He’s an Arab

Among the various fallacies of irrelevance is the "ignoratio elenchi."  This often has the very unhelpful and imprecise role of being a catch-all category for any relevance problem not covered by another more precise description (It's other more usual role covers arguments whose extreme conclusions are unwarranted by the evidence).  Along these lines, Ross Douthat considers the following evidence:

This ideal has had a tough 10 months. It’s been tarnished by Palin herself, obviously. With her missteps, scandals, dreadful interviews and self-pitying monologues, she’s botched an essential democratic role — the ordinary citizen who takes on the elites, the up-by-your-bootstraps role embodied by politicians from Andrew Jackson down to Harry Truman.  

And concludes:

But Sarah Palin represents the democratic ideal — that anyone can grow up to be a great success story without graduating from Columbia and Harvard.

What's the success story now?  Sheleft Wasilia in financial ruin, lost in a national election, and quit the governorship of Alaska after 30 months for reasons no one can decipher.

But here's another round of complete nincompoopery from the author of this piece:

Here are lessons of the Sarah Palin experience, for any aspiring politician who shares her background and her sex. Your children will go through the tabloid wringer. Your religion will be mocked and misrepresented. Your political record will be distorted, to better parody your family and your faith. (And no, gentle reader, Palin did not insist on abstinence-only sex education, slash funds for special-needs children or inject creationism into public schools.)

This was also not the lesson of the Obama experience?  Only Obama's political record (and by obvious implication his citizenship, patriotism, political record, etc.) was gleefully distorted by Palin.

2 thoughts on “He’s an Arab”

  1. This isn’t strictly relevant to the above (unless it is …), but there’s a type of fallacy that we are seeing a great deal of today but I cannot for the life of me recall or discover the name of it.

    Specifically, what do we call it when someone cites a (generally cherry-picked) individual example to refute a case that is predicated upon a large, statistical ensemble of data? For example, “So and so had a terrible experience with Canadian medicine, therefore the Canadian medical system is terrible,” or “There was a snow storm in Denver this last June! Global warming is false!” both exemplify this kind of fallacious reasoning.

    I suppose Hasty Generalization or the Hot Hand fallacy might cover it, but it seems like there might be something more specific to the statistical issues involved.

    Thanks for any suggestions!

  2. Gary, you wisely refer to the Fallacy Files, but you overlook the pertinent classification. It is “the anecdotal fallacy,” a.k.a. “the Volvo fallacy” (illustrated by a vignette about someone’s judgment of Volvos). “The Anecdotal Fallacy occurs when a recent memory, an unusual event, or a striking anecdote leads one to overestimate the probability of events of that type occurring?especially if one has access to better evidence of the frequency of such events. For instance, in the Thought Experiment, if the vividness of your acquaintance’s anecdote about his brother-in-law’s experience is enough to change your decision to buy the Volvo, you have committed the fallacy.”

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