The Fallacy Files 2: Blurb Watch

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August 22nd, 2014 (Permalink)

A "STUNNING" and "BRILLIANT" Sequel

Here's something I've never noticed before. A newspaper ad for the new movie Sin City: A Dame to Kill For―a sequel to Sin City, of course―has a total of ten blurbs. The ad seems to be trying to impress the reader with the sheer number of quotes.

Currently, the movie has a "rotten" 43% rating on Rotten Tomatoes' "Tomatometer", an average of many reviews. Metacritic's similar "Metascore" is "44", which is described as "Mixed or Average Reviews", but is only a few points above the "Generally Unfavorable Reviews" category. As a result, there were probably few favorable reviews to quote, so where did the ad writer find so many good blurbs?

Three of them are attributed to Debbie Lynn Elias of the Culver City Observer, but I haven't been able to find a review on the newspaper's website, so I can't check them. However, two are credited to Joel Amos of the Movie Fanatic website: "STUNNING." and "JOSH BROLIN IS BRILLIANT." So, the ad writer found so many quotes partly by drawing multiple ones from the same critic. In fact, there are only six different sources for the ten blurbs.

Surprisingly, if you check Amos' review of the movie―see Source 3, below―you'll find that Amos gave the movie only two stars out of a possible five, corresponding to a 40% rating, which is in line with the Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic averages. Not only that, but the words "stunning" and "brilliant" are nowhere to be found in the review. So, where did those words come from?

I can only speculate, but Amos did use the word "stunning" in a different article―see Source 2, below―which was a short introduction to a "featurette" on the movie, of which he writes:

The visual style is what made Sin City such a marvel and judging by what weíve seen so far of the second film, it is even more mesmerizing on the eyes. Watching this behind-the-scenes featurette, viewers get a fantastic look at how Rodriguez and Miller [the directors] achieved this stunning look…

Presumably, this was written prior to Amos actually seeing the entire movie, which must have turned out to be not so stunning. But what about the word "brilliant" as applied to Josh Brolin?

I found an interview with Brolin conducted by Amos two years ago for Men in Black 3, the title of which refers to Brolin's "brilliance"―see Source 1, below. Could this really be what the ad is referring to? If so, this is a stunning and brilliant display of blurbing prowess!

Sources:



July 31st, 2014 (Permalink)

Check it Out, Too

I have a review in Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews of Emotive Language in Argumentation, a book by philosopher Douglas Walton and Fabrizio Macagno.

Source: Gary Curtis, "Review of Emotive Language in Argumentation", Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews, 7/31/2014


July 30th, 2014 (Permalink)

Fact Check it Out

Mike Rothschild of Skeptoid has fact-checked claims linking Monsanto, flouridation, aspartame, and microwave ovens to the Nazis―see the Source, below. Check it out. I would just add that in addition to not checking out factually, such claims don't check out logically, as Rothschild briefly alludes to at the start of the article:

The lazy shorthand for calling something or someone evil is to compare them to the Nazis. Itís a cheap and easily-understood way of demonizing something you personally donít like. Call it guilt by association….

Or, call it "the Hitler card", more specifically―see the Fallacy, below. And now I'm going to heat up some flouridated water in my microwave oven and sweeten it with aspartame―after steeping a tea bag in it, of course.

Source: Mike Rothschild, "Stop Comparing Everything You Donít Like to the Nazis", Skeptoid, 7/29/2014

Fallacy: The Hitler Card


July 26th 2014 (Permalink)

A Prize Puzzle for a Rainy Day

It looks to be a rainy day in Centerville. Dark clouds block the sun and distant thunder rolls. The weather girl on TV gives a 90% chance of precipitation. The following facts are true of those hardy Centervillians who decide to brave the weather:

  1. 20% of Centervillians who go outside do not wear a hat.
  2. The same percentage of Centervillians wear only a hat―of course, they wear other clothes, but nothing specifically to ward off rain―as the percentage of those who carry an umbrella and wear galoshes but no hat.
  3. 25% of Centervillians wear both a hat and galoshes but do not carry an umbrella.
  4. 35% of Centervillians do not wear galoshes outside.
  5. The percentage of Centervillians who wear only a hat outside is twice that of the percentage who wear only galoshes.
  6. 40% of Centervillians who venture outside do not carry an umbrella.

Update (8/23/2014): I should have stated above that no Centervillian is so foolish as to venture outside on a day with such a high chance of precipitation without at least one of the three items of rain gear. Thanks to Louis for pointing out this omission.

What percentage of Centervillians are extremely careful and wear a hat and galoshes as well as carry an umbrella?

If you can answer the above question, please email me the solution. The first person to submit the correct solution will receive a coupon for a free copy of cognitive scientist Luc P. Beaudoin's new book Cognitive Productivity: The Art and Science of Using Knowledge to Become Profoundly Effective, which is an e-book that you can download in a number of formats for different types of reader. Any runners-up will receive an honorable mention on this honorable weblog.

Update (7/27/2014): Congratulations to Cameron Hunter, who was the first person to submit the correct answer!

Solution to a Prize Puzzle for a Rainy Day

Acknowledgment: Thanks, again, to Luc P. Beaudoin for supplying the prize for this contest.


July 21st 2014 (Permalink)

Wikipedia Watch

Wikipediocracy has a good article on the unreliability of Wikipedia―see the Source, below. There are two points of particular importance made by the article, both of which I've mentioned in previous watches―see the list of watches, below:

  1. An important concern about Wikipedia is the danger of circular citation―what the article calls "citogenesis":
    The process whereby spurious information added to Wikipedia is blindly copied by other publications that are then added to the Wikipedia article as sources, cementing the spurious information in place (after all, it now has a footnote!)….

