Archive for September, 2008

It’s logical fallacy time, here in Skeptictionary corner.

An argumentum ad hominem might look like this:

Is a convicted drunk driver really qualified to comment on a matter of such importance?

Since when did we start listening to suggestions from communists on how to improve our healthcare system?

You’re wrong because you’re an idiot.

It’s an attempt to discredit an argument, by attacking the person (the hominem in “ad hominem“) who is making it, rather than the logic of the argument itself. It’s fallacious because it’s irrelevant; it doesn’t matter who is claiming something, the facts are what’s important in deciding what’s true.

For instance, I hope to get around to discussing the authenticity of the Bible on this blog before long. If you want to defend your Holy Book, it’s not going to do you any favours to rant about how a godless heathen like me can’t be trusted, or to bring up those baby seals I hunted to death that one time, without actually addressing my points. The historical evidence stands as it stands, regardless of my personal history.

And, fair’s fair; if someone brings up a point about Biblical prophecy or some such which they think supports the Bible’s divine origins, it doesn’t help me to simply declare that nobody so blinded by ideology could possibly have anything useful to say. An argument should be judged on its own merit, and irrelevant ad hominem arguments don’t advance anyone’s cause.

They tend to come in three (or maybe four) flavours:

An abusive ad hominem is a straight-forward insult or an aspersion cast against your opponent, in an illogical attempt to damage the logic of their own standing. (“Sure, he sounds like he knows what he’s talking about, but can you ever really trust a convicted jay-walker?”)

A circumstantial ad hominem is something I’ve seen described in two different ways. It can be an attempt to undermine someone’s credibility, and thus the credibility of their argument, by pointing out an apparent source of bias. (“Of course he says women should get paid more; he needs the women’s vote to get elected.”) It may also be a way of encouraging acceptance of a claim based on your audience’s personal biases, rather than on the facts that support or refute it. (Asking “What would Jesus do?” only has a chance of being persuasive to a certain demographic of the population.)

And a tu quoque (“you too!”) argument is an attempt to undermine the reasoning of an argument by accusing its opponent of acting inconsistently with it. (“If Al Gore’s so worried about the environment, why does he keep flying around on his private jet to tell us all about it?”)

Making accusations about a speaker’s character isn’t always irrelevant and inappropriate, though. Climate change either is or isn’t a problem we should be doing something about, regardless of Al Gore’s personal carbon footprint – but if you wanted to make the case that Al Gore is a hypocrite, then this would be a relevant point to bring up, even if it doesn’t make him wrong about our impact on the environment. Similarly, gender equality seems to be a fine thing, whatever any politicians are saying – but a claim that can’t be objectively verified, which relies more on the arguer’s personal opinions or authority (“You should vote me, because I’ll do something about this”) can reasonably be called into question by bringing up their personal biases.

And, so long as you’re not confusing it with logic, sometimes hurling abuse at people is just fun.

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So, the US House of Representatives rejected the government’s plan to spend $700 billion bailing out the country’s financial institutions. I’m still not nearly intelligent or informed enough to know what this means, what’s going to happen now, whether this is good, or how screwed we are. I think the only thing that differentiates me from just about everybody involved is self-awareness.

But, we have the chance to win the proposed amount of spending ten times over, and a trillion or so in change, thanks to this guy. “10 trillion Turkish lira to anyone who produces a single intermediate-form fossil demonstrating evolution” is what’s on offer, which equates to over $8 trillion. That’s the kind of money that would solve a whole lot of problems. And you know he’s good for it, because he’s a famous writer.

Even if you don’t think that the evidence demolishes this guy’s point easily, it’d be a pretty lamentable position to take if he demonstrably didn’t have the money he’s claiming to be offering. At least Randi actually has a million dollars. (I’m not saying this guy isn’t really a trillionaire, of course. I’m just saying.) Hat-tip to PZ.

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A couple of days ago, Channel 5 aired a documentary about Derek Ogilvie, the star of a show (aired on the same channel) called The Baby Mind Reader. His supposed abilities are pretty much explained by the title. His general routine is to meet with a parent/parents and young child, and tell them what’s on the kid’s mind; images, pictures, videos, and concepts appear in his head, and these supposedly relate directly to what the child is thinking.

