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.

One of these things is not like the other

Via Washington Monthly.

Some skinheads plotted to assassinate Obama and kill some 102 African-American children.  As they were from Tennessee, the Tennessee Republican Party felt compelled to respond.  They said

"Hate is not a political party, policy statement, agenda or ideology — it is a pure evil that no place in civil society," said Robin Smith, Chairman of the Tennessee Republican Party. "Whether it is neo-Nazi skinheads plotting a racist shooting spree targeting Sen. Obama, or West Hollywood liberals hanging Gov. Sarah Palin in effigy and calling it 'art,' or unknown anarchists tossing bricks through the windows of a county Republican headquarters in Murfreesboro, Americans of all political views should be outraged."

A tasteless effigy and anonymous (who said they're anarchists?) bricks don't remotely equal political assassination and racially motivated mass murder.  Nice attempted red herring however.  

A modest link

Oftentimes I despair over the quality of reasoning one finds on the typical op-ed page.  But then I read this, and I am reminded of how bad things could be.    

Update.  I forgot to mention this somewhat related matter.  I actually for the first time in my life got polled for a presidential election.  Aside from approve/disapprove questions regarding our current leader, the computer voice asked all sorts of questions about the current candidates.  When it got to Obama, it asked at least four questions about William Ayers, including this one: "What roll will William Ayers play in an Obama administration?"  Not sure what the sense of that was.

Pretty woman

Practically by his own admission, Charles Krauthammer's thin case isn't worth making fun of–"he's going down with the ship" out of fears that Obama would not frighten the Beejeebus out of our terrorist enemies, like Bush does now.  Which he doesn't.  More interesting is Kathleen Parker's continued presence on the Washington Post op-ed page.  Sure she has had the stones to say that Sarah Palin doesn't belong in national office (I would add municipal to that as well), but she hasn't somehow regained rational powers.  

Today, for instance, wondering what drove John McCain to pick Sarah Palin for VP, she offers the dirty old man or viagra thesis:

But there can be no denying that McCain's selection of her over others far more qualified — and his mind-boggling lack of attention to details that matter — suggests other factors at work. His judgment may have been clouded by . . . what?

What could it be?

Science provides clues. A study in Canada, published by a British journal in 2003, found that pretty women foil men's ability to assess the future. "Discounting the future," as the condition is called, means preferring immediate, lesser rewards to greater rewards in the future. 

Right, "science."  Add other decisive clues (Parker's husband's unfortunate candor among them) and you arrive at the following mind-blowing conclusion:

It is entirely possible that no one could have beaten the political force known as Barack Obama — under any circumstances. And though it isn't over yet, it seems clear that McCain made a tragic, if familiar, error under that sycamore tree. Will he join the pantheon of men who, intoxicated by a woman's power, made the wrong call?

He probably made the wrong call–especially if he wins.  But this gets worse:

Had Antony not fallen for Cleopatra, Octavian might not have captured the Roman Empire. Had Bill resisted Monica, Al Gore may have become president, and Hillary might be today's Democratic nominee.

If McCain, rightful heir to the presidency, loses to Obama, history undoubtedly will note that he was defeated at least in part by his own besotted impulse to discount the future. If he wins, he must be credited with having correctly calculated nature's power to befuddle.

My sense was that, pretty or not, he just miscalculated the amount of BS even the American media was willing to tolerate.  And no one can blame him for that.

Elections have consequences

Here's something odd I've noticed.  Kathleen Parker's column used to appear regularly in the Chicago Tribune, but it almost never appeared in the Washington Post, despite her being syndicated by the Washington Post Writer's Group.  Now it appears regularly in the Post (whose op-ed page I read every day (though I am not really sure why–perhaps someone can suggest some other papers for me to read).  The difference between now and then of course is her arguing that Sarah Palin isn't qualified to be VP.  (No argument here on that score).  Perhaps she figured that if she continued to insist on what she has long been insisting on in the face of mountains of evidence to the contrary, she would continue to appear in the Tribune and on Fox, but not in the Washington Post and on CNN.  Whatever her personal motivation, it doesn't really matter.  Despite dumping McCain/Palin, she still reasons badly.  

Today she writes about a possible "reverse Bradley effect" in favor of Obama.  For those of you who don't know:

Among the hidden factors is the so-called Bradley Effect, meaning that whites lie to pollsters about their support for a black candidate. It is cited as the reason Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley lost to George Deukmejian in the 1982 California governor's race, despite polls showing him up to seven points ahead.

And what is the evidence for the soothing belief in an even bigger margin than the one Obama currently enjoys?

I've received too many e-mails and had too many conversations that began, "Just between you and me," and ended with, "I wouldn't want anyone at work to know," to believe that this is an insignificant trend.

Right.  And no one I know voted for Richard Nixon.  Among Zogby, Gallup, and so on, one does not see Kathleen Parker's email inbox.  Without any data, she continues to fantasize:

Sitting quietly at their desks are an unknown number of discreet conservatives who surprise themselves as they mull their options. Appalled by McCain's erratic behavior, both in dealing with the financial crisis and his selection of an unsuitable running mate, they will quietly (and with considerable trepidation) vote for Obama.

Are they are worried about higher taxes, a premature withdrawal from Iraq, and Obama's inexperience in matters executive? You betcha. But they do not want to vote for a divisive, anti-intellectual ticket headed by a man who, though they admire him, lately has made them embarrassed to be Republicans.

Should Obama win, it will be in part because some number of quiet, mostly white-collar men and women who speak Republican in public voted Democratic in private.

