In July 2009, Danish psychic/dowser Connie Sonne was given the chance to prove her claimed dowsing ability in the One Million Dollar Paranormal Challenge offered by the James Randi Educational Foundation. She was asked to dowse some randomly selected cards hidden in envelopes and lost the challenge by selecting other incorrect ones. In an interview afterward, she insisted that she lost merely because, “…it wasn’t time yet for my powers to be revealed.”
The ad hoc fallacy is not strictly an error of logic. Instead, it a fallacious rhetorical tactic in which a person presents a new explanation that is unjustified or simply unreasonable, in an attempt to rescue their original claim after evidence that contradicts it has emerged.
The Latin phrase “ad hoc” is literally translated as meaning “to this”. It refers to an idea or solution that is intended for a specific use, and not for any other uses. An ad hoc explanation is specifically constructed to be used in a particular case and is created hastily at the moment rather than being the result of deliberate, fact-based reasoning.
Another example encountered by skeptical investigators is as follows. This is a typical conversation between a supposed psychic who claims to be able to read minds and a skeptic.
Skeptic: “If you’re psychic then tell me what number I am thinking of”
Psychic: “My powers don’t work in the presence of skeptics.”
In this example, the fallacious tactic is pretty obvious. The response that their powers don’t work around skeptics is clearly a ridiculous explanation, and it’s an explanation that one would never accept unless one was already convinced that the person was a psychic. Further, it makes it impossible to discredit them no matter how fraudulent they actually are (a lack of falsifiability is a hallmark of ad hoc fallacies).
The March for Science is a celebration of our passion for science and a call to support and safeguard the scientific community. Recent policy changes have caused heightened worry among scientists, and the incredible and immediate outpouring of support has made clear that these concerns are also shared by hundreds of thousands of people around the world. The mischaracterization of science as a partisan issue, which has given policymakers permission to reject overwhelming evidence, is a critical and urgent matter. It is time for people who support scientific research and evidence-based policies to take a public stand and be counted.
ON APRIL 22, 2017, WE WALK OUT OF THE LAB AND INTO THE STREETS.
We are scientists and science enthusiasts. We come from all races, all religions, all gender identities, all sexual orientations, all abilities, all socioeconomic backgrounds, all political perspectives, and all nationalities. Our diversity is our greatest strength: a wealth of opinions, perspectives, and ideas is critical for the scientific process. What unites us is a love of science, and an insatiable curiosity. We all recognize that science is everywhere and affects everyone.
Science is often an arduous process, but it is also thrilling. A universal human curiosity and dogged persistence is the greatest hope for the future. This movement cannot and will not end with a march. Our plans for policy change and community outreach will start with marches worldwide and a teach-in at the National Mall, but it is imperative that we continue to celebrate and defend science at all levels – from local schools to federal agencies – throughout the world.
MARCH WITH US
The March for Science is an international movement, led by organizers distributed around the globe. This movement is taking place because of the simultaneous realization by thousands of scientists, and science enthusiasts that that staying silent is no longer an option. There are marches being planned across the United States and internationally.
We encourage everyone to follow to local organizers to stay updated, and reach out if you want to help!
I’ve harped on this for a while, so I don’t need to do it again. Instead, I’ll let someone else do it for me.
Most of you, if you’ve read the news, know that the Labour Party in Britain is in trouble, having expelled several members for anti-Semitic comments, some of those comments pretty vile. In an op-ed in today’s New York Times, “The British Left’s ‘Jewish Problem,’” English writer Kenan Malik analyzes the issue. I’m not going to add much value to the quotes I’ll give, so you’ll probably want to read the whole piece, especially the second and third paragraphs below (my emphasis):
Yet neither the cynicism nor the hypocrisy should distract us from the problem of anti-Semitism — not just in the Labour Party, but on the political left more generally. It is not that the left is packed with anti-Semites; rather, too many among them have…
It’s distressing that this rampant borrowing of foods, clothing, hairstyles, and behaviors from their proper cultures isn’t merely done, but done without acknowledging the oppression that historically weighed on the offended groups. The fact that General Tso’s chicken, for instance, is not a real Chinese dish should not distract us from the fact that it’s regularly enjoyed by Westerners wholly ignorant of the atrocities committed by the Japanese on the Chinese during World War II.
