In a time of fake news, “alternative facts,” Newspeak and attacks on
credible journalism, I’ve focused on teaching my kids how to recognize
logical fallacies in what they see, hear and read.
Logical fallacies are errors in reasoning that weaken arguments. Once you
start looking for them, they’re shockingly obvious.
How many of the following logical fallacies can you spot in one day?
1. Ad populum
—arguing that because “everyone,” “Americans” or “the majority” thinks or
does something, it must be true and right.
Whether Earth is flat or not, most people think it is. And that makes it
2. Ad hominem
—attacking the person making the argument and not the argument itself.
Those so-called scientists don’t know anything about climate change.
3. Appeal to authority
—attempting to strengthen an argument by “name dropping” or appealing to a
supposed authority instead of relying on respected and credible sources or
Many respected people—including television singing star Gale Lovely—think
exclamation points are overused.
4. Appeal to ignorance
—using the lack of evidence on a topic as support for your conclusion.
You can’t prove that aliens have never visited Earth, so it’s reasonable
for me to believe that they have.
5. Confirmation bias
—people notice, seek out, select and share evidence that confirms their own
standpoint and beliefs, as opposed to contrary evidence.
A fortune teller predicts you’ll meet a tall, dark stranger, so you’ll be
on the lookout for a tall, dark stranger.
What does it take to write authentic speeches in the age of Trump?
Find out at the 2017 Speechwriters Conference!
—deliberately failing to define your terms, or knowingly and deliberately
using words in a different sense from the one the audience will understand.
The sign read, “Fine for parking here.” Because it was “fine,” I parked
7. False dichotomy
—setting up an argument or situation so that it seems there are only two
choices. The arguer then eliminates one of the choices, leaving only one
You can either start using the serial comma or throw out the style guide
altogether. Obviously, we can’t throw out the style guide, so you’d better
use serial commas.
8. Hasty generalization
—making assumptions about a whole group or range of cases based on a small
or inadequate sample. Stereotypes are an example of hasty generalizations.
All writers are self-absorbed drunks.
9. Red herring
—while stating an argument, the arguer goes off on a tangent, raising a
side issue that distracts from the original issue.
Mom: You have to practice the piano.
Kid: Do people have free will?
Mom: We’re not talking about free will. Practice the piano.
Kid: Some people say free will is an illusion.
10. Slippery slope
—the claim that “one thing inevitably leads to another,” without stating
evidence for the assumption.
“If you drop that class, you’ll be one step closer to dropping out of
college and then you’ll be unemployed for the rest of your life.”
11. Straw man
—characterizing an opponent’s argument as phony, weak, extreme or
ridiculous, and then knocking it down or reducing it to absurdity.
claiming that vegetarians care more about animals than people; calling
environmentalists “tree huggers.”
How frequently do you notice these and other types of logical fallacies, PR Daily readers?
Laura Hale Brockway is an Austin-based writer and editor. She is also
the author of the writing/editing/random thoughts blog,