Thursday, 4 September 2014

Illogical logic

Illogical logic, or more accurately ‘logical fallacy’, is when an argument is presented as being based in logic when it is in fact devoid of reason.  This is something which voters in Scotland are being subjected to in our referendum campaign.  But how can we tell what is self evident and what is self interest?  We at Sign for Scotland have made a basic guide.

Step one: write down all the arguments you come across.  This applies to both the Yes and no campaigns.  Step two: check through the list below and remove the arguments which fail.  Step three: weigh the options of what remains.
The football term would be ‘playing the man and not the ball’.  This is when you are asked not to believe something because of who said it. 
2) Tradition
Just because something has ‘always’ been a certain way doesn’t mean that it is right.  It is traditional in many countries for women to be paid less than men for the same job however few would suggest that ‘tradition’ makes this valid. 
3) I don’t like the idea of that
This fallacy is to refuse to believe something simply because you dislike the conclusions.  An example would be refusing to believe that successive UK Governments actively hid the value of North Sea Oil for generations.
4) But what if they…
This is when someone is threatened to support a point of view. This can be explicate (we’ll bomb your airports) or implied (wouldn’t it be terrible if none of us bought products from your country anymore).
5) Big Lie 
This is when a lie, slogan or deceptive half-truth is repeated over and over again until people believe it without evidence.
Believing an idea because that is what your favourite party, politician, celebrity or individual believes isn’t logical. Logic is coming to your own conclusions, not blindly accepting the conclusions of others.
"Can you prove that the moon isn't made of cheese?  There's too much uncertainty..."
7) Equivocation
Using words in a specific way to suggest something without actually lying. For example, suggesting that Scotland wouldn't be allowed to use the pound without stating how that's possible.
8) It's just like...
Comparing one thing to something very different in order to draw a false conclusion. An example would be saying that ‘Scotland would have been like Greece if we have been independent', when our economies are different.
9) Statistics, damn statistics and lies
Using numbers to prove unrelated claims. An example would be asking people in Scotland whether the UK should have a nuclear deterrent and then claiming that those who support the notion automatically support keeping Trident at Faslane.
Claiming that all information needs to be presented before a conclusion can be made is an example of logical fallacy. This is because it is impossible to have 'all' information on a given subject (especially on something as complicated as how a future government that is yet to be determined will run a nation).
Arguing purely on emotion isn't logical. An example would be saying 'think about our shared history'. History won't change based on where political decisions are made.
12) A rose by any other name
Using a different term to give a positive or negative spin to a story. If a celebrity were to say 'I'm pretty sure an independent Scotland would be successful', then a negative spin would be 'celebrity has doubts as to how successful a separate Scotland would be'. The statement isn't untrue, but changes to the wording or context give a different impression from that intended.
13) Red Herring
Bringing up another topic to distract away from the issue at hand.
14) Shifting the Burden of Proof
In the referendum debate, both sides need to state the case for their viewpoints. Stating 'the other side has questions to answer' but offereing no answers from their perspective, is an example of logical fallacy.
15) You can't say that!
Saying that certain viewpoints or topics cannot be discussed is a type of logical fallacy. This includes banning discussions in public forums.
Both sides have used some if not all of these tricks, but that doesn’t mean that they are as bad as each other.  It is up to you to do your own research and to come to your own conclusions.
It is said that truth is one but wisdom is many.  I believe that to be a good place to start when critically evaluating opposing viewpoints.  It is easily possible for two seemingly incompatible opinions to be party or wholly truthful.  And it is possible for people to be honest, even when they slip one of the above fallacies into their statements.

There are many reasons to vote Yes which don't rely on logical fallacies, including a written constitution which will safeguard our rights, a more representative democracy and the removal of nuclear weapons from Scottish territory.
So before you vote in 2014, remember to check whether the arguments you come across fall into one of the categories above.  Ignoring the ones that do is the only logical choice.
And if that doesn’t convince you, I have a muffin cannon.
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