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18 June 2009
How to spot a bogus argument - Part II

In Part I I listed out my 1-6.  Here’s the rest:

  1. Ascribing beliefs to entire groups.  “Libertarians believe that there’s no such thing as society.”  How does that feel?  Annoying I should think.  And should hope.  But watch out for statements that go the other way e.g. “The left believe that there is a fixed quantity of wealth.”  This is a sort of combination of the straw man and the personal attack.  As a general rule one ought to identify the ideas accurately and then debate them.
  2. Pejorative terms.  “Concreting over”, “Gas guzzler”...  The use of any term that includes judgement is an attempt to curtail debate.  And any attempt to curtail debate should get the alarm bells ringing.  This is in effect the flip side of Point 6.
  3. Numbers.  I am suspicious of any argument involving numbers e.g. the speed limit should be 70mph.  Why not 71?  Or 69?  Because you have to draw the line somewhere?  It makes me wonder if the line has to be drawn at all.  Or, who should be drawing it.
  4. What would change your mind?  Does the person express any doubt?  If you asked him: what would change his mind, would he have an answer?  And would it be a reasonable one?  Because if the answer is “no” then he’s being dogmatic and eristic and these people are terrible bores and likely to be wrong.
  5. Confusing intentions, actions and outcomes.  “When I say I want hard working families to benefit from prosperity [intention] you call me a socialist.”  To which I suppose the response should be:  “No, when you advocate socialist policies [action] that’s when I call you a socialist.”
  6. Distance.  This is to do with facts.  How much distance is there between you and the facts being used?  I am not just talking about physical distance, more how hard it would be to verify?  Because, if the answer is very hard then this should set the alarm bells ringing.  That is why I prefer arguments that depend on reason and facts either that everyone agrees or are close at hand e.g. the local newsagent is really good but the roads are really bad.
  7. Subordinate clauses.  At least, I think that’s what I am going to call it.  Anyway, here’s an example: “Field Marshal Douglas Haig, who sent hundreds of thousands of British soldiers to their deaths…” Doesn’t sound very good does it?  Let’s try some substitution: “Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, who sent hundreds of thousands of British soldiers to their deaths…” Both statements are absolutely true and serve to reveal the author’s prejudices.  An attempt is being made to steer the reader to a conclusion without having to go to the effort of making an argument.  Not good. 

Anyway, that’s my list.  Hope you find it useful.

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  1. It is useful.  You used number 10 on me once when I was explaining why I don’t believe in global warming.  It was quite tough to come up with an answer because the AGW hypothesis is extremely hard to either prove or disprove.

    Posted by Rob Fisher on 19 June 2009 at 04:56pm

  2. Very commonly used by the most respectable people:  Staw man arguments - set up a false representation of the fact/argument they seek to destroy and shoot it down because it is evidently false.
    And also the Ad hominem argument:  “would the boring/stupid//etc gentleman please get off his hind legs and be quiet.”

    Posted by Ghecko on 31 August 2009 at 03:41pm

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