Check 'Em Out, Too
- If you have a young daughter, read Tech Central Station's article on a recent study of breast cancer before making her stop eating french fries.
Source: John Luik, "Would You Like Fries With That Breast Cancer?", Tech Central Station, 8/30/2005 (Added: 8/29)
- "[A] recent headline in the Financial Times proclaimed: 'New York investors take flight after price of oil hits record high.' But the story's fifth paragraph read: 'West Texas Intermediate for September delivery settled $1.83 higher at $64.90 a barrel―a new nominal record…' The real meaning of the word 'nominal' is: 'The headline you just read is rubbish.'"
Source: George Will, "Nominal vs. Real News", Newsweek, 8/29-9/5/2005
Resource: It's That Time Again, 7/10/2005
- Q: "I am a student in Hong Kong. I have a question and would like to hear your opinion on it. When Rene Descartes said 'I think therefore I am', did he actually beg the question? In other words, is his argument sound and valid?"―Kelvin Ng
A: Yes, Kelvin, this argument is sound, but so is the argument "I sneeze, therefore I am." You have to exist to think, sneeze, or do anything else. Nor does it beg the question; at least, no more than any other deductive argument.
Of course, the reason why Descartes started with the premiss "I think" rather than "I sneeze" was because he was attempting to start with something he could be certain about. Descartes thought that he might dream that he was sneezing―or just about anything else―in which case the premiss would be false and the argument, therefore, unsound. However, even if he were dreaming, he would still be thinking, because dreaming is a type of thinking, so that "I think" would still be true.
Of course, the conclusion of the argument is not a very profound one, and Descartes was only interested in proving his own existence in order to go on to prove such interesting things as the existence of God and the immortality of the soul. So, Descartes' "cogito ergo sum" argument is sound, but many of his subsequent arguments are not! (Added: 8/23)
Source: Rene Descartes, Meditations on First Philosophy, Meditation 2
- Q: "If I wanted to buy one reference book on logic and reasoning, which book would you recommend? I'm looking for something not too technical, fairly comprehensive, that could be thumbed through and easily used as a reference. (Actually I'd appreciate if you would recommend the top three books and I'd choose from among them.)"―Chaya Shuchat
A: Unfortunately, Chaya, you are asking for a tall order! I don't know of any one book that fits the bill (if any readers are aware of one that does so, please let me know). However, here are recommendations of three books that each partially satisfy your criteria:
- Nigel Warburton, Thinking from A to Z. A very good, brief reference work on informal logic. If only it included more entries on formal logic―it has only a handful―it would be perfect.
- Robert Audi (General Editor), The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy. Any dictionary of philosophy is likely to contain some entries on logical matters, and this is a fairly comprehensive one, though many of the logical entries may be too technical. Of course, you also get even more entries on purely philosophical matters that you may not need, but look upon that as a bonus!
- Irving Copi & Carl Cohen, Introduction to Logic. A good introduction to logic should be fairly comprehensive, at least of the basics, and not too technical. It won't be ideal as a reference work, but if it has an index and glossary, it should be somewhat useful. I recommend Copi and Cohen's introduction mainly because it is a classic, but there are likely to be others which would be just as good or even better.
- I've added an apposite Quote to the entry for quoting out of context. (8/20)
- I have revised the entry for question-begging analogies because the Example linked to has disappeared from the web. Fortunately, PETA has come along with yet another exhibit using a question-begging analogy. An earlier exhibit, "Holocaust on Your Plate", compared meat-eating to the Nazi Holocaust, while the current exhibit compares our treatment of animals to human slavery. Both exhibits beg the question of whether there is a moral equivalence between human beings and nonhuman animals.
Resource: Fallacies in the News, 3/3/2003
Blurb Watch: Dukes and Deuce
- A newspaper ad for the new movie "The Dukes of Hazzard" carries the following blurb:
"'Dukes' is good ol' fun."
The only trouble is that this is taken from the title of Mike Clark's review, and titles of newspaper stories are often added by the editor, not the reviewer. This is, presumably, why the author is not named in the blurb, but only the newspaper in which it was printed. Clark gives the movie only 2 and a half stars out of four.