But one oppressed group has been the victim of rampant cultural appropriation without…
Belief in a flat Earth seems a bit like the attempt to eradicate polio – just when you think it’s gone, a pocket of resistance appears. But the “flat Earthers” have always been with us; it’s just that they usually operate under the radar of public awareness.
Now the rapper B.o.B has given the idea prominence through his tweets and the release of his single Flatline, in which he not only says the Earth is flat, but mixes in a slew of other weird and wonderful ideas.
These include the notions that the world is controlled by lizard people, that certain celebrities are cloned, that Freemasons manipulate our lives, that the sun revolves around the Earth and that the Illuminati control the new world order. Not bad for one song.
Even ignoring that these ideas are inconsistent (are we run by lizards, the Freemansons or the Illuminati?), what would inspire such a plethora of delusions? The answer is both straightforward, in that it is reasonably clear in psychological terms, and problematic, in that it can be hard to fix.
Making our own narratives
Humans are, above all things, story-telling animals. It is impossible to live our lives without constructing narratives. I could not present a word pair such as (cage, bird) without you joining them in a narrative or image. Same with (guitar, hand) or (river, bridge). Even when we read seemingly unrelated word pairs such as (pensioner, wardrobe), our brains actively try to match the two (and you’re still doing it).
The stories that define us as a culture, a group or as a species are often complex and multifaceted. They speak of many things, including creation, nature, community and progress.
We create stories for two reasons. The first is to provide explanatory power, to make causal sense of the world around us and help navigate through the landscapes of our lives. The second reason is to give us meaning and purpose.
Not only do we understand our world through stories, we understand our place in it. The stories can be religious, cultural or scientific, but serve the same purpose.
Our stories make sense of the world. The Elders/flickr
In science, our stories are developed over time and build on the work of others. The narrative of evolution, for example, provides breathtaking explanatory power. Without it, the world is simply a kaleidoscope of form and colour. With it, each organism has function and purpose.
Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution.
Through evolution, we have developed an understanding of how we fit into the scheme of life, and the vast and deep history of our planet. For many of us, this knowledge provides meaning and an appreciation of the fact of our existence.
Similarly, the story of our solar system’s formation is rich and compelling, and includes the explanation for why the Earth is, in fact, more or less spherical.
So why would someone reject all this?
One reason might be that accepting mainstream scientific findings necessitates rejecting an existing narrative. Such is the case for evolution within fundamentalist interpretations of the Bible.
For the literally religious, accepting evolution necessitates rejecting their world view. It is not about weighing scientific evidence, it is about maintaining the coherence and integrity of their narrative. The desperate and unsuccessful search for evidence to contradict evolution by young Earth creationists is a manifestation of this attempt at ideological purification.
Another reason to reject scientific narratives is that we feel we do not have meaning within them, or we do not belong to the community that created them.
As I’ve said elsewhere concerning conspiracy theories, in a world in which there is so much knowledge, and in which we individually hold so little of it, it is sometimes difficult to see ourselves as significant.
What’s more, science, it turns out, is hard. So if we want to own this narrative, it might take a bit of work.
Freedom from rationality
It is therefore tempting to find a way of thinking about the world that both dismisses the necessity of coming to grips with science, and restores us to a privileged social position.
Rejecting science and embracing an alternative view, such as the Earth being flat, moves the individual from the periphery of knowledge and understanding to a privileged position among those who know the “truth”.
In BoB’s lyrics, he calls himself “free thinking”. In this phrasing we see a glimpse of the warrant he gives himself to reject science, considering it a “cult”.
He appeals instead to his common sense to establish that the Earth must be flat. The appeal to common sense is a characteristic way of claiming to be rational while denying the collective rationality of the scientific community (and a typical argument in climate denial).
It’s also about recapturing a feeling of independence and control. We know from research that there is a correlation between feeling a lack of control in your life and belief in conspiracy theories.
