Thursday, January 05, 2006

A Review of Logic Fallacies Used in Autism Arguments (New Fallacies)

Upon feedback from others I have decided to update this listing. I have ommited some fallacies that do not seem as defensible as I had first thought. I have also added some additional fallacies. I have researched and added some Latin terms when applicable as well. I want to note that some of the fallacies have been described as fallacious, but not entered into a formal list. This is especially true of #10. I also decided to group the fallacies based on why they are fallacious. This is difficult for some examples in real life (true here as well) meet criteria for more than one fallacy.

My examples are loosely based upon real arguments I have actually seen in different autism science articles/discussions/debates/politics. They are not meant to be any one person’s statements and should not be seen as such. I have also created names so as to be impersonal.

These fallacies should not be cited as a direct refutation of statements that may be made in the future that sound similar to them. Those statements have to be dealt with on their own and the person making the argument against them should not simply call “#22” as a refutation. It is up the refuter to show exactly how a particular example is fallacious. Finally, I have grouped the fallacies so that similar fallacies are near each other in this listing. I also give a short explanation of the way each set is fallacious.

The following fallacies involve personal attacks and ethical problems.

1)Argumentum Ad Hominem “Arguing To the man”: This involves an attack on the character of the person who made a given argument, or it assumes their motivation for a given position. Examples:
A. I would prefer to read the research of a more honest scientist.B. This parent does not give a damn about their child.

2)Tu Quoque “You also”: This rejoinder occurs when one individual states that a critic is guilty of the same/similar ills.
A. They have criticized us for the harm we have done in a singular case, but ignore the harm they themselves do every year to hundreds of children.

3)Two Wrongs Make a Right Fallacy: To argue that justice or equality are achieved by breaking ethics/logic against another who has done this to you.
A. My attack on his character was justified by this jerk’s making fun of my picture.

4)Hermetic Fallacy: To argue from the position that another’s argument must be inherently wrong due to their origin in another school of thought.
A. Cognitive science has nothing of consequence to offer us in the field of autism except for some stamp collecting tyoe facts.

5)Dishonesty: To use an error of fact with the knowledge that it is an error of fact.
A. Even if there is no epidemic of autism, this will put autism more into the spotlight which can only be a good thing.

6)Fallacy of Inconsistent Application: To selectively apply a descriptive term to meet pre-set goals. This is fallacious, as it is dishonest.
A. We roundly condemn the dishonest actions of Dr. Mathes (when we also should have condemned the actions of the co-authors Dr. Grendon and Dr. Packzyinski who now work in our lab).

7)Psychogenetic Fallacy: To assume that because a psychological motive can be inferred, that another’s argument is invalid.
A. Some autistic people want to be better treated by society. They think that if their difference can be proven to be genetic that this will offer a boost of legitimacy. Therefore they reject the Thimerosal etiology theory.
B. You only offer that opinion because it is what you were taught in school. You were brainwashed.

8)Argumentum Ad Baculum “Argument by the rod”: This is arguing by appeal to force. Example:A. We will enter a suit against anyone who claims our treatment is ineffective.

9)Argument from Conversion: To argue for a cause by testifying one’s change of mind.
A. I never believed my son could do all of the things he now does until we get him into the Floortime program. They made a believer out of me.

10)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.

11) Argument By Ridcule: To argue by mocking an argument without ever truly explaining why it is absurd.
A. Oh, no doubt that nueroscience has done a lot for us as parents of a child with autism. I mean, we have learned that the the brains of our children are different. I am glad that this science does so much for us.

Argumentum Ad Misericordiam “Appeal to Pity”: To argue that in a way that seeks to prove something true or false via attempting to obtain sympathy.
A. You argue that autistics should only be taught by other autistics and that this is better for them. I hope that will not prove to be the case, I wouldn’t trade teaching my students for anything.

The following fallacies argue when the required information is unknowable.

13)Wishful thinking: Assuming that if certain conditions are met a given outcome will follow, when this has not been substantiated.
A. If we give Bobby 42 hours a week of intensive intervention for 3 years, we can make sure that he will develop speech.

14)Common Sense Fallacy: To argue that there is an obvious explanation and that this is therefore the best. The problem is this is completely subjective.
A. It is common sense that a typically developing child would not just turn autistic. There must be an environmental trigger.

