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Sisyphus

"Baloney Detection Kit"

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This is a list based on Carl Sagan's The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark, his book about pseudoscience, how it's different from real science, and why it seems to be taking over. I think it's very good, and contains what Mr. Sagan calls his "baloney detection kit," which ought to be applied to all arguments, scientific or not. Looking it over, I found it fun to classify the various threads on these boards into categories of logical fallacy. :) Anyway, the following are suggested as tools for testing arguments and detecting fallacious or fraudulent arguments:

 

* Wherever possible there must be independent confirmation of the facts

* Encourage substantive debate on the evidence by knowledgeable proponents of all points of view.

* Arguments from authority carry little weight (in science there are no "authorities").

* Spin more than one hypothesis - don't simply run with the first idea that caught your fancy.

* Try not to get overly attached to a hypothesis just because it's yours.

* Quantify, wherever possible.

* If there is a chain of argument every link in the chain must work.

* "Occam's razor" - if there are two hypothesis that explain the data equally well choose the simpler.

* Ask whether the hypothesis can, at least in principle, be falsified (shown to be false by some unambiguous test). In other words, it is testable? Can others duplicate the experiment and get the same result?

 

Additional issues are

 

* Conduct control experiments - especially "double blind" experiments where the person taking measurements is not aware of the test and control subjects.

* Check for confounding factors - separate the variables.

 

Common fallacies of logic and rhetoric

 

* Ad hominem - attacking the arguer and not the argument.

* Argument from "authority".

* Argument from adverse consequences (putting pressure on the decision maker by pointing out dire consequences of an "unfavourable" decision).

* Appeal to ignorance (absence of evidence is not necessarily evidence of absence).

* Special pleading (typically referring to god's will).

* Begging the question (assuming an answer in the way the question is phrased).

* Observational selection (counting the hits and forgetting the misses - why people believe in ESP).

* Statistics of small numbers (such as drawing conclusions from inadequate sample sizes).

* Misunderstanding the nature of statistics (President Eisenhower expressing astonishment and alarm on discovering that fully half of all Americans have below average intelligence!)

* Inconsistency (e.g. military expenditures based on worst case scenarios but scientific projections on environmental dangers thriftily ignored because they are not "proved").

* Non sequitur - "it does not follow" - the logic falls down.

* Post hoc, ergo propter hoc - "it happened after so it was caused by" - confusion of cause and effect.

* Meaningless question ("what happens when an irresistible force meets an immovable object?).

* Excluded middle - considering only the two extremes in a range of possibilities (making the "other side" look worse than it really is).

* Short-term v. long-term - a subset of excluded middle ("why pursue fundamental science when we have so huge a budget deficit?").

* Slippery slope - a subset of excluded middle - unwarranted extrapolation of the effects (give an inch and they will take a mile).

* Confusion of correlation and causation.

* Straw man - caricaturing (or stereotyping) a position to make it easier to attack..

* Suppressed evidence or half-truths.

* Weasel words - for example, use of euphemisms for war such as "police action" to get around limitations on Presidential powers. "An important art of politicians is to find new names for institutions which under old names have become odious to the public"

 

I know there's already threads about this sort of thing, but this version seems more concise and complete than anything I could find here, so I thought I'd post it.

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* Misunderstanding the nature of statistics (President Eisenhower expressing astonishment and alarm on discovering that fully half of all Americans have below average intelligence!)

It is of course reasonable to assume that intelligence follows a normal distribution in which case median = mean and 50% of all people are below average, but otherwise, I, like Mr. Eisenhower, would (wishfully) like to think that intelligence is skewed so that 99% of people are above average. ;)

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We are still in a transition from a supersitious to a rational system of survival.

 

How many people learn to use the computer by utilizing a series of proceedures to achieve a result without understanding why those proceedures net that end result?

 

Often its a misconception of how things work, that just happens to lead to the best net result, that is the concept that propogates and is retained as the means to remember the proceedure.

 

I recall an article about Eskimos failing to perform a traditional ritual on a hunt and dying after eating bad meat. It turned out the ritual by complete coincidence performs a number of tasks important to proper food preservation. But if people live better due to a positive result from an arcane ritual it will be passed on, even when the science behind the more positive result is completely unknown.

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Hooray for rational, skeptical, scientific thinking...

 

Often its a misconception of how things work, that just happens to lead to the best net result, that is the concept that propogates and is retained as the means to remember the proceedure.

 

Yes, symbiotic memes can be based upon misconceptions which are irrelevant to how the meme achieves symbiosis with humans, and this is pretty much how humanity managed to get anything done prior to the the spread of scientific methodology as a meme.

 

If only the latter could fully replace the former the world would be a lot better off...

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Looking it over, I found it fun to classify the various threads on these boards into categories of logical fallacy.
Keep in mind that logical fallacies are wrong only when thay are applied to all situations, or are assumptive in general. When arguments are based solely on logical fallacies, they are generally weak arguments. Arguments which make strong points may also use what may appear to be fallacies to further strengthen their position.

 

For instance, arguing that the reason you suddenly feel bad tonight is because you ate chili for lunch from an expired, swollen can you found at the back of the pantry could be considered a post hoc fallacy. But it has a very good chance of being true.

 

As I've said elsewhere in this forum, most people argue that when you allow people to start burning some books, it makes it easier for those people to burn other books. This is widely viewed as a slippery slope fallacy, but I happen to believe it is correctly used when it comes to burning books.

 

Logical fallacies are fallacies because they are MOSTLY wrong, not always.

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Those two examples though are not really fallacies as they're described, though. You don't think you got sick because of the chili merely because it happened afterwards - you think so because you have some knowledge of what happens when you consume overly decayed food. Thus it's a stronger argument, but not proof. Similarly, you have other reasons for believing the supposed "slippery slope" argument that you mentioned. If you believed that were the case merely because you thought it were a principle that more extreme actions always follow from less extreme actions, that would be the real fallacy, I think. I do agree completely, however, that one should disregard entire arguments just because they seem to contain fallacies at first glance. I was being somewhat facetious in the comment you quoted.

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For instance' date=' arguing that the reason you suddenly feel bad tonight is because you ate chili for lunch from an expired, swollen can you found at the back of the pantry could be considered a post hoc fallacy. But it has a very good chance of being true.

 

As I've said elsewhere in this forum, most people argue that when you allow people to start burning some books, it makes it easier for those people to burn other books. This is widely viewed as a slippery slope fallacy, but I happen to believe it is correctly used when it comes to burning books.

 

Logical fallacies are fallacies because they are MOSTLY wrong, not always.[/quote']

Well, rhetoricians usually make a distinction between fallacies of deduction and fallacies of induction. An inductive argument (even a very good one) is always fallacious when treated as a deduction, because the conclusion never rigorously follows from the premise (as it should if it is to be regarded as deductive). So things like slippery slope arguments and so forth are fallacies of deduction when they are presented as deductions, but they can make a convincing inductive argument as you pointed out, so long as you are careful with how you use them, and are also careful about how much certainty you attach to the conclusion.

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