Role of English
How to Solve It
Based on the book by Carl Sagan, The Demon Haunted World.
The following are suggested tools for testing arguments and detecting fallacious or fraudulent arguments:
Wherever possible there must be independent confirmation of the facts.
Warning signs that suggest deception.
- Encourage substantive debate on the evidence by knowledgeable proponents of all points of view.
- Arguments from authority carry little weight (in science there are no "authorities").
- Spin more than one hypothesis - don't simply run with the first idea that caught your fancy.
- Try not to get overly attached to a hypothesis just because it's yours.
whether the hypothesis can, at least in principle, be falsified (shown
to be false by some unambiguous test). In other words, it is testable?
Can others duplicate the experiment and get the same result?
- Occam's razor - if there are two hypotheses that explain the data equally well choose the simpler.
- If there is a chain of argument every link in the chain must work.
control experiments - especially "double blind" experiments where the
person taking measurements is not aware of the test and control
(excerpted from The Planetary Society Australian Volunteer Coordinators Prepared by Michael Paine )
- Attacking the arguer and not the argument.
pressure on the decision maker by pointing out dire consequences of an
"unfavorable" decision. (For example: political, religious, social or
- Appeal to ignorance (“I didn't
know the gun was loaded when I pulled the trigger.” absence of evidence
is not evidence of absence).
- Special pleading (For example: referring to god's will)
the question or circular argument or reasoning; assuming to be true
what you are supposed to be proving; a speaker asserts the
worthlessness of something by simply saying it is worthless but not
presenting any evidence to demonstrate that this is true; the premise
depends on the truth of the very matter in question. (For example:
Saying if A is B, then A is B; (...) was the best actor for the role
because he's (...); If these people are guilty and have shown no
remorse for their crime, this can only mean that they are bad people,
and therefore they are guilty.)
- Selective observation (counting the hits and NOT the misses).
- Statistics of small numbers (such as drawing conclusions from inadequate sample sizes).
the nature of statistics (The President expressing astonishment and
alarm on discovering that fully half of all citizens have below average
- Inconsistency (e.g. military
expenditures based on “because we need the money” or worst case
scenarios but scientific projections on environmental dangers
ignored because they are not "proved").
- Confusion of cause and effect; "it happened afterward so it must have been caused by"
- Meaningless question ("what happens when an irresistible force meets an immovable object?).
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?").
- Caricaturing (or stereotyping) a position to make it easier to attack.
words - for example, use of euphemisms for war such as "police action"
to get around limitations on Presidential powers; politicians
frequently try to find new names for institutions which under old names
have become odious to the public
What is it?
Arguments & Claims
Modeling & Questions
*6 Basic Mistakes
*7 Rules Thinking Skills
*Knowledge for Business