And the first thing I want to say is that I really doubt that this guy is a fraud. He seems passionately sincere, and even pretty well-intentioned. I don’t think he’s deliberately trying to deceive people, or is conning anyone to make a fast buck. He’s trying to do some good, and help people, by making use of the talent he honestly believes that he possesses. He’s just not very skeptically minded.

He repeatedly insisted that he knows he’s not crazy, he knows he’s not lying, and he’s had so much specific information that it’s not plausible he could have got it from anywhere else. It’s only the last point that’s a source of contention for me. He’s really not in the best position to judge something like that, and when cold reading is so well established as a technique that can really impress people and give the appearance of spooky psychic powers, we can only find anything out for sure by doing proper, rigorous tests designed to rule out the “anywhere else”, and leave only the option of genuine psychicness.

If he is using cold reading, this still doesn’t mean he’s doing anything deliberately deceptive, but his style shows all the signs of it. He talks at the parents, throwing out lots of ideas fairly quickly, often being quite vague, and always looking for a reaction, to see whether he’s on the right track or should change course, or whether they’ll help him out by volunteering some details. And people will, if they’re already inclined to believe in him. (Those two links up there have plenty of detail until the Skeptictionary gets its own entry on cold reading.) He’s almost certainly not consciously lying, but there’s a lot of rationalisation going on in his head, necessary to relate the images his creative brain is producing to the feedback he’s getting from the parents.

His first test is at some college in the UK. A child-minder will bring in each of six children, one at a time, and Derek will spend some time in their presence, picking up whatever vibes he can, and will write up a complete reading for each child. The children’s parents aren’t present for any of this, but later on they’ll all get a chance to read through all of the readings, and see if they can pick the one that was made for their child. This will rule out the possibility that he’s just bouncing ideas off the feedback he’s getting from the parents, but still seems to fall well within the scope of the psychic powers he’s claiming to have.

Except, at one point, he points out this very fact himself, and talks about how he usually also has the parents there to work with and how much easier that makes things. Why should it? If you’ve got a psychic connection with the kid, the images you’re getting from them should be descriptive enough in themselves, without having to be nudged toward anything pertinent by someone else.

And at one point he starts going off doing a lengthy reading about the childminder herself, who is conveniently in the room and able to provide useful feedback on what he’s saying. The Professor running the experiment has to come through after several minutes and suggest he gets back on track; the impression this all gives is that Derek can only do anything in his usual limited scope, where the cold reading techniques can be relied on, and wants to be able to point to something “impressive” he achieved today in the event that he totally flunks the actual test.

Which he did. One of the six parents identified the correct reading; for the other five, the supposed transcript of their own child’s thoughts didn’t stand out from those of a bunch of other kids.

Again, he falls back to “It’s not made up in my mind”. Oh, piss off. Everything is made up in your mind one way or another, that’s how minds work. The question is whether your mind is doing it all on its own, or whether it’s being prompted by some outside stimulus. In other words, are you getting psychic readings, or are you just a human being with a creative brain? And his whine of “Just trust me on this, please” is frankly embarrassing. Of course they’re not going to just trust you, you couldn’t do it, what the hell do you think they put together this test for?

He said something earlier about searching for the truth, but he’s only searching for some justification of what he’s already convinced of. No “truth” is going to change his mind. He’s in tears after failing this test. He has to keep believing in himself, because it’s just not conceivable that he might have been wrong all this time. “It’s very sad when people say things about me,” he says. Well, they’re not being mean. They’re saying there’s no evidence to suggest that you’ve got psychic powers, because there isn’t. You were right there when they found that out. It’s called science, they did a test, and you failed. If you’d done what you’d set out to do, and given even four of the six sets of parents a reading they could recognise as applying to their child, they would have given you the credit for it. But you couldn’t.

Then we move on to another test, where he presumably hopes to have better luck, in Florida, under the watchful eye of the amazing James Randi himself. This time, the protocol is rather different, though it has also been agreed to in advance by Derek.

Incidentally, it really is important that he accepts every aspect of the testing before they get started. We wouldn’t learn anything if we were testing him outside of his claimed abilities. If he claimed his powers only worked when he was within a couple of feet of the child, or looking at the child’s face, then they’d have to arrange for that to happen, rather than putting him in the next room. Here, though, Derek has said that he’s happy with all the conditions under which the test is going to take place. We couldn’t test a pianist’s musical ability by handing them a violin; similarly, we have to make every possbile allowance so that someone like Derek is satisfied that the situation is conducive to a successful performance.

