Analytical Techniques: Spotting Fallacies in Arguments

Impeccable logic + pointy ears wins arguments but does not necessarily help win the hearts of supermodels.

Impeccable logic + pointy ears wins arguments but does not necessarily help win the hearts of supermodels.

Summary:  We present a handy chart that an Alert Reader passed along with the most common logical fallacies in building arguments.  If you master and apply the material on this one page, you will amaze and impress (and probably also intimidate) your friends with your brilliance.  And by being able to spot errors in others’ analysis, you win the right to denounce their work with an air of haughty derision, and you spare yourself the embarrassment of potentially spouting inaccurate twaddle if you believe what they said.

Fair disclosure, though: your new-found command of logic may not make it easier for you to hit on supermodels (whichever flavor is most appealing to you) in trendy Manhattan clubs.  Don’t ask me how I know this.


An example of a Dadaist logical fallacy in action.

An example of a Dadaist logical fallacy in action.

The first place to check: One of the most important things to do in analysis is to spot fallacies in your own reasoning and in that of others.  It takes a lot of time to nitpick through all the data, making sure it is accurate and relevant to the argument.  But it is often not necessary, because logical flaws can undermine an argument and they’re usually much faster to spot.  

To become a more powerful writer, if you look for fallacies when you edit your work before publishing it, you can save yourself tons of embarrassment when one of your Alert Readers catches you at it.  And you will discover that you become more persuasive, as well.  Even if your readers don’t formally deconstruct your logic, people have enough understanding of logic that they’ll feel uncomfortable about your argument, even if they can’t specifically name the particular fallacy you used.

Honest mistakes:  Sometimes, people make honest mistakes in the way they construct an argument. That’s especially true in areas where people have a high degree of personal involvement, emotional or economic, to a particular outcome.

To make sure you don’t do this, it’s wise to learn the art of clearing your mind and pretending that you’ve never seen the document before that you just wrote.  If you can pretend that you’re about to edit someone else’s writing, it’s a lot easier to step out of the passion that guided you to write something, which may obscure logical flaws in your argument.  Passion is actually welcome in analysis, because it reflects the analyst’s level of conviction in his thesis, but it is only effective when it surfs on top of a logical and well-constructed argument.  Passion on top of logical idiocy gives political speech like we have today.

In the 1970s, Supertramp, which was a way cool band of the time, had a hit with "The Logical Song."

In the 1970s, Supertramp, which was a way cool band of the time, had a hit with “The Logical Song.”

Dishonest mistakes: Other times, people will intentionally use logical fallacies to “sell” a point of view that wouldn’t be supported by evidence. This is particularly common in politics. For example, many news organizations strive to report balance by reporting the political opposition’s view of a circumstance. When Democrats accuse Republicans of something, in many cases, Republicans will reply by talking about how Democrats do the same thing, or something they believe is worse. That’s a logical fallacy, and once you recognize it, it’s possible to keep the attention focused on the matter at hand.

Dilbert gets the relationship between logic, strategy and leadership right... as usual...

Dilbert gets the relationship between logic, strategy and leadership right… as usual…

How to Lose the Argument Before it Begins

There are several different categories of logical fallacies, relating to:

  • The structure of the argument (i.e., whether the reasoning to get from the evidence to the conclusion) is correct;
  • The evidence used in construction of the argument (too much anecdote, too little, etc.);
  • Intentional or willful distractions from a flawed argument (attacking the speaker, etc).

People intuitively know that an argument via an ad hominem attack is inherently a confession that the argument probably doesn’t have enough weight to stand on its own.  Few people are ever convinced by such argument that weren’t already true believers.  That’s why, though I may make legitimate mistakes in logic, I work very hard to avoid any of this deceitful, intentional reasoning error in anything I write.

And Now… The Poster!

Here’s the site: https://yourlogicalfallacyis.com

Here’s the poster: 

A great poster listing many of the common logical fallacies that people either intentionally or accidentally use in logical arguments.  From http://www.yourlogicalfallacyis.com. Click to show full-resolution image.

A great poster listing many of the common logical fallacies that people either intentionally or accidentally use in logical arguments. From http://www.yourlogicalfallacyis.com. Click to show full-resolution image.

  • PoisonIvyHerself

    Adore, adore, adore! You help keep me honest, John P ! xo

  • Anandamide

    Yes. Am now sharing that poster far and wide. Clearly, it is the lack of windmills in my beard (also, lack of beard) that has lead to my previous logic fails.

  • Dog Saluter

    You know John, it’s interesting – when I was in the cult I
    did a course called the “Data Series” which contained I think ten of these
    points. It was very helpful for me in cutting through the crap. It was the most
    useful thing I got out of Scientology.

    I would bet that’s why they discontinued it. Too many people
    were opening their eyes.

