Welcome to Logical Fallacies 101, an effort to help foster more reasonable, logical debate on Newsvine and wherever else you may find yourself discussing differences of opinion.
We all know that Newsvine can be a contentious place, and everyone makes a debate misstep from time to time. This series is meant to inform and explain what logical fallacies are, outline common fallacies in detail, and explain why they're unacceptable forms of debate rhetoric. And, being that it's a fairly dry subject, I'll attempt to inject some humor and light-heartedness into the discussion.
Put most simply, a fallacy is a rhetorical sequence that doesn't logically connect. For a variety of reasons, logical fallacies are invalid. A logical fallacy does not necessarily render the point invalid, but it means you need to rethink how you're making your point.
I'll be referring to the fallacies by their Latin names when applicable, and get into the nitty-gritty explanations in the article itself. And since debate is so commonly associated with politics, I'll be using modern political examples.
A note on bias: As some may already know, my political views are that of a left-leaning centrist. I try to be fair and even-handed, so each of my political examples will be accompanied with one from the other side. For every leftist fallacy, I'll cite a right-wing one as well. Don't get too offended! I'm doing it to keep myself honest and fair, and to show that this sort of thing can happen on both sides of the spectrum.
So with all that out of the way...
I couldn't possibly start this series with anything else. The ad hominem ("to the man") fallacy is so common that hardly a day goes by that I don't see someone committing it. This is the basic building block of learning about logical fallacies, so we're starting with a slow pitch right down the middle. If you can't get past this one, you might want to talk to the registrar about skipping the rest of class.
What is it?
"To the man" isn't a terribly descriptive translation, but the full name is "argumentum ad hominem." In other words, arguing against the person making the statement, rather than the statement itself. In modern day, this manifests itself as dismissing information from any source, be it a debate partner, politician, TV network, radio station, Web site, or otherwise. Often this dismissal will point to a particular bias from the source, claiming that it cannot be trusted.
Why is it invalid?
Bias doesn't trump facts. If a biased individual makes a factually correct statement, his or her bias does not make the statement factually incorrect. It's important to look at the statements presented on their own merits. It's entirely possible that bias did influence the statement. Someone could have cherry-picked facts, skewed data, or even just be flat-out lying. But those are all critiques of the statement, not the person. To avoid this fallacy, look at the points presented -- even when it's a source you dislike -- and concede or critique those points themselves.
Feel free to make your snarky comments about how biased the source is, but save it for after you've shredded the argument on its own.
"That poll can't be trusted. It's from Fox News." (also commonly: Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh)
"That poll can't be valid. It's from MSNBC." (also commonly: Huffington Post, DailyKOS)
So next time you see someone committing an ad hominem dismissal, politely call them on it, address the points, and move along.
Feel free to discuss logical fallacies below, but please only do so in general terms. The goal of this column is to inform and enlighten, not embarrass. Do not name specific people you've seen committing logical fallacies or link to people committing logical fallacies. Any comments doing this will be deleted. No exceptions.