HOW TO SPOT
A. Manipulation Fallacies
Manipulation techniques have been repeated so often that they have acquired their own names. Understanding the fallacy helps with discovering manipulation. Some of the more common fallacies are set forth below.
In most fallacies there are three basic elements, the act, the consequence (or benefit), and the why or connection. The act and consequence are normally recognized or specified, but sometimes they can be hidden. However the “why” is usually missing, side-stepped, convoluted, or false. There is also an emotion that is usually triggered to implement the process.
1. A-Priori Fallacy. “A-priori” is Latin meaning “from the former.” It is a simple deduction (why) based on observations or experience. Sometimes an example helps understand the principle. Mice eat carrots, “A priori” removing carrots will eliminate the mice. A deduction is nothing more than a person’s opinion and subject to the experience and biases of the author. Using the mice-carrot example, a grain storage company having an infestation of mice may try and blame the infestation on the carrot farmer next door using the A-priori argument. The true purpose is to detract from the many mouse holes in the silo. This illustrates that a strong bias can invalidate his deduction. The following are some “red flag” words suggesting the presence of manipulation: “A-priori”, “proof is in the pudding”, “an honest person never lies,” “no one quarrels with,” etc.
- An honest person does not steal.
- How can you dislike the car unless you drive it first?
- Investment is the first step in making money.
2. Actions Support Blame Fallacy. This fallacy is used to justify a consequence from an action without specifying why (causation). For example, it’s okay to steal from people who stole from you. The following are some “red flag” words: “it’s your own fault,” “God only punishes the wrongdoer,” “it’s Karna,” etc. When the why is missing there is a high likelihood that manipulation is in play.
- You caused your own problems.
- People who drive slow cannot complain if they get rear-ended.
- If you ridicule the elderly you cannot complain when you get arthritis.
3. Ad Hominem Fallacy. This is refuting an argument by attacking someone’s character. It is one of the nastiest of the fallacies and the most emotional. In fact ad hominem is Latin for against the man. If the level emotion is off the scale it is mostly likely the result of the Ad Hominem fallacy. It is employed to avoid answering any of the elements because it usually degrades into a mud fight.
- He’s a racist. You can’t believe a thing he says.
- Her brother was convicted of felony. Do I need to say more?
- How can you be a great athlete when you’re a liar and a fraud.
- I don’t owe her anything. She flunked high school math.
4. Appeal to Authority Fallacy. This is using a famous person or an accepted authority to disregard any questions about “why” or “consequences.” Authority fallacy is used extensively by academia and medicine to validate and side-step the “why.” For example, if something is approved by the FDA the “why” and “consequences” are automatically side-stepped. Yet, hundreds of drugs and procedures are withdrawn by the FDA each year after numerous failures or lawsuits reveal a different story.
The authority fallacy is used in commercials selling products with a celebrity endorsement. Very few celebrities have the experience or expertise to know anything about the product. They never post how much they make from their endorsement. Strange as it sounds, the Appeal to Authority is the easiest to spot. Look for a celebrity or a referenced authority. It will be prominently displayed on every page. It does not mean you should not purchase the product. It only means you are being manipulated.
- David Beckham wears Adidas shoes. (He received 160 million for endorsement)
- Carls Jr. shows Paris Hilton eating a burger while washing a car in a bikini.
- Jennifer Aniston endorsed Emirates Airlines. (And received 5 million).
5. Bandwagon Fallacy. This is the fallacy that the masses are more intelligent than the individuals, a million minds are more accurate than a single mind. This fallacy is false on its face. A million minds is simply the average of a group of people. There is no information about their intelligence, age group, biases, education, or other information. Is the average intelligence of a million 15 years old boys the same as a single Albert Einstein? The average beliefs have been wrong throughout history, i.e. earth is flat, witches exist, bloodletting cures many diseases, etc.
This fallacy is used to hide, obscure, and confuse all three of the manipulation steps, i.e. act, consequence and why, but it is most often used to side-step answering the “why.” Red flags include, words like, everyone agrees, most endorse, surveys show, polling supports, etc. The bandwagon fallacy is used in almost all life-is-coming-to-an-end predictions based on so-called science. When this pops up remember that life on earth has been around for hundreds of millions of years and it hasn’t ended yet.