This time, there’s only one child involved in the test. Derek met ten children, and their parents, and chose this one to work with. There’s a box with ten different children’s toys, which Derek gets to examine, before he goes into a sound-proof room next door, from where he’s previously said that he’ll still be able to get a reading from the child. There’s a bag full of ten little balls, rather like table-tennis balls, numbered one to ten, each corresponding to one of the toys. When Derek says he’s ready (into a microphone, so that he can be heard in the other room), the child draws a ball from the bag at random, and they check the number. Randi then takes out the corresponding toy from the cupboard, and gives it to the kid to play with, under the supervision of the child’s parents. Derek writes down which toy he thinks the kid has, then tells them to move onto the next one. The numbered ball is replaced, and another random draw is made. This continues until ten draws have been made.

So, Derek has a list of ten toys written down that he thinks the child was given, in order, each from the available selection of ten. If six of his guesses match up with what the kid actually had at the time, he wins.

He got one right, out of ten.

But I guess he should have been happy with that, because as soon as he finished he said, “That was tough. I’ll probably get none.” Eesh. Dude, this is exactly what you keep saying you can do. It’s not a pop quiz. It’s not an end-of-term exam. You tell us you can read children’s minds, you’re being asked to read a child’s mind, in conditions under which you previously said that you could read children’s minds. If there’s anything to your claims at all, this is precisely where you should excel. The tests aren’t “designed for you to fail”, they’re designed for you to fail if you’re not psychic. If you had the ability you said you did, you would have been able to do this. You couldn’t do this. It’s not rocket science.

You’re right, Derek, Randi isn’t “going to give away a million dollars just off the cuff”. What he’s going to do is try to find out whether anyone is actually psychic, and be thorough in his efforts to rule out any other explanation for what looks like a successful result, and then give away a million dollars, if he finds anyone who can really do it. How was anything about the test responsible for your utter failure to show anything remotely impressive?

Randi opines that Derek is probably quite sincere, not a fraud, and the guy really believes he can do what he claims. He gets plenty of airtime to discuss his conclusions and his previous experiences with other psychics and claimants to paranormal skills, which is grand.

But then it goes downhill in the final stretch. Derek goes to have his brain scanned, to see what actually goes on in his head when he’s doing his thing. Someone with letters after his name hooks him up to an EEG-meter of some sort, or something similar, but right from the start it all smacks of pseudo-science.

The actual data we get from Derek’s brain is directly described in terms such as “a state associated with communication of a non-verbal and emotional nature, as opposed to a verbal or semantic nature”, which I’m sure makes a lot of neurological sense. But the inanely credulous Dr. Whatshisname doing the research seems to think that Derek is entirely vindicated because of this. According to him, the changes in brain state Derek registered are “consistent with your report and the activity that you’re engaged in,” and this apparently “confirms and validates what you say.”

No. No, it doesn’t.

What Derek says isn’t that he’s in a state associated with communication of a non-verbal and emotional nature. What Derek says is that he’s psychic. And you really can’t prove that with a brain scan. There are no “parts of the brain that we would expect you to use” while you’re employing psychic powers. We don’t know what parts of the brain those are, for the same reason that we don’t know what sorts of materials we would expect to find in the exhaust fumes of an alien spaceship, or what flavour of ice cream is Bigfoot’s favourite. There still hasn’t been any evidence presented that anything paranormal is going on.

It was so ridiculous, and no distinction ever seemed to be drawn between being psychic and having “something unusual going on in your brain activity”. Those two are really not equivalent. So far we’ve been testing the first. I’d be far more willing to grant Derek Ogilvie the second. And yet, he knows that “there’s something going on, and if there’s any way it can be proved it’s in these results, because this test categorically will determine if there is something unusual going on in my brain activity.”

Really? Measuring your unusual brain activity is the best way to prove that you can read babies’ minds? That wouldn’t be, say, those times you were asked to read some babies’ minds, and you were tested as to whether or not you could do it? That’s not as good a way to tell whether you can read babies’ minds, as sticking some electrodes on your forehead and looking at whether your thoughts are “emotionally dominant”?

This is about on a level with “Hey guys, the stuff-o-meter’s beeping! That means something spooky’s going on, and because we’re ghost hunters, it must be a ghost!” Seriously, people. What particular levels of brain activity are associated with psychic activity? We can’t have any answer for that until we’ve done some tests measuring brain activity in people who are definitely doing something psychic, compared it with a control group of people who aren’t, and come up with a theory that can be used to explain previous results and predict future cases. (You know, like how science works.) Until then, saying these results are “consistent” with something like that is meaningless. They’re also consistent with some guy having an overactive imagination, and a researcher who doesn’t know how to critically analyse his results.

