Spot The Logical Fallacy!

See the first installment of our favorite game. As is frequent in the evolution of games shows, the set of rules has been simplified.

It’s time to play everybody’s favorite game: Spot The Logical Fallacy! Each week (or whenever we get round to it), we pull quotations from popular culture and news reports from around the world which contain logical fallacies. It is your job to spot them.

You could win valuable prizes!

Give yourself 10 points for every fallacy you discover. You must keep track of your own points. Send examples of fallacies to matt@wmbriggs.com.

  1. Carlin Romano, writing in the Chronicle of Higher Education, opened a piece descrying the lack of book reading among college folk (a state of affairs which we are as concerned about as Romano is), with these words:

    “Over the next 10 years, scientific experts will be dealing with ‘extreme weather.’ No one knows how weird and dangerous it will get.”

    Hint: this is a variant of Repeated “It’s worse than we thought!” fallacy.

  2. On one of your host’s endless flights to and fro across this Great Land, while watching the miniature television ensconced in the seat in front, I happened upon a performance of joke teller Gilbert Gottfriend. He was standing in front of a large audience. He spoke of a dream in which he had a conversation with Jesus.

    I was talking to Jesus, and I said, “Jesus, I feel like no one will ever accept me.” And Jesus looked at me and said, “You know what my theory is? Accept me or go to hell.”

    The audience not only laughed, but applauded vigorously, cheered, and whistled, praise they did not award to any other joke (or attempt at a joke) by Mr Gottfried.

    Hint: this one is subtle. Who is making the fallacy? Is this mistake in logic unconditionally a fallacy? Or was the audience’s reaction merely the result of petulance?

  3. Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal (D), nearly echoing Bill Clinton’s (D) infamous “It depends on what the meaning of word is is”, said he meant to say that he “served during Vietnam” but did not mean to say (as he said repeatedly) “served in Vietnam”:

    On a few occasions, I have misspoken about my service and I regret that. And I take full responsibility, but I will not allow anyone to take a few misplaced words and impugn my record of service to our country.

    Hint: The discovery of the fallacy comes in analyzing the frequency of statements a person makes which are lies. How low can this ratio be so that that each of the lies are not lies?

  4. The Pope is visiting England, a, it must be admitted, somewhat mundane event, but one which is causing intense fits of conniption among elite intellectuals of that once great land. One of these intellectuals is a man named Peter Tatchell, who in honor of the Pope’s visit created the television show The Trouble with the Pope.

    According to a summary of the program by Frank Furedi

    ‘I am shocked that he has embraced Catholics accused of being soft on Nazism’, says Tatchell. Getting carried away with his melodrama, Tatchell warns: ‘This is a pope to fear.’

    Hint: Does this classic even need a hint? It is included to show that even the “best minds” are capable of gross idiocy.

  5. Netflix, a movie delivery service, runs a series of nausea-inducing “And now for the bonus round” radio commercials, in which a smarmy emcee asks a contestant, “Revenge is a dish best served cold. How is justice best served?”. The contestant responds with something logically unrelated: “With a side of fries.” The emcee says, “Correct.”

    One to two more questions of the same sort are given. That is, there is a straightforward question followed by a response that is not, in any way, logically related to the question. The answers are always “Correct.”

    The emcee’s last question is of the form “What company best delivers movies in the mail?” The contestant responds, “Netflix.” This answer too, is “Correct.”

    Hint: What does this final answer imply?

20 Comments

  1. Mr Tatchell never had one of the “best minds”, and he admits himself that his mind has never recovered fully from the beating he received from some of Mugabe’s thugs.

  2. #4: “The Pope is visiting England, a …” I searched for some time but have been unable to locate an England, b. OTOH, it’s been nearly 50 years since I’ve studied geography and there may be new paradigms. I guess it doesn’t actually have to exist. Around here, one of the county seats is located in a place called Upper Marlboro. There is no corresponding Lower Marlboro or even a plain old Marlboro. Few if any know why it’s an “Upper”. Having their seat in an” Upper” position doesn’t say much about the rest of the county though.

