Tag Archives: Sean Spicer

Argumentum ad argumenti longinquitatem

Time is short, folks. We don’t have all day to sit around and listen to arguments and puzzle through scholastic distinctions. Perhaps for this reason, some genius has come up with a new form of refutation:

“your argument is too long; mine is better because it’s shorter”

Here’s a recent version:


The length of such bills has been an argument against health care reform since 1993. We talked about this argument (in 2009) here.

I think it’s obvious (is it not?) that the length of our arguings have no direct relation to their quality. It’s not even a pragmatic indicator. Perhaps it even goes the other way. The longer an argument, the more likely it’ll be better (or address your objections!).

Anyhoo. What to call it? Sticking the with the Latinism popular among fallacy theorists: argumentum ad argumenti longinquitatem (argument against the length of an argument). Even the name of the fallacy is long. Get it?

Alternate facts

Boing Boing’s Facebook page shared a Little Golden Book parody mocking Conway’s use of “alternative facts.”

By now, we’re all familiar with Trump Adviser KellyAnne Conway’s remark about “alternate facts.” If not, a brief summary:

The outrage over “alternative facts” began Sunday, when Conway appeared on “Meet the Press” and defended press secretary Sean Spicer’s inaccurate statement about the size of inauguration crowds.

“Sean Spicer, our press secretary, gave alternative facts,” Conway said.

“Wait a minute,” host Chuck Todd countered. “Alternative facts? … Four of the five facts he uttered were just not true. Alternative facts are not facts. They are falsehoods.”

That has led to all sorts of internet hilarity (my favorite is the picture above). More on this in a second.

Sadly, however, this is an instance in which it’s clear that Conway means or should mean “rebutting facts” or “challenges to those facts.” To be precise, we probably should be talking about “alleged” facts in this case, or better, “claims.” A little charity and precision, in other words, would do much to clarify the matter.

Once we settle this common language problem, we can determine who is more likely to be right about this (not them). This is really what we ought to be focused on anyway (although, this particular question seems completely pointless). We’ve got, after all, a well-established way of settling these things. It’s not great, but it’s well-established.

This raises a question, however, as to whether this choice of term (“alternate facts”) is just the point.  This “alternate facts” stuff sure provokes a lot of laughter from logic types like yours truly. And perhaps this is just the point.  Sad.

I very strongly assert

Sean Spicer’s first press conference was pretty firey.  The most eye-catching part of it was his argument that Trump’s inauguration had the highest attendance ever.

That was the largest audience to witness an inauguration, period.

His was a pretty complex argument.  There were two lines of reasoning. The first, to rebut the claims that the photographic evidence shows attendance to be significantly lower than Obama’s ’09.  The second, to make the case for a very large number.  The largest number, period.

The rebutting argument was that the photo doesn’t accurately represent attendance, because the mall wasn’t the place where all the people were (because of fencing, metal detectors, etc.) and because the materials on the ground make the open spaces look larger.

This pair of photos shows a view of the crowd on the National Mall at the inaugurations of President Barack Obama, above, on Jan. 20, 2009, and President Donald Trump, below, on Jan. 20, 2017. The photo above and the screengrab from video below were both shot shortly before noon from the top of the Washington Monument. (AP Photo) NYAJ501

The positive argument was that the spaces filled during the inauguration added up to a very large number.

We do know a few things. So let’s go through the facts. We know that from the platform from where the President was sworn in to 4th Street holds about 250,000 people. From 4th Street to the media tent is about another 220,000. And from the media tent to the Washington Monument another 250,000 people. All of this space was full when the President took the oath of office.

So that’s about 720K.  (Trump claimed it was 1.5 million, when he was at the CIA office, later.)

But here’s the thing.  Estimated attendance at Obama’s ’09 was 1.8 million.  So, even were Spicer’s rebutting argument accurate and his positive argument correct, that’s not even half of Obama’s ’09 number.  It’s not even the 1 million estimated for Obama’s ’13.

There were three arguments Spicer needed to make here, and he only made two of them.  The comparative argument for the superlative (period) needed to be made, too.  And no fudging with gates and ground covering would have fixed that one.