Category Archives: Lack of Evidence

Norms of Assertion #2

In more news of assertions made without backing (see previous post about the various norms of assertion), Joe Scarborough Tweeted:

Two assertions, really.  #1: Trump leaked the return, and #2: He did it as a distraction.

The backing: That it’s “painfully obvious.”  Pretty weak backing.  But, hey, it’s Twitter.

Interestingly, Scarborough was challenged by one of Trump’s lawyers, Michael Cohen — in particular, that he should have some support for such claims:

A pretty apt response, with a little heat to it.  It is ironic, however, that a Trump representative is making hay out of someone making unsubstantiated claims.  Oh, and then Scarborough took the bait:

Oy vey.  Wrong way to do this.

Scarborough is committing two errors here.  First, is what’s been called the Free Speech FallacyJohn’s got a nice bit on it HERE, and we’ve got an entry in the coming Bad Arguments: 100 of the Most Important Important Fallacies.  Here’s our line:

The fallacy arises when a contributor to a critical exchange confuses the protected freedom of expressing an opinion with correlate obligations to reply to freely expressed critical opinions of others.

And note, that using the Free Speech Fallacy is a form of ignoratio argument — that we change what’s being criticized from what was said to whether one has the right to say it.  (I’d had an earlier point about this HERE, which I’d called the ‘meta-move’).   So taking the first amendment strategy is no defense against the request/demand for evidence.  Nor is it a reply to the insult that he has a big mouth.  In fact, some replies seem to confirm the accusations!

The second error is with taking a request, admittedly with heat, as purely intimidation.  In a way, I think this is a bit of straw-manning, which is to focus on the tone of a challenge instead of the content, and then make the case that someone is using an ad baculum or some other scare tactic.

Imagine that A gives a crappy argument, perhaps that B has made some moral error.  B, in reply, says something like:

Look, asshole, if you’re going to make a charge like that, you’ve got to have better grounds.  Seriously, what’s wrong with you?

And A replies:

Now who’s the asshole… defending yourself with an ad hominem against me?

For sure, B put some stank on the reply, but there wasn’t an argument from A’s being an asshole to A making unsubstantiated claims.  Rather, it was from A’s making unsubstantiated claims to A being an asshole.  Mistaking heat of reply with a premise of argument or with intimidation is to mistake tone and content.  And, you know, grownups who have hard conversations have to keep the two distinct all the time.

Just how to show you’re an intellectual

George Leef at NRO makes the case that liberals are confused about who the party of stupid is.  Here's his main argument:

If conservatives are anti-intellectual, why did so many read Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom after Glenn Beck mentioned it last year?

It's not clear what the rhetorical question is supposed to show. Is it that conservatives, generally, are intellectuals — so they read books plugged by folks on Fox News — or is it that there are genuine conservative intellectuals (like Hayek), and the proof that they're intellectuals is that they get read, and others don't?  If the first, is the fact of reading proof of being intellectuals?  Not yet, and moreover, it's not that clear that all those copies of The Road to Serfdom got read — they just got bought.  If the latter, just how is it that being widely read is proof of being an intellectual?  It proves that you write stuff that people like, but that's not yet being intellectual.  And conservatives should know that, as they are so regularly bucking the stream of what they see as popular thought.  I assume that Leef is taking the former line of thought, as he follows with the second rhetorical question,

Why would Forbes publish intellectual-rich content like this piece by Professor Art Carden?

I suppose the thought is that because Forbes publishes intellectually-rich content, there must be a market for it in its readership, which is conservative.  And so conservatives are intellectuals.  First question: how many conservatives read Forbes instead of The Weekly Standard or Human Events?  That's nut-picking for your evidence — like if I wanted to make the case that Liberals are really intellectuals, I'd only look at The New Republic.   Second question: how does the fact that your magazine has intellectually rich content prove you're an intellectual?  I know lots of folks who read, on the liberal side, The New Yorker, and they've got very little going on in their heads.  It's the thing to have in your book bag. 

I know a better way to tell someone is an intellectual: not to ask whether they've read the best minds of their own side, but whether they've read and understood the best minds of the other side. 

Via Media

Cathy Young wonders,

Which is the more serious problem today: Islamic extremism or anti-Islamic bigotry?

In her even-handedness she admits that both are serious. But guess who doesn't? That's right. The Left. Young argues that Liberals have spent ample energy railing against anti-Islamic bigotry, but have failed to also take seriously the threat of Islamic extremism: 

Yet nowhere in The Nation will one find recognition that extremism in Islam is a particularly serious problem. 

