SOME CATEGORIES OF BALONEY AND FUZZY THINKING
SOME CATEGORIES OF BALONEY AND FUZZY THINKINGForum on Science and Religion, June 1, 2006. Ed Pearlstein
(Note that many specific examples will fit in more than one category.)
1. CLEAR ERROR, OBVIOUS AFTER JUST A LITTLE THOUGHT, CHECKING, OR CALCULATION..
2. INAPPROPRIATE COMPARISONS. ("If you're old enough to fight for your country, you're old enough to vote." These have different qualifications.)
3. CONCLUSION NOT WARRANTED BY THE FACTS GIVEN. ("40% of fatal auto accidents involved alcohol." What does 'involved' mean, and what percentage of drivers not involved in accidents have been drinking? The NHTSA defines "alcohol involved" as any detectable amount of alcohol in a driver or pedestrian.)
4. FAILURE TO NOTICE QUALIFYING WORDS OR PHRASES. (80% of dentists who recommend toothpaste recommend this brand.)
5. FAILURE TO CONSIDER ALTERNATIVE EXPLANATIONS. Jumping to a conclusion, maybe because of the way a statement is worded. Mentioning two things next to each other does not mean there is cause-and-effect relationship. ("Taxes were reduced. The economy improved." "We must fight terrorism. Saddam Husein is bad.")
6. STATISTICAL FALLACIES. There are a lot of these: biased or incomplete data, lack of a control, thinking that correlation means cause-and-effect, misleading graphs, confusion of mean, median, and mode, and a host of technical points. A fine book on this, short and easy-to-read, is How to Lie with Statistics, by Darrell Huff (W.W. Norton & Co., 1954) Another is Damned Lies and Statistics by Joel.Best.
7. SLIPPERY DEFINITIONS. Two terms which sound like the same thing, but aren't. Or reasoning based on one definition of a term used to "prove" something based on a different definition. Examples are: income tax credit vs. income tax deduction; a budget cut vs. a budget freeze; reducing the budget deficit vs. reducing the national debt; and in debates on the abortion issue, the term "human life" might slide between moral, biological, and legal definitions.
8. THE CHAIN-OF-IFS TYPE OF ARGUMENT: A chain of premises, any one of which might be wrong, and thus nullify the entire conclusion: If A is true and if B is true and if C is true, etc. This occurs sometimes in theological reasoning, in Sherlock Holmes’ deductions, and in "worst-case scenarios".
9. POST HOC, ERGO PROPTER HOC REASONING. Because B happened after A, A must have been the cause of B.
10. APHORISMS, EUPHEMISMS, AND SLOGANS. If they are clever and concise, they must be true! (Especially if they are in Latin or French.)
11. FAILURE TO GO ONE STEP DEEPER INTO AN IDEA. This often accompanies most of the other categories. Examples: In a competition situation (such as business, a chess game, or military things) one doesn't consider how the other side would respond. For proposed remedies of social, political, economic, or medical ills one doesn't consider any consequences other than the desired one.