    The audience was undoubtedly being polite and had stored up their politeness until it exploded as described. False politeness is not truthful, hence it must be fallacious. So the answer to #2 is “the audience”.

    I missed class most of this month so I want a pass on the other questions.

  3. #1 Scientists don’t “deal” with anything. They ponder, guess, research, formulate, theorize, hypothesize, strategize and apologize. But they never “deal” with stuff. That’s for lunkers.
    #2 Our host is wasting funds using over-priced airlines.
    #3 Attorneys’ General in general are like all other politicians. Buffoons and liars.
    #4 The Pope’s travel agent has relatives living in Upper Marlboro and owes them a visit.
    #5 Emcees are mindless geeks with passable faces. Unless they’re blonds.

  4. DAV,

    England is a country located on the island of Great Brittain, which together with Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, form the United Kingdom.

    The English have great antithapy toward the pope stemming from a schism in the 16th century, and periods of violence in the Reigns of Catholic Monarchs Mary, and James II.

    More geography, I used to live in a city wich had a ‘B’ street, but niether an ‘A’ nor a ‘C’ street.

    Exteme weather, weathmen have devised new metrics to make it sound hotter or coler than it really is. — 87 degrees, feels like 92!

    Godfreid 1) No one will go to hell if they don’t like Gilbert, 2) He is Jewish.

    Blumenthal, 1)I take full resposibility but I don’t deserve to be punished.
    2) I have admit that I exagerated my service, but I won’t let anyone impunge my record. Impunge or clarify?

    Justice with a side of fries — no food or drink inside the courtroom.

  5. 1. The pope is in England. Many years ago we used to burn Catholics. For a while Catholics burnt Protestants. Now we get along, unless you happen to be from N Ireland where they still try and burn each other or you wish to be King and Catholic. In which case we will say no and invite the Dutch to kick you out.
    This confusing I’ve no doubt to our colonial cousins and it is not helped by the current soon to be king wishing to be a Muslim and a Tampon.

    2. Peter Tachell is not an intellectual. He is a loud mouthed poofter who many years ago was treated very badly. He is now on the brink of being bonkers enough to qualify for that title of ‘national treasure’ which means he can then say and do anything and the response will be ‘ohh its dear Peter doing his thing again’. When he dies we will indulge in a period of national mourning and bury him in St Paul’s cathedral.
    Check out Dawkins if you want to see the depths the ‘intellectuals’ plunge to.

    3. Britain is a strange place.

  6. Prof. Briggs,
    I know I need to think carefully to avoid fallacious arguments and to spot the fallacies, but thinking gives a headache, please note, which is a reflex action in my case.

    So I’ll guess that all those people either lied or imagined things, and made no logical fallacies.

    Do I win any valuable prizes with physical properties? Personal satisfaction is invaluable.

  7. Ah, Peter Tatchell. A brave man indeed, over the years, as a gay rights activist. And also a complete idiot. Global warming isn’t enough for him. In 2008 he penned an article warning of the extreme dangers we all face from falling oxygen levels!

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2008/aug/13/carbonemissions.climatechange

    If you read the article, just be aware that Ian Plimer, claimed as an authority in support of his case by Tatchell, denies having made any statements that could have provided such support.

  8. The pope’s fallacy is an historical one, when he told the audience that nazism was an expression of “extreme atheism”, and the result of what would happen if we entered a world without religion, etc. It’s called the Godwin fallacy. Or sorts.

    Anyway, it was tasteless beyond belief. I guess we atheists are the new jews.

    About the fallacy of Jesus I don’t get it… isn’t the joke funny because of the fallacy?

  9. #1 – “No one knows how weird and dangerous it will get.”

    But let me get this straight: You’re absolutely certain that it Wll be weird & dangerous.