- Everyone is buying bell-bottomed pants?
- The vast majority of scientists agree that climate changes.
- Surveys show that if we don’t wear masks and close all businesses that COVID-19 will kill millions of people.
- Everyone that has used this diet has lost weight.
- There are millions of satisfied customers that use this product.
- The book is on the best seller’s list.
6. Con Artist’s Fallacy. This fallacy is based on the assumption that superior characteristics (intelligence, physical ability, or wealth), means you’re more deserving (smarter, better choices, or works harder) and vice versa. It suggests a hidden message of saying, “I’m better than you, and therefore you should trust to me.” It is called a con artists fallacy, because it is used by most con artists to gain an advantage.
One does not prove it caused the other. Someone with a better physical body does not mean they know more than your physical features. Someone who is less healthy does not mean you made bad choices. The following are some “red flag” words: “you can trust me,” “it’s your own fault,” “it’s no skin off my nose,” “that’s just the way life is,” etc. This type of manipulation is used to acquire power or money.
- If you’re a loser, it’s your own fault.
- My superior body is because I make good choices.
- I’ve helped millions, because they invested with me.
- If you make bad choices you’ll be physically unfit.
7. Losing Increases Odds of Winning Fallacy. This fallacy is based on funds already spent will increase your odds of winning in the future. This belief is based on a lack of understanding of probabilities. But the definition of probability relates only to things that have not happened, i.e. future events. Something that has happening in the past has a probability of 1, i.e. it has already happened. If the probability of winning the lottery in the future is 1 in a million or 0.000001, then multiplying that number by 1 is the same number.
No one should ever fall for that gimmick. But, it happens all the time. People, particularly the elderly, keep buying trinkets from a certain clearing house on the erroneous belief that their time is coming. The incredibly entertaining movie Nebraska is an example of this mistaken belief.
- You’ve put in too much money to get out now.
- I’m tripling my bet because I’m due for a win.
- I need to win back my money because if I don’t my wife will kill me.
8. Red Herring Fallacy. This is raising an irrelevant highly emotional argument so as to mislead. This is used to avoid, side-step, or confuse any of the three elements, “act,” “consequence,” or “why.” The easier ones can be spotted by the existence of two totally different subjects. “You say we need stop signs to keep us safe. Cows don’t need stop signs to keep them safe. Are you suggesting we’re less intelligent than cattle?
Politicians and salesmen have experience in cleverly hiding Red Herrings. They often trick the opponent in saying word that opens the door to introduce the Red Herring. Here is a trick if you think a Red Herring is being used. Ask the person, “Specifically how is (point 1) related to (point 2)?” When the person does not provide any specifics, or changes the subject, then quickly and forcefully say: “Just as I thought you have no evidence.”
- “You want me to eat healthier food. Are you suggesting I’m fat?”
- “You want to teach evolution over God. Are you saying my ancestors are monkeys.”
- “You’re saying we need more taxes so our children can have a future.”
9. Romantic Fallacy. This is a fallacy by appealing to ones self-validating or romantic feelings to avoid answering the “why.” It suggests that by asking about the “why” challenges the existence of a valid emotion, and therefore the question is invalid.
- If I feel it, it must be true. Are you questioning my feelings?
- By wearing a padded bra aren’t you asking to be assaulted?
- It’s just human nature to follow your heart.
10. Scare Tactic Fallacy. This is one of the most corrupt and dangerous fallacies. It is done when people are scared, angry, fed-up, or hurting. There is a sense that something has to be done regardless of the merits. They need a change, even a sham, to stop the hurt or anger. This is used to avoid, side-step, or confuse any of the three elements, “act,” “consequence,” or “why.”
The red flags include a heightened sense of fear, and words like, “we must act now,” “the world is coming to an end,” “the Russians are coming,” “better safe than sorry,” etc.
- We need to ban carbon dioxide now or we will all die. (All plants need carbon dioxide to survive and banning it would do the opposite.)
