Afternoon Inquisition 11.5

Election craziness is finally behind us! What on earth will cable news even talk about anymore? More woo is my guess. We’ll have more blog material than we’ll have time to write about, I’m sure. But that’s not the question today.


Let’s end this poltical season with some logical fallacy fun! 


Politcal campaigns are rife with logically fallacious arguments. Some are fun to pick apart, some are so awful you can’t bang your head against your desk hard enough to knock the newly-implanted stupid out of it. But you’ve got to have some favorites. So…

What are your favorite logical fallacies? Which ones do you like to use yourself? Which are your favorite to refute.


Elyse MoFo Anders is the bad ass behind forming the Women Thinking, inc and the superhero who launched the Hug Me! I'm Vaccinated campaign as well as podcaster emeritus, writer, slacktivist extraordinaire, cancer survivor and sometimes runs marathons for charity. You probably think she's awesome so you follow her on twitter.

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  1. My favorite depends on my mood, but right now it’s over-generalization. I have a family member who does this all of the time “oh, Group X does Y because I knew person A who belonged to group X and he did Y! So there, it’s an open-and shut case!”

    I would then ask if he owned a gun (he did), and would accuse him of being a highway sniper. After all A person who owned a gun was a highway sniper in Virginia, therefore my relative must be a highway sniper as well due to his gun onwership.

    He didn’t find it funny, but was remarkably good at spotting hte logical fallacy only when it was applied to him.

    Oh well.

  2. My favorites to debunk are post hoc ergo propter hoc (PHEPH) and ad hominem. I see a lot of PHEPH when people start discussing alternative medical treatments, and the like. I actually see a lot of ad hominem attacks from the skeptical community. Calling your ideological opponents names is an easy trap to fall into. I try to avoid it most of the time, but even I’m not immune.

  3. My favorite specific example from this round was:

    Large, very complicated machine used to project an (approximately) accurate map of the universe on a huge dome as an educational tool in hourly showings for hundreds of people == “overhead projector”.

    I just don’t know where to begin. (By that reasoning, Palin’s ‘wardrobe upgrade’ should have been a couple of judiciously placed pieces of tape.)

    Actual amount paid for astronomy education: 0$. Amount to upgrade Palin’s wardrobe: $150,000. Loss of credibility: Priceless.

  4. My “favourite” is probably what’s sometimes called “appeal to consequence.” As in, If God doesn’t exist then aren’t we all doomed to amorality and chaos? Of course, you could just answer “No” and explain why, but I think it’s better to point out that any real or imagined consequences of something being true doesn’t make that thing true (or false).

    Or something like that. I was up late last night, hoping to hear Al Franken got elected. Not enough sleep. Hope the above made sense.

  5. I think everyone loves committing non-sequiturs. You can tell because of how popular Wikipedia is these days.

  6. By far, Slippery Slope.

    I mean, I hate it. …But that’s what you meant, right?

    Strawman is a close second. And I mean Stawman, not Ad Hom. I can stand the later (who cares?)… but attacking the weakest point just seems… lame.

    For “coolest name”, I would have to give it to “Loki’s Gambit” or “No True Scotsman”! : )

    Which do I use myself?

    Appeal to Ridicule, clearly. [wink at Rebecca]

    Composition, Division, Conspiracy Theory, Equivocation, In a Certain Respect and Simply. These are hard to avoid when arguing for feminist points.

    False Compromise. I usually end up here.

    Personal Inconsistency. I change my mind a lot. That comes with skepticism, doesn’t it?

    Social Conformance. I use it a lot here on Skepchick, anyway.

    …When it comes to morals, Wishful Thinking. Like I just said in another thread, there are some things that are beneficial in the long term, but in the short term, strike me as amoral… but I refuse to let that convince me that the argument is sound. So there.

    So, yeah, I have a broad array of fallacies in my argumentative repertoire.

    I don’t like refuting any fallacies. : \ People are often just trying to make a point, and I hate to say that their point is invalid because they’ve fallen for a fallacy. I’d rather just nod and say “I see your point, but…”

    Alas, as we’ve established before, being a skeptic means sometimes being an asshole.

  7. @CdnYaksman: Wikipedia would enlighten… but let me see if I can get this right from memory.

    So, Loki’s partying with some Dwarves. He’s heavy in the gambling, right? So he’s playing Aunt Delvin’s Beard, which is kinda like craps, see, but instead of pairs you’ve gotta avoid sequential numbers, and Loki’s all about craps, so despite his divine wits, he keeps screwing up his betting. Things aren’t going well, and after a half-dozen hands (and half as many Dwarven Ales), Loki’s down. WAY down. Like, he’s gunna spend the next few years washing dishes, down.

