Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Hoffmann's poor reasoning

Today I stumbled onto a blogpost entitled Atheism's Little Idea by R. Joseph Hoffmann who I will give credit for being a writer with a talent for making an argument entertaining.  Unfortuantely, in this blogpost his arguments used to support his claim are far from clear and fall subject to a number of fallacies.

His blogpost is a rambling, meandering piece full of ad hominems, meaningless statements, and vague and ambiguous terms.  It reads like an angry rant where the author knows he is mad at an opposing viewpoint but can't find any logical grounds on which to attack that viewpoint.  The result is an article that lacks clear focus and never really explains what it means because doing so would require too much introspection about the stability of his own ideas.  So without further ado I will dig into specific examples to support my above claims, something Hoffman fails to do.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Not so Simple: Flat Tax Rhetoric

You have probably all heard this years republican buzword "flat tax."  You've also probably heard the blatant misrepresentation that switching to a flat tax will simplify our tax code.  Rick Perry, Herman Cain, and Newt Gingrich have all suggested flat taxes as techniques to simplify our taxes.  But the question is: does a flat tax really simplify the tax code?

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Mary Kochan doesn't understand constitutional law...

Today I want to provide a quick law lesson for Mary Kochan who recently wrote an article on the website Catholic lane.  Unfortunately, Ms. Kochan’s doesn’t understand constitutional law and thus she has wasted her time writing an article based on her misinterpretation of a lawsuit.  The article is entitled You Whiny Sniveling Little Atheists Are Pathetic a fairly provocative article I would say.

The problem?  Kochan's basis for this title is a flawed understanding of a lawsuit and constitutional law. So in the end her whole article makes her look foolish to someone who understands the law.  This is a good lesson anyone can learn from—make sure you understand the opponents argument before you criticize, otherwise you are the one who looks foolish.

So let’s begin with a little constitutional law lesson (I know not the most exciting subject, but necessary knoweldge)…

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Dr. Dan: misleading advertising on chiropractic

Our topic for today arises out of another bloggers criticism of a chiropractor called Dr. Dan.  Normally, Dr. Dan might have been under my radar but apparently Dr. Dan's fiancee wrote a letter threatening the author of the blog (Just Vacula) with "legal action."  Thus doing my part to participate in the Streisand Effect, I decided to take a look at Dr. Dan's website and see if there was any bad rhetoric worth criticizing.  After a quick look I found a website full of examples of misleading advertising rhetoric used on Dr. Dan's website...

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Do Lad Mags really talk like rapists?

The university of Surrey has recently reported that it is publishing a research paper in the British Journal of Psychology dealing with whether study participants could tell the difference between statements made by convicted rapists and those made by men's magazines.  There was one giant glaring problem I immediately saw with this study allowing for giant bias--the researchers were the ones choosing the quotes and thus could choose what quotes participants were reading.  Why is this problematic you may ask.  The reason is that if you select the proper quotes from two sources you can make any two groups look alike.  So long as you keep the quotes short and obscure enough it will be hard to determine who made a statement.  Of course, I have not seen the research because it has not been released yet, so I qualify my following arguments with the fact that the research may adequately address my complaints.

So, what did the study find... it turns out participants couldn't accurately guess which statements were made by rapists and which were made by men's magazines.  Now, without any further ado I will address the large potential problems I see with this research and the press release by University of Surrey and why I think this conclusion is misleading.  I will address 3 main problems I see: 1) guilt by association fallacy, 2) misleading selection of quotes, 3) cherry picking quotes.

Unseen Sexism

Rather than breaking down the writing of others today I am choosing to breaking down my own unconscious sexism. I recently picked up the book war of the worldviews by Leonard Mlodinow and Deepak Chopra. Partway through the book I read a passage by Mlodinow that I loved and being a good facebooker I of course had to add that to my list of favorite quotations on facebook. Then, of course I also had to add Mlodinow as someone who inspires me to facebook as well. I then thought of a few more people who inspire me and added Neil deGrasse Tyson and David Attenborough.

As I sat thinking to myself "who else can I add" I slowly noticed a pattern in my favorite quotations and inspiring people I had not seen before, namely, they were all men. I had 9 quotations and 6 inspiring people and not one was a woman. I quickly thought to myself well lets add a woman who inspires me... nothing... I couldn't think of one. So I googled and try as I might I couldn't find a woman who inspired me in the same way as the men I had listed.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Chopra, positive thinking, and muddled reasoning

When the facts don't support your beliefs, best muddy the waters. This is a technique I see over and over again used by those who believe things that are either unsupported or contradicted by the evidence. One of the areas where I see this most often is among those who have believe in alternative medicine or hold spiritual beliefs. Today, I once again ran into this technique while reading a new article by Deepak Chopra on CNN. So I decided this might be a good opportunity to address not only this problem but a few other logical issues in Chopra's article.

