Saturday, November 29, 2014

"20 nifty tricks to argue like a charlatan"

From Three Men Make a Tiger:
For scientists, skeptics, debaters, or indeed anyone who values useful information over shrill soundbites, there is little more infuriating then crass manipulation of the facts to mislead an audience. Purveyors of woo and snake oil are particularly skilled at this cynical sideshow, but they are by no means alone in the practice which all too frequently raises its ugly head in politics too. And when constructive debate breaks down along ideological barriers, you can be sure the quality of discussion suffers.  When discussions arise, those with a vested interest are adept at sidetracking the debate with enough petty logical fallacies to fool an audience into thinking their claims have some merit. “What beastly intellectual cowardice!” I hear you mutter. And I concur.

But just for a moment, let me play advocatus diaboli. Perhaps we should look at their techniques and admire the smoke and mirrors approach to discussion that can leave the most well informed earnest orator flummoxed and flustered. Let's give these rogues their due, and identify some of their little tricks, in the hopes we can catch them out at their own game.

So for your viewing pleasure, I present..

20 nifty tricks to argue like a charlatan
  • Use circular reasoning liberally – Circular reasoning is purely tautological but because you're repeating your assertions it'll just reinforce your message it for the less astute in the audience. “The bible is the literal truth because God wrote it and we know that because the bible says it!” 
  • Construct straw man arguments – If you can't rebut an argument, misappropriate your opponents position and pummel it to great applause. Essentially, if you can't attack your opponents position with a decent retort, make a mock-up of their position and trounce that instead. Odds are your audience mightn't notice, particularly if you insinuate something shocking. “Obama's health care reforms will bring in death panels for old people so protest at your town halls
  •  Use ad hominem attacks to reinforce your thesis - Remember that smearing your opponent can be a sure way to turn the audience against him, provided you exploit their prejudice. “My opponent may be an expert on this subject. But he is also homosexual who associates with known socialists. Is this the kind of person we want to be taking advice from?!” 
  • Construct false dilemmas – There is usually a spectrum of valid views on a subject. Many of the less extreme views require careful nuanced reasoning to explain - screw that; go nuclear. Fool the audience into thinking that the choice is a binary one. “You are either with us or with the terrorists!” 
I'm afraid it's not that simple, Lord Vader...
  • Argue from purely anecdotal evidence – No matter how much the evidence is against you, simply quote a coincidental success story and cite this as proof of your position. This also works if you're trying to argue that something is endemic when it isn't - merely keep restating your experience, no matter how untypical it may be. “I had a headache and when I took some homeopathic remedy it cured it! Therefore it proves homeopathy works!”

HT: Improbable Research 

Possibly also of interest:
UPDATED--Are You a Recent Graduate Who Hasn't Found a Job? Consider Becoming a Charlatan
"Follow-up: Choosing the Charlatan Career Path
A Job the Robots Won't Take: Become a Financial Charlatan
Re-post: Peak Oil Stalwart to Shutter Forum/News Site, Persue Career as Astrologer 

Also at Improbable Research and definitely of interest to our 13-year-old-boy demo:
Boob Glue® (New Patent)