15)Fallacy of Intuition: To argue that one's expertise or experience allows one to accurately intuit the correct answer to a question or determine the best course of action. This not disprovable and therefore can not be assessed by science.
A. I have always had good sense, and right now it is telling me loud and clear that the best thing for my child is intensive intervention.

16)Magical Thinking: To argue that can simply “know” an answer in the complete absence of evidence to suggest this.
A. I don’t know how I know that Bobby was hurt by vaccines; I just know it.

17)Argument to the future: To argue that a position will be proven right in time.
A. Time will prove us right about the vaccines causing autism.

Argumentum Ad Ignorantiam “The argument from ignorance”: To argue that a statement is valid because it can not be disproven.
A. Okay, you don’t think thimerosal harms children, fine, but no one is going to pursued me that it is safe unless they show me proof that it didn’t cause my son’s autism.

19)Slippery Slope: The unsubstantiated argument that a position should not be adopted as it will inevitably lead to bad things happening.
A. If this position is adopted it will be a gateway for more aversive events that follow which will hurt autistic adults.

20)The Galileo Gambit: In this case the arguer will compare him/herself to Galileo or some other persecuted scientist who was later proven correct.
A. The establishment has never had an easy time exciting new things especially when they run contrary to entrenched beliefs. Look what happened to Galileo. In time we will be vindicated though, so keep up the effort.

21)Fallacy of the Assumed but Hidden Truth: To assume that a conspiracy is in place to guard a hidden truth which would devastate the conspirators if it got out? The truth is assumed to be known by a lucky few who have “figured it out”.
A. The vaccine manufacturers have known that vaccines cause autism for years. They have done their best to obscure this.

The following fallacies try to alter the conditions of the argument or proof somehow from their original state, in favor of certain conclusions.

22)Strawman: (Contemporarily called the “straw argument”). This argument alters and weakens the argument made by another. It appears to disprove/cast doubt upon that argument, but does so only by altering it in a manner the original arguer would not agree with it in order to be able to defeat it.
A. Children are meant to learn in a caring, loving environment, training them in the same manner as one trains a seal, will lead to no good.

23)Inflation of Conflict: Arguing that because a topic is not agreed upon scholars in the field must know nothing about it. This is erroneous because not all argument for or against something have equal merit. The majority of persons in a field could be in agreement with a small minority who dissent and whose position is illogical. This is sometimes used to justify an alternative solution. Example:
A. The squabbling medical science world has done nothing to help my autistic child. Maybe alternative approaches will.

24)Texas Sharpshooter Fallacy: To find a cluster of a sought after trait, and then to define the parameters of one’s study around this cluster. This technique allows one to stack the deck in favor of certain findings.
A. Mr. Gypsum noticed that an Amish community seemed to have less autism than the typical prevalence rate would suggest. He proceeded to do a informal study on vaccine rates and autism in that community.

25)Anticipated Strawman: This is a variant of the strawman that is partly proactive. It involves the anticipation of counter arguments and the arguer offers preemptive rejoinders. This has some legitimacy as is, but it becomes fallacious when misused. If the user of this technique states that that s/he has already disproved a given argument because s/he disproved a similar argument in their preemptive rejoinder; that argument is a strawman.

A. The idea that there could be an apparent increase in prevalence due to diagnostic changes is a dead issue and should not have been brought up. It was laid to rest by Dr. Mesiran in his 2004 article.

The following fallacies invlove major errors of basic logic.

26)Non Sequitur: “Does not follow”. This is fallacious because the relationship between statements is the argument is not apparent.
A. Psychology has no answer for what causes autism. Natural Earth energy causes autism.

27)Petitio Principii “Begging the question”: Assuming that the thing one is attempting to prove is already proven in the argument.
A. I am here to talk about the effectiveness of chealtion. We need to promote chelation or more autistic children will suffer from heavy metal poisoning.

Circulus In Demonstrando”Circular Reasoning”: Using the primary statement to justify the secondary and then using the secondary to justify the primary.
A. He is autistic because he is mercury poisoned. How do we know he is mercury poisoned, because he is autistic.

29)Error of Reification: To refer to a system or abstract as if it were a concrete thing. This can be anthropomorphizing (a type of fiction) or it can describe an attempt to argue that a collection of coincidences have some central organizing theme, when this is not justified.
A. Science abhors a vacuous researcher.

The following fallacies argue from the positions or perspectives of third parties, whose actual positions or ability to establish truth are unknown. This also, concerns arguments about the inherent “worth” of of those making an argument.

