The Texas sharpshooter fallacy is!
The Contextomy That Wouldn't Die
The Cheney "reconstituted nuclear weapons" quote made a reappearance on NPR last Thursday. The report does answer the question of whether the missing word "program" might have been the result of a transcription mistake. The broadcast has a clip of the Cheney quote which indicates that this must have been a slip of the tongue, rather than a transcription error. However, it's high time that reporters stopped citing this obvious misstatement.
Source: "Weapons of Mass Destruction", Morning Edition, 7/17/2003
Via: Eugene Volokh, "Cheney's 'Reconstituted Nuclear Weapons' Quote", The Volokh Conspiracy, 7/17/2003
I've been using the term "contextomy" a lot in this weblog, and decided that I should add an entry for it to the Fallacy Files Glossary. Also, I added a reference to it in the entry for the related fallacy of quoting out of context.
Check It Out
Brendan Nyhan of Spinsanity has a roundup of a number of recent contextomiesquotes taken out of context in a misleading wayincluding the Donald Rumsfeld "Whopper" that this weblog has been tracking for a month and a half. Hopefully, this will be the final nail in this contextomy's coffin.
- Brendan Nyhan, "Unreliable Quotations", Spinsanity
- "The Reconstituted 'Whopper'"
Good Bad Moves
Julian Baggini has a new "Bad Moves" column on phony authorities. Check it out.
Sources: Julian Baggini, "Bogus Authorities", Bad Moves
I've added a link to an excellent new commentary by linguist Geoff Nunberg on "slippery slopes" to the entry for that fallacy, and also revised the entry slightly.
I disagree with one claim that Nunberg makes to the effect that slippery slope arguments always defend the status quo:
"[N]obody ever brings up the slippery slope to argue for a change in law or policyit's always an argument for maintaining the status quo. The English legal scholar Glanville Williams once called the slippery slope 'the trump card of the traditionalist, because no proposal for reform is immune to [it].'"
This is an odd claim given Nunberg's earlier mention of the use of the slippery slope argument against abortion. Those who oppose abortion are not trying to defend the status quo, but to use the slippery slope argument to overturn it. In my experience, slippery slope arguments are used by all political ideologies, whether conservative or reformist.
Via: Eugene Volokh
Update (7/6/2003): I've also added a new Example to the entry for the fallacy of undistributed middle term, this one a real-life example instead of the contrived one the entry formerly had. Also, the Blogger bug seems to have been fixed or gone away, and the archives have been restored.