Bald-faced assertions and appeals to credentials

21 Oct

Here comes another opportunity to practice addressing an ‘argument’ encountered in everyday life, courtesy again of my local newspaper.  In a guest column last week “Mr. Very-Credentialed Local Citizen”  shared his views on a current controversy. His ‘sub-title’ or brief bio at the end read, “Mr. X is a Navy veteran, a cum laude graduate of Harvard Law School and a retired Washington lawyer.”

Were his credentials meant to impress and thus ward off any criticism of ideas?.

garlic and vampires

What it did, actually, was provide an illustration of feathering a weak argument with some fluffy down.  First lesson to take away is this:

  • Don’t let yourself be intimidated by someone’s educational achievement and experience.  Focus on the argument!!!

So what about his argument?

  •  First of all, there was no argument, just 2 separate assertions and a smokescreen

Let’s begin —

In the first assertion, the writer took on the defense of the use of fetal tissue research in the wake of revelatory videos regarding some of Planned Parenthood’s practices.  Here is what he wrote:

“…….about fetal tissue research.  It has for many years been a vital part of research dealing with a very wide range of diseases, and millions of people are alive today as a result of this research.”

Really? Millions? That is a stunning statement.  He offers no grounding at all for that statement.  And since he has publicized that he is NOT a research scientist or a medical professional, I question his assertion all the more.

So I did a 10-minute search of benefits from such tissue research and found out, for instance, that a study with Parkinson’s disease patients that looked promising did not pan out as hoped. In fact there were no significant reports of advances, just some possible areas of research.  The only and NOT insignificant benefit from the use of fetal tissue cited was the vaccines created 40-50 years ago that HAVE saved lives.  What is noteworthy, though, is that those original fetal cells are still producing new vaccines. An assumption could be advanced that no new fetal tissue is necessary to keep up with the demand to produce inoculations.

Therefore, the claim that millions are alive DUE to fetal tissue research needs to be qualified.  But it SOUNDED impressive.

The next plank in his ‘argument’ was this:

“Reducing funding for fetal tissue research is vigorously protested in, among other places, the pages of the New England Journal of Medicine, which is called by Forbes Magazine, ‘the most important medical periodical in the world’.

So……?  Does Forbes Magazine’s opinion about the New England Journal of Medicine mean that we should accept as ‘gospel’ every word the Journal of Medicine writes?

What could be reasons for researchers to protest a reduction in funding?

Is it possible that the nature of all research is to perpetuate their funding?

Shouldn’t we support research for reasons OTHER than another periodical’s ranking of importance of publications?   How much weight should the opinion of a business-centered organization be given?  Are there not better reasons to support fetal tissue research?  Apparently not.

Finally, on to the smokescreen provided by our esteemed legal expert:

” …when an abortion is performed,….there is no ethical reason not to use the fetal tissue for scientific research.  In fact, it is morally wrong not to use it because of the good that comes from it.” and the writer cites ethicists and a Roman Catholic committee’s conclusions for this statement.

Why does he advance the source of this verdict?  Does he mean to head off the spiritual arguments by offering these credentialed opinions?  Again, let us not be fooled by Appeals to Authority.

And ‘morally wrong’ NOT to use the tissue from a dead baby torn from its mother’s womb?  Give me a break!

The safe and simple way to handle with grace a view contrary to yours is to bypass all the hype and focus on the argument, point by point.  Let us take our time and NOT yield to tactics meant to intimidate.

No one has to be an expert in order to ask the clarifying questions that shift the burden of proof back on the one who advances the argument!

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