STATS has put out its "Dubious Data Awards" for the year "honoring" "the worst mathematical or scientific mistakes in the media". The following is number nine on the list:
"Pumping Up Prices
"After oil prices topped $50 dollars per barrel in November, prophets of petroleum gloom trumpeted 'oil sets new record price' in headlines around the country. But these 'record' prices were not adjusted for inflation. The record in 'real' (i.e. inflation-adjusted) dollars was set back in 1981―$39 then, but the equivalent of $66 in 2004."
As regular Fallacy Files readers will know, the media have been making similar "record price" claims about the cost of gasoline at the pump since the summer of last year.
Source: "STATS 'Honors' 2004 Dubious Data Awards", Statistical Assessment Service, 12/27/2004 (PDF)
Resource: Record Gas Prices?, 8/31/2003
- I've added Robert Todd Carroll's new Skeptic's Dictionary entry on "selection bias" to the Resources for the fallacy of biased sample.
- (12/27/2004) I've added a Reader Response and my reply to the entry for loaded questions.
It's that time of year again, so I've reposted the Fallacy Files Christmas special to the Fallacy Watch page.
Update (12/24/2004): I've added a link to The Skeptic's Dictionary entry on Santa Claus to the Fallacy Files Christmas page.
Q: "I have tried to put a name to a fallacious argument that I heard frequently during the recent presidential election. I would call it the 'you must be wrong in commenting on this because you didn't comment on that' fallacy. The most recent example I have seen was a letter to the editor of a magazine regarding an article in which a candidate was chastised for commenting on Vice President Cheney's daughter being a lesbian. The writer complained the article must be unfair or biased because the publication did not complain when a congressman called President Clinton's daughter Chelsea 'ugly'. Since the magazine did not run an article complaining about one event it must be biased or wrong when it did run an article complaining about another event that has a general similarity. Can you help me?"―Lewis O. Campbell
A: I've seen many similar cases, Lewis. They are ad hominem attacks of the circumstantial variety, but whether such attacks are fallacious or not depends upon exactly what the arguer is concluding. If the claim is that the criticism of one person is wrong because the critic didn't also criticize another for a similar fault, then that is a red herring. However, if the claim is that the critic is biased because of a failure to apply criticism even-handedly, then it may well be correct and certainly isn't fallacious. Failure to treat like cases alike is almost the definition of "bias". Still, the fact that a critic is biased is no reason why the critic is wrong in the case in question; to conclude it is, or to dismiss the critic's point because of bias would be to commit the circumstantial ad hominem fallacy. Thanks for the question, Lewis!
Check it Out
John Allen Paulos' latest "Who's Counting" column deals with three misleading numbers making news, including the Lancet Iraqi death count study.
Source: John Allen Paulos, "Misleading Numbers in the News", Who's Counting, 12/5/2004
Resource: October Surprise?, 10/30/2004
Bad Moves and "Thank You"s
- Julian Baggini's latest Bad Moves column is on high redefinition, a companion piece to his earlier one on the low kind. Earlier this year, I discussed the example of Rynn Berry's silly attempt to deny that Hitler was a vegetarian.
Source: Julian Baggini, "High Redefinition", Bad Moves, 12/6/2004
- Thanks to those of you who have supported the Fallacy Files via the Amazon Honor System (button to your left), or have made Amazon purchases through any one of the links on the site! With your help, we'll keep busting fallacies in the new year!
Check Out Tech
Tech Central Station has a couple of articles worth checking out:
- Henry I. Miller has an article ostensibly on pathological science, though most of the examples he cites sound more like what Robert Park classifies as junk science. I can't vouch for the accuracy of Miller's examples, except that the supposed health dangers of electromagnetic radiation from power lines and other sources is extensively debunked in Park's Voodoo Science.
Source: Henry I. Miller, "When Science is 'Pathological'", TCS, 11/29/2004
Resource: Book Review: Voodoo Science, 11/30/2004
- Iain Murray discusses two recent examples of the politicization of science, including the Lancet Iraqi death toll study. Interestingly, Murray thinks better of the study than I do, his complaint being with the political way in which the journal handled its release, and the poor way in which it was reported.
Source: Iain Murray, "Abusive Behavior", TCS, 12/02/2004
Resource: October Surprise?, 10/30/2004
Oliver Stone's new movie "Alexander" has received bad reviews from nearly all critics: its Metascore is 37, which means "Generally Unfavorable Reviews", and its Tomatometer rating is a "Rotten" 14%. Nevertheless, the studio ad writers found a couple of lukewarm reviews, and with selective editing fashioned blurbs from them. Here they are side-by-side with the context:
|"PREPARE TO BE AWESTRUCK."
―KEN TUCKER, NEW YORK MAGAZINE
|"Near the end of the film, in India, Alexander and his now-bedraggled crew are set upon by invadees mounted on elephants, animals that scare the bejesus out of the Greeks and their horses. At first, all you hear in the dense Indian forest are thundering, camera-rattling thumps…but when the elephants emerge and charge, prepare to be awestruck."
|"WILD…GLORIOUS…ENTERTAINING." ―RICHARD ROEPER, EBERT & ROEPER
|"Itís just a wild, glorious, wacky mess that I found really entertaining."
- Ad for "Alexander", Indianapolis Star Weekend, 12/3/2004, p. 7
- Reviews of "Alexander", Metacritic
- Reviews of "Alexander", Rotten Tomatoes
- Ken Tucker, Review of "Alexander", New York Magazine