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Yesterday, I argued that fact checkers who rate their rulings on a scale should incorporate the number and type of logical fallacies into their ratings. I also argued that the rating scales of fact checkers like PolitiFact and The Fact Checker are valuable, but they conflate soundness and validity, which causes their ratings to be vague. As usual, I syndicated the post on the Daily Kos. Kossack Ima Pseudoynm provided valuable constructive criticism, which we'll consider today below the fold.

The aptly titled comment by Ima Pseudonym was,

Great in theory, but...

Validity is a nice standard for mathematics and logic but it is not often found in public discourse. Even scientific conclusions are rarely (if ever) backed by valid reasoning as they typically rely on induction or inference to the best explanation.

A few nitpicks:
-Not every claim is an argument. An argument must offer evidence intended to support a conclusion. I can claim "I am hungry" without thereby offering any sort of argument (valid,  inductive, fallacious or otherwise) in support of that claim. One cannot test the validity of a single proposition.
-No need to check for "both" soundness and validity. If you check for soundness, then you have already checked for validity as part of that. Perhaps you meant to say you would check for both truth of basic premises and validity of reasoning.
-It depends a bit on which notion of fallacy you are working with, but arguments can fail to be valid without committing a common named fallacy. A far simpler check for validity is simply to find counterexamples to the reasoning (logically possible examples in which the basic premises of the argument are all true and in which the conclusion of the argument is false).

Don't mean to discourage the project - it is a very worthwhile one and one that would be interesting to see play out.


This is Internet commenting at its best: constructive, well-reasoned, and mainly correct. Let's address the comment point by point.

"Validity is a nice standard for mathematics and logic but it is not often found in public discourse."

I can't agree more that validity is rare in public discourse. This unfortunate fact should not, however, discourage us from specifying and enumerating the logical fallacies that public figures commit. It should encourage us to do so, as it has encouraged the establishment of the fact checking industry.

"Even scientific conclusions are rarely (if ever) backed by valid reasoning as they typically rely on induction or inference to the best explanation."

I agree that scientists stray from valid (and sound) argumentation more often than they should. I do not, however, agree that scientists rarely if ever make sound or valid arguments. I also agree that scientists often use inductive reasoning. Scientists will continue to do so as Bayesian statistical methods proliferate. I do not, however, agree that inductive inference is immune to the assessment of soundness and, by inclusion, validity. Inductive reasoning is probabilistic. For instance, a statistical syllogism (following Wikipedia's example) could go,

  1. 90% of humans are right-handed.
  2. Joe is a human.
  3. Therefore, the probability that Joe is right-handed is 90% (therefore, if we are required to guess [one way or the other] we will choose "right-handed" in the absence of any other evidence).

You can assess the validity of this statistical syllogism by considering whether the steps in the argument follow logically from one another. You can assess its soundness by furthermore considering whether its premises are true. Are 90% of humans right-handed? Is Joe a human? Inductive logic is still logic.

"Not every claim is an argument. An argument must offer evidence intended to support a conclusion. I can claim 'I am hungry' without thereby offering any sort of argument (valid, inductive, fallacious or otherwise) in support of that claim. One cannot test the validity of a single proposition."

I agree that not every claim is an argument, either in the formal or informal sense. Every claim is, however, a premise. In such cases, we can simply determine whether or not the premise is true. Furthermore, many claims that fact checkers care about imply or support an informal (or even formal or legal) argument. In such cases, you can assess the implied informal argument's validity. Lastly, in any case where a public figure makes a claim that ties vaguely to an informal argument, that public figure deserves to be criticized for committing the ambiguity fallacy. Many politicians often commit the ambiguity fallacy. As much as possible, we should call them on it whenever they do it.

"No need to check for 'both' soundness and validity. If you check for soundness, then you have already checked for validity as part of that. Perhaps you meant to say you would check for both truth of basic premises and validity of reasoning."

Correct. To be sound, an argument must be valid. What I should have said is that fact checkers conflate truth with validity.

"It depends a bit on which notion of fallacy you are working with, but arguments can fail to be valid without committing a common named fallacy. A far simpler check for validity is simply to find counterexamples to the reasoning (logically possible examples in which the basic premises of the argument are all true and in which the conclusion of the argument is false)."

I hope that Ima Pseudonym will elaborate on the logical counterexample part of this statement. If it's a viable shortcut, I'm all for it. That said, I suspect that there are many logical fallacies that do not yet have a name. Perhaps Malark-O-Meter's future army of logicians will name the unnamed!

Thank you again, Ima Pseudonym. Your move if you wish to continue playing. I like this game because you play it well. I encourage constructive criticism from you and all of Malark-O-Meter's readers. Cry 'Reason,' and let slip the dogs of logic.

Originally posted to Malark-O-Meter on Fri Nov 23, 2012 at 07:49 AM PST.

Also republished by Political Language and Messaging.

