Just As I Thought

Tricks of the Trade: The Cult of the Right

Carl Sagan, in his book The Demon-Haunted World: Science As a Candle in the Dark, gives us a “Baloney Detection Kit” that provides a framework for dissecting and debunking. Take a look at this list of common fallacies of logic and rhetoric, and ask yourself: how many of these have been and are currently used by the GOP on a regular basis? The answer? All of them.

Carl Sagan, in his book The Demon-Haunted World: Science As a Candle in the Dark, gives us a “Baloney Detection Kit” that provides a framework for dissecting and debunking. It’s been used before to see through the rantings of cults, which explains why it is just as effective in debunking the arguments and ravings of a group that’s become more cult-like in recent years: the Republican party. Take a look at this list of common fallacies of logic and rhetoric, and ask yourself: how many of these have been and are currently used by the GOP on a regular basis? The answer? All of them.

  • Ad hominem: attacking the arguer, but not the argument. Source A makes claim X… There is something objectionable about Source A… Therefore claim X is false.
  • Argument from “authority”.
  • Argument from adverse consequences: putting pressure on the decision maker by pointing out dire consequences of an “unfavorable” decision.
  • Appeal to ignorance: absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.
  • Special pleading: typically referring to divine will.
  • Begging the question: assuming an answer in the way the question is phrased.
  • Observational selection: counting the hits and forgetting the misses.
  • Statistics of small numbers: drawing conclusions from inadequate sample sizes.
  • Misunderstanding the nature of statistics: President Eisenhower expressing astonishment and alarm on discovering that fully half of all Americans have below average intelligence!
  • Inconsistency: e.g. military expenditures based on worst case scenarios, but scientific projections on environmental dangers ignored because they are not “proved”.
  • Non sequitur: “it does not follow” – the logic falls down. An abrupt, illogical, unexpected or absurd turn not associated with or appropriate to that preceding it.
  • Post hoc, ergo propter hoc: “it happened after so it was caused by” – confusion of cause and effect. “Anti-terrorism policies worked because there were no more terrorist attacks in the US.”
  • Meaningless question: “what happens when an irresistible force meets an immovable object?”.
  • Excluded middle: considering only the two extremes in a range of possibilities (making the “other side” look worse than it really is).
  • Short-term v. long-term: a subset of excluded middle (“why pursue fundamental science when we have so huge a budget deficit?”).
  • Slippery slope: a subset of excluded middle – unwarranted extrapolation of the effects (give an inch and they will take a mile).
  • Confusion of correlation and causation: A occurs along with B; therefore, A causes B.
  • Straw man: caricaturing (or stereotyping) a position to make it easier to attack.
  • Suppressed evidence or half-truths.
  • Weasel words: usually expressed with deliberate imprecision with the intention to mislead the listeners or readers into believing statements for which sources are not readily available. “Enhanced Interrogation Techniques” rather than torture.

The left is guilty of these techniques as well — but because the left is not organized enough to move in lockstep or hammer their fallacies home as pre-scripted talking points, their attempts are usually ham-fisted and poorly delivered.

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