From YouTube comments to presidential debates, many of us have suffered through (or stumbled into) more than our fair share of irrational arguments. Flimsy thinking might seem like a hallmark of our time, but The Experiment has a cure: Ali Almossawi‘s An Illustrated Book of Bad Arguments, a handy guide for anyone who wants to hone their fallacy detector, brings a much-needed dose of old-school logic to the internet age.
This book gives clear explanations of the straw man fallacy, the slippery slope argument, the ad hominem attack, and other common attempts at reasoning that actually fall short—plus a beautifully drawn menagerie of animals who (adorably) commit every logical faux pas. Once you learn to recognize these abuses of reason, they start to crop up everywhere—which makes this book a must for anyone in the habit of holding opinions.
If everyone went about their lives with a copy of An Illustrated Book of Bad Arguments in tow, we think the world might make a little more sense. Public discourse could use a healthy injection of logic, which is why we’re proud to offer An Illustrated Book of Bad Arguments as an ebook for only $0.99 until July 18. A great gift, reference, and coffee table read for fans of rational thought, this book is truly the antidote to fuzzy thinking—with furry animals!
Still having doubts? Maybe you need to clear your head a bit. See below for three bad appeals—fallacious arguments all—illustrated and systematically dispelled with excerpts from the book itself. After getting a glimpse of these gorgeous illustrations in action, you’ll see why it would be irrational to pass this limited offer up:
1. Appeal to Irrelevant Authority
An appeal to authority is an appeal to one’s sense of modesty, which is to say, an appeal to the feeling that others are more knowledgeable, which may often— but of course not always—be true. One may reasonably appeal to pertinent authority, as scientists and academics typically do. A vast majority of the things that we believe in, such as atoms and the solar system, are on reliable authority, as are all historical statements, to paraphrase C. S. Lewis. An argument is more likely to be fallacious when the appeal is made to an irrelevant authority, one who is not an expert on the issue at hand. A similar appeal worth noting is the appeal to vague authority, where an idea is attributed to a faceless collective. For example, “Professors in Germany showed such and such to be true.”
One type of appeal to irrelevant authority is the appeal to ancient wisdom, in which a belief is assumed to be true just because it originated some time ago. For example, “Astrology was practiced in ancient China, one of the most technologically advanced civilizations of the day.” This type of appeal often overlooks the fact that some things are idiosyncratic and change naturally over time. For example, “We do not get enough sleep nowadays. Just a few centuries ago, people used to sleep for nine hours a night.” There are all sorts of reasons why people might have slept longer in the past. The fact that they did is insufficient evidence for the argument that we should do so today.
2. Hasty Generalization
This fallacy is committed when one forms a conclusion from a sample that is either too small or too special to be representative. For example, asking ten people on the street what they think of the president’s plan to reduce the deficit can in no way be said to gauge the sentiment of the entire nation.
Although convenient, hasty generalizations can lead to costly and catastrophic results. For instance, it may be argued that an engineering assumption led to the explosion of the Ariane 5 rocket during its first test flight: The control software had been extensively tested with the previous model, Ariane 4—but unfortunately these tests did not cover all the possible scenarios of the Ariane 5, so it was wrong to assume that the data would carry over. Signing off on such decisions typically comes down to engineers’ and managers’ ability to argue, hence the relevance of this and similar examples to our discussion of logical fallacies.
There is another example in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, where Alice infers that, since she is floating in a body of water, a railway station, and thus help, must be close by: “Alice had been to the seaside once in her life, and had come to the general conclusion, that wherever you go to on the English coast you find a number of bathing machines in the sea, some children digging in the sand with wooden spades, then a row of lodging houses, and behind them a railway station.”
3. Not a Cause for a Cause
This fallacy assumes a cause for an event where there is no evidence that one exists. When two events occur one after the other (or simultaneously), this may be by coincidence, or due to some other unknown factor. One cannot conclude that one event caused the other without evidence. “The recent earthquake was because we disobeyed the king” is not a good argument.
This fallacy has two specific types: “after this, therefore because of this” (post hoc ergo propter hoc) and “with this, therefore because of this” (cum hoc ergo propter hoc). With the former, because one event preceded another, it is said to have been the cause. With the latter, because an event happened at the same time as another, it is said to have been the cause. In various disciplines, this is known as confusing correlation with causation.
Here is an example paraphrased from comedian Stewart Lee: “I can’t say that, because in 1976 I did a drawing of a robot and then Star Wars came out, they must have copied the idea from me.” And here is another that I recently saw on an online forum: “The hacker took down the railway company’s website, and when I checked the train schedule, what do you know, they were all delayed!” What the poster failed to realize is that trains can be late for all kinds of reasons, so without any kind of scientific control, the inference that the hacker was the cause is unfounded.
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This promotion is part of a limited summer sale, which also includes My Grandfather Would Have Shot Me. Click here to read about the physical book, or to find out where you can buy the ebook for only $0.99. To learn more about An Illustrated Book of Bad Arguments, click here to see some more of Ali’s illustrations in action, or click here to read the entire ebook for free in your browser. Don’t sleep on this amazing deal: it only lasts until July 18!