Aug 10 2017

Are Logical Fallacies Useful?

logical-fallacies-everywhereUnderstanding the nature of argument and specific logical fallacies is a cornerstone of critical thinking. I was therefore surprised when I read an article by a philosopher, Maarten Boudry, titled: “The Fallacy Fork: Why It’s Time to Get Rid of Fallacy Theory.”

Boudry lays out what he feels is a critical weakness in using the notion of logical fallacies to police sloppy thinking and his solution is to abandon the notion of informal logical fallacies altogether. I strongly disagree, and ironically I think Boudry is committing a couple logical fallacies in his argument.

The Fallacy Fork

The basis of his position is the notion of what he and his coauthors on a 2015 paper call “The Fallacy Fork.” The basic idea is that informal logical fallacies are highly context dependent. Let’s take as an example the fallacy of confusing correlation with causation. Because this reasoning is context dependent there is a spectrum in terms of how absolutely one makes this argument.

So, someone might say that correlation is always due to direct causation, which is clearly not true. They might also take the position that one particular causation must be true because of a correlation, which again is demonstrably false. There is no legitimate “always” or “must” with such arguments.

However, sometimes correlation is due to causation, and so it is legitimate to state that correlation implies causation, or may be due to causation. You can infer your way to the highly probable conclusion of causation by triangulating multiple correlations. My favorite example is the conclusion that smoking causes lung cancer. This has never been proven in a double blind placebo controlled trial (because that would be as unethical as it is impractical). What we have are multiple correlations between smoking and cancer (duration, filtered vs unfiltered, the effects of quitting).

Now here comes the fork – Boudry argues that you rarely encounter the pure form of logical fallacies in the real world. What you do encounter are qualified forms of the argument. The more qualified the argument, the more common it is and the less of a logical fallacy it is. He concludes that therefore the entire notion of logical fallacies is not useful – in order to find them in the real world you have to water them down to the point that they are no longer fallacies.

Boudry uses as an example of this dilemma Sagan’s Demon Haunted World. He points out that Sagan used hypothetical arguments to illustrate his fallacies, and concludes that this is likely because Sagan could not find good examples in the real world.

The Fallacy Fallacy

I agree with Boudry and his coauthors that the fallacy fork exists. I disagree with him about the implications of this fact in the real world of activist skepticism and applied critical thinking. Of note, one of those coauthors on the original paper is Massimo Pigliucci who I know well. I contacted him and he noted that he disagrees with Boudry on his final conclusions. We will be discussing this in an upcoming episode of the SGU (so keep an eye out for that).

My position with regards to the implications of the fallacy fork is that critical thinkers can still use knowledge of the various logical fallacies to police the validity of arguments. However, in order to do so legitimately you have to understand the context-dependent nature of the informal logical fallacies, and you have to fairly consider how the arguments are being used.

In my own writings on the topic I refer to the “fallacy fallacy.” This is the argument that someone’s conclusion is wrong because you are able to frame their argument as if it is a fallacy. There are two components to the fallacy fallacy. First, a conclusion may be true even if an argument put forward for it is not sound. I could argue that the sky is blue because trees are green. That is an unsound argument, but the sky is still blue.

Second, someone committing the fallacy fallacy may fail to recognize the context dependent nature of informal logical fallacies. For example, they might argue that it is a fallacious argument from authority to refer to the scientific consensus on man-made global warming or the safety of vaccines. These, however, would be an appropriate reference to a valid authority.

I further point out that knowledge of logical fallacies should primarily be used to police one’s own thinking. They are good guidelines for how to avoid bad arguments. They should not be used to play “logical fallacy gotcha” against others. Almost any argument can be portrayed as a fallacy if you are motivated enough.

So what are the logical fallacies that I think Boudry is committing? The first is the false continuum. This is the position that no meaningful distinction can be made between two ends of a spectrum because there is a smooth continuum in between and no sharp demarcation. There is no dividing line between what is considered tall and short, therefore these concepts are not valid. However, some people are objectively tall (of course in the context of human variation) and others are objectively short.

There is a smooth continuum between pseudoscience and pristine rigorous science, but that does not mean the distinction is not meaningful.

