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December 28th, 2003 (Permalink)

December 24th, 2003 (Permalink)


Q: Are you going to have a page for the Naturalistic fallacy?—Joseph Kemmerly

A: No, Joseph, because I don't consider the Naturalistic "fallacy" to be a logical fallacy, nor even a mistake in ethics. However, for those who are interested in it, here are some resources for the Naturalistic "fallacy":


December 22nd, 2003 (Permalink)

All the Contextomies Fit to Print

The New York Times is quoting the President out of context again, this time making it sound as though he supports a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriages:

"President Bush had been noncommittal about a constitutional amendment immediately after the Massachusetts ruling…. But last week Mr. Bush for the first time voiced his support, saying, 'I will support a constitutional amendment which would honor marriage between a man and a woman….'"

Here's what Bush said in context:

"'If necessary, I will support a constitutional amendment which would honor marriage between a man and a woman…,' he said." [Emphasis added.]

But is it necessary? He didn't say.


Via: Andrew Sullivan, "Dowd Award Nominees"

Update (1/5/2004): The Times new ombudsman—or "public editor"—Daniel Okrent, devoted most of yesterday's column to a discussion of this contextomy.

Source: Daniel Okrent, "The Quote, the Whole Quote and Nothing but the Quote", New York Times, 1/4/2004

Acknowledgment: Thanks to Michael Mulhern for pointing out Okrent's article.

December 20th, 2003 (Permalink)


Here's a reminder that George Orwell based the Ministry of Truth in 1984 partly on the BBC, where he worked for a time during WW2:

"…BBC bosses have banned reporters from calling tyrant Saddam Hussein a former dictator. … Instead, staff must refer to the barbaric mass murderer as 'the deposed former President'."

What is the Beeb's rationale for this rule?

"A spokeswoman said: 'This was reiterating existing guidelines to remind BBC News Online journalists of the need to use neutral language.'"

But, in this case "neutral language" is a euphemism for "euphemistic language". As Orwell said about the political use of euphemism:

"Political language—and with variations this is true of all political parties, from Conservatives to Anarchists—is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind."


December 19th, 2003 (Permalink)

How to Be a Stock Market Reporter

Here's an excellent article by a financial analyst debunking stock market reporting, though it would have been better without the plug for financial analysis at the end. The primary "myth" promoted by reporters is that there is a causal connection between the major news event of the day and the movement of the stock market. If there's good news, the market is expected to go up; and if it does go up, the rise is attributed to the good news. Whereas, if there's bad news, the market is expected to go down; and if it does drop, the fall is attributed to the bad news. In Latin, "post hoc, ergo propter hoc".

So, if you want to be a stock market reporter, simply combine a major news event and the movement of the market in a single sentence, thus suggesting that the two are connected. This can be done using such words as "while", "as", and "amid". For example:

If a counter-example to this causal connection occurs—that is, if the market falls after good news, or rises following bad news—do not despair. Just use the word "despite". For example:

Dow Gains Despite Thorough Debunking

Source: Robert Folsom, "The Stock Market and…Saddam Hussein?", Fox News, 12/19/2003

December 18th, 2003 (Permalink)

A Puzzle

A certain person was 21 years old in 2000 but only 18 years old in 2003. How is this possible?



December 14th, 2003 (Permalink)

Name That Fallacy!

"Dan Rather: Mr. President, Vice President Richard Cheney of the United States says that if, and when, an American-led army comes into Iraq, it will be greeted with music. It will be treated as an army of liberation. If Americans are not to believe that, why should they not believe that?

"Saddam Hussein: If the Iraqi army, or any other army, were to cross the Atlantic and occupy America, is it going to be received by the American people with music? I am categorically certain that no Iraqi will welcome any American when he is an occupier. But all the Iraqis will welcome any American who comes as a friend."


Source: "Saddam Speaks, Part III: The Oil Fields", CBS News, 2/26/2003

December 11th, 2003 (Permalink)

Bah! Humbug!

It's back despite popular demand! The Fallacy Files fisks the famous "Yes, Virginia" letter.

