Caution: It is vitally important not to make connections. When you see pictures of rubble like this week’s shots from Joplin, Mo., you should not wonder: Is this somehow related to the tornado outbreak three weeks ago in Tuscaloosa, Ala., or the enormous outbreak a couple of weeks before that (which, together, comprised the most active April for tornadoes in U.S. history). No, that doesn’t mean a thing.
It is far better to think of these as isolated, unpredictable, discrete events. It is not advisable to try to connect them in your mind with, say, the fires burning across Texas — fires that have burned more of America at this point this year than any wildfires have in previous years. Texas, and adjoining parts of Oklahoma and New Mexico, are drier than they’ve ever been — the drought is worse than that of the Dust Bowl. But do not wonder if they’re somehow connected.
If you did wonder, you see, you would also have to wonder about whether this year’s record snowfalls and rainfalls across the Midwest — resulting in record flooding along the Mississippi — could somehow be related. And then you might find your thoughts wandering to, oh, global warming, and to the fact that climatologists have been predicting for years that as we flood the atmosphere with carbon we will also start both drying and flooding the planet, since warm air holds more water vapor than cold air.
It’s far smarter to repeat to yourself the comforting mantra that no single weather event can ever be directly tied to climate change.
[Photo: Charlie Riedel]
Read it at Washington Post.
Posts tagged reason.
Common fallacies of logic and rhetoric
- Ad hominem - attacking the arguer and not the argument.
- Argument from “authority”.
- Argument from adverse consequences (putting pressure on the decision maker by pointing out dire consequences of an “unfavourable” decision).
- Appeal to ignorance (absence of evidence is not evidence of absence).
- Special pleading (typically referring to god’s will).
- Begging the question (assuming an answer in the way the question is phrased).
- Observational selection (counting the hits and forgetting the misses).
- Statistics of small numbers (such as drawing conclusions from inadequate sample sizes).
- Misunderstanding the nature of statistics (President Eisenhower expressing astonishment and alarm on discovering that fully half of all Americans have below average intelligence!)
- Inconsistency (e.g. military expenditures based on worst case scenarios but scientific projections on environmental dangers thriftily ignored because they are not “proved”).
- Non sequitur - “it does not follow” - the logic falls down.
- Post hoc, ergo propter hoc - “it happened after so it was caused by” - confusion of cause and effect.
- Meaningless question (“what happens when an irresistible force meets an immovable object?).
- Excluded middle - considering only the two extremes in a range of possibilities (making the “other side” look worse than it really is).
- Short-term v. long-term - a subset of excluded middle (“why pursue fundamental science when we have so huge a budget deficit?”).
- Slippery slope - a subset of excluded middle - unwarranted extrapolation of the effects (give an inch and they will take a mile).
- Confusion of correlation and causation.
- Straw man - caricaturing (or stereotyping) a position to make it easier to attack.
- Suppressed evidence or half-truths.
- Weasel words - for example, use of euphemisms for war such as “police action” to get around limitations on Presidential powers. “An important art of politicians is to find new names for institutions which under old names have become odious to the public”
These are great to know. Learn ‘em, practice detecting ‘em, read Demon Haunted World if you haven’t yet.
“The word ‘mundane’ has come to mean boring and dull, and it really shouldn’t. It should mean the opposite because it comes from the latin ‘mundus’, meaning the world, and the world is anything but dull; the world is wonderful. There’s real poetry in the real world. Science is the poetry of reality.“
- Richard Dawkins, ‘Enemies of Reason: Slaves to Superstition’.
The major religions on the Earth contradict each other left and right. You can’t all be correct. And what if all of you are wrong? It’s a possibility, you know. You must care about the truth, right? Well, the way to winnow through all the differing contentions is to be skeptical. I’m not any more skeptical about your religious beliefs than I am about every new scientific idea I hear about. But in my line of work, they’re called hypotheses, not inspiration and not revelation.
Contradictions in the Bible, commissioned by Sam Harris for his nonprofit foundation Project Reason, with graphic design by Andy Marlow. The bars that run along the bottom of the visualization represent the 1189 chapters in the Bible, with the length of each bar corresponding to the number of verses in each chapter. White bars represent the Old Testament and grey bars represent the New Testament. Each red arc indicates a contradiction.