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RS146 - Jesse Richardson on "The pros and cons of making fallacies famous"

Release date: November 1, 2015

Jesse RichardsonThis episode of Rationally Speaking features Jesse Richardson, a creative director who has been using his advertising background "for good and not for evil," as he puts it -- by building skeptic sites that go viral. Jesse's most famous creation is "Your Logical Fallacy Is," an illustrated poster featuring the names and descriptions of various common fallacies. Julia asks: Aren't many so-called logical fallacies not actually fallacious? Is encouraging people to call out fallacies helping rational discourse overall, or harming it? And is there a trade-off between accuracy and virality?

Jesse's Pick: Storm by Tim Minchin



Full Transcripts 


Reader Comments (21)

Always fascinated with logical fallacies and learning how to detect them, which is not always obvious or easy! It's always been my belief that some of the worst public and foreign policy blunders have been the result of logical fallacies, such as the Domino Theory fallacy ("If one country falls to communism all the adjoining countries will quickly fall as well") -- which led to the official policy of "Containment" and the Vietnam War, and the eventual loss of 58,000 American lives in a fruitless effort. At some point the Sunk Cost fallacy also kicked in, the argument being, "We can't pull out now because if we do then all the lives lost up to this point will have been for nothing." I'm sure you'll also agree that most discussions (or arguments) on the internet are more about proving that one is right than about learning what is actually right. I was glad to see Tim Minchin mentioned as the Guest Pick, and so was dismayed to hear that your experience was that others had found "Storm" excessively "snarky." I've been accused more than once of being "patronizing and unnecessarily demeaning" over posts that were genuinely intended in good fun (freely admitting that not all my posts have been so intended!). Wonder if this proves that people who are incapable of recognizing their own errors in logic also tend to be rather humorless? And is there any way to test that?
November 2, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterRichard Schloss
Sounds like "Your Logical Fallacy Is" needs entries on the fallacious understanding of the fallacies. Like, "scientific consensus" is not an appeal to authority bandwagon.
And check out their Genetic Fallacy example: "Accused on the 6 o'clock news of corruption and taking bribes, the senator said that we should all be very wary of the things we hear in the media, because we all know how very unreliable the media can be."
That's a fallacy? Meanwhile, the website progressive-aggressively recommends buying the poster to teach kids "to tell the difference between real news and faux news *cough*."

P.S. I hate websites that don't allow copying text. I'm glad that Snopes and Skeptoid stopped doing that.
November 3, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterMax
I have to make an effort to not commit the fallacy fallacy when hearing some self-proclaimed skeptics.
"Food Babe says to avoid chemicals in food. Doesn't she realize that food is made of chemicals?! You know, natural things like arsenic are toxic, therefore artificial additives like azodicarbonamide are not. In fact, nothing is really toxic because everything is toxic at a high enough dose, even water! Assuming that natural things are safe is the naturalistic fallacy, and formaldehyde in vaccines is safe because it's produced naturally in the human body."
*headdesk headdesk headdesk*
November 4, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterMax
Enjoyed this episode. I'm glad to know more about Jesse's projects. On the topic of fallacies and their role in critical thinking education, I had some thoughts on these topics that I documented in a video from a few years ago:
November 4, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterKevin deLaplante
Richard, Domino Theory does not seem to be a logical fallacy, but just a prediction which turned out false.
November 4, 2015 | Unregistered Commentersatanistgoblin
Domino Theory is like the Slippery Slope that's a fallacy when it's wrong and an argument when it's right.
The Nizkor Project gives this example of the slippery slope fallacy: "The US shouldn't get involved militarily in other countries. Once the government sends in a few troops, it will then send in thousands to die."

Communism did spread to Cambodia, Laos, and Burma, but was thwarted in Thailand and Indonesia by military dictatorships. Similar situation in Latin America.
The U.S. loss in Vietnam has emboldened America's enemies ever since.
If the U.S. hadn't intervened in the Korean War, there wouldn't be a South Korea right now, it would be DPRK. Maybe if the U.S. hadn't lost in Vietnam, South Vietnam would've been like South Korea.
November 4, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterMax
Will you please do an episode on gun control, now that you've teased the idea?
November 5, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterTristan
Law Professor Eugene Volokh has accused gun control advocates of confusing correlation with causation, and made an analogy to the correlation between crime and ice cream sales, where the confounding variable is warm weather. He also pointed out that instead of focusing on "gun violence" that includes suicide, we should be more concerned with all homicides including fatal stabbings, which could increase as a result of gun control.
Looking at the list of massacres in Australia after the Port Arthur massacre, there were at least three arson attacks that were deadlier than most shootings.
I took the Political Bias quiz from and they say "we don't know as of yet" whether "permitting adults without criminal records or histories of mental illness to carry concealed handguns increases or decreases violent crime," or whether "the death penalty decrease homicide rates, according to studies."
November 5, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterMax
Max, an arson attack may be "deadlier than most shootings," but that does not address whether homicide rates OVERALL dropped after strict gun control was instituted. Did the rate of arson incidents, or of arson fatalities, increase significantly after gun control? If not, then you're drawing inferences from isolated incidents, exactly what the gun rights crowd accuses gun control advocates of doing.