    #2 – Sorry, Mr Gottfried, but a) theories are repeatable & provable & b) I’m fuzzy on my Christian theology, but I think there’ a difference between accepting Jesus being The Way to Eternal Life and the non-acceptance being the way to Hell

    #3 – “. . . impugn my record of service to our country. . . . ”

    The first thing that strikes me about the series of statements & then the required damage control, is that he is impugning his record himself. For him to decide to “improve” upon it, he must have found it wanting.

    I have similar observations about those who advocate a cause and exagerate the severity of the situation. The truth must not be severe enough to prompt others to action.

  10. #5: If straightforward questions result in answers that make no sense (and are deemed correct), then the answer Netflix makes no sense either (and would be deemed incorrect by all but the insane and advertising morons). I’ve hated that damn commercial forever because of this (even though I like Netflix….)

  11. dts,

    b) I’m fuzzy on my Christian theology, but I think there’ a difference between accepting Jesus being The Way to Eternal Life and the non-acceptance being the way to Hell

    There is a difference in that, yes. But if you only read the bible you would see that it preaches both theories. I know, most christians don’t like to see how their own religion is so evil in that respect, they think already in wishy washy neo-age terms like “if your karma is good, god will accept you too…”, but that just isn’t compatible with either jesus’ teachings nor the churche’s stance. Deal with it.

  12. It seems that the comedian was noting that Jesus’ acceptence of him (or anyone) is conditional & ultimately based on extortion. Believe & be saved…or else. In this regard it is fundamentally no different than organized crime’s use of “protection money”: pay us a protection fee….or else. Nobody would presume that anyone paying such “protection money” is doing so out of fondness for the criminal’s services.

    Too easy:

    “What company best delivers movies in the mail?”
    The contestant responds, “Netflix.”
    This answer too, is “Correct.”

    …which is to assert that Netflix is in the mail delivery business & competing with the likes of UPS, FedEx, etc. when it is a responsive customer service provider of a sort that employs mail deliverers.

  13. Luis Dias:

    Which statement does your “it” in “it was tasteless.” refer to? The Tatchell statement as quoted by Frank Furedi and requoted here, or your paraphrase of the Pope’s speech to some audience?

    Curious, because it then beggars your application of Godwin’s Law:

    1) The Pope’s speech (ending any discussion of the contents of the speech. Which appears, from your description, to be exempt, prima facie, from Goodwins Law).

    2) The statement by Tatchell making a Nazi reference (hereby ending any further discussion of the Pope’s visit)

    3) The use of a 3rd party quote containing an accusation of Nazism, on a blog no less, which renders any discussion of the fallacy topic as closed.

  14. 1. “No one knows how weird and dangerous it will get.” Then how does Romano know that “… scientific experts will be dealing with ‘extreme weather’”? Romano is contradicting himself with this statement because he just stated that “no one knows”! This means that it could become ‘extreme’ or it could become rather docile.

    2. Gottfriend is saying that no one will willingly accept him, but Jesus is stating that he forces people to accept him through threats and coercion. This statement implies that maybe no one will ever willingly accept either of them.

    3. Blumenthal begins his statement by saying that he misspoke about his service, but then he backtracks and states that people are impugning his record of service. So which is it? Did he serve or didn’t he serve during the Vietnam War? He can’t seem to make up his mind on this one…

    4. Tatchell first points out that the Pope is supporting Catholics that open to/forgiving of Nazism, but then Tatchell states that we should ‘fear’ this pope. It seems quite the opposite. The Pope seems rather open-minded and forgiving compared some of the predecessors, leading me to believe that there should be less fear of this Pope.

    5. Netflix doesn’t deliver movies in the mail. The US postal service, UPS, FedEx, etc are the ones that deliver the movies. Netflix just provides the movies.

  15. Congratulations to anyone who can spot even one logical fallacy. I can’t figure out what the arguements are, never mind how they violate the laws of logic.

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