    And he’s all impetuant and peeved and bets the Dwarves that he’ll win the next hand, and they’re all like “you ain’t good for it, cough it up”, and–Loki’s all egotistical, right?–so he goes: “Yo, I’ll let you take my head if I don’t roll a 7 next.” …And the Dwarves are all “sheee-YEAH”, but on the inside, ’cause they’re all “Ho-o-o-o-kay, if you insist”. It’s rumored that the heads of Norse gods are worth serious bucks on the Elven black market, so they’re thinking they can make good.

    So, Loki rolls, and trys to pull some of that god-like mumbo-jumbo, but that’s really just smoke and mirrors, you know: mostly bunk, so though the dice almost show a seven, they’re totally 4-5, which means he’s lost. His head.

    The Dwarves are all hootin’ and hollerin’ like hooded hoodlems who picked up a straggler after an Obama rally. One of them’s going and grabbing an axe right? And Loki’s all, “yeah, yeah, I suppose you’re right, you can have my head.”

    But he’s all slick, right? He says: “‘Kay, dudes: you can totally have my head, but you can’t have even a little bit of my neck. Kay?”

    And they’re all thoughtful-like, looking like they have a clue, and nodding among themselves, saying, “Yeah, yeah, I guess that’s fair. Deklin, gimme that axe, yo.”

    So Loki lifts his hair and one of the Dwarves takes a look and he says, “M’kay, the neck starts here.” But another Dwarf is like “Yo, dude, you’re messed up: that’s still part of his head. Neck starts there.” Right?

    So they go on like this for hours: neck there, head here… yadda yadda, none of them agree. And Loki says, “Okay, guys, I’ll totally be back–you can have my head–but this is, you know, totally boring, so I’m just gunna go hit the clubs while you guys figure this out. Here’s my number. Call me when you’ve got it down, kay?”

    And the Dwarves grumble a bit, but kinda shrug and say “yeah, that’s fair. We’ll call you.”

    And they’ve been arguing about it, like, EVER SINCE. Losers.

    So: Loki’s Gambit is when you argue that you can’t take some position ’cause you don’t where that one begins and another one ends.

  8. Dodds Corollary to Godwin’s Law (wikipedia, emphasis added):

    “When debating a particular subject, if a comparison or implied connection is drawn between the opponent’s argument and Hitler and the Nazi Party, the maker of that statement is automatically discredited and the debate is automatically lost by the person or group who referenced the connection to Hitler or the Nazis.”

  9. False Dichotomy is my favorite because when I say that phrase I can see their eyes glaze over. Then I get to explain what it means. As an added bonus, its fun to say: False Dichotomy, False Dichotomy, False Dichotomy, False Dichotomy, False Dichotomy.

  10. @JRice: Crap, that really means something? I thought you were just putting random words together that sounded cool. Well done.

  11. Calling your ideological opponents names is an easy trap to fall into.

    Calling someone stupid is not a logical fallacy. Saying that someone is wrong because they’re stupid is.

    As for my favorite to debunk. I dunno. Maybe the No True Scotsman fallacy, just because it’s so stupid. But really i’m proud any time i can manage to point out any of them being used. Hanging around stupid people gives me lots of practice.

    I think the false continuum might be one i use too often. I know Penn Jillette uses it a lot. He claims that because the difference between 2 things is subtle that there’s really no difference at all. I may do that too.

  12. Personally, I don’t appreciate logical fallacies imbedded in loaded questions, because I often tend to miss them … Girlfriends are very good at doing this … Does anyone remember the infamous commercial, where the girlfriend asks:

    “Which of my friends would you most want to sleep with?”

    (For the record, I think I would catch myself before attempting to answer that one, although I would be just as tempted to express myself sarcastically to point out another logical fallacy – “Why just one?”)

  13. Non sequitur is definitely the best.

    Why, you ask?

    Because Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs were not in “The Brave Little Toaster,” no matter what your brother-in-law says.

    Oh, and Snausages. Many, many Snausages.

  14. I love logical fallacy hunting… my fave
    Tu quoque:

    She can’t get on my case for taking candies from the bin, she’s been filling her purse every night!

