Tag Archives: Politics

Logical Gal – it must be true if 97% of scientists agree

9 Jun

Truth by consensus!

97 % of scientists

Now there’s a stable foundation for science and public policy!

When someone making an assertion offers as support the fact that the majority of experts back his view, then you know the arguer has no argument.

People resort to fallacies (false reasoning) for one or more of the following  reasons:

  • they haven’t thought through a proper defense of their point of view
  • they KNOW they don’t have any legitimate reasons resilient enough to respond to critique
  • they are lazy and rather just bash their opponent by appealing to a variation of that old song lyric ‘50 million Frenchmen can’t be wrong‘!

50 million frenchmen

But science has always progressed by being dragged forward by a few brave souls going against the ‘party line’.

So what is driving the forceful and almost shrill proclamations that the ‘debate is over’?

Like so much in life, I think it’s……… the money.

In today’s local Sunday paper, hope for new jobs permeated an unabashedly eager article about Asheville positioning itself to sell tech solutions to our ‘climate problem’ Article link is here.   This was in the same issue that gave editorial space to syndicated columnist Leonard Pitts who mockingly derided climate deniers who should do the math and get on board. See if you can spot his use of Mob Appeal cum Appeal to Authority fallacies

What frightens me is that the ‘average Joe or Jane’ DOESN’T take the time to read, study and think through issues.  And to be honest, one has to pick and choose just which topics one is going to investigate.  There was a time when the Fourth Estate, the ‘soi-disant’ independent media, played that role in society, keeping the other three estates in check (traditionally – the nobility, the clergy and the commoners….perhaps in 21st century America – the government, business and the little people).

But today, a FIFTH ESTATE has arisen – us, the counter-cultural voice of independent media, bloggers and certain talk-show hosts.

For more information click here

We CAN make a difference, one step at a time.  My small piece in that unorganized but powerful force is to encourage average Joes and Janes to practice clear thinking.  Acquiring logic is a useful tool to that end!

Question:  Which issue is number one for you?  the one that is worth your time and concentrated energy

  • to study
  • to be able to articulate both sides
  • to come down on one side and be prepared to give a defense



Logical Gal and her Daily Newspaper

8 Jan

It’s a snow day and school was cancelled.  So I had time to read the local paper and enjoy my daily entertainment of picking out fallacies and irrational comments on the Opinion Page.

I was not disappointed.

A guest columnist had written a couple of weeks ago criticizing the Affordable Care Act and offering reasons for why it should be canned and what steps COULD reasonably be made to fix our country’s health care delivery system.

Today, two people responded.  One did so ineffectively; the other writer more reasonably. The contrast provided a helpful illustration of what TO do and what NOT to do.

The first, by an ‘outraged’ letter-writer, spent most of his 200 words attacking the original author’s person and his circumstances (retired state worker, for what it’s worth). He made blatant assumptions about the man’s spending habits.  This type of ad hominem circumstantial argument works like the following fabricated  example:

What is said:  This guy beats his kids and hoards his food; therefore, his argument about the best fuel-efficient car can’t be trusted.

It actually doesn’t matter what a person’s set of beliefs, practices or past errors are.  What counts are the merits of his argument.

The letter writer also vilified the Tea Party by creating a Straw Man argument.  He assumed that because the guest columnist disagreed with the Democratic Party’s passed legislation, that he belonged to the much-maligned Tea Party.  Then he described this conservative party’s one and only solution ‘to our country’s problems’ as “The whole world revolves around me”. What’s with that?? How is that so-called philosophical statement even a solution? He never explained what he meant.

The truth is that most of the time when people resort to mean and biting words they do so because they have nothing substantive to say about the ARGUMENT.  They just want to attack and minimize their opponent.

With many people writing and speaking like this guy, it doesn’t take much for a ‘thought-ful’ person to stand out.  We must be encouraged to make the effort to speak and write carefully and reasonably with evidence to back our points.  Avoiding fallacies helps us to be taken seriously.

