ED vs. LOGICAL FALLACIES, PART 19: INCREDULITY

Reading reviews of the Ben Stein trainwreck Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed (which is a funny title, but probably not in the way they intended) is good fun. I suppose there's no definitive way to determine if a film is good or bad, but here's a hint: it's not looking good when you make a piece of red meat for ultra-conservative nutcase Americans and Fox News calls it "sloppy, all-over-the-place, poorly made (and not just a little boring) 'exposé' of the scientific community" and calls its director "either completely nuts or so avaricious that he's abandoned all good sense to make a buck." Good times.

Rather than dignify the creationist nonsense that Stein regurgitates, let's talk about the amusing lengths to which creationism advocates go to turn their little fairy tale into a legitimate science. Specifically, the effort to sell this to the courts as Intelligent Design: All Scientific and Shit revolves around the idea of "irreducible complexity." It is, of course, based on a ridiculously transparent logical fallacy – the Argument from Incredulity.

This fallacy is basically the assertion that something cannot be true (or should be presumed false) because one personally finds it impossible, implausible, or incomprehensible. In other words, "I don't believe that, ergo it isn't true." If this sounds like a fairly silly thing upon which to base an entire belief system and sociopolitical movement, you're not alone in your skepticism.

Irreducible Complexity is the argument that certain biological processes are too complex to be explained by evolutionary theory. Of course "too complex to be explained by science" means that the correct explanation is provided by Genesis.** Here's the problem, though…there are plenty of explanations for every phenomenon purported to support this theory. Creationists simply respond that these explanations are not plausible (ginandtacos preferred whipping boy, Michael Behe, provides a great example of this logic in Kitzmiller v Dover). In other words, "I don't understand it / I don't believe it, therefore it is not true."

Try it out! It's fun. For example, a friend of mine once explained to me how the internet works. I did not understand a goddamn bit of it. It just went directly over my head. Therefore….there is no existing theory that can explain how the internet works except "God made it." Neither can I believe anyone would use an argument this stupid. Therefore it can't be happening. The copious evidence to the contrary that is created every time a creationist opens his or her mouth does not persuade me.

**Not the band

ED vs. LOGICAL FALLACIES, PART 18: POST HOC

Sometimes the jokes write themselves. From today's student newspaper on my campus:

Second, they deny that life begins at conception. Every human whether alive or aborted, has been conceived. This first step in life’s process cannot be skipped, if it cannot be skipped and it’s the first step, then it must mean that it’s important and that it’s the beginning. Life begins at conception!

Welcome to the world of the post hoc fallacy. A biological process (sperm meeting egg) precedes another (fetus developing into a viable human life) therefore they are one and the same. Like how eating precedes shitting, and therefore eating is shitting.

Post hoc fallacies are among the oldest flaws in human reasoning, dating back to the days when cavemen banged on drums to make the sun come up. Every morning was a sign that it was working. A post hoc fallacy is any argument that looks at two events in a timeline and assumes that the earlier is either causal to or an integral part of the latter.

I hesitate to play the slippery slope game, but indulge me for a moment as I extend the reasoning used in the example above. We can't have life without conception, so conception is life. Well, we can't have conception without sex. Does life begin at sex? We can't have procreative sex without a male and female meeting one another. Does life begin when they meet? Men and women don't meet each other unless they make an effort to socialize. Does life begin when you decide to go to a party on the weekend?

I'm getting a little ridiculous here but not much more ridiculous than any other post hoc argument. Things that happen in a sequence are not necessarily causally related, and things that are causally related do not magically become the same thing. I wonder if it ever occured to the "Life begins at conception!" crowd that many people are not persuaded by the argument because it makes absolutely no sense. No, it's always that we liberals are misguided, uninformed, or wicked sodomites who hate Jesus. Demonizing one's opponents ("Anti-life!") because they refuse to be persuaded by fallacious arguments is…well, that's just the greatest recipe for political success I've ever heard. Good luck with that.

