Doing the Job for Ourselves: Logical Fallacies in Autism
I think we’re lucky to that James Randi is tugging on the curtain. Bit it would be as dangerous to rely on him to expose all the quacks, humbugs, and bunkum in the world as it would be to believe those same charlatans. If we don’t want to get taken, we need to do this job for ourselves.
-Carl Sagan, The Demon Haunted World
In the past I have written on what 58 logical fallacies look like, as they are used to discuss autism. http://interverbal.blogspot.com/2006/01/review-of-logic-fallacies-_113650316997218009.html. My goal in this is to provide folks with another way of detecting the presence of illogic in these discussions. To this end, I provide a number of new fallacies that I have seen in action. Some of these have been written upon extensively by other blogers. Some are so popular, that I thought it would a good idea to give them a label and point them out specifically.
59) Weasel words: To replace a term with another for the purpose of obscuring the concept under debate. This sometimes involves euphemisms. This fallacy is often seen in the autism world, when discussing clinical data as if it were research based data.
“Clinical data show that it is 60% effective in increasing spontaneous speech”
60) Appeal to other ways of knowing: To claim that arguments that use illogic are as valid as arguments that use logic. This method is often used to justify an argument for inclusion of anecdote and/or intuition.
“Psychics have been shown to be right in the past and my psychic told me that Thimerosal causes autism ”
61) The Semmelweis Gambit: Is a special variant of the Galileo Gambit, which is focused on medicine/psychology. In this fallacy, the plight of Ignaz Semmelweis or some other underappreciated/persecuted/not taken seriously health practitioner who was later vindicated, is invoked, to attempt to prove that a more contemporary health practitioner should be vindicated.
“They laughed at Ignaz too, but one day Dr. Fieldwake, will be proven correct”.
62) The Bettelheim Gambit: Unique to the autism field. The positions of Bruno Bettelheim, who advocated a poor parenting etiology theory of autism are equivocated to some contemporary statement on autism etiology that somehow involves parents. Alternately, this is the equivocation of claims of parental misconduct towards their autistic children, with the bad parenting based theory of Bettelheim.
1) Your genetic theory of autism is just one more case of parent bashing, you are just like Bettelheim
2) Who are you, to tell me that I am abusive for using aversives with my children? That is just like Bettelheim.
63) Appeal to science has been wrong before: To attempt to discredit a contemporary piece of scientific research by showing how scientific beliefs/research have been shown to be wrong over time.
“The so called science, once tried to tell us that parents caused autism by poor nurturing, and now they try to deny that hair conditioner causes autism.”
64) Jargon: Is perfectly acceptable when amongst other person proficient in the specifics of a given concept. It becomes fallacious when used in the presence of a non-proficient opponent for the purpose of distracting from or concealing the actual points of the argument.
“Our treatment uses the DRO, complete contingency contracting, which is a special form of rule-governed behavior. We specifically, try use an analog to positive reinforcement, the specific reinforcer is determined by a Multiple Stimuli Preference Assessment Without Replacement.” (Which would make sense only to other behavior analysts)
65) Appeal to quantum physics: An attempt to invalidate a non related application of science by invoking the uncertainties present in quantum physics or another branch of physics.
“Look, you can not tell me where an electron will appear next in its so called orbit, why then, do you presume to tell me that autism is genetic?”
66) Appeal to Mathematics: To attempt to invalidate an argument using mathematics, by citing the limits of mathematical axioms or theorems.
“The central limit theorem, does not always seem to hold true, therefore, in this case, your Solomon Four group Design showing the effectiveness of Acceptance therapy with statistically significant result is false”.
67) Appeal to emotion: To use wording that deliberately invokes sympathies of the listener, to try to establish the validity of the argument.
“Parents, always get it rough. We raise children, we fight their schools for better education, we try to hold down a job to give them the best we can. That is all we are trying to do, is give them the best we can. Same goes for our use of chelation therapy, we are just trying to give them the best we can.”
68) Doesn’t benefit me: To claim that a scientific finding is somehow invalid/untrue because, it doesn’t directly serve the goals/needs/biases of the accuser.
“Dr. Matlock showed that a data set for determining the prevalence of autism was invalid. This doesn’t help parents at all; this garbage research should be ignored.”
“The fallacy of Samaritan Intent: This is a denial of responsibility that occurs when one’s arguments/actions have been shown to have led to harm. The excuse is offered that the person was only trying to help, or was not expert in the subject in the first place and should for that reason not be seen as culpable.
A) Look, she is a great person who was just trying to help kids, and got into the field to only because she wanted to make a difference. She is suffering enough emotionally, because of her mistake, so let us drop the issue.”
Below, I list the criteria for Autism relative to the DSM-III-R and the DSM-IV. Comments are welcome and I have dropped the need for a Blogger ID to comment on this post.
