Logical Fallacies – Red Herring

This logical fallacy is known as a “red herring”. This is when someone diverts attention from the subject at hand to a completely different subject altogether. This tactic is usually used when someone is being asked questions they do not want to answer, and they are hoping that the subject can be changed without you or someone else noticing.

For example, Brian is called by a sales company wanting to market him a website for his business (the sales person’s name is Lloyd). Brian is intrigued, but he has a few questions.

First, Brian asks Lloyd what companies has his business worked for in the past. Lloyd says “many”, then proceeds to tell Brian how quickly they can set him up with a website.

Secondly, Brian asks “What web platform do you use? Is there any proprietary lock-in where I have to pay a monthly web hosting fee, or can I self-host my website after it is completed?” Lloyd then proceeds to say “Do not worry. We will always make sure you have access to your website.” He then starts talking about how Brian could have a new website that all the search engines will place him in the top 10 results.

See what happened? Every time Brian asked a question, Lloyd diverted attention to some other subject. This is a sign you will not like the answers to your questions, and you should find another company to work with.

Summary: “Red herrings” are nothing more than someone’s attempt to change the subject of a conversation, usually due to uncomfortable questions being asked, or due to an unfavorable topic being discussed.

Posted in General, Logical Fallacies, Society

Logical Fallacies – Black and White

This logical fallacy is known as “black and white”. This is when someone suggests only two alternative conclusions are possible for a certain situation. However, several possibilities exist, not just two of them.

For example, Amanda woke up sick with a cold. Her friend Lilly tells her either she slept with the A/C on all night (as she usually does) and caught the cold that way, or she caught the cold from someone at work. While this generally is not a big deal, what Lilly did was technically a logical fallacy.

Amanda could have caught the cold from someone at the store. She also made several trips to the post office delivering packages. She could have caught it from someone there. She also has art class. She could have contracted the cold during one of the lessons she attended. Lilly is aware of all these facts, but she still insists only the two possibilities she mentioned can be true.

Also, what if a doctor did the exact same thing? He only investigates “two possible reasons” why you are sick. However, there are potentially a dozen or more reasons why you may be sick, but he only investigates the “two possible reasons” instead? Unless he has a good reason for ignoring the other possibilities, that would not be very good, would it?

Summary: Saying only two possibilities exist to explain why something happened, when there are many possibilities, is not wise. It is best to give all possible alternative conclusions when trying to figure out an issue to avoid possible trouble.

Posted in General, Logical Fallacies, Society

Logical Fallacies – Appeal to Accomplishment

This logical fallacy is known as “appeal to accomplishment”. This is when Person A agrees or disagrees with given information, based upon the personal accomplishments (or credentials) of Person B who gave the information. Information is true or false, regardless if the person who gave the information is well versed in a particular field.

For example, Greg says that getting too much sun on your skin may cause skin cancer. Tyler then responds, dismissing what Greg said because Greg is “not a doctor”.

Now does Greg not being a doctor change the fact that you may get skin cancer being exposed to too much sun? Of course not. However, Tyler decided to dismiss this information just because Greg is “not a doctor”. He could have at least researched what Greg told him, before deciding to dismiss it.

Summary: Appeal to accomplishment is nothing more than agreeing or disagreeing with what someone said based upon their credentials or personal experience, not if the information itself is correct. Obviously, this is not a good idea and making use of this logical fallacy will eventually cause you trouble.

Posted in General, Logical Fallacies, Society

Logical Fallacies – Appeal to Anecdote

This logical fallacy is 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.

When you read someone’s anecdote and use it as proof, you would be committing the “appeal to anecdote” fallacy. You are saying something is true, just because someone else claims that is the case.

The Internet is full of people who give anecdotal testimonies as “proof” of their claims. Unless you were there with the person at the time of the event, or they present detailed evidence, there is no way to determine if they are accurately recalling the facts. This is assuming the person is telling the truth to begin with.

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

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

You take Phil’s comment and start going around telling others “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!

Something to keep in mind. People are not talking face to face when using web forums, instant messaging, posting a comment, etc. That fact tends to make people feel more comfortable exaggerating information – or just plain making up information – about themselves or others in their anecdotes. No one is around to verify their information, much less “punish” them for lying.

This happens a whole lot more on the Internet than people realize, especially if the anecdote someone gives strokes their own ego (e.g., Someone claims they made $20,000 trading stocks. However, the person only made $6,000 trading stocks, not $20,000).

Always verify information you receive online (when possible) and use common sense when reading someone’s anecdote. Not everyone lies on the Internet, but it sure makes it a whole lot easier for the ones that do to get away with it.

Summary: An anecdote is someone’s personal testimony of a particular event. Using an anecdote to prove a point is a logical fallacy, since there is no evidence given, just someone’s word on a matter.

Posted in General, Logical Fallacies, Society