ED vs. LOGICAL FALLACIES, PART 17: FALSE ANALOGY

Individuals who spend any appreciable amount of time around me understand that I love reasoning via analogy. It has many advantages as a rhetorical tactic: it is powerful when done well, easily communicated, and full of potential for sarcastic humor. I'm sold.

Making a valid analogy, however, involves more than simply comparing two things that share a common characteristic. Comparing me to Michael Jordan works on some level. We're both male. We're both residents of the Chicago area. We both play basketball on occasion. We're both over 6'3". Nonetheless, subbing His Airness in place of Ed in an analogy isn't even remotely appropriate – unless the point being made specifically deals with one of the (few) things we share in common. And even then it's probably going to be a hell of a stretch.

To far too many of our Very Serious Professional Commentators, finding one superficial similarity is enough to mash the gas pedal on the Analogymobile. Take, for example, Michael Medved on Obama's pastor. Yes, Howie Kurtz at CNN apparently thought Michael "Slavery Wasn't So Bad" Medved was the best person to offer thought-provoking commentary on this racially-charged subject.

(The) truth is that people responded indignantly to Reverend Wright not because he’s black. It’s not about race, it’s not because of the racial outlook of the church, which very specifically defines itself as an afrocentric church and emphasizes blackness, blackness, blackness.

They didn’t respond to it that way. If a white pastor had made the comments that Jeremiah Wright had made, people would have been equally indignant (emphasis added).

Let's ignore for the moment how laden with non sequiturs this is. He's reading minds (claiming to know why "people" responded as "they" did), making unsupported conclusions ("It's not about race"), double-bagging hypotheticals (talking about how the public would hypothetically react to a hypothetical white pastor) and mischaracterizing his subject (I bet the church thinks of itself as being about, oh, maybe "Jesus" more than blackness). Let's let him slide on that. The underlying analogy is more ridiculous.

Black Pastor making these comments = White Pastor making same comments. The issue here, Medved insists, is the content of the speech. So who made the comments is irrelevant. Race is simply not an issue.

Unfortunately, black and white people are not interchangeable parts in the United States. When a black pastor makes comments specifically about race in a public forum it is beyond silly to claim that race simply isn't in the equation – especially when, as Medved just claimed, he preaches at the First Blacknited Blackptist Black Church of Blackness. So Medved's assertions that race is irrelevant are, on their face, ludicrous. Furthermore, the reaction to this speech is taking place in the context of a partisan political process. This is an event in the course of a competitive election. Medved is happy to wheedle on about why race is not a factor but he ignores partisanship. In the midst of a heated election, how is partisanship not a determinant of how "people" are reacting? Maybe his mind-reading powers ran out before he could divine the answer.

A good analogy would preserve the two crucial components of the equation: the speaker and his comments. Rather than shitting on the public's intelligence with this Red Herring discussion about whether or not this is "about race," a half-decent commentator might make a half-decent analogy that contributes to understanding the public and media response to the comments. Consider these two questions:

Would the reaction be the same if the pastor was white?

Would the reaction be the same if the pastor was supporting McCain?

Which one of those adds to a discussion of the dynamics of partisan competition and this election? Which one is a weak effort by a one-note commentator to grind his sole ax?

ED vs. LOGICAL FALLACIES, PART 16: SURVIVORSHIP BIAS

This isn't a proper or formal logical fallacy. I don't care. It's a flawed pattern of logic and it's important.

Do you ever wonder why every commercial you see on TV for a mutual fund is able to claim(accurately) that their Super Spazz Fund is one of the top 10 or 20 percent of all mutual funds in terms of performance? And it's not simply that they only advertise the winners. Do a little research online and you'll find that almost every fund from a major company carries with it some sort of performance superlative. Top ten, top quarter, top something. That's rather odd, don't you think?

