COLM O'REGAN: Five logical fallacies that will help you in any online argument

Ever get the feeling that person with whom you disagree (ie, they are the one who’s wrong) is talking absolute hen-dung but you can’t pinpoint it, asks Colm O’Regan.

THE internet — the information superhighway that was meant to lead to enlightenment and help slake our thirst for knowledge. But as time as gone on, that highway has mostly been down to one lane due to millions of minor traffic accidents and millions of others rubbernecking. It’s all the arguing. There’s nothing wrong with argument and debate but a lot of it has degenerated to the extent that if it took place in a school-yard, we’d all be sent home with notes to our parents in our homework journals.

People are shouting “fake news” or words at each other ending in “tard” — that aren’t or custard or bastard. (Just to be clear, if you are using tard as a suffix, it originates with retard which is a hurtful and damaging term for people with an intellectual disability. Hopefully it went out with leaded petrol and the Phone-Box Outside Spar. But if you are calling someone a somethingtard, you’re echoing the word retard. So please stop.)

Ever get the feeling that person with whom you disagree (ie, they are the one who’s wrong) is talking absolute hen-dung but you can’t pinpoint it?

Here’s one word that might help: Fallacy. Or, to be specific, a logical fallacy. It’s intrinsic flaw in the logic of an argument that undermines the argument completely.

Knowing these fallacies exist probably won’t win you an argument because people rarely concede victory to those they haven’t met. They just go into BLOCK CAPITALS. But if you do choose to reply, it might be good for your sanity to just briefly explain that what they said is effluent, mention a fallacy and then take the dog for a walk. Here are a few to get you started:

Correlation is not causality: Just because things happened at the same time, doesn’t mean one caused the other. So for example, Ireland’s Eurovison golden era in the early/mid ’90s was also the only time there were four consecutive Ulster winners of the Gaelic football All-Ireland. But there is no evidence that the Ulster ‘futtble’ was buoyed at a crucial stage in the championship by international musical success. So if you see someone attempt to connect two unconnected events without any evidence, just write CINC, get away from your device and tickle a cat under the ear.

Genetic fallacy: Ascribing flaws to a person based on their origin: “Ah the father was the same.” It’s frequently used against TDs.

The straw man fallacy: It’s where someone deliberately misinterprets something you say to discredit your opinion. Let’s say you write this comment: “I think it’s a bad idea that you can buy automatic weapons very easily.”


Circular reasoning: “We need to do this because it is the thing we need to.” Similar to that is the fallacy of the appeal to desperation which is “We need to do something. This is something. We need to do this.” You heard some of this around the Brexit campaign when people argued along the lines of: “We need to change things. Things need to be better. This is a change. Therefore it will be better.” They might be right, but not because of that argument.

If someone avoids your argument by just criticising you, just lash them with Latin. It’s ad hominem or against the person. “I DON’T SEE YOU HELPING THE HOMELESS” has been shouted at anyone who wants to raise legitimate questions about whether there are right ways and wrong ways to help the homeless. It’s also found at the end of sentences with “It’s all very well for you to talk” and “Easy for you to say”

These are just a few of them. There are more than a hundred logical fallacies but if I started to list them all it could be a slippery slope, the floodgates could open and you could end up marrying your dog. [slippery slope fallacy].

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