December 10th, 2003 (Permalink)

Reconstituting the Cheney Contextomy

It's hard to keep a good contextomy down. Here's the latest version of the Cheney "reconstituted nuclear weapons" quote:

"'Reconstituted Nuclear Weapons Program'
"Recently, Cheney backed away from the assertion he made three days before the war began, that the strongest reason for going to war was that 'we believe [Hussein] has, in fact, reconstituted nuclear weapons.' But the International Atomic Energy Agency reported two weeks before that, 'There was no indication of resumed nuclear activities.' And six months later on Meet the Press, Cheney said simply, 'I misspoke.'"

Here, Cheney's later clarification is cited ambiguously to suggest that he is claiming to have misspoken about Saddam Hussein's reconstituting his nuclear weapons program. While Cheney may have been mistaken about Hussein reconstituting his nuclear program, he never claimed to have misspoken about it. Rather, he misspoke in dropping the word "program", which suggested to some people in the original version of the contextomy that he was claiming that Iraq had, not merely a nuclear program, but actual nuclear weapons. Here, his later statement "I misspoke" is being cited misleadingly out of context as support for the claim that Cheney was "retracting" his earlier statement.

Daily Mislead? Accurate name!

Source: "Bush Administration Spends Week Retracting Assertions about Saddam's Threat to the U.S.", The Daily Mislead, 9/19/2003

Resource: "Where's the Beef?, 5/25/2003

Via: Ben Fritz, "The Liberal Who Cried Wolf", Spinsanity, 12/8/2003

Update (12/13/2003): Here's a link to my earlier entry concerning Cheney's clarification that he misspoke, including the quote in context, which makes it clear that the Mislead committed a contextomy. I didn't link to it when I first posted because I had yet to reconstitute the weblog archive for September.

Resource: "Cheney Clarifies 'Reconstituted' Quote", 9/14/2003

Update (1/24/2004): I recently discovered an earlier source for this contextomy in a Washington Post article by Dana Milbank which is dated the day after the Cheney Meet the Press appearance:

"…Cheney leveled a serious new allegation that implied Saddam already has nuclear weapons. 'We know he's been absolutely devoted to trying to acquire nuclear weapons, and we believe he has, in fact, reconstituted nuclear weapons,' Cheney said."

Milbank later repeated it in a "Verbatim" feature in his column three days later, and it was from this source that the "Whopper of the Week" picked it up and spread it further.

Source: Dana Milbank, "Analysis: Allies Leave Saddam Choice: To Fight or Escape into Exile", Washington Post, 3/17/2003

December 8th, 2003 (Permalink)


Headline: New openings for gynecologists

Source: Headlines, The Tonight Show, 12/1/2003

Resource: Equivocation

December 7th, 2003 (Permalink)


Q: I came across the Fallacy Files on the Internet, and have just happily spent some work time reading about Straw Man and Ad Hominem.

You write, "Thus, studying fallacies is no substitute for studying the positive principles of good reasoning—learning to navigate through logical space, so to speak."

What books would you recommend for such study? I am fascinated by rhetoric and reasoning, but have had very little luck finding books.—Oliver McCrum

A: Oliver, I assume that what you want to find are books dealing with the "positive principles of good reasoning", since there are good books about fallacies and logical mistakes on the Fallacy Files Bookshelf.

There are many good books that teach the formal and informal principles of logical reasoning, but I will just cite a few stand-outs in the annotated resource list below. Thanks for the excellent question, Oliver!


December 3rd, 2003 (Permalink)

The Blurb Watch Project

Sunday's New York Times carried an ad for the new movie Gothika containing the following blurb:

Toni Ruberto, Buffalo News

But this is only a sentence fragment, and to be honest should have an ellipsis—"…"—at the end to indicate that the second half of the sentence has been dropped. Here's the full sentence:

"An intelligent supernatural thriller in the vein of 'What Lies Beneath' and 'The Sixth Sense,' it holds the tension until its shameless set-up for a sequel."

Source: Toni Ruberto, "Review of Gothika", Buffalo News, 11/23/2003

December 1st, 2003 (Permalink)

Contextomy Controversy

Spinsanity has an article by Brendan Nyhan concerning a contextomy involving a leaked memo. Check it out.

Source: Brendan Nyhan, "Selective Quotation of Democratic Memo", Spinsanity

Answer to the Puzzle (12/19/2003): The dates are B.C. rather than A.D.

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