In any event, countries with low rates of gun ownership have low rates of gun-related violence, and countries with high rates of gun ownership have high rates of gun-related violence (except for Switzerland, which is the outlier for other reasons). That may be pure coincidence, but given how strongly those variable correlate I highly doubt it.
November 5, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterRichard Schloss
Everyone kept reporting that there hasn't been a mass shooting in Australia since the 1996 Port Arthur massacre, so I just checked the list of massacres in Australia, and saw one arson attack before 1996 and three after, as well as shootings like the 2002 Monash University shooting.
Here's a graph of gun death rates in Australia and America.
If it hadn't pointed out the gun control, I wouldn't have noticed it in the graph. I noticed the big drop in America in the 90's. What happened there?
But there's not even a blip in Australia's total homicide rate until about 2003.
November 6, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterMax
Like I said, "gun-related violence" includes suicide and accidents.
This graph shows a correlation between "gun death" rates and gun ownership rates.
The highest of both are in Alaska, while D.C. is buried in the middle. But the gun murder rate in Alaska in 2010 was 2.7, compared to 16.5 in D.C. So the high rate of gun deaths in Alaska must be stuff like hunting accidents and suicides.
Last month, Volokh pointed out that there's zero correlation between state homicide rate and state gun laws.
November 6, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterMax
Both Julie and the guest seem to be conflating an argument's validity with its soundness. If the argument is sound, then the conclusion is true, by definition.
November 9, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterGreg Esres
I want this to come across as constructive not complaining - Julia, maybe you can be sensitive to letting your guests speak a bit more. I've noticed a bit of decrease in quality since Massimo left and with this episode I'm barely hanging on. More generally I'm a fan both of yourself and the podcast - so please know I wouldn't comment unless I cared!
Also, just from this episode, be careful about mixing up "sound" with "valid," the former requiring true premises.
November 11, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterDarren
I just want to say that it's pretty clear that whether gun control works was NOT the main point of Julia's podcast, and I'm not sure that hijacking the discussion in service to an anti-gun-control agenda was particularly useful to anyone here.
November 11, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterRichard Schloss
@Richard -- I think what people objected to about "Storm" was how much disdain Tim clearly had for Storm as a person (e.g., he snarks on her tattoo, and name, and other things, in a way that suggests he thinks she's a ditz or idiot in general, not just misguided in her views on medicine).

@Tristan -- I would definitely be open to an episode on gun control, I just need to find a good guest for it. Feel free to email me if you have suggestions!

@Darren -- Sorry to hear you don't like the new direction! Unfortunately I've found that listeners' tastes vary widely enough that I can't make something everyone likes.

@Multiple people -- Yup, I guess I conflated sound w/valid.
November 12, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterJulia Galef
Julia, UCLA Law Professor Eugene Volokh would be a good guest for an episode on gun control as well as on affirmative action, political correctness, and other topics.
What's the email address for sending suggestions?
I didn't notice the guests speaking less, but I'd listen even if this was a monologue. Some of the past episodes with Massimo didn't even have a guest.
November 13, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterMax
Oh, good suggestion, Max! I used to read the Volokh Conspiracy regularly.

Any other ideas you can send to julia-at-rationality-dot-org. Thanks.
November 13, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterJulia Galef
Another good episode. Thanks to all involved. Especially good to hear about the Nirvana fallacy. It's an argument I've made before, but didn't know it had a name.

On Tim Minchin's Storm, I googled it, watched the animated version, thought it was good enough. Then I read the Telegraph review that was in the search results, "sniping, undergraduate doggerel". The more I think about it the more I agree. Not the doggerel part. I like doggerel.

Someone could play it down as a frustrated, pent up rant that's vented on Storm as a fictional representative of all the other people like her. It doesn't seem to me though that they've done a lot to deserve this or that they're doing a lot of malicious harm to anyone else. Are they loan sharks, bullies or sex offenders? His rant seems self-righteous, contemptuous and positioning: you're a moron and I'm better than you. The way I see it, the more unpleasant something is, the funnier it has to be to justify that. Maybe the funny went over my head.

