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Fallacy Finding for Crash Dummies

Creativity can draw creative people deep into the swamp of nonsense. So before acting on any new idea, before arming yourself for the fight against knee-jerk change resistors, it behooves all creators, innovators, and inventors to spare the world from creative Titanics. Namely, promising that your new idea can never sink.

If you’re like most creative people you are already your own harshest critic. You know how to find what’s wrong with your ideas. But it’s often more difficult to find what’s wrong with the case you build to sell your ideas once you embrace them. That calls for fallacy finding.

Logical fallacies pervade our lives. Any Facebook debate, political speech, or lover’s spat is loaded with them. Here are three examples of one of the most common logical fallacies. The ancients called it post hoc ergo propter hoc.

Phone Fault

Statistics that claim people have more accidents while driving and cell-phoning don’t prove that phone use causes those accidents. It seems plausible but that’s not proof. A lot of people spend a good deal of time on the phone in their cars. Naturally a lot of accidents, which might have happened anyway, will happen while one or both drivers are on the phone. To prove consequence, the burden of proof must come with a cause-and-effect link.

Smoking Dopes

The same fallacy famously mis-reasons: Most heroin users have smoked marijuana before using the hard stuff. Therefore smoking marijuana leads to heroin use. Well I’ll bet all heroin users drank beer, milk, and water before taking to the needle. Let’s ban them all! Or it could be that people headed for hard-drug use typically start with easier-to-obtain drugs. Again, just because A follows B, doesn’t prove that B caused A.

Crash Dummies

Research shows—always be wary of that phrase—that older drivers who undergo brain training have fewer accidents afterward. Makes sense. But once more, just because better driving follows the training doesn’t prove cause and effect. In fact, previous research finds just the opposite.

Who’s a critical thinker to believe? No one. It’s not about belief. Dig deeper. Find out how each study was conducted, when, and by whom. Look for vested interests. Follow the money. Uncover hidden agendas.

After finding and eliminating flaws from your work, do the same for your case. Sniff out the logical fallacies in your sales pitch. If you don’t an antagonist will. Fallacy finding ain’t for dummies. In fact, there may be a correlation between uncritical thinking and dumbth.

For a long list of post hoc ergo propter hoc examples, see The Skeptic’s Dictionary.

Read Becoming a Critical Thinker: A Guide for the New Millennium, Second Edition by Robert Todd Carroll.

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Don’t take my word for it. Dig deeper.


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This Right Brain Workout appeared for the first time on IdeaConnection.

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