So, just because there is a continuum between the absolute form of logical fallacies, and the highly qualified form, does not mean there isn’t a meaningful distinction that can be used in real-world arguments. Judgement is required. There may not be an operational definition, but there also isn’t one for pseudoscience, or many other useful concepts.

More importantly, I reject Boudry’s conclusion that the clearly fallacious form of arguments are rarely encountered in the wild. While reading his paper I kept thinking, he needs to get out more. Spend some time in the trenches arguing with believers of every stripe and then get back to me. The result was a strawman – Boudry did not reflect the current state of activist skeptics.

I cannot blame him for referencing Sagan, since The Demon-Haunted World is a classic of the genre. But, this book was published 20 years ago. Skepticism has evolved quite a bit in that time. Specifically, popular understanding of the informal logical fallacies has progressed significantly and their use now among skeptics is (at least in some cases) more nuanced.

What Boudry apparently did not do was consult active skeptics in the trenches and ask for real world examples of logical fallacies. He could just sample the comments to this blog and find plenty of examples. (How many times has Egnor repeated the straw man of “survivors survive” to criticize evolutionary theory?) He could have searched this blog for articles on logical fallacies and found more examples.

Putting these two points together, in my experience there is a sweet spot in the fallacy fork. Bad arguments are qualified just enough to make them sound reasonable but not enough to keep them from being blatantly fallacious. In fact, this is where logical fallacies largely live. The two ends of the fork that Boudry refers to are more the exceptions than the rule.

In my 2009 article on logical fallacies I gave many common real world examples. UFO proponents commonly make a clear argument from ignorance – I don’t know what that light in the sky is, therefore it is an alien spacecraft. Alternative medicine proponents live by post-hoc ergo propter-hoc – I got acupuncture and then felt better therefore acupuncture made me better. ESP proponents commonly commit special pleading – ESP doesn’t work in the presence of skeptics, or on-demand in scientific studies.

Just this week I had a great example of special pleading with regard to exorcisms – demons are too crafty to let themselves be filmed doing clearly paranormal stuff.

The fix for the fallacy fork is not to abandon fallacy theory, as Boudry argues, but to fully understand the fallacy fallacy and the context-dependent nature of the informal logical fallacies.

Further, Boudry is arguing against a 20 year old example of the use of fallacy theory. Skeptics have evolved past that. I would be happy to give Boudry a much more thorough list of examples of real-world logical fallacies and how useful fallacy theory can be.

32 responses so far

32 Responses to “Are Logical Fallacies Useful?”

  1. bachfiendon 10 Aug 2017 at 9:04 am

    I’ve just seen ‘An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power’.

    I wonder how long it will take one of our AGW deniers to state that they don’t accept global warming is happening because they don’t like Al Gore?

  2. Daniel Hawkinson 10 Aug 2017 at 10:57 am

    [Logical fallacies] should not be used to play “logical fallacy gotcha” against others. Almost any argument can be portrayed as a fallacy if you are motivated enough.

    So what are the logical fallacies that I think Boudry is committing? The first is the false continuum…

    I understand that you’re not playing “logical fallacy gotcha” here, but purely from a rhetorical standpoint, it would probably be better to not to juxtapose those two sentences without addressing the apparent irony.

  3. Mick Weston 10 Aug 2017 at 12:33 pm

    I think the question should not be “are logical fallacies useful?”, but rather “what and who are logical fallacies useful for”. While they may well be very useful mental tools for some people who think in certain ways, I don’t think they are very useful for communication either with the various “proponents” mentioned, or with the general public.

    I’ve spent years in the trenches discussing everything from 9/11 to Flat Earth. I’ve talked to believers from all points of the conspiracy spectrum. I’ve not personally found the taxonomy of fallacies to be useful either in finding errors, or in explaining those errors.

    You start out with a bold assertion “Understanding the nature of argument and specific logical fallacies is a cornerstone of critical thinking.” Is it though? As you’ve pointed out yourself, all logical fallacies boil down to “non sequitur”. It very obviously does not follow that” I don’t know what that light in the sky is, therefore it is an alien spacecraft.” Is the logic wrong because it’s an “argument from ignorance”? No, that’s just distracting decoration on a very plain non-sequitur.