- Scientists from Harvard warned if Sadam Hussein set the Kuwait oils fields on fire, it would cause a world famine. (Hussein did and no detectible effect on the environment occurred.)
- The Martians just landed at Grover’s Mill in New Jersey. (Radio show broadcast during the depression caused local panic and hysteria.)
11. Slippery Slope Fallacy. This is setting up an extreme extension of a potential problem and then proving that the extreme example is a dangerous slope. The argument is that if you follow this path then a terrible problem will eventually happen. This is used to hide or side-step the “why.” The red flags include “what’s next,” “then this will happen,” “beware,” “it’s just going to get worse,” etc.
- Kathy wants to increase the school dance fees. That’s just the first step in prohibiting all dancing at school.
- If you give them an inch they will take a mile.
- If you lend money to him, he’ll be back every day with his hand out.
- If we send illegal immigrants back to their own country, then when will they start deporting everyone they do not like?
12. Straw Man Fallacy. This is setting up an extreme expansion of a position to illustrate the absurdity of the opponent’s position. As an example, “they say that animals can laugh. Have you ever seen a cow at a comedy club.” This is the favorite tool of lawyers who are extremely clever in hiding it. This is used to hide or side-step any of the three elements, i.e. “act,” “consequence,” or “why.”
- That’s like throwing the baby out with the bath water.
- Women burning their bras is the first step in promoting public nudity.
- The internal combustion engine is so powerful that it will result in the world coming to an end in 12 years.
13. Taboo Fallacy. This is drawing a line in the sand that you cannot step across. It is invoked to avoid addressing the “why.” The line is associated with an extreme point of view. This fallacy is the favorite tool of the media to terminate any discussion that challenges their position. These involve all of the “isms” such as sexism, racism, terrorism, bullyism, ageism, etc. It is used to generate great emotions. It is often used by the very people who are sexists, racists, terrorists, etc. to cover their activities. Therefore, anyone who accuses someone of any of the negative “isms” without providing specific facts is a giant red flag announcing you are being manipulated.
- We will not tolerate any discussion that we consider as racist.
- We will censor any voice from websites if we think you are sexists.
- You will be cut-off if you question the Bible.
- Faith is contrary to science and may not be considered in our schools for any purpose.
14. Wisdom of the Crowd Fallacy. This one is of the most dangerous and persuasive of the fallacies right behind the scare tactic fallacy. If you spot it, you should immediately walk away. It is based on the concept that the many are always smarter than the one. This is used to avoid, side-step, or confuse any of the three elements, “act,” “consequence,” or “why.”
Repeated scientific studies have shown that people refused to hurt others with a painful shock when it is one-on-one. But when the shock treatment was supported by a crowd, almost everyone participated in shocking the person, even when the person is screaming in pain. The crowd effect is so strong that it can drown out the concept of what is right and wrong.
This fallacy is easily recognized by the presence of a crowd and the speaker is recruiting members of the crowd to participate.
- At a vacation timeshare presentation. “Do you hear that bell? It’s another happy customer. We may not have many left.”
- “How many people here believe in ______, raise your hand.”
- A salesman in front of a group of people. “You sir would you buy this elixir if it is guaranteed to make you healthier and live longer.”
There are about 150 fallacies. They can be discovered by an internet search.
B. Name Calling Fallacy
Name calling is defined as the use of abusive names to belittle or humiliate another person or entity. This is the most used manipulation technique. It is included in multiple fallacies, but is addressed as a separate subject. It is easy to spot, but the rush of emotions seduces one to “want to hear more.” Because of this reward, it is done over and over again. You cannot turn on television or read social media without seeing or hearing it. What is the solution? Turning off the television, avoiding social media, or walking away sounds easy, but it is almost impossible. The craving for an emotional fix is simply that great.
The “rush of emotions” from calling or hearing people called names, is also addictive. As in all addictions, there no easy solution. When the addiction becomes widespread, it is like a virus, and it cannot be stopped on an individual basis.
