Tag Archives: Crime rates

Argumentum ad titulum

Here's a new fallacy.  It's a specific variation of the straw man.  It involves attacking the titles of someone's work in place of the work itself.  George Will–what would we do without him–has been working on this one for several years now.  Several years ago, before the NonSequitur, I saw him on ABC's This Week critique a series of New York Times' articles by reading their titles.  From what I could gather, he didn't bother to read the actual article.  The very same subject came up again this past Sunday.

Here is what he writes:

Listening to political talk requires a third ear that hears what is not said. Today's near silence about crime probably is evidence of social improvement. For many reasons, including better policing and more incarceration, Americans feel, and are, safer. The New York Times has not recently repeated such amusing headlines as "Crime Keeps on Falling, But Prisons Keep on Filling" (1997), "Prison Population Growing Although Crime Rate Drops" (1998), "Number in Prison Grows Despite Crime Reduction" (2000) and "More Inmates, Despite Slight Drop in Crime" (2003).

Headlines!  Without reading those articles, one can tell that the titles suggest a counter-intuitive irony.  Will challenges this by not reading it and accusing the author (and the newspaper) of denying an obvious causal connection.

We're Humean about such things, so we don't think causal connections can be divined a priori.