    You say “[logical fallacies] use now among skeptics is (at least in some cases) more nuanced.” Which Skeptics? On SGU you like to play “spot the fallacy”. You are a fallacy expert, and your usage is nuanced and demonstrates deep understanding. But you still end up having to spot most of the fallacies yourself, and then explain the nuances to your co-hosts — in a situation where you are “among skeptics”.

  4. Karl Withakayon 10 Aug 2017 at 1:30 pm

    My biggest problem with calling logical fallacies is that too often we use them as shorthand statements without any support, explanation, or justification for the callout. I’ve seen numerous discussions where a logical fallacy was put forth, and the responder simply called out the fallacy by name without giving any support as to why or how the statement was a logical fallacy.

    “that’s an XZY fallacy” vs “that’s an XYZ fallacy because a, b, & c” or even “that’s false reasoning because a, b, & c”.

    I think it’s much more important to understand and be able to explain how a statement is a logical fallacy than it is to be able to name which specific fallacy is.

    Steven’s online discussion/debate with 911 truther Michael Fullerton showed that anyone can expand their gish gallop tactics to include cargo cult skepticism and just start calling out logical fallacies at random, and it will probably even seem impressive and compelling to the less informed, who are generally our likely target audience. It’s important to remember that calling a logical fallacy is not a magical incantation that wins you the argument.

  5. DisplayGeekon 10 Aug 2017 at 1:35 pm

    I just read the referenced blog post boudry… OMG! Most of this is simply a series of strawmen!

    For some years, I considered myself a science educator on a certain topic that I know very well, outside of my professional domain, due to personal history combined with naturally abundant curiosity. However, as I wrote my essays, I started seeing it being referenced and denounced by others, such as on reddit, by what can only be described as “science denialists”. Of neccessity, I had to learn to spot their logical fallacies, both formal and informal… and Oh dear, were there plenty to be observed. The one that really torqued me the most was the genetic fallacy, in which when I cited peer reviewed science papers, the evidence was rejected out of hand because of who conducted it. Why was this person not to be trusted? Because their research contradicted their denialist position. A new researcher is cited… and this new researcher gets put on the list of researchers not be trusted !!! Which led me to write an essay on how they were doing all of this denialist logical fallacy:

    https://sillyolme.wordpress.com/2013/05/30/dont-shoot-the-messenger/

    If Mr. Boudry would like examples of logical fallacies in action against peer reviewed science… this is the field to observe it !

  6. Steven Novellaon 10 Aug 2017 at 1:53 pm

    Mick – I choose those examples to discuss precisely because they are complex and require nuance, so they are not representative. There are far more obvious and straightforward fallacies, but I am teaching advanced logical fallacies.

    Just calling every fallacy a non sequitur doesn’t help understanding. Again – I am explicitly saying that the goal of understanding logical fallacies is primarily to police your own sloppy thinking. Understanding the nuances of the Texas Sharpshooter Fallacy, for example, is absolutely an essential piece of critical thinking. Obvious examples help understand more subtle examples and where the demarcation line is.

    The underlying reality is that, while thinking can be formalized (that’s philosophy) there is no algorithm or formula to always being right or your thinking always being valid. Judgement, nuance, and assessment of context is necessary. Logical fallacies are no different. They contain very real insights into how to think well and avoid sloppy thinking. They are simply not rules you can apply algorithmically.

  7. tb29607on 11 Aug 2017 at 3:58 am

    Dr. Novella,

    What do you recommend a novice skeptic do to educate himself or herself?
    Especially about identifying logical fallacies.

  8. norcalskepticon 11 Aug 2017 at 5:14 am

    This is an understated topic within skepticism. I frequently see logical fallacies being pointed out in arguments as if they are some knockout punch, a TKO. But it seems that for every person who correctly points out a logical fallacy, there are at least three who see fallacies where none exist.

    It seems that in our headlong rush to educate people on the various fallacies, we have forgotten to teach people *why* fallacies are fallacious, and when a fallacy isn’t a fallacy.

  9. Steven Novellaon 11 Aug 2017 at 7:11 am

    Read various sources about logical fallacies, including from actual philosophers. Be cautious – don’t rush in with logical-fallacy guns blazing because you know the names of several fallacies. Just understand that they are not straightforward.

