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January 31st, 2004 (Permalink)

Blurb Watch

The new movie "Torque"'s Metacritic metascore—an average based on many reviews—is 39, which "suggests Generally Unfavorable Reviews". Also, its rating on the Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer—another, similar average of critics' ratings—is 22%, which is in the "Rotten" range. So, it must have been difficult for the ad writer to find some good critics' quotes for blurbs. But then, there's always quoting out of context:

-Elizabeth Weitzman,
New York Daily News

But is that good or bad? Here are the first two paragraphs of Weitzman's review:

"If your idea of a great time is drinking a case of Red Bull while playing video games at top volume, 'Torque' ought to provide just the right level of hyperstimulation.

"Sure, it's missing some basics—like character development and a remotely realistic plot—but it more than makes up for that in caffeinated ferocity and state-of-the-art hardware."


January 30th, 2004 (Permalink)

They Never Said It

Ben Fritz and Brendan Nyhan have posted an article today on Spinsanity about some recent contextomies in the political realm.

Source: Ben Fritz & Brendan Nyhan, "Context is Everything", Spinsanity, 1/30/2004

Update (2/2/2004): Fritz and Nyhan have a follow-up article today giving some new examples of this contextomy spreading like a virus through the media. It may become the new "reconstituted nuclear weapons".

Source: Ben Fritz & Brendan Nyhan, "Misquote in Imminent Danger of Hardening into Fact", Spinsanity, 2/2/2004

January 28th, 2004 (Permalink)

Find the Flaw in this Argument

Eugene Volokh has posted a lengthy debunking of a bizarre article comparing today's Americans to yesterday's slaves, and arguing that we are actually less free. This is almost as bad an analogy as the Bush/Hitler one, and just as historically ignorant, as Volokh explains.

Source: Paul Craig Roberts, "Fix the Flaw in the Freedom Index", VDARE, 1/27/2004

Via: Eugene Volokh, "The Remarkable Paul Craig Roberts", The Volokh Conspiracy, 1/28/2004

January 26th, 2004 (Permalink)

Poll Watch

Newsweek has a new poll out, and once again is ignoring the margin of error by reporting insignificant results as if they mean something. Keep in mind that the margin of error is +/-3% when you read the following claim:

"[F]or the first time in the poll's history a Democrat is enjoying a marginal advantage over President George W. Bush. In a hypothetical face-off, Kerry commanded a three-point lead over the president."

However, with a three-point margin of error, this means that Bush and Kerry are in a dead heat. Furthermore, the magazine claims that the poll has more bad news for the President:

"Despite having delivered a State of the Union address that was well received by his conservative core, Bush’s own standing has slipped among registered voters. …Bush saw his job performance ratings dip to 50 percent approval…his most negative ratings to date—suggesting a nation sharply divided over the president and his policies."

One has to go to a separate page containing an online version of the poll to discover—in the fine print at the bottom—that the registered voters polled were a subset of the sample population, so that the margin of error for this smaller group is actually higher: +/-4%. Moreover, in a similar Newsweek poll from September of last year, Bush's approval rating was 51%, again within the margin of error. Thus, the President's approval rating seems to be holding steady around 50% as opposed to dropping, as far as these polls show. Of course, it may still be a political disappointment to the White House that the rating did not rise measurably after the address. Finally, consider this paragraph:

"…Kerry is enjoying a marginal advantage over Bush, a first for the poll. Forty-nine percent of registered voters chose Kerry, compared to 46 percent who re-elected Bush. … Clark gets 47 percent of voters’ choice compared to 48 percent from Bush; Edwards has 46 percent compared to Bush’s 49; Leiberman wins 45 percent versus Bush’s 49 percent; and Dean fares the worst with 45 percent of their votes to Bush’s 50 percent."

All of these results are within the four percentage point margin of error, so that all we're really entitled to conclude about this poll of registered voters is that it isn't precise enough to entitle us to conclude anything.

Source: Brian Braiker, "Newsweek Poll: And They're Off", Newsweek, 1/24/2004

Resource: Clark's Lead Disappears, 9/21/2003

January 25th, 2004 (Permalink)

Check it Out

Massimo Pigliucci has an article on the genetic fallacy in the current issue of Free Inquiry magazine. Unfortunately, this essay does not appear to be currently available online.

Source: Massimo Pigliucci, "The Genetic Fallacy", Free Inquiry, December 2003/January 2004

January 22nd, 2004 (Permalink)

What's New?

January 21st, 2004 (Permalink)

You're Out!

The Washington Post published a front page article on Monday with the following first sentence:

"The Bush administration's inability to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq—after public statements declaring an imminent threat posed by Iraqi President Saddam Hussein—has begun to harm the credibility abroad of the United States and of American intelligence, according to foreign policy experts in both parties." (Emphasis added.)

This is a straw man representation of the administration's argument for invasion, previously debunked by Spinsanity. Strike one! Moreover, the second paragraph continues:

"In last year's State of the Union address, President Bush used stark imagery to make the case that military action was necessary. Among other claims, Bush said that Hussein had enough anthrax to 'kill several million people,' enough botulinum toxin to 'subject millions of people to death by respiratory failure' and enough chemical agents to 'kill untold thousands.'"

However, each one of these three quotes is a contextomy. Here are the phrases in context (emphasis added):

"The United Nations concluded in 1999 that Saddam Hussein had biological weapons sufficient to produce over 25,000 liters of anthrax—enough doses to kill several million people. He hasn't accounted for that material. He's given no evidence that he has destroyed it.

