Logical Fallacies – Straw Man

I have noticed many people on the Internet use logical fallacies in place of sound arguments.

Logical fallacies are arguments that sound good at first, but when thought through, do not really make sense. Some logical fallacies are not really arguments at all, but instead attack the person giving the information, instead of attacking the information itself (e.g. “ad hominem” arguments).

I have decided to start writing small explanations about various logical fallacies. This will help me – and others – to watch out and not make the mistake of using logical fallacies when we write or talk to others.


What exactly is a straw man argument?

Let’s first get a definition of a straw man argument.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines a “straw man” argument as: a weak or imaginary opposition (such as an argument or adversary) set up only to be easily confuted

This logical fallacy is when someone incorrectly states their opponent’s position. This is when someone “puts words in your mouth”. Then the person “defeats” the straw-man argument.

The problem? The person never did “defeat” his opponent to begin with, since the opponent’s position was not the same position as advertised.

For example, Sally says that she does not like working when she is tired. Then Betty tells someone else that Sally said she does not like working, but then Betty continues and says that she thinks Sally is being lazy.

Betty misrepresented Sally’s position, and then “defeated” Sally’s position even though that was not her position to begin with.

Summary: Straw-man arguments are nothing more than misrepresenting what someone said to make your argument look valid.  Technically you could consider a straw-man argument a form of lying.


Posted in General, Logical Fallacies, Society

What Exactly Does “better” Mean, and Why You Should Always Give Context

I have noticed many times on the Internet, people will ask if A is better than B. However, they do not give any context of what they consider “better” to be.

Whenever someone asks me if A is better than B, I always ask them, “What exactly do you mean?”. This is so I can help them make an informed decision. Otherwise I am just guessing, and that will not be helpful to anyone.


Here is an example of someone asking if something is better without context.

A guy named Jeremy goes to a cellphone store and asks Greg the salesman, “Which phone is better to use?”.

Jeremy has not explained to Greg what his requirements are. He could be asking “Which phone is cheaper?”, “Which phone is the fastest?”, “Which phone has the most battery life?”, etc. You get the idea. His saying “better” does not give any context to Greg.

Now Greg proceeds to correctly ask Jeremy, “What are your specific requirements?”. Jeremy then responds saying he is looking for a phone that has a large screen and is not too slow. Now Greg has context – instead of just “better” – and he now can properly show Jeremy the phones that will meet his needs.

Now Jeremy leaves the store happy, since he was able to purchase the phone he wanted.


Something to keep in mind. When someone mentions “better”, that is just their opinion. It does not mean anything until you get their context, and even then, you still would have to agree with their reasons why A is better than B.

You can also have someone who does not care either way. In this case, “better” does not factor in for him.

It’s good practice to always add context, otherwise you will have people who will misunderstand what you are asking and may (unintentionally) give you an answer that is not helpful.


Posted in Computers, General, Internet and Servers, Operating Systems, Security, Shopping, Society, Software

Common Mistakes People Make when Researching Online

In this post, I will talk about common mistakes people make when using the Internet for research. The “research” could be anything from what phone to buy to fact-checking information you heard on the news.

Please note everything I say are my own opinions or things I have observed.


Only using social media as a source of information.

Social media (e.g. Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, Yahoo Answers, Disqus) are very popular places to get information from others. You will find the users on social media have wildly varying opinions. Unfortunately, most of these answers are given with little to no facts to back them up (a few do though).

In addition, social media tends to attract trolls who try to sow discord. Usually they gather like-minded minions who all-at-once gang up on someone they decide not to like that day. This wastes a researcher’s time, since he must filter out irrelevant posts.

Summary: Occasionally you will find a good user on social media with quality information that is not just an opinion, but from my experience most social media answers are quickly written and are of poor quality.


“Everyone says the same thing, so it must be true!”

This one is a very common mistake. I even fell into this “everyone else says it” trap when I was younger. This is a fallacy called “appeal to the popular”.

“Appealing to the popular” is when you decide something is true or false because everyone else thinks that way too. That is not doing real research. That is just being lazy and letting others do your thinking for you.

A lot of times the majority is not correct. How do you know that a few people didn’t give misinformation online a while back, and everyone else jumped on the “band wagon”, automatically believing what they were told and repeating the same to others?

This applies to people who look at the number of “up-votes” or “down-votes” to determine if an online comment is accurate. Comment voting systems seem like a good idea on paper, but in practice they cause people to believe (or disbelieve) information based upon other people’s opinions. A comment with a ton of up-votes does not make it correct, nor does a comment with tons of down-votes make it incorrect.

Summary: Facts are not made by consensus. Just because everyone agrees, does not mean it’s true. You must always use common sense and verify information you receive.


Blindly trusting information obtained on Wikipedia without verifying.

I’ve observed many people quoting Wikipedia like it’s the Bible and can give no wrong answers. I must disagree.

I have read things (e.g. health & politics) on Wikipedia that were at the very least biased and at worst propaganda. This is due to literally anyone being able to edit most articles on Wikipedia.