I think I didn't see it this way at first, because Minchin believes the same kind of things I do. He's on my team, she's the opposition, not part of my group, an other. When the joke or rant is on someone else and not on me or my people, it's easier not to notice. This isn't the kind of thing I would want to go viral. I can see a fair number of people having the response: so all you skeptics are douchebags?

As they say, just my two cents. Even though I came around to not liking it, it was still interesting to think about. Other people might love it. Especially if they've been rained on by more Storms than I have.
November 22, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterMy Two Cents
Have taught logical thinking and critical reading in a 6-hr course I call, Crap Detecting!" I enjoyed your podcast and find these programs on rationality to be very helpful!

However the venue I teach in is Christian Churches. We examine statement by Christian thinkers and secular thinkers alike. One of the enjoyable exercises is to catalogue the number of fallacies by author. J.l. Jackie's, J.H. Sobel, Antony Flew, Michael Ruse, make well-disciplined and present cogent, well-articulated arguments unfolding the recalcitrant facts of theism.

Unfortunately there has been arise in skeptics who are untrained in philosophy. The intellects of then mid and late 20th century have been cast aside by the intellectually lazy. Richard Dawkins, Larry Krauss, and Sam Harris produce a rich harvest of logical fallacies for my class's examination. Panned by their own fellow skeptics as ignorant of basic understanding of logic, these paragons in the skeptical community sound more like Jerry Fallwell than say. Bertrand Russell or Anthony Flew.

They encourage sweeping generalizations, attacking straw men, snob, mob, and emotional appeals, and in debates are never without enormous caches of red-herrings. Rationality is at an all-time low in our society, without respect to religious belief. I applaud your efforts to encourage rationality to fellow skeptics and oppose the rhetorical flourish in favor of calmer abductive arguments.
December 9, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterKarl
Making a charitable review of someone's argument (steelmaning) seems much more fair than just chopping the argument down by pointing out weaknesses such as logical fallacies.

It makes much more sense to teach people about logical fallacies than to not do so. Just the act of learning about the logical fallacies will make people more rational. If they misuse the fallacies in their arguments, then rational people can always explain the fallacy in the misuse of the logical fallacy. Australia has had a rise in violent crime since its ban on firearms. Since that Australian gun ban, the USA, a country that has loads of firearms, has seen an overall decrease in violent crime. Furthermore the murder rate in the USA dropped more than the murder rate in AUS between 1996 and 2016. Gun bans only ban law abiding citizens from owning guns, criminals who willingly commit violent crime would happily violate such a ban. Since law abiding citizens have no firearms to defend themselves, the gun ban now makes those citizens easy targets of violent criminals.
December 14, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJameson
First of all. If we ever expect to have any semblance of Rationality in our Gun Debates, first things first would have to be trying to get rid of the Hindsight Bias that floods and permeates this whole discussion. Everyone from all sides of this issue keep talking about things like if people only noticed more or if they just had done this or that then it would have been clear to everyone that this tragedy could have been avoided because all the signs were there to see?? But this is absolutely ridiculous because no one on this green Earth can predict an event like a School Shooting since there's just an unknowable amount of input/information that would have to be analyzed and traced back to the shooter's upbringing and environmental support system to be able to begin to understand anything. And even if this were possible, you still wouldn't be able to predict who becomes a shooter and who doesn't because there would always still be those who never go this route that come from similar type of backgrounds but never developed these sort of ideas or behaviors?

So today we talk about Mental Health like they even know how to deal with and do something about in these Sick Society's we live in that are producing more negative Mental effects on people's health than actually trying to put in place the necessary support structures in Society that will then foster the development of Healthy, Sane, Rational citizens who will be better equipped to deal with anything that Life has for them. But where are those sensible support structures in Society today??

I don't see anything out there that is truly for getting at the Root causes of these issues to try and stop or mitigate the chances of these situations like School Shootings from happeing. But Nooo..... people's Hindsight Bias & Ideological Proclivities never even allow people to discuss this in any other way. And you might think that maybe until one of these tragedies hits too close to home with some of these people, they'll then be able to see things differently but Sad to say that even if it did hit too close to many of these individuals, not even that as Insane as that might be would change their mindset? But instead they'll continue to be guided by their Hindsight Bias way of thinking and focusing/proposing more insane ideas like bringing in even More Guns to Schools???

These are the times we live in today folks. Sick Society's that grow Sick People. And you're going to try to tell me that allowing for the prevalence of Guns out there is the Rational decision we are making? Or will the Parkland Shooting finally be the push needed to come up with Saner solutions ...... ?
February 24, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterErnesto

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