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June 30th, 2004 (Permalink)


Q: I note that the lists of fallacies given by Locke in the Essay, Mill in the System and Whatley in the Elements all differ. I wonder has anyone done a formal history of fallacies?
Dr John S Wilkins
Parkville, Victoria, Australia

A: I hope to include more historical discussion in Fallacy Files entries in the future. Until then, as far as I know there is no book exclusively devoted to the history of logical fallacies. However, C. L. Hamblin's very influential book Fallacies, first published in 1970, includes history as well as criticism of the way that fallacies were treated in textbooks of the time. In addition, Hamblin was also from Australia!

Thanks for the question, John!


June 26th, 2004 (Permalink)

Name That Fallacy!

"The recent spectacular transit of Venus across the face of the Sun may lead to disastrous flooding along China's Yellow River, a leading scientist has warned the local media. While millions were marveling at the celestial show earlier this month, Geng Guoqing, an expert on natural calamities, was more worried about the consequences for China's second-longest river, the Xinhua news agency reported. He compared historical records reaching 2,187 years back and found a clear correlation between Venus transits and serious floods along the river's middle and lower reaches, according to the agency."


Source: "Venus Transit May Cause Serious Flooding Along China's Yellow River: Report", ABC News Online, 6/21/2004

Resource: "Does the Venus Transit Cause Floods?", Bad Astronomy, 6/21/2004

Via: Robert Todd Carroll, "Skeptic's Dictionary Newsletter", 43

Bigger, Taller, Stronger, Faster, Smarter!
June 21st, 2004 (Permalink)

Bigger, Taller, Stronger, Faster, Smarter!

The most recent issue of Consumer Reports has the following picture of an "action figure"—that is, a doll for boys—with an enlargement of the print at the bottom of the package. This is an extreme example of the common advertising ploy of using dangling comparatives to suggest the superiority of products, without being specific. "Brand X toothpaste gets your teeth whiter!" Whiter than what?


June 18th, 2004 (Permalink)

What's New?

I've added a short essay by Julian "Bad Moves" Baggini as a Resource to the Genetic Fallacy file. It's not a recent piece, but I just found it, and it's worth reading.

June 15th, 2004 (Permalink)

Check it Out

Ben Fritz of Spinsanity has a lengthy article today criticizing Slate magazine's "Bushism" feature for frequently quoting its subject out of context. I have briefly pointed out such problems with the "Bushisms" in the past, when Eugene Volokh debunked a couple, and more recently in the case of the "hand"-shaking contextomy noted by Fritz's coworker Brendan Nyhan. At a minimum, Slate should do two things to prevent these problems in the future:

  1. Provide a link to the original source of the quote, so that the reader can check out the quote in context; for an online magazine, there's really no excuse for not doing so.
  2. Promptly publish a correction when a contextomy has been committed.

Taking these two steps would create a strong incentive for Slate to avoid quoting out of context, as well as avoiding some of the harm of doing so.

Source: Ben Fritz, "Stereotypes Run Amok: Slate's Misleading 'Bushisms' and 'Kerryisms'", Spinsanity, 6/15/2004


June 14th, 2004 (Permalink)

What's New?

The entire Fallacy Files site is! Or, at least, the format is new, and even some of the content is new, as well.

For those interested in the technical details, I have changed the site from one that uses frames to one that gets much the same effect as a frame without using actual frames. There were technical advantages to using a framed site, but there are also technical disadvantages to frames, and the latter had come to outweigh the former, hence the makeover.

I am interested in any comments or suggestions you might have about the new look of the site. Are there any other changes you would like to see? Also, since this was a total renovation, there may be a few protruding nails and patches of wet paint here and there. So, please forgive our mess, and if you find any problems—for example, links that don't work or which link to the wrong page—please email me.

I hope that you enjoy the NEW, IMPROVED, frame-free, low-carb Fallacy Files! If you do, please consider showing your support.

Resource: How to Support the Fallacy Files

June 11th, 2004 (Permalink)

Summer Headline

Little white butts litter beach

Source: "Headlines", The Tonight Show

Fallacy: Equivocation

June 8th, 2004 (Permalink)

Seasonal Puzzle

Adam went to sea and disappeared. Everyone who had crossed paths with him was happy. Why?

Update (6/10/2004): Answer to the Puzzle

June 6th, 2004 (Permalink)


Logical errors are, I think, of greater practical importance than many people believe; they enable their perpetrators to hold the comfortable opinion on every subject in turn.



Bertrand Russell, A History of Western Philosophy (Book-of-the-Month Club, 1995), p. 93.

June 5th, 2004 (Permalink)

Blurb Watch

The critical consensus on the new movie The Day After Tomorrow seems to be largely negative, except for agreement that the special effects are impressive. So, what's an ad writer to do? Take some adjectives applying to the special effects out of context, capitalize them, then add explanation points, of course. This makes it sound as if the reviewers are raving about the movie itself, not just its effects:

Here are the quotes in context:


June 1st, 2004 (Permalink)

Answer to the Seasonal Puzzle (6/10/2004):

Adam was a hurricane. Congratulations to Michael Mulhern, who was the first to send in a correct solution to the puzzle!

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