Tag Archives: Assertions

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!

Logical Gal – same ‘ole, same ‘ole lazy thinking clouds the minds of many

24 Jun

Many people still seem to swallow whole whatever they hear or read.  Reminds me of Saturday Night Live’s skit portraying a restaurant, Pre-Chew Charlie’s, for those who didn’t want to masticate their own food.

Pre-Chew Charlie's

A kind reader sent me examples of a common fallacy he had encountered, all in one day.  The first illustration came from a Twitter conversation in which the other fellow maintained that ‘evolution MUST be true because’ (drum roll, please: Voilà his rational reason) ‘…most biologists believe it.”  That’s it? That’s why the theory of evolution is true?

‘Twitter-man’ is using the crutch called, “Truth by consensus.”  Yet anyone who has been exposed to a bit of logic or lessons in clear thinking knows the first ground rule.  To wit – the responsibility is yours to make a case for what you claim.  In other words, the person asserting an opinion, in this case that evolution is true, is obliged to give supporting reasons and evidence.  In this case, Twitter-man merely trotted out the hackneyed, but inappropriate prop called Fallacy of Mob Appeal, also called Band Wagon.

It could be that most biologists are right, but Twitter-man must provide evidence if he is making an argument.   But maybe he wants merely to offer a sound-byte and leave it at that.

He should know that it actually doesn’t matter what most people think.  What matters is if his claim is true or false.  However, I do understand that siding with ‘most people’ FEELS safe.  As a follower of Christ in today’s shifting sands, it’s challenging and sometimes uncomfortable to belong to a minority of thinkers who hold an unpopular view.

The same day as his conversation with Twitter-man, this reader See his website; he also advocates clear thinking! drove past a movie rental shop with the sign out front that proclaimed a take-off of that original song from the 1920s entitled, “Fifty Million Frenchmen Can’t Be Wrong.”

3 million can't be wrong

Set during the era of Prohibition, the song (followed by a book and then a movie) contrasts life in France where drinking and looser sexual mores appeal to a young American man.  One could debate for hours which culture promotes human flourishing.  But I would hope each side would actually martial positions based on clear terms, true premises and valid arguments.  What a bunch of people DOES doesn’t make it ‘right’.  What SHOULD matter is rather whether what they DO is in line with true beliefs regarding reality. That’s called integrity.

I am a Christian. Both the Christian AND the non-Christian are created in God’s image.  God has made us different from animals.  He has given us minds.  And like the muscles that pack our skeletal structure, humans must DAILY exercise, guide, train, hydrate and nourish their minds or else we are no different than most animals!  Choosing beliefs based on fallacious crutches is to bypass the mind entrusted to you.

Mind is a terrible thing to waste

Logical Gal stumbles, and then remembers!

29 Apr

I felt intimidated!

intimidation

A comment to one of these Logical Gal blog posts tripped me up.  I couldn’t make heads or tails out of what my reader wrote in his ‘logical’ pushback. First of all, it was:

  • scientific-sounding
  • smart-sounding

Thus, I felt stupid. At first.

Then I reread his words, and realized that it was also incomprehensible!

With that insight, my logical training kicked in and I felt empowered.

When someone responds to you and you don’t understand what they mean, the ONLY logical course of action is to ask them TWO clarifying questions:

  • What do you mean by ________? (whatever they say)
  • How did you arrive at your conclusion? or Why do you think/say that?

When I replied to his lengthy comment with those questions, he DID try to clarify.  And it was the same genre, to wit: scientific-sounding, smart-sounding BUT still incomprehensible.  So I took it home to my resident scientific expert, my husband.  And HE couldn’t make any sense out of what the guy was writing. I felt a bit better.

In all honesty, I did dialogue back and forth with this gentleman because I appreciated that he had READ my blog and also that he had taken the time to write a comment and share his thinking.  In the end he and I both stopped because neither one of us was making headway toward mutual understanding.

But I learned a lot!  When you don’t know WHAT to say, just ask some questions.  This is wise AND easy and the pay off is three-fold:

  • you’ll gain time to think
  • you’ll gain more information to aid your thinking
  • you honor your interlocutor by acknowledging his words

Logical Gal is shocked by bald-faced naked assertion

16 Dec

Where’s the rationale? There IS none!

I’m amazed at what people can get away with!

I read the local newspaper so I can have material for this blog!  Today being Sunday, I wasn’t disappointed.  A local guest columnist wrote to persuade us to DO something to influence President Obama’s decision about the Keystone Pipeline that has been planned to allow crude oil to run from Canada to Texas.

I really don’t know enough about issue yet to make the cost-benefit analysis necessary to evaluate whether we should undertake such a project.  I imagine there are good arguments on both sides. Although like most controversial topics, each side probably talks past the other because of how they have framed the stakes.  But that’s another blog post.

What caught my attention today, however, was the lack of reasons offered for a powerful premise. To wit: “The proposed pipeline, which will at times break and spill oil, will be 1700 miles long and pass through….fertile farmland….crossing aquifers….drinking water.”

Wait a minute, does this college-level teacher have a crystal ball? What statistics does he cite for past breaks and spills?  To be fair to the engineers constructing the pipeline, he could just as easily assume they have designed a ‘better’ pipeline to eliminate or reduce the likelihood of breakage.

What logic has taught me is to read and listen more carefully.  Every word DOES communicate. Writers have an obligation to offer sound reasons for their point of view.  Readers and consumers of the word must ALSO take responsibility for critical listening and questioning.  Otherwise, we might be lazy and pass on an unvetted assertion to some unthinking soul.

Question: What assertions do you make without offering reasons?

That’s so old school…..vs….Back in my day….

13 Sep

Sue:  I can’t wait until I can ditch this old iPhone 5 and get the latest version?

Mary: But you just replaced your iPhone 4  in June?  What’s your hurry? 

Sue:  The upgraded IOS makes this new phone quicker and besides, I just know it’s better!

Mary:  How do you  know it’s better? 

Sue:  It’s the newest!

Welcome to another Fallacy Friday!  Today we are looking Chronological Snobbery.  This fallacious defense rests on the premise that just because something is more modern, then it automatically follows that it is better.  Whereas that MAY be the case, it is not axiomatic that newer is better.  I remember when my husband purchased a computer loaded with Windows 8 , the latest operating system at the time.  It turned out to be NOT as good as the previous version.

Chronological Snobbery can also apply in the opposite direction – one can assume that ‘older is better’.  Many connoisseurs of wine will assert that red wines improve with age.  But that is not always the case.  Corking and storage conditions as well as the quality of a particular year’s harvest will affect the condition of the wine.   

So how do you avoid this faulty reasoning?  Just make sure that you have reason-based evidence to back up your claim that something new OR old is actually better.

One particular arena where Chronological Snobbery is so arrogantly employed is in the evaluation of the validity of the Old Testament.  Many so-called Bible scholars look down on the Hebrews of Abraham’ s day or the time of the Prophets and assume that these ‘primitive people’  had a misguided outlook on the world.  The ‘scholars’ then discount the writings of the Old Testament as not being accurate simply because of the time they were written.   One is ALWAYS perfectly justified to dig a bit deeper when confronting a claim that smells like a case of Chronological Snobbery.  Just ask WHY something newer or older is better.  ” Just cuz”  is not enough of an answer!