This is part four of this series on logical fallacies which all ties back to Critical Thinking. I can tell you that critical thinking is the starting point for all self-defence, whether it be physical or mental, but if I don’t beat you over the head repeatedly with examples and application it may mean nothing to many of you.
Critical Thinking is so important, as its how you avoid bad situations in the first place including time wasting, black hole arguments with people who are being far too emotional to even have a reasonable conversation with any kind of productive conclusion. It may even help you choose your information sources better, which will allow you to make well-informed, more fact based decisions that are appropriate to you and your life.
This also may mean you no longer spend hours listening to sources that repeatedly use logical fallacies simply to illicit an emotional response, to keep you tuned-in longer or to make you click more often, boosting their bottom line. Remember, if you don’t have to pay there is a good chance you are the product (or rather your information is), because someone is trying to sell you something whether it be a physical item or just an idea.
For this 4th installment I am only going to focus on two fallacies as they are extremely overused by authority figures, the media, and the government, all for the purpose of confusing you or tricking you into being lazy in your thinking so that they influence your behavior (in whatever way they intend). These particular fallacies have also been beaten like a dead horse, one that already started to rot last century, but somehow has remained preserved for the purpose of being beaten over and over. This has been increasingly true over the last few years to a degree that should have you very concerned about the state of our societies… anyway… I will be looking at these two logical fallacies.
- Fallacy of Equivocation
- Appeal to Authority Fallacy
Fallacy of Equivocation
Fallacy of Equivocation is a false or misleading comparison or statement. In this fallacy confusing language is used to mislead a point or meaning, or introduce a wrong idea or fact or to avoid committing to a specific idea, concept, or even policy. There is also another common method to use this which use through omission such as neglecting to include very important clarifying information that completely changes the meaning and understanding of what was said. You may have also heard of the term Doublespeak which is basically a method of talking using just this fallacy, so no one is really sure what you actually mean. There are two groups of people who regularly use this kind of manipulative language:
Lawyers and Politicians.
They both use language to misrepresent something to either be more good or more bad than it is or to avoid acknowledging or conceding a specific idea or topic. Often they use it in a specific way to make people think they agreed or disagreed to something even though they really didn’t.
Did you ever read the book 1984? Or at least hear of it? Doublespeak and manipulative language is how the government in the novel quickly went from a democracy to an authoritarian dictatorship. (The term “Big Brother” was coined by Orwell in this novel.)
How many times have you heard a politician avoid commitment to something or use language which made you feel one thing, but when you looked closer it actually turned out that wasn’t at all what they did or said?
Probably too many.
False equivocation has been used during the last few years in many ways, though it’s a tricky one.
One example is the confusing method by which they have been defining what a “vaccine” is. In a traditional sense most people consider a vaccine to be an “immunization” shot, something you take once or twice, usually with some considerable break between shots (6 months to several years), which makes you immune to a disease and you never have to worry it again; Eg. the MMR shot. Compare this to a vaccine in the second sense, that of a temporary preventative, which is you take annually or semi-annually (seasonally) to boost your immune system; eg. the Flu shot.
Except, the pitch for the COVID-19 “solution” was that it was going to be the first of the two concepts, immunization, but it very much seems like it is going to be the latter of the two.
Yet publicly they continue to sell it as a true immunization. Additionally the definition of vaccine was also quietly changed in some places, such as Marriam Webster dictionary, to include the new mRNA technology that it further confuses the matter. (For a decent discussion on the history of vaccines, their success and failures this episode of the Lex Friedman podcast does a decent job.)
Changing definitions after the fact to back up your position is somewhat underhanded, as you basically kill any argument against it, on a on grounds of definition, simply by changing the word.
The fact that they continue to use the word “vaccine” to imply “immunization,” despite the considerably waning efficacy in a fairly short amount of time, 3-8 months according to a variety of studies, really points to the fact that it is more likely to be a temporary preventative. (Listen to this episode of The Dark horse podcast for a great breakdown)
Of course, if this is true it’s very much a political and ego game, as the claim that the HAIL MARY vaccine would “stop COVID-19 in its tracks” turned out to be quite the bold claim indeed. Considering that according to a recent UK study, most transmission is in the household (likely due to the inability to isolate someone in many homes), with 25% of vaccinated individuals transmitting it and 35-38% of non-vaccinated individuals spreading it. Which suggests most people do not actually transmit the virus who have it and vaccines only marginally protect from transmission, though they do a decent job at preventing death amongst the vulnerable (at least for a limited time). This is, of course, further confused by the fact that the subsequent strains of COVID-19 are far peskier than the original strain as far as transmission despite being considerably less deadly.
This continued position and Fallacy of Equivocation that “vaccines are the same as immunization” is probably largely due to ego, the assumption that most of you can’t understand the science anyway and the fact that governments and their policies and public opinion simply cannot keep up with the speed at which viruses evolve. Thus the public narrative sticks to its original premise that COVID-19 vaccines are still in fact full immunization type vaccines. Even if with regards to most new strains of COVID-19 they are actually just a system boost.
The unwillingness to publicly and regularly acknowledge the clear and important difference is a combination of laziness, arrogance, and ego. Yet the difference between a full immunization and a vaccine is a very important distinction. Though it is likely they will simply change their definitions to make sure they are always correct, though this is very much morally wrong and continues down this silly path of using such fallacies to ensure they are always correct.
Yet if it was a true vaccine that stops the virus and transmission then the argument for everyone getting vaccinated is much stronger. However when the offered solution does not confer immunity, then it very much weakness the mandate position, as a system booster is more suited for the vulnerable, including elderly and obese people for example, since for the average person their natural immune system would do just fine according to numerous studies.