30)Fallacy of Origin: To assume that due to one’s origin, one’s argument is invalid.
A. Being autistic, means that one meets criteria to be treated; it does not mean that one meets criteria to offer opinion on treatment.

Argumentum Ad Numerum “Argument from numbers”: To assume that, because a position is widely held that it is valid.
A. Most people I talk to think that autism should be cured.

Argumentum Ad Populum “Argument to the Gallery” To Argue to a specific populations’ sympathies.
A. How long will autistics be treated like second class citizens?

33)Argument by Tradition: To argue in that because an action is customary that it is the best possibility.
A. My Father spanked me as a child and his Father hit him and so on. We turned out to be loving, successful people and so I will use this technique with my own children.

34)Not invented here: This occurs when one argues that an idea from another geographical idea is inherently flawed.
A. Why should I trust biomedical results from Northern Europe?

35)Argument from elitism: This is to claim that one individual is somehow inherently more correct than their opponent.
A. Who are you to tell me about genetics when you are a teenager and I am a 45 year M.D.

36)False Authority/Anonymous Authority: When the authority said to be expert in a field is actually not/ when an authority is invoked, but names are not cited.
A. Dr. Haggan-Daas was a practical pediatrician for 30 years and he reminded us that there are no genetic epidemics.
B. No Toxicologists will tell you that the autism epidemic is unlikely to be caused by Thimerosal, that is because they know better.

37)Plural of Anecdote Fallacy: To argue that because persons have a similar experience this is proof of a given theory. This is a fallacy because it is subjective and heavily reliant on uncontrolled and possibly biased sources.
A. My daughter regressed significantly after the MMR vaccine. All around the country people are reporting similar experiences. Why is this being ignored?

38)Invoking the Bandwagon: This occurs when a member of a group implies that s/he speaks for all members of that group when this is not justified.
A. Dr. Sash argues against parents everywhere by his testimony in court.

Argumentum Ad Verecundiam “Appeal to Authority”: To argue that, because someone in a position of authority claims a conclusion is justified.
A. Senator Burkhaus, who is one of our major advocates; brought these issues to the US Senate who held hearings on these matters. The fact the esteemed Senators have agreed to listen to testimony shows the high quality of the science.
B. Professor Linderman who is a top expert in autoimmune problems, thinks that the MMR may be one of the causes of autism.

The following arguments distract from the issue at hand and tries to redirect it to another issue.

40)Argumentum Ad Absurdum: To continue to reduce another's argument until it has lost recognizability and coherence.
A. And what is you definition of "Genetics"?(reponse)And what is an "area of study"(responce)And who gets to do a "study"(responce)Would you say "science" is not error free?(responce)And what is "DNA"?(responce)So, you argue that we should intuit that a collection of behaviors called "autism"; is caused by proteins falling into shape in an unpredicatble fashion, as put forth by fallable creatures who hypotheisze about acids?

41)Argumentum Ad Nauseam: This involves arguing the same points until over and over until they are no longer challenged. This is a fallacy, because repetition does not justify an argument a second time, if it failed to do so on the first attempt.
A. Bob: We think the mechanism that causes autism involves problems between the gut and brain barrier.
Sally: If that is true then we would see this strongly shown in the research.
Bob: There is some research and the mechanisms have been described and they involve concerns between the gut and brain.
Sally: These mechanisms have been thoroughly observed then?
Bob: For some of them, and they clearly show the gut/brain connection.

42)Red Herring Fallacy: To argue against a position by changing the subject.
A. I can not justify my position about vitamin B6, but you probably have no answer for the baby hair study I brought up earlier.

43)Argument by Rhetorical Question: This occurs when one asks a question which is actually rhetorical.
A. How could injection filled with mercury not cause autism.

The following fallacies may deny the presence of additional possibilities.

44)False Equation: To equate one category with another when such an equation is not merited. Examples:
A. Autism = CancerB. Autism = Gay orientation

45)False Dilemma: Presents only two possible outcomes when in reality there are more. Examples:
A. An autistic person receives intervention or they end up in an institution.
B. If a scientist rejects the hypothesis that vaccines cause autism then they violate their own scientific training.

46)Post Hoc, Ergo Propter Hoc “This after that therfore, because of that”: To assume that because one event preceded another, the earlier event caused the secondary event.
A. After Sarah went on the diet she stopped flapping within two weeks. The diet did that for her.