In a statistical sense, this is called survivorship bias – you only see the funds that didn't fail. T. Rowe Price or Fidelity or Strong want you to think that they are responsible stewards of their investors' money. When they have a fund that performs like shit, they either close it or merge it into a successful fund that will hide its losses. So the reason that every fund you hear about claims to be one of the top 20% of all mutual funds is simple – the other 80% have failed and likely no longer exist. Not all industries have the benefit of this kind of sleight-of-hand. When US News and World Report creates its annual list of college rankings, academia cannot fluff its image by disbanding the Thomas Cooleys and Arizona States. I recommend Elton, Gruber, and Blake's excellent "Survivorship Bias and Mutual Fund Performance" for a more detailed look on how this skews the face the industry shows the public.

Lest we pile all of our scorn on the financial sector, survivorship bias is pervasive throughout much of the research and many of the statistics you see on a daily basis. The pharmaceutical industry is a noteworthy offender. Studies of the effectiveness of certain classes of drugs omit those that have been pulled from the market or failed to win approval. Trials of individual drugs judge effectiveness based on participants who complete the study, noting only in the fine print how many dropped out (possibly, of course, because the drug was having no effect).

And lastly, what amateur logician or statistician is not driven to fits of laughter by the car commercials that talk about sterling grades in "owner satisfaction" surveys? Call me crazy, but I think that a lot of people who are dissatisfied with a car voluntarily remove themselves from the "owners" category by selling it. An owner satisfaction survey is a survey of people who liked the car enough to keep it.

ED VS. LOGICAL FALLACIES, PART 15: P.B.A./INEXPLICABLE

(Note: Be sure to check in tomorrow – big things on tap. So excited.)

As my friends over at Non-Sequitur point out, some logically flawed arguments are so bizarre, convoluted, and flat-out…wrong that they defy description. We've all been there, confronted by an argument so incoherent and stupid that we don't even know where to begin responding. Non-Seq and other logic-oriented writing dump these arguments into general categories with names like Unclassifiable, Uncategorizable, Inexplicable, Things that are False, or Plain Bad Argument. Ending up in this netherworld means that one or more of the following is true of an argument:

  • It is so nonsensical that it doesn't even rise to the lofty height of being a logical fallacy. Fallacies, after all, have rules.
  • It is internally inconsistent and therefore not an argument.
  • It contains so many different fallacies that it's impossible to pick one that defines it.

    Now, if you're particularly cynical you might feel a slight tickle in the back of your head that says, "Ha ha! What is Ed going to do now, bring in David Brooks?" Yes, here comes David Brooks. If you've ever visited this site before, you'll know that I hate very few people like I hate this blob of penile cancer. I actually smell sulfur in the presence of his columns. Leaving aside the fact that he's condescending, disingenuous, and boring, the guy also can't construct an argument to save his soul. Look (if you dare) at his latest, a 600-word explanation/solution of the entire subprime crisis. You might think it's a complicated issue, but as usual David explains just how simple it all is – alongside the proper conclusions to be drawn. Let me summarize if you dare not read it:

    1. No one is responsible or to blame for the subprime mortgage crisis – it just happened, apparently independent of any actor or action.

    2. There's no reason it should be a campaign issue, since it is no one's fault.

    3. It will fix itself, so long as we are willing to be Good, Reasonable People and let the infinite wisdom and majesty of the market fix it. As it fixes all things.

    It's amazing how many different fallacies he manages to incorporate. A college instructor could make an excellent assignment out of this. See if you can count'em all, kids! David's editors sure can't. And you're brighter than the people who hired Bill Kristol, aren't you?

    One more example, which was my original inspiration for this post a few weeks ago. I ran it by amateur logician and regular commenter Matthew L., hopeful that he could categorize it for me. I believe his response was "I'm really not sure that this is sophisticated enough to be a logical fallacy. Unless you count being an idiot as a fallacy." Indeed, Matthew. Indeed. Consider the following argument made by sportswriter Dave Buscema, who is arguing why a particular player should not be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame:

    I can let the mediocre win-loss record go a bit because he played for so many poor teams and excelled in the postseason when given the chance, but ultimately I still would have liked to have seen at least a little better winning percentage … and more than one 20-win season in 22 years."

