Saturday, November 14, 2009


I'm currently reading "Nonsense: Red Herrings, Straw Men and Sacred Cows: How We Abuse Logic in Our Everyday Language" by Robert J Gula. I think this book should be required reading for all high school and college students. Anyone in the media or politics should be required to read it every year. At least this is the conclusion I've come to after reading only 1/3 of the book. Here some of the "abuses" and examples of how they are happening today.

Emotional Appeals

Appeal to Pity (argumentum ad misericordium) - Instead of giving carefully documented reasons, evidence and facts, a person appeals to our sense of pity, compassion, brotherly love.

Example from News: We need to provide health care for all Americans, end discrimination against pre-existing conditions and stop insurance companies from dropping people who are sick. "No one should go broke because they get sick". [1][2]

Problem: Limited (or no) facts or evidence that this is happening.

Appeal to Guilt - You have it good, so shouldn't you help those less fortunate

Example from News: "We need to spread the wealth"[1 at 4:42]

Appeal to Fear - "If you don't do X then Y will happen (and Y is bad)"

Example: Pass TARP or else banks will fail and economy will crumble, pass the Economic Stimulus or else unemployment will rise, pass Cap & Trade or else we'll destroy the earth, "...
health care reform cannot wait, it must not wait, and it will not wait another year." [1]

Appeal to Hope - "If you do X, Y may happen. Therefore, if you want Y to happen, do X (and Y is good)". Example: [1]

Appeal to Sincerity - The person presenting the argument seems very sincere, therefore we should trust them. Example: [1]


Appeal to Status/Bandwagon -
  • You can gain status by making this choice
  • Anyone of importance is doing the same thing
  • "Everyone is doing it"

Example: every poll, pollster, and [1 at 2:03]

Repetition - The theory is that if you say something often enough, people will eventually believe it.

Example: Google Search -

  • "global warming facts" -> 35,500,000 hits
  • "health care reform needed now" -> 21,700,000 hits
  • "obama hope and change" -> 108,000,000 hits
  • "economics stimulus package new jobs" -> 10,200,000
Oversimplification - Takes a complicated issue and looks at a from a narrow viewpoint.

  1. Global Warming is caused by man made carbon dioxide emissions. Natural cycles, solar variations, ocean CO2 absorption and emission, etc. are all ignored.
  2. Our current health care crisis is caused by greedy insurance companies (specifically executives). Poor health habits, over regulation, and many other issues are basically ignored.

Name Calling - Use names with strong negative emotional associations for people you don't like or who oppose your position. These terms should be first defined and then evidence should be provided.

  1. Tea Party protesters are "Un-American, Astro-turf, teabaggers" (Until April 15, 2009, I never new that teabaggers was a sexually obscene term).
  2. If you don't agree with Obama, you are a racist.

It's late so I'll have to comment on the Chapter 6, Irrelevance another time.

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