Young has beef with the Muslim-lovers at The Nation for failing to call out the bad stuff Muslims believe and do. Unfortunately, her evidence is rather weak: 

One author dismisses the issue by stating that "every group has its loonies." Another writes that while misogyny and religious repression in some Muslim countries should be denounced, it can be done without generalizing about Islam.

These authors are apparently not serious enough! We need to generalize…

Evidence against her assertion, on the other hand, is rather strong (see here, and here, and here, and here, and here, and…you get the point). 

Instead of letting basic internet research get in the way of her argument, Young paints a picture of left-wing political discourse as biased in favor of protecting the good name of Islam while failing to face up to the very real threat of what she considers a particularly dangerous religion. Young contends that, "for complex historical and cultural reasons, radicalism in Islam is far closer to the mainstream than in other major religions right now." What evidence does she provide? 

There is no country today where a Christian government executes people for blasphemy, apostasy or illicit sex.

(Except for here. Also, while the few places that do have death penalties are Islamic, many other non-Islamic countries have severe penalties for homosexuality)

And,

Freedom House, an esteemed human rights organization, reports that many U.S. mosques carry extremist literature. Supposedly moderate Muslim groups such as the Islamic Circle of North America have hosted speakers with extreme ideas.

So, there must be some truth to all this anti-Islamic sentiment (except from you, Pam Geller!). Get serious. It is entirely disingenuous for Young to write that, "Concerns about bigotry are justified. But they should not deter legitimate debate about problems in modern Islam." Legitimate debate about problems in modern Islam are not necessarily separate from concerns about anti-muslim bigotry. Indeed, one of the main causes of extremism in Islam is the West's callous abuse of Islamic peoples over the last century. Further, there is no evidence that the Left's anti-bigotry writings have come anywhere near the level of debate-killing as shouts of "anti-Semitism" have done in discussions of extremism in Israel. Young provides no real evidence that the Left has confused legitimate criticism of Islam with bigotry. Rather, Young has created a false narrative in the guise of being even-handed in order to both attack the Left and keep open the door for continued abuse of Muslims around the world. 

It’s not only mistaken, it’s also wrong

John Kass, a columnist for the Chicago Tribune, argues in today's column that requiring health-insurance plans to include contraception for women in their health insurance plans is a "clear" violation of the First Amendment.  He offers this puzzling argument:

But then, recently, he decided to challenge the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church. And his new policy to force religious hospitals and schools to offer abortion-inducing drugs and birth control in health care plans for employees is a clear violation of religious freedom guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.

It demonstrates to Americans that their government is not only willing but eager to dominate faith, by telling religions how to practice their beliefs. And if they refuse, then the faithful will feel the federal wrath.

So the president's policy is not only mistaken and insensitive and wrong, it is the perfect expression of everything Americans fear about the ever-increasing federal leviathan.

It is not only mistaken–it's also wrong.  Mistaken is the most wrong kind of wrong.  The article (and the comments) are worth reading for the factless cocoon in which some people seem to live.  Nowhere in the piece does Kass bother to (1) cite the facts about the actual policy; (2) consider reasonable objections to such non-restrictions; (3) discuss what the actual position of the Catholic Church is:

The Catholic bishops have called the new health coverage rule "an attack on religious freedom" and argue that all employers who object to contraception–not just faith-based organizations–should be exempt from having to provide it to their employees.

“That means removing the provision from the health care law altogether," said Anthony Picarello, general counsel for the USCCB, "not simply changing it for Catholic employers and their insurers."

He added, "If I quit this job and opened a Taco Bell, I'd be covered by the mandate."

That's not a slippery slope, that's their stated objective.  So imagine the following etiam tu quoque (offered, by the way, by a commenter on the Tribune page): the Chicago Tribune has now changed hands, it's owned by Jehovah's Witnesses.  However life saving blood transfusions may be, they are not covered on their plan because Jehovah's Witnesses do not believe in them.  Sorry John Kass, no blood transfusions for you so long as you work at the Tribune.  In addition, the JWs think it immoral to refer you to outside plans that would cover blood transfusions.  You must find insurance and pay for that out of pocket on your own.  A discount from you current plan to cover it would violate their beliefs (these are, by the way, objections actually offered to compromise plans by the Catholic Church).    Would you support the law then?

Anyway, the point is that it is not super-obvious to everyone that this is a religious freedom issue.  I would say that it's one worthy of some careful discussion.  Kass isn't offering that.