    Jesus H. Tap-Dancing Christ. Fortunately we are only talking about sports here and not something important. The writer does not mind the player's mediocre Wins vs Losses record, but his winning percentage (Wins / Wins + Losses, obviously) is too low. And he didn't win enough games. Folks, this is how an argument negates itself through the sheer brute force of its idiocy. And that's how an argument can be so bad that its incorrectness can scarcely be described.

  • ED VS. LOGICAL FALLACIES, PART 14: NON CAUSA PRO CAUSA

    I usually prefer to space these out a bit but sometimes fate intervenes. In this case, by "fate" I mean Newt Gingrich. When you recover from the shock of the idea that Newt Gingrich could be the source of a logical fallacy, continue.

    Non Causa fallacies are straightforward; they involve attributing causality where none exists. As Fallacy Files notes, however, not all such arguments are fallacies. It can be a simple mistake or something that turns out to be incorrect even when based on the best available evidence. A doctor in the 1500s who concluded that too much blood in the body caused illness was not using a Non Causa argument – he was simply making the wrong causal inference because he had limited knowledge and information. A true NC argument ignores or neglects evidence of the real causal relationship while asserting one for which no evidence exists. While the most popular Non Causa is the "correlation = causation" variety, that topic deserves to be covered separately and I'll focus on more straightforward matters here.

    Causality is a tricky issue anywhere outside of the hard sciences. In the social sciences or economics, such arguments are inherently inductive and, to some degree, subjective. What really causes poverty? Crime? Unemployment? Voter turnout? Of course we cannot say with certainty. However, we can say with certainty what does not cause those things. The record of a city's football team does not cause poverty. Low voter turnout is not caused by the number of White Castle restaurants in one's area. Crime is not caused by solar flares. So while several things can be argued to cause those phenomena, thousands of other things can be ruled out.

    I'm going to let Newt take it away at this point, from his appearance on ABC's This Week pimping his new book of fresh, radical solutions, Real Change.**

    Michigan was in a recession when the rest of the country was growing. Other than the states hit by Katrina, Michigan which had been hit by a Democratic governor, Democratic legislature, raised taxes. Yet none of the candidates are willing to be radical enough. Real Change focuses a long section on Detroit. Detroit has gone from a 1,800,000 people in 1950 and highest per capita income in the United States to 950,000 people and it ranks today 62nd in per capita income. And yet nobody want to get up and say…tell the truth. The truth is large bureaucracies are destructive . High taxes are destructive. The system we built discourages any businesses from opening up in Detroit. The schools don't deliver. They uh they do deliver paychecks. They do take care of the union, but they don't deliver for the kids (…) So I think we need dramatically deeper and more fundamental change.

    Got that? The decline of the Rust Belt (and the utter devastation of places like Cleveland and Detroit, for whom "decline" is far too prosaic a term) is the fault of electing Democrats, "high taxes" and "bureaucracy." This completely disregards the fact that Detroit has no more "bureaucracy" than any other large urban area, many of which are not declining, and that high-tax states like Illinois, New York, and California are the economic engines of America. And let's also ignore the number of Democrat-electing areas that aren't experiencing these problems. If we put our heads together and really thought about it, might we come up with some better causal explanations?

    Maybe. Perhaps we could look at the the fact that Detroit has been hemmoraging high-paying manufacturing jobs for 40 years thanks to free trade agreements. We could note that Michigan's largest employers by far, the Big Three auto manufacturers, have been run into the ground by mismanagement, corner-cutting, and horseshit products. We could point out that the "failing" schools have been defunded to a degree that might make Trent Lott blush. You could question all of these explanations, but do you think they might be a little stronger or explain more of the problem than electing Democrats and having bureaucracy?

    The sad thing about Gingrich is he can't even aspire to make a decent illogical causal inference in the form of a correlation = causation fallacy. The conditions he blames are so vague and all-encompassing ("bureaucracy," "high" taxes, and voting for Democrats) that to say they correlate with anything is an incomprehensible stretch. Spike Milligan said that money can't buy friends, but it can buy a higher class of enemy. Sadly, in Newt's case education, money, and experience have bought him neither a clue nor a higher class of bad argument.

