Fallacies, Fallacies, Everywhere!

Sometimes I get stuck in a conversation with someone who is making piss-poor arguments, and I just want to shoot ’em all down. Sometimes I don’t get a chance to do this because I can’t get a word in edge-wise, or because I’m not quick enough on my feet that day to identify the particular BS being spouted. I have a lot of respect for people who can dissect an argument into its components and separate the bogus from the the valid points. This is a skill – a learnable skill – that can take discussions to the next level and allow topics to be examined rationally.

Evan Bernstein from the Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe recently responded to a fabulously fallacious and nonsensical email from a listener on the SGU blog, The Rogue’s Gallery. First Evan presents the email in its entirety, then proceeds to break it down one sentence at a time. This is an epic response, and I wanted to share with all of you.

“I don’t like your attitude on the show. You said the Chem-trails are not real. I have seen them myself and have taken many pictures. I have also seen footage of a weatherman in Oregon saying that the military was doing experiments and laying the chem-trails. Why would you be so sure that they are not real. Who are you?? A bunch of snotty punks that never leave your office? I bet the whole show is there to make real people who seek real truth; look stupid. The “experts” like you claim to be, lie all the fucking time; and so do the people on your show. Thats why you dont have the guts to put up a phone number for calls. I bet you are funded by the goverment, or drug companies or something. No normal people are so arrogant. You are not the “experts” of anything, except lies.”

Wow, that’s quite an email.  Allow me to reply one sentence at a time.

 “I don’t like your attitude on the show.” 

Unsubscribe.

“You said the Chem-trails are not real.”

Yes.

“I have seen them myself and have taken many pictures.” 

 You saw contrails, not “chem-trails”.

“I have also seen footage of a weatherman in Oregon saying that the military was doing experiments and laying the chem-trails.” 

Argument From Authority (a very poor one, to boot) 

“Why would you be so sure that they are not real.” 

Evidence, lack thereof.

Who are you??

I see where the question mark from the prior “question” went.  

 A bunch of snotty punks that never leave your office?”

Ad Hominem.

“I bet the whole show is there to make real people who seek real truth; look stupid.”

Only those who regularly botch their punctuation.

The “experts” like you claim to be, lie all the fucking time; and so do the people on your show.

Asshole Fallacy.

“Thats why you dont have the guts to put up a phone number for calls.”

(212) 384-1000

“I bet you are funded by the goverment, or drug companies or something.”

Something.

“No normal people are so arrogant.”

(Fill in your own thought, I really have no idea what this means.)

“You are not the “experts” of anything, except lies.”

Lies indeed, especially exposing the people who spout and regurgitate them.

See? EPIC. Not that this response would make any difference to the listener, but sometimes it’s enough to examine the message, deconstruct it, realize that there’s nothing you could say to make a difference, and move on with your life.

I think I’ve mentioned this before, but the Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe was my gateway drug into skepticism back in late 2009. My sister recommended the SGU podcast for its laid-back presentation of science and critical thought. And it is laid-back. This isn’t a hard-core science podcast; there is a sharp focus on skepticism and rationality (of which science and evidence play a huge part).

Listening to SGU renewed my interest in recognizing logical fallacies, and has even pushed me outside of my normal biology and medicine comfort zones to explore cosmology, physics and robotics. Each show has several regular weekly sections and the rest is a bunch of unscripted bantering between the five hosts. I describe it to newbies as a nerdier version of NPR’s Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me! If this sounds like your gig, check it out The Skeptics Guide to the Universe on iTunes.

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231 thoughts on “Fallacies, Fallacies, Everywhere!

  1. 1

    I don’t consider myself a skeptic, but I do indeed enjoy analyzing something from all possible angles. A class I’m taking right now is focused on analyzing arguments as well. I love how you broke this down and responded to each point. I also loved that you showed his argument had no real basis in a more, “professional” manner than the person who sent the email. 🙂

    I’ve really been enjoying your posts! Keep up the awesome writing! Hugs!

  2. 2

    While I’m familiar with a lot of the common fallacies,but I need to get acquainted with more of them. Ever since I’m learned of them I was shocked to see how common they really are. Definitely going to have to check this podcast out.

    On a related note, I’ve heard the term “doubling down” tossed around a lot with regards to argument but I cannot find what it means outside of blackjack. Anyone able to help me out?

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