  10. jt512on 11 Aug 2017 at 9:24 am

    As a source for explaining logical fallacies, I have always liked the Fallacy Files. Curated by a philosopher, it is not an easy read, but it is very thorough.

  11. fbrosseaon 11 Aug 2017 at 9:53 am

    The words “reasonable doubt” come to mind in arguments and logical fallacy. This is a blurred line that is likely part of the debate. It’s unreasonable to bring doubt on global warming based on argument from authority because the authority is a field of study that already had dissent and satisfied the many doubts that occurred as knowledge was accumulated. The authority does not come from the qualification or passed unrelated successes but from the process the group used. Arguing green coffee extract will make you lose weight because Dr. Oz said said and trust him: he’s a doctor, can reasonably have doubt. Barely any work was done to reach that conclusion.

    In the same way “I was framed” can induce doubt in a murder trial, but not reasonably so without evidence.

  12. Pete Aon 11 Aug 2017 at 2:48 pm

    Methinks Maarten Boudry does not understand (amongst other points of logic) the following:

    QUOTE from the Wikipedia article entitled Informal fallacy [retrieved 2017-08-11]

    An informal fallacy occurs when the contents of an argument’s stated premises fail to adequately support its proposed conclusion.[1] Fallacies of this type are the “types of mistakes in reasoning that arise from the mishandling of the content of the propositions constituting the argument”.[2] In contrast to a formal fallacy of deduction, the error is not a flaw in the form of the argument. Though the form of the argument may be relevant, it is also the content that is implicated in the erroneous reasoning.

    So while formal fallacies always guarantee that the resulting argument is invalid, an argument containing an informal fallacy might employ a valid logical form while nevertheless remaining rationally unpersuasive [my emphases added to this sentence].

    A special type of informal fallacy is the set of inductive fallacies. Here the most important issue concerns inductive strength or methodology (for example, statistical inference). In the absence of sufficient evidence, drawing conclusions based on induction is unwarranted and fallacious. With the backing of empirical evidence, however, the conclusions may become warranted and convincing (at which point the arguments are no longer considered fallacious).

    For instance, the informal fallacy of hasty generalization can be roughly stated as an invalid syllogism. Hasty generalisation often follows a pattern such as:

    · X is true for A.
    · X is true for B.
    · Therefore, X is true for C, D, etc.

    While never a valid logical deduction, if such an inference can be made on statistical grounds, it may nonetheless be convincing. This is because with enough empirical evidence, the generalization is no longer a hasty one.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Informal_fallacy

    END of QUOTE

    It seems to me that Maarten Boudry is blisfully unaware of having committed the fallacy fallacy. As Dr Novella wrote: “The fix for the fallacy fork is not to abandon fallacy theory, as Boudry argues, but to fully understand the fallacy fallacy and the context-dependent nature of the informal logical fallacies.”

  13. Johnnyon 12 Aug 2017 at 10:24 am

    “I cannot blame him for referencing Sagan, since The Demon-Haunted World is a classic of the genre. But, this book was published 20 years ago. Skepticism has evolved quite a bit in that time. Specifically, popular understanding of the informal logical fallacies has progressed significantly and their use now among skeptics is (at least in some cases) more nuanced.”

    The Demon-Haunted World is very often (I think more than any other book or other media outlet) recommended as an introductory book about skepticism, or for explaining what skepticism is (including on this blog and the main SGU website, and on the SGU podcast). Would the quoted part suggest that these days, you’d recommend some other book (or media outlet) as an introduction or explanation of what skepticism is? If so, what other book or media outlet?

  14. BillyJoe7on 12 Aug 2017 at 12:18 pm

    Johnny,

    They’re only pointing out that, after summarising the main logical fallacies, Carl Sagan then ignores them in his criticism of pseudoscience. But there’s more than one way to skin a cat. I’m pretty sure it would still be recommended by all those concerned.

  15. BillyJoe7on 12 Aug 2017 at 12:51 pm

    Johnny,

    If you want a good treatment of logical fallacies, the above link by jt512 to “The Fallacy Files” is hard to beat. It uses real life examples rather than made up examples as far as possible, and the discussion is thorough and detailed. The author has spent a couple of decades compiling and improving his list. And you can explore them either alphabetically or taxonomically.