Deepak has chosen to address recent findings that positive thinking may not help a person recover from illness in an article titled Can positive thinking make you well. Deepak actually never says what he thinks the answer to this question is and instead uses this topic as a segue into the benefits of meditation. My concern with this article isn't with Deepak's discussion of meditation, instead its with his muddying of the waters regarding the effect of positive thinking on healing as well as his confusing discussion of science.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Daily Mail shouldn't accuse Discovery of censoring global warming

I am a huge fan of nature documentaries. So it was with great excitement that I discovered the discovery channel would be playing a BBC series called frozen planet in 2012. BBC produced some of my favorite nature series such as Planet Earth and Blue Planet. These series have exactly the elements I like in a nature documentary emphasizing the excitement of learning about our world and the beauty of science. Probably my favorite thing about these shows is that they don't fall prey to the modern documentary techniques of using exciting music and overly dramatic narrators.

Thus, it was with some dismay that I learned the Discovery Channel would not be airing the final episode of Frozen Planet that deals with Global Warming. I learned of this from an Article in the daily mail (a British Newspaper) that seemed to imply that Discovery was censoring the episode due to global warming being controversial in the United States. At first I was outraged that the discovery channel would do this, but by the time I finished reading the article I was more angry with the daily mail for irresponsible reporting. That is, until I realized that the daily mail was giving a perfect topic for discussing misleading arguments.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011


Freedom of speech is a right granted by the constitution of the United States to its citizens.  The exact right granted by the constitution is that "congress shall make no law.. abridging the freedom of speech . . . ."1  What rights this actually grants is of course ambiguous.  Perhaps it means congress must allow people to say whatever they want whenever they want.  Or perhaps the freedom of speech referred to only grants rights to certain types of speech.   The Supreme Court of the United States has found that this freedom to speech is not unbounded and in fact congress can limit speech and thus it is acceptable to limit some forms of speech such as libel, fighting words, and false advertising.

However, a more interesting question is whether freedom of speech is a good thing.  Perhaps one of the primary reasons for allowing freedom of speech is to prevent an oppressive government from hiding opposing or inconvenient viewpoints.  However, unlimited freedom of speech allows the less than virtuous to use misleading or outright incorrect arguments to take advantage of those who fail to detect the faulty argument.  It may be difficult to tell which arguments are invalid and thus allowing the government to decide and regulate speech could lead to an oppressive government.

This leads to a dilemma:  should our government have a duty to protect its citizens from misleading arguments or should we allow good ideas to compete with bad as advocated by Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes who argued that "the best test of truth is the power of the thought to get itself accepted in the competition of the market . . . 2 

This idea of a capitalistic marketplace of ideas where good ideas succeed and bad ideas fail may seem like a strong system for reaching truth.  However, many large problems exist in such a system such as: not all ideas have equal ability to reach large groups of people; once learned it is hard to correct misinformation; and many people have not learned the necessary tools to sufficiently analyze arguments.

This blog will primarily concern the final problem above, the fact that many people do not have the tools to analyze arguments and determine which ones are correct and which ones are faulty.  Right or wrong the right to freedom of speech currently allows people to use arguments that are illogical or misleading so long as the content within is factually correct.  To combat this we need an educated population that can see through poor arguments and reach the truth because, sadly, we live in a world where such misleading language is a commonplace occurrence.  You cannot turn on your T.V. or walk through the grocery store without being presented with endless examples of misleading arguments and misuses of logic.  The only way to change this is for us all to learn to spot these bad arguments.  Once they become obvious to the population at large those producing such arguments will be forced to stop or be subject to the scorn and ridicule they deserve.

I would like to point out that I have merely asserted that such misleading and poor arguments exist without citing any examples as evidence.  Thus, this post could be rightly criticized as making an unsupported argument.  This lack of examples was intentional because each post on this blog will be dedicated to providing real world examples of poor arguments and explaining exactly why these arguments don't make sense.

1 U.S. Constitution amend. I
2 Abrams v. U.S., 250 U.S. 616 (1919)