpicking" — send a cameraman into a protest and he'll focus on the craziest sign. Yes, there are racists in the tea party, and they make themselves known. But tea party activists, in most cases, root them out. Texas activist Dale Robertson, who held a sign comparing taxpayers to "niggars" at a 2009 rally, was drummed out of that event and pilloried by his peers. Mark Williams, formerly the bomb-throwing spokesman for the Tea Party Express (he once told me he wanted to send the liberal watchdog group Media Matters "a case of champagne" for calling him racist), was booted after penning a parody essay that had the NAACP pining for slavery.

Liberal critics of the tea party make the case that conservative opposition to social spending is often racially motivated. That's not new, though, and it's certainly not the basis for the tea party.

"Nut picking" has its origin in a 2006 Kevin Drum post of the Washington Monthly as far as I can tell.  To be precise, it refers to the all-too-common practice of trolling the comments of internet fora–what you humans call "blogs"–for the crazies.  One then alleges that the crazy commentor represents a typical view of the opposition.  Therefore, etc., as the medievals would say.  Real logicians call this practice "weak manning" or more technically, "the selectional form of the straw man."  

Now to be precise again (sorry, it's my job), the claim that the tea party is racist might be justified (badly, let's say) in some instances by nut picking, but it is not the same as nut picking.  Nut picking may be one of the many mechanisms used to produce an unrepresentative sample, upon which one then makes an inductive generalization.   

Write trash

It's hard to have a conversation when some people don't follow the rules.  If your conversation is about, say, which things ought a rational person assent to, then indeed there are certain rules.  One can disagree about these rules, but the rules say you have to state the grounds for the disagreement and those grounds have to be good grounds.

Here's one rule.  If you offer up a point of view in a public forum, you should expect criticism.  Some of this is probably going to be dumb and uninformed, some of it relevant.  There's a rule that says you have to focus on the relevant criticism.  Pretending that the only criticism you get is of the former variety breaks a rule.  Here's Amity Shlaes, a kind of conservative author, talking about George Will:

So Michele Bachmann’s version of history is “from another planet.” Bobby Jindal, the Republican governor of Louisiana, is “chronically stupid.” And Eric Cantor of Virginia, the second-ranking Republican in the House, is “busy lying constantly.”

That at least is according to posts on three left-leaning blogs.

Writers who are not pro-Barack Obama are suffering character assassination as well. George Will of the Washington Post, the nation’s senior conservative columnist, has been so assaulted by bloggers that his editor, Fred Hiatt, recently wrote, “I would think folks would be eager to engage in the debate, given how sure they are of their case, rather than trying to shut him down.”

The disconcerting thing isn’t that the bloggers or their guests did this slamming. We’re used to such vitriol in campaign time. What is surprising is that the attacks are continuing after an election.

In the past, politicians and policy thinkers tended to be magnanimous in victory. They and their friends focused, post- victory, on policy and strategy — not on trashing individuals.

I didn't know the nation had a "senior conservative columnist."  But anyway, George Will has been criticized for the inadequacy of his ideas (see here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here)–and a person of Shlaes's very expensive education ought to know that.  She at least ought to be able to distinguish between "trashing" and saying, "hey, that conclusion doesn't follow!" (even if she doesn't think that conclusion doesn't follow).  If she isn't aware of this criticism (use the Google!) she ought not write about it, if she doesn't know the difference between "trashing" and "argument analysis" she ought to return to ask for her college tuition back, and finally if she does know the difference (and I suspect she does) but this is how she plays the game, then I say she's not playing by the rules.  That's not fair.

It's not fair because the discussion is about a topic, someone has offered up a view of that topic, and rather than discuss that view, we have to spend all of our time explaining how challenging someone's view in a public forum does not amount to trashing that person.  And when we do that, we don't get to have a discussion.