Wednesday, May 24, 2006

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. 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.”


Blogger metromon said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

2:33 PM  
Blogger Shithead said...

I "m a pedant, but the real sense of Weasel words is worth preserving. WW are not simply misleading words, or even in themselves misleading words: they are words that suck the meaning out of another word as a weasel sucks the meat out of an egg. So if I were to say "I will launch a crusade with every fibre of my being at the first possible appropriate moment" it would be the one word 'appropriate' that deprived the phrase of any meaning.
Interestingly, Metronom seems to have broken your verification system.

1:04 AM  

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