If we can rise above the tide of mainstream thinking and find a place from which we can hold a unique and controversial view, we might hope to be more significant and find a purpose to which we can lend our talents.
Coming back from the edge
So how could we engage someone with such beliefs, with view to changing their minds? That’s no easy task, but two things are important.
The first is to have both the facts and their means of verification at hand – after all, you need something to point to. Sometimes, if the narrative is weak or in tension, that might do the job.
The second thing, because facts are often not enough, is to understand the style and depth of the narrative an individual has developed, and the reasons it’s developed as it has. It’s only from that point that progress can be made against otherwise intractable opposition to collective wisdom.
But why bother? Why not let rappers rap, preachers preach and deniers deny? It might seem that we are just dealing with a fringe on the edge of the rational (or literal) world. But, of course, in the case of things such as vaccination and climate change, the consequences of inaction against these views are potentially damaging.
Either way, we should at least stand up for knowledge that has been hard won through collective endeavours over generations and individual lives dedicated to its pursuit.
Because if all views are equal then all views are worthless, and that’s something none of us should accept.
Confirmation bias, also called myside bias, is the tendency to search for, interpret, favor, and recall information in a way that confirms one’s beliefs or hypotheses while giving disproportionately less attention to information that contradicts it. It is a type of cognitive bias and a systematic error of inductive reasoning. People display this bias when they gather or remember information selectively, or when they interpret it in a biased way. The effect is stronger for emotionally charged issues and for deeply entrenched beliefs.
People also tend to interpret ambiguous evidence as supporting their existing position. Biased search, interpretation and memory have been invoked to explain attitude polarization (when a disagreement becomes more extreme even though the different parties are exposed to the same evidence), belief perseverance (when beliefs persist after the evidence for them is shown to be false), the irrational primacy effect (a greater reliance on information encountered early in a series) and illusory correlation (when people falsely perceive an association between two events or situations).
Argument to moderation (Latin: argumentum ad temperantiam) is an informal fallacy which asserts that the truth can be found as a compromise between two opposite positions. It is also known as the argument from middle ground, false compromise, grey fallacy and the golden mean fallacy. It is effectively an inverse false dilemma, discarding both of two opposites in favour of a middle position. It is related to, but different from the false balance fallacy.
An individual demonstrating this fallacy implies that the positions being considered represent extremes of a continuum of opinions, that such extremes are always wrong, and the middle ground is always correct. This is not necessarily the case.
The form of the fallacy goes like this:
Premise: There is a choice to make between doing X or doing Y.
Conclusion: Therefore, the answer is somewhere between X and Y.
This argument is invalid because the conclusion does not logically follow from the premise. Sometimes only X or Y is right or true, with no middle ground possible.
To give an example of this fallacy:
‘The fact that one is confronted with an individual who strongly argues that slavery is wrong and another who argues equally strongly that slavery is perfectly legitimate in no way suggests that the truth must be somewhere in the middle.’
Another example is:
’You say the sky is blue, while I say the sky is red. Therefore, the best solution is to compromise and agree that the sky is purple.’
This fallacy is sometimes used in rhetorical debates to undermine an opponent’s position. All one must do is present yet another, radically opposed position, and the middle-ground compromise will be forced closer to that position. In pragmatic politics, this is part of the basis behind the Overton window theory.
In US politics this fallacy is known as ‘High Broderism’ after David Broder, a columnist and reporter for the Washington Post who insisted, against all reason, that the best policy was always the middle ground between the Republicans and the Democrats.
Related to this fallacy is design by committee, which is a disparaging term used to describe a project that has many designers involved but no unifying plan or vision, often resulting in a negotiated compromise; as illustrated by the aphorism ‘A camel is a horse designed by a committee’. The point is that a negotiated compromise is not necessarily true, right or even the optimal outcome. This does not mean that a negotiated compromise may not be appropriate in some cases.
 Susan T. Gardner (2009).Thinking Your Way to Freedom: A Guide to Owning Your Own Practical Reasoning. Temple University Press.
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In some ways the False equivalence fallacy is the direct opposite of a False dilemma.