Bottom line: Derek Ogilvie says he’s psychic, and that he can read babies’ minds. You know what would have validated that? If he’d read those babies’ minds. It didn’t happen when he said it ought to have happened. That’s called a falsifiable hypothesis. But he’s had some nice and comforting reassurance from the Doc, so he’s happy. And Channel 5 get to pretend that there’s still some point to this guy, rather than holding up their hands and saying “Okay, we admit it, we made some trashy TV shows and didn’t really care to scientifically investigate this guy at the time, we were just trying to make an entertaining show that would get good ratings, we’re a TV station, what were you expecting?”

Unsurprisingly, Derek’s going back to see the Doc again and do some more work with him. But he’s also planning to go see Randi again too, and reckons that now he knows the way it’ll work, he’ll be able to do better next time. I understand that he’s entitled to apply again after a year. I’m sure Randi can’t wait.

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Being wrong about stuff is both fun and easy. There’s a unicorn in my garden who brings me ice cream every day! See, you can’t tell me that’s not an improvement in every way over the sad reality of my actual life.

However, some people aren’t happy with this idea. Some people don’t want me to have a unicorn. Some people are more interested in being able to distinguish true things from untrue things, and only want to believe the former. Some people want to take their ideas about how the world works, and then improve them over time, as they learn more stuff. They say that this leads to a “better understanding” of the world, and has provided us with useful things like “technological advances” and “improved quality of life”. Whatever good that‘s supposed to be.

It’s difficult to know where to start to explain why the scientific method is a good thing, because it seems like it ought to be enough to wave my hands around and go, “Well… duh!” It really does seem that obvious that this is a good way of doing things, and actually articulating an argument in its favour seems almost unnatural. And yet, not everyone sees it as a self-evidently good thing, so explaining its usefulness is important.

So, sarcasm off for a moment, as I try to describe more or less how science works.

Firstly, people notice things that are going on. Everyone does this, even if they’re not doing science. We wouldn’t be active participants in the world if we weren’t always observing things, processing them, and deciding how to act based on our interpretations. For instance, it has been noticed for centuries in most parts of the world that the sun appears at one horizon, moves across the sky, and sinks below the other horizon, at a rate of once per day.

After noticing a few things about the world, we might come up with some interesting questions as to how it works. These questions might look like: “Hey, you know how the Sun rises and sets every day? What’s up with that?”

Once we’ve found a question to ask about the world, we can start coming up with answers. At this point, pretty much anything that answers the question, and explains whatever phenomena we’re asking it about, is a potentially good next step, and is called a hypothesis. It might be solidly based on previous research, or it might be some crazy shit we came up with while we were stoned and staring at our hands with a profound sense of wonder. For now, it doesn’t matter.

Noticing something, asking a question about it, and proposing a hypothesis, might look something like this:

How does that great fiery ball move across the sky each day, providing us with light and heat? Perhaps the great god Helios drags it behind him in his chariot.

My friends ate the berries from that bush, and then soon afterwards they made choking noises, fell over, and stopped moving. Why did this happen? Maybe they were God’s berries, and he struck them down for stealing them.

My friends ate the berries from that bush, and then soon afterwards they made choking noises, fell over, and stopped moving. Why did this happen? Maybe there was something bad in the berries that’s harmful to be eaten.

Why does everyone point and laugh at my mullet whenever I go outside? I guess nobody round here has any fashion sense.

We humans are immensely complicated creatures, and we live in a fantastically complex and beautiful world. How could all this wonder have come about? It must have all been put here by God.

And so on. It’s often not verbalised quite so formally, but this process of thinking is the basis of formulating hypotheses.

Next we start to come to the real meat of the scientific method. Using our hypothesis, we start to make predictions. We say: okay, if this idea we’ve suggested is really how things are, then it explains what we’ve already noticed, but what else should follow? What else should we see, if we keep looking at things, and maybe dig a little deeper? And, perhaps even more importantly, what doesn’t follow from our hypothesis? What do we not expect to see?

