Monday, September 13, 2010

Honolulu Essay Passes A Logical Test 12

That essay on the Honolulu symphony going bankrupt was written by a board member of the organization.  Here is the link again: 

As I discussed in blog #11 with reference to the Muses, the board member is wrong.  But I think it is vital to our quiddity discussion to point out that the board member passes the basic logical tests.  the board member deserves a "B" or even an "A" on his post as a business case study.


Based on the book The Demon Haunted World by Carl Sagan

The following are suggested as tools for testing arguments and detecting fallacious or fraudulent arguments:

Wherever possible there must be independent confirmation of the facts

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.

Quantify, wherever possible.

If there is a chain of argument every link in the chain must work.

"Occam's razor" - if there are two hypothesis that explain the data equally well choose the simpler.

Ask 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?

Additional issues are

Conduct control experiments - especially "double blind" experiments where the person taking measurements is not aware of the test and control subjects.

Check for confounding factors - separate the variables.

Common fallacies of logic and rhetoric

Ad hominem - attacking the arguer and not the argument.

Argument from "authority"*.

Argument from adverse consequences (putting pressure on the decision maker by pointing out dire consequences of an "unfavourable" decision).

Appeal to ignorance (absence of evidence is not evidence of absence).

Special pleading (typically referring to god's 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 (such as 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 thriftily ignored because they are not "proved").

Non sequitur - "it does not follow" - the logic falls down.

Post hoc, ergo propter hoc - "it happened after so it was caused by" - confusion of cause and effect.

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.

Straw man - caricaturing (or stereotyping) a position to make it easier to attack..

Suppressed evidence or half-truths.

Weasel words - for example, use of euphemisms for war such as "police action" to get around limitations on Presidential powers. "An important art of politicians is to find new names for institutions which under old names have become odious to the public"

Above all - read the book!

The above "kit" is unedited from:

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A footnote by this blog author:

*Sagan argues that in science there are no authorities.  Professor Zerefsky of Northwestern University, in his book (and Teaching Company lectures on logical argumentation, which remain available for order on the internet) states, I think correctly, that there are no authorities outside the expert's specific area of specialization.

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A longer checklist of logical errors is available at 

I cannot find that the Honolulu symphony board member fell into any of those errors, either.

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Epilog for this particular post:  We are going to push onward in the next post to a list of sneaky, unfair, dishonest rhetorical arguments and see if that is why the board member was wrong.

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