    For example, the following is a discussion of “The Appeal to Authority”, which he renames “The Appeal to Misleading Authority” for reasons that are obvious when you read the exposition. This particular logical fallacy is misused all the time, which is the reason he added “misleading” to the title. It covers all the errors you are ever likely to come across in the misuse of this fallacy.

    http://www.fallacyfiles.org/authorit.html

  16. BillyJoe7on 12 Aug 2017 at 7:27 pm

    Maarten Boudry vs Gary Curtis of “The Fallacy Files”:

    Logical fallacy: Post hoc ergo procter hoc.

    Maarten Boudry: “Every skeptic is familiar with the saying: correlation does not imply causation. To think otherwise is to commit the post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy”

    But that is not actually the correct definition of the fallacy.
    From “The Fallacy Files”:

    “The Post Hoc Fallacy is committed whenever one reasons to a causal conclusion based solely on the supposed cause preceding its “effect””

    Maarten Boudry then goes on to explain that the fallacy only really applies if you base your conclusion solely on the supposed cause preceding its supposed effect! And he gives examples where additional knowledge means that the correlation is likely to be true. In other words, he gets the definition wrong and then qualifies the definition, not realising that he is now citing the correct definition!

    But then he dismisses this by saying that:

    “Not even the most superstitious person believes that correlation automatically implies causation, or that any succession of two events A and B implies that A caused B”

    Hands up anyone who has not come across such as person in his everyday life many times.
    I would personally come across this logical fallacy almost weekly. It is a very common logical fallacy.
    Gary Curtis gives a good example – the pro-gun and anti-gun lobbies in their use of statistics.

    http://fallacyfiles.org/posthocf.html

  17. BillyJoe7on 12 Aug 2017 at 8:38 pm

    Okay, I’ve probably been a little unfair to Maarten Boudry.

    What he is actually saying is that, if we abide by the strict definition of the logical fallacy, we hardly find any instances of it in real life; but if we extend the definition to find instances of it in real life, it is no longer a logical fallacy.

    To illustrate what he means…
    He gives this example of a true “ad hominem” logical fallacy which is supposedly rare in real life:

    “Researcher A is in the pocket of the pharmaceutical industry, therefore it follows that A’s study is flawed”

    And this example of what is common in real life but is a “ad hominem” argument but not an “ad hominem” logical fallacy.

    “Researcher A published a study on the efficacy of a certain antidepressant, but he’s in the pocket of the pharmaceutical company that manufactures the drug. Therefore, we should take his results with a large grain of salt. Better to have an independent team replicate the study”

    So his real point is that true logical fallacies are rare in real life.
    Again, I’m sure most here would disagree (as does Steven Novella in his post).

  18. BillyJoe7on 12 Aug 2017 at 8:56 pm

    But he does often get the definition, if not wrong, not quite right either:
    For example:

    Arguments from ignorance according to the standard view, are fallacious because of the following well-known bit of wisdom: “absence of evidence does not constitute evidence of absence”.

    In fact, there are two or three types of “argument from ignorance” logical fallacy:

    There is no evidence against p. Therefore p.
    There is no evidence for p. Therefore not p.
    If p, I would know p. I don’t know p. Therefore not p.

    His definition covers only the second type, whereas the first type is far more common.

    Again, he claims that such examples are rare in real life (incorrect). And that situations like the following, which are common in real life, are not logical fallacies (correct):

    “Recovered memories about satanic cults sacrificing babies are probably the product of confabulation and suggestion, because we have never found any material traces of these atrocities.”

  19. Pete Aon 13 Aug 2017 at 4:35 pm

    BillyJoe,

    My understanding of logic is as follows…

    There are only two fundamental types of modern logical argument/reasoning:
    1. deductive arguments;
    2. inductive arguments.

    Dr. Novella’s article, and some of the readers, have highlighted areas in which the argument presented by Maarten Boudry in The Fallacy Fork: Why It’s Time to Get Rid of Fallacy Theory fails the required formal test of validity for deductive arguments. All arguments are, of course, based on a series of premises, however, some of its premises have been highlighted for being ether unverifiable or in direct conflict with verifiable empirical evidence. Therefore, the argument seems to be invalid.