Includes at least two items from item A, one from item B, and one from item C:
A. qualitative impairment in reciprocal social interaction (the examples within parentheses are arranged so that those first listed are more likely to apply to younger ormore disabled, and the later ones, to older or less disabled) as manifested by the following:
(1) marked lack of awareness of the existence or feelings of others (for example, treats a person as if that person were a piece of furniture; does not notice another person's distress; apparently has no concept of the need of others for privacy);
(2) no or abnormal seeking of comfort at times of distress (for example, does not come for comfort even when ill, hurt, or tired; seeks comfort in a stereotyped way, for example, says "cheese, cheese, cheese" whenever hurt);
(3) no or impaired imitation (for example, does not wave bye-bye; does not copy parent's domestic activities; mechanical imitation of others' actions out of context);
(4) no or abnormal social play (for example, does not actively participate in simple games; prefers solitary play activities; involves other children in play only as mechanical aids); and
(5) gross impairment in ability to make peer friendships (for example, no interest in making peer friendships; despite interest in making friends, demonstrates lack of understanding of conventions of social interaction, for example, reads phone book to uninterested peer);
B. qualitative impairment in verbal and nonverbal communication and in imaginative activity, (the numbered items are arranged so that those first listed as more likely to apply to younger or more disabled, and the later ones, to older or less disabled) as manifested by the following:
(1) no mode of communication, such as communicative babbling, facial expression, gesture, mime, or spoken language;
(2) markedly abnormal nonverbal communication, as in the use of eye-to-eye gaze, facial expression, body posture, or gestures to initiate or modulate social interaction (for example, does not anticipate being held, stiffens when held, does not look at the person or smile when making a social approach, does not greet parents or visitors, has a fixed stare in social situations);
(3) absence of imaginative activity, such as play-acting of adult roles, fantasy characters, or animals; lack of interest in stories about imaginary events;
(4) marked abnormalities in the production of speech, including volume, pitch, stress, rate, rhythm, and intonation (for example, monotonous tone, question-like melody,or high pitch);
(5) marked abnormalities in the form or content of speech, including stereotyped and repetitive use of speech (for example, immediate echolalia or mechanical repetition of a television commercial); use of "you" when "I" is meant (for example, using "You want cookie?" to mean "I want a cookie"); idiosyncratic use of words or phrases (for example, "Go on green riding" to mean "I want to go on the swing"); or frequent irrelevant remarks (for example, starts talking about train schedules during a conversation about sports); and
(6) marked impairment in the ability to initiate or sustain a conversation with others, despite adequate speech (for example, indulging in lengthy monologues on one subjectregardless of interjections from others); C. markedly restricted repertoire of activities and interests, as manifested by the following:
(1) stereotyped body movements (for example, handflicking or twisting, spinning, head-banging, complex whole-body movements);
(2) persistent preoccupation with parts of objects (for example, sniffing or smelling objects, repetitive feeling of texture of materials, spinning wheels of toy cars) or attachment to unusual objects (for example, insists on carrying around a piece of string);
(3) marked distress over changes in trivial aspects of environment (for example, when a vase is moved from usual position); (4) unreasonable insistence on following routines in precise detail (for example, insisting that exactly the same route always be followed when shopping);
(5) markedly restricted range of interests and a preoccupation with one narrow interest (for example, interested only in lining up objects, in amassing facts about meteorology, or in pretending to be a fantasy character);
D. onset during infancy or early childhood;
E. other symptoms that may occur with the syndrome:
(1) sensory disturbances as evidenced by atypical responses to stimuli (for example, touch, sound, light, movement, smell, taste). Responses may include overreaction, indifference, or withdrawal; and
(2) uneven acquisition of skills, and/or difficulty in integrating and generalizing acquired skills; and
F. the pupil's need for instruction and services mustbe supported by at least one documented systematic observation in the pupil's daily routine setting by an appropriate professional and verify the criteria categories in items A to D. In addition, corroboration of developmental or medical information with a developmental history and at least one other assessment procedure that is conducted on a different day must be included. Other documentation should include parent reports, functional skills assessments, adaptive behavior scales, intelligence tests, criterion-referenced instruments, language concepts, developmental checklists, or an autism checklist.
A total of six (or more) items from (1), (2), and (3), with at least two from (1), and one each from (2) and (3):
(1) qualitative impairment in social interaction, as manifested by at least two of the following:
(a) marked impairment in the use of multiple nonverbal behaviors, such as eye-to- eye gaze, facial expression, body postures, and gestures to regulate social interaction
(b) failure to develop peer relationships appropriate to developmental level
(c) a lack of spontaneous seeking to share enjoyment, interests, or achievements with other people (e.g., by a lack of showing, bringing, or pointing out objects of interest)
(d) lack of social or emotional reciprocity
(2) qualitative impairments in communication, as manifested by at least one of the following:
(a) delay in, or total lack of, the development of spoken language (not accompanied by an attempt to compensate through alternative modes of communication such as gesture or mime)
(b) in individuals with adequate speech, marked impairment in the ability to initiate or sustain a conversation with others
(c) stereotyped and repetitive use of language or idiosyncratic language
(d) lack of varied, spontaneous make-believe play or social imitative play appropriate to developmental level
(3) restricted, repetitive, and stereotyped patterns of behavior, interests, and activities as manifested by at least one of the following:
(a) encompassing preoccupation with one or more stereotyped and restricted patterns of interest that is abnormal either in intensity or focus
(b) apparently inflexible adherence to specific, nonfunctional routines or rituals
(c) stereotyped and repetitive motor mannerisms (e.g., hand or finger flapping or twisting or complex whole-body movements)
(d) persistent precoccupation with parts of objects B. Delays or abnormal functioning in at least one of the following areas, with onset prior to age 3 years: (1) social interaction, (2) language as used in social communication, or (3) symbolic or imaginative play.
C. The disturbance is not better accounted for by Rett's disorder or childhood disintegrative disorder.
American Psychiatric Association. (1987). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Third Edition, Revised. Washington, DC: AmericanPsychiatric Association; 1980.
American Psychiatric Association. (1994). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition. Washington, DC: American PsychiatricAssociation; 1994.
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