A fallacy is an error in reasoning or thinking, sometimes called a “thinking error.” We have learned about a few fallacies in thinking, but here are a few more. It is important to understand and spot fallacies in our own thinking and arguments as well as others. This is a component of Critical Thinking.
- Relying on Case Examples- This refers to drawing conclusions about many people or a group from only one or a few unrepresentative individuals. A generalization is made about the effectiveness of a method, or about the people in general based on just a few people. Just because someone has knowledge of a person or a few people does not mean that they can use that knowledge to represent a group. Case examples can be misleading and usually lead to oversimplification.
- Relying on Testimonials- This argument claims that a method or treatment is effective based on one’s own or another person’s experience. Testimonials are often given at professional conferences, commercials, TV ads, etc. Testimonials do not provide evidence that treatment was effective. They are one person’s response to treatment and there is no way to know if the changes they experience are from the “treatment” or something else.
- Vagueness- Descriptions of clients’ progress, treatment methods, measures, outcomes, etc. are spoken about in vague terms that really do not tell us much. Vague descriptors of hoped for outcomes make it impossible to really tell if progress has been made. Examples of vague terms include: better, terrific, improved, great, outstanding, higher functioning. These terms are impossible to measure and therefore make it hard to argue about and that is really the intent that a person has when they are using them.
- Confirmation Bias- This refers to the tendency to look only for data and evidence which supports your opinion or beliefs and ignore other data and evidence which disconfirms your opinion or beliefs. This may be purposeful or not and is sometimes called “Cherry picking.” Sometimes administrators will ignore failures of treatment or programs and only discuss successes. Politicians often use this to mislead or counter another’s argument. This erodes objectivity in situations.
- Confusing Correlation with Causation (Assuming an association is a cause)- Just because two things occur together does not mean one caused the other. High numbers of storks are associated with high numbers of babies. But that does not mean that storks bring babies or babies bring storks. The reason is that, rural families tend to have more babies and storks tend to love in rural areas. Even if one thing occurs prior to the other, it does not necessarily mean that it caused the other. Repetitive research studies would need to be conducted to test whether one variable causes another.
Review each practice scenario and determine if it contains a fallacy and if so, which fallacy is it an example of?
- We need to reduce access to firearms in this country because they are causing violence.
- I have known two Asian individuals and let me tell you, they tend to be very smart, but rigid.
- We have evaluated this program and the results are absolutely awesome!
- The Art Therapy treatment program was found to increase self- confidence scores in youth by 15% and reduce angry outbursts by 8%.
- Kari tried the Anderson grapefruit diet and lost 13 pounds in one month. Her before and after pictures are amazing. I’m going to try this diet myself.
- I really believe that climate change is related to the increase in youth Depression and I’m going to prove it.
- This new measure I tried with my clients with Bipolar Disorder was fantastic, you should use it.
- I’m not going to the Diner on Main street. It has 2 Yelp reviews which rate it as 1 out of 5.
Compare your answers to those below. Give yourself one point for each correct identification of a fallacy and another point if you correctly identified which fallacy it was.
- Fallacy- Confusing correlation with causation
- Fallacy- Relying on Case Examples
- Fallacy- Vagueness
- Not a Fallacy
- Fallacy- Relying on Testimonials
- Fallacy- Confirmation Bias
- Fallacy- Vagueness and Relying on Case Examples
- Fallacy- Relying on Testimonials or Case Examples
Provide your total score to your Instructor with an answer to the following question.
Think of a time when you heard/saw a thinking fallacy from someone else (in person, on TV/Internet, in magazine/paper, etc.) and describe the situation and what fallacy you believe you noticed.
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