"The United Nations concluded that Saddam Hussein had materials sufficient to produce more than 38,000 liters of botulinum toxin—enough to subject millions of people to death by respiratory failure. He hadn't accounted for that material. He's given no evidence that he has destroyed it.

"Our intelligence officials estimate that Saddam Hussein had the materials to produce as much as 500 tons of sarin, mustard and VX nerve agent. In such quantities, these chemical agents could also kill untold thousands. He's not accounted for these materials. He has given no evidence that he has destroyed them."

In no case did Bush actually claim that Iraq had the chemical or biological agents themselves, but that it possessed materials which could be used to produce them. Strike two!

Finally, in a sidebar graphic, the Post repeats the Cheney "reconstituted nuclear weapons" contextomy. That's strike three!


January 16th, 2004 (Permalink)


The administrator of a certain hospital admitted to a reporter that the vast majority of patients in the hospital were not ill. The reporter subsequently determined that the hospital was doing nothing wrong. How could this be?



January 12th, 2004 (Permalink)

Check 'Em Out

Spinsanity has a couple of new articles of interest:

January 10th, 2004 (Permalink)

No Smoking Section

Julian Baggini has an excellent new Bad Moves column about the weak analogy between tobacco and fast food being used by some lawyers to justify suing fast food companies. He points out some significant disanalogies between the two cases, but there's another that he doesn't mention: fast food does not contain an addictive drug as does tobacco. This makes a difference as to whether those who eat a lot of fast food can argue against taking personal responsibility for their actions, as opposed to those who smoke cigarettes. This is not to say that the case for suing tobacco companies is ultimately correct, but that there is a prima facie case for it, whereas the case against fast food is so weak as to be silly.


January 9th, 2004 (Permalink)

Beware of the Snake

Nothing is more frightening than hearing the hissing buzz of a disturbed rattlesnake walking through tall grass.

Source: "Headlines", The Tonight Show

January 7th, 2004 (Permalink)

Springtime for Hitler Analogies

It appears to be the growing season for the argumentum ad Nazium in the political field, with comparisons of President Bush to Hitler coming from the left, and likening of Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean to Hitler from the right.

The liberal organization MoveOn is running an anti-Bush television ad contest, and two of its entries compared the President to the Nazi dictator. Retaliating, a conservative columnist turned the analogy back against MoveOn, together with one of its main funders, George Soros, who has himself suggested a similarity between Bush and "the Germans". Another conservative columnist finds similarities between Dean and Der Führer.

Only an historical illiterate would take such analogies seriously.


Update (1/13/2004): Ben Fritz of Spinsanity has a follow-up article discussing the MoveOn ads, and some additional Hitler card cases.

Source: Ben Fritz, "A Flurry of Unfair Associations", Spinsanity, 1/13/2004

Update (1/14/2004): Here's an egregious example.

Via: Andrew Sullivan, "Bush is Hitler Watch", 1/14/2004

Source: Thomas Walkom, "Can PM appease Bush?", Toronto Star, 1/13/2004

January 4th, 2004 (Permalink)

What's New?

An Example of One-sidedness.

Update (1/5/2004): I've added a new way to support the Fallacy Files through the Amazon Honor System. See the button in the box on the right, or go to the support page. Thanks for your support! It helps to keep the Fallacy Files free and fresh.

Update (6/20/2004): The Amazon Honor System button is now in the scroll bar on your left.

Update (1/13/2012): The Amazon Honor System is history, but you can still support the site via the PayPal "Donate" button in the navigation pane on the left. Thanks!

January 3rd, 2004 (Permalink)

Innumeracy Squared

This headline is almost good enough to be featured on the Tonight Show:

Most U.S. Iraq Deaths Are Reservists

Yet, the body of the story says the following:

"Overall, since the start of hostilities last March, 14 percent of all U.S. military deaths have been members of the Army Guard or Reserve."

Logically, "most" means "greater than 50%". However, as if that weren't bad enough, we also find out in the story that:

"Of the approximately 130,000 U.S. troops in Iraq now, about a fourth are reservists."

This means that, far from being "most" deaths, reservists have actually so far suffered fewer deaths than their numbers would suggest. Perhaps this is because reservists are often given less dangerous assignments.

Despite the headline, the story's author—Robert Burns—seems to be trying to call attention to a recent rise in the proportion of reservist deaths. The following is from his first sentence:

"…[S]oldiers with the Army National Guard and Army Reserve already are experiencing a bigger share of U.S. military deaths there."

But bigger than what? This is a dangling comparative, that is, a comparative missing the object of the comparison, which is a type of ambiguity. Logically, a comparison always relates two things, and to not mention one of them is ambiguous. This ambiguity may be the source of the headline mistake, whose writer may have assumed that "bigger share" amounted to "most". Apparently, what Burns actually meant was "bigger than previously":

"Of the 39 deaths in December in Iraq for which the Pentagon has released the victim's names, 10 were citizen soldiers, according to an Associated Press review of the Pentagon reports. That is up from 14 percent in November, the deadliest month of the war with 81 American deaths. There actually were 40 reported deaths in December, but one soldier's name and affiliation have not been released."

In other words, the proportion of reservist deaths is now reflecting their proportion of the military population in Iraq, perhaps because they are beginning to take up a larger share of the dangerous work.

Source: Robert Burns, "Most U.S. Iraq Deaths Are Reservists", AP, 1/1/2004

Via: Bill Herbert, "Those Headline Writers at Yahoo! News the Associated Press", COINTELPRO Tool , 1/2/2004

January 1st, 2004 (Permalink)

A New Fallacy for the New Year

Poisoning the Well

Answer to the Puzzle: It was a maternity hospital.

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