- Here's a blurb that you probably won't be seeing in ads for the new movie "Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo":
"Speaking in my official capacity as a Pulitzer Prize winner, Mr. Schneider, your movie sucks!"―Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times
- Ad for "The Dukes of Hazzard", Indianapolis Star Weekend, 8/12/2005, p. G8
- Mike Clark, "'Dukes' is good ol' barnyard fun", USA Today, 8/4/2005
- Roger Ebert, "Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo", Chicago Sun-Times, 8/12/2005
An Average Puzzle
Is the average U.S. household net worth over $400,000? Or is it just $86,000? The answer is: both. How is that possible? See the Number Guy's latest column for the answer.
Source: Carl Bialik, "Just How Big Is 600 Trillion?", The Numbers Guy, 8/12/2005
Resource: "Average" Ambiguity, 11/4/2002
"[I]t's been conclusively established that 43.58871563% of all statistics are made up on the spot."
Source: John Allen Paulos, "Why Medical Studies Are Often Wrong", Who's Counting, 8/7/2005
Check 'Em Out
- "Guilt by Association
"The [NARAL] ad uses the classic tactic of guilt by association, linking Roberts with 'violent fringe groups' and a 'convicted…bomber' because he made the same legal arguments as they did in the case. But, contrary to the ad's message, Roberts didn't argue in favor of them or their actions." (Added: 8/9)
Source Matthew Barge, "NARAL Falsely Accuses Supreme Court Nominee Roberts", Annenberg Political Fact Check, 8/9/2005
Update (8/11): After initially defending their ad by engaging in further guilt by association and an ad hominem attack on Matthew Barge, the author of Fact Check's article, NARAL has decided to withdraw the ad.
- "Press Release: NARAL Responds to Criticism", Washington Post, 8/10/2005
- Jesse J. Holland, "Abortion Rights Group Withdraws Roberts Ad", Associated Press, 8/11/2005
- John Allen Paulos on why medical studies are often wrong:
"[T]he evaluation of all studies must contend with wishful thinking: people naturally want to believe in the value of new treatments, sometimes so much that their critical faculties are dulled or extinguished altogether. For an extreme example consider the studies on the purported effectiveness of prayer.
"In the other direction, people often over-react to bad news and fall subject to the 'tyranny of the anecdote.' For example, TV viewers see parents keening about the unfortunate effect of some vaccine on their child and give little weight to the hundreds of thousands of children who've benefited from the same vaccine."
The latter problem sounds like the Volvo fallacy, that is, giving greater weight to dramatic anecdotes than to dull statistics. "Tyranny of the anecdote" is a better name than "Volvo fallacy", though perhaps "anecdotal fallacy" would be even better. (Added: 8/7)
Source: "Why Medical Studies Are Often Wrong", Who's Counting, 8/7/2005
- The Numbers Guy's latest column is a useful roundup of the various attempts to count civilian casualties in the Iraq war, including the Lancet paper and UN Development Program's household survey, and the problems and limitations of these studies. (Added: 8/6)
Source: Carl Bialik, "Counting the Civilian Dead in Iraq", The Numbers Guy, 8/5/2005
- Court Stix Sony Pix with Tix Fix for Faux Flix Crix
Here's an update to the David Manning story from four years ago: Sony Pictures has agreed to settle a class action lawsuit arising from its use of a fake film critic to tout some of its movies. If you saw one of those movies in the theater, you can apply for a $5 refund per ticket. Now Sony will just have to go back to the old-fashioned way of getting good blurbs for ads: quoting out of context! (Added: 8/4)
Source: "Sony Pictures to Pay $1.5 Mil. in Case of Fake Movie Critic", Associated Press, 8/4/2005
- "Taxes? 'Higher' Than What?
"With 15 months to go before election day 2006, the National Republican Senatorial Committee unleashed an attack ad in West Virginia in an attempt to soften up Democratic Senator Robert Byrd for an eventual GOP challenger. … The NRSC ad…claims Byrd 'votes higher taxes for the middle class,' which is craftily worded and quite misleading. The NRSC cites votes by Byrd in 2001 and 2003, but those were not votes to raise taxes[,] they were votes against Bush's proposed tax cuts. That might make taxes 'higher' than Bush wanted them but not higher than they were at the time."
I've said it before, but I'll say it again: when politicians say that something is "higher" or "lower", it often means the opposite, thanks to the magic of the dangling comparative.
Source: "Here We Go Again: Distorted TV Ads For Campaign 2006", Annenberg Political Fact Check, 8/3/2005