The bottom line is, these topics are complicated and should never be broken down into simple, false dichotomies, nor should they be referred to with tricky, double-meaning words. Often those giving you the information rely on the fact you are woefully underinformed on these topics, thus by keeping it simple they know you will not dig further. Using oversimplified language, and promoting false dichotomies means they can easily mislead you, make you feel things like fear or confusion, all with the goal of getting you to do something they want while also relying on another great fallacy, the Appeal to Authority which is one of the most dangerous ones of all.
Here’s another video explaining it differently.
Appeal to Authority Fallacy
The Appeal to Authority Fallacy has been one of the most egregiously overused fallacies during the last two years. The general idea is that because someone is in a position of authority their information is always correct simply because of their position or title. Or, in recent use specifically, “Person X is an authority on this topic thus anything they say on this topic is 100% correct, without question.”
The biggest flaw in this is that assumption that an authority figure can never be wrong, never lie, or never misrepresent. Some say we must trust our experts because otherwise why have faith in their titles at all or the power of the authority in general. Many people operate in this fashion because they believe questioning authority leads to the collapse of structure. Though this is very much false (which fallacy is it?). The reality is authority figures, a.k.a. experts, are still human.
Do you remember the saying “to err is human”? This means that to make errors is part of human behaviour and the human condition. Authority figures are fallible and like anyone can (and will) make mistakes either because they are tired, under pressure, or are actually forced to guess due to a lack of information. They may also be subject to outside influences such as money and politics. To pretend that these individuals can never be influenced by outside pressures is a delusion of the highest order. They say everyone has their price. Sometimes that price comes in the form of the threat of losing a job, prestige, or by actually being given positive incentives such as money or promotions.
Don’t get me wrong, I am NOT making a case for never listening to authority figures or experts. What I am making a case for is never trust them (or anyone else) blindly. Look for more evidence, and consistent evidence, then consider any opposing arguments; particularly within the realm of the sciences.
Science is simply the search for truth through more knowledge. It does not mean it is truth. If you look back at the history of science, 80% or at least a large percentage of it at any given point was probably wrong, even though everyone agreed it was right at the time. Of course as we increase our knowledge this number will decrease, as we march toward the truth of the universe, but until such time on many topics, particularly things to do with humans, it is unlikely we and the authority figures (experts) are remotely close to absolute truth.
Additionally, and increasingly today due to university culture, experts are prone to Groupthink. Even if they disagree and have a evidence-based stance to their disagreement they may often stay quiet, lest they themselves be ostracized and chased out of their respective fields.
Okay, now that the stage has been set as to why Appeals to Authority can be a problem, let’s look at some recent examples:
The first and most obvious (and disturbing one) was the complete, blind, almost cult-like, following and believing of the words of Dr. Anthony Fauci. Who was, and still is, the head of the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and one of the figures much of the world looked to during the pandemic. Looking back, and as more information comes out, this was likely an very big error, but I digress.
The best example of Appealing to Authority was Fauci’s own egotistical appeal to his own authority when he said, “And that’s the reason why I say people who then criticize me about that are actually criticizing science.”
This is one of the most absurd things said by anyone during the pandemic. He’s essentially saying something like emperor palatine did in Revenge of the Sith. “I am the SENATE!” and we all know how that went. History was not kind to the late Emperor and will not be kind to Fauci but, again, I digress.
Ultimately, those who have been placed in political roles like Fauci are largely operating as that, a political face to the fields they are representing. They are essentially administrators with the title of Doctor, “Head of,” or “Expert in.” Except they are often far removed from the actual research and up-to-date information, and due to the concept of “broken telephone” or in some cases intentional misrepresentation, they will say things that are misleading (in the case of Fauci, he lied to congress or at the very least knowingly misrepresented or twisted things to maintain a defensive position) or do not understand things because they are not actual experts, or they simply like being in the lime light.
In 20 years we will look back at the Fauci Saga and realize we must be very, very wary of Appealing to Authority blindly. (To be fair in the past he did not act so audaciously but on this one he clearly did. Listen to this episode of The Rubin report with former colleague of Fauci Dr. Drew. Which should actually further the case against appeal to Authority as even those who were good in the past may simply have lost it.)
In a more local example, our “authority” figure with a Dr. title, is Dr. Bonnie Henry, who has on more than one occasion lied or misrepresented material facts. A good example being the policies which she supports, that Mask mandates work and should be enforced heavily. Yet in a 2015 Ontario court case she was a witness in, she admits masks do little with regard to viruses like the Coronavirus.
Yet people blindly listen to her word because she is an authority figure, even though in her own previous words (on record) defy what she says publicly. Clearly this is about politics and not actually an individual’s expertise in a given area.
Because of cult-like Appeal to Authority we have estranged friends, broken families, divided society, and generally created unnecessary chaos. All because some people choose to blindly follow an expert (on both sides of the argument) rather than looking at all the evidence, from ALL experts and ALL data, and then making the appropriate decisions.
Here’s another video explaining this particularly logical fallacy.
Okay, so the examples used in this one were complicated, politically charged, and require so much more information than I can write here. This however, is exactly how you avoid the trap of logical fallacies, especially ones that have been used so much during the last few years. The bottom line is, if something seems overly simplistic, it probably is. If what an authority figure says doesn’t make sense, it probably doesn’t.
You must always do your own research. This includes looking at both sides and, yes, finding experts whom have been more consistently correct than not. Just because an expert was correct about one thing does not mean they are correct about everything. Some experts show they are more consistently correct, however, if they aren’t, look for experts who openly admit when they are wrong and make corrections as needed (just like Brett and Heather Weinstein of the Dark horse Podcast.)
Written by Jonathan Fader.