Post torture, ergo propter torture

Bill O'Reilly is happy Osama Bin Laden is dead.  Apparently, because there are political points to score.  OBL's assassination vindicates the use of torture, and that's cause to do a Bill O'Reilly in-your-face move. Like this:

[T]he big story to emerge from the action is that coerced interrogation gave the CIA vital information used to track bin Laden to his lair. . . .  Of course, that exposition is embarrassing to the left, including President Obama, Vice President Biden and Secretary of State Clinton, who are all on record as saying coerced interrogation does not work. Apparently, they were wrong in a big way.

Ah, so coerced information.  Yes, the result of enhanced interrogation.  Erm, torture.  OK, just so we're clear.  Yes, so, in your face, liberals and lefty-pansies!  And how do we know this?  Well, the story is clear:

The record shows that just three men were waterboarded: Khalid Sheik Mohammed, Abu Zubaydah and Rahim al-Nashiri, all al-Qaida big shots. Under duress, KSM gave up vital information that crippled his terror group and ultimately led U.S. authorities to watch bin Laden's top Pakistani courier. Eventually, that man led the CIA to the compound outside Islamabad.

Well, not so clear.  We captured KSM back in 2003, and he got about 183 sessions with waterboarding.  And then seven years later, we got OBL.  Case closed, right?   Well, no. If waterboarding works the miracles it supposedly does, then why did it take seven more years until we had the actionable intelligence to move on OBL?  If waterboarding works, then shouldn't we have caught him, like, earlier?  And, as I understand it (see the article here in Slate), KSM actually denied knowing the person known as OBL's courier.  That's, like, not what I'd expect as the slam-dunk case for enhancing interrogation.  'Cause aren't the tortured people supposed to say things that are true, instead of false?  That is, if torture works the way torture's supposed to work.  By 2005, remember, folks were saying the OBL trail had "grown cold".

Yeah, so here's another hypothesis.  We eventually stopped the simulated drownings of these folks and returned to the standard forms for interrogation — building trust, going over stories, treating prisoners with dignity.  And once that started working, then we started getting better intelligence.  There was an improvement in surveillance, and with info from Hassan Ghul (who was never waterboarded), OBL got tracked down.  Who knows… maybe the torture delayed the information coming out instead of hastened it.

But still, the far left won't budge. No matter what the facts are about the effectiveness of coerced interrogation, they will deny them. Infuriating.

Yep, it's infuriating, all right.  Infuriating.

I don’t usually practice psychiatry in my blog

If there is a logic to the arguments of politicians, I don’t know what it is.  A vote for a politician involves a complex web of commitments whose primary objective is action, not belief.  So when politicians violate the rules of argumentative propriety, it’s hard to complain too much.  You know their ads are going to go ad hominem, too often egregriously so, when they’re not distorting the record, or otherwise strawmanning, hollow manning, or weak manning their opponents.

Columnists in the newspaper, on the other hand, play a different kind of game.  Well some of them do.  They advance reasons for believing proposition x or proposition y.  We can, I think, hold them to a higher standard.

So for instance, today George Will  argues that Democrats are desperate in the face of the march of obviously moderate, reasonable, non masterbating Tea Party candidates.  His argument is bad.  Here’s how it goes:

P1.  The Democrats have accomplished nothing that people like;

P2.  They have plans for more stuff people don’t like;

C.  Therefore they now wrongly characterize grass roots, very reasonable, centrist small-government people as “extremists.”

Just for the record, I think P1 is very questionable, and a partisan operator such as Will ought to offer better evidence (he doesn’t offer any).  P2 is weak for the same reason.  Now if those premises were true, which they aren’t, maybe that conclusion would follow.  But the conclusion is false anyway–because the candidates in question stand far from the center of American politics.  That is not to say they’re wrong.  It’s just to say they are not unfairly criticized as on an extreme.  Time to take that word back extremists.  Embrace it.

Now Will moves to a more serious objective: a logical critique of Democrats in general:

Democrats, unable to run on their policies, will try to demonize the opponents with Tea Party support as unstable extremists with personality disorders. They have ridden this hobby horse before.