    **(In case you were wondering, his new, fresh, radical solution is to reduce spending and cut taxes)

    ED VS. LOGICAL FALLACIES, PART 13: ANECDOTAL EVIDENCE

    (I'm doing a real post today because yesterday was substandard)

    Someone trained in formal logic is going to point out that the use of anecdotal evidence is not a fallacy per se, and that is correct. However, it lends itself so readily to the construction of other fallacies (specifically of the post hoc, unwarranted generalization, or regressive variety) that I feel justified in pointing the spotlights at it.

    Anecdotal evidence is simply using an example or anecdote – "I know a person who smoked 2 packs per day and lived to be 90" – to support an argument without acknowledging the extent to which it can be generalized. Often, as in the example I just used, anecdotal evidence is cited to contradict something supported by all available evidence. There's no logically sound way to argue that smoking isn't bad for you, so bring up an (unverifiable) anecdote of someone who beat the overwhelming odds. Like its friends heresay and conjecture, anecdotal evidence strikes at the heart of how good arguments are constructed and supported. If the evidence for an argument is unverifiable, unfalsifiable, or statistically improbable then the argument, regardless of whether or not it has merit, is invalid. I would be equally incorrect to argue "I know someone who smoked and died of lung cancer, so smoking is dangerous." Correct conclusion, but irrelevant to the "evidence" cited.

    Talk radio and right-wing columnists are an excellent source of anecdotal evidence (not to mention heresay, conjecture, and sweeping generalizations). Deeply serious and respected NY Times columnist Bill Kristol, please step up and support my claim! (from "President Huckabee?"):

    At a Friday night event at New England College in Henniker, (Huckabee) played bass with a local rock band, Mama Kicks. One secular New Hampshire Republican’s reaction: "Gee, he’s not some kind of crazy Christian. He’s an ordinary American."

    Anecdotal, and totally unverifiable. How much of the population feels this way? Is it this person or millions of Republicans? To the deeply serious Bill Kristol, one guy's offhand comment is proof of Huckabee's "widespread appeal" to non-Bible thumping Arkansans. Another gem comes from Rush Limbaugh's reaction to the New Hampshire primary, which he blames on his pet theory of "Out of state buses" (i.e., candidates bus in voters from other states to illegally participate in the primary). Rush supports his theory based on callers (heresay) who "saw a lot more people than usual" at their town polling places (anecdotal) and concluded (conjecture) that this is because voters were imported from other states. That's the complete Trifecta of bullshit non-evidence categories in one argument. Thanks Rush!

    Anecdotal evidence…isn't. That phrase is a misnomer. I should emphasize that evidence for valid arguments can be anecdotal; this fallacy doesn't mean that your argument is wrong, but rather that your evidence doesn't prove it one way or the other. Maybe hypnosis and miracle dietary supplements can cause weight loss. If that statement is true, it's not because you know someone who tried it and lost 30 pounds.

    ED VS. LOGICAL FALLACIES, PART 12: ONE-SIDEDNESS

    Some logical fallacies are so stupid that I don't even like calling them "logical fallacies." It's an academic-sounding $5 phrase. If I call something an example of fallacious logic, you immediately think I am talking about something relatively high-brow. So I hesitate to call One-Sidedness a logical fallacy (although obviously it is) because it is essentially just grown men and women sticking their fingers in their ears and shouting "LA LA LA LA! I CAN'T HEAR YOU!"

    Not so dignified, this.

    One-sidedness, aka ignoring counterevidence, is essentially that. You present an individual with evidence that disproves or seriously challenges their argument…and they simply decide that it doesn't exist. Really. People do this. What kind of people? Why, John Bolton for instance. America's favorite thundering-idiot-as-diplomat reacted thusly in the face of the previously-discussed National Intelligence Estimate on Iran's nuke program. Faced with a mountain of evidence disproving his paranoid fantasies, Yosemite fuckin' Sam just dismisses it all with a wave of his bloody hand:

    Bolton: Well, I think it's potentially wrong, but I would also say, many of the people who wrote this are former State Dept employees who during their career at the State Dept never gave much attention to the threat of the Iranian program. Now they are writing as (fingers quote) 'members of the intelligence community' the same opinions that they've had four and five years ago.

