List of Dishonest Debating Tactics

This isn’t a social media site. There isn’t a lot of space to host trolling, snide remarks or other off topic comments. If you provide evidence, keep your comments short and to the point, they will be posted.

Avoid these dishonest debating tactics or your post may be deleted.

Ad hominem. Latin for “at the man”. This is a debating tactic that attacks the arguer and not the argument. PLEASE, debate the words that people post, not your idea ABOUT the person that posts. e.g., “member x is a liberal so his objections to the Iraqi war will obviously be unfounded,” or ,”member x is a conservative, so he is obviously a warmonger”. More directly, “Mr. Smith is an imbecile, therefore all of his arguments are false.”

Argument from Authority. This is the fallacy that states: If an authority says something, it is obviously true, and it does not need to be evaluated on it’s merits. e.g. (Re-elect nixon because he has a secret plan to end the war in SE Asia.) Since there is no way to evaluate this plan, there is no way to debate this. Additionally, “because Einstein said it, and he’s an expert, it must be true.”

Argument from adverse consequences. “X must exist, because if it didn’t then how could Y be possible!”. Even though there is no hard evidence, a certain conclusion is thought to be true because the alternative seems unlikely. e.g. (God must exist, because the very fact that the world is here, means that someone must have created it). In this argument, there is no DRIECT evidence, so it is not provable, or debatable. The converse also falls under this fallacy, “God must not exist, because we’ve never seen evidence for him!”

Appeal to ignorance. The claim that whatever has not been proved false must be true, and vice versa. “There is no evidence against the existance of UFOs, so they probably exist.”

Special pleading. Often rescues a proposition in rhetorical or circumstantial trouble. In other words, stating a fact is true, because no one understands exactly what is going on.

Begging the question. “We must institute the death penalty to lower the rate of violent crime!” But is there any evidence that instigating the death penalty will lower violent crime? Or, “The stock market fell yesterday because of a technical adjustment and profit-taking by investors”, but is there is any independent evidence to support such a claim?

Observational selection. Ignoring the bad in a situation, and only focusing on the good. This happens all to often on political websites, with the conservatives backing the “infallible Bush”, and the liberals fighting against the “totally failed Bush”. Objectivism…

Misunderstanding statistics, and “small statistics”. Really try and see how polls and statistics can be skewed. Have they listed the population the statistics have come from? How were the statistics calculated. Are they meaningful based on the criteria used? Have they been bent in any way?

Inconsistency. When one viewpoint is accepted, but another viewpoint is dismissed simply because it counteracts the speaker’s central perspective: Believing that the failing life expectancy of Russia is because of the failures of communism, but NOT believing that the increased infant mortality rate could be because of the failures of capitalism.

Non sequitur. Latin for “It doesn’t follow”. This happens when people have simply ignored alternative possibilities. Or, they have attributed something to an unconfirmed cause. Most commonly, a conclusion is stated that does not follow from the argument given to support it. “Because pollution is becoming more of a problem in cities, and the air quality is decreasing, people are becoming poorer.”

Post hoc, ergo propter hoc. Latin for, “It happened after, so it was caused by”. This fallacy assumes that because something occured at the same time, or before, it was the cause of. e.g. “because she took contraceptive pills a few years ago, she now looks like she is 20 years older than her age. There is no proof of that, or even data to support the claim. Or, “before women could vote, there were no nuclear weapons.” This second example, is also an example of a “non-sequitur”.

Excluded middle, or false dichotomy. considering only the extremes of a situation, “Since you don’t support the war on Iraq, you obviously hate America” or “Since you support the war on Iraq, you’re obviously a racist.”

Slippery slope. The idea that one action will lead to a secondary effect that is not a direct cause of the original action. “If we allow abortion in the first weeks of pregnancy, it will be impossible to stop abortions of full-term infants”, or, “The state should allow abortion in even the ninth month because otherwise, they will be telling us what we can’t do around the time of conception.” Both suggested changes are effects of an effect. There is no reason to believe either conclusion.

Confusing correlation and casusation. The assumption that because variable A is present in the same situation as variable B, A MUST be the cause of A. Really, there is no mechanism for how A causes B, so it’s not causative. “A survey shows that more college graduates are homosexual than those that do not have degrees, therefore education makes you homosexual.”

Straw man tactics. Making a caricature out of a position in order to make it easier to attack. This is when people Assume they know someone’s point of view, and begin arguing a made-up construction about their opponent, rather than just debate the words of their opponent. In short, you assume that your opponent believes something that he or she did not explicitly state.

Suppressed evidence, and half-truths. This is pretty self-explanatory. Don’t post half-truths and propaganda and expect us to believe them.

Weasal words. The re-labeling of a certain tactic or fact, in order to make it seem tacit, or uninteresting. “The president may not declare war without the consent of congress, but as long as it’s called a “police action” and not a war then it’s fine.”

I hope that people will use this list when they debate here. Let’s try and actually learn something through discussion rather than just arguing pointlessly. Hopefully these tools will help us to cut through the garbage.

A Recipe For Reasoned Thought

– Wherever possible, there should be independent confirmation of “Facts”. Look for conflicting data, and accept such data at face value. All the data should be used to formulate your viewpoint, not just the data that suits your viewpoint.

– Encourage debate on the information from all points of view, neither pre-judging, or belittling any view you don’t agree with.

– Arguments from “Authorities” carry little weight. Listen to only the facts presented by them and evaluate their logic yourself. Authorities are useful, though, as a starting point to begin to explore a certain field of study.

– Always forge more than one hypothesis. If there is something to be explained, think of all the different ways it could be explained. Then, find ways to disprove those hypotheses. Generally, you will always end up with multiple working hypothesis, even if you don’t agree with all of them.

– Try not to get attached to a hypothesis because it’s yours, or because you feel strongly about it. Compare it fairly, and objectively with the alternative hypotheses. Always try and finds reasons why your hypothesis could be wrong. Build as much evidence against it before you trust it.

– Quantify. If you can find quantitative measurements for what you are trying to prove, then use that information to weigh competing points of view and to support/modify your own viewpoint. Qualitative data is up for interpretation, but be steadfast and weigh each interpretation carefully.

– If there is a chain of logic that forms an argument, every chain in the argument must be rigorous, with no weak links.

– See if your hypothesis can be falsified. Viewpoints which are unverifiable are less meaningful than those that are. If your hypothesis can be falsified, grant that it may not be true pending more information.


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