This last bit is vital, and demonstrates a crucial way in which science differs from non-scientific and pseudo-scientific approaches to the world. We basically gave ourselves free range to be creative with our hypotheses, which is great – creativity is important in science – but it can lead to some pretty wacky ideas. If our friends died after eating some berries, then angry gods and poisonous fruit both provide a line of cause and effect that explains it just fine. But if we don’t go any further, there’s no reason to think that any one hypothesis is “better” than any of the numerous others we could have picked. We have to see whether we’ve picked a good one, by doing some hypothesis testing.

If an explanation is going to be any good to us, it has to be specific enough to predict what we’ll see when we look in certain places. And hand-in-hand with predictive power comes falsifiability – if our hypothesis predicts that something will happen, then there must be some other things which, according to the hypothesis, shouldn’t happen. If they do, then our hypothesis is a bad one which fails to fit the evidence.

For instance, our hypothesis about the berries might simply be, “These berries are poisonous”. This explains why the people who ate them are now dead. One prediction it makes about the future is that anyone else who eats the berries should also die shortly afterwards. We could put together an experiment by which to test this hypothesis, such as feeding the berries to someone we don’t like and watching to see whether they keel over. (Cruel, perhaps, but it’s FOR SCIENCE!) If they did, this would support our hypothesis.

But if they didn’t, then our hypothesis has a problem, and may need to be abandoned. However proud with ourselves we may have felt for coming up with this brilliant explanation, it might be bunk. If it fails in its predictive powers then we can’t afford to keep clinging to it just for old time’s sake.

The idea of falsifiability may seem odd, or not really that important. If your theory is good, then why should you need to be able to prove it wrong, in order to prove it right? The thing is, unless there’s some imaginable way that it could seem wrong, it doesn’t really tell us anything interesting about the universe.

There could be an invisible, intangible, inaudible, and very mischievous imp living in my wardrobe, which would perfectly explain what keeps happening to my socks. But if this imp is completely undetectable, then this tells me nothing about what I’m likely to observe in the future, and he may as well not be there at all. If, on the other hand, I know something specific about this particular breed of imp, then I can make predictions like “If I leave these socks out here, they should disappear at a certain rate”, and I can potentially find out if there’s no invisible imp after all, if I keep good track of my socks and they stay put.

Then, once we’ve noticed some new things, and gathered some new data (whether in a lab experiment, or just by looking somewhere different, or whatever), we check how well the hypothesis holds up.

If things happened like we predicted they would, yay! Looks like our hypothesis has some usefulness. We’ve successfully predicted something with it. It might even be a good description of how the universe is. That’d be neat. Once this has happened a few times, and we’ve started building up a substantial and well-established model of what’s going on, we might start to call this hypothesis a theory.

If they didn’t, then maybe the hypothesis needs tweaking a little bit. Maybe the imp only likes green socks, or the berries only poison people during a full moon. Depending on the exact nature of the results, we might come up with a slightly different, better hypothesis, which explains these new results as well as the old ones, and which does predict things correctly the next time we gather more data. But it might just be that it was a bad hypothesis, and we should give it up and think of something new. In the above cases, it’s probably more likely that there is no invisible sock-stealing imp; and maybe my dead friends ate something other than the berries as well, as it seems unlikely that the lunar cycle would have such an effect. (More on Occam’s Razor in a future essay.)

And, crucially, it’s a never-ending process. Once you have a theory, which can explain things and usefully predict the future, you keep testing it, you constantly watch out for new evidence, or perform new experiments, to see if it holds up, to make sure you really are as right as you can be, and to leap on any possible shortcomings or failings in your current model. And if you find some, then you come up with something new and go through it all again.

This is why science rocks. If you’re doing it right, you will always, always be learning new things. Your understanding of the world will get better and better, because you’ll be putting all your ideas out there for people to test, and they will be trying their damnedest to pick away at any flaws and tear your models down, to prove you wrong, over and over again – and when they find they can’t do that any more, and it seems that you absolutely must be right, whatever facts they gather and whatever experiments they run, then you know you’ve got as close to the truth as you can possibly get. And then you still keep looking.

It’s win-win. If you were right all along, then nobody will be able to use any facts to prove you wrong, and the more they look into it, the more it’ll look like you’d got it sussed from the start. But if you were wrong, either completely or in some small detail, then when it starts to look that way – when enough evidence turns up which your hypothesis can’t explain, and when it’s not predicting the future as accurately as some other model – then you get to change your mind and be right anyway.