I had one Wikipedia article that made a bold claim, but when I clicked the link going to the supposed source of this information, the link didn’t even exist. Someone just made up stuff and gave a phony link to make it look good to people who didn’t bother to verify.

Even if the article’s author is telling the truth, a self-appointed “fact-checker” on Wikipedia may erase their edit due to a severe bias.

Summary: I find Wikipedia useful when it comes to topics such as PC/Console/Server technology or basic information about someone popular (e.g. their age & net worth). Anything else (e.g. politics, science, history, the Bible, etc.) tends to attract people with a major bias to intentionally give disinformation to others.


“Professionals (e.g. doctors, politicians, scientists) can be trusted to give accurate information on the Internet.”

Unfortunately, people who should “know the facts” don’t always know the facts. Sometimes they guess while claiming they “know for sure”, they may assume information they received is correct (without verifying), or they just plain make up information to support their agenda.

This means if you automatically believe information without verifying “because my doctor said so” or “my nice newscaster in a suit & tie said so”, you may find that the information was not as accurate as you thought and this may lead to trouble for you.

Of course, I am not saying all professionals do this, but it is a very common occurrence (e.g. fake news via the mainstream media). This would also include any “fact checking” websites out there. In my opinion, most of the information they give you from their “fact-checking” is plain disinformation.

Summary: Always verify information you receive, even if it comes from a “trusted” source. That source may be giving accurate data, but you should still do your due diligence and verify.


Using “anecdotal evidence” as proof.

This is a logical fallacy known as “appeal to anecdote”. What exactly is “anecdotal evidence”? It is someone’s personal testimony of a particular event. It contains no scientific data, just someone’s word on a matter.

The Internet is rich with people who give anecdotal testimonies. Unless you were there with the person at the time of the particular event, there is no way to determine if they are accurately recalling the facts. This is assuming they are telling the truth to begin with.

Here is an example. Let us say you go to a medical website to view information about the common cold. While on there, you decide to read the comment section.

A guy named Phil has posted a comment saying that he is “very healthy” and “has never caught a cold before”. Now personally I would say Phil is exaggerating. Sure, there is a (very) small chance of his statement being true, but I would not bet on it.

After reading, you take Phil’s comment and start going around telling others that “there are people who can never get the common cold”. You would be committing the “appeal to anecdote” fallacy. You are saying something is true, because someone else claimed that is what happened to them.

Phil’s comment was not “proof” of anything. He presented no evidence of his claim. He could have had a cold (multiple times) and thought it was just “allergies”. If that is the case, he is relaying incorrect information based upon a bad assumption…and now you are relaying his bad information, based upon his bad assumption too. What a situation to be in!

That is why I always insist people verify information they receive online (when possible) and use common sense.


Posted in General, Internet and Servers

5 eBay Scams to Watch Out for as a Seller

Here are 5 eBay scams to watch out for if you are an eBay seller.

Please note that eBay sellers have almost no protection against dishonest buyers. Worse, several people in the eBay forums seem to fuss at the sellers for “not doing something right”, instead of being helpful and coming up with solutions to help remedy the problem.

Is there anyway a seller can protect himself from bad buyers? Not really. You must stay vigilant. I know that does not really help, but until eBay gives basic protection to sellers, that is all you can do.


1) Bait-and-Switch Return

This is when a buyer purchases your item, you ship it, and he receives it with no issue. A few days later, he will start a return claiming “something is wrong” with the item, and ship it back to you.

However, once you get the item back, you will discover that he placed either something else entirely in the box, or he shipped you his broken version of the item you sold (e.g. the serial number displayed on the returned item is not the serial for the item you sold).

Either way, you lost both the money and item. He gets away scot-free to do it again to another seller.

 

2) Damaged Return

This one is like the “bait-and-switch” return. The difference is the buyer does in fact send you back the same item you sold, but he has damaged the item, while claiming that you sold it in bad condition.

I am not talking about damage due to shipping. I am talking about complete destruction of the item. In other words, you lost your money and you no longer have an item to sell due to his carelessness or whatever caused the problem. Buyers who commit this kind of fraud are thieves & liars.

 

3) Hoax Return

This is when a buyer claims something is wrong with the item you sold him. However, once you receive the item back, it works perfectly and can be resold. Nothing the buyer claimed was wrong with the item is true.

I suspect buyers who lie to get a return have either found a better deal and wanted some of their money back, or they were not happy – for whatever reason – with their purchase, and wanted to lie to make certain they would get a return. Either way you are dealing with a liar and you should block his eBay account. Remember every return costs you time & money.

 

4) Cancelled Order after Shipment

This is when someone buys your item, you ship it off, and an hour or two later he suddenly cancels the order. The idea is you will not be able to stop the shipment in time, he gets your item and his money back. This scam usually is applied to high-priced items (e.g. gaming video cards, 4K televisions).

 

5) Charge-back

This is when someone buys an item from you (usually high-priced), gets the item, then a few days later initiates a charge back. This is done either through PayPal or their credit company.

You lose your item and money. This is major fraud and the buyer not only should be kicked off eBay, but he should also be prosecuted. Otherwise he will just do it again to someone else.


Posted in General, Shopping