47)Non Causa Pro Causa “Confusing Correlation and Causation: To assume that because one event is found to a given degree in the presence of another that one of the events causes the other.
A. Rick et al. (2005), found a high correlation between autism and Thimerosal. This is proof that autism is caused by Thimerosal.

48)Affirming the Consequent: To argue that “B, therefore A” when the factual relationship is “if A, then B”.
A. The increase in the prevalence of autistics has required more money to be sent to service agencies (when in reality more money being sent to services agencies may have led to the increase in diagnostic rates).

49)Moving Goal Posts: To set a goal at a certain level for a proof and to move that goal when that level is reached.
A. I formerly argued that by 2003 the prevalence rate of autism will begin to come down as shown by the IDEA numbers. However, I don’t think that allowed for enough time to get all the thimerosal out of use. I am resetting the goal to 2005 to allow for this.

“No True Scotsman Fallacy”: To argue that because an individual has a given trait they can not be a member of a given group.
A. Autistic persons have communication issues. Mr. Neilhert has written a funny and sympathetic article; there is no way that he is an autistic person.

Hoc Ergo Propter Hoc “This with that, therefore this because of that”: To argue that, because one thing occurs with another, one of the components is causal.
A. The rise in the autism prevalence has occurred along with the change in vaccine schedule during the early 90s.

The following fallacies in involve errors of induction or deduction.

52)Inductive Fallacy: To assume what is true for one member of a group, is true for all.

A. Our single case design showed the procedure to be effective for one pre-school age child with autism. Therefore this will be effective for all pre-school age children with autism.

53)Deductive Fallacy: To assume what is true for a group in general is true for a random member of that group.
A. Our group design research indicates that autistic students in general, learn reading best with “whole-word” methods. Ryan, was a participant in that study. Ryan learns best from whole-word methods.

54)Argument from the Beard: To assume that because things exist along a spectrum, different points of the spectrum are identical.
A. We see a male to female ratio of roughly 4:1 in persons dx'ed with Autistics Disorder, therefore we see a 4:1 ratio for for folks dx'ed with Asperger's Disorder.

55)Ignoring Regression Towards the Mean: Failing to recognize that most outliers in a given area tend to shift towards the mean over time.
A. I don’t want my child to never learn how to speak.

Argumentum Ad Logicam “The fallacy, fallacy”: To argue that an argument that is shown to be fallacious can not arrive at true conclusions.
A. I have met Dr. Mainze, he is a lousy excuse for a human being there is no doubt that he harmed three children with his biomedical program. (The ad hominem does not make the fact the Dr. Mainz’s program harmed three children false).

Dicto Simpliciter “Sweeping Generalization”: To argue using broad and brief terminology without ever justifying why a given situation meets such criteria. Such argument usually make generalizations to the extent that a single counter example will prove them wrong.
A. Mercury = Autism parents are uniformed about biology and chemistry.

Ignoratio Elenchi “Irrelevant conclusion”: To argue in favor of a given concept, but uses a support that seems to argue for something else.
A. Intensive intervention increases the skills of children with autism. Very many parents say that they love their child’s program.


Blogger Autism Diva said...


Autism Diva LIKES these. :-)

Especially, #45

though #50 is pretty good, too.

You must have been scary in debate class.

8:50 PM  
Blogger Interverbal said...

Thanks Diva,

The Diva's writings on the subject of #45 in the past were what explained to me how such an argument is fallacious.

11:44 AM  
Blogger Bartholomew Cubbins said...

What an inisightful list. I wish I would have studied something of the sort long ago. I'll be keeping this close at hand from now on while posting.


7:31 PM  
Blogger Interverbal said...

Thanks Bart,

This is still a work in progress, there are additions that may be made and probably one or two of the fallacies currently on the list might get pulled (due to subjectivity).

If you have contributions for it, let me know and that goes for anyone else too.

8:10 PM  
Blogger clone3g said...

Boy do some of those arguments and the people who employ them sound familiar. I'll have to save it for reference so I can try to avoid using these arguments myself. I'm sure I've been guilty of a few of these already.

8:15 PM  
Blogger Interverbal said...

Hey Clone,

My Albatross has been #8 as I often fail to catch it when I make it and number #14, which isn’t quite as bad, because I usually can catch it before I hit "Publish".

9:56 PM  
Blogger Bob King said...

there's a few spelling and grammar issues in it, but I'm linking to my political blog anyhow.

4:50 PM  

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