Fortunately, the 2nd man to write in to the paper had at least one good point when he addressed his opponent about the Affordable Health Care Act.  He developed his argument, supported it with reasons and stayed clear of fallacies. And I’ll even forgive him for his last sentence, a rhetorical and sarcastic jab at Republicans.

I recommend following the daily newspaper, whether on-line or in print.  It’s good practice for critical reading and thinking.  And remember, it’s your right as an informed citizen to write the editor and share your views.  You might actually influence someone for the better with your clear thinking!

Question: What issue could you write about cogently and persuasively?

Logical Gal spots False Dilemmas all over the place

29 Nov

How’s this for that nasty habit of bi-furcation?

“On Dec. 9, 2010, Bolivian President Evo Morales called for both climate change reparations and the death of capitalism claiming that “[t]here are two ways: either capitalism dies or Mother Earth dies.” Morales cited a debunked stat which claimed that 300,000 people die annually from the effects of climate change.”

You can read the above excerpt in context of the following article – Assigning blame in the typhoon disaster

You have to admit that there is rhetorical force in this dramatically stark,  no-win choice President Morales announced.  But that’s about all you can say.  Since he obviously wants us to listen to him, we can turn to this ‘expert prophet’ and ask him some questions.  After all, the burden of proof is on the one who makes the claim.

  • Why are capitalism and the health of our planet mutually exclusive?
  • Why do you think your point of view is correct?
  • What kind of economic system do you have in mind that would replace capitalism?
  • How can you be sure that the system you propose will not have a damaging affect on our planet?
  • How will you help all the families that will lose their livelihood if you eliminate capitalism?
  • What makes you qualified to make this kind of judgment?

Asking questions is the best response for several reasons: 

  • It’s less stressful than having to defend your point of view
  • You learn more and can then see more clearly to ask other questions
  • You don’t need to be an expert in any of the areas of discussion
  • It puts pressure on the one asserting his position
  • It can expose a bluffer who has no reasons for his blustery proclamation

So, don’t be afraid of radical views.  Keep calm.  Take a deep breath and ask a few simple questions.  Besides, you’ll probably disarm your interlocutor who is expecting you to attack back!

Logical Gal and JFK’s quote about thinking

25 Nov

Too often we enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought. –

John F. Kennedy, 35th US president (1917-1963)

Boy, does that ever apply to all of us!  I tend to see this fault in others and think that I don’t fall into that trap until….I trip, stumble and realize, to my shame, that I don’t know WHY I hold a certain position.  Why is that? Because it takes no energy to repeat

  • what SOUNDS correct and
  • what we WANT to believe

And if enough people around us hold the same view, then we MUST be correct, right?   Besides, it takes EFFORT to think and to sort out reasons and we’re just too tired.

So what can tired but sincere people do?  And where do you begin?  There’s only so much time to research all the controversies out there?

Well, since this is Thanksgiving week, and we’re  likely to be in the mix with different people over the holiday, we will have good occasion to at least LISTEN to various views.  When you hear a viewpoint that is controversial, adopt a humble attitude and say something like, “I’m still undecided about Black Friday store hours/ climate change/the threat of Iran’s nuclear capabilities/ World Cup soccer / whether women should be in the Infantry….Can you tell me why you believe what you do?”

Then when they have articulated their position (assuming that they are capable of it!),  ask permission to repeat back to them what they said so that you can gain the experience of at least communicating a point of view.   It might not be what you will end holding to as your reasoned view, but at least you will have practiced interacting with a position.

I was really encouraged this week when I read in our local newspaper that Asheville High School has grown a superior debate team.  It is now COOL to debate!  Here’s the link – Asheville High School hosts debate tournament

A feature of debate preparation is being ready to defend either side – the pro or the con.  What this means is that it’s valuable to understand reasons for each side and to be diligent and kind in accurately representing a view that you might not hold.