    Oh, and of course The Master claimed credit for these great “discoveries.”

    • John P.

      I can’t chase down a copy of the Data Series course from Wikileaks without a lot more work. But there’s a pretty good page on it at http://www.scientology-cult.com/data-and-situation-analysis.html. In looking at this, it seems like Hubbard is emphasizing that the quality of data is essential. The stuff he talks about, having it ordered correctly by time and having other “cleaning” applied is true but simplistic. There’s a lot more to it than that. If you apply an incorrect reasoning process to the data, you’ll get a bad result, no matter how clean the data is.

      It seems to me that by overstating the importance of cleaning the data and understating the importance of the logical argument, Hubbard is setting the stage to introduce yet another cult control mechanism, “infinity valued logic” which means nothing in the context of actual systems of logic, but which sounds nice and basically is a way for Hubbard to get people to believe that whatever he says goes.

      In other words, what he’s doing is starting with some common sense stuff, hyping his brilliance for coming up with same, and then, once he has lured you in, turns the corner off into the brainwashing of the cult.

      • Michael Leonard Tilse

        There was the “Data Series” and there was the “Data Series Evaluator Course”, which was study of these and then practical applications of it to ‘management’.

        On of the truly sad things is that like so many things in scientology, if you had studied this stuff you began to think your knowledge of “Data” and “situations” and how to think was ‘light years beyond’ anyone in the mere wog world. And it crippled you for operating in the real world.

        • John P.

          One wonders if that result — people thinking they’re hot shit in the world of logic and reason — is a function of the fact that Scientology loves those fancy certificates for every last little thing. Since you got a certificate, you must be hot shit, indeed.

          We in Global Capitalism HQ don’t operate that way. If you apply logic and reason correctly, you get to keep your job. If you don’t, you get fired and you get to spend the next few years picking up the shattered pieces of your career. There are no certificates anywhere in our little system… And you’re so busy re-checking your work that you have no time to gloat to your fellow man about how freakin’ logical you are. 🙂

          • Michael Leonard Tilse

            Counter-intuitively, the scientology education frequently works for a short while in the wog world, just because the ‘trained’ scientologist is so fucking certain s/he is better and more intelligent and better equipped that mere non-self-aggrandizing wogs who don’t know any better give them the benefit of the doubt.

            So they may have initial success just through enthusiasm, somewhat better than an intelligent third-grader. Until a fourth-grader comes along.

            But there are ZERO scientologists in the upper levels of society that require the actual ability to think and reason where it has consequences.

          • Lurkness

            Wow, are you tellin me Tommy Davis isn’t running with the big dogs in the upper levels of society? Come on, ass-istant to the CEO of Colony Capital? Tom Barrack at Colony must have made his money by luck until Tommy Davis arrived. LOL

          • Anonymous

            Michael,

            Absolutely agree with you that Scientology training can help in the short term in the real world because of the assumed aura of “certainty” that one develops.

            It’s sort of like winning a race with the car in the lane next to you on the road….except they aren’t even racing you…they are just going to the grocery store.

            And man…does that assumed aura of certainty ever lead to some cringe-worthy moments later on in life when you discover what you thought was the wisdom of the ages turns out to be pretty ordinary stuff. Oy!

          • aegerprimo

            Actually, there is an LRH quote somewhere, or it was in his Mission Earth fiction and it went something like this… “People will listen to you if you have a certificate hanging on the wall.”

          • Anonymous

            I think you would be surprised at the breadth (not necessarily the depth) of what one can learn in Scientology. There is quite a bit of useful information in the management maunderings of Hubbard…although I do NOT recommend them as a primary educational source.

            Because we constantly share so many of the objectively ridiculous things from the church, its easy to assume that Hubbard was a complete idiot, as was every one else involved.

            At that is a mistake.

            Especially when trying to counter the malevolent nature of the organization. There are some very crafty, clever folks still involved, although most of the real powerhouse types left (or were neutered) some time ago.

            Underestimate the opponent at your own risk.

            Know them, understand their methodologies and act accordingly, is my counsel.

      • Anonymous

        John,

        Here’s a link to a PDF version of an early printing of the three volume “Management Series” by Hubbard:

        http://www.tep-online.info/laku/usa/reli/scien/SECRETDOX/MGMT_SERIES_1970-74.pdf

        The Data Series is the first set of docs in the first book of the three book Management Series.

        This is a very early version of this book set. Many revisions and updates have come out since. Because this version was published in 1976, it needs to be viewed in the same light that a textbook from the same date would be viewed. It is dated.

        The Data Series is by no means perfect, but looked at from the perspective of someone who probably had near zero prior training (which is what a lot of Sea Org and other staffers have) it is also not useless.

        This is NOT the course. It’s just some of the foundational docs from Hubbard.

