This happened awhile ago but a) demonstrates by extreme preoccupation with the accuracy of other people’s statements and b) my tenacity in arguing points when I know I am right. I feel these aspects of my personality are important for me to pass on to you lest you get the impression that I’m a jerk. I’m not… I just have a lot of pet peeves. Also, this story is hilarious and demonstrates the type of people I work with. More…
I studied psychology in university. One of the first things I learned about the study of brain and behavior was that it is often seen by other scientists as “soft science”. Instead of rightfully being considered a relatively new and difficult application of the scientific method in order to better understand the brain and behavior of living things, it is usually referred to as “not physics” and its validity constantly challenged. I also learned that a giant hurdle for this faculty is so-called “folk psychology” which limits its interpretation of behavior to observation free from any controlled variables and relies purely on anecdotal evidence. This is where popular maxims such as “birds of a feather flock together” originate (also it’s incongruous, yet equally lauded “opposites attract”). The problems with “folk” widsom are self-evident but I never suspected other scholarly pursuits faced similar issues.
Etymologists. I’m sorry. I was wrong.
I just read this good point in passing on Bad Astronomy and felt like adding my own additional commentary to the concept of the ad hominem fallacy.
A lot of people think that using an ad hominem — an argument that attacks the person and not the issue –is a logical fallacy. That’s not necessarily the case. For example, if someone on the street walks up to me and say, “Aliens speaking with the voice of Glenn Beck are sitting on my shoulders and forcing me to eat brussel sprouts, and Obama’s health care plan will set up death panels,” then there is some merit in questioning the person’s sanity before wondering if what they say about the health care plan is true.
A person can be crazy and right, crazy and wrong, or crazy and partially right/wrong. If they are wrong, it’s because what they are saying is false. They aren’t wrong because they are crazy. They might be saying wrong things because they are crazy, but they aren’t wrong because of it. They’re wrong because the facts simply don’t agree with their statements.
So when I say someone is a stupid hypocritical affectionless bitch, I say that because I’m insulting her and her argument is wrong. So that is not an ad hominem fallacy (an “attack”, yes, but not a fallacy). If I said she’s a stupid hypocritical affectionless bitch therefore she is wrong, then I would be committing an ad hominem fallacy. Being stupid/crazy does provide context though, like Phil said. It doesn’t make them wrong automatically, but it gives you an idea of whether or not you’ll have to spend some time on Google later feeling superior. For example, the links there are for PETA and the Illinois Family Institute – the known crazy of these organizations provides context for what they’re “arguing”.
I only bring this up because people on blogs and forums often confuse this logical fallacy with people just being dicks. If someone calls you a moron and then proceeds to factually dismember your argument, that is NOT an ad hominem fallacy. It’s just being a dick. If they are trying to discredit what you are saying on the sole basis of past situations where you may not have come off that well, that is “poisoning the well” which is a kind of ad hominem fallacy. Or “don’t listen to this guy, he’s an idiot” with no presentation of an argument whatsoever – that is an ad hominem fallacy. Etc.
[The More You Know music]
It occurs to me that people might think I’m (Kimbo) kind of an asshole because of the way I write and the nature of the things I say on this blog so I thought I’d provide a little clarification for those of you who may have met me at TAM7 or know me in real life and may say “buh?”. More…
Hello! It’s been awhile. And I hear there are imitators which makes me very happy. Hopefully, someday, everyone will experience the joy of researching stupid things people say.
This episode of Skeptic at Work is sponsored by evolution which means it will likely be accidentally found by people searching for more important things. Hopefully I don’t disappoint.
I recently went to a trip to the dentist after a long hiatus and, while I figured there were issues with my wisdom teeth, turns out I have completely horizontal impaction which looks something like this. Yeah… so obviously a trip to the dental surgeon is in my near future but until then, I’m not in any pain or discomfort… just in case you were worried. :) Anyway, I mentioned this to a friend of mine later who informed me that she never developped third molars. I remarked that she was pretty lucky, to which she replied that she was “more evolved.”
So I get this email forward from my mom. Ah, parents. Their children are the only things keeping IT people from rampaging murder suicides… More…
In honor of the move to WordPress, I feel I need a new title. How about “Skeptic at Work”? I could make a little roadside construction logo or something? Yeah… that’d be cool.
Anyway, on with the show. Once again, someone who I don’t know very well says something that smacks of those crazy email scares and I don’t have the heart to tell them they are wrong. I just met this person… they don’t know how anal I am. So I keep my mouth shut and look it up later.
Claim: Baby carrots turn white over time because they are treated with so much dangerous chlorine that it eventually resurfaces after being absorbed into the carrot. More.