    Sadly, I am no longer surprised each and every time I read of yet another supposedly-well-educated person who seeks to have items removed from the long lists of logical fallacies and cognitive biases.

    I think it fair to say that those who desire to remove informal fallacies from the list of logical fallacies are those who have a vested interest in promoting their own evidence-lacking inductive-based bullshit.

    It is a trivial task for an experienced philosopher to turn their own invalid deductive arguments into inductive arguments which, on the surface, may appear to have inductive strength. However, it is also a trivial task for the skeptical community to shine a spotlight on these bullshitters 🙂

    Further reading [links enclosed in square brackets to avoid spamming the comment thread with multiple hyperlinks]:

    [http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Argument]

    [http://skepdic.com/refuge/ctlessons/lesson1.html — Critical Thinking mini-lesson 1, The Skeptic’s Dictionary]

    [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deductive_reasoning]
    [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_fallacies]
    [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_cognitive_biases]

    [http://www.iep.utm.edu/ded-ind/ — Deductive and Inductive Arguments, Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy]

    Critical Thinking: A Concise Guide, by Tracy Bowell and Gary Kemp.

  20. BillyJoe7on 14 Aug 2017 at 8:24 am

    Pete,

    I’m not really convinced that he committed any logical fallacies, or that he wants to get rid of any, just that he is of the erroneous opinion that logical fallacies are rare in the real world.

  21. edamameon 14 Aug 2017 at 12:01 pm

    BillyJoe that’s an interesting one there, with crazy hidden depths:
    “If p, I would know p. I don’t know p. Therefore not p.”

    This is interesting because it is a deductively valid inference, so it isn’t clear how it could be an instance of an argument from ignorance. You could probably teach a history of epistemology class focused on that inference, and how each philosopher would analyze it.

    The fascinating question for me is: for what values of p is the fist premise true?

    Here are some candidates for P that I might endorse:
    * “I am experiencing a sharp pain in my foot right now that I cannot avoid attending to” [this is actually very common with phantom limb pain]
    * “1+1=5” [substitute any other basic logical/conceptual falsehood here]
    * In general, anything I am an expert on and trust myself to know enough to realize someone is full of it. I can dismiss a crackpot spouting about neuroscience, in general terms, from a mile away. E.g., if what they were saying were true I would know about it. I’m not talking about controversial things for which my judgment is just as subject to criticism as everyone else. I’m talking about crackpot stuff that violates basic knowledge of how brains work, or would require technology that hasn’t been invented yet, or results that would be so amazing that I would surely know about them if they had actually happened (because I follow the literature pretty religiously).

  22. Pete Aon 14 Aug 2017 at 12:26 pm

    BillyJoe,

    It hadn’t sunk into my thick head that a person who is a philosopher could ever think for one moment that “logical fallacies are rare in the real world”.

    That’s as daft as a meteorologist thinking that rain is rare in the real world; and an oceanographer thinking that water is rare in the real world!

  23. BillyJoe7on 14 Aug 2017 at 5:28 pm

    edamame,

    “BillyJoe that’s an interesting one there, with crazy hidden depths:
    “If p, I would know p. I don’t know p. Therefore not p.”

    This is interesting because it is a deductively valid inference, so it isn’t clear how it could be an instance of an argument from ignorance. You could probably teach a history of epistemology class focused on that inference, and how each philosopher would analyze it.”

    You are correct.
    That is not an example of an argument from ignorance.
    Thanks for picking that up.

  24. BillyJoe7on 14 Aug 2017 at 5:31 pm

    Pete,

    “It hadn’t sunk into my thick head that a person who is a philosopher could ever think for one moment that “logical fallacies are rare in the real world””

    I don’t get it either.
    As Steve said, maybe he needs to get out more.

  25. Pete Aon 14 Aug 2017 at 7:21 pm

    I apologise if the following appears to the readers to be off-topic, but I need to discover whether or not a recent post I read by a ‘computer security expert’ was: outright BS; it contained perhaps inadvertent logical fallacies; or it was reasonably backed by independently-verifiable empirical evidence.