  • Sidney18511

    Faux News and the right wingers WORSHIP at the alter of Logical fallacies.

  • Espiando

    And let’s not forget the Internet Age’s contribution to logical fallacies: Godwin’s Law. Some of the Indies, especially Ronnie Bell, use this one frequently. In fact, Bell used it over at Das Rinderblog either yesterday or earlier today when someone there used the word “Scilon”. I responded to it with the phrase, “If the Jew fits, wear it”, along with some material that Rinder will probably never approve.

    The next time that some Indie claims that a never-in critic is a proto-Nazi, we need to collectively teach him/her/ex-clam a lesson in the proper art of constructive debate.

    • Espiando

      I was surprised. Rinder approved the post. Then Ronnie Scilon called me “Adolph”, which caused Rinder to smack him down. Of course, Rinder also put a bit of the blame on me in order not to piss off his core audience, but it is a nice graphic illustration of Scilons attaching negative labels to anything wog. And that logical fallacy is covered in the poster.

      • Eclipse-girl

        I have been impressed with Mike. As much as Indies are main readers of his blog, he usually corrects them when there facts are wrong.

  • KJP in Portland

    Is that an actual poster? If not, someone should print and sell it. I’d like to have that against my wall fro our salesmen to go through.

    I’m saving this particular page. There are some finer points that I missed over (1) a Navy enlistment, (2) a college education, and (3) 28 years of slaving away in accounting.

    Thank you, John. You shared a good one here.

    • John P.

      Look at the bottom of their home page. You can buy a paper one in ultra-high resolution color.

      • KJP in Portland

        Thank you, John.

      • Eclipse-girl

        Just bought 2. One for me, and one for my daughter.

  • FromPolandWithLove

    Poster IS GREAT. Thank You very much John P :), unfortunately smaller text is difficult to read. I have to look for version with higher resolution.

    • John P.

      Go to the site and you might be able to do better.

  • Casabeca

    I am thrilled that you love this poster too.
    We have a lot of fun with it here in the desert, but it has never attracted a supermodel here either.
    Cheers to the lovers of learning and logic!

  • aegerprimo

    Love the logical fallacies poster! I found it for sale on Amazon, and ordered a copy to hang in my study room next to my human anatomy posters.

    http://www.amazon.com/Shalt-Commit-Logical-Fallacies-Poster/dp/B007XKZ7NA/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1385427620&sr=8-1&keywords=logical+fallacies+poster

  • WhereIsSHE

    Ann Coulter is going to acuse you of making a WAR on HER OWN, PERSONAL (IDAHO) CHRISTMAS now (since you just posted her entire strategy–LOGICAL FALLACIES– on the INTERNETS for ANY ONE OF US TO USE)!
    Oh Noes!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Love this one, JP..
    Don’t put a fish on our plate; teach us how to f-ing CATCH A FISH!
    (OK-=-not literally, but… hopefully that translated well enough.)

  • bAnon

    Just gonna argue for some lulz. Completely illogical, but yet, so much caek!

  • Swiss Guy (not from Sweden)

    Dear John,
    I love it. Will print out the poster in A3 andPost it in my office. perhaps I’ll get somebody to translate it into German.
    Also I intend to discuss 1 point per meeting with my staff.
    I’ ve to confess as being a registrar and fsm for decades I was using those points in the opposite sense to sell. sell, sell……
    It’s also a good manual for to cheat your brethren .
    It makes much more sense then the way to hapiness , which isn’t too bad.
    Sad but true.
    I love your discussions of Logic, Science, Philosopy, Pr, Marketing and Economy. You are quite an eye opener for people that firmly believe in admin tech.
    I didn’t know after 35 years in (started at 15) that the wog world has somuch powerful knowledge and it’s sad I never had the chance to ghet an education, as I thought I got all needed knowledge in the RCS.
    Have a nice day.

  • John Smith

    John P first thanks for the new blog your round ups are appriciated.

    Talking of logical falacies is of interest too me as I spend alot of time knocking arounf in the Skeptical movement with un interest in debunking pseudoscientific claims.

    It seem that old Elron was one of the biggest pseudoscientists in history!

    Anyway I have read a new book recently that I feel wouldinterest the world of Scientology watching it is called,Manual For Creating Athiest by Peter Boghossian and is an excellent read into how to talk to people and help them think more rationally and hopefully come to realise that (insert any faith based belief system) is not the best way to look at the world and make desisions.

    It may be particually useful when talking with Clams.

    There are some mentions of Scientology in the book too.

    Heres a link

    http://www.amazon.co.uk/Manual-Creating-Atheists-Michael-Shermer/dp/1939578094#reader_B00GAPJJVU

  • Anonymous

    A useful compendium…thanks for sourcing this!