Science rocks. The scientific method is the best set of tools we have for minimising our collective wrongness. Use it. Be righter.

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Hoping to have a lengthy essay about SCIENCE up tomorrow. In the meantime, that whole Two Minutes Hate thing sometimes seems like a rather fun idea. Especially when people are using a “dirty bomb” as an entirely unironic metaphor for legal rulings in favour of gay marriage. I’m still yet to hear a single reason why “every other state in the union” is going to be “devastated” if some more people are allowed to get married. We’re urged to “think of all the unintended consequences”, without being told what a single one of them will be. Apparently it involves a lot of scary stuff to do with “your children, your grandchildren, their beliefs, your beliefs, your money, and your liberties” somehow. Oh no! I like my liberties! Something must be done!

Also, that creepy evangelist guy, who was in the news recently for claiming Biblical precedent that puberty effectively estabishes the age of consent for girls, has had his “compound” raided by the FBI, and six girls aged 10-17 were removed. Apparently all these allegations about him have been propagated by the “anti-Christ government”. Yeah, that’s definitely among the predominant failings in US politics at the moment – nobody’s that keen on Jesus.

Apologies for the appalling titular pun, by the way. It could have been worse. (The fabulous stereotype I can abide, but “ass destruction”? No, I’m above that.) Straight-forward essay about science tomorrow, I promise.

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Oh, right, this thing

Kinda forgot I had a blog I’m supposed to be posting to today. Got distracted by all those jobs I’m applying for and totally not slacking off. D’oh.

Well, Greta Christina is not so quick to shirk her duties, and is busy writing stuff I wish I was awesome enough to come up with, and you should really be paying more attention to her anyway.

I guess I haven’t really said anything very news-y for a while. It’s not that interesting stuff hasn’t been happening, I just haven’t seemed that inspired to sit down and yammer about any of it. Something’ll turn up to piss me off soon enough, I’m sure, but for now you might be seeing the Skeptictionary expanding before anything else.

Ooh, I taped the show about when Randi put the Baby Mind Reader to the test, which just aired here a couple of hours ago. With luck I’ll report back tomorrow on whether the guy’s stunned the world and won a million dollars. (Prepare not to be astonished.)

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Isn’t it annoying how, when you’re having an argument with someone, they keep demanding that you make sense, or expecting you to explain yourself, or telling you that your position has no basis in reality? Like, when you’re pointing out how that Obama guy’s definitely a Muslim, but people keep bringing up those Christian churches he went to for years and all those things he’s said about being a Christian, and completely ignore that one time it looked like he was wearing a turban? Doesn’t that just piss you off?

Some people are just sticklers for sound logic that way. A logical fallacy is some type of argument which doesn’t work, and can’t reasonably be used to support the proposed conclusion. This section of the Skeptictionary is going to be about the various types of logical fallacy that people constantly use, often without really being aware of it. These are important to understand, and to avoid as much as possible, for what I hope are obvious reasons. If you’re trying to persuade someone else of your correctness, and you’re having to use manipulative strategies and faulty logic to do it, then maybe what you’re arguing ain’t so great. And if you don’t know how to spot a fallacious argument, then you’re in a pretty weak position to judge when someone else is taking you for a ride.

Arguments that try to sound persuasive, without actually invoking logic or making any sense, may look something like this:

“Have you examined every photo of an alien spaceship ever and proved that every one of them is a fake?”
“If you let them gays get married, next year you’ll be legally obligated to go on a honeymoon with your dog!”
“I’m just too ahead of my time for you to understand me. They laughed at Einstein too when he invented the speed of light.”
“It’s not a horse, it’s a unicorn! His horn’s only visible if you really believe in him!”
“You know who also wanted universal healthcare? Communists.”

It’s a useful skill to have, to understand why these kinds of arguments shouldn’t persuade us. Otherwise we could end up basing our political opinions on some irrelevant nonsense, or giving money to nutcases for pointless scientific research because they think they’re the next Einstein, or rallying against a good idea just to avoid being painted with some undesirable label.

So, this section of the Skeptictionary is going to detail some of the wonky arguments to watch out for, and to call people on when you see them being used to try and convince you of something.

Anyway, you know who gets taken in by logical fallacies? Communists. You’re not a communist, are you?

(What are we thinking of the name “Skeptictionary”, by the way? I was also toying with Rationalmanac, but I’m not wholly convinced by either. Suggestions welcome.)

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