As I argued above, this is a vacuous critique.  But it’s hilarious, because it’s an attempt at logic criticism–and Will sucks at this.  Here’s how is argument goes for that conclusion:

In response to a questionnaire from a magazine, 1,189 psychiatrists, none of whom had ever met Goldwater, declared him unfit for office — “emotionally unstable,” “immature,” “cowardly,” “grossly psychotic,” “paranoid,” “chronic schizophrenic” and “dangerous lunatic” were some judgments from the psychiatrists who believed that extremism in pursuit of Goldwater was no vice. Shortly before the election, Columbia University historian Richard Hofstadter published in Harper’s an essay (later expanded into a book with the same title), “The Paranoid Style in American Politics,” that encouraged the idea that Goldwater’s kind of conservatism was a mental disorder.

On the eve of the convention that nominated Goldwater, Daniel Schorr of CBS, “reporting” from Germany, said: “It looks as though Sen. Goldwater, if nominated, will be starting his campaign here in Bavaria, center of Germany’s right wing” and “Hitler’s one-time stomping ground.”

Goldwater, said Schorr, would be vacationing near Hitler’s villa at Berchtesgaden. Schorr further noted that Goldwater had given an interview to Der Spiegel “appealing to right-wing elements in Germany” and had agreed to speak to a gathering of “right-wing Germans.” So, “there are signs that the American and German right wings are joining up.”

But as Andrew Ferguson of the Weekly Standard has reported, although Goldwater had spoken vaguely about a European vacation (he did not take one), he had not mentioned Germany, and there were no plans to address any German group. Der Spiegel had reprinted an interview that had appeared elsewhere.

The relevance of this for 2010? There is precedent for the mainstream media being megaphones for Democratic-manufactured hysteria.

Nonsense.  Let’s reconstruct this.

P1. A bunch of psychiatrists thought Barry Goldwater was crazy in 1964.

P2. Richard Hofttadter wrote the “Paranoid Style in American Politics”

P3.  A reporter for CBS (recently deceased) is alleged to have slandered Goldwater.

C.  Therefore, the Democrats “have ridden this hobby horse before.”

Gee, he doesn’t even really try here.  It just doesn’t follow that the “Democrats” have done any of this–various unrelated people have.  But anyway, Charles Krauthammer, a non anonymous psychiatrist who shares the Post’s op-ed page with George Will, said the following of candidate Al Gore:

KRAUTHAMMER: Crying for help, you know. (LAUGHTER) I’m a psychiatrist. I don’t usually practice on camera. But this is the edge of looniness, this idea that there’s a vast conspiracy, it sits in a building, it emanates, it has these tentacles, is really at the edge. He could use a little help.

He does that all of the time and he sits in the cubicle next to Will at the Post.  And he’s not a Democrat.

And here’s the introduction to Hoftstadter’s piece in the Atlantic:
American politics has often been an arena for angry minds. In recent years we have seen angry minds at work mainly among extreme right-wingers, who have now demonstrated in the Goldwater movement how much political leverage can be got out of the animosities and passions of a small minority. But behind this I believe there is a style of mind that is far from new and that is not necessarily right-wind. I call it the paranoid style simply because no other word adequately evokes the sense of heated exaggeration, suspiciousness, and conspiratorial fantasy that I have in mind. In using the expression “paranoid style” I am not speaking in a clinical sense, but borrowing a clinical term for other purposes. I have neither the competence nor the desire to classify any figures of the past or present as certifiable lunatics., In fact, the idea of the paranoid style as a force in politics would have little contemporary relevance or historical value if it were applied only to men with profoundly disturbed minds. It is the use of paranoid modes of expression by more or less normal people that makes the phenomenon significant.
Gee, How many Republicans have doubted whether Obama is an American citizen?  A Christian non-terrorist?  Pro-American?  A gay Nazi Muslim?
But this just underscores the blind ignorance WIll must suppose his readers to live in.  How often does one hear on Fox News and other similar outlets (and Tea Party rallies) analogies between begnign Democratic policies and Nazism?  Very often (I wonder, should one ever answer a rhetorical question?  Probably not).

Bear with me

My colleagues have challenged me to look deeper into the abyss.  I did.  This is what I found (courtesy of Sadly, No!):

In February of 2010, ABC News published an article regarding the 2009 enacted right to carry law in National Parks. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the article struck a tone straight out of a Brady campaign spot. A mosaic of Chicken Little ’sky is falling’ was painted in broad strokes and platitudes. All in response to a common sense measured signed into law by president Obama allowing citizens to carry a concealed firearm in the nation’s National Parks.

It’s a song and dance that we on the right have grown to be accustomed with concerning second amendment rights and the press. Virulent anti-gun groups and mainstream press outlets essentially spout the same talking points. We expect