So, what do you have to lose this week?  Just make sure that you start early enough on Thursday’s feast day to engage in thoughtful discourse .  Too much pecan pie will send blood rushing to the stomach and after a big meal no one will feel like doing anything but plopping in front of the TV and watching football.

Logical Gal and the Fallacy of Division

22 Nov

XYZ is an efficient company, therefore, Joe Blow who works there must likewise be efficient.

Ah, but must he?  Maybe the organization is SO well run, that it can compensate for the drag that a poor-performing employee might add.  Welcome to Fallacy Friday and a trap we can fall into from time to time – the Fallacy of Division.

By definition, this error in thinking occurs when we identify the attributes of a larger whole and assign the same ones to its constituent parts.   It could be that a member of the whole shares the same qualities, but it’s faulty thinking to assume that is always the case.  Consider the color palate.  You might have a blob of black paint.  Is every drop of paint black?  My colleague, the art teacher, tells me that mixing bits of all the colors makes for a blackish brown yucky color.

Many other examples abound and are equally false.

So what’s the big deal, other than the possibility that the assumptions might not be true?

It’s the curse of expectations.  Suppose that  I’m familiar with Starbucks and their corporate culture  to train efficient AND personable baristas.  If I commit the Fallacy of Division, I can set myself up for disappointment. When I stop by one of the ubiquitous cafés and an employee is cold to me, then I’m likely to feel less satisfied. I’ve assumed that an intentional corporate value is held by each individual.  (unlike the expectation of some who travel to New York City or Paris and are braced to run into ‘rude’ people)

Another example we can look to is the pleasing musicality of an orchestra, or the satisfying visual treat of an Impressionist painting like this canvas by Georges Seurat.

The ensemble of paint dots or musical instruments working together produce a result that can’t be divided. That means isolating one violin playing its part might be boring.  Or 50 painted pointy strokes might not have any pattern.  But 20,000 points of color actually create a recognizable design.

I live in the greater Asheville area in Western North Carolina.  This artsy town is known for some questionable moral values and very liberal political views.  But we live here, too.  And we’re fairly conventional and Biblical in our assessment of right and wrong . We also  hold a mixture of politically conservative and libertarian views.

A quick passing judgment might look like this:

Asheville is a liberal, artistic,  fit, laid-back, ‘foody’, sexually-progressive town.

Logical Gal lives in Asheville

Therefore, Logical Gal must also be a liberal, artistic, fit, laid-back, sexually-progressive ‘foody’

Not so. SOME of those adjectives might apply.  But you would be incorrect to assume that every citizen of Asheville can be described in the same way as the town itself. (I’ll leave you to sort out a full description of Logical Gal)

How using logic can help your kids

18 Sep

What do you do at dinner time?

I have taught  school for 21 years.  What saddens me the most among all socio-economic levels of students is the growing tendency of family members to each supper separately.   Parents do not realize the impact of regular meals enjoyed ‘en famille’ .

I am the mom of two grown sons.  My husband and I made lots of mistakes as parents (we never attended the ‘Parent Academy’ nor did I read parenting books – they made me feel too guilty!) But one practice I now realize that we did well, was our commitment to sharing one communal meal daily.

Sure we had our battles over vegetables and table manners, but those were secondary to our goal of conversation.  Our boys are blessed to have a dad who is interested in everything.   Our discussions lasted longer than the food on our plates.  We would talk about what was going on in their classrooms, in the world, at church, with their friends.   Music, movies and books were also frequent topics.

Our family is VERY opinionated, so the boys grew up listening to their dad’s views and practicing the skill of articulating and defending their own views.

Input is important. Children need to have modeled for them HOW to discuss intelligently.  But equally useful  is the day-after-day practice in getting words out of one’s head and into the mix.

When Oldest Son left for college and the family dynamic changed, second son was 12 years old.  We quickly realized that he had not been able to get a word in edgewise due to Dad & Older Son’s conversations. .  It took him a LONG time to grow fluent in explaining and defending his views.