    Below are the digits 0—9: line 1. uses the Unicode Mathematical monospace digits (U+1D7F6 to U+1D7FF); line 2. use the standard 7-bit ASCII digits; line 3. uses nine “1” ASCII digits for width comparison.
    1.
    2. 0123456789
    3. 1111111111

    As I’m typing in this comment box, line 1. renders the digits in a smaller font than the rest of my comment, however, it means that the provided comment box does itself accept these Unicode Mathematical monospace digits. Hopefully, this comment will render correctly in the comments.

  26. Pete Aon 14 Aug 2017 at 7:28 pm

    Apparently, and obviously in retrospect, I inadvertently committed a false trichotomy logical fallacy.

  27. Enfant Terribleon 14 Aug 2017 at 7:32 pm

    “ESP doesn’t work in the presence of skeptics, or on-demand in scientific studies.”

    There are many studies in which skeptics replicated paranormal phenomena. Two examples comes from Ganzfeld:

    a) Delgado-Romero, Edward A. and Howard, George S.(2005) ‘Finding and Correcting Flawed Research Literatures’, The Humanistic Psychologist, 33: 4, 293-303. “After eight studies, we had an overall hit rate of 32% (which agrees with the positive meta-analyses) and, in fact, our hit rate was also statistically significant, χ2(1) = 4.03, p < .05".

    b) Smith, M. D., & Savva, L. (2008). Experimenter effects in the ganzfeld. In Proceedings of the 51st Annual Convention of the Parapsychological Association (pp. 238-249). "The overall hit-rate was 34.2% (39/114 trials) and was statistically significant (p=0.02)".

  28. BillyJoe7on 15 Aug 2017 at 7:57 am

    ET,

    Nice couple of cherries you picked there. 😉
    In any case, we no longer need to study ESP. Particle physics has already excluded the possibility

  29. tmac57on 18 Aug 2017 at 9:10 pm

    Took me awhile to get around to reading this, but it really struck a nerve with me.
    To me, informal fallacies are a way to put a label on faulty reasoning that might lead to false conclusions. Before I had been exposed to them, I realized that they existed because of my own rational analysis, but I had a difficult time expressing myself as to why I had a problem with someone’s argument other than it just didn’t make any sense. Having a label and a place holder for the idea makes it easier to internally mull over ideas to see if they hold up to scrutiny.
    I see informal fallacies more as guide rails rather than strict laws of dismissal of an argument. And as such, they are a red flag for poor arguments that call for clarification or better support.
    Arguing that logical fallacies are not useful, is a bit akin to arguing that probability is not useful since we can’t live our lives by calculating (even if it were possible) every action that we might take during the day to see what the safest or best outcome would be. After all, “the Powerball Lotto will be won by someone right? So it might as well be me/you. Or, wearing a seatbelt only saves some lives, and the chance of me having a wreck is small, so in real life, it is inconsequential” someone might argue.
    There are many examples where both taking into account a statistical outcome, or spotting and taking into account a logically flawed argument, and acting on those things accordingly, can change your behavior for the better, but it takes an active mind, and a good background of information that constantly needs updating. Oh, and just being appropriately skeptical is always an asset too.

  30. BillyJoe7on 19 Aug 2017 at 12:55 am

    Tmac,

    Agreed. Logical fallacies are more for our own benefit.
    And, when used in an argument, you should always explain why that logical fallacy applies.
    Unless it’s the troll, or Ian, or Michael – then it’s fun time!

  31. Hobarton 13 Sep 2017 at 2:04 pm

    It is not accurate that Boudry did not consult skeptics. The article by Boudry is based on the paper (“The fake, the flimsy, and the fallacious: Demarcating arguments in real life,” Argumentation, 2015) cowritten with skeptic Massimo Pigliucii and Fabio Palieri. Pigliucci is a fellow of the Center for Inquiry and was a long-time columnist and writer for the Skeptical Inquirer and has a PhD in epistemology.

  32. Steven Novellaon 14 Sep 2017 at 10:44 am

    Hobart – That is not correct. Boudry did not consult with Massimo on his popular article (they only collaborated on the formal paper). Massimo, who I just interviewed for the SGU and who I discussed this with prior to writing this post, agrees with Boudry on the problem but not the solution. He also acknowledges that Boudry has a limited perspective on this issue, and does need to “get out more.”

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