    //this is my first comment btw//

  15. I meant to say, “Why do I have to choose just one?” … Anyway, I think I need to make some other logically questionable statements … How about declaring your significant other to be “Girlfriend of the Millenium” before January 1, 2100?

  16. @TheSkepticalMale: In my case, the answer to “Why do I have to choose just one?” is: you’ve only met Jason & Julie…and er…that would be disturbing. Makes me glad I don’t make a habit of asking these types of questions. :)

    And you can’t revoke my title of Girlfriend of the Millenium. It’s good till the year 3,000.

  17. @Akheloios: [slaps knee]

    Which are your favorite to refute.
    Post hoc ergo propter hoc, straw man (maybe only because it happens so damn often), and the beloved false dichotomy. Pretty much anything related to the anti-evolution arguments, which is my favorite argument. It’s always fun to argue when you know you’re right.

  18. @Stacey: Actually, you need to check your certification – I think it was Girlfriend of the Quarter … and I am taking notes for 1stQ-2009 :)

  19. @JSug:

    Actually if one just calls your opponent a name that isn’t a logical fallacy, its just an insult. It is only a logical fallacy when you say their argument is wrong because they are X.

  20. Logical fallacies that I like to use? Oh boy…

    Post hoc reasoning, ad hoc reasoning, argument from authority, loaded words, slippery slope, poisoning the well, sunk-cost fallacy, false dichotomy, affirming the consequent…

    Um, strictly for entertainment purposes, of course. Not because I want to twist the truth to my own nefarious purposes or anything like that.

  21. OK, i’ve changed my mind. My favorite logical fallacy is the appeal to ignorance. This is one that everyone should keep in mind at all times. Being aware that appealing to ignorance is a logical fallacy makes it much easier to say something that is normally very difficult for people to say.

    That would be “I don’t know”.

    By keeping the appeal to ignorance in mind no one can get you with “ah-ha! if you don’t know what that light in the sky is then it must be an alien spaceship!”

    Or “ah-ha! if you don’t know where our morality comes from then it must be given to us by God!”

    “I don’t know” is always an acceptable answer to a question, and keeping this fallacy in mind makes it easier to say.

  22. @JRice:

    What, you mean like the non potete dormire con due donne allo stesso tempo fallacy?

    (Okay, that’s Italian. I couldn’t find a working Latin translation engine. Grrr.)

    And that’s not a fallacy either. It’s true. I know I couldn’t bring myself to sleep in such circumstances.

  23. Related:

    “This is the first rule of moral psychology: feelings come first and tilt the mental playing field on which reasons and arguments compete. If people want to reach a conclusion, they can usually find a way to do so. The Democrats have historically failed to grasp this rule, choosing uninspiring and aloof candidates who thought that policy arguments were forms of persuasion.”


    We often prefer to argue logically over convincing persuasively. They are two different crafts, and there are psychological reasons behind A) why we use these techniques, and B) why some people are more convinced by one or the other.

    Recommended reading.

  24. Sorry, the very next paragraphs are also a brilliant quote, so I have to add them:

    I would say that the second rule of moral psychology is that morality is not just about how we treat each other (as most liberals think); it is also about binding groups together, supporting essential institutions, and living in a sanctified and noble way.

    When Republicans say that Democrats “just don’t get it,” this is the “it” to which they refer. Conservative positions on gays, guns, god, and immigration must be understood as means to achieve one kind of morally ordered society. When Democrats try to explain away these positions using pop psychology they err, they alienate, and they earn the label “elitist.” But how can Democrats learn to see—let alone respect—a moral order they regard as narrow-minded, racist, and dumb?


  25. Argument from Authority. I’m a teacher, AfA is my lively hood.

    Besides, as we all know, “Scientists know better than you, even when they’re wrong.”

  26. What are your favorite logical fallacies?

    Argument from ignorance. I can’t possibly tell you what it is therefore it’s a bigfoot, alien, dead relative of mine.

    Which ones do you like to use yourself?

    Non sequiturs ftw!

    Which are your favorite to refute.


  27. @zntneo:
    I thought it was obvious from the context, but since you’re not the only one that pointed this out, let me clarify: calling your ideological opponents names instead of addressing their arguments is an easy trap to fall into.

    And LBB is an elitist bastard, so don’t listen to anything he says.

  28. I also like post hoc ergo propter hoc (after this therefore because of this). The Latin name has a good rhythm and the English translation is engagingly awkward.

    It can be challenging to guard against. My daughter has colicky symptoms and anything that seems to work might just be a coincidence with her outgrowing it.

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