Are You Guilty of These Thinking Errors?

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Now that we are in the countdown stage before the next Federal Election it might be fun (or not), to spot some of the errors in logical reasoning that are used in political campaigns. This goes beyond merely disliking attack ads to examining errors in basic logical thinking skills.

Of course, these errors are not found ONLY in political advertising; they appear in the business world and in conversations where one person or group attempts to convince another. Of course none of YOU could be guilty of falling into any of the traps below, but you might want to keep this on hand in case you need it during your next family argument!

Here then, in no particular order, are some of the more common errors you may encounter:

Ad Hominem–Attacking the individual instead of the argument. Instead of addressing the issue, people use name calling or personal attacks. Example: He doesn’t even have a college education so what can he know about running a city? Remember, even a broken clock is correct twice a day. Politicians use this frequently as they personally attack their opponent rather than explain what is problematic with their platform. In business we discount an idea because of its source – “What would she know – she’s only an admin!”

Bandwagon appeal – suggesting that everyone is doing it and if you don’t follow suit the parade will pass you by. Children seem intuitively to understand this approach “But, Mom, all my friends are going”. Try to remember your mother’s answer: “If everybody jumped off the cliff would you jump off too?” This approach caters to our need to be social and part of a group and to be suspicious of anyone who doesn’t fit in. Quoting the latest favourable poll is a common way to get people to support a candidate. After all, you don’t want to support a loser, do you?

Either-Or – suggesting that there are only two possibilities (and usually one of them is horrendously awful) so you will pick the one they want you to choose. Example: “We don’t have a revenue problem; we have a spending problem”. Isn’t it possible that we have both?

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Glittering Generalities – attempt to persuade by presenting vague slogans or emotional appeals. Remember “Breakfast of Champions?” Some athlete was paid big bucks to endorse this cereal with the implication that this food would make you a champion (rather than hard work, perseverance, skills, etc.) Today? Just look at all the training programs that promise that you will become a great leader for example. Be very skeptical when you see or heard political advertisements that use emotionally charged words.

Slippery Slope – the belief that one small bad action will inevitably lead to another, larger one. A friend of mine who taught ethics in policing used this argument to illustrate the supposedly inevitable progression from minor to major crimes. An officer begins with accepting a free cup of coffee then moves to accepting a free meal, then to accepting stolen goods and to eventually running a criminal enterprise out of the back of his squad car.

Non Sequitur Errors – the argument doesn’t logically follow from the facts that are presented. This is commonly seen when people quote the Bible or some other religious book as a justification for a point of view or behaviour. “It says in the Bible that . . . “ (this is the factual part since they can show you the text) but they continue to use the words to assert the truth to justify some current point of view. If it appears in the Bible then the truth is that it appears in the Bible.

Questionable Authority – using either an unspecified “expert” or someone who is an expert in one field to justify a point of view in a field where s/he is not an expert. Example: “Experts predict that the world’s major cities will be inundated by changing sea levels in 20 years.” And just who are these experts and what data do they base their claims on? Too often people just throw in the phrase, “Experts say” without really having any real experts to quote. Lying and making up facts is not a logical fallacy, it is lying. There are some categories that are especially pernicious – for example, Economists. Which Economists are being referenced and what is their track record? You know what they say about economists – if you laid all the economists in the world end to end they still wouldn’t reach a conclusion!

And by now, you should be asking yourself, “Just who are they an what do they have to gain abut saying this?”

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