False equivalence is an informal fallacy that describes a situation where there is an apparent similarity between two things, but in fact they are not equivalent. The two things may share some common characteristics, but they have important differences that are overlooked for the purposes of the argument.
The pattern of the fallacy often looks like this: if A has characteristics c and d, and B has characteristics d and e, then since they both have characteristic d, A and B are equivalent. In practice, often only a passing similarity is required between A and B for this fallacy to be committed.
The following statements are examples of false equivalence:
‘They’re both soft, cuddly pets. There’s no difference between a cat and a dog.’
‘We all bleed red. We’re all no different from each other.’
‘Hitler, Stalin and Mao were evil atheists; therefore all atheists are evil.’
A more complex example is where somebody claims that more Australians are killed by sharks or road accidents than by terrorism, therefore we should not do anything to stop terrorism. This example ignores the fact that terrorist acts are prevented by doing something, such as surveillance and intelligence. We also choose to take the risks of swimming in the ocean and driving in cars, but we cannot avoid the risk of terrorism no matter what we do.
False equivalence is occasionally claimed in politics, where one political party will accuse their opponents of having performed equally wrong actions, usually as a red herring in an attempt to deflect criticism of their own behaviour. Two wrongs don’t make a right.
On the other hand, politicians might accuse journalists of False equivalence in their reporting of political controversies if the stories are perceived to assign equal blame to opposing parties. However, False equivalence should not be confused with False balance – the media phenomenon of presenting two sides of an argument equally in disregard of the merit or evidence on a subject (a form of argument to moderation).
Moral equivalence is a special case of False equivalence where it is falsely claimed, often for ideological motives, that both sides are equally to blame for a war or other international conflict. The historical evidence shows that this is rarely the case.
Another special case of False equivalence is Political correctness, which may be defined as language, ideas, policies, or behavior that seeks to minimise social offence in relation to occupational, gender, racial, cultural, sexual orientation, certain other religions, beliefs or ideologies, disability, and age-related contexts, to an excessive extent thus inhibiting free speech.
Moral equivalence is a form of equivocation often used in political debates. It seeks to draw comparisons between different, even unrelated things, to make a point that one is just as bad as the other or just as good as the other. Drawing a moral equivalence in this way is an informal fallacy, a special case of False equivalence.
A common manifestation of this fallacy is a claim, often made for ideological motives, that both sides are equally to blame for a war or other international conflict. Historical analyses show that this is rarely the case. Wars are usually started by one side militarily attacking the other, or mass murdering non-combatants, with or without provocation from the other side.
Some specific examples of this fallacy are as follows:
Claiming neither side in World War II was morally superior because of the British firebombing of Dresden in Germany, or the US atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan. This is despite the fact that Germany started the war in Europe and Japan started the war in the Pacific. Whilst the morality of the British fire bombing of Dresden is questionable, the aim of the US atomic bombings was to force Japan to surrender, without the necessity of a land invasion in which millions of people were expected to die on both sides. The purpose was to end World War II as opposed to starting it.
Drawing a moral equivalence between 9/11 and U.S. policy in the Middle East, thereby attempting to justify or excuse the 9/11 atrocities against innocent non-combatants.
Drawing a moral equivalence between the Holocaust and Israeli actions toward the Palestinians.
PETA drawing a moral equivalence between the consumption of meat and the Holocaust in an ad campaign.
The excuse that slavery in the southern United States wasn’t so bad because some slaves were treated better than workers in northern factories and company towns — or the counter-use of the same examples, that conditions during the early Industrial Revolution were not that bad because the people were at least free to choose their jobs, unlike under slavery.
An early populariser of the expression was Jeane Kirkpatrick, who was United States ambassador to the United Nations in the Reagan administration. Kirkpatrick published an article called The Myth of Moral Equivalence in 1986, which sharply criticized those who she alleged were claiming that there was ‘no moral difference’ between the Soviet Union and democratic states.
 Kirkpatrick, Jeane. ‘The Myth of Moral Equivalence’, Imprimis January 1986, Vol. 15, No.1.