A new link in the resources for the Gambler's Fallacy to a chapter from Colin Bruce's recent book, Conned Again, Watson!, which is a collection of Sherlock Holmes stories based on errors and paradoxes in probability, game theory, and economics. It may sound like an improbable and weighty mix, but Bruce has a knack for explaining these topics in an entertaining way. This book is especially focused on reasoning about probabilities, which are notoriously counter-intuitive. Also, Holmes fans should be delighted that Bruce is able to capture the feel of a genuine Sir Arthur Conan Doyle story.
Post Hoc, Deja Vu
Spinsanity's Brendan Nyhan has an article with all the particulars on the recent spate of post hoc arguments blaming the falling stock market on President Bush's speeches. This trend was criticized earlier by Howard Kurtz, as noted in two previous posts.
Update (5/28/2016): Unfortunately, this article appears to be no longer available.
How is a Raven Like a Writing Desk?
Kelly wrote in with a clever answer to this supposedly unanswerable riddle, which is mentioned in the entry for the fallacy of Weak Analogy: They both have quills!
Fun with Fallacies
The Tonight Show's headlines feature is a good source of funny ambiguities; an amphiboly, in this case.
Update (11/24/2003): Unfortunately, the headline appears to be no longer online.
Howard Kurtz had an article yesterday following up on his earlier article, quoted in the previous post.
Update (11/24/2003): This article is no longer available free online.
Name that Fallacy
On Tuesday, Washington Post media critic Howard Kurtz described a common fallacy in reporting on the stock market:
"George Bush got blamed when the market swooned after his last speech. Should he get the credit for yesterday's remarkable rebound?
"Of course, the Dow was down 280 points when the prez spoke about corporate corruption and kept sliding until the loss hit 439 points, before boomeranging for a total loss of a mere 45. Hard to call that a Bush Bounce.
"The whole exercise is, frankly, ridiculous. Mere presidential words can't impact Wall Street prices all that much (unless he's either resigning or declaring war). This whole idea of tying a presidential speech to the red arrows that now seem a staple in the lower-right-hand corner of the cable networks is a visual trick, an imagined bit of cause and effect that doesn't exist.
"Read our lips. Markets go up and down because millions of investors make minute-by-minute decisions about the value of stocks. Period. Those decisions are affected by all sorts of thingscorporate scandals, inflation, interest rates, profit projections, mob psychology, indigestionbut not because of some Washington speech."
Friday's New York Times carried an ad for the new movie Mr. Deeds which has the following blurb at the top:
"THE FUNNIEST FILM OF THE SUMMER.
Adam Sandler is sweet, touching and very funny."
Tony Toscano, TALKING PICTURES
While Toscano did write the second sentence quoted, the basis for the first sentence of the blurb is actually the last sentence of the review: "It's quite possibly the funniest film so far this summer." Of course, being possibly the funniest film so far this summer is not at all the same thing as being the funniest film of the summer! Will anyone actually waste $8 because of this quote taken out of context? Apparently, the ad writer is hoping so.
Media Bias Charges
Here are a couple of interesting items:
- Bryan Keefer of Spinsanity has a lengthy critical review of Ann Coulter's book Slander.
- Bret Stephens, editor-in-chief of the Jerusalem Post, charges the Economist magazine with anti-Israeleven antisemiticbias, and Peter David of the Economist defends the magazine against the charges, with a final rebuttal from Stephens.
Based upon the lengthy contexts supplied by David, it seems that some of Stephens' examples are indeed quoted out of context. However, Stephens' rebuttal point is that David ignores the more damning examples of bias from the article, which is itself a type of slanting.
Update (11/24/2003): David's defense and Stephens' rebuttal seem to be no longer available free online.
The fallacy of Fake Precision is!
( 1:02 AM )
Who Will Watch the Watchdogs?
Spinsanity will! Ben Fritz critiques the bias of media watchdog groups.
A new example, taken from Evans' book Lying About Hitler, cited in yesterday's post.
Innocence by Association
The recent book Lying About Hitler: History, Holocaust, and the David Irving Trial, by Richard J. Evansa report on a libel trial in England brought by a Holocaust denierhas the following interesting example:
"In the welter of argument and counterargument, many of the journalists who attended the trial found themselves more and more at sea, and it was perhaps not surprising that newspaper interest dropped off once the trial got into the meat of the allegations. Listening to it all, the writer Dan Jacobson found himself feeling 'as if I were sitting in a kind of grim version of Wonderland a region of illogicality and topsy-turvy-dom.' At times even the defense counsel Richard Rampton QC thought the same. When Irving spent some time trying to show that well-known British politicians and authors of the interwar period such as John Buchan had made antisemitic remarks, Rampton exclaimed [to the judge]:'My Lord, this is a kind of insanity. I feel as though I was in one of Lewis Carroll's books. Mr. Irving brought this action in respect of words published by my clients. The only defence is that what is said is true, amongst them that Mr. Irving is an antisemite. What can it matter that there may have been some author from the distant past who also, on occasion, might have made a remark as an antisemite?'" (p. 194)
The fallacy that Rampton is complaining about is a sort of reverse version of Guilt by Association: Irving seems to have been arguing that since Buchan had made antisemitic remarks, it must be okay for Irving to do so as well. This is an attempt to make an idea look better by associating it with respectable people, whereas Guilt by Association is the attempt to make an idea look worse by associating it with disreputable people.
In general, Evans' book is a worthwhile case study of slanted historical writing.