    Theoretically, claims are not supposed to be added to Wikipedia entries without a citation to an external source, but of course in reality it happens. Subsequently, many external sources will copy the unsourced claim from Wikipedia. Now, the originally unsourced claim can be cited to an external source!

  2. I've argued previously that Wikipedia should not be used as an encyclopedia, but as a research guide similar to a search engine. For this reason, you should never cite Wikipedia as a source for information for the same reason that you would not cite Bing or Google. Wikipedia is often a better way to find information on a topic than a search engine since it's organized by people rather than an algorithm, but it lacks the reliability of a proper encyclopedia:
    This is Wikipedia in a nutshell: genuine research mixed with completely unreliable information in such a way that looking at any Wikipedia article the reader never knows what is correct and what is made up.

The article also mentions Charles Seife's new book―see the previous entry. Check it out.

Source: Andreas Kolbe, "How pranks, hoaxes and manipulation undermine the reliability of Wikipedia", Wikipediocracy, 7/20/2014

Previous Wikipedia Watches: 6/30/2008, 10/22/2008, 1/25/2009, 3/22/2009, 5/16/2009, 7/21/2009, 1/9/2013, 10/24/2013, 5/2/2014


July 19th 2014 (Permalink)

New Book: Virtual Unreality

Charles Seife, author of Proofiness, has a new book entitled Virtual Unreality: Just Because the Internet Told You, How Do You Know Itís True?. I guess the subtitle pretty much tells you what it's about.

Source: Clara Moskowitz, "Book Review: Virtual Unreality", Scientific American, 6/1/2014. Added 7/25/2014: I originally forgot to include a link to this short book review, which was my source for the entry.

Resources:


July 3rd 2014 (Permalink)

Strike Three…You're Out!

The final strike against the Slate article discussed in the two previous entries is its tabloid-style headline:

Do Americans Think Corporations Have the Right to Religious Freedom?

We did a survey, and the answer is no.

As explained in the previous entries, this was not shown by the survey. Putting aside the problems with how the poll's sample was selected and its size, the most it showed is that Americans think that the right to religious freedom of individuals is more important than that of corporations, not that the latter have no such right at all. The article itself, while occasionally exaggerating the poll's results, was more accurately written―see the quote in the first entry for this month, below. The language used in the body of the article is carefully and consistently comparative, since the most that the poll shows is greater support for the religious freedom of individuals than of groups.

Many people are likely to read such a headline and not bother with the article itself, thus getting a false impression about what it shows. Even those who read the entire article may be misled into misinterpreting it along the lines suggested by the headline. Perhaps the headline writer misunderstood the poll results, or the editors at Slate are willing to write false but provocative headlines in order to trick people into reading their articles.

Update (7/4/2014): I've revised the second paragraph to remove a silly, unintended implication.


July 2nd 2014 (Permalink)

Strike Two…

The same Slate article discussed in yesterday's entry also provides a good test of your understanding of the pitfalls of charts and graphs. Look at the chart below, which accompanies the article and reports the poll results. Using the terminology given in the lessons on charts and graphs from last year―see the links, below―can you identify what type of chart this is? See below the chart for the answer.

Views of the Religious Rights of Owners, Employees, and Companies

This is a gee-whiz line graph―see Lesson 1, below. The y-axis doesn't start at 1, which is the lowest number in the scale, thus visually exaggerating the differences between the results for people and businesses. Worse, the graph does not have a broken y-axis near the x-axis, which is standard practice in chartmaking when cutting off the bottom of a graph. One might excuse the truncation, but not failing to include a visual sign of it, for that is charting malpractice.

As I pointed out in the previous entry, it's not at all clear what the numbers are supposed to mean in this survey. Someone just glancing at the graph might get the false impression that, because the line for groups is close to the bottom of the chart, that must mean that most people do not believe that groups deserve "religious liberty rights". However, all of the results but one are at or above 4 on a scale of 1 to 7, which might just as well indicate differing degrees of support for such rights.

Lessons in Charts & Graphs: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9


July 1st 2014 (Permalink)

Strike One…

A current article in Slate is a good test of your understanding of the pitfalls of polling and its reporting. See if you can figure out what, if anything, is wrong with this poll before I discuss it. Here's a brief synopsis of the article, though I suggest reading the whole thing, which isn't long―see the Source linked below:

The Supreme Court ruled 5Ė4 on Monday that Hobby Lobby, a family-owned hardware retail chain, has a right to religious freedom. … What does the American public think about religious rights for corporations? Over the past few months, weíve conducted a series of surveys, delivered online to more than 300 people across the country between the ages of 18 and 76. … To understand how people think about corporate rights, we asked how important they thought the religious liberty right of a companyís owner, its employees, and the company itself, on a scale of 1 to 7. … Our respondents consistently agree that religious liberty is important for both individual employees and owners. In contrast, respondents were significantly and consistently less willing to grant the same scope of protection to all the for-profit companies we presented them. …[P]eople did distinguish between for-profit and non-profit organizations, deeming the latter to be more deserving of religious liberty rights. But even when the religious liberty of a church is at stake, people viewed it as much less deserving of religious rights than its employees and officers.

There are several problems with this poll or the article that reports it:

In sum, there's no reason to believe the sample used in this survey is representative of the American public, and no evidence that the differences in results are statistically significant. So, as far as we can tell from this article, the poll is worthless.

Source: Moran Cerf, Aziz Huq & Avital Mentovich, "Do Americans Think Corporations Have the Right to Religious Freedom?", Slate, 7/1/2014

Resource: How to Read a Poll

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