Notice that she has moved from the rather weak claim that there may be some of these reverse Bradley voters out there (something which may be true in some small way), to the rather more significant claim that they would be significantly responsible for an Obama victory, despite the fact that Obama is leading all over the place by significant margins.  This would mean that a vast number of people have consistently misrepresented their preference in the upcoming election, and that, get this, an even greater number of people are lying the other way.  So more people are lying that they won't vote for Obama than people are lying that they will.  That's some messed up reasoning. 

But this gets even more twisted.  She concludes,

Whatever the final tally, Obama should not interpret his victory as a mandate. Many of the Reverse-Bradley ballots won't have been votes cast for Obama, but against a campaign turned ugly. They also will have been delivered with solemn prayers that Obama will govern as the centrist, pragmatic leader he is capable of being.

Let me get this straight.  Because there could be a better opponent than McCain/Palin for Obama, people are voting for Obama because of that, and so any Obama victory is rather a defeat for McCain/Palin–but by no means an endorsement of Obama.  All this because of Parker's email poll.

Kathleen Parker, against McCain/Palin, but still loopy. 

On the other hand

Richard Cohen on the vices of the two parties:

But the GOP's tropism toward its furiously angry base, its tolerance and currying of anti-immigrant sentiment, its flattering of the ignorant on matters of undisputed scientific consensus — evolution, for instance — and, from the mouth of Palin, its celebration of drab provincialism, have sharpened the division between red and blue. Red is the color of yesterday.

Ah, I know, the blues are not all virtuous. They are supine before self-serving unions, particularly in education, and they are knee-jerk opponents of offshore drilling, mostly, it seems, because they don't like Big Oil. They cannot face the challenge of the Third World within us — the ghetto with its appalling social and cultural ills — lest realism be called racism. Sometimes, too, they seem to criticize American foreign policy simply because it is American.

I think we have a case of false or forced equivalence.  First, prominent Republican national candidates, conservative news networks and magazines, as well as leading conservative thinkers and media figures espouse the views in the first paragraph; few leading Democrats of equal stature, liberal thinkers, think tanks and so forth hold the views in the second paragraph. 

Second, while for the Republican ills he mentions actual positions, for the Democrats he stresses their motives for holding the positions they hold.  So while the one party's actual stated policies are absurd; the other party might include those whose motives are silly but whose views seem otherwise not to be that bad–after all, it's good to criticize offshore drilling, to have a nuanced understanding of social and cultural ills, and to criticize American foreign policy, isn't it?

Ten fifths a person

George Will has the courage to say what the people who aren't thinking are thinking:

There will be "some impact," Will declared. "And I think this adds to my calculation — this is very hard to measure — but it seems to me if we had the tools to measure we'd find that Barack Obama gets two votes because he's black for every one he loses because he's black because so much of this country is so eager, a, to feel good about itself by doing this, but more than that to put paid to the whole Al Sharpton/Jesse Jackson game of political rhetoric."

Perhaps if it's hard to measure, and you're a conservative columnist prone to gullibility, you should back off and wait until there's evidence.

Race baiting

Charles Krauthammer, despite his apparent recognition of the shortcomings of the Republican ticket, can still find a way to generate outrage.  Today, for instance, he complains about those who would suggest there is a racial element to the McCain campaign.  Here's the charge: 

Let me get this straight. A couple of agitated yahoos in a rally of thousands yell something offensive and incendiary, and John McCain and Sarah Palin are not just guilty by association — with total strangers, mind you — but worse: guilty according to the New York Times of "race-baiting and xenophobia."

Unsurprisingly, he doesn't have it straight. For in the rest of the article, Krauthammer rails against Obama himself for charges the New York Times made about McCain's campaign.  He concludes:

And Obama has shown no hesitation in doing so to McCain. Weeks ago, in Springfield, Mo., and elsewhere, he warned darkly that George Bush and John McCain were going to try to frighten you by saying that, among other scary things, Obama has "a funny name" and "doesn't look like all those other presidents on those dollar bills."  

Why would he say that?


That's kind of a dollar bill, I suppose.  Story here.  Now of course that's not McCain's campaign, but Obama didn't say that George Bush and John McCain were going to frighten you–he said, "they."  And if they includes any Republicans, he was right more times than just once.  


Then there's this.


On the whole this site concerns itself with top-shelf newspaper punditry primarily because as one descends into syndication things get pretty bad.  So bad, at times, one wonders whether it's even fair to bring our very undergraduate skills of logical analysis to bear.  But sometimes, however, it's just entertaining.  If anything, Bill Maher's Religulous shows us that.  Someone could do the same thing for the poltical world.  Here's one place to start:

An e-mail: "OK, I'll say it…I believe today's massive decline was, in part (and maybe a big "in part"), in fear that the debate tonight won't go well for McCain and the implications that will have for an Obama victory. The likelihood of a recession has been talked about and, probably, factored in to a lot of folks' thinking already… …if tonight's debate tracks well for McCain, you'll see a positive response tomorrow; if it doesn't, hold on; it won't be pretty. Call it: 'Flight to Safety (from Socialism).'"

That's an email an editor at William F.Buckley's National Review thought important enough to repost online–without howls of laughter or at least notes of compassion for the person's diminished intellectual capacity.  So here's the problem, if one were to do a Religulous of politics, where would one begin?

Argumentum ad religionem

A colleague and I saw "Religulous" last night.  It was entertaining, primarily for its combination of crazy characters (one of them was my Latin teacher).  As far as the general argument goes, it seems to me that it's not so much an argument against religion, as an argument against the incoherent and self-contradictory beliefs of many poorly educated religious believers.  This fact makes the argument an ad hominem, but not the fallacious kind.  That is to say, his argument was directed at certain people, but it didn't really do much to address any very serious arguments.  Thoughts anyone?