Here is my point – meal time is a training ground.  It doesn’t have to be the dinner hour, maybe the one meal a family can guarantee that all are present is breakfast.  What’s important is that there is leisurely time to eat and discuss.  

I teach French so I am aware of some cultural differences.  Europeans in general spend more time over meals.  They talk.  A lot!  In fact, when one of our sons attended a French language course one summer, he related how political the other teens were.  When they were hanging out at the beach together, a revisited topic was often European politics.  How typical is that in the US?   Do you think these European 16 yr olds just naturally gravitate toward politics and world events?  No, they were trained in the home at at the café!    

So, how does logic play into this?  Easy.  When you have face -to -face time with your children, (i.e. meal time)  ask them what they thought about:

  • A  recent movie ending
  • How a teacher handled a difficulty in class that day
  • A local event or world problem
  • What they heard in church
  • A disputed call in a game by a referee

Possible topics are endless.  Here is how to get them to begin to apply logic.

  1. you can ask them what they mean by a term – that will get them to think ” What do you mean by ‘ unfair’ ?”
  2. you can ask them their reasons for what they think – ” How did you arrive at your conclusion?”

You can frame something by making it conditional – “ What do you think would happen if……”

You have many more potential hours with your kids, to influence them FOR the good.  If you don’t train them to think, then they are likely to just react or go along with a peer suggestion when they get on their own.  Now  THAT’s a scary thought!  

Attacking the man rather than the argument – Ad Hominem Abusive Fallacy

9 Aug

Welcome again to another Fallacy Friday.  My goal in sharing common occurrences of  rebuttals NOT BASED ON REASON is  to increase the likelihood that you will recognize the ploy when used against you. Once you spot what your conversation partner (or someone in public) is doing, you are less likely to fall victim and move in the direction he/she is tactically leading.   In addition, you will be in a better position to challenge your interlocutor gently, encouraging him to move back to the arena of reasons.

Today we look at the fallacy called Ad Hominem Abusive.  It’s a personal attack on the person who is trying to present reasons for what they believe.  Here are 3 examples of someone committing this fallacy:   

  • Susie is a Trader Joe’s snob who knows nothing about having to make ends meet; therefore, her views on welfare reform mean nothing!
  • Don’t vote for Dan Do-Nothing Douglas; after all, he’s overweight AND he chews tobacco.
  • Malcolm is mean-spirited and doesn’t put more than $5 in the offering plate.  What does HE know about what our church needs?

Have you heard versions of these cutting remarks? They are explicitly meant to shut down and marginalize the views of someone who is trying to argue a case.

This kind of tactic is a way opponents seek to by-pass the arguments presented.  If they can attack you so that you’ll take the bait and move off topic, they might never have to return to the issues at hand. As a ploy to avoid reasoning, this move is called a Fallacy.  Fallacies, when used on purpose, are totally unfair and below board.  They deserve to be called out.  They can also be a sign of laziness due to poor ability and/ or marginal content on the part of your opponent.

Don’t fall for these attacks!  Don’t take the bait!   

Instead, gently communicate that you KNOW what they are doing.  Be direct but kind in your attempt to get back to the issue.

Here is what you might say in the above scenarios:

  • Even though Susie does shop at Trader Joe’s, let’s look at her reasons for supporting welfare reform.  She very well might be a snob, but that has nothing to do with what she is asserting.
  • Actually Dan Douglas might have some good ideas.  His personal nutrition and smoking habits might be off-putting to some, but they have no bearing on what he thinks he can do as our representative in Washington, DC.  Let’s hear him out and evaluate his plank on the merits of his arguments.
  • Just because Malcolm only puts in $5 in the offering plate, let us NOT be mean-spirited and refuse to consider his proposals.  What are his reasons for thinking that we need to expand our food pantry ministry?   Maybe his proposal makes sense!

Politics and religion are unfortunately filled with examples of the Ad Hominem Abusive fallacy.  These are attacks that should have been discarded once past 2nd grade!