    Blitzer: President Bush says he has confidence in this new NIE. He says they revamped the intelligence community after the blunders involving the weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. He says there's a whole new community out there and he has total confidence in what the National Intelligence Director is doing.

    Bolton: Well, I don't…

    Right. Got that? There's a credible mountain of evidence, but….it's wrong. John Bolton doubts it. Therefore it is wrong. Hey, would you all like to hear a secret about how to spot a moron? Present them with factual evidence undermining their argument and see if they say "No, that doesn't count. It's not credible."

    I am also reminded of one of my favorite moments in the checkered legal history of creationism (oops, I mean "Intelligent Design"), Judge John Jones's written beatdown of creationist "scholar" Michael Behe in Kitzmiller v Dover. The Judge relayed this anecdote in the opinion for our amusement:

    "…on cross-examination, Professor Behe was questioned concerning his 1996 claim that science would never find an evolutionary explanation for the immune system. He was presented with fifty-eight peer-reviewed publications, nine books, and several immunology textbook chapters about the evolution of the immune system; however, he simply insisted that this was still not sufficient evidence of evolution, and that it was not "good enough." (23:19 (Behe))." (Page 78)

    You know who else argues like that? Holocaust deniers. La la la la, I can't hear you. It's rather incredible that anyone can maintain a semblance of credibility throughout the process of using this "logic." I guess it's comforting to remember that the people who aren't bothered by it are as dumb as or dumber than the people using it.

    ED VS. LOGICAL FALLACIES, PART 11: SUNK COSTS

    I've enjoyed talking about a lot of very common logical fallacies, but today I want to go slightly more obscure (inspired by yesterday's comments): the fallacy of sunk costs and its close relative the Monte Carlo fallacy. Both fallacies proceed from the same basic – and utterly flawed – premise. They assume that the probabilities or outcomes of independent events are somehow dependent.

    The sunk costs fallacy is simply the belief that having already invested x to accomplish y logically supports the idea of investing more irrespective of whether or not it will contribute to accomplishing y. This is sometimes known as the "Concorde Fallacy" after a famous academic paper that used that ill-fated aircraft as a perfect example. Both investing nations (Britain and France) knew perfectly well that the plane was an albatross with no chance to be financially viable, but….they had already invested so goddamn much in its development that they believed the only logical thing to do was spend more to finish it. I think "good money after bad" is the proper adage. In other words, "If we stop now, all that we have spent will be lost."

    This logic need not always be fallacious. If spending a few more bucks would have made the Concorde a money-making airplane, then additional spending would clearly be the best choice. To put it another way, let's say you're done with 2.5 years of law school. Stopping is a poor decision. Your investment will be lost – spending money for one more semester is the only smart choice. But suppose that after 3 years of law school you had not managed to pass a single class or accumulate a single credit. You're no closer to the goal than you were at the beginning. Unless you have some explicit reason to think that the 7th semester will be a success whereas the first 6 availed you of nothing, investing more is retarded.

    Examples of this are far too common in the political world. We need not think back very far to find images of LBJ hemmoraging money and lives into Vietnam well after he explicitly concluded that the cause was hopeless. In more recent times, of course, Our President constantly tells us with respect to Iraq:

    I've met too many wives and husbands who've lost their partner in life, too many children who'll never see their mom or dad again. I owe it to them and to the families who still have loved ones in harm's way, to ensure that their sacrifices are not in vain.

    Look at that. It says absolutely nothing about how likely success is, or if we are any closer to success than we were in 2002. It is simply, "If we quit now, all we have invested will be lost." Which is, you know, the f'n definition of this fallacy. If you are wasting or have wasted something, the proper response is to stop. Instead, they spend more in a Quixote-like quest to change what has already happened. If there is a reason to believe that spending more will affect the outcome, then by all means go ahead. But an argument based on spending more to honor or justify what has already been spent is…is "idiotic" too strong of a word? There's a reason that every stock market investor who subscribes to this logic goes broke.