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Should fact checkers like PolitiFact and The Fact Checker explicitly incorporate logic into their rating systems?

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (6+ / 0-)

    Brash Equilibrium /brASH ēkwəˈLIBrēəm/ Noun: (1) a state in which the opposing forces of snark and information are balanced. (2) a statistician of truthiness at Malark-O-Meter.

    by Brash Equilibrium on Fri Nov 23, 2012 at 07:49:43 AM PST

  •  Frogs without legs are deaf (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Brash Equilibrium

    You can fill in the rest of this old joke.

    What I find sad is that a lot of people just don't notice blatently obvious fallacies. Worse, of course, is the blind acceptance of lies as facts. Then there's the laundry list of biases. Binary thinking; yes/no, black/white, right/wrong, true/false. People who demand THE ANSWER, and "it depends" or "I don't know" is false evidence that you're stupid. The questioner genuinely believes he's brilliant because you can't answer his question. The fact that he doesn't have THE ANSWER is irrelevant. Or his answer is because : God. Or something.

    When someone brings up the subject of fallacies, there's usually few who chime in with all sorts of nuanced discussions about the types of fallacies and whether they prove or disprove something. This is helpful for those who are interested in learning a little more about this subject, but it seem to me that this missed the overall point.

    There's no way in Hell that you can get a binary thinker to comprehend the basic concept of logic to say nothing about the subtle differences among fallacies.

    The evidence is everywhere: Over half of survey respondents believe that humanoid creatures from other worlds are real and have visited Earth.

    I can't begin to list the fallacies involved or what's wrong with the thought process that's happening with this stuff.

    I see a light in the sky.

    [a whole lot of bizarre fallacies and false assumptions]

    Therefore, there are humanoid creatures from other worlds that have visited Earth. Or they have abducted me, personally.

    How they get from a light in the sky to a humanoid visitor is fascinating to me. Just watch one of the UFO fantasies on the History Channel and see how many fallacies you can list in any one randomly selected sentence. It's kinda fun to look at it that way.

    "Never wrestle with a pig: you get dirty and the pig enjoys it"

    by GrumpyOldGeek on Fri Nov 23, 2012 at 09:02:45 AM PST

    •  I understand your frustration. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      GrumpyOldGeek

      I will still plunge steadfast into the void of ignorance.

      Brash Equilibrium /brASH ēkwəˈLIBrēəm/ Noun: (1) a state in which the opposing forces of snark and information are balanced. (2) a statistician of truthiness at Malark-O-Meter.

      by Brash Equilibrium on Fri Nov 23, 2012 at 01:55:09 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  I challenge you ... (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        GrumpyOldGeek

        to find ways to factor in IQ vis-a-vis humans' ability to reason in your discussions.  Sadly, most do a poor job of reasoning because, I'm sure you're aware, they are intellectually incapable of even seeing complexity, much less taking its various factors into account.  Unfortunately, in my experience, every time the subject is raised, the more challenged a person is in that department, the more likely they are to attack with strawmen arguments that IQ is irrelevant in that some are great artists and whatnot.  (sigh)

        Poor Albert E. and Stephen H. must have been / be terribly lonely, with hardly anyone to converse with on their level.  Mother Nature can be a cold-hearted bitch sometimes.

        "Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity, and I am not sure about the universe." -- Albert Einstein

        by Neuroptimalian on Fri Nov 23, 2012 at 02:46:56 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  I will be cautious about that. (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          GrumpyOldGeek

          IQ isn't relevant to measuring the factuality of politicians. Yet perhaps it interacts with political bias to influence ratings of truthfulness (recall that bias in fact checking is another thing that interests Malark-O-Meter). That said, I bet professional fact checkers are no dummies. So it probably won't be that important of a factor in determining the amount of bias that professional fact checkers have for a particular ideology. Make sense?

          Brash Equilibrium /brASH ēkwəˈLIBrēəm/ Noun: (1) a state in which the opposing forces of snark and information are balanced. (2) a statistician of truthiness at Malark-O-Meter.

          by Brash Equilibrium on Fri Nov 23, 2012 at 03:20:32 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

        •  Oh... (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          GrumpyOldGeek

          you meant the argument you actually replied to. LOL. Sorry, I didn't catch the comment hierarchy!

          Brash Equilibrium /brASH ēkwəˈLIBrēəm/ Noun: (1) a state in which the opposing forces of snark and information are balanced. (2) a statistician of truthiness at Malark-O-Meter.

          by Brash Equilibrium on Fri Nov 23, 2012 at 03:57:16 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

      •  I still plunge forward as well (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Brash Equilibrium

        Onward through the frustration!

        For those times when it might help to provide a little introduction or refresher source about fallacies, I found this handy guide. Ignorance can be addressed. A handy refresher for the terminology is useful.

        "Never wrestle with a pig: you get dirty and the pig enjoys it"

        by GrumpyOldGeek on Sat Nov 24, 2012 at 02:24:11 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

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