Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Donkey Brain!

Denying or Negating the Antecedent is a formal fallacy that has the following argumentative structure:
  1. If P, then Q.
  2. Not P.
  3. Therefore, not Q
This fallacy is often confused for the valid argument Modus Tollens which has the following structure:
  1. If P, Then Q.
  2. Not Q.
  3. Therefore, not P. 
The comedy show It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia presents an excellent example of Denying or Negating the Antecedent in the following clip:

If we reconstruct the argument it goes:

  1. If one has donkey brains, then they make foolish decisions.
  2. Frank does not have a donkey brain.
  3. Therefore, he does not make foolish decisions. 

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Did doctors really believe this?

Here is a great example of the Appeal to Inappropriate Authority, a fallacy in which one relies on some "putative" expert who shouldn't really be relied upon.

An ad from the 1950's for Camel Cigarettes. The ad copy says, "Mored Doctors smoke Camels than any other cigarette!"

Note that this ad does not claim that doctors recommend smoking. Instead, it implies that Camel cigarettes are healthier than other cigarettes because more doctors smoke them. While the ad isn't explicit, there is a clear Appeal to Authority in the claim that Camel cigarettes are preferred by doctors.

These ads were fairly common back in the 1950's until the a number of scientific studies started to be released that began to draw a clear connection between smoking and lung cancer. In addition, the FTC began to step up its regulations on tobacco advertising, essentially making ads like this illegal because they implied that some cigarettes were healthier than others or that cigarettes themselves did not pose any health risks. Much of this was dramatized on the TV show Mad Men, particularly the premiere episode "Smoke Gets In Your Eyes."

Monday, April 24, 2017

I am pretty sure I have seen alligators on Sesame Street (maybe they were crocodiles?)

Here is another excellent example of a Post Hoc fallacy, this time from the folks at Sesame Street (examples starts at :40):

In this case, the fallacy is pretty clear. Ernie has a banana in his ear. There are no alligators on Sesame Street. Therefore, the banana in the ear is doing a good job of keeping the alligators away. While this example is obviously intended as a joke, it still provides a good example of Post Hoc reasoning.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

The Propaganda Model of the Media

Here is a fantastic video that nicely illustrates Chomsky and Hermann's Propaganda Model of the Media.

More information on this topic can be found here.
h/t to Kelly Mayhew

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Sometimes, the media just lies.

With all the debate and hand-wringing swirling around fake news, it is sometimes important to remember that many mainstream media outlets, particularly on the right, sometimes just lie. Case in point is this story from a Swedish newspaper about a Swedish "Security expert" Nils Bildt who appeared on Bill O'Reilly's show The O'Reilly Factor on Fox News.

Screenshot from the The O'Reilly Factor identifying guest Nils Bildt as a "Swedish Defense and National Security Advisor. "

As you can see, he is identified as a "Swedish Defense and National Security Advisor," and he was on Fox News to spread the lie that Sweden is extremely dangerous due to the influx of refuges from Muslim countries who have settled there in recent years.

As the above story from Dagens Nyheter (one of the largest Swedish daily newspapers) indicates, Bildt has no formal affiliation with the Swedish Government, and has not even lived in Sweden since 1994. Furthermore, the article is a further example of the relative shock the people of Sweden have felt since being accused by President Trump of being a hellhole due to their acceptance of refuges fleeing the chaos in Syria and the Middle East. Needless to say, most Swedes have no idea what Trump is talking about. And for O'Reilly to continue to spread this falsehood is a real stain on the media and journalism generally.

h/t to San Diego Free Press

Update: Here is another article on the same story from the Intercept.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

A handy chart for evaluating news sources

This is a nice infographic making the rounds that provides some helpful advice on how to evaluate news sources. I tend to think that some of the more centrist outlets tend to still have problems (see critiques of the mainstream media elsewhere, especially Chomsky and Hermann's Propaganda Model of the Media), but this is still a very useful resource.

A helpful chart with some advice on evaluating news sources. Click to embiggen.
Thanks to Professor Lisa Chaddock from San Diego City College who gave me the link. I don't know much else about the individual(s) who made this.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

It must be tough to be Kellyanne Conway

Inconsistency is a fallacy in which your conclusion contradicts your premise, or your premise contradicts another premise in the argument. The following clip, which features an interview between the journalist Anderson Cooper and Donald Trump's campaign manager Kellyanne Conway.

In the clip Conway argues that the fact that Bill Clinton settled a sexual harassment lawsuit is evidence that he was guilty. Basically she seems to be implying that if he were innocent he wouldn't have settled, so the fact that he settled is proof of his guilt. This claim is clearly false, and it is an additional example of how the Trump campaign completely misunderstands the US legal system and the Constitution. Anderson Cooper, however provides a different response bringing up the fact that Donald Trump, Conway's employer and the person she is defending, has a long history of settling a variety of lawsuits. Cooper then presses Conway on whether this is evidence of Trump's own guilt in the lawsuits that he settled. In effect, Cooper is pointing out an enormous inconsistency in Conway's argument, and Conway really can't respond other than by trying to change the subject (a good example of a Red Herring). To his credit, Cooper is quite aggressive in holding Conway's feet to the fire, a tactic I wish more journalists employed.

h/t to Natalie Thongrit and someone on Facebook