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Posts Tagged ‘Correlation’

In a previous article I suggested that it becomes incumbent on the reader, listener, watcher or any engaged person to be able to tell when something in the media didn’t seem right or justifiable, etc. as in CNN and Evil – Snivil… I promised those that there are some rules of thumb for detecting faulty, deceptive or malicious content. The one selected is the Sagan Baloney Detection Kit. There are dozens of them out there on the web, in science methodology texts and even some in writing books. Like any set of rules of thumb, they are not absolute but provide an approximation that will save time and angst when sifting through the escalating volumes of content we have access to.

Like every source of ‘help,’ use what works for you and toss the rest. Know that those that want your eyeballs understand this list better than most of us and do what they can to keep you from recognizing these red flags in their materials.

Let us know what we missed and what we need to cull from our list.

Baloney Detection Kit: Based on selections are taken and similar to those in a book by Carl Sagan “The Demon Haunted World” Ballantine Books (February 25, 1997) ISBN-10: 0345409469

These collectively or individually are ‘red flags’ that suggest deception. The following are tools for detecting fallacious or fraudulent arguments wherever they present themselves.

  1. Wherever possible there must be independent confirmation of the facts
  2. Encourage substantive debate on the evidence by knowledgeable proponents of all points of view.
  3. Arguments from authority carry little weight (in science there are no “authorities”).
  4. Try not to get overly attached to a hypothesis just because it’s yours, your parents, etc.
  5. Quantify, wherever possible.
  6. If there is a chain of argument every link in the chain must work.
  7. “Occam’s razor” – if there are two hypotheses that explain the data equally well choose the simpler
  8. Ask whether the hypothesis can, at least in principle, be falsified (shown to be false by some unambiguous test). In other words, it is testable? Can others duplicate the experiment and get the same result?
  9. Conduct control experiments – especially “double blind” experiments where the person taking measurements is not aware of the test and control subjects.
  10. Check for confounding factors – separate variables impacting the conclusions.

Common fallacies of logic and rhetoric

  1. Ad hominem – attacking the arguer rather than the argument.
  2. Argument from “authority”
  3. Monocausality: Cause and effect statements
  4. Argument from adverse consequences (focus on the dire consequences of an “unfavorable” decision; attack a sovereignty or you’ll be fighting them on the streets of New York).
  5. Appeal to ignorance (absence of evidence is not evidence of absence).
  6. Special pleading (typically referring to god’s will, Buddha’s mysteries or passions of Islam).
  7. Begging the question (assuming an answer in the way the question is phrased).
  8. Observational selection (counting the hits and forgetting the misses as in fortune telling).
  9. Statistics of small numbers (such as drawing conclusions from inadequate sample sizes).
  10. Misunderstanding the nature of statistics (President Eisenhower expressing astonishment and alarm on discovering that fully half of all Americans have below average intelligence!)
  11. Inconsistency (e.g. military expenditures based on worst case scenarios but scientific projections on environmental dangers ignored because they are not “substantiated”).
  12. Non sequitur – “it does not follow” – the logic falls down.
  13. Post hoc, ergo propter hoc – “it happened after so it was caused by” – confusion of cause and effect.
  14. Meaningless question (“what happens when an irresistible force meets an immovable object?).
  15. Excluded middle – considering only the two extremes in a range of possibilities (making the “other side” look worse than it really is).
  16. Confusion of correlation and causation.
  17. Straw man – caricaturing (stereotyping, marginalizing) a position to make it easier to attack.
  18. Suppressed evidence or half-truths.
  19. 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”

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