The solution is practiced in every court-room in every trial. When name-calling is done in a courtroom, the attorney states, “objection, improper opinion” (Federal Rule 701) or “objection the prejudice outweighs the probative weight (Federal Rule 403) and the judge always sustains the objection. Here’s the problem. with television, social media, public speaking, or newsprint, there is no judge to stop the name calling.
The Supreme Court inadvertently created this problem in the unrestricted breath of their decision in New York Times v. Sullivan (1964) 376 U.S. 254. They can correct many of these problems by making the publisher liable for damages (no prior restraint injunction allowed) for making malicious false statements, and providing a presumption of malice if they fail to publish the factual support for all name-calling type statements, and anonymous sources should not be allowed to support the name-calling.
Because the definition of name-calling is very broad, there needs to be a retraction right. That is, the person/entity that published the statement may retract the false statement by providing a prompt retraction setting forth that they published a false statement along with an apology. The retraction should be done in the same manner (front page, evening news, same distribution list, etc.), the same number of times broadcasted, and designed to reach the same audience volume as the false statement.
This solution has the potential to substantially reduce the hate and divisiveness that has resulted from the inadvertent over-breadth of the New York Times case. Write to the Supreme Court and demand that they revisit the New York Times case [United States Supreme Court, 1 First Street NW, Washington, DC 20543.
C. Calling Opinions as Facts Fallacy
People are aware that opinions are not facts. Facts by definition cannot be false as they refer to something that exists or existed. Opinions are subject to the expertise and biases of the author. Opinions can be false or even lies. Almost all commercials, publications, and propaganda campaigns, intentionally conflate the difference.
The International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) instructs their authors to express their opinions as “statement of facts” [IPCC (2010) Guidance Note for Lead Authors of the IPCC 5th Assessment Report on Consistent Treatment of Uncertainties. IPCC Cross-Working Group Meeting on Consistent Treatment of Uncertainties, July 2010, Jasper Ridge, CA]
Almost every televisions science channel expresses opinions as facts. “The big bang” is not identified as an opinion, but it is reported as a fact. The concept of the universe being created from nothing and expanding faster than the speed of light, is not only an opinion, it is inconsistent with all physical and scientific laws. There were so many inconsistencies with that proposition that two new theories were developed i.e. dark matter” and “dark energy.” Many of these scientists expressed these new theories as facts. When asked what is dark matter and dark energy, the universal reply is “we don’t know and it’s beyond on comprehension.”
Red flags for this fallacy can be easily spotted by the lack of the word “opinion” in expressing a position. The word “science” is used throughout the entertainment industry, politics, and all media. It means nothing more than an opinion by people who may or may not be qualified and who are subject to all the of the biases associated with humans. The term “political science” used by all of academia has very little science and a whole lot of opinions. Other red flags in this category include “scientists agree,” “there is no dispute,” etc.
Here is real illustration of the difference between facts and opinions. A traffic commentator on a local news channel said:
“Construction. No through traffic allowed due to Slow Streets Program on Somerset St. Both ways from Woolsey St. to Silver Avenue. Reported on Jun 5, 2020, 12.20 PM. “
This appears to be full of facts with no opinions. Facts do not change based on different points of view. Opinions do. Can you spot the opinions?
Number 1. Who reported the observation? Was it a high school student wanting to mess with you? Was it Caltrans? Was it work that was scheduled?
Number 2. What duration is it closed. Is it going to be closed for 10 minutes between 12:22 to 12:22 PM, or is it going to be closed for a month.
Number 3. What constitutes through traffic? Does that mean anyone can drive from Woolsey Street to 1 inch from Silver Ave. Or does it mean the closure does not apply to residents. If so why didn’t it say “except for people living there.”
Number 4. What is the traffic? Is it cars, trucks, buses? Is it bicycles or people walking.
Number 5. Slow Streets Program implies that it is only for slowing the traffic. The unspecified term “construction” could be installation of traffic signs.
The above traffic report is one of the most detailed statement you will likely ever read or hear. Any yet it is full of opinions. It illustrates that almost everything— literally EVERYTHING –we hear today from the news media and entertainment industry is an opinion.