    One often finds this paired with the Monte Carlo fallacy (aka "Gambler's Fallacy"). This is simply a belief that independent events are not independent. If I flip a coin 10 times and get 10 heads, it is still 50/50 that the 11th toss will be tails. It is not more likely to be heads because the coin has produced 10 consecutive heads. Gamblers believe in things like "runs" of events and completely disregard the fact that most of what they do (roulette wheel spins, for example) are entirely independent. Your odds for red vs. black on any roulette wheel spin are 18/38. It doesn't matter if it's the first spin or the 10,000th spin – that is the probability. Period. Two blacks in a row or two thousand blacks in a row are irrelevant.

    The logic of allocating resources depends solely on an objective analysis of the facts. Will the expenditure contribute to accomplishing the goal? What are the actual odds of success? Instead, partly out of stubbornness and partly out of abject stupidity, people abandon all logic in favor of emotion. They're humiliated by failure and embarassed to be wrong so they rationalize proceeding when all signs say "stop." All of these arguments – we're "due," we're on a hot streak, or we must keep spending because we've already spent a lot – are branches of the same tree. And all of them are the kind of thing that enable stupid people to turn ordinary setbacks into crippling, spectacular failures.

    ED VS. LOGICAL FALLACIES, PART 10: FALSE DILEMMA

    Do you ever stop and think about how much easier your life would be if you were willfully ignorant, narrow-minded, and provincial in the extreme in your worldview? The complexity of any issue could be reduced to Good vs. Bad or Black vs. White. As one's appreciation for nuance and complexity asymptotically approaches zero, the reward is the ability to "solve" all of the world's problems in the time allotted for commercial breaks.

    False dilemma (a.k.a. "Either/Or" Fallacy) is somewhat incorrectly named because it need not always involve a dilemma. Nevertheless, its basic form is illustrated by two quotes (h/t Non-Seq for the Parker quote):

    " And we will pursue nations that provide aid or safe haven to terrorism. Every nation, in every region, now has a decision to make. Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists. " – Our Fearless Leader, Joint session of Congress, 9/20/01

    "In any case, by the same logic, we might also say that (immigration amnesty) is good for the country because then everyone would be legal. Rather than fix something, we simply accommodate circumstances. As in: Kids are having sex anyway, so we'll just give them condoms." – Kathleen Parker, "Incentives Fueling Illegal Immigration" Chicago Tribune 11/7/07

    Isn't it precious how Kathleen introduces a patently fallacious bit of reasoning with the phrase "by the same logic"? Keep trying, sweetie. You'll learn how to use the potty eventually. The fallacy in the President's statement is quite obvious; even logically-challenged people recognize that there is some ground between complete, unquestionable American hegemony and bedding down with al Qaeda. So rather than beating that dead horse, let's look more closely at Parker's setup:

    The choices are X and Y.
    We are not choosing X.
    Therefore Y.

    Consider, for instance, her "analogy" about teen sex. What is the public interest in preventing kids from having sex? Well, there are social consequences in the form of sexually transmitted diseases and unintended pregnancies. Both of those problems can be virtually eliminated with things like birth control, testing for diseases, condoms, and education. Not so in Kathleen ParkerWorld! Our options are two: stop kids from having sex, or fail to stop them from having sex. That is her sole, cloyingly simplistic answer to everything: it must be stopped. Terrorists threatening us? Kill all the terrorists. Teen pregnancies and STDs? Stop kids from boning. Illegal immigrants? Stop illegal immigration. Let's apply her "logic" for a moment: Spraying water on houses that are currently on fire is idiotic – it is "simply accomodating the circumstances." Either we stop house fires from happening or we are effectively doing nothing.

    It just….it makes so much sense I can barely stand it. False Dilemma is one of those "brute force" fallacies, the kind employed by either the lazy, the careless, or those whose attention span for sociopolitical issues approximates that of the fruit fly. I suppose that if the complexity of real